Lord Simon: Winter 1864: Age Seventy, Part 3

“Should I get a physician? Lord Simon?”

A murmur of unease.

“Don’t worry, Max. I’m not planning to inventory your stock today.”

Another murmur.

“Or his. Lord Simon?”

Simon opened his eyes. The policeman, Miss St. Clair’s policeman, leaned over him, one hand on the chair arm. Gray eyes contemplated Simon steadily.

Mr. Stowe said, “You sent for me.”

“Kev was here.”

Max made a pained sound, and Simon waved placating fingers.

“We don’t care for him,” he told the supernally calm policeman.

“I don’t care for him either. We shouldn’t have let him escape the hospital. He seemed incapacitated.”

“By Miss St. Clair.”

“She doesn’t care for Kev either,” Mr. Stowe said, a wry twist to his mouth.

He backed up and lowered himself to the edge of the nearest chair. Simon shifted in his armchair, straightening his back. Max lurked near the door, eyeing the policeman with more startled apprehension than he had ever eyed Simon. The world has changed. In another few years, Simon would no longer be able to bully politicians and tradesmen. I have used up all my time.

He wouldn’t mind a few more days, months, years. Not the same days or months or years. Rather—time out there, beyond the house, further than he could see from the bedroom window (when uncurtained). If I had the strength. If I knew Hannah was protected.

Maybe the priest from Ennance spoke the truth and death would bring more time: Simon would wander far across the ocean to the Undying Lands.

He told Mr. Stowe, “Kev blames me for his condition.”

“Is that unreasonable?”

Yes. No.

“He should have left your lady alone.”

“Yes.”

“I should never have countenanced him,” Simon admitted. “He is . . . a thing possessed by greed, not for money like his nephew. Dmitri was a barely human thing: scrounging, conning. Like Jacobs. Kev is more human and therefore rather more dangerous. He wants—recognition. A little brain, a little ability, he wants more than he deserves or earns or comprehends.”

Don’t we all? Hannah said, irony in her tone.

Simon’s shoulders slumped as they lost their stiff tension. No matter how much he wanted her saved, he didn’t want her gone.

“Applause,” Mr. Stowe said sapiently.

Miss St. Clair hadn’t chosen a dullard at least. Simon nodded. Kev had all the pomp and posturing of Sir James yet none of the social mechanisms to satisfy the accompanying neediness.

“He will come back.”

“The police don’t have the manpower to stay on the place,” Mr. Stowe said. “We will divert patrols to this area. We want to catch Kev too.”

He stood, his brown coat falling into place about him and studied Simon, brows slightly creased.

“Do you need a physician?”

“No.” Even if Simon could afford the bill—money had been running low for years now; otherwise, Simon would hire Manderley Brothers as well as utilize the police—no physician could alter the reality of Simon’s condition. “No, thank you.”

Mr. Stowe man nodded and glanced towards Max with that glimmer of amusement that barely altered his face.

“Be good, Max,” he said and headed for the door.

Simon called after him: “I didn’t kill her.”

Mr. Stowe turned slowly, brows raised. He waited, a concentration of calm collectiveness.

“The girl—the woman from years past. I didn’t kill her. I tried to save her. Things went wrong.”

“Potions are questionable solutions to life’s problems,” Mr. Stowe said gently. “When they work, their consequences are . . . out of proportion.”

Yes. Simon could never undo Hannah’s dispossession because no carefully crafted potion could match the result. Only the unimaginable could free her—perhaps Simon’s death, perhaps even the house’s destruction. Perhaps something yet uncalculated: a prince on a horse, a kiss for a sleeping beauty.

* * *

Mr. Stowe left. Max left, promising to return later. Simon waited for the front door to close, its reverberation felt throughout the house. He heaved himself up, made his way onto the landing. One foot. Another. All the way to the back of the house and the steep stairs to the solarium. He grasped the rail and pulled himself up a step at a time—one foot, then two feet together like a child. He reached the top and pushed open the door.

Herbal scents greeted him, a palpable wallop to the face. It was sunny out and gleaming light stroked the glass jars. Reflections danced across the walls and floor. Colors swam before Simon’s eyes.

When he was younger, he could have heaved the table and shelves to their sides, scattering the contents. He couldn’t manage that now, so he lifted the jars and beakers one by one and sent them crashing to the floor. He came across the pestle and used it smash more. He piled the herbs into the cauldron and threw in a lit match—they sent out a cloyingly sweet smoke at first, then a grayish acrid one. Simon poured water on top and the sodden mass sank to the bottom of the glass bowl.

He turned to his notes next, ripping sheets, smearing ink. He poured the mass on to the books and papers, ground them all to gray pulp. He felt Hannah beside him, the first time in decades she had entered the solarium. She didn’t protest as he tramped about the room, destroying the remnants of his life’s work. Every potion tainted, including the priest’s water. Every herb burnt, crushed, or filled with shards of glass.

“Kev mustn’t get access,” Simon said. “It’s over.”

* * *

Howls woke Simon at midnight. He lay in bed, Hannah’s form against his side and listened to Kev screaming wrath and damnation. So. Kev made it to the solarium, finally, after all these years.

Welcome to real life, Kev. We never get what we want—even when we what good and noble things. You have certainly never wanted them.

Hannah’s form dissolved, rushing from the bed into the walls. Simon heard the panels creak. He sat up slowly.

“The potions aren’t salvageable,” he said though no one heard.

He felt for the floor with cold feet and stood. One more confrontation. He wouldn’t kill Kev. Miss St. Clair had declined to finish him off. Who was Simon to gainsay her decision? Maybe Kev would kill him. Either way, an exorcism was at hand.

“He has a torch.” Hannah was back, speaking aloud this time; some of her energy had returned. “He means to burn you. Burn us. The house.”

“No!”

Simon didn’t know he could move still so fast. He was out on the landing, striding towards the upper stairs. He was trembling by the time he reached them. He wouldn’t make it to the solarium, but Kev was barreling down the steps, torch skimming the walls, face distorted in a cry of pure frenzy and a lifetime of unrequited lust.

Simon had time to wonder, If I hadn’t gotten Hannah, a worthy cause on which to focus my experiments, would I have become like this? before he screamed at Kev, wrath to match wrath:

“I tolerated you. Helped you. I was not obligated to do either.”

“You should have shared your potions with me. Not the Academy.”

“No one benefited. Get out.”

“I was supposed to be great. Feared. I would have made discoveries.”

“You built on what I created.”

“I would have figured it all out—if I’d had money, prestige, backing. You should have given me the girl. I would have split her open. I would have made potions viable.”

“Pipe dreams. Wishful thinking.”

“Your fault. I should have been you. I should have had all this.”

Kev thrust the torch at Simon’s face. Hannah swept forward. She couldn’t quench the flame, but she pushed and it exploded backwards, enveloping Kev. He screamed and plunged forward, knocking against the landing banister. The house was old; the banister crumbled--Kev plummeted to the hall below. The floor and walls were pure kindling. Struck by Kev’s blazing body, they ignited, throwing up sparks.

Hannah surrounded Simon even as he pleaded for her to save herself.

She replied, Where would I go? She was cool mist in the inferno and then something more solid: arms about his waist; head tucked against his shoulder. I’m sorry I can’t lift you. I don’t have the strength this time.

He didn’t care. He encircled the shape against his side, held on as he breathed in the heady smoke pouring from the solarium. The landing creaked, ready to collapse. It would go soon, it or—

The roof.