I. set him free to wander through the world, let him go his lonely way
"Travel, Neville," was what Archie had said.
They were wandering down an old path on the moors, Archie a walking stick in hand and Neville wrapped in a thick woolen scarf, making Neville recall their childhood romps around the blustery, plain moors that had seemed more than magical to them at the time.
It was two months after Archie had returned to Misselthwaite Manor for what seemed like the first time since Lily had died, and the notes of change that sang through the air had brought them out of the dark halls and rooms into the sunlight. Neville wasn't yet sure what to do with this transformation. The past two months had brought on a gradual sense of uneasiness for him, a displacement that he could not define. As the rest of the household blossomed in the advent of summer, Neville shrank into his study further, not knowing where else to turn.
"I realize now that my travels were always a means of running away," Archie remarked, stepping over a large stone. The sun was shining brightly down, but a brisk Yorkshire breeze still whipped around them. "I tried and tried and couldn't get far enough away, but neither could I leave for long. Despite the sights around me I saw nothing but the past because it was what I deeply wanted to see."
This was, of course, not news to Neville, who had been saying exactly the same for years. Archie had never heard him, or similarly, never wanted to.
"But you, Neville," said Archie, turning his gaze onto his brother, "you have been here for years. I know that you have felt trapped and burdened in this life, and I am truly sorry for that. Maybe – maybe traversing the world will do for you what it could not for me."
Neville said nothing in reply, turning his face into the wind. Travel, it whispered in his ear, and he listened.
The household turned out to bid him farewell – unlike Archie, he had no desire to slip out in the middle of the night, unseen, as if he had something to be ashamed of, or something to run away from. Mrs. Medlock, always severe, gave him a deferential nod and nothing more. Indeed most of the servants kept their heads down, except for that one, the talkative, impertinent one who watched over Mary and Colin now, her eyes sparkling instead at – what? The joy of being alive and there? Neville could never tell. Regardless, it made him uncomfortable.
Next to her were Colin and Mary; his nephew blinked up at him and said, "Goodbye, uncle," in his bright, high voice that was more and more being heard in excitement or pleasure than in pain and misery. Neville tried not to scowl at the energy that seemed to be emanating from him, the vibrations of life that seemed to put him on another plane of being in his innocent youth.
Mary did not say anything. Neville had not seen much of her since Archie had come home, preferring to stay out the way of the children unless Archie wanted him to check on Colin's health. She had been staring at the ground but as Neville passed her, she looked up at him, and the force of her glare shocked him. There was accusation and resentment in her eyes, a look Neville had seen before and lashed out against, but also something more – a warning, from the way her eyes narrowed and continued to stare, a protective promise for the future.
Archie, of course, was last, and he offered his hand. "Don't be gone too long – just long enough," he said. Neville gave a grim, forced smile and shook it, then turned as abruptly and walked as briskly as he could to the carriage. Maybe, he reflected, it would have been better to leave at night, when at the very least the light of the day wouldn't feel harsh, all-seeing, judgmental.
London, Paris, Munich, Geneva. Neville became used to feeling unsettled, if that were possible, always in transition and never stopping anywhere for long. Sometimes he barely knew where he was going even as he voyaged there.
He reveled in visiting all the sights that he had never dreamed of glimpsing. He would write each down in his notebook along with a small description, so that each place became a tangible, numerable measure of his progress. And it was a new, almost refreshing experience to be the odd one out in a location, the glaringly obvious foreigner.
There is nothing lonelier than being invisible.
Love is blind, it was always said, but Neville had never realized that it meant lovers were blind to the rest of the world as well. Not until Archie had brought Lily home for the first time, and they had wandered the manor and the grounds, so wrapped up in each other that there was no room for anything else.
Neville had not loved her on first sight as Archie had – though she was beautiful, her love for Archie made her seem remote, in another world. It was not until the first time she had laughed at a chance remark he had made at dinner, until her eyes turned to him with a delight reserved for no one else, that he found himself drowning in her glance. But the moment was all too brief.
Then Lily died.
Archie mourned, and Neville too, his grief subtler and more hidden than his brother's. The first year was a blur in his memory: a mess of darkness, a crying baby, overwrought nursemaids, medicines upon medicines, and a long, cold winter.
It was sometime after Colin's first birthday (a day Archie refused to leave his bed and spent alternately weeping and dozing) that the singing began. At first it was just Archie who heard it, and Neville spent a week or so deliberating over his brother's sanity, until one night he thought he heard a wisp of music down a dark corridor. From then on, Lily's voice was heard regularly, if faintly – usually mixed in which Colin's crying at night, giving the wails an ethereal, forlorn tone.
Sometimes he could see her, too, a flash of white in the corner of his eye, a false shadow in a candle-lit room. But, he came to realize, it was never when he was alone – only with Archie, or sometimes when he watched Archie alone, pacing back and forth through the hallways, or dancing by himself in the ballroom, and Neville thought he could make out the shape of a face and the flutter of a skirt flowing with him. Sometimes Neville dreamed of her, walking through the manor the way that her spirit seemed to do now, cold and white and sad.
But even after her death, it was not enough to see her. Even as he mourned next to his brother, even as he strained his ears to hear her singing and kept his eyes searching for a glimpse of her silhouette, even as he watched her in his sleep and pictured her perfectly, she did not look at him. Her eyes remained dim and shadowed in the dreams, and all her haunting attention was reserved for Archie – not for all those who loved her, but for the one that she had truly, bewilderingly loved.
In time, Neville grew to despise her ghost. He closed his eyes and ears to her voice and presence, and tried to forget the dreams as much as he could. He threw himself into his own work and fantasies about what life could be like if he were free of his duties, though making sure to keep them distanced from himself so that unlike his brother, he was not living in a dream world. Despite being the younger son, he became the commanding leader of the household next to Archie's worn, distracted air. After some time Archie began leaving Misselthwaite as often as he could, and Neville often had the house to himself, a distorted reflection of the life that he imagined for himself.
But no matter how loud he spoke or how full he made his presence, he could never lose the feeling that it was Lily who ignored him as much or more as he did her. It was a strange feeling, to grow and grow and grow, and yet at the same time be withering and disappearing into nothingness.
One day he found himself in Cairo, breathing in dust and heat in the middle of a crowded thoroughfare, market vendors yelling their wares to the isolated clusters of foreigners that passed by. He took off his hat to wipe his brow with a kerchief and thought that he was the warmest he'd ever been, the furthest he'd ever traveled from home in distance, feeling, experience.
He briefly entertained the idea of jumping on a ship to India, to see how far across the world he could go before he would start to forget why he was going away – how far it would take him to start going forward to instead of running from. The idea was tempting beyond belief.
But an unexpected image of hazel eyes flashed in his mind, young and sullen, and suddenly India did not seem at all attractive for a reason that he could not name.
Even the heat of Egypt now seemed too oppressive. And maybe this sudden reversal of feeling meant something. He booked himself a different boat, and he knew that even if he didn't like his destination, he was at least going to instead of from.
II. there's a girl who no one sees
On Colin's thirteenth birthday, he and Mary had the most horrific row.
"Colin Craven, even if it is your birthday and even if you are older than me, I do not have to do as you say!"
"You're supposed to pay more attention to me! It's my birthday, not Dickon's!"
It was a common fight, as were most of their arguments. In the beginning Uncle Archie had tried to mediate between them, a worried, pinched look on his face at every yell, but eventually he learned to ignore it as well. Sometimes Mary even thought he was secretly in conspiracy with her, because Uncle Archie still could not manage to scold Colin properly, and instead when she did he sometimes threw her a grateful glance. Colin had grown well, perhaps not as tall as other boys his age but healthy and fit, and yet in many senses he still seemed quite a bit younger than Mary herself.
After the shouting had continued back and forth for some time, Mary finally gave in and said, exasperated, "And what exactly do you think Dickon and I were doing on your birthday, hmm?"
"Oh!" said Colin, his anger falling away as suddenly as it had appeared, making him look young and hopeful almost beyond hope, as he always did when he realized that he might soon experience something that would make him happy. "Is it a present?"
Mary was tempted to make yet another scathing remark, but held herself in – another birthday gift, perhaps. "Of course it is," she told him instead. "Well? Aren't you going to find Dickon now and see?"
He flashed her a grin and ran off, calling back, "Come on, Mary!"
She paused for only a moment before dashing after him. And after all that fuss, it was still a pleasure to see the look on his face as Dickon presented him the spaniel that he had been hiding and training in his hut for the past month.
"He's a good one," Dickon informed Colin, "still a lot for you to teach him, but at least now your father will allow him inside the house."
Colin barely managed to thank them as he wrapped his arms around the dog and smiled, but somehow Mary didn't mind as much.
That evening, after cake and tea and more presents for Colin from his father, they all sat together in the drawing room. Colin and Mary curled up by the fire with the dog and talked as Uncle Archie sorted through his letters, every once in a while contributing to their conversation.
"Ah!" said Uncle Archie suddenly, a note of surprise and pleasure in his voice.
"What is it, Father?"
"Your uncle Neville is to return," Archie informed them. "It seems he has finally grown tired of traveling and wants to restart his practice in the village."
Mary felt a spark of fear down her back, and she swallowed stubbornly, trying to let the feeling pool into her stomach and settle down. It had been three years since they had seen Dr. Craven, and though her memories of that time had faded somewhat, he stood out rather vividly – a bogeyman of sorts, the one who was too starkly real and had frightened her more than the ghosts in the manor. It was not for herself but for Colin, who had seemed, at best, to be an obstacle in Dr. Craven's path, and at worst, the cause of all his misfortunes, both of which were dangerous positions. Even though Mary knew now that Colin had a father who loved them and protected them, and even though there was nothing to suggest now that Dr. Craven would still hate the two of them, a voice inside her could not help but rise up in her throat and cry, No, he won't get Colin, he won't.
Colin had a much more forgiving – oblivious – memory, and anyway, he had never known as much as Mary did. He was always the center of attention in his own little world, even at that time, while Mary was the one who watched from the corners and noticed things. Perhaps that was why she had made herself his guardian – he couldn't see that far outside himself, and even Uncle Archie, who was now his own man, would not focus on the dark spots of life now that he had finally found the lighter ones. It was still up to Mary to hold back her smile when needed and act as the sharp, secret eyes for everyone else.
"When will he arrive?" Colin was asking, furrowing his brow slightly, and Mary knew he was trying to picture his uncle's face again. It had been a long time.
"Next week, when he has settled some affairs in London. Remind me, Mary, I'll have Mrs. Medlock open up his rooms and study again."
"Of course, Uncle Archie."
And that was that, Archie returning to his other correspondence, and Colin chattering away about how wonderful birthdays were and what he should name the dog, while Mary, as usual, resigned herself to her feelings and the flicker of nervousness in her chest.
When Dr. Craven returned, there was no fanfare about it; his carriage came in midday when Colin and Mary were having lessons with their governess, and they had no news of his arrival until they went to dinner and there he was.
He was mostly as Mary remembered – tall, stern, but with his jaw set less rigidly and his skin tanner and more weathered. Uncle Archie stood next to him, but almost beaming. "Mary, Colin, come greet your uncle," he beckoned.
Colin went ahead and for a moment Mary lingered behind, but then she took a deep breath. "Dr. Craven," she said bravely, sticking out her hand as she had been taught.
Dr. Craven began to respond, hesitantly, when Archie said, "Come now Mary, there's no need for that – Colin calls him uncle, I don't see why you can't. Right, Neville?"
Dr. Craven looked startled, and peered down at her. "Of course," he muttered.
Mary didn't say anything, just pursed her lips and nodded. If she wasn't to call him Dr. Craven, at least around Uncle Archie, she may as well not call him anything at all.
"Uncle Neville, where did you go on your journeys?" Colin piped up as soon as they began to eat.
"Oh, here and there," said Dr. Craven vaguely, seeming to be more intent on his stew.
Archie glanced at him and said, "Colin's very interested in travel, particularly since Mary has been so many places that he hasn't yet had a chance to see – I'm certain he'd love to hear your stories."
Dr. Craven stiffened slightly and looked tentative again, then began to tell a story about a tumultuous train ride through a part of Bavaria. Mary listened more to the rhythm and tone of his voice than to his words, and noticed more differences – there was an air of uncertainty that she hadn't heard before. It almost reassured her, since her fear of him had always arisen from his own solid conviction that he was right and she was only a child to be disregarded, which made her doubt herself. He no longer sounded as confident and implacable.
But Mary did not know what he did sound like, and she was not sure what to make of that.
"You may just have something there," Martha said when Mary relegated these ideas to her the next day as she sat in Mary's room, darning socks.
Mary blinked. "Do I?" She'd expected some form of I think you're talking nonsense, child, which might have been a reassurance in itself. Sometimes she wondered if the hundreds of thoughts that still tumbled through her caged mind were worth keeping, especially since so many were derived from listening and watching in ways that no one else could understand. She was no longer as silent and separate as she had been, and she had ways to get her thoughts out that didn't make her feel locked up and explosive, but old habits of observation still died hard.
"Mm," Martha nodded. "This is the doctor we're speaking of, after all. We know that he takes watching, even if he means no harm now."
Mary felt a surge of relief, not unlike her usual feelings when confiding in Martha or Dickon. They had a way of hearing and agreeing with her that made her feel more comforted and peaceful than anything Colin or Uncle Archie could do, however much she loved them. Sometimes she still felt out of sync with her cousin and uncle – not left out, but merely as if she had a measure of rest while they were still happily singing their duet. Martha, Dickon, and even Ben sometimes paused with her.
"And you don't think my ideas are nonsense?"
"Mary Lennox," said Martha, a little smile on her face, "you know very well what I think of your ideas, and if you're looking for flattery here you'll be out of luck."
Mary couldn't help but smile back, and reached out shyly to clasp Martha's hand. She knew she was still poor at showing affection, but at the look on Martha's face, the few times that she did were entirely worth it.
"Perhaps he's learned something from his travels," Martha suggested, setting aside the darning for a proper conversation. "It has been a long time, after all. Or maybe coming back and seeing this family you've made for yourself makes him uncomfortable. Lord knows I might be, trying to fit into this tight little circle you have."
Mary had never thought of it that way. "Doesn't he deserve it?"
"I don't know if that's for us to decide. And besides there is nothing that you can do but accept his presence, whether you understand it or not. I promise, Mary, you have nothing to fear from him anymore."
"How do you do it?" Mary said abruptly, not knowing how to ask what she wanted to learn. "Understand the kinds of things I see when others do not?"
Martha gave her a measuring look. "Children are to be seen and not heard," she said after a moment, "and servants must be invisible. Sometimes it's one and the same."
"I don't think you're very good at that," Mary said frankly, and Martha laughed before picking up the darning again."
"No doubt you're right, miss. But mayhap sometimes, it means we see the same things."
Dr. Craven was a near-silent presence in the house, wandering the halls quietly or remaining enclosed in his study. Mary found that she and Colin did not encounter him much and rarely saw him outside of meals. Still, Mary could not forget that he was there, and she tried to stay wary around him.
Autumn was drifting into winter, slowly but surely. Mary caught a conversation between the doctor and Uncle Archie in his office, as she was coming in one day from picking the last of this year's thyme and rosemary for the cook.
"You know there is need for it, Neville," she heard Archie say. "We have not been able to retain a regular doctor, and the current fellow is soon to marry and wants a larger practice in a larger town." He paused. "I thought that was why you returned."
"I returned because I had no desire to continue traveling," said Dr. Craven, gruff.
She could hear Archie shuffling papers around and sighing. "Perhaps what you lack at this moment is a purpose."
"Do I? And what about you, Archie? What is your purpose?"
"Being a father," said Archie, as if it were obvious. "Making up for the ten years in which I was not. Also, seeing over the lands and the town in a better way that I had before – and my request to you is a part of that. Please, Neville. For me if not for yourself."
Mary did not think that an appeal to the doctor's generosity would necessarily result in anything, but she heard him give a quiet noise of assent, and she snorted to herself as she made her way to the kitchen.
That night, as Mary readied herself for bed, she glanced out her window and gave a soft gasp. A small figure was striding out, past the gardens and onto the moor, with only a lantern in hand. She knew from his gait that it was not Uncle Archie, nor the gardener or Dickon. But the renewed confidence and vigor in his step surprised Mary, for if this was Dr. Craven, it was the man that she remembered from before: aggressive, untouchable, and stopping for no one in his path.
But suddenly the figure did halt. For some moments the man just stood there and Mary watched, not knowing quite what to make of it. It would be cold out there, with the wind and the night air whipping around, and yet the figure remained.
Perhaps this was not the old doctor. Or perhaps even his certainty of the past was a façade, because now the figure that remained there seemed to embody doubt and loneliness, and even – insignificance. He was a pinprick of solitary light surrounded by the dark waves of the moor, and when Mary eventually came away from the window, she knew that he still remained.
III. those eyes that saw him happy long ago
After Sanders, the butcher, had left Dr. Craven's practice with the gout medication that he had prescribed, he decided that was enough for the day. The days were finally getting longer again, but after the first few busy months after opening his practice, he found that there had been a lull in the number of patients. That would lessen even more as spring and summer continued, and mild hay fevers would replace the colds and pneumonia of the winter.
Now that the days were warmer as well, Neville had stopped sending for the carriage to take him back to the manor at the end of the day. His travels had given him a fondness for walking and being alone, in motion, and it was barely a two mile trek from the town.
As he walked out onto the small road, he heard a familiar voice from by one of the houses. When he looked, he saw the girl Mary chattering animatedly to an older woman – one of the townspeople, no doubt. Neville wondered how Mary knew the woman.
He also wondered why she was here, and how she planned to return home. It would still be getting dark soon. After a moment of hesitation, he walked towards them, saying, "Mary Lennox!"
Mary looked up at him, startled. "Oh, good afternoon, Dr. Craven," she said, and he could hear the change in her voice from her conversation with the woman.
"It's almost evening," he told her, affronted for some reason by her tone. "You should be on your way home before it gets dark." Mary opened her mouth to protest, and he continued stiffly, "Will you accompany me on the walk back?"
Mary closed her mouth and seemed to consider him for a moment. "I'd be glad to, Dr. Craven," she said, sounding anything but happy about it, but Neville was nonetheless impressed by the improvement in her manners since her days as a little girl. She picked up a basket that had been leaning on her ankles and turned back to the townswoman, saying, "Thank you, Mrs. Sowerby."
"Come and visit me again, will you?" said the woman, smiling.
Mary grinned back and said, "Of course I will, I come to see you every almost every other day!"
"Oh I know, child, but I still have to do you the favor of asking. Say hello to my Martha for me as well."
As Mary turned back, a small scowl settled on her face that made her look suddenly more familiar to Neville – at least, to his memories of her when she had first arrived at the manor. Strange that now her sullen attitude was a rare occasion – possibly one provoked by him.
"You come down to the town often, then?" he asked as they began to walk up the road.
"Yes," said Mary shortly.
"The walk does not bother you?"
"I enjoy it. It's peaceful, walking by myself."
Neville wanted to ignore the hint there, but instead it set him wondering. What was it that the girl hated so much about him? Perhaps he had not been very easy with her when she had first come to their household, nor very kind, but she had also taken it upon herself to meddle where she wasn't needed. He had been somewhat vindicated in that.
Still, child though she was, he could not help but be bothered by her resentment. It was something he had forgotten about or been able to ignore for quite a while, but here it was, in front of him, and he had even brought it upon himself.
"But it is a long way," he continued.
"Not any more than when I walk out on the moor, sometimes. With Dickon and Colin as well. Colin still thinks of walking as a wonder, even if he does not need to worry any more about not being able to."
Ah, and that was it, the source of her anger. Colin. Abruptly Neville remembered a conversation with the girl after he had discovered her interference with Colin, and an impertinent, outrageous claim that had come from her mouth.
You want him to die, so you can have this house.
He had lashed out against her because of the disobedience and presumption in her voice – she was a child, for God's sake, and he did not have to listen to her false, insolent accusations. He did not have to feel touched by them, because they were naturally to be disregarded.
And yet he also lashed out because he had been touched. Because it resonated with something inside of him that made his anger turn to rage. Something that perhaps sparked of truth.
Had he wanted Colin to die? No. Unequivocally no – everything in him rebelled against the idea, his sense as an uncle, a doctor, a human being. But he had wished, more than once, that Colin had never been born. If he could have wiped his nephew's existence from the face of the earth without the betrayal of his Hippocratic Oath and his own morals, he might have taken the opportunity. It would have been better if Colin had never been born. Better for all of them.
Perhaps that itself was a cruel, heinous thought. After all, Archie had avoided Colin from the love and pain of seeing him ill as much as anything. For Neville, he was purely a reminder of the past, and his absence was a dream of what the future could be.
And if he thought hard, if he admitted things to himself, there was no doubt that he had wanted control of the manor. It had been a rather forsaken place, of course, with ghosts and despair haunting the hallways, but after his life had been engulfed by his brother's, there was a sharp, desperate desire for something of his own. A place where he could go when he was lost inside himself, displaced and invisible.
That was something his travels had still not accorded him. If anything, he felt even more unsettled at Misselthwaite now, as if it were a stop on the way to another place, with no true destination in sight, and nothing to keep him grounded. Nothing constant and essential in his life, and too many memories and hatreds here, perhaps.
Yet he did not know where else to go.
"It is…good to see Colin so well," he said, haltingly. "He is a fine, strong boy. I wish I had been here to see him grow this way."
Mary gave him another surprised look, though she covered it up quickly and gave a quiet, "Yes," in response.
They walked in silence for quite some time, lost in their own thoughts. After about half an hour, Mary began to sing, some folk song about dancing. Her voice was soft but sweet, and though Neville was surprised, the intent look on her face and her unselfconscious singing seemed to be a sort of concession – an admission that perhaps she could feel peaceful and confident in herself even when not alone. Even when Neville, someone she hated, walked beside her.
Neville knew he should not care about the concessions of such a child, but for some reason he could not explain, he too felt more at peace.
It happened again a few weeks later, when Mary was in town at the same time that Neville was leaving. Once again he requested that she walk back with him; once more she grudgingly assented.
He asked her about her studies and she surprisingly opened up a bit more, speaking enthusiastically about the poetry she memorized and the history she read. He felt the need to press her a little about mathematics, because while girls did not need to understand it, Neville could not help but feel that science was vital to everyone, no matter their position in life. It had kept him grounded through many times, after all.
Mary, in turn, asked him with a child's curiosity about medicine and what it was like to cure people's ailments; his reply seemed, again, to make her more comfortable with his presence.
The walks became a not uncommon occurrence, even as the days grew longer and warmer. It seemed that Mary had always come into town often to see Mrs. Sowerby, or the lad Dickon and his newly-wed wife Hannah, but now she seemed to wait for Neville to walk back if she was there at the right time. Sometimes she sang; sometimes they did not speak at all.
As spring made its way from the lion to the lamb, one day Mary came back from the town with a bag of seeds from Mrs. Sowerby, and when she and Neville reached the grounds, she split from the path to go towards Lily's garden.
Strange, that Neville still called it Lily's in his mind. It jolted him to see Mary make her way down the path – it put Mary and Lily together again his mind which had not happened in a long time. After all, memories of Lily's countenance were, however much he tried to prevent it, fading in his memory, and as though as Mary grew she became lovelier, it was in a different way. Even her eyes were different, not because of their shape or color, but in the way that they saw.
The next time they walked together, he found himself telling her about Egypt, asking her about India, trying to reconcile the stark differences to England in his mind.
"How did you make it a home for yourself, out there?" he could help but ask.
"It was what I knew," said Mary, surprised. "When I first came here, this was horribly different. It's so cold and wet and dark."
"Does that still bother you?"
"No," she replied, thoughtful. "I was familiar with India, but it never felt like home. Nothing ever did, before I came here."
She said nothing about the garden, but the spark inside Neville, the part of him that still longed for something of his own, recognized the sentiment. He watched again as she made her way to the garden.
But no matter what, he could not follow. Though Mary seemed to have opened herself up more, there was still a touch of wariness about her, as if she was keeping one eye open and trained on him to predict his movements. She still feared for Colin, and she still resented him, which kept her walled, still, inside the safety of herself and her garden.
Neville did not even know if she was wrong to fear him, because despite everything, there was still that sharp desire in him, that need for more, that made him jealous and resentful himself of the happiness he saw around him.
In November, the unthinkable occurred. Colin, while playing with Mary in the garden, fell out of a tree.
Mary ran into the house, shocking the servants with her screams. When she found Neville and Archie, the fear in her voice gripped him, and as the words tumbled out of her mouth, Colin, garden, tree, won't wake up, he saw Archie grow pale and faint. This was too much, the way it vividly threw them back all those years. They rushed into the garden and even the setting was familiar, the flowers laughing cruelly, mocking them all for their trust in beauty, and Neville knew that this could shatter everyone, Archie and himself and Mary, perhaps irrevocably.
But when they reached Colin, he had regained consciousness, and though his face was twisted in pain, he was also well enough to say petulantly, "Mary! Why did you leave me?"
Mary halted, shocked, and Neville examined him and Archie cradled Colin's head in his lap. As the fear drained from Mary's face, she choked out, "I was getting help, you foolish, foolish boy. I thought – we thought – "
"It is merely a sprained ankle," Neville announced, feeling suddenly as if he could breathe again, and tears slipped down Archie's cheeks in relief. "And a slight concussion, but nothing of consequence. Archie, we must get him inside."
Later, when Colin was in bed and asleep, Neville sought his brother out. "Archie, are you –"
"I am fine," Archie said, and though he did look exhausted, he managed a smile. "I was terrified, but I am fine now."
Neville was silent for a moment, then said, "It brought back that day so clearly in my mind."
"Yes," said Archie, voice trembling, though it did not seem as strangled in agony as it once had when mentioning anything about Lily's death. "I…don't think of it often."
Neither, Neville realized with a jolt of surprise, did he. That was perhaps what had made it so unthinkable.
"But," Archie continued, and Neville was surprised too by the glimmer of strength in his tone, "though my first thought was that I should shelter Colin in his room again, forever, I don't think I could stand that. I don't think I can keep him safe by caging him anymore, Neville."
"Nor I," Neville said, voice low. "Archie, I would not even recommend it."
"Life is for living," Archie said with a shuddering breath. "If he does not enjoy life, there is no reason to protect it in the first place. I've discovered that. I think you have as well."
Neville did not know quite what to say, because while he understood Archie's words, he was not even sure he felt them the way he should. "Then you no longer fear the garden?" he could not help asking, regretting the words after they burst from his mouth.
Archie turned to face him, his face pale with anxiety but also filled with resolve. "No," he said finally. "No, I do not. It brought him back, it made Mary who she is. Even I find myself taking comfort in it, sometimes. And Colin – Colin is fine. I cannot spend my life in fear and anguish any more, when there is so much to live for."
Is there, Neville could not help but think, is there, indeed?
Mary knocked on the door of Neville's study later that afternoon.
"Thank you," she said softly, standing in the middle of the room. "For Colin."
"What else did you think I would do?" Neville snapped, suddenly angry at her distrust, even at her presumption, the way she thought she could talk to him as if she, a child, was on his level, and as if she could judge him on that plane. "That I would leave him hurt, that I would abandon him for some selfish, unfathomable reason?"
Mary swallowed. "I don't know."
And there it was, blunt, cruel honesty. It shook him to the core, unsettled him more than he could bear, and he turned away from her, staring out the window.
"No," he heard her say finally. "No, I did not think that. But neither did I expect you to truly fear for him the way you did."
Neville knew he should still be angry, but all the feeling washed out of him, leaving him drained and empty. "It brought back – that day," he said, the words still ashen in his mouth, even if they no longer were for his brother. "I don't think you can imagine. It was the worst day of his life, of mine – "
He closed his eyes, the image of Lily faded in his mind, and then turned and opened them to see Mary, standing there. Standing right there, in this house. Not Lily, no, but someone who at least saw him, even when it was in hatred.
"Yes," she said quietly. "I can't imagine, not really," and she looked down. "But. Even so, I thank you." And when she looked back up at him, the gratefulness and acknowledgment in her eyes was new and completely, utterly different.
IV. walk through walls he's hid behind for years
It would be winter again, too soon. Though the trials of the day had made her just as tired and fearful, and even though it was growing dark and bitingly cold, she had to go back to the garden, if only to remind herself that it was there, alive, not merely a place of tragedy.
After supper she excused herself and fetched her coat.
There were footsteps behind her, and she heard the doctor say, "Where do you think you're going?".
"To the garden," she said carefully, turning. She still did not know what to make of their conversation that afternoon – at least, she did not quite know what to make of him after his feelings, after this day and the stricken look on his face at Colin's fall. It had realigned all her ideas of him, and she still was not sure what to do with that.
Mary looked at him, standing there, his face blank and stern but his eyes uncertain. She took a deep breath.
"Dr. Craven, would you like to come to the garden? It is…peaceful."
He did not say anything, but gave her a curt nod.
They walked out in silence, and Mary found herself falling into step with him. This was familiar in a way that everything in the manor had become, but it was a part that she'd never thought to know so well.
The door to the garden was always open now, and they ducked through it. Mary took the garden in as she did every time that she came in; no matter how often she was there, it never ceased to be special, comforting.
And she looked at the doctor: the fear of her first few months at Misselthwaite, the threat to everything she had grown to love, and now she saw only a man, unsure and out of place, looking at the shriveling leaves of the flowers and placing a hand out to touch them almost reverently. And something washed over her – a sense that she was looking at someone who was, in many ways, a reflection of herself all those years ago. Despite that he was older, wiser, she was the one with the strength and place here, and she ached for the lost feeling that emanated from him, because it was one she had felt herself.
She didn't know who this new Dr. Craven was, not yet, just that he wasn't the same man she had seen before. But she could find out, and she could perhaps share something of her own with him to help him come out of his shell and into the world. And to help herself, to know that there was someone who not only knew what she said but could have said it himself, without any prompting or cues, and without any rests in music.
After all, Mary had always been good at unlocking hidden doors.
"Welcome," she said, smiling slightly, shyly, and slipped one small hand into his.