Chapter 6: Accidental costly endeavours
"Mabel," her father called out, halting her movements, her head whipping round to the parlour. Her steps pushed her forward despite the urge to turn around and hail down Henry's carriage, freeing her from this future conversation.
"Yes, papa?" Mabel replied as she broached the doorway, her eyes finding his hazelnut ones with ease. He had a small smile on his face, softening his features as he remained sat on the double chair. His once coffee coloured hair was now sparse on top of his head, greying in more places than it wasn't. His hazelnut eyes still twinkled with happiness at the sight of his daughter but the lines about them seemed deeper than before, the stress of his illness affecting more than just his lungs. His lips held a blueish hue, as if he were a small boy that had discovered blueberries for the first time, the evidence still across his face. If only the real reason was that light and jolly, not death's kiss trying to claim a soul that wasn't ready yet. And Mabel certainly wasn't ready yet.
"Sit with me a while. Before you run off again on adventures I'm not a part of," he replied, patting the seat next to him. Mabel nodded before moving to his side, sweeping her petticoat so it didn't engulf her half of the chair. His gaze fell upon the marks and stains that rippled across it, like clues from those adventures he spoke of, but he didn't ask her for any help deciphering them.
"So, he seems like an acceptable fellow," he continued, as Mabel's mind wandered to her forgotten basket.
𝘏𝘦 𝘯𝘦𝘦𝘥𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘳𝘰𝘵𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘯𝘪𝘯𝘨. 𝘐 𝘮𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘥 𝘣𝘢𝘤𝘬 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘵 𝘰𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘩𝘢𝘥𝘰𝘸𝘴 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘧𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘯.
"Mabel?" her father pressed, pulling her mind back from her musings.
"Hmm? Oh yes, he is very kind."
"That's all? Kind? My dearest Mabel, do not settle for mere kindness."
"I do not intend to. I have agreed to get to know Henry, nothing more. No formal engagement, simply two people discovering new things together," she replied, sticking to a half-truth.
"My smart girl," he breathed, finding the strength to take her hand and squeeze it, "it would be nice to know you have someone to take care of you. After I join your mother."
The words made Mabel's blood turn to rivers of ice in her veins, at the thought of him being anywhere but here with her.
"Mama will have to wait longer. I've got a new broth that will help," she continued, her eyes flicking to the doorway, wishing she already had it made in the kitchen. She didn't like the colour of his skin, it didn't hold the pink of life, but a grey that reminded her of her mother at the end. And Mabel refused to let this be the end. Anyway, he had had bad days before and they always drifted into better ones. That was the hope she clung to. That there would always be better days.
"Mama has waited long enough," he replied softly and Mabel pulled her hand from his, anger making her rash.
"No, she hasn't waited nearly long enough. You still have years left, with me. Choose me, papa."
"It is not my choice to make. If it was then you know I'd always chose to stay with you, my darling Mabel. And your mother would never have chosen to leave," he soothed, reaching out to touch her hand again that lay cradled amongst the yellow fabric of her dress.
"Mama will understand," she sniffed, "that you want to stay as long as you are able."
"I do not doubt that for a second," he agreed, his tinged lips pulling up into a smile, making his eyes crinkle.
"Shall we get you up to bed?" Mabel inquired, sitting herself upright. She watched as her father's eyes blinked slowly as tiredness weighed down his eyelids.
"Do not trouble yourself," her father mumbled but Mabel just shook her head in reply before standing.
"When is it ever any trouble?" She smiled although it didn't reach her eyes despite the sentiment being true.
"You would not tell me even if it was," he smiled in return, his eyes twinkling a little before fluttering closed again for a little longer.
"Papa, love means no amount of effort is too much trouble. You taught me that."
Mabel bent down towards him, sliding her arm behind his back so she could pull him upwards without too much trouble. His hand fell weakly at her shoulder, barely holding on as she took most of his weight as he stood. She shuffled the pair of them out of the parlour and towards the wooden staircase, the rail at the side still standing proudly, beautifully crafted by her father's own hands when her mother had gotten sick and she was grateful for it. Mabel rested most of their combined weight onto it as she pulled them both upwards towards his bedroom that luckily lay right at the top. The oak door was ajar, the bed linen already made for the day, the beige striped blanket tucked neatly into the corners.
Mabel reached out with her free hand and tore the corner free, the blanket billowing upwards like a pirate sail as she gently lowered her father onto the mattress, relief flooding her when she felt it take his weight, leaving her shoulders free.
"There now, see, no bother," she reassured, trying to keep the breathlessness from her voice. She positioned the pillow so that he could lay a little upright, long ago realising that was best for his lungs. If he laid flat they seemed to drown in whatever ailed them, sitting and sleeping that way helped, even if it was just of small benefit.
"Mm," her father mumbled, his breathing fluttering like a bird was trapped beneath his ribcage, desperate for freedom.
"Papa?" She said, waiting for him to open his eyes before continuing, "I'm going to fetch you some stew, Gretchen has used beef, your favourite and it will replenish you, I am sure of it. Also a small beer, just to wet your lips. I won't be long."
He nodded weakly as she turned to leave the room. She paused in his doorway, twisting her head back over her shoulder, hesitant to actually leave his side.
"Go, Mabel. I will not leave this bed," he reassured, fluttering his hand when she continued to hesitate.
"I will not be long," she stated, forcing herself forward so a flurry of footsteps echoed down the stairs, fear hastening her movements.
Mabel strode purposefully into the kitchen, Gretchen's gaze finding hers before it darted back to the pot that was hanging above the open fire. Mabel's gaze followed hers, her eyes catching sight of the bubbling liquid in the black iron pot, the bottom glowing a little as the flames licked at it.
"Is it-" Mabel started but Gretchen's short sharp glare silenced the rest of the words on her tongue.
"Do not ask if it is ready child. It will be ready once it is sat in the bowls upon that table. Do you see full bowls?"
"No, I do not."
"So have you answered your own question?"
"Buts do not cook the stew any faster my dear."
"Could you have two bowls brought up once they are ready?" Mabel asked whilst she fetched a cup of beer from the gallon jug on the side.
"Is this brewed-"
"Yes, a third brewing. Made it especially for your father," Gretchen answered, once again finishing Mabel's sentence before she had the chance to. Mabel smiled in her direction as she poured it, watching as Gretchen's stern face softened as one appeared on hers as well.
"He will be well by morning, I'm sure of it," she reassured, knowing the silent question on Mabel's lips, "now go on, back up to him. I'm sure he will treasure the company."
Mabel turned to leave, cup of beer in hand, eager to be back at his father's side.
"Do not think for a minute that I have missed how your dresses lately are in such disarray when you arrive home. It's not very becoming, especially for a lady," Gretchen remarked, stilling Mable's attempts at a swift exit.
"Oh Gretchen, when have I ever been much of a lady?"
Mabel quickened her steps so that she was back at her father's side in an instant, leaving Gretchen chuckling at her response. Although amusing, it was the truth. Because although her father's birthright held them at a much higher standing than most in their village, she hadn't even been raised as a lady and had certainly never been addressed as such before Henry.
A calmness washed over Mabel when she saw his breathing although hurried, was still there atleast. Her eyes travelled around the room landing briefly on the mahogany wooden table and the matching twin chairs that lay at the side of the bed. She quickly dismissed the idea of sitting there, knowing they were not particularly comfortable and also still feeling too far from his side. She placed the cup of beer on the table instead, deciding to lay next to him on the bed that was still big enough for two.
Mabel leant her body softly against his, turning into him more fully when she knew his body could take her gentle weight, his breaths fluttering before they started to calm. It was as if her touch soothed him for a while, the connection bringing comfort.
Her mind repeated the word over and over as she lay by his side, her hand drifting so it came to a rest on his chest. The word became louder in her head, more insistent until it formed on her tongue of its own accord.
"𝘚𝘢𝘯𝘢," she breathed, the word whispering into the air but feeling attached to Mabel somehow, like part of herself was woven into the word as it left her lips. She closed her eyes as an odd sensation rippled over her entire body, a warmth pooling in the very core of her before it was wrenched outwards, leaving her feeling incredibly cold.
"Mabel?" her father nudged as Mabel's head now rested heavily on his chest. Her eyelids felt weighted and the words she'd formed as a reply never left her mouth. Everything suddenly felt very disjointed and her limbs didn't feel entirely her own, sleep clinging to them as she tried to control them despite not having slept.
"Mabel!" her father urged, louder this time and the volume hurt her ears but she couldn't seem to voice her discontent. He moved from beneath her, her head falling clumsily to the mattress below but no other movements flowed from her freely.
Tiredness crept out from the corners of her mind like shadows, slowly eating away at the light inside of Mabel until just a tiny flicker remained like a candle in the wind.
Until everything went black as if Mabel's candle had been snuffed out completely.
𝘔𝘢𝘨𝘪𝘢 𝘦𝘴𝘵 𝘴𝘦𝘮𝘱𝘦𝘳 𝘱𝘳𝘦𝘵𝘪𝘶𝘮