Defining Moment

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In Which We Read Some Letters

As the carriage rocked through the countryside, Maggie looked out the windows, and when they transferred to a train at Banbury Cross, Maggie switched her attention to her traveling companion.

“James?” He looked up from the paper he was reading and smiled. “Maggie. A long ride, isn't it?”

“Not nearly as long as the one that took me to this school,” she said in a low voice. “I am glad to be leaving. But I don't really know anything about you.”

“I am a lawyer now. There is not much else to know,” James replied shortly, returning to his paper.

Maggie furrowed her brow, and pressed on. “I'm sure there is. Do you have a family?” There was a lapse of silence, and then James spoke:

“I never see them.”

“Why not?”

“They don't wish to see me. My wife...” James folded his paper and chose his words carefully, “doesn't care much for me, only for my provision. My son is just like her – he is about your age.” This was enough to satisfy the girl into sorrowful silence. So this was why father's friend James spent evenings with their family, and now busied himself with their welfare since her father was no more. His family must be horrid. Especially the boy. Maggie was about to open her mouth to ask further about them, but just then the train, which had been gradually slowing, jerked to a halt, and the passengers began to disembark. James took Maggie's hand in one of his, and with the other carried her portmanteau, and so they were seen by many, walking out of the station, hiring a hack, and riding to the picturesque bungalow of the wealthy family.

That night, Elizabeth Clancy, beloved wife of the late Col. Neville Clancy, breathed her last. She was mourned greatly by her surviving child and her husband's gentleman friend, the child's protector. Before she lost her ability to write, Mrs. Clancy had written to James at length upon the subject of her daughter, and other things...

August 1, 18––

Dear James,

I hope this finds you well. I am well in spirit if not well in body, and truly, I am not so bad as people seem to find pleasure in pronouncing me. An invalid... ah, how I would have scorned the term in my youth – to think that I would ever rely completely on another, when my only desire in life was to nurse others myself.

Pray tell me how you are doing. And Julia – James, give her a chance. She is one of the dearest of people in my acquaintance. You may smile ruefully at that, but she took tender care of me when she was in attendance upon me, and has a good heart. She was only raised with little thought of the important things in life, and though, in one brief season of charity – the season which brought her into your heart – she displayed all she is truly capable of, she has now only fallen back into that which became most natural to her, to live easily, frivolously, and give no heed to those around her. Give her my greetings. If that is not reason enough to bid you go to her, at least pass on my greetings.

I cannot write more at this time. Don't fret, I am doing as you said, though they conflict sometimes – to rest, and to write often...

May the Lord's blessings be upon you, dear James.

~ Elizabeth


August 23, 18––

Dear Elizabeth,

Your letter brought tears to my eyes. Julia would laugh to think that I am playing nurse now that she has left you for a more gratifying life. Do not exhaust yourself on my account. But I hope you will always write, be it at the least provocation, knowing that I am duty bound to the widow of my dearest friend who was like a brother to me, to come and aid if I may.

Tell me how Maggie is doing. Do you hear from her often? She interests me greatly, being a happy combination of both her parents noblest traits. She would not remember me now. Even Bates, my valet, tells me that daily I am more and more changed from the picture he keeps in his head of James Melville. I know not whether it is hardship or merely time that works wonders upon me thus – but this I can say, they are the wonders one neither welcomes with open arms nor bids to stay after they had begun to excuse themselves, only to make way for other such miracles, of which I would happily have none.

You, I believe, (and forgive me if this seems fulsome and studied, for I swear it is not) are one of the few that time leaves no mark upon, and that hardship touches but lightly. This is not to say you have not had pain, for God knows the amount of pain you bear with the patience of a saint, but that to look upon you, one would never guess the illness that ravages behind your marble cheek and bright eye.

Enough of that, I must conclude. Rest – rest and write when you cannot.

Ever your humble servant,

James


October 5, 18––

Dear James,

What a comfort you are to me! Neville used to tell me tales of what a dear soul you were to him, and how you were always ready to fly to the assistance of those about you, in body or in spirit. I could compare you to many things poetical and take after your wont in your last epistle, but I shall refrain, and come to my point directly.

James – though you were at my side with your patient attendance and though I had the blush of health upon my cheek and the fire of ambition in my eye, one look at the red-stained handkerchiefs which I daily make use of, but a glance at my hand which grows more feeble every dispatch that leaves my desk, a single moment in my company when I am compelled to walk any distance would leave no doubt as to my fate. Doctors give me no hope, then well-meaning liars speak to me of a good deal of hope, but I have read in the ancient text my end. I shall soon sleep, and awake where I will know, and be fully known.

My fears are not for myself (nor should I properly term them fears, when I am not the least fearful, for I know God will provide), but for Maggie, who will have no one when I am gone. Deny it not, you and I both know someday, and that perhaps not so far off, I shall die, and leave her alone with nothing but her father's good name and legacy of honor. Perhaps she will not have any fortune; I greatly fear the majority of it have I selfishly used for myself in paying doctors, and I wonder what will become of her. I should not, for I know that the Lord will provide for her. Advise me as to what steps should be taken to care for Maggie, should death come as soon as I would wish it.

O, what a self-centered creature I am, to wish for death! It is the only thing that will bring me release – now I spend my days lying about useless to myself, God, and others, mooning over the days gone by when I used to live quietly and productively, tending the garden, mending garments, being happily useful before my years of wealth, and, alas, illness. Listen to me carry on. I am weak indeed, weak of spirit. Forgive me, dear James.

Write back, if it is not too much trouble. Maggie will not be home for a long while yet, and I would be decided before I see her again as to what action will be taken should the worst – the inevitable – occur. Be of good cheer. Death comes to all; it is only a question of how, and when. And then thereafter... I know what shall come after for me. What of you, James? Do you know whence you are bound? I hope in the meantime you are bound toward Julia. I should not be keeping you from her.

Write back, and shed some light upon my cobwebb'd mind,

~ Elizabeth


October 27, 18––

Dear Elizabeth,

If I could have but one frivolous wish in the world, I would have used it the day I received your letter; I would have wished for wings that I could fly to you at once and set your heart at rest. But alas, those things are not to be, and I resort to that age-old method of missivesending to convey my sentiments.

Your talk of death saddens me greatly, but I am not such a fool as to deny that you speak truth, dear Elizabeth. You are wise to be planning for Maggie's future. But I confess I am greatly offended that you should let such thoughts trouble you in the least. It goes without saying that of course I shall care for Maggie. Let there be no more talk about it. She will be my sacred trust, and there's an end of it.

Your talk of whither bound in the afterlife puzzled me greatly. I never trouble myself with such things if I can help it. There is no doubt that a soul as pure as yours will fly at once to heaven, but as for me, I am not yet set at ease as to my good deeds being greater than my evils. I fear they are about equal. Thus, I hope you will save my soul by granting me Maggie – she will be my final good deed that shall ensure my place by your side, and, I think, good Neville's. Never ask my forgiveness again. Even if you had need of it, you would have it without a word.

I will try to come and see you sometime before the new year. I know that is a fearful promise to make, but some things I cannot control. At least I have a reasonable chance of fulfilling it.

Ever Ready,

~ James

Post Script: What a deal of snow we have had! My garden is all shining with the crystal white covering dumped upon it, and going out to post this letter will be by first excursion in three days. Bless you! -J.M


November 11, 18––

“Ever Ready” James,

I hope you get this in time. Julia is here. Please, come at once, and be reconciled with her. She is to stay with me until Christmas. Come, and make my happiness complete. She is much changed, but I am sure truly cares for me still, else why would she come? She says Phillip is at university, and worries for him. It is so nice to have company. I pray God grants me another few months to enjoy it.

You must not take Maggie. You have your own family. It is not that I do not trust you. My plans for her are written and sealed in my husband's writing case. I know you will follow them. Care for your own family. Come to us. You will understand once you see your wife.

James – please.

~Elizabeth


January 2, 18––

Dear Elizabeth,

A new year, Elizabeth, not just a few months! Forgive me for not coming. I received your commission, for such I regarded it as, upon the twentieth, but business prevented me from coming. Revile me not. You will be pleased to know that I visited Phillip at university before the holiday. He is quite grown and hardly knew me. I confess I hardly knew him. He looks like all the fast young men there, only I like to think he is a bit better looking than most of the others. I am becoming a doting fool.

Tell me how you are. You trouble me with your talk of not letting me care for your daughter! Tell me, who has better right? My troubles with Julia and Phillip are my concern, none of yours. Do not take this harshly, for it is not harshly meant. Indeed, far from it. If you can convince me of a better plan, then I stand corrected. In truth I have not the faintest idea what to do to turn a lass into a young lady, any more than I knew how to turn Phillip from a spoilt lad into an intelligent and honorable man. We must assume you will live and give me lessons. I know full well that lads and lasses have a way about them of turning into men and women all on their own, but how men such as your husband are made, or women such as you blossom, I shall never understand.

My business has been going swimmingly of late, but as a result I am nearly drowning in letters to be written and posted. Please forgive my briefness, and write as soon as you can. I must hear how you are doing, and if you are quite exhausted from your guest. Do not let the post-man rest, do that yourself after you have written back.

Honored to be in your service,

James

There was no reply to this last epistle. At the end of the month, James went to Elizabeth to find her very ill indeed, and duly set forth to fetch Maggie. And thus, Mrs. Clancy passed peacefully out of this life, out of pain.

Her brother, her only surviving relation was written to, and he came to attend the tiny funeral. Julia was not notified. Several days after the funeral, James came upon the document in Neville's writing case that was written upon heavy paper, folded, and sealed with sepulchral black wax. As Maggie sat with silent tears upon her cheeks in her mother's empty chamber, he broke it, and read in an even hand: “My wishes are that my daughter Mortimer Clancy should be cared for by her namesake and godfather, who resides at the address below. He somehow, hearing of her birth, sent a letter, making it clear to me that if he could ever be of aid to us in any way, I was to notify him at once. Send him the enclosed note, and two weeks later, bring Maggie to him. These are my wishes. {Signed} Elizabeth Clancy.”

James, who though had a great sense of honor, had a greater sense of duty, and could not resist unfolding the unsealed note within the missive, and perusing it's contents. Who was this unknown godfather? Elizabeth had spoken of him to no one. What sort of man was he? Not for one moment did James intend to disobey the last wishes of his friend's wife, but he did read the note before forwarding it to the enclosed address. It was cryptic and mysterious:

The night that brought you to our door,

I have ever blessed; and forevermore

Do hold you in a sacred light

For humbly begging aid that night.

O, poor one who loved me nearly

Care for what I send you dearly,

Consider now your debts as paid

By granting me this final aid.

– E. T.

With a sigh, James refolded the note, placed it within the document, and put the document into his coat pocket. Then he rose, and went with a determined to step to do his duty as a lawyer, and advise the young girl of her future. This certainly, was a defining moment in her life. If your curiosity is sufficiently piqued, read on to hear what came of this defining moment in the life of Mortimer Clancy. Here I will stop interjecting my opinions and thoughts, and tell you the tale as it was told to me.

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