We all have our secrets. We all carry around a burden in our hearts and heads; those parts of our lives that we keep hidden away from view, for whatever reason. Just occasionally, we get to lay those burdens down, such as when I admitted my nature to Gwyn, and free ourselves of that weight. They say confession is good for the soul, but it all depends on who you get to confess to. There have been times when I wished I was of the Catholic faith, so I could shut myself in that little booth and get things off my chest to somebody who didn’t know who I was. I don’t know if it would have worked. I had precious little faith when I attended the local Anglican church in Chatham, and I can’t imagine I would have had much more had I attended St Peter’s instead. And then, there are things you can’t tell because there is nobody to tell who would understand or care. One such secret was one I have carried for quite a few years now, a secret about a carriage ride on a dark and stormy night in Richmond, Virginia. There was nobody to tell because it concerned only one other person, long lost to me now, even if she had been able to remember it and now deceased. Perhaps I could have told Brigitte, but I never did, and there was nobody else in Jasper Cove who would understand.
That is, until last night. Sophia came into the tavern while I was there on my own, as seems to often be the case these days, trying to work on Edmund’s story. After some small talk concerning my writing, she suddenly decided to take advantage of our being alone and blurted out that she had a message from her mother.
I was somewhat taken aback, since she had already told me that her mother, Tory, had passed on into final death, and was even more so when she told me what the message was. That her mother had regained some of her memories, in particular, of what passed in that carriage that dark and stormy night. Moreover, that she was sorry that circumstances had come between us. Sophia admitted that she did not quite understand, other than that there had been difficulties, because her mother rarely spoke about it, and there was scant information in her diaries. Her impression, from what there had been in them, was that Tory barely knew me.
And so, there it was, my secret laid bare. I experienced a whole wash of emotions, from agony through to cathartic relief, that the secret was now open.
Or was it? Sophia said that she didn’t understand all of what her mother told her, so is it possible that Tory gave her the message without telling her precisely what happened? She gave no indication of any anger or hostility, indeed, she was more concerned with expressing her sorrow at being the bearer of bad news, and for not being able to tell me that Tory died having found peace. With so many conflicting emotions, I did not really know what to say or do. Lacking any direction, I decided I should start at the beginning. By chance, I still had the journal in my pocket with the folded up playbill. I pulled it out and commented that “it was a dark and stormy night” was hardly the most original opening. I felt I should establish some background, so I started with telling her about my own mother, and her love of the piano.
I suspect that some distress had shown on my face, for she interrupted to ask if I was well. I assured her that I was, just a little overwhelmed with the news. She then proceeded to tell me more. The main reason for Tory’s distress, it seems, was her unrequited love for a man she knew in London. She told me that Miss Lucy, presumably the Lucretia I knew, had said that Tory was somehow bound and enthralled to a man she knew only as William, who Lucy referred to as Regent, which latter title she did not seem to understand.
McTaggart! William McTaggart, the self-styled Dark Lord, and Regent. Now there was a name I had hoped never to hear again. I told Sophia that I indeed knew the man of whom she spoke. I did not bother to conceal my distaste either. An insufferable, arrogant braggart with no morals or scruples whatsoever is what I called him, or something approximating to that, and also said that I was not surprised he had not returned her feelings, having no regard for anybody but himself.
Sophia continued by saying that she did not know many of the details because her mother had burned so many things, including diaries and suchlike. She said that the strength of Tory’s feelings was such that it was though McTaggart had cast some sort of spell on her.
At this point, our conversation had to become a bit more cryptic as Aoibheann and Neelam had arrived. I introduced Aoibheann as the owner of the tavern, since Sophia had thought she might be a customer; then after Aoibheann said hello, Sophia told her that I had been an old friend of her mother’s and she had come to give me news of her mother’s passing. I could not help mouthing “told you so” in Aoibheann’s direction, but she gave no indication of having understood. I despatched Neelam to the kitchen to make Sophia an Irish coffee while we continued our conversation as best we could.
Sadly, it seemed that Sophia had never heard Tory play, as her piano and all her sheet music were among the things she burned after her falling out with McTaggart. I told her that I wished I could furnish her with more information, but I was unable to do so as whatever passed between Tory and McTaggart must have happened after they left London. Sophia said, rather grimly, that she did know something of that, having learned it from Lucy and from Tory’s journals; something that happened on the night of what Lucy referred to as the “night of mother’s revenge”. Whatever that was, it was what changed Tory, and in the process, was what awakened her memories.
At this point, I felt that we had passed into territory not to be discussed in front of others and said so, changing the subject to enquire after Lucy. Not knowing how much Sophia knew of our kind, I was somewhat cryptic, explaining that I had been friendly with Lucy, but that, because of the situation in London at the time, it was somewhat akin to a Montagu being friends with a Capulet. Sophia could not tell me news of Lucy, for although she had stayed a while, to help her with Tory, she had subsequently left, presumably trying to go back to London, and beyond two letters, she had not heard anything since. She herself had then tried to follow Tory’s last wishes, but was unable to find the London I had known, and it was only by circumstance that she had ended up here in Jasper Cove, having almost given up hope of ever finding me to deliver that last message.
By now she was tired and we agreed that we should speak again when it was more convenient. She also mentioned she needed some medicine, given to her by he mother, that she had to take, but was running low. I was a little curious, being reminded of how Cristof sometimes would make his own “cherryade” by pouring something red into his drink. I told her that I was sure we would be able to find something to suit, mentioning Anna as a skilled healer. I asked if she had found suitable accommodation but she prevaricated somewhat. Eventually, aided by Aoibheann, I was able to persuade her to take a room at the tavern, rather than, as I suspected was the case, camping in the woods. She seemed rather relieved to have been so persuaded, apparently more weary of improvising than she cared to admit. She went to fetch her suitcase from wherever she had concealed it and when she returned, I walked her to her room, telling her that if she could not find me at the tavern, she could always try my apartment across the courtyard. I wished her goodnight and, wishing to avoid any further explanations, as no doubt Aoibheann would have questions, I retired to my aforementioned apartment, there to reflect one what had passed.
So, what I had suspected, that Tory had more feelings for McTaggart than those of a Cardinal for her Regent, had been true. Knowing what I did of McTaggart’s nature, I was not surprised that he did not return her affections, or that he had somehow hurt Tory in so failing to do. The darker part of me hopes that whatever happened on the “night of mother’s revenge” was suitable painful for him, for I had never liked the man, still less what he was. I could not help but be saddened that one outcome of this was to end the music. For whatever else had passed between Tory and myself, that was one thing we both knew we held in high regard, and, lacking a memory of what had passed between us, was the one thing that bound us when other circumstances held us apart. Next time I meet Sophia, I must persuade her to go for a walk with me in the forest, or to take coffee in my apartment, where we can continue our conversation in private. Maybe then, I can lay down the burden of what transpired that dark and stormy night, and finally find some peace. Perhaps also, Sophia can find some peace too. I cannot do anything for Tory, but perhaps, if I can help her daughter, that will suffice as recompense for what happened. Perhaps. I can but hope.