“I’ve booked passage for you to the colonies.”
I rarely ever feared my brother, but something about his rigid posture leaning over his desk and the candlelight flickering across the creases in his face made me feel as though I might as well have had a pistol to my head.
His voice wasn’t stern though. He certainly didn’t seem happy with the matter, having called a late night meeting in his office in the first place, but there was a hint of tenderness in his tone. It wasn’t anything like the intervention he’d had when he became sure of his suspicions about George Everett. He’d seemed disgusted by me that night.
I had known that we would be leaving London soon from the timeline set by the date of Jamie’s journal entry detailing our arrival in December. Although I had been curious about the circumstances. Now, they were clear as day.
“May I ask why?” I knew why, per say, but Hal’s motives were still a mystery. He didn’t seem angry or upset, unlike the last time he had banished me. But if he wasn’t either of those things, it was somewhat of a mystery why he would force our departure at all.
Hal sighed, looking between myself and Graham. “You are not as good at hiding yourselves as you think you are. And I do not think that is an issue that can be overcome. It is simply the way of things.”
“And you don’t want to be associated with it,” I said. There was no use in denying his assertions.
“You know I cannot be, John. Clearly, there is nothing I can do to alter your ways. I’ve tried and failed before. I thought when you’d married Isobel that perhaps there was a change of heart.”
Graham stiffened slightly beside me at the mention of my late wife, but he made the wise decision not to argue.
“She might as well have been my sister, Hal.”
Hal shook his head. “I suppose I had ignored that, but it had at least been hope for me that I wouldn’t have to worry about you anymore. These past few weeks have proven otherwise though.”
He finally took a seat behind his desk, looking willfully exhausted.
“So you’re sending me away out of shame, is that it?”
Hal leaned back in his chair, rubbing his temple. “I’m almost offended that you think that. I would be lying if I told you that I approved of this particular choice you’ve made-”
“It’s not a choice,” Graham said. Hal seemed startled that he had decided to speak.
“From my view, it is,” Hal said simply, eyeing Graham. “I would be willing to concede that your...inclinations,” he put delicately, “are of little control to you. But the decision to act on them is your own. I’ve tried to dissuade you in the past, John, but frankly I believe that continuing to do so would be a waste of both of our time. I don’t have much time left on this Earth-”
“I could keel over from asthma at any moment, John. Let’s not pretend that’s not a consideration. I’d rather allow myself to enjoy what time I have left with my brother. I cannot control your choices, John, but I do have say over my response to them. But I won’t let you risk our family’s reputation by escorting Mr. Nowak about London, even if I’ve chosen to put aside my disapproval of your personal decisions.”
Hal stood folding his hands politely behind his back, an indication that the meeting was adjourned. “The boat leaves the harbor tomorrow at quarter of eight o’clock.”
Neither Graham nor I could even fathom sleeping, so we sat up in the parlor with tea and biscuits we had snuck from the pantry. At nearly 4 o’clock in the morning, even the live-in staff was asleep. The usual bustle of the house was replaced by an eerie stillness.
“Wislawa Szymborska called 4 AM the the ‘very pit of all hours’,” Graham said softly.
“Is she a writer of some sort? From your time?”
“A poet, to be exact,” Graham said. He stared off to the clock on the wall being me. “‘No one feels good at four in the morning. If ants feel good at four in the morning–three cheers for the ants. And let five o’clock come if we’re to go on living.”
I smiled softly. “What a dismal poem.”
“Szymborska’s thing was taking moments like these and using them to comment on various aspects of the human condition.”
“And which aspect was she investigating in that particular verse?”
Graham shrugged. “That 4 in the morning is the one hour where everything is still, and that we as humans find that notion disturbing- or ‘dismal’- as you put it. We spend our lives with the constant need to be doing something, but four in the morning forces us to stop and go against our nature. We’re not ants, who always have something to do no matter what time it is.”
I pondered Graham’s assessment of the words. “I suppose I’m an ant, in that case. I always quite liked four in the morning. It’s free of the burden of other people and their opinions. Quite productive, in my opinion.”
Graham chuckled. “Should I leave you to yourself, then?”
I smiled. “You’re the exception, my dear. I’d be glad to be up at any hour in your company.”
Graham’s smile when he blushed was different from his usual broad grin. It was an expression that he only ever made when we were alone with one another. It was almost bashful in nature, and was generally accompanied by some sort of nervous fidgeting, as if he didn’t quite believe what I’d said.
Graham was about to say something, but was interrupted mid-breath by an odd clunking noise outside the door.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” The clumsy intruder seethed on the other side of the door. I relaxed a bit.
“Are you alright, Minnie?”
She gathered the skirts of her robe, entering the room in a dignified manner. “I’m quite alright, thank you. Blasted gardener left his tools in the foyer again. I keep telling him we have a perfectly decent shed, but it all goes in one ear and out the other. Men have a tendency to do that.” She huffed, crossing her arms.
“Might I inquire as to what has you up at such an hour? Hal isn’t snoring again, is he?”
She laughed at that. “Hal always snores. I went for a glass of water and heard you talking in here. I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry about Hal.”
“There’s no need, Your Grace-”
“Please, Mr. Nowak. Call me Minnie. And I shall call you Graham, if it suits you.”
Graham smiled. “There’s no need, Minnie. You’re not responsible for your husband’s opinions.”
Minnie shook her head, “But I am, though. I’ve spent that last month trying to condition him to be more tolerant. Mostly worked, I’d say. He didn’t go into a fit of rage this time. I only wish you didn’t have to leave.”
I gave her a knowing look. “We would have to have left soon regardless, Min. And Hal was more amenable than I ever could have imagined. You did a good job. But might I inquire as to how exactly you conditioned him?”
She raised a brow. “I just made sure he remembered how much you two needed each other- how upset he’d been when you hadn’t written to him this past year. And that when all is said and done, nothing can supersede that.” She laughed, “I couldn’t say it directly, of course. You men aren’t obliged towards sensitivity.”
“We appreciate your kindness, Minnie,” Graham said sincerely.
“That you should,’ she said, putting her hands on her hips. “Hal is the most irrational creature without me.”
“I can vouch for that statement,” I laughed. “We cannot thank you enough.”
“You can thank me by keeping in touch,” she said somewhat sternly.
I would be able to keep that promise for a few months, but I felt the familiar pang of guilt at the realization that this was probably the last time we’d ever see her.
“Your wish is my command, my dear.”
She didn’t have to be disappointed just yet.