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Drama Historical Fiction Sad

The day was a cold one, drifts of snow blanketing the ground and a bitter wind shrieking through the bleak stone buildings of 321 E. Robertson Way. If one stood in the middle of the narrow, wet street and looked upward, there was a good chance that it looked as if the gray stone reached all the way up to the clouds…and also of getting a thorough dousing with the gradually-melting snow gathered on the eaves.

On this particular day, a young man wove his way through the motley crowds of Robertson Way, his threadbare coat pulled close about his shoulders and his cap yanked low over his face. His shoes slipped and slid across the rough cobblestones paving the street, and his trousers were soaked almost all the way up to the knee with cold water from the gutters.

“Another one of those odd fellows up to beg the old gent for some shillings,” grunted a peddler with a coarse laugh to a few of his buyers. “Eh, I reckon he’ll end up getting more than he bargained for—if ye get my meaning.”

Ripples of harsh laughs answered the peddler’s mockery, and more than one pair of eyes followed the lanky young man as he struggled up the steps to No. 62. White hands clinging desperately to the freezing railing to keep his feet from slipping backward on the steps, he wasn’t aware of the attention directed toward him.

Finally up at the step, the young man stood for a moment to catch his breath as his lungs struggled for air. No chance in making it much further than here today, he thought ruefully with a glance at an old watch strung from the button-up shirt beneath his coat. Not even a proper waistcoat graced the thin figure, not a pair of gloves to cover the fingers bluing over with frostbite. In this weather that people called the beginning of spring, it would be physically impossible for him to go on any longer.

His dark eyes roved the stately door standing before him and then fell away. Removing his cap, he scratched at his flaxen head before replacing it and inhaling as deep a breath as his lungs could allow.

“What in the world…”

The bluish fingers reached down into a small snow pile and followed his gaze to the thoroughly sodden envelope three-quarters deep in the ‘melting’ snow. Indeed, there were visible trickles of water leading to a small puddle on the step, now solidified from the freezing temperatures the night before.

He picked it up and held it before rapping lightly on the door.

Almost at once, a white-capped and lace-edged maid appeared at the door, staring out timidly at the tall, shabby figure standing before her. He took off his cap and nodded to her, offering a small smile and half a shilling.

“Who are you?” she inquired hesitantly as her eyes went from him to the currency he was holding out to her. She was more than a foot shorter than he, so she was forced to stand with her head tilted back in order to see his face.

“My name is Frederick Brinley, and I have come to see Mr. Allen,” he said softly with a quiet Lancashire lilt to his words.

“Mr. Allen is restin’…why are you givin’ me money? Don’t I get paid already by the good mas’er?”

“Yes, I’m sure you do,” smiled Frederick with a slight nod, “but sometimes, it doesn’t ever seem like it amounts to enough.”

After another moment’s hesitation, she took the half-shilling he offered and pressed it into her starched apron pocket, half a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. She stepped back from the threshold and showed him in.

“Mr. Allen is in his study right now, but I will see if he is up to havin’ visitors. What—what was your name again, sir?”

“Frederick Brinley,” he smiled with a nod.

“Alright, Mr. Brinley. I will be back in a few moments. Please, have a seat.”

The maid moved toward the stair without looking back, and Frederick started after her with a hand outstretched as if to stop her.

“Wait—miss,” he called out.

“Yes?” she asked patiently.

“I am no visitor.”

“Come again?” A puzzled look came over her young face, and she squinted in the dimness of the room at the young man as if doing a double-take.

“Mr. Allen was my father’s closest friend and confidante,” explained Frederick frankly. “I have come all the way from the North to see him, so I quite hope he happens to have the time.”

           

Never had old Winston Allen been so astounded in his life as when a lanky figure stooped into his office and announced that he was man Brinley’s only son.

Allen had been seated behind his expansive mahogany desk with the end of a pencil pressed into his chin and his bespectacled eyes taking on a faraway glint as he stared out the windowpane and somewhere across the city. The fire flickered warmly on the hearth, giving light and heat to the comfortable, well-organized study where Allen had been finding himself gravitating toward more recently. When Ann had announced there was a young lad to see him, he had grunted a reply, remarking that if he saw another one of London’s scamps on his property that he would personally escort him to the jailhouse.

“Hello, Mr. Allen,” ventured Frederick, the corners of his eyes crinkling into a smile. “I don’t know if you remember—”

“Remember?” ejaculated Mr. Allen as he stood and shook his head in disbelief. “Remember the little boy who always tagged along at my son Sinclair’s heels and begged my cook Mrs. Williams for licorice? Ah, my boy, I would never forget you as long as I live.”

Startled, yet pleased, Frederick advanced a step, his hands clutching his cap and his face hopeful. Belief was far beyond him that this great man still knew and cherished him as he had before. There had been so many years widening the gap between them and their paths in life, but the old man was just as Frederick had remembered him.

“What brings you to London?” Mr. Allen inquired, gesturing for Frederick to take a seat across from him. “I can say…I haven’t seen your father in quite some while.”

“Neither have I,” admitted Frederick as visible pain etched itself into his thin, pale face. “The last time I saw him, he was leaving me and my sister on the doorstep of a cotton factory just north of here in Milton.”

“Milton!” exclaimed Mr. Allen in distress, his eyes widening. “Why was he in Milton of all places?”

“Funds have run out. My father is destitute, and he thought to have us fund ourselves by work in Milton.” Frederick rubbed his forehead and began to sigh, but a sudden harsh rough tore itself from his lips. One after another, harsh coughs racked his body until he sat there before Mr. Allen panting, cold perspiration dripping from his face.

“I’m sorry,” he faltered in apology. He reached for a stained yet cleaned handkerchief in his pocket, held it to his mouth, and winced as it came back mottled with bright blood and strings of mucus.

“How—how often does that happen?” Mr. Allen stammered in concern.

“It’s just normal,” stated Frederick, shaking his head as he pocketed the kerchief. “Everyone in the cotton mill coughs just like that…the fibers are as thick in the air as a blizzard. No great breathing conditions, but that’s just the way it is.”

“Have you seen a doctor?”

A shadow fell over Frederick’s face as he turned away, his dark eyes so unnaturally bright and his ruddy cheeks at such a contrast with his deathly pale skin that Mr. Allen had to look away. He hadn’t noticed it all till then—till he had realized the difference between his own son and this emaciated figure.

“No—no doctor,” whispered Frederick with another shake of his head. “It all went to Father.”

“And where is your sister?” demanded Allen. “Did she not come with you?”

For the first time, tears hinted at the young man’s eyes as his chin began to tremble. Clasping his hands in his lap, Frederick stared up at the ceiling and inhaled a shaking, rasping breath, as if to try to get himself under control.

“Lily didn’t make it…I told her I’d get us out of there, promised her that everything was going to be alright when she began to feel sick. It all happened so gradually—the onset of the symptoms of tuberculosis, the others said it was. I-I couldn’t bear to see her like that, Mr. Allen. During the day, she would stand there before the gauges with her fingers timidly outstretched and her big eyes looking up at the others to see how as to do it without getting her fingers caught. She began to cough a little at first, like many of the others did; but then, it never seemed to stop. I brought her water, sat with her in my lap during the night as I sang her to sleep, but nothing could stop the coughing. One morning—I can never forget it—I woke up to find her sitting up in bed with the sheets and her arms stained with blood and slimy cotton fibers. She couldn’t speak. Could only look over at me and mouth the question that I found myself asking over and over.”

Frederick paused, his hands beginning to tremble even worse as he leaned his elbows on his thighs and covered his face with his hands.

Why did he leave us?

Silence fell in the room, the quietness so heavy that they could both hear the steady ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall. Mr. Allen, at a loss for words, sat across from the young man and shook his head. He had known that Robert Brinley had gone off the deep end when it came to his life, but he had not known that he had gone thus far to the point of willfully sending his children to the renowned Milton cotton factories.

“Sometimes,” began Mr. Allen in a quiet voice, “sometimes, we don’t know why certain things happen to us the way they do. But one thing I have found to be true through all my many years on this earth is that the Lord never leaves us nor forsakes us. I’ve never been in a cotton factory myself, boy, and I believe you that it is as terrible as you say it is, but the Lord is always with those whom he calls his children.”

Frederick slowly nodded, knowing that it was true, knowing that he had been grown into greater trust in God through his trials. It had been hard, to be sure. He remembered a time when he had been so frustrated and disappointed with God that he had stooped to unbelief, but graciously, God had led him to see that He would care for him in every circumstance, no matter how difficult.

“It was late one night that I came back from the factory that I found her huddled in our father’s coat, the last thing of him that we had left. I’m not sure why he left it, but it was still there in that attic we rented for cleaning the tenement house below. Her face was so pale that I could trace the blue veins beneath her skin with my finger, and her whole body shook with each breath she took. ‘Hold me,’ she had wheezed when I closed the door and knelt beside her. I gathered her thin body up in my arms and we sat there for a while, her cold little hand on my arm and her cheek against mine. ‘Father is not coming back,’ she whispered to me. ‘He is never coming back for us.’ I held her tighter, fighting against the tears and fighting against the outrage burning within me at the thought of him not caring whether his baby girl lived or died. She said nothing, just looked up at me with those clear blue eyes and held onto my arm tighter, nestling against me. At first, I thought she had fallen asleep, but when I could feel her small body go stiff in my arms and her heartbeat no longer against my own…”

His voice trailed off in a sob that was wrenched from his very heart.

“I came today because I wanted to know what became of him…the man who was legally my father,” Frederick finally forced out. “He was to leave me an inheritance, but that is all most likely gone.”

“I haven’t seen him since the night he left for France. Said he was going to spend the summer there and perhaps move on somewhere else after that.” Mr. Allen paused and pushed his spectacles back up his nose. “I’m sorry, I wish I knew something more than that.”

Frederick’s face fell, and he bit his lip, realizing that nothing had changed since the day their father had left them on the steep of the cotton factory.

“I found this on the doorstep,” he managed, drawing the envelope from his coat pocket and handing it to Mr. Allen. “I thought that you might want to take a look at it.”

Peering through his spectacles, Mr. Allen took the proffered envelope and turned it over in his hands. An odd expression came over his face as he stared down at it, and finally, he turned his eyes up to Frederick’s.

“You say this was on the doorstep?”

“Yes, in the snow. What is it?”

There was a pause before Mr. Allen leaned forward across the desk and gripped Frederick’s hands.

“It is from your father, boy. This is most coincidental, don’t you think?”

Far whiter than it had been before, Frederick’s face went stony as he stared back across the desk at Allen.

“Coincidental is not the word,” he said in barely a whisper. “Why should he think you would respond? He has burned all of his bridges…he took nearly three thousand pounds from you…”

“Would you like to read it?” questioned Mr. Allen after he had scanned the page.

“No, I can’t,” stated Frederick, shaking his head. “Not a chance.”

“Read it,” insisted Mr. Allen as he pressed the letter into the boy’s hands.

With trembling hands, Frederick took the paper back and forced his blurring eyes to the black letters scrawled across the page in spidery writing. Thin and fading, it scratched across the paper until the end where the closing signature utterly shocked Frederick.

 

Many years have passed since I last saw you, and it was unfortunate that you were so indignant after our last meeting. Thank you for the money you last sent me…was very useful to such a man as I in my present circumstances and etc.

You may wonder why I am writing to you after all this time. I am ill, and cannot even see this page in the light that is so dim. My eyes are tired, my head is heavy, and my stomach aches. I need to see a doctor, and would be much obliged if you were to send me just a few shillings for the expense. Remember how close we once were and how things used to be between us.

                                                        Your Father, Robert Brinley Esq.

 

“Why doesn’t he just take the money like he did all of those years?” demanded Frederick, tossing the letter down before him. “Sending to the factory to have sums deducted out of our pay? Why write to me when he knows that I hate what he did to us? He most likely needs the money for drink, and I am never giving him that.”

“Boy,” said Mr. Allen quietly. “There was something I didn’t tell you…something that may be the reason why this is all happening now. About nine years ago, I had a doctor come see to him because I was worried. After taking even the briefest checkup of him, Dr. Errington said that if Robert continued on with his drinking habits, he would die of apoplexy in the near future.”

“And he can tell that his end is near,” finished Frederick with a pained look at his friend. “How do I know, though? How can I be sure that it isn’t just another lie?”

“Because I am here to prove it.”

A man suddenly staggered into the room, his face ashen and his eyes sunken in his face, burning like live coals.

“Robert!” exclaimed Allen, throwing his chair back behind him and striding across the room to support his friend.

“Frederick, I am truly sorry for what I did,” Robert Brinley panted as he stepped inside the room and turned to his son. “I know you probably don’t believe me, and I don’t blame you—but I am on the brink of death itself and have nothing more to gain. Only your forgiveness.”

“Father,” Frederick choked past tears, wishing that he could believe him.

“To prove it, here is your inheritance. It isn’t much, I know, and I was sorely tempted to spend it all, but Providence has kept me from spending it.” He staggered half a step forward and pressed a will into his son’s cold hands and forced a smile onto his agonized face. “It is the deed to a small home near Brighton, along with around a thousand pounds. Yet it can little make up for what harm I caused to my children…”

He broke off in sobs, but Frederick slowly moved forward, his eyes unbelieving as they took in the will. It was a valid will; there was no lie about it.

“Father, thank you,” he murmured as dying son embraced dying father. “This is not of much worth to me anymore, but your penance is. I-I forgive you.”

May 04, 2020 17:50

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6 comments

Cathy Bock
22:43 May 15, 2020

Nicely done. The writing here is effortless. I was truly transported while reading it!

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Kate Strong
23:55 May 15, 2020

Thank you so much! :)

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Peter Ayeni
05:28 May 10, 2020

Wow!!! You have good concept. Keep up the good work

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Peter Ayeni
05:28 May 10, 2020

Wow!!! You have good concept. Keep up the good work

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Peter Ayeni
05:28 May 10, 2020

Wow!!! You have good concept. Keep up the good work

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Kate Strong
17:18 May 10, 2020

Thank you so much! :) I really appreciate the feedback

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