Letter 4 – Part 2
I am not retracting my earlier judgement that Robin is harmless toward the children and me. Not at all, my dear! But I have been worried, I realized, that Robin may be harmful to himself. I did not want to believe it so I didn’t dare utter it, even to myself, not fully anyway. It was a thought which loitered about a dark corner of my mind, and I had been doing all that I could to prevent its stepping into the light; or, as if a player in the wings, now in full view of the anticipating audience.
In some ways it was a relief to acknowledge the thought, if only to myself. However, the relief of that idea instantly surrendered to a disquieting one: who were Rev Grayling’s informants? I recalled the agents who Mrs Shelley said watched her home to apprehend her debt-burdened husband, or at least to apprehend a clue regarding his whereabouts. Could similar agents be spying on hour home? Taking note of Robin’s comings and goings? Watching the children as they play in the alley? Recording my visits to Mr Smythe and Mrs Shelley?
Of course not. It was a nonsensical notion, born of my disturbing dialogue with old Rev Grayling.
As exasperating and unsettling as his line of inquiry was, after a time I discovered that beneath my irritation was a current of relief that he had not broached the subject of my truancy from services. There is a piece of me, buried well deep, which feels a spasm of guilt at not taking the children to church, a product of my own upbringing planted by my father and watered and fertilized by the Church itself; but instantly I recalled the charade of it all: of a benevolent, paternal God who watches over His flock, especially His little children, and Whose stern guidance helps us to avoid falling into the Pit of Eternal Flames. He certainly did not bestow His benevolence upon our Maurice; nor for that matter, it seems, half the children of London; nor their shattered, bereaved parents left to carry on in their little ones’ constant and conspicuous absence.
I’m sorry, my dear—I know . . . I know . . . I mustn’t go on with this bitter and spiteful blasphemy. But where may I give voice to it other than here, in these private pages intended only for my husband, who already knows the mind and shattered heart of his wife? For surely we know that at which we can easily guess, as one knows the forever sun blazes in the heavens even when it is fully obscured behind a dense curtain of clouds (as it is today). Its light filters through, diffused and dulled but evidence of the star’s distant ferocity nevertheless.
Listen to me, waxing philosophic, poetic even. Perhaps it is the influence of Mr Shelley’s book, which I had some opportunity to peruse prior to Rev Grayling’s visit. The poet’s voice and words, in all their eloquent impact, give mine agency, a permission of sorts to flower forth. Bold and embittered.
No doubt I have flowered forth quite enough—a veritable jungle of philosophic flora—and I shall cease, especially since I must see to the children and the progress of their lessons. Due to Felix’s infatuation with the book of German folk stories, for his geography lesson I charged him with trying his hand at map-making by drawing a likeness of Deutschland. One of Uncle’s books has a map of central Europe as its end-papers. Though probably somewhat out-of-date, it served reasonably well as Felix’s model. I shall report as to the success (or not) of his cartographical efforts.
I woke this morning realizing that the thought of Rev Grayling’s informants had been weighing upon my mind. Also: Where had Robin been on his rambles that he should encounter those who report to the Reverend? For the past twenty-four hours he has been keeping to his little room like a monk to his cell. Mrs O delivered him tea twice yesterday, without his requesting it, or for that matter passing any sort of word to any of this house’s inhabitants. She said both times he was lying abed, though her sense was that he wasn’t sleeping. When she took him the second pot of tea, the first was empty, so at least he took some nourishment. The same was true of his other teapot when she retrieved it this morning, she said. At that time Robin did appear fast asleep. No doubt his body needs an excess of repose to fully recover. His body and his spirit. Mrs O is determined that he should consume something more than tea, however. She took him up a bit of boiled brisket from yesterday’s dinner and a poached egg, along with a pair of biscuits with her currant jam.
As I have been writing, my dear, the morning post arrived and there is a letter for Robin from the Russian, Mr Andropov (his hand is distinct—you know what I mean). I can only imagine that it is an invitation to accompany him on another excursion in the city. It occurs to me that perhaps the most expedient way to discover Rev Grayling’s informants would be to follow Robin and Mr A to see who may be spying them. Even as I write these words I know the foolishness of the proposal—yet I find the idea of it intriguing. To be at once out in the world and yet also apart from it—at least as far as Robin would be concerned. In his mind his sister would be safely stowed at home (working at her stitches or tending to the children or, most likely, writing a letter to her husband!) but at the same time I would be occupying his world, at least the edges of it: one mustn’t be too close if one hopes to observe the observers, that is, Rev G’s ‘good Christians,’ his eyes and ears.
I shall make preparations by placing my wrap and hat and shoes in the washroom, where they will be unnoticed but quickly accessible whenever Robin departs for his appointment with Mr A. I must acknowledge that I feel the exhilaration of adventure, the thrill of subterfuge, yet also the guilt of deception and the naggings of common sense. Nevertheless I am resolved to follow Robin when he exits the house. I shall leave off for now to put my plan into place.
Ted Morrissey is the author of four books of fiction as well as two books of scholarship. His works of fiction include the novels An Untimely Frost and Men of Winter, and the novella Weeping with an Ancient God, which was named a Best Book of 2015 by Chicago Book Review. His stories, essays and reviews have appeared in more than forty publications. He teaches in the MFA in Writing program at Lindenwood University. He lives near Springfield, Illinois, where he and his wife Melissa, an educator and children’s author, direct Twelve Winters Press.