Welcome back to what I’m calling The Saga Of Nedicent 😉 This installment is a bit rushed, and I regret that, but I’m the one personally responsible for holding back the next challenge because I begged Zielle to let me turn in late. Sorry, guys. So here it is, from Millicent’s POV.
A cold gust of wind threaded its way through the crowded buildings of Burton-On-Thames, blowing the fishermen’s hats away and unraveling the braids on the working horses. It crept up under the hood of my cape, taking a piece of my dark hair loose from behind my ear and sweeping it across my eyes. I pushed it off in annoyance as I pulled the warm, red cloth tighter around my thin shoulders.
At the corner where Shobnall Street and Borough Road interstect, a stylish carriage rattled through a puddle, sending a stinging spray of dirty, melted snow and pebbles in my direction. Fortunately, the cloak caught most of the stains, and how fortunate, too – I would have hated to see the silk I foolishly chose to wear today ruined by a careless, flippant, stuck-up coachman.
It always seemed to happen that way with me. I started the day telling myself I was going to be elegant, composed, and upper-class. Then, I’d get caught up in whatever I was doing and end up dirty, tired, but triumphant. Today was no exception. This morning, when I’d awoken, I knew in the back of my mind that I had important, troubling things to do. But my favorite silk dress called out to me from the wardrobe, just begging me to wear it and look sophisticated, dainty and upper-class.
If I had really been a part of the upper class, I would have been up in a drawing room, wearing silk slippers and possibly playing a spinet on this blustery January day. But though my father had money, he was an outcast of society, and so here I was, continuing the chain of eccentricity as I splashed through the puddles in his boots.
Finally, I came to the address I was seeking, climbed up the stairs between the two stone dragons guarding its entry. The townhouse was slowly being conquered by armies of vivacious ivy and overgrown bushes. The gardener that used to maintain the foliage had died almost a decade before. So had, for that matter, the cook, the maid, and the butler.
And now, Sir Giles Dawson himself was no more.
I hadn’t believed Father when he’d broken the news to me. It didn’t seem possible that he could no longer be living the square, gothic townhome hidden by leaves. But it had been true, unfortunately. And being his only real friend, it was my job to go through the dark, cozy rooms and gather the things he wouldn’t have wanted to be sold.
It pained me, to stand there, to know that there would be no Sir Dawson waiting for me inside, his feet propped on the footstool, his knobbly hands on the book in his lap, his square shoulders covered by the damask bathrobe he always wore. He wouldn’t greet me with his elusive smile, ask me to throw another log in the fireplace, or complain to me about how unjust the world was.
Everyone always whispered behind my back about my friendship with him, but always loud enough for me to hear, so they could impart to me their views on my visiting him. The ladies thought I had no business associating with an unrelated man four times my age. That would be true if he weren’t so lonely and sour and fed up with the world that had rejected him. I was good for him, Father said. Father’s friends, however, called me a forest maiden – because I ‘associated with the animals of the forest, particularly the grumpy, cross, bear known as Sir Dawson’.
I raised my hand to the the brass knocker, the griffon’s head on the door, then remembered that no one lived within anymore. I used to have knock – it was a stipulation of his. Then he’d say, “Herein!” in his gruff voice, and I’d unlock it with the key I had.
Those days were sadly passed, though. I reached into the pocket sewn to the inside of my cloak, pulled out the brass key with the cobalt string round the top of it. I slid it into the keyhole. The click it made as it met the lock seemed to echo in the entryway. As I pushed the heavy, mahongany door open, a smell of stillness met me. If it was possible for loneliness to smell like anything, this was its scent.
The entryway was dark, even darker after I closed the door behind me. I reached for the little table next to the door, found the matches and lit a candle. The only reason I knew they were even there was because I’d put it there.
The haunting, dancing, yellow-orange light filled the low-ceilinged entry, with its foreboding paisley carpet, sordid walls and oppressive crown moulding. The parlour, or, what I could see of it through the doorway to my right, was a pool of blackness. So was the dining room on my left and the hallway before me. I moved toward that hall, the light creeping over the floor and pushing away the darkness that surrounded me. At the same time, it felt as if the dark was breathing down my neck, getting closer and closer behind me as the candle danced away.
Sir Dawson had not entertained a single person while he had lived here. So, naturally, the dining room and parlour both were frightfully bare. Not a single trinket or item of intrigue lived in them, not even to gather dust. The only thing I ever recalled seeing in the dining room that wasn’t a piece of unmoved furniture was a set of blue wedgewood dishes peering out from behind the glass doors of the china cabinet. I’d learned they’d been his only inheritance from a long-dead uncle he never had liked. There was a personal joke accompanying them, one that made him smile saucily every time he thought about the set. But it was a joke I would never know.
I skipped those two rooms entirely, aiming straight for the stairs at the end of the hallway. I knew he didn’t have anything he cared about downstairs, because he lived upstairs, where his bedroom and study were. And this was where I knew he kept the only possessions that mattered to him.
The light trembled about as I took it up the stairs, each step bringing me closer to the rooms of reminiscence and memories. Never did I imagine that these memories would be painful to recall.
I arrived at the top of the stairs, my feet dragging slower and slower. I might as well get the hardest part over with, I figured. So even though I did not want to open that door and drown myself in a torrent of retrospection, I forced my wrist to turn the doorknob and my feet to step over the threshold.
Sir Dawson’s study, his office, was where he had spent most of his time. But it didn’t feel like it belonged to him anymore, not without his robed countenance sitting in the chair, telling me that I was fashionably late. Without him there, without his watchful gaze on the bookshelves, his feet on the footstool, his papers and ink on the desk and his curmudgeonly voice resonating through the wood paneling, the study felt as if it were in mourning, too.
My skirt brushed against the blackout curtains pulled agressively over the windows. I wondered who had done that. He’d always liked them open, despite his reclusiveness – he had liked to ‘look down upon the street, so’s I know what I’m missing’ (his words, not mine).
Why did I love him so much? The question flitted through my self-conscious as I ran the tips of my fingers over the book still face-down on his endtable, open to the place where he’d left it. He was a pessimistic curmudgeon at best; a depressing crank with barbarian manners to the less accepting set. I put up with his antics, though. Furthermore, I actually saw him as a friend. But why?
I kept mulling it over as I opened the curtains, letting in the soft, ambient light, filtered through the sordid January clouds outside. Securing them with the ties on the wall, I looked around at the room, still awaiting its master’s return. I hadn’t the heart to say that Sir Dawson wasn’t coming back. I could barely convince myself that truth.
I shook my head to clear it. Though I would have loved to sit in the chair he’d sat in for so many hours and let my emotions flow freely, I had a job to do. It was up to me to make sure that his important things were safe from his so-called friends. I strode over to his desk, trying to let the confidence pulsate through me. He had to have written a will. In my tulmultous state of mind, I needed to have everything spelled out for me.
He had said he kept the most important things out of sight. I opened the drawer on his desk, which was little more than a writing table. In that drawer, amid a nest of various papers, writing utensils, and a bundle of red string, was the document I sought.
He wrote it out on very thick, very nice paper, with a seal on the top. I took it over to the window so I could read the cramped, crabbed handwriting.
Last Will And Testament Of Sir Giles Dawson
I, Sir Giles Dawson, of Burton-On-Thames, Essex, England, declare this Document to be my final Will and Testament.
After jumping through the hoops of legality (no, he was not married, he had no children, either), the document circled round to the part everyone would be hanging on – if he had any friends, that is.
To Miss Millicent Blair, the daughter of Mr. John Blair, of Burton-On-Thames, Essex, England, the following is to be bequeathed: the set of wedgewood china in the dining room; in the bedroom, the marble bust of Plato, along with any books to be found near and around the bed; and in the study, the library, writing desk, green wingback chair, globe and porcelain elephant.
There was not much more to be read after that paragraph, just that he wished everything else to be sold and the money given to none other than myself. I lay the paper down on the windowsill and sighed. What was I to do with these things now? They didn’t look the same without him.
I meandered out the door, still thinking, only half-noticing what I was doing. The light from the windows now spilled out over the threshold. I opened the bedroom door, barely discerning the form of the tall, four-poster bed as I made straight for the window. As I pulled back the curtains, the room awoke in shades of grey, just as the study had.
His bed was unmade. I proceeded to pull the sheets up to the top, pulling a book or two out from the foot of the mattress, where they’d become tangled in the bedclothes.
Plumping the pillows and setting them right, the thought that I was essentially being a maid crossed my mind. I pushed it out promptly. It was worth getting dirty to set everything in order for him.
There was a small pile of books on his sidetable, burying the ornate glass oil lamp with the dirty chimney. I stacked them neatly, arranging them from largest to smallest. As I kept adding to the stack, picking up the books scattered on the floor and over the top of the dresser, I realized that Sir Dawson’s insomnia had been more severe than I’d thought. He must have kept the oil burning very late every night to read all of these.
Soon I had at least five and twenty books stacked neatly on the bench at the foot of his bed. It occurred to me that the room smelled quite nasty, rather like sleep and smoke. Unlocking the window, I slid up the casement, and let the blustery but refreshing breeze ruffle the curtains around the bed. Then I went over to the wardrobe.
Two suits were hanging on the front of it. I opened the door to reveal his hastily stuffed closet. Running my hand between the suits to smooth them out, I realized that he probably only had the other two out because he hadn’t any more room inside. And it wasn’t like he wore anything but his dressing gown, anyways. As I lifted the tails of a musty-smelling tailcoat, something in the bottom of the wardrobe caught my eye, faintly luminiscent. I picked it up. It was the gold banding across the spine of yet another book.
Hauling thirteen more books out of the wardrobe, I began to see that I had a ticklish problems on my hands. I couldn’t take these books, not when felt like they still belonged to him. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy them if I could still hear his voice reading a paragraph out of them.
As I was bent over, reluctantly checking to see if there were any more books in the wardrobe, something brushed against my cheek. I pushed it out of the way, but it swung back towards me. I fingered it. It was the tailcoat.
With the fabric in between my fingers, a conversation slowly twirled its way back to my consciousness.
They say two hundred books are published every day.
It had been nearly a month since that night, the twenty-second of December. Thirty-eight books, plus the five or six hundred in the library on the other side of the wall, equalled – I rubbed the tailcoat between my fingers as I made the calculation – roughly ten percent of the books Mr. Glasscock should have read by now.
I stood there, still fingering the tailcoat, staring at the stack of books, for a solid minute, as the realization occurred to me.
I could not decide for the life of me what it was.
Yeah, it’s not as good as Ettiquette. But I stretched out something Millie could have told Ned in one line to 2500 words. NAILED IT.
I intended to illustrate this but yeah I’m still working on those faces. XD But I did mention my team name and the prompt in the same sentence – bonus points?
Father’s friends, however, called me an elfin maiden – because I ‘associated with the animals of the forest, particularly the grumpy, cross, bear known as Sir Dawson’.
1 point (participation) + 1 point (prompt) + 1 point (team name) = 3 points
*whimpers* Oh, that’s frightfully low. Go Team Forest!
What did you think? Are you looking forward to the next installment of Ned and Millie’s story? It’s going to be told by a very side character this time…
Sayonara, I’m going to try not to cringe at this piece,