Chapter 7

March 29th, 1875

Burtonsville, England

5:42 P.M.

"Master Van Dort?"

Victor looked up from his sketchbook to see Barry standing in his doorway. "Your parents request your presence in the east drawing room," the butler continued. "As soon as possible."

Victor nodded, setting aside his quill. "Tell them I'll be down in a minute."

"Very good." Barry turned and hurried away.

Victor sighed, then looked back at the empty page lying before him. He'd been trying to draw something, but his inspiration seemed to have dried up. No surprise, really. He'd been living under a dark cloud of depression ever since he'd realized he had no chance of being with either of the women he loved. Any activity that wasn't sitting around staring aimlessly at the walls seemed to take more energy than he could muster. All he could think about was how alone he was. He'd tried writing a letter to Victoria, just for someone to talk to, but he hadn't been able to shake the feeling that it wasn't proper to write so familiarly to a married woman. Besides, thinking about her with Christopher still caused an ache in his heart. So instead, he'd retreated inward, hiding away from anything else that could cause him pain. Let the world go on without him. It was obvious he was not needed.

He closed his sketchbook and pushed himself to his feet. It wouldn't do to keep his parents waiting. I wonder what they want to see me about, he thought as he headed 'd left him alone lately, more or less. His mother had insisted on getting one last doctor in, but, as usual, Victor had refused to speak to the man, and she hadn't bothered to force the issue. For the past week, the family had only seen each other at mealtimes, and even then they hadn't talked to each other. Victor was quite happy with this arrangement, to be honest. If his parents wanted to ignore him for the rest of their lives, that was fine by him. It was much better than being lectured or glared at. I hope they're not going to play at being sympathetic or anything like that now. It's far too late for them to pretend they care.

His parents were sitting on the big couch in the middle of the drawing room when he entered, whispering to each other. Nell was the first to notice him. "There you are," she said. "Have a seat. We've got news."

"News?" Victor repeated, sinking down into an armchair. Oh God. Don't tell me she's somehow found a new bride for me. I can't take going through another arranged marriage – especially so soon.

William nodded solemnly. "Victor, we're worried about you," he said, leaning forward. "All you've been doing for the past few days is moping about. And you wouldn't let Dr. Zemeckis see you at all. Would it have been so hard to talk to the man?"

"He couldn't have helped me," Victor mumbled, looking at his feet.

"Quite right," Nell said, causing Victor's head to snap up in surprise. "He couldn't have helped you, because you wouldn't have let him. But we think we've found someone who can. Dr. Zemeckis recommended him to us right before he left. Apparently he specializes in stubborn cases like yours."

Oh lovely. Did my refusal to speak to the last five mean nothing to you? Victor sighed. "When does he get here?"

"Oh no – you're going to him."

That made Victor sit up straight. "What?! You're sending me away?" A cold chill raced down his spine. "Not to – to an a-a-asylum?!" Oh God, not that, anything but that!

"Not an asylum, not really," William said, with a smile he seemed to think was reassuring. "Just a – home away from home. The doctor runs an orphanage which specializes in children with troubled pasts. You're not his usual sort of client, but when we wrote to him, he assured us he could take you on."

"He's something of a miracle worker, according to all the reports," Nell agreed. "I think he's just the person to help you forget this 'corpse bride' of yours."

Anger bubbled up inside Victor. Did his mother really have to say that like she was trying to get a bad taste out of her mouth? "I'm not going to forget her," he said, voice hard.

"You say that now," Nell said, waving her fan carelessly. "This man will make you see sense. I'm sure of it."

"You need help, Victor," William added, shaking his head. "The way you refuse to let go of this fantasy – it scares me a little. And I'll be honest – I'm still rather concerned about your – taste in women, let's say?"

Victor's jaw nearly hit the floor. "W-what?!" He'd thought that particular topic had been closed just over a month ago! "Father, no! I – I would n-never do anything like that with a c-corpse! I swear to you!"

"Yes, but you also swear that the dead walked the streets and organized a wedding for you. And you've never denied that you were ready to marry the corpse."

"Marry, yes, but not – there was no discussion of a wedding n-night! The very thought of – that – n-never crossed my mind!"

William sighed deeply. "I so wish I could believe that, son. I really do." He smiled again, a hopeful glint in his eye. "But this man – he'll do right by you, I'm sure. He'll wipe all those horrible thoughts of yours right out of your mind. After a few months in his care, I'm sure you'll be a fit member of society again."

"It's already all settled," Nell said, cutting off Victor's protests before they could even begin. "We'll be taking you up to London before the week's out."

"And if I d-don't want to go?" Victor managed to say.

Nell glared at him. "You don't have any choice," she snapped. "You've already ruined my biggest chance at being somebody. I'm not going around with the stigma of having a mad son on top of that."

"Victor, it's all for your own good," William said, like he was speaking to a child. "We want you to be well. We want you to make a good marriage someday."

Yes – a good marriage you'll arrange for your benefit, Victor thought, his fingers digging into the arms of his chair. All of this is for your own good, not mine! "I'm not mad," he said, jaw clenched. "I don't need this."

"Yes you do," Nell shot back. "You're not getting out of it, Victor. And if you even think of running away, we will hunt you down and drag you there by your ear. I don't care if you are an adult – you are getting your head screwed on right whether you like it or not!"

"Don't get all aflutter, dear," William soothed, patting her arm. Looking at Victor, he added, "But she's right. Whatever it takes to get you there, son. We're willing to do it."

Victor believed him. After all, his parents had spent hundreds of pounds and worked around the clock to find the Everglots. Chasing him down wouldn't be even half as hard, especially since he had no idea where he'd go. He looked away, biting his lip. Well – maybe it would be good for him to get out of this house and this village. Away from everyone who hated him, away from all the memories. A change of scenery might help lift his mood. Even if he was stuck getting therapy he didn't need. "All right," he sighed, giving in. "I w-won't make trouble."

Nell smirked in triumph. "Good. We're leaving in two days, so you ought to start getting ready. Be sure to pack your best suits – even if you are mad, you aren't going out in public looking like you're ready for Bedlam."

"Yes, Mother." Victor dragged himself to his feet. "I'll go do that now."

"Oh, don't look so depressed," William told him, grinning. "You might like it there! New place to live, new people to meet – you might make some new friends! And you'll be in very good hands with the doctor."

"Oh yes," Nell nodded. "He's quite respected in the medical community. Does amazing work. If anyone can fix you, it's him."

Victor strongly doubted that, but he didn't dare say so. "Who is he?"

Nell beamed. "Dr. Angus Bumby."

The End