Defining Moment

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In Which A Journey Ends

Maggie reached the Adirondacks on the tenth of December. She took a seat by the window upon the wooden bench that ran along the perimeter of the car, and took in the grandeur passing slowly by as the tram crept up the mountain. There were only a handful of others that were also bound to the convalescence home located in Essex of the Adirondacks, and Maggie tried to make conversation with some of them, if only to alleviate her eagerness to arrive and find some news of Eustace.

"It is a splendid sight, isn't it?" Maggie asked of the woman who sat opposite her, wearing a heavy overcoat and a brightly-colored scarf.

"Gets me every time," she replied, shaking her head. Then she turned to the girl, a grin upon her face.

"You're not from here, are you." Her Yankee twang sounded strange upon Maggie's ears, but the girl was certain her own accent sounded the same to the woman.

"I'm from England," she smiled. "I am visiting a friend – a dear friend."

The woman nodded knowingly. "Long journey, then," she raised her eyebrows. "Welcome to New York."

"Thank you," Maggie said. An old gentleman in a brown hat with a thick beard who was smoking a pipe had been watching the interchange, and spoke up.

"Sorry to butt in," he said, his American accent strong to Maggie's unaccustomed ear, "But you said you're from England? Ever hear of that incident a couple a months back where this old hermit was murdered in his own mansion?"

Great was Maggie's shock that such a tale had spread far and wide, but she recovered from her consternation and managed a demure,

"Yes, I did. I am his goddaughter."

The man tugged his pipe from his mouth, his eyes wide.

"You don't say!" He stuck out his hand and took Maggie's, giving it a cordial pump. "Pleased to meet you, miss! Talked a lot about that story here, we have. What happened, then?"

The rest of the ride was Maggie filled with telling of her godfather's assassination, the summary trial and execution of the guilty, and the inheritance she had received, sparing her listeners the personal details that she held too dear and which she rightly supposed her not necessary to her eager audience's knowledge.

"You don't say!" the man exclaimed again as the tram bumped to a halt, and they all got to their feet, shaking each others' hands. "Mighty pleased to have run across you, miss!"

"And I you," Maggie said, not knowing what else to say, and stepping forth upon the chill rocky ground of the Adirondacks. Her fellow passengers dispersed in various directions, but Maggie remained, looking about her, and slowly supplanting her mental pictures of the place with her sumptuous surroundings. Everything was just as Eustace described – only strange, and unfamiliar.

Suddenly growing nervous and feeling a vague pang of fear strike within her heart, Maggie, without knowing what she was doing, approached the great lodge and rounded the corner, seeing the branches of a tree appearing, as it were, directly from the ground before her. As she suspected, this was the tree Eustace described; the ground fell sharply away before her feet, the tree sprouting as it had in ages long past from the turf far below her.

Mounting the wooden porch, Maggie began to walk along the back of the house, suspended by the wooden walkway some fourteen for fifteen feet above the ground, looking eagerly in the windows that she passed. Some held invalids laying in white beds resting, some held patients being propped up by nurses, and some held attentive family members looking after their sick and ailing. With alacrity, Maggie approached the little room jutting off the back of the house, a biting wind whipping around her, her boots clacking upon the hard wooden porch. At first only her own reflection looked back at her from the window, but she peered closer, and momentarily gained a glimpse within.

Maggie remained rooted to the spot in confusion. There was no possible way she could have mistaken the room... and yet this room was empty, but for two nurses who were stretching a fresh sheet over a plain empty bed. Maggie pressed her arm to the glass and leaned her face against it to shield against the glare, looking again, and fearing that her eyes were tricking her.

The nurses' had their backs turned as they continued about their work, and at last left the room, shutting the door behind them. Everything within her screamed No!, told her not to believe her eyes, told her that things were not what they seemed as Maggie fled back along the boardwalk, around the embankment and let herself into the great lodge. She was in a tall room with unfinished rafters supporting a high ceiling, an enormous fire roaring in a fireplace at the head of the room, but she scarcely noticed, catching the first member of staff that hurried by her.

"Excuse me –" she begged, her voice not her own. "I am a visitor. I'm looking for–"

"Visitors please check in at the desk," she said, bustling on. Maggie stared after the nurse, and then made her way over to a reception desk that she had bypassed in her agitation.

"Maggie Clancy." She gave her name to the secretary in a voice high-pitched with fear. "I'm here to see Eustace Reid."

The secretary looked at her files for a maddeningly long moment, and Maggie looked about her in frustration. Then she froze.

At the far end of the room, the door opened and two orderlies shuffled out, bearing between them a stretcher covered with a sheet. Their backs were to her, but as they passed, Maggie strained her eyes to catch a glimpse of their burden. The figure beneath the shroud was slight – the profile unmistakeable...

"I'm terribly sorry to inform you that there is no longer any Eustace Reid here. We made up new forms just this morning, and I cannot find a patient with any such name. Are you sure that you are in the right–"

"Stop it," Maggie commanded. "He was here..." She covered her mouth with her hands as the orderlies passed by her – too startled to cry, but her heart was beating wildly. She could no longer see clearly... then everything went black.

Maggie awoke to a bleak world – a world without Eustace. The nurses informed her that for the past month he had been growing steadily weaker and weaker, and the morning before her arrival, he had a final convulsion, and when the pain subsided, it was to an eternity of rest and peace. There was no more pain, no more sadness for the bright young student who touched so few lives with his remarkable spirit. No doubt, even now, he stood, side by side, crowned with glory and honor, between a young and handsome Cadogan, and a redeemed Flora, clasping both their hands in his own – most likely still stained with ink – never more to feel sorrow, or shed tears.

Not knowing who to notify about his death, the staff of the convalescence ward had followed the usual procedure of donating Eustace's body to the local university for study and examination. Even in his death, the young scholar, with his clear hazel eyes and his thick dark hair, had contributed to the education of those around him.

Maggie, stunned, and numb with grief, boarded the first steamer that left New York Harbor and returned to England. She did not speak a word beyond what was necessary for her transportation, and disembarking by night in the slumbering town, she locked herself within the Cadogan manor. Then, and only then, in her silence and grief, did Maggie give way, and deep racking sobs echoed about the huge dark mansion.


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