The Jennings – Chapter Six

Previously in The Jennings:

Elizabeth Carlisle is attacked by a monster.

Christopher Jennings rescues her, using Second Sight and a hint from the Slate.

Elizabeth’s father has disowned her, believing that some error in her behaviour must have prompted the attack on her.

Jennings, sympathetic with her situation, offers his hand to Elizabeth.

Seeing no other option, she accepts.

He introduces her to the Slate, which gives them the message, “Find my lost child.”

Jennings sees images of a house, a green box, and a blue dove. With these scant clues, he and Elizabeth set forth to solve the mystery and help this spirit who has reached out to them.

_____________________

 The Lost Child

The next morning found Mr. and Mrs. Jennings on their way to Curzon Street.  They had dressed in dark and simple clothing in hopes of being mistaken for grieving visitors; Jennings’ experience with the slate suggested that the spirit who had contacted him was in fact only recently gone from the mortal world, and it seemed as likely as not that the household would still be in deep mourning.

“It would help immensely,” Jennings murmured to Elizabeth as they walked up the street. “If we knew the name of the family.”

“I have in fact turned to Mrs. Raleigh on that score,” Elizabeth revealed. She had recovered her strength to a great degree, but their progress was much slower than she would ordinarily have adopted; she leaned rather heavily on Mr. Jennings’ arm, and paused every now and then to catch her breath. “She had the Gazette from the last few days,” she went on. “There are two families in Curzon Street who suffered a loss in this week, one three days ago and one yesterday.”

Jennings looked at her in some surprise. “Two?” he repeated. “Were they connected in some way? Some sort of illness?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “I do not believe so,” she said. “A young man named Folliott was thrown from his curricle during a race; he did not survive the incident. The other was a man who, while not particularly elderly, had been unwell for some time, and – according to the notice – finally succumbed after a lengthy and bitter struggle.”

“This Folliott,” Jennings said. “How old was he?”

“I believe it said he was two-and-twenty,” Elizabeth answered. “Old enough, I suppose, to have a child. Neither man was said to have had any heirs, however. Mr. Bertram – the older man – has a daughter, but his estate is entailed on a cousin.” She paused, frowning as she attempted to remember the name listed in the notice. “The honourable Clement Parrish,” she said finally. “He inherits everything.”

“Did the notice list the names of the mother and daughter?” Jennings asked. He had stopped walking and now gazed patiently down at her.

“The daughter is Miss Miranda Bertram,” Elizabeth said. “And the mother – Amelia Forster Bertram – passed away four years ago. Mrs. Raleigh seemed to recall that she had been taken in child-bed, and that the infant had also been lost.”

Jennings considered this information. “I wonder,” he said thoughtfully. “If Mr. Bertram was married before.”

Elizabeth shook her head again. “It did not say so in the notice, nor did Mrs. Raleigh know anything along those lines.”

Jennings looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “May I ask,” he said with a trace of humour. “With what pretense you plied Mrs. Raleigh with these questions?”

Elizabeth’s eyes twinkled. “I gave none, sir,” she told him frankly. “I was not certain if your servants were aware of your gifts – although I imagine they are – so I simply asked my questions, and she simply answered them.” A dimple appeared. “Whatever questions she may have had for me, she did not reveal.”

Jennings chuckled. “I am sure she has had many questions that she does not ask, since the first day of her employment.” He nodded his head toward the house just before them. “This is the house I saw,” he said. “We must be prepared to ‘know’ whichever family opens the door.”

“I will be very circumspect,” Elizabeth promised him.

Together they walked up to the house, and Jennings lifted his hand to knock on the door. Before he could do so, however, the door was opened by the butler, and he looked out dispassionately at the couple on the doorstep.

“Good morning, sir,” he said soberly. Turning to Elizabeth, he gave a slight bow. “Ma’am,” he added. He held the door wide and gestured for the visitors to enter the house. “Miss Bertram is in the small salon,” he announced, leading them across the entryway to a closed door. He opened this door and stepped inside, inviting the Jennings to follow him.

They found themselves in a cozy sitting room. The curtains were still drawn across the windows, so that even though the sun was very bright outside, the room remained in a dreary twilight. On a sofa sat a young girl of perhaps sixteen; her eyes were rimmed red from crying, and her expression was one of the utmost sadness. When the butler opened the door, she looked up from her hands that were clasped tightly in her lap, and greeted her guests in a small, solemn voice.

“Good morning,” she said, coming to her feet and approaching them with an outstretched hand. “Thank you so very kindly for coming to condole with our family on this dark day.”

Jennings bowed over her hand. “It is we who thank you, Miss Bertram,” he said sincerely. “To receive visitors when you must certainly wish to be alone.”

“Indeed, sir, I do not,” Miss Bertram assured him. “I have in fact been looking forward to friends and family being in the house, for it was desperately quiet here last night without…” She paused, struggling to keep her composure. “Without Papa here,” she finished, and bestowed on the Jennings a wan smile. “I think I do not know you,” she went on, looking at Jennings and then at Elizabeth. “You knew my father?”

“Who did not know him?” Elizabeth said, keeping her promise to be circumspect. “He was, I am sure, the best of men.” In real sympathy, she reached out and took Miss Bertram’s hand in hers. “I, too, have lost a parent,” she confessed. “I feel extremely for you.”

A glint of tears shone in Miss Bertram’s eyes. “I thank you,” she murmured, her voice choked with emotion. “Please forgive me,” she said, wiping at the corners of her eyes with a lace handkerchief.

“Not at all,” Jennings said quietly. He had never heard of this family in his life, but this girl’s grief was so evident that he felt his own heart hurting for her. “Will you not sit?” he asked her, indicating the sofa. “You needn’t dance attendance on us. We are here for you, and are entirely at your disposal.”

Miss Bertram smiled through her tears. “You are all kindness, sir!” she said, and sat once more on the sofa. “Everyone has been so kind. Even my cousin has not abandoned me, a girl he met only a fortnight ago.”

“Your cousin?” Elizabeth asked, sitting next to Miss Bertram. “He is assisting you with all of this?”

“Indeed he is,” Miss Bertram replied. “My father has been ill for some time, and…” She looked away for a moment, then turned back to Elizabeth. “We did not have any particular hope of his recovery,” she continued. “He was in fact barely able to speak to us. My cousin Parrish is to inherit my father’s estate, and he journeyed here two weeks ago to apprise himself of the estate and to arrange matters.” Somehow her woebegone expression became even more melancholy. “He is planning to sell the estate,” she said. “And the house here in town. He has no use for them, since his own estate is more … grand … and I believe the money would benefit him greatly. While he was here, he made me the offer to take me in as his ward, and said that I might live in the lake country with him.” She gave another wistful smile. “My grandmother too, who lives with my uncle’s widow, she and my aunt have also extended an invitation to live with them in the north.”

Jennings tilted his head to one side. “You do not wish to accept these offers?”

Miss Bertram gave a slight shrug. “As to that, sir,” she said. “What can I be but deeply grateful that so many have considered my situation? It is just that my life is here, and my friends.” She wiped away a tear. “You must find me so silly! – to think of such a thing. But I will miss my life here so much, and I will never again be in the place where I lived with my mother and father, where in fact both of them – and my brother too! – took their leave of this world.”

Elizabeth leaned toward Miss Bertram and put a comforting hand on her arm. “Brother!” she repeated, her brows drawn together in concern and sympathy. “You have lost a brother as well?”

Miss Bertram nodded. “He died at his birth, and my mother followed him.” She dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief. “And now my father too. All I have left of them is this house and the estate … and I cannot help but wish that I could keep them, just as they are.” She looked at her visitors with a sudden look of abashment. “Forgive me!” she said again. “I did not mean to importune you in such a way!”

“Do not consider it,” Elizabeth told her sincerely. “We are all eagerness to help you in any way we can.”

Jennings nodded his agreement. “If I can offer any service to you at all, Miss Bertram, you need only say.”

Miss Bertram sat for a moment in a state of grateful bewilderment. “It is so gratifying,” she said at last. “To know that my father had such excellent friends. It is a great comfort to me.” She smiled, and added in a rather conspiratorial voice, “I thought I heard him last night. In his library. I heard the sound of his chair, and the drawers of his desk, and the way he would puff on his pipe. I even thought I smelled the smoke, and because I was not yet used to the notion of his being gone, I skipped into the library as I always did, fully expecting to see him at his desk, or in his reading chair.” Her smile faded. “But of course the room was entirely empty.” She frowned then, and looked puzzled. “His treasure box had moved, though.”

Jennings raised one eyebrow. “Treasure box?”

“His jade treasure box,” Miss Bertram explained. “He brought it back from the Orient many years ago. It always sat on a high shelf in the library, but last night it was on his desk, as though he had sat to look in it and had forgotten to put it back.” She shook her head. “You must think me mad,” she said, her voice breaking. “But I did believe in that moment, that he had just been there looking in the box. And I know that it is his box of personal things, and that no one else would want it, so I took it off the desk and brought it to my room.”

“We do not at all think you are mad, my dear,” Elizabeth said. “I believe very sincerely that the spirits of our loved ones make every attempt to say good-bye to us before they travel on. Perhaps your father wanted to remind you of the box, so that you might have it as a memento of him.”

Miss Bertram was clearly comforted by this notion. Her shoulders relaxed, and she leaned back on the sofa. “It has my mother’s portrait in it,” she said. “And portraits of my father’s parents. My mother had sewn caps for both me and my brother, and those are in the box. And many, many letters from my mother.” She sighed wistfully. “All of his memories in a single box, and now they are all I have as well.”

Elizabeth took a breath as if to speak, then paused, thinking better of it. Miss Bertram looked at her expectantly, and after a few more seconds, Elizabeth began hesitantly, “Would it be too much to ask, Miss Bertram, to be allowed to see your mother’s portrait? I have heard many good things about her, and I was never given the opportunity to know her.”

Miss Bertram brightened considerably. “I would be delighted to show you!” she declared, coming instantly to her feet. “I will go and fetch it!”

She left the room and bustled upstairs, leaving her guests alone in the sitting room. Jennings turned instantly to his wife and whispered in her ear, “The jade box must be the ‘green box’ I saw yesterday.”

Elizabeth nodded. “We need only find the ‘blue dove’,” she said. “And then, of course, we must figure out to what these scant clues direct us.”

Jennings smiled. “This work will be made much simpler with you, my dear,” he said. “You are quite resourceful, I think.”

She smiled back. “It is a great deal easier than I had anticipated,” she said, adding drily, “My life with my father certainly taught me to speak in a way that allows the listener to feel he has all the power – so many things that I have wanted for myself or for the household, I have only been able to achieve by convincing my father that it had all been his notion in the first place.”

Jennings gazed at her admiringly. “I believe I shall enjoy getting to know you, Mrs. Jennings,” he said softly.

Miss Bertram returned then, carrying an oblong case made of wood and inlaid heavily with green jade. She sat down on the sofa and propped the box up on her knees, unlocking it with a key that hung on a cord around her neck. “Here,” she said warmly. “Here are all my family!”

She cheerfully showed the Jennings the small portraits of her mother and her grandparents. “I have a portrait of my father, too!” she said. “And it will be in here, along with a lock of hair from my mother, and a necklace my grandfather gave me.” She blinked away more tears. “It is my treasure box now.”

Elizabeth bent over the box and ran her fingers carefully along the edges of the pile of letters. “All these are from your mother?” she asked.

“Some are from friends, and from my father’s mother,” Miss Bertram answered. She reached in and pulled out one of the letters. “This one,” she began. “Is the letter from the servant girl – Betty – who attended my mother at my brother’s birth. My father showed it to me once, and said that he kept it because it was a record of the only moment of my brother’s life, and the last moments of my mother’s.” She handed the letter carefully to Elizabeth, who opened it with a gentle reverence.

“‘Mr. Bertram’,” she read aloud. “‘I regret I must leave your employ on this day. I am so much stricken by Mistress’s death, and the sight of her wee one so still beside her, that I can’t bear the sight of it no more. You’ve always been good to me, and I’m sorry to leave so abrupt, but it distressed me so to watch him laid away, and I can’t come back to the house. Betty.’”

“My mother’s confinement was sudden,” Miss Bertram explained in low tones, flushing slightly at the unusual broaching of such a delicate subject. “The midwife had been summoned but had not yet arrived. Betty attended my mother as best she could, and when all was lost, she took it upon herself to prepare my brother for burial alongside my mother.” Tears began to fall unheeded down her cheeks. “Perhaps I am wrong,” she said. “Perhaps I should leave this house, where so much tragedy has been!”

Elizabeth impulsively wrapped her arms around the girl. “My dear!” she consoled her. “Do not distress yourself! All will be well! – and it seems very clear that your father is looking out for you now just as he did in life.”

Miss Bertram collapsed into Elizabeth’s embrace and sniffled pitifully into her handkerchief. “I feel that too,” she said. “I wish he would tell me what he wants me to do.”

“I am sure as long as you are happy, he will be happy,” Jennings told her. He reached out and took the letter from Elizabeth; when his fingers touched the paper, his eyes closed, and he shuddered as though a chill had gone through him. “Tell me about this Betty,” he said, opening his eyes and looking at Miss Bertram. “Did she have family? Did you ever hear from her again?”

Miss Bertram sat up, attempting to regain her composure. “I believe her family was in Bedford,” she said. “I never heard from her or saw her again. I don’t believe my father ever did either, although he might have and not mentioned it.” She looked up at Mr. Jennings quizzically. “Why do you ask? Is she familiar to you?”

“Not at all,” Jennings replied. He shrugged off the chill that had shaken him, and smiled warmly at Miss Bertram. “I just thought – since she was so affected by what occurred – that she might want to be apprised of your father’s passing. If you are in agreement, I would be happy to send word to Bedford.”

Miss Bertram’s eyes widened. “Oh, of course!” she said. “Thank you so much for your suggestion! I do believe she would like to know; I remember her being very affable, and very friendly with my mother. She seemed almost a part of the family, in fact, before she left.”

“I will send word to her at once, Miss Bertram,” Jennings offered. “You needn’t worry at all about it.”

She took his hand in real gratitude. “Thank you, sir,” she said. “With all my heart. I am as fortunate as my father, I think, to be surrounded by such compassionate people as you two have been, even though I am a stranger to you.”

“You are no stranger, Miss Bertram,” Jennings said. “I feel strongly that your father wishes us to affect some good here, for you and for him, and I will do what I can in that regard.”

“As will I,” Elizabeth said. Since Miss Bertram looked dangerously close to breaking down again, Elizabeth hastily added, “Do you happen to remember, Miss Bertram, what Betty’s family name may be? It will help us locate her.”

Miss Bertram’s fingers twisted around her handkerchief as she thought. “I know she had been married,” she said finally. “But he was never with her in this house, and I don’t know what may have happened to him. So you see,” she went on, giving her guests a little smile. “I don’t know if her surname was her husband’s name, or her family’s name. Her name was Betty Cantor, and I imagine she is still Betty Cantor. Her family owned some sort of inn in Bedford.” She trailed off, trying to recall things that Betty had said to her more than four years ago. “I can’t remember the name of the inn, I’m afraid.”

“Do you suppose,” Mr. Jennings said. “That it might be the Blue Dove?”

“Oh, yes!” Miss Bertram exclaimed. “Oh, yes, that is it! The Blue Dove!”

 

A Countdown for the Holidays

The Wisdom of Pinhead: Part Four
“He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake …”*

Last year for Christmas, I blogged about my favourite part of Hellraiser V: Inferno.  I talked about how Pinhead’s dark, scary message was really a cautionary Christmas tale – avoid superficiality and selfishness and embrace what really matters, or, you know, pay horribly forever.  I realized afterward that Pinhead has always had some very Christmas-y things to say … when seen in the right light.  So this year, I will be presenting a Pinhead-Christmas-personal empowerment-happy-joy-countdown.  At the end of it, I hope readers – Christian and non-Christian alike – are more disposed to find the love and joy the Christmas holiday represents.

And maybe they’ll want to watch the movies too.

Kirsty Cotton: I’ve come for my father!
[the Cenobites laugh at that]
Pinhead: But he is in his own Hell, child, and quite unreachable.
Kirsty Cotton: I don’t believe you!
Pinhead: But it’s true. He is in his own Hell, just as you are in yours.

Only in life can we suffer; after our death, our troubles are over, as they say.  But this doesn’t mean that life is only suffering – quite the opposite: life is also beautiful and wondrous and good.  In this quote, Pinhead reveals that his “Hell” is for the living, that his “clients” choose consciously to open the box while alive, and bring Hell upon themselves with their own actions and desires … and after they’re dead, they will be as far from Pinhead’s reach as all those who avoided the box and its delights entirely.

What does this mean for you and me?  It means that we make our hells for ourselves.  It means that we really don’t know what happens after we’re dead, until we die.  It means that, just as life can be suffering, it can also be joy, or despair, or loss, or bliss – and that, far more than we usually realize, what life is for each of us is under our own control.

It also means that, whether we like it or not, whether we believe or not, whatever thing we may believe in, absolutely none of us knows – really knows – what’s waiting for us after that last breath.  Some of us have glimpses, some of us see wonders that give us some comfort, but in the end, even Hell doesn’t know what happens.  In the end, we’ll just have to accept that death is a mystery … because if we don’t, that lingering fear of death and its uncertainty will turn us into little, stressed-out globules of anger who are always quarreling with one another to distract ourselves from our own worry.

Kind of like the way we already do it.

So maybe for the holidays – or all year round, if we feel we’re up to it – we can reorganize some of our burdens.  We can agree to be in charge of our own lives here – to accept the consequences of our actions, to recognize that so very often we make our own pain and suffering.  We can stop wasting our living moments searching for death, and instead allow whatever god may exist to be in charge of the afterlife.  We can stop creating Hell on earth in all manner of creative ways, and instead let Pinhead be in charge of Hell.

He seems to doing a much fairer job of it than we do.

* “Santa Claus is comin’ to town” by Coots and Gillespie

The Thing I Like About …

Awake (2007, Hayden Christiansen): the part where his mother lights her cigarette.

Awake follows a young man’s attempt to get a heart transplant before his own heart stops working.  His mother (played by Lena Olin) wants him to consult her own physician – the best heart surgeon in the country – but Clay (Christiansen) wants his friend Dr. Harper to be his surgeon, and he places his trust in Dr. Harper.

Of course, things go horribly wrong.

Clay is prepped for the transplant, and is given anesthesia; he then experiences anesthesia-awareness, a lovely little complication wherein he is fully aware of what’s happening to him during surgery but is helpless to move or communicate to the surgeons – the surgeons who cut into his chest and pull out his heart.

Ouch.

Clay begins to wander through his memories in an attempt to retreat from the pain of the ongoing operation.  Things have all sincerely gone horribly wrong, and he is in fact dying.  This is represented, as he walks “home” in his imagination, by each street light going out consecutively, leaving a growing trail of darkness behind him.  He goes into his “house”, where the lamps also go out one by one, as well as the fire in the fireplace.  He makes his way upstairs and lies down wearily on his bed, and the bedside lamp goes out too. He’s in pitch black now, and we know that it’s because his body (and his spirit) are very nearly dead.  He’s very nearly dead.

And then his mother lights her cigarette.

She’s sitting by him in his imagination-bedroom, and smoking a cigarette, and she’s telling him how much she loves him, and how proud she is of him, and how wonderful he is, and how strong.  She’s telling him how gladly she would die for him, how she would give him her own heart, because that’s what mothers do.  She lights her cigarette, and it’s the only light in the room, and Clay follows it out of his imagination-house, out to where he can wake up and be alive again.  He uses her little light to light all the other lights.

Her little light saves his life.

We’ve all been in darkness, both real and metaphorical.  We’ve all waited and hoped to see that little light.  We’ve all clung to it with every ounce of strength.  Yet we’re sure that our own contributions are small, that we’re not important or strong or good enough, that what we have to offer isn’t worth anything.  We don’t think we can really heal or fix or help.

But in the pitch-black, one little light makes all the difference in the world.

The Thing I Like About …

Highlander:  the part where Heather grows old while Connor stays young.

Highlander is the story of a man who is apparently immortal – forever young and mostly unkillable.  He is driven from his village, because for some reason, villagers are afraid of neighbours that never age and never die.  He makes his way to a remote part of the highlands, and he lives there with the love of his life, Heather, a lovely young woman who accepts his … condition.

She grows older, and older, and is eventually old, and eventually dies, and when she asks him on her deathbed why he stayed with her, he says that he loves her as much that day as he did the day he met her.  And for centuries after she’s gone, he never loves another.

People want to live forever.  We want to stay young forever.  The vampire trend isn’t for no reason.  We fear aging and we fear death, and we think we want to be like Connor … except that our loved ones – our spouses, parents, siblings, friends, children – will all die around us.  So, if that’s the deal, then we actually don’t want to take that deal.  Maybe we don’t want to live forever after all, if our loved ones can’t live forever with us.

It turns out we don’t fear aging and we don’t fear death.  We fear loss.  We fear losing our hearts and our happiness and our loved ones.  And it turns out that living forever didn’t keep Connor from losing all of those things … in fact, it made it harder because he had so much more time to mourn.  It turns out that we all just want a life filled with what Heather and Connor had – a love that transcends the changes around us, that withstands time and tide, that looks past physical beauty and infirmity and sees only the beautiful parts inside.

It turns out that we fear dying alone … and the answer to that fear is to love one another as much at the end as we do in the beginning.

The Thing I Like About …

Groundhog Day: the part where he keeps trying to save the guy who dies.

Phil is a reporter sent to cover the groundhog seeing his shadow on Groundhog’s Day.  For some reason, he enters a time loop and relives the same day over again .. and over and over and over again.  He starts trying to make small changes – to himself, of course, but also to the old man who dies in the gutter at the end of that day.

He tries to save him every day.  He tries CPR.  He tries encountering him earlier in the day, getting him a hot meal and some warm clothes.  He tries everything he knows how to do, but no matter what, the old man dies at the end of the day.

For me, this is the turning point for Phil, more so even than the meaningful connections he makes that eventually break the time loop.  He has to accept that he cares – something he had not been able to do before – and he has to accept that, no matter what he does or how hard he tries, he can’t control everything.  Not even an important thing.  The most important thing in this world – whether we’re dead or alive – is actually entirely and completely beyond Phil’s ability to change by even a moment.

In the film, Phil has to grieve for the old man; he has to come to terms with his “failure” to save him.  But actually, he learned the one thing that was stymying him when he arrived in Punxsutawney, and the thing that tends to stymie all of us:  whether the old man lives or dies is irrelevant.  It’s not the saving of the old man that Phil was being asked to do.  He was being asked to care.  He was being asked to involve himself with another human being, and to help make that person’s life as happy as possible while he’s on this planet.  Maybe the old man died anyway, but Phil had turned what could have been a sad ending in a cold gutter into an evening with a new friend, a full tummy and a warm bed.  Basically, Phil didn’t fail at all.

We all die.  What matters isn’t that we die, but what we do before we die.  Who have we fed?  Who have we clothed?  Who have we befriended?  Who have we loved?  Did we make the people in the world happier with our actions, or not?  Who did we hold, and who’s holding us?  Phil needed to learn to see the world from this perspective, and so do we, I think … but unlike Phil, we only have the one chance at it.  Let’s not mess it up.

Bit O’Blog

The Eleventh Hour

My friend Bob used to work as a cleaner for (furnished) university apartments.  One day, after a tenant left for “medical reasons,” Bob was sent in to clean up, particularly the couch – one arm of the couch was completely, extraordinarily drenched in blood.  The blood had settled deep into the material, but Bob set about pulling it up with the extractor … over and over and over again, for hours.

He said that the experience filled him with great hope.  As you might imagine, I asked him why.

He explained that the “medical reasons” were that the tenant had tried to commit suicide.  He had entered a hole of darkness and despair, alone in his living room with seemingly insurmountable pain, and he had slashed his wrists.  But in truly the eleventh hour, when so much blood had come out of him that it was a wonder he was still breathing, he decided he wanted to live.  He called 911.  He pressed his wrists into the arm of the couch to stop the bleeding.  He waited with all of his weight pressed onto his arms and onto the arm of the couch, until paramedics came and saved him.

Bob saw hope not just because the man lived; he saw hope because the man decided to live – that in the darkest moment, when all seemed desolate and pointless, he found a light to follow.  Bob saw the hope there, the second chance, the course correction.  He saw the struggle to climb out of despair, the success achieved when failure seemed certain.  He saw this amidst all that blood, and it gave him hope that the challenges and obstacles we face are surmountable, no matter how bleak they may seem.

And he kept pulling up the blood with the extractor, until the water ran clear.