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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: April 24, 2019

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Submitted: April 24, 2019



Chapter 1 


The North of England – November, 1879 



“Our father is dead, Ivie.” 

The words, which clung heavy and rust-like to young Richard’s tongue, words he had to force from his mouth as the grief they conjured tightened his jaw and rendered speech an agony, had no visible effect on Ivie. 

It was striking, her docile apathy. Her utter absorption in the arrangement of her doll’s curls, the lack of even the mildest flicker of interest across her child features. And though at only nineteen years of age Richard Blackthorn wasn’t precisely interested in the normal behavior of any four year old child, let alone his little sister, something in him rebelled at the notion that she should display no reaction whatsoever. Even if she was simply too young to understand the magnitude of his statement, incomprehension should have manifested somehow. But here she sat, contentedly distracted by the array of childish finery befitting a Viscount’s daughter--no, sister. The title would pass to him now. He swallowed against the tears which threatened at the thought.  

“Did you hear me, little one?” he asked. 

“Yes.” She answered, eyes still glued to her doll. 

“Do you understand what that means?” 

She shrugged and began to pluck at the doll’s eyelashes. “Has papa gone to heaven?” she asked. 

“Yes,” he said, his vocal chords grating. “We won’t see him anymore. Not in this world.” He placed his hand on the back of Ivie’s head, gently patting her curls. “From now on, I shall have to take papa’s place.” 

She looked up at him then, her face as placid as a field of new fallen snow.  

“Why did papa die?” 

Richard was unprepared for the effect the pure simplicity of Ivie’s question had on him. He was struck with a sudden conviction of her helplessness. Here at his feet sat a child, oblivious to the pain of death, the twists of fate that might wrest from her the happiness that now protected her. At that moment, he wanted nothing more than to preserve the very ignorance which had so troubled him mere seconds before. 

Without thinking, he pulled Ivie to his chest and embraced her. It was more affection than he’d allowed himself to display to any being since he was Ivie’s age, decorum and his future place in the aristocracy having already shaped his manners along stiff and distant lines. He gripped the little girl tight and whispered into her hair.  

“I don’t know why he died, Ivie. I don’t know.” 


Three Hours Earlier 


Michael Blackthorn sat methodically shredding the feathers from a quill pen. Pinching small finger-fulls of the soft barbs that flanked the pen’s hollow shaft, he peeled them off in tufts and dropped them in a fluttering shower to the floor. Strip by strip. He was grateful his destructive bent had confined itself to inanimate objects, particularly given the uproar--instigated by the birth of the cook’s infant girl--which possessed the rest of the house. Being of no use in such a feminine arena, he had initially determined to confine himself to amusement in the library or the music room, not lock himself in his bedchamber to escape the aftermath of the thing. But he’d found little Ivie first.  

A vaporous temptation to harm himself wafted about his mind, but the quill shredding distracted him from itOccupationIt was key, as his wife always said. Occupation, darling. How can you harm yourself as long as you’re occupied? And she was right of course. Occupation had persuaded his doctors at the asylum of his recovery. Occupation had allowed him to return home to Fenmore House, reclaim his title as The Right Honorable Viscount Maleham, and to marry his wife. Occupation had released him from a straight waist-coat and other, darker, means of confinement. 

Eventually, a gentle knock sounded at the door. He called, “Come in,” over his shoulder, and then the door swung wide to admit his wife, Siobhan.   

“Is it finished, dear?” he asked.  

“Yes. The doctor’s off, and everyone has gone to bed.” 

“Are the children asleep?” 

“I think so.” 

“Richard and Ivie, both?” 


Hiding the ragged remains of the pen in a drawer, he stood and faced his wife with a smile. “I think I might see them before I retire.” 

“Suit yourself, husband.” 


As he mopped his damp brow with a thin elbow and concentrated on silently navigating the stairs, it never occurred to Lord Maleham that his wife’s indulgence was the only reason he could make this clandestine journey to his four-year-old daughter’s bed-roomHad Siobhan not inspired him to seek the child out after the tumultuous birth, thus allowing him to discover his daughter with her hands around the new infant’s throat, he would not be making this tip-toed climb to the second floor chamber where his daughter dreamed away the nightBut such details were always lost on him, so accustomed was he to his wife’s silent machinations that directed his troubled existence.  

When he’d reached her door, he was out of breath and sweating even more profuselyHe smoothed back his silver threaded black hair with nervous hands and wiped his palms on his trousers. With a puzzled squint, he regarded the door, its similarity to the other thresholds in the hall momentarily driving his errand from his thoughts 

Then he remembered.  

Stifling a sob, he sucked in a painful nose-full of air, clamped his damp fist around the brass door knob, and crept inside. 

In a room swathed by shadow, only a tiny bump in the moon-lit bedclothes registered the presence of his daughterThe bump wiggled and a child’s soft sigh drifted up. Lord Maleham moved round the side of the bed so he could better observe the sleeping childShe was lying on her stomach, and her dark hair was spread wide on the pillows like a stainpremonitive chill ran through Michael Blackthorn at the sightCautiously, he reached across her form and fetched the unused pillow that lay beside her head.  

The girl wriggled and flipped over on her back, forcing him to duck behind the curtains that drooped from the huge bed’s canopy and lent the chamber its gloom drenched ambiance. When he peeked out again, he could see the little girl’s slumbering face, but her expression was far from the blank, peaceful cast a parent would wish for his childHer little brow was furrowed, and her cherub mouth wreathed in linesThe sight was heartbreaking in its familiarity, for he too had never slept peacefully as a child. It was only further proof of a truth that was becoming all too apparent for his fragile mind to absorb.  

With shaking hands, he centered the pillow above the sleeping child’s face. 

Her eyes opened. Her bright green irises, a hue so vibrant they almost glowed, fixed on the hovering pillow, then flicked to her father’s faceThe two regarded each other in silence for several moments; then the little girl rolled over to sleep once more 

Dropping the pillow, Michael thrust his fist into his mouth to stifle a sob. He tore his gaze from the girl, only to glimpse a pale glint of white dangling from the canopy of her bed. Dread colored the grief that had seized him, prompting him to look closer. A passing shadow lifted and the light unveiled the delicate china toes of a baby doll, a baby doll that had been hung from the beam of the canopy by a handkerchief, as if from a hangman’s noose. 

By the time Lord Maleham had backed out of the room and shut the door behind him, he was weepingHe staggered down the hall to his bedchamber. Shoving open the door, he scrambled to his writing desk and snatched at his stationaryHe scrawled on the linen sheet with hands trembling so badly they rendered the message illegible 

The restless grief which had seized him set him scrambling around the room like a man possessed. But he moved from task to task--slipping the note under his wife’s chamber door, sawing down the cords to the draperies--with undeniable purpose. Once armed with the drapery cord, he wrapped its length with careful precision, then carried it with him out of his chamber. short walk brought him to a balcony, closed off by floor to ceiling glass doors. The moonlight gleamed on the stone walkway, bleaching it whiter than bone. Blackthorn stepped out onto it, then firmly knotted the end of the chord around the railing. The free end, he likewise knotted firmly around his throat. 

© Copyright 2019 Joe Shirley. All rights reserved.

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