The letter was finished and sealed before the first stroke of eleven and already Victor could feel the strain of his efforts building in his body. He cursed the very same sister that he knew he was going out of his way to protect. Damn this feeling, whatever it was that passed for affection between them. Still, he couldn’t deny that it was this very same feeling in her that had left him stricken with illness rather than buried under the snow. He ought to feel some form of gratitude for that but it was difficult to see the pleasure of living with it made him feel like a man on his bloody deathbed. It was humiliating to know that he was behaving this way. A young man in the prime of his youth stricken helpless like an elderly invalid. It was likely to drive him mad, moving at this pace and feeling the very core of himself drained with each simple action.
Victor had not thought himself a proud man before this. Throughout his life, he’d scarcely paid any mind to how he looked and dressed, though he knew enough to know the difference between presentable and gauche. He may not have taken much effort to maintain himself but it hardly seemed to matter to the outside world. He was aware that he was fancied, even as a youth. He had been sought after and his father had seen to it that others had made notice of his features. He was often told he was handsome and much fuss was made to make sure that he was dressed to garner attention. His father would allow the household to fall to ruins faster than he would allow Victor to venture from the estate without wearing a well made tailored suit. It was never modern, however. This only seemed to draw more attention to him as he wore clothing that was out of date. It should have been embarrassing and shameful to them all and yet his father would take any advantage to make a point to sell his son as a commodity. Victor had always only been an asset, after all. Throughout it all, he had never once seen himself as one who took the least interest in his station as man. Perhaps it had simply been assured that he should always be considered as such. He’d grown up the only brother of many women but he was almost always referred to as the man of the house from the time that he was fifteen. It had been an attention that he had long wished would vanish but only seemed to make him more arrestingly apparent. He had longed then to have this same invisibility as he had now but he had never once questioned whether he felt like a man. He had been independent since he’d left the estate and with his diligence, he’d become wealthy enough to live however he chose within a year’s time. He had everything he’d ever really needed or desired. When he came of age, he had been of the mind that this was all that was ever truly needed in the life of a man. He found, these late days, that there might yet be something more.
Victor reclined in his chair, listening to the sombre ticking of a clock somewhere near. He refused to be put back to bed like some child. Some might believe that this was his punishment for himself as he lingered in this uncomfortable state. He was amused by this but felt no mirth in his thoughts on the matter. In fact, he thought much of what this poison had done and what it seemed to forecast for him. His body had become a slave to this lingering illness. This gait that had become his normal mode of transport. He found himself ashamed of it in a most surprising way. It was not the speed of his motions that haunted him, though it was irritating at the best of times. He had never once thought to move swiftly and since he was a child, Victor had not run from anything. He had always stood tall in the face of anything, even when he believed it would mean his death. Now he felt like he’d been robbed of his stature. The ability to walk and stand as he had once done was something he had taken so for granted. He never dreamed that there would come a time, especially at this early hour in his life, that he would find himself unable to behave as the man that he was. The man he knew from the mirror. Now, he’d become something different. Something like an elderly man, only worse. A sickly thing capable still of thought and able to conduct himself in whatever manner he might please but his body would not comply. It was as if the Victor he’d always known had become divorced from the body he once lived in and that ghost was still alive and fighting but this broken vessel could not contain that angry spirit a moment longer.
He was relieved to have his thoughts interrupted by the sound of his door opening and a small figure entering with a tray. The darkness of those thoughts got the best of him when he was at his best. He need not give them the satisfaction now that he was at his worst. As if out of spite, he found the strength that he lacked before and forced himself up to assist as the child steadied the platter for him and closed the door behind herself. Victor limped his way towards her and met her on the way to his desk. She sighed, seeming somewhat ashamed but accepted his help as he lifted the tray and carried it to a small table placed at the foot of his bed that had become his regular dining spot.
“It was a little heavier than the soup that the cook prepared yesterday,” the girl named Rosemary said, her voice low. “I’m sorry that I made you get up. I’ll try better with your dinner.”
“Don’t trouble your mind with such small worries, dear girl,” Victor said as he settled. He made no motion to remove the cover from the tray. “I would go mad in here were it not for the chance to get up on occasion.”
“Mrs. Colts will be most put out if she should find you out of bed,” the girl warned, working to arrange the table around him to make it seem more like being in a dining room. “She’ll be straight to the doctor again if she thinks your cough is coming back.”
“But you and I both know that this will not be a concern, right?” he said in a low voice. The girl did not not look but nodded anyway. “Very well. I should think that as I improve, I will enjoy the small victories of being able to rise and move. I don’t much envy the dead and I don’t plan to behave like one of them either, even if that is truly what dear Mrs. Colts should want.”
“She worries terribly about you, sir,” the girl replied. “She would never wish you harm, sir.”
“Oh of that I am well aware, child,” he replied. “It is that her concern often has her utterly convinced that I cannot lift a finger without putting my health in jeopardy. I understand that this is in part because of how she saw me before but being mothered is not something I’m accustomed to.”
“You are frustrated,” the girl said, continuing to arrange things to suit him better for when he was to eat. “I promise that the tea will start to work more rapidly soon. I’ve tried to add more of the wild flowers to your coffee or tea where I can. There are still some remains of the dried ones on their stalks in the forest but it is so terribly difficult to get there.”
“Again, dear child, you strain yourself needlessly,” Victor sighed. “My health has improved vastly and I am aware of the limitations. You need not throw yourself into a blizzard for the promise of flowers that may well be buried far enough that your hands would freeze before you found them. And you’re hardly the author of my frustrations, are you? If not for your diligence, I should believe that I would still be bedridden and barely able to breathe.”
“I simply want to know that you are being tended to, sir,” the girl sighed, looking at him. The worry was written on her face. “We all do but I know that Mrs. Colts is concerned. I am too.”
“I suspect that this has little to do with my illness, as we’ve been calling it,” Victor replied, looking her in the eyes. “Has there been some talk perhaps?”
“The images of your sister in the paper, they frighten everyone,” the girl frowned. “There is talk of what it may mean. There is talk, too, of what may have led to this mistake. If, perhaps, it was not a mistake.”
“A warning, perhaps?” Victor said. The girl nodded. “And what of yourself? Are you possessed with this air of fear because you believe that someone means to do me in? Someone who has already failed in her attempt?”
“I fear the ones that may have seen it,” the girl said, standing before him, twisting the edges of her apron in her hands. She looked to him and frowned with fear. “I fear who may come forward now to see if this is real. If they may make it so.”