Chapter 1: an overheard conversation
It was well past midnight when it happened.
Charlotte was just sitting down in her father’s Study in the chair in front of his desk, her favorite book, a little princess in one hand and a cup of coco in the other. Charlotte couldn’t remember how many times she had read this book, but no matter how many times she did, she never tired of it. She could still remember the day her Papa had brought it home. Charlotte now only had to close her eyes and she could still see it perfectly. How nice it had looked dress in blue velvet! And the title stamped across the front it in silver paint, and a lovely border of Diamonds shapes and lines around the whole cover.
Now the cover was tattered and faded from the many times Charlotte had sat in her favorite chair in front of papa’s desk, on one of the many nights He had stayed up late writing letters or signing something. Only the sounds of papa’s pen scratching on his paper or the turning of pages. Every now and then, Papa would ask her what part she was at or Charlotte would ask who he was writing too. Eventually, Charlotte would fall asleep in the old chair, all curled up and Papa would carry her to her room. But none of that would be happening tonight.
No, tonight Papa’s chair sat empty. This was the 5th time this week that she had sat here alone, and she hoped it was the last. The calendar on Papa’s wall said he was due to return from business the next day. Though Charlotte wished he would come home now. She had turned the old chair to face the door, just in case he would walk through. So even if she was to fall asleep, Papa could not miss her. Of course, Charlotte knew it was only a matter of time before Mother sent her governess, Mrs. Pettigrew, to get her. But Charlotte hoped that Mother would forget about her tonight. Maybe if she was quite she could just sleep in Papa’s study.
Papa’s Study was one of her favorite rooms in the big house. Even year’s later Charlotte could still remember the old but lovely smell the room had. It was a mix between old parchment and Papa’s smoking pipe. She loved the way the smell would stick to her clothes after sitting in the room for some time. It reminded her of Papa, and on days he was away she would just sit in Papa’s chair and read one of his books. Sometimes she would imagine that Papa was sitting next to her, reading over her shoulder. “Turn the page, Lottie, what does the next page hold for us?” he would say.
Smiling to herself, she opened the book to the marked page. Mrs. Pettigrew had found an old blue silk ribbon in the bottom of her sewing box for Charlotte mark her place. As she read, she knew what came next. Ms. Minchin would tell Sara her father was dead. Charlotte didn’t like this part; no girl should have to lose her Father. Her Papa was her favorite Person. Just reading this part made Charlotte want to hug her papa more than ever.
Footsteps in the hall broke her from the thoughts of Sara Crew and her Father. It seemed like Mother wouldn’t forget tonight after all. Sighing, Charlotte placed the ribbon back into the book and stood up. She sat the book on the desk and walked to the door, planning to meet Mrs. Pettigrew half way. She opened the door a crack, looking out in to the hall. Her governess was nowhere in sight. Maybe she it was just James or Eliza walking past. Charlotte’s thoughts started to drift back to the book on the desk; maybe she would get to read a little more tonight after all. But as she started to close the door, a man’s voice drifted down the hall to her. She turned her head a little to the side, in hopes to learn who it was. The voice was too deep to be James, the butler, or Papa for that matter. And she would know their voices anywhere. So who was it? Who would ever come calling this late at night?
Charlotte heard the click of heals on the wood floor, and then her mother’s voice.
“May I help you? It is rather late as I’m sure my house keeper told you.” Her mother snapped. Mother always snapped at people she didn’t like. Then again, her mother just loved to snap (or, at least, that’s what Charlotte thought) Even Charlotte found herself on the receiving end of her mother’s foul moods every now and then. She almost felt bad form the poor man at the door.
“My Name is Edward Gibbs, Mrs. Bennett. And I bring grave news about your husband, Nicholas.” the man, Mr. Gibbs, said.
Charlotte’s breath caught in her throat. What had happened to Papa? Would he be home late? Did the deal fall through? Was he hurt?
“Grave news? What is it? Has something happened? Where is Nicholas?” Mother asked; all the bite in her voice gone. Charlotte opened the door a little more. Maybe she could sneak down the hall a little to get a look at this man and to hear him better. She just had to know what happened…..her Papa could be hurt! Perhaps if she was really quiet no one would see that she was still up.
The old door creaked softly as Charlotte opened it just enough to slip into the hall then quietly closed it behind her. Pausing for a moment, charlotte slipped her house shoes of her feet and sat them behind the curtains of the nearest window then tiptoed down the hall. Then, as she got as far as she knew she could without Mother or the man seeing her, she saw the man who knew what happened to her Papa.
Mr. Gibbs was a short balding man with red hair and little rat eyes that were hidden behind round rimmed glasses. He wore a suit much like the one Papa’s lawyer, Mr. Brigs wore on the few times Charlotte had seen him sitting it the chair in front of Papa’s desk. Papa wore suits too, but nothing like that one. In his hands Mr. Gibbs held piece of paper, whatever was on that paper must be why He was calling so late.
“—when someone was finally called to the room both Mr. Bennett and Mr. Henson were gone.” Mr. Gibbs was saying “But there was blood on the bed. But we don’t know whose blood it is. And there is no way to tell. I’m sorry, Mrs. Bennett, but it seems that your husband is missing, maybe even dead”
Dead. The word rang through Charlotte head, repeating itself over and over again. Her Papa couldn’t be dead. Why, he had written to her only four days before! It just could be true! Charlotte didn’t want to hear any more of it. Surely it was all lies! Papa was fine; tomorrow he would be home and would sit in the study with her and read till she fell asleep! She would not believe what the man said. Her Papa was fine! Charlotte ran back to her papa’s study, she didn’t care now who heard her, she didn’t care if her mother yelled at her for snooping; all she wanted was her Papa. Nothing else mattered!