“No matter what, you cannot speak to him. Is that clear?”
“What if he asks me a question?”
“Don't say anything. Even if he asks you a question.”
“Can I nod my head? Or shake it no?”
That might be pushing it. Marjory bit her lip. She did not know quite how to respond. “I wouldn't try it.”
Maybe it had been too long. So much had happened, and while staying with her mother had for so long been a relief, in some ways it had made things worse. She had been gone too long. She was worried and didn't know what to expect.
She just knew it would be bad.
The English countryside was as beautiful as it had ever been but it held a much more foreboding air as they neared their destination. It seemed almost accusing. Where did you come from? How long has it been? Where were you?
“What if he asks me a really good question and I can't say yes or no?”
That was where she had been. Her little girl was nearing four now. The Logan estate whilst rather grand was no place to raise a child. Perhaps it never had been, but things had been so much better before. She wouldn't give up her little girl for anything though, not even for him. Deep down, she knew, deep down he wouldn't want her to.
The two of them arrived with little fanfare. They were welcomed quickly and ushered inside, met by Augusta Bainbridge, the Logan patriarch's younger widowed sister who was now in charge of his estate.
“You missed the funeral.” She said bluntly, a certain accusation in her eyes, hiding behind the glassy stare and round spectacles.
Marjory bit back the urge to make a snarky remark, or even at least roll her eyes at this. She pursed her lips and remained silent. Not in front of her daughter.
“He is where he always is, that much's not changed. I trust you can figure out that much.”
So they were back to this then. Again she bit back a response. None of this had ever been helpful before. It was pure happenstance he had made it out with anything unbroken in his mental state. This was not a place to go to fix it. But it was familiar and she supposed that counted for something.
“Do I have to be quiet now mama?”
“Not yet, Yvonne.” But of course it wouldn't hurt. The two of them were left alone as the lady of the house returned to whatever important thing she had interrupted. Marjory and her daughter made their way out to the guest house.
In truth it wasn't really a guest house. It had been built up on the property for the exact purpose it now served. To keep their little Hubert all locked up and under watch, and most importantly away from normal people.
It hadn't worked out so well, but then again maybe she only had herself to blame for that.
The locks had all been broken when she got there. Someone, likely Hubert himself, had taken a sledgehammer to the front windows. Nevertheless, she could hear him inside, humming some foreign tune to himself.
“Now Yvonne. Absolute silence.”
The young girl nodded not saying a word. She didn't really want the girl to come in with her, who knew what the place would look like.
“Stay out here in the gardens until I come to get you, okay?”
Again the girl nodded.
Smiling, Marjory finally opened the door. It creaked halfway through and the humming from inside stopped.
The place wasn't so bad, she considered, not as bad as she was expecting, but she still hadn't seen the man himself. What would he be like?
He entered the main room slowly, and she noticed in the instant his eyes were rimmed with red, raw and dry and baggy, like he hadn't slept for at least a month.
“Wh-who's there? I don't take kindly to intruders.” He seemed to perk up when he noticed her though, “Oh! Marjory Stewart-Baxter! What are you doing here? I don't remember that... that you were coming today.”
Marjory said nothing. She wanted to hold him very very close to her, yet she didn't dare.
“Oh is it... It must be time for the wedding. Oh you need to get prepared, Hubert Cumberdale. I must help you ... help him fit into his wedding suit. I'm sure you will find your gown in the... bedroom closet.” Hubert's voice dropped to a whisper, “But don't let him see you in it. Its bad luck before the wedding.”
Marjory fought the horrid urge to laugh. What could possibly be worse luck than this?
Yvonne was a simple girl. She liked the pretty flowers in the garden. In her bag she had her favorite doll. She loved her mother and always tried to listen to her. She loved her daddy probably more than anyone else. And of course, she could never resist a good tea party.
Her mother still hadn't come out of that house, but he had. And he had all manner of wonderful treats. He was lovely and she loved him. And she just couldn't help herself when he needed cheering.
“I think he likes spoons too.” It wasn't much, but it was enough. She couldn't take it back. He fell stricken. She saw her mother move from the window to the door and in his haste to get away from her. (And why would he need to get away from her?) He knocked into mother in the door frame.
“Hubert please...” But he was gone. Yvonne heard a door slam and lock. And then lock again. And again. And again.
Her mother only sighed.
“I'm sorry Mummy! I... I only wanted to help!”
Marjory looked at her daughter with a small smile. “Perhaps we should try again tomorrow.”
Marjory invited herself to stay in the main house. No one could complain, not legitimately anyway. This was her husbands house now, even if it didn't quite seem that way. That made her the lady of the house. Bainbridge would have to be glad she wasn't demanding the master suite. Going down to the kitchens for something to eat, and then bringing it back up to the Eastern room to eat with her daughter, she heard the humming again.
Hubert was out in the gardens packing up his tea. He seemed to be okay, despite that afternoon's events. If that was what passed for okay nowadays. She wished things could be easier for him, really she did, this had gotten way beyond out of control though, and there wasn't a soul alive who could help him. Lord knows she had tried. Driving all around the country to find the best people, the best doctors, all with conflicting advice, all with conflicting treatment plans, not a one of which ever had worked. No one knew what to do with him. She wanted him to be there for their daughter. That was likely never going to happen.
“Did you get the eggs mama?” Yvonne had peeked her head into the hallway. She was wearing the cutest nightgown in white and pink. She looked just like a little dolly. Hubert would like that. Then she'd talk again and any false sense of progress would be lost. She should just stop pretending.
“Yes, I got the eggs. Now quick to bed so we can have our dinner and wake to see the sun rise.”
Two weeks later, Hubert dug up a corpse. Bainbridge had nearly fainted, but Marjory watched it all in morbid curiosity. Why in the hell would there be a dead man buried on the estate's property anyway. Kenneth Logan-Price had died in the Great War, his remains were scattered off on some Dutch or French battlefield across the ocean. Hubert never had a brother. Bainbridge was in no mood to speak to her, figuring out what to do and trying to keep the household in order. So Marjory went for the next best thing. Hubert himself.
Hubert wasn't always Hubert. Sometimes he was Bainbridge, or Logan, or Jeremy, or even Marjory herself. He had been Marjory herself after their last fight had happened. She had gotten quite good at figuring them all out, all the different personas he could wear. Today he was Barbara. She had not thought Barbara to be one for flirting with her own brother, though she had never known the woman and the corpse was still unrecognizable. Unsettling and unrecognizable.
“That's not Kenneth.” She whispered, from behind him at the table. “Who is this man?”
“You are no fun Marjory Stewart-Baxter. I liked you better when you didn't talk.” She tried not to take it too personally.
“Why is there a dead man buried in your yard?”
“He is Kenneth. Back from the Great War to sow his wild oats. Isn't that right sailor?”
The corpse of course, said nothing. It was missing too many of the necessary muscles. Even its skin was.... Marjory shuddered slightly looking at it, but being so close there was no mistaking it.
She recalled what Yvonne had told her recently. She hadn't thought it that important at the time, but there it was. “Daddy was talking to the well. He told it that it had the wrong bloke. He even called it squire. How silly.”
The elder Logan used to tell the story, only in quiet tones, only for intimidation. What he did to Hubert's father. “One bullet, right between the eyes. Boy begged for mercy said I got the wrong bloke, look at em, look at yourself boy, say I've got the wrong ruddy bloke, see how well that did him...”
The elder Logan told many half-truths, but there wasn't a doubt in her mind that she was currently staring into the cold dead eye sockets of one Jeremy Fisher. He certainly wasn't Kenneth. Whatever Kenneth had been, he had most certainly been white. She didn't even want to begin to guess at what was going on in her husband's mind that he was pretending this man was someone he was not despite quite obviously knowing who he had at his table. He was Barbara after all. As far as she knew Barbara had never had a sexual relationship with her brother. While Hubert himself was proof that she had definitely done the deed with Jeremy Fisher.
In the end Hubert put the corpse back in the ground and laid him to rest. To return to the Great War. He cried, but whether it was as himself for his father, or as his mother, for either a lost love or a lost brother she did not know. Perhaps it was all three. He was a talented man, her husband. It was an unspoken rule that nobody in the household speak of the incident ever again, but it could not be denied that it happened. And for Marjory, it took her to looking at things in a new way. Yes things were as bad as they had ever been. But now she had something firm set into her mind. Whether that something was smart or wise would remain to be seen.
But she would do almost anything to get her husband back.
The book wouldn't fit under the door, and it was locked about four times over, so she threw it in the newly fixed window and flinched when she heard the glass break. She had found it in the attic. It wasn't anything new for Hubert. He had been the one to share it with her after all. Not the actual book, just a word for word rendition of what he had read in it once upon a time when he was small and alone. Her husband could memorize anything, and recite it back any time, like he was a player in his own life, rather than an ordinary person. He had told her it was the only way he felt, the only way he knew how to bring his loved ones to life. Both of his parents were virtual unknowns to him, as fate had been cruel, but by taking in everything he could he could recreate what he knew of their lives over and over and over. It was the closest he could ever get to being with them.
The thought had made her sad, but she realized it ran deeper than that. There were always parts of the story she didn't know.
Logan's journal made no mention of Fisher begging for his life. It proudly proclaimed that Logan had shot the defenseless man as he was saying “Our Father”. Why Logan was so proud of being a dishonorable cur she would never know.
The next morning Hubert was reciting Our Father to the old well. He got through the whole thing. Had Jeremy Fisher been a Catholic? The Logans were Anglican.
The next thing she sent through the window was a Catholic Rosary. It wasn't anything too fancy. He wore it under his clothes “From this day until the grave.” What a lovely turn of phrase. Her husband was always talented with words.
Marjory took to a new routine. After dinner she put her daughter to sleep in their room on the Eastern side of the house, and left under the cover of darkness to search for things that could help Hubert. Something from Barbara perhaps. Had she written anything about her time with Fisher? It would certainly be preferable to digging up misidentified corpses.
For the first few nights her search brought her nothing but a nosy Bainbridge scolding her for trying to sneak extra food from the kitchens. (“You'll start putting on the pounds and then how will you ever find yourself a proper husband?”). Marjory didn't bother to correct her. It was better she think her some common guilty pleasure seeker than someone trying to rifle through her family's belongings. Though truly it was her family too now wasn't it?
On the fourth night she found a doll that used to belong to Barbara. She brought it to him and when she visited him the next morning he let her hold his hand without so much as flinching. Progress was going well. Hopefully he wouldn't give the doll his mother's name and subject it to a reenacted death scene
It was another week until she found the letters. They were all addressed to .Jeremy Fisher, all signed by Barbara Logan-Price. They all said much the same thing. The good soldier had knocked her up on shore leave and she was having his child. Some of them seemed pleading, some matter-of-fact. A couple even sounded angry. Marjory wondered if there was one missing, the one that Barbara had finally deemed good enough to send. They were all locked up under the floor board. Barbara was probably too afraid to even burn them. The elder Logan had probably never found them. The lot of them went straight to Hubert's door. While he chided momentarily about the mess of papers strewn across his floor, the next day's visit was the best she's had since long before the first time she'd left this dreary place, Yvonne in tow.
“Its Jeremy Fisher. Back from the Great War.”
Marjory did not respond.
“Aren't you going to greet me properly then Barbara?”
It had always made her uncomfortable when he wanted to role play as his own parents, but she would take what she could get. Any progress was good progress. She moved to embrace him.
She took on the tone and cadence she knew from him approximated Barbara Logan-Price. “Maybe you can tuck me in tonight, sailor.”
And though it was only around midday, that was exactly what he did.
What would he do? Mother never told him this part. Of course she didn't why would she tell him that. He was strong though she told him, muscular, though not too much larger than her. A soldier, masculine. He held her down, not unpleasantly. It had been her idea she hadn't told him, in case he died in the Great War she had told him. She never told him what but he knew now oh yes he knew now. She'd written something lewd he'd found when he dug into the basements and into the walls. Hubert couldn't read it but Jeremy loved it. He could be Jeremy. Had to be. Who else would?
He'd start with the fingers. That's what the words said. (I know a good use for those salad fingers Marjory would say, but Marjory was not here. Of course not. Absurd.) two of them inside, working the thumb on the little nub at the top. Marjory-Barbara-Marjory-Barbara moaned at that, arching up. She was already so wet. Was that now or was that in the words? He'd slide his manhood into her then, alongside what was already there. So lewd but again, Jeremy loved it. Marjory-Barbara-Marjory clenched around him as he-ah. Who was it again? Those names were all lost.
Hubert never read such things of course, but somehow he knew how to do it.
Bainbridge was glaring at her. Like she knew what had happened. She wouldn't be surprised. The old bat could probably smell it on her. She would have to draw herself a bath that afternoon after she took her lunch alone with Yvonne. Sweet Yvonne who did not know of such grown up things and hopefully would not for quite a long while. It wasn't as if she wrote such things down for impressionable youth to find. A quick thought crossed her mind of Yvonne and her future husband role playing as her and Hubert, and as absurd and embarrassing as such a thought was it had her giggling like a girl all the way to the kitchens.
Her search stalled soon after that though, and Hubert was spending a horribly oppressive amount of time hidden in his quadruple locked safe room where she could not hope to enter. So instead she focused her efforts onto exploring the countryside with Yvonne. For good measure of course, everyone over the age range of her and Hubert plus about ten years was asked two questions. What can you tell me about Barbara Logan-Price? And, What can you tell me about Jeremy Fisher? Of course, Marjory tried to be more subtle about it than that, but she was never quite as good at subtlety as some thought she ought to be.
The first man, probably in his sixties, went like this.
“Oh hello! My daughter and I are staying at the Logan Estate. They're a pretty prominent family, around these parts, aren't they.”
“Oh yes. Milford was a good man. Shame about what happened to his daughter.”
“Taken advantage of and then left all alone by that negro sailor from... Now where was he from? Ah well. Everyone knows what happened. No use hiding it from a friend of the family.”
Marjory did not bother correcting him on her place in the family.
The next was a woman, probably in her early forties. More the age of Barbara than the elder Logan.
“Yes, of course! Barbara and I used to go down to the lake and tell each other stories of fancy, or of terror if it were night.” The last part she added in a whisper.
“Did she tell you anything about Jeremy Fisher?”
The woman got a suspicious look but continued anyway. “Only that he was coming back to her and the baby. He never did though.” She frowned. “I take it you've met Hubert, yes?”
“That's my daddy's name!” Yvonne chirped happily.
The woman turned to Marjory with pity in her eyes. “Don't we all make mistakes sometimes.” Then she shook her head and walked away.
That was enough sleuthing for one day. Although she did take a visit to the aforementioned lake. While nothing of Barbara would remain there after all these years, it was still a lovely spot to visit with Yvonne.