The young man stared out of his window at the countryside, shrouded by pouring rain. Tomorrow marked the passing into his 26th year, yet he felt nothing to be happy about. How fitting the weather is, he thought to himself. It was as though the very elements were joining him in his sorrow.
Archibald Craven was an unusual young man. Stricken from an early age with an incurable condition which had left him permenantly hunched over and in great pain, he was hardly a typical example of the gentry. Indeed, when most young men were enjoying their youth, he was confined to his bed, and later, to his home – Misselthwaite manor, a sprawling brick mansion located in the middle of the desolate Yorkshire moors.
What Archie lacked in physical strength, he made up for in intellectual ability. He had an amazing mind and spent hours pouring over books in his Father's library. It was there, during his sickly childhood that he would be able to dream of far-off lands and mentally transport himself to another time and place where he could live out his life as a philosopher, or a magician, or any number of men with great power and strength.
Archibald Craven was not a strong man, that much was true, however, he was what could be called a very 'beautiful' man. He had long dark hair, which fell in unruly waves down to his shoulders, and his eyes were a deep, piercing blue. His skin was smooth, and, due to his indoor confinement, as pale as ivory and he spoke with a quiet, even tone, much like the wind whispering over the moor. He was tall, and in spite of his crooked back, he moved gracefully. His hands were also pale and slender, his nails long and perfectly manicured. He went unaware of the many admiring, yet pitying looks that went his way from young women (and those not so young) upon seeing his beauty, and then his obvious deformity. Because of this, Archie had never had a beau, and had convinced himself that no woman would ever want to get to know him, beyond purely intellectual pursuits. He wondered about his future, and envisioned himself slowly rotting away in the old Mansion, kept behind closed doors, never knowing any of the pleasures that other young men seemed to take for granted. He remembered the recent wedding of his cousin, Dr Craven, to his wife Elanor. They had taken residence in the nearby village soon after, and his cousin had assured him that life had never been better since he had taken a wife. Archie was sure there would soon be children on the way for the pair, and tried to imagine himself fathering a child. The laughter of children, he had been assured, was enough to brighten up the most desolate of days. He had never known the laughter of children, having been kept confined to his own bed for most of his childhood, and when there were other children around, they had been deemed a bad influence, and would be detrimental to his health and so had been kept away. He had spent his childhood alone, for the most part, seeing only a few select servants here and there, and of course, his nurse. His own Father had stayed away, seemingly ashamed of his own son, and his Mother had died soon after he was born, due to complications arising from his birth. He often wondered if his Father blamed him for her death and if this was the reason behind his long absences. Archie was certain that he would remain a bachelor forever, and wondered bitterly, what woman would ever want him?
A week after his 26th Birthday, Archie was sitting in his study, with the curtains drawn in his typical fashion, which had the effect of blocking out the light from outside and making the room seem dingy and mysterious. It did not matter that the day was warm and the sun shining brightly. Archie felt the most comfortable when he was surrounding himself in his books and his daydreams. It gave him a means of forgetting the difference between himself and his peers – how other young men would be outside, racing around on horseback, strolling under the shade of the trees and courting pretty young women.
A way of forgetting was of not seeing, which is exactly what Archie did. He pulled the curtains, blocking out the light and warmth from outside and bent over his books. Suddenly, there came a knock at the door, which caused the young man to sit bold upright. He had been lost in a reverie of thought – this time of the deeds of King Arthur, and the Knights of the round table, and he felt himself rudely interrupted.
'Come in', he barked, rather annoyed at being interrupted. He pushed his hair back and leaned back on his chair, as far as his aching back would allow him. He winced a little as he did so, and made a mental note to send John to the village to purchase more Laudanum.
'Master Craven', a voice called, from the other end of the room, and Archie noticed the familiar figure of Mrs Medlock enter. She was a thin, rather stern looking woman, whose brown hair was beginning to be streaked with grey. Around her narrow waist she carried a ring of keys, which she wore with pride. Archie had no doubt that she was extremely strict to all the other staff at Misselthwaite, yet he didn't feel as though it was his place to interfere with their dealings. She had a busy household to run, and did so with efficiency and ease.
'Yes, Medlock?', he quieried, still somewhat annoyed at being disturbed.
'I'm sorry to disturb you so early in the day Master Craven, it's just that this letter arrived only twenty minutes ago Sir. Its from your cousin, Dr Craven. He said it was urgent.'
Archie took the letter from the woman's outstretched arm and looked up to see her exiting the room. He felt puzzled. Why would his cousin write to him so urgently? hadn't he just got married two weeks ago? surely he had better things to do than making contact with a sickly, invalid cousin. Archie turned the letter over and noticed Dr Craven's seal, then shrugging, opened the letter. He read the contents through once, and then once again, feeling his heartbeat quicken.
My Dear Cousin, Dr Craven had written.
I trust that you are in good health for this time of year, I see spring has come early and we have already experienced a bout of good weather. I hope you are managing to enjoy it more than you have done in previous years, and have not been confined indoors too much. Remember Archie, if I ever happen to visit you, and find you holed up in that Library of yours with your blinds drawn I will have to drag you outdoors by your long mane, if need be.
Archie had to smile at this, thinking of his good-natured cousin's sense of humour.
Seriously Archie, I have a surprise for you. I know you don't like surprises, but I intend to surprise you nonetheless. I would like you to accompany Eleanor and myself to London this season. I will not say why at this point, other than to say I think you will be pleasantly surprised. We intend to leave two days hence, travelling by private coach. I would be honoured to have your companionship, Cousin, and as your physician, I can advise you that exposure to the warmer weather that London provides can only be beneficial to your health. Please reply post-haste and let me know your answer. In the mean time, do try to leave that Library once in a while!
Archie's thoughts whirled around his mind in a tumult. Why London? and what kind of surprise would it be? As much as he hated surprises, he felt a desire to know what William had in store for him. He looked around his Library, at all the familiar books illuminated by the burning lamps. All the familiar and comforting sights, the books which were old friends that had kept him company throughout his youth. The Library that had been his sanctuary, and had kept him away from the prying, often ridiculing (and worse still), pitying looks of the public. Could he leave his security behind and expose himself to the crowds of London? Yes, he decided, he could. Besides, he mused, if it really is so bad, I can leave and come back to Misselthwaite. And what harm will it do to see what William has in store for me? Its not as though I have much to fill my days with here. Picking up a pen, and selecting a sheet of paper, Archibald Craven began to compose his reply.
Well, this is my first fic about Archie Craven, so please let me know your thoughts on it. I felt as though Archie had a story that would be worthy of telling, and was inspired to write about how he met Lilias, Colin's Mother. I wanted to portray Archie as a bitter and lonely man, but with a beautiful soul, which we will see more of, as this story develops (fingers crossed!). As always, reviews and criticism are always welcome, so please don't hesitate. I hope you've enjoyed reading the first chapter of this fic as much as I have enjoyed writing it.