Disclaimer: Wellard is mine, all mine. C.S. Forester and A&E can't have him! Alright, alright. I admit, I don't own anything- I accept defeat. :(
Dedicated to Terence Corrigan, on his birthday today, August 8th. (I barely and miraculously made my deadline, woohoo!) Please review; I'd like to know if this idea was worthwhile.
I've separated this "one-shot" into three chapters, for readability.
A New Beginning
Henry Wellard had never been fond of the dark. In fact, he dreaded its coming. Nothing good had ever come from it. His twin sister, Isobel, had tried time and time again to convince him otherwise. Her reasoning was that the dark couldn't be all bad- the moon lit up the darkened world in a glowing, white eminence. The stars, too, were beautiful in their shining brilliance. Yet nothing his sister said would budge Henry; the daylight was far better than the nighttime. In the light, everything could be seen easily- not a thing was hidden by the dark or obscured by shadows.
As Henry looked out the small and dirty window of his mother's bedroom, he saw that the day was coming to an abrupt end. Vibrant purple and crimson lined the horizon, announcing the departure of the sun. Even now, the sight of the fading daylight filled Henry with trepidation. It was a beautiful and inspiring sunset, for those who paid attention to it. Henry did not. No, a sunset was the last thing on his mind. His eyes fluttered from the window back to the comatose figure on the bed next to him- his provider, his comforter, his mother.
It had started with a simple headache. Their mother often felt sore and tired after a long day working over the steamy fires, washing upper class gentlemens' and ladies' linens all day. The next morning, however, their mother was unable to rise from her bed. Neither Henry nor Isobel had ever seen their mother so fragile. Bridgette, their mother's closest and perhaps only friend, soon came to see her. She told the anxious children that their mother was very, very sick. What she was sick with, Henry would never know. Doctors were persons he never saw. The most they could do for her was touch her face gently with a wet rag when her face was hot, and wrap her in all the blankets they could find when she was cold.
A week later, their mother had shown no signs of improvement. On the contrary, it appeared that her condition had only worsened. Bridgette had mournfully had to inform the two children, eager for news of their mother's well being, that it wasn't likely their mother would survive her illness. Perhaps out of disbelief, or pure shock, neither of the children cried or screamed that it couldn't be true. Both took it silently, withdrawing from the sick room as though Bridgette had merely commented on the weather.
Moira Wellard had always been there for her two children. They had never met their father. He was seldom mentioned by their mother, though perhaps it was better that way. All that the children were told about their father was he was a 'bloody Irishman', but a 'handsome devil'- as Moira had put it. Their mother had also briefly described the radiant blue of their father's eyes. No doubt it had been the first thing she had noticed about him. It had not been easy, being an unmarried mother in an unforgiving time. Though only a poor laundress striving to pay the rent each week, it was Moira's earnest dream that both her children be properly educated one day, instead of only having her simple ability to read and write; that they would grow up to begin families of their own, not broken as hers was. Facing the cold reality, that the chance both her dreams would be fulfilled was bleak, was out of the question.
Neither education or starting a family mattered to Henry at the moment. All that mattered was that his mother, the only one on this earth who loved them, was dying. There. He had finally admitted it. His mother was, indeed, dying. Dear God, it was mad! His mother. Who would provide for them once she was gone? To so many people the day of their birth had been a curse, yet to their mother it had been a sincere blessing. Would someone ever love them as she did? The ten short years Henry and his sister had spent on this earth seemed to pain everyone- except their mother. It was distressing how many questions he had no answers for.
He watched his mother with an acute attention for signs of life- the rise and fall of her chest, an involuntary twitch in her exhausted slumber. She was so pale, so deathly still. Putting a gentle hand on her arm, he leaned down next to her face, making sure that breath still came from her. As soon as her son's hand left her arm, a tremor seemed to run through Moira. So fast did it shake her that her eyes fluttered open and she became conscious. For the first time in what seemed like forever, Henry's mother was awake.
The joy of his mother's newfound alertness was short lived. Cold skin touched his own as his mother grabbed his hand. How badly she needed the reassurance that someone was there, that she was not alone. "Henry?" she asked, her voice fatigued by sickness. Though soft, his mother's voice contained a vivid emotion, a desperation that Henry had never heard before.
"Mother," he breathed, his voice cracking. All the words that he had longed to tell her for so long escaped him. What could he say? What comfort, what succor could he give to her- a soul slowly fading? Moira clutched the warmth of her son's hand in hers, her chest rising and falling shakily.
"You- you must p- promise me, Henry," she rasped, her voice barely above a whisper. Eyes that had been dim for so long were now lit up with something quite contradictory of her illness- hope.
"Promise what, Mother?" Henry asked earnestly, stroking his mother's hand gently.
"Promise me, Henry, that you'll look after Issy. Stay strong for her, protect her when I'm gone," she pleaded. Henry could only nod numbly, a horrid realization swooping over him as he took in her words. When I'm gone. She had known it too then, all along. It was as if the world had turned upside down. Hearing it from Bridgette, from Isobel, even from himself felt different than hearing it from the subject herself, his mother.
"Do you promise?" she asked, her face aspirant. Henry nodded again, his hands trembling. This was all happening so terribly quickly. Feeling his face grow warm and tears began to well up in his eyes he barely managed to whisper,
"I- I promise." Perhaps it was because her weakness overtook her, or that she had been reassured by her son's words that Moira's tight grip on her son finally relaxed.
Then, a most unexpected thing happened. Moira smiled, and a tranquil look crossed her usually distressed face. Now that she had a reassurance, a promise that her children would look after each other, her mind could be at peace. Her time on this earth was coming to an end, that much was unavoidable. Feeling her strength begin to fade, Moira grabbed Henry's wrist again, pulling him closer to her.
"Know this, Henry," she spoke softly, reaching out a trembling hand to touch his hair. "Know that I love you and your sister both very much. Nothing could keep me from loving you, not even this," she said, gesturing to her fragile body, "And remember, my son, that in the end love will never fail." Taking her weary hands away from his, she settled comfortably onto the frayed and thin bed. She closed her eyes, and smiled wearily. "Farewell, Herry- my son."
With those words, every fiber in Henry's being seemed to panic. She couldn't leave him now! "No," he whispered, but already he could feel her spirit leaving her body, her exhales becoming shallower and shallower, the warmth of her body fading. He fell to the floor, burying his head in his mother's quilt, devastated.
After what seemed like forever, Henry dared to look at his now silent and still mother. All warmth in his body seemed to fade as cold dread filled him. His mother was dead. She had been the only one who had loved them, shown them a particular kindness the world never could. What would happen to them now, the whore's children the public despised, none could tell. If Bridgette pitied them enough, perhaps she would take them in. Then again, perhaps she would not.
Looking outside, Henry saw that the few remaining rays of light had completely vanished from the horizon; the night had begun to set in. Clouds covered every inch of the darkened sky, leaving no room for a moon or stars to shine through. Even Isobel would not be able to find solace tonight.
Henry Wellard had never been fond of the dark. It had intimidated him ever since he could remember. Now was no exception. The dark seemed to swirl around him, choking him with its never ending blackness. For the first time since his mother's illness, Henry wept.