Defining Moment

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In Which the Wanton Returns

Maggie tried to imagine the train steaming across the countryside, and then stopping in Liverpool, where they would board a steamer, and begin the long journey to America. She prayed that the sea voyage would not prove too much for Eustace, who had spent so much of his life shut in his tiny study, and at once laid out quill and paper on her dressing table to begin drafting her first letter to him.

She had the address of the convalescence ward on a small piece of paper, written in the doctor's hand; Maggie placed it just inside the bottom drawer of the dressing table, a drawer she had never filled, mentally designating it to her correspondence to Eustace.

Feeling a freedom that she never felt while she knew that her godfather yet lurked somewhere in the hidden recesses of the dark mansion, Maggie made her way down to the kitchen, and began to rummage about for something to eat for a midday meal. She discovered new potatoes in a bin in the larder, along with several other vegetables – a few leeks, a bunch of carrots, still dusted with soil, and a large head of cabbage. Setting aside the cabbage, not having any idea what to do with it, Maggie scrubbed the potatoes and the carrots clean and began to slice them into a pot, along with the leeks and added the broth she had made a week ago from a chicken that had been delivered.

Sniffing the various bunches of herbs hanging from the rafters of the kitchen, Maggie at last decided upon two different varieties by their fragrances. Not having the faintest idea how to cook, nor knowing the names of different herbs and spices, Maggie had learned over the years by trial and error how to invent things that were nutritious, tasty, and used the unpredictable things that the coffee man would deliver week by week.

Hanging her soup to cook over a crackling fire in the hearth, Maggie gave it a few swift stirs, and, tapping off the spoon, laid it upon the heavy wooden table. Then she left the kitchen to do what she had determined she would as soon as she knew of Eustace's leaving. Ever since the day of her godfather's murder, she thought of his hall of corridors with the highest of interest, and at Eustace's suggestion that she keep busy to avoid loneliness and despondence, she resolved to explore the rooms at her first opportunity, which in this case, was today.

Maggie stood for a long moment in the small splash of sunlight upon the floor of the atrium and looked through the swirling moted air at the shadowy walls. Yes, now she could see it very well. In sudden curiosity, Maggie went to the other heavy brocades that hung from floor to ceiling at intermittent intervals around the high-ceilinged chamber, which she had always supposed to conceal windows. She had spent so little time admiring the exterior of the house that she really had no idea as to it's layout, and could not remember seeing any windows from the fortress-like outside.

Pulling aside one large panel, Maggie gazed full upon a portrait of a young man standing beneath a tree, several greyhounds at his feet, and rolling countryside behind him. He was dressed in a navy blue jacket with buff-colored gloves and trousers, wearing the popular two-toned riding boots of the day, and sporting an ornamented riding crop. After looking for a long moment at his features – his wide low brow, surmounted by carefully kept light brown hair which swept away from his face, his firm well-cut mouth, strong nose, and intense golden-colored eyes, Maggie decided that that this portrait was of a young Mortimer Cadogan, perhaps before the Esquire; a portrait that so displayed his ambition, his youth and vigor, and his good breeding that Maggie could not help but smile wistfully at it, wishing she could have addressed herself to a younger Godfather Cadogan, and spent more time hearing his thoughts on the world.

The second panel held behind it nothing but a massive mirror – Maggie left this one uncovered, after curtseying glibly to her reflection, and moved on to a third brocade. It moved aside to reveal another painting – this one of a family. A weak-chinned man in quaint outdated clothes sat upon a cushioned chair; the footstool at his feet held a little girl with glossy brown curls and a shining taffeta dress. Her small feet, clad in fine leather boots peeped out from beneath her ruffled hem, and reposed upon an elaborate carpet that held several scattered toys – a rolling horse figurine, a discarded bilbouquet, and several lead soldiers, tumbled pell-mell upon their brightly-colored battlefield. The soldiers were a credit to the tall lad, no doubt, who stood alongside a well-dressed woman next to the chair. The lad's amber eyes and firm features proclaimed him to be a still younger Mortimer Cadogan – the woman, no doubt, was his mother, the man his father, and the doll at their feet Julia, the pet of the family.

"My mother knew her..." Maggie said to herself as she took in the expression on the child's china face, and tried to ascertain the emotion captured in her wide eyes. She wished she could see an older picture of Julia, and her wish was soon granted when she pulled aside the last panel to reveal a full-length portrait of Miss Cadogan, at about Maggie's own age. Her gown was of a fine dove-colored silk, and simple in style, her hair rich and beautiful, heaped upon her head with shining braids and strands of pearls twined through it's depths. Her eyes were large and attractive, her mouth small and red, and there was an aspect of self-satisfaction mixed with a sense of longing that was altogether unable to be described about her whole person.

"I think I would like to have known her..." Maggie thought, reminding herself that this was Phillip's mother, and searching for aspects of him about her. They certainly bore a great resemblance, but from the little Maggie remembered of father's friend James's appearance, she could not positively say which parent he resembled more, and resolved not to think of it too much.

The only other heavy panel of curtains in the room was the one which hung before the doorway that led to her godfather's corridor of rooms, and so, taking a deep breath, Maggie pushed it aside and fastened it to the wall within the heavy iron scrollwork that was there, she suspected, for that express purpose, and stepped through. Her footsteps echoed on the hard floors, and Maggie thought to herself how much like this was the day she discovered Eustace in the garret library...

The thought made her chest ache with loneliness as Maggie took a better look at the rooms she had only glanced at in their frantic search for Godfather Cadogan that day they heard the gunshot echo in the manor. There was a plain room that appeared to hold out-of-season -and out of style – clothing upon racks and in wardrobes, there was a room whose walls were lined with trophies of the hunt, whose purpose seemed little more than to affright a visitor, especially the proud buck's staring eyes and the stuffed boar's terrible tusks. There was a room that was a sitting room similar to her own, and also a chamber that appeared to have been used at one time as a place of botanical and horticultural study – Maggie had once wondered about the garden in it's better days, and now found tables overspread with ancient plant specimens, empty clay pots filled with soil, meticulous documentation and extensive drawings of the leaves of ferns, yew, celandine, and tormentil. On the opposite wall hung cases full of pinned insects, moths, and dragonflies.

"He was a lover of nature..." Maggie mused, surmising that this love grew from his time spent in the cotswolds with his beloved. And she was right. Closing the door behind her, Maggie opened the last door, the library – the library Eustace had spoken of when he told of once going through Cadogan's papers, journals, and letters to discover his own history. It was an interesting room, Maggie realized, and not so much like Eustace's study as she had at first supposed. Instead of there being one large dormer window flanked by bookshelves, long narrow window ran the length of the wall around two sides of the room, made of colored bits of glass fused together by lead to form various the coats of arms, she conjectured, of the Cadogan family.

The deep bookcases were built into the walls in this room, and everything seemed to be in good order, unlike the garret library. An enormous globe stood upon a stand in the floor, and Maggie spun it idly, until she found America. Tracing her finger across the Atlantic, Maggie heaved a sigh, and then remembering her supper, decided to explore the library by daylight tomorrow.

She returned to the kitchen and found her soup boiling merrily. Swinging it away from the flame, Maggie ladled a generous serving into a bowl, and just as she was setting it upon the table to cool, she suddenly had an idea. The doorway to the kitchen, which was actually formed out of the cavity underneath the staircase, was on the left side of the atrium – there was a corresponding doorway on the right side, and Maggie had a very good guess as to what she might find there. She swung open the door, and found it actually turned into a set of double doors, the second being held in place by the first, and concealed in the woodworking, looking before her into a huge soaring hall that held a long wooden table lined with long benches.

More portraits hung upon the walls of the huge airy room – similar windows ran the length of the ceiling, the setting sun's rays angling through the stained glass and striking upon various pieces of armor and weaponry that also hung upon the walls. A great stag's head was mounted at the head of the room, his great rack of antlers spreading nearly five feet in width, and several suits of armor stood sentry-like along the walls.

Smiling and wishing Eustace were here to enjoy this sumptuous adventure with her, Maggie returned for her soup and bread, and ate her supper alone in the great dining hall, her eyes wandering over the portraits of many people. She couldn't even begin to imagine who they all were, but her eyes lighted upon one portrait, smaller than the others, and hung crookedly in the corner beneath a set of threatening-looking ancestors. Finishing her soup and bread, Maggie rose, peering in the rapidly dimming light at the rough painting, comprised of hurried strokes of color and uneven shadows. It bore markedly less dust than the other furnishings of the room, and seemed to have been hung at a much later date than the others.

But it was not these things that caused Maggie to stare in astonishment at the painting. It was the fact that she was looking at a painting which bore the initials "M.C." just like the drawing of Eustace's mother, but that could very well have been of herself. The woman in the picture was young, and had fair skin, rosy cheeks, and fiery hair. The eyes were the same, the round lips the same, even the frock looked a good deal like one Maggie had seen before...

Then it dawned on her. It was her mother. Hurriedly pulling the locket that she always wore out from the collar of her dress, Maggie undid the clasp and opened it in her palm. Yes. Elizabeth Toliver Clancy – the second love of Mortimer Cadogan, Esq. No wonder he had stared when he saw Maggie again for the first time in seven years.

"And he painted this portrait of her..." she murmured.

Now more than ever Maggie was eager to explore her godfather's study, but the twilight hour and dim conditions convinced her to wait until the morrow. She was just in the act of returning her bowl to the kitchen when Maggie heard a doorbell ring, signaling someone's arrival at the main door of the manor. Maggie hadn't even known there was a doorbell, and wondered who on earth it could be. Wary, since it was not a Monday, Maggie slowly set her bowl down upon the black marble-topped table in the atrium, and went to the massive door. She unbarred it and heaved it open, and beheld in the gathering gloom Phillip Melville standing in the street before the mansion.

"Phillip!" She exclaimed in shock. "What are you doing here?"
He looked terrible. His fine hair was unkempt, he hadn't shaved in several days, and his clothing was torn and stained. But what arrested Maggie the most was the look in his eyes – the look of an absolutely desperate man who has exhausted every hope in life, and yet prays for a miracle. He smelt of strong drink, and the girl shrank back.

"Maggie – can I come in?" he asked in a husky voice.

"You most certainly cannot, Phillip Melville," she said firmly, taking into account his state – her solitude – the gathering gloom...

"I just wanted to see you one last time," he said at last, after looking about him with the furtive aspect of a hunted animal, and stepping closer to the door. Maggie began to shut it, but he jammed his foot into the gap and forced her to listen to him.

"I am the most miserable man alive. They have caught me. I have been hunted and harried like a convict for the last ten days. They know what I have done, when I hardly know myself. Have pity on me! Show mercy!" he begged, his eyes wild. "Say you forgive me, and will help me..."

"I cannot forgive you when you have not told me the nature of your crime," Maggie said evenly. "Tell me, and then I will judge."
"Know you not?" he howled. "All of Christendom will talk of me! The ruined son of two wealthy honorable parents, who murdered an old man out of revenge, and lust for fortune and happiness!"

Maggie shrunk back in shock. "It was you –"

"Shrink not from me, oh one who very nearly loved me once," Phillip panted. "Try and understand the desperation I felt – the desperation I feel even now! Never doubt me, that I have not every moment loved you, and still do –"

The heavy tread of a company of police was heard, and they momentarily came in to view, and with a shout began to close in.

"For God's sake, let me in!" Phillip screeched, beginning a maniacal barrage upon the door. "Have you no mercy?"

Fighting her way boldly out upon the step, and shutting the door behind her, Maggie stood, gazing down at the heap of dejection at her feet.

"I do not have any mercy for you, Phillip Melville," she said softly. "But God does. For His sake, I turn you over to these men. Perhaps before your punishment, you can learn to fear and love Him."

The wretch looked up, his eyes blazing as the officers took him by each arm and hauled him to his feet. "God!" he vociferated. "My father never spoke me one word of God! And now I have come to see everything I lived for was a lie! And everything he lived for was true! Honor! Charity! Love!" he spat the words out like poison, tears welling in his eyes.

"Your father was wrong too, Phillip," Maggie said softly. "And I pray, just as my mother did, that one day he will realize his error."

"Thank you, miss," the sergeant bowed. "We place this man under arrest upon charges of forcible entry, violent assault, and murder."

"If I can be of assistance to you in any way, I am at your leisure," Maggie said, curtseying gracefully.

"Good night, miss."

"Good night, sir."

Maggie stood upon the step of the mansion and watched as the police marched in formation about their prisoner who continued to roar and fight the rule of law until they rounded a corner and were lost from sight.

Oh, Julia! How could you know the fate of your son, who left to his own devices, grew up willful and profligate? Oh, James, who even now was upon the continent, ignorant of the fate of both his own progeny and that of his dearest friend, that he had kindly taken into his own good, honorable, and alas, worldly heart! What sort of defining moment would it take to bring him before the Almighty?


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