James spat the word into the dumbwaiter in the upstairs library.
It was without a doubt the best way to be heard through the whole house, despite how ridiculous he looked on his knees with his head stuck into the little door, one hand toying absently with the cable running down the middle.
"Cheat. Fake. Fraudster."
The thesaurus sat faithfully open on his lap, on a page that he had dog-eared because he looked at it so often. HYPO- through IA-. A very good page for when he was angry at his father.
That was a good one.
Those were his own. Horridly ineloquent, but functional. He felt the cable quiver under his fingers and retracted his hand and head as the dumbwaiter ascended patiently, to a somewhat pointed stop, and he opened the little doors to find a small piece of stationery neatly folded and addressed to him in Mr. Borough's rough, slanted hand. He flipped it open.
Dear Master James, I must inform you that your father is not in the kitchen and your message reaches only me. It would do me well if you would please desist, as I have a great many things to do.
James folded the note and sent the dumbwaiter back downstairs empty. "Mr. Borough," he called down the shaft, "if you could kindly pass my message on to him that if he would like me not to use the Lord's name in vain, that he shouldn't either."
There was a short moment of quiet before the butler called back up to him. "James, you know he overally means well."
"'Overally' isn't a word," James reminded him, flipping through pages. "You mean 'generally.' 'Usually'. 'Normally.' 'In the mean.' 'By and large.'"
"You've got that thesaurus with you, don't you?"
Another short silence passed. "James, your father is very ill. He doesn't mean to be short of temper with you. Try to understand."
"I'm fifteen," said James, "it's my prerogative not to understand my parents."
"But you're a very smart boy. And mature."
Mr. Borough sighed.
"And instead of 'smart' you could use 'intelligent,' 'sharp,' 'intellectual,' 'gifted,' 'bright'—"
There was a small thump in the shaft. "Would you put that—thing—away?"
"I'm attempting to expand your vocabulary, Francis, if you would comply."
"Come downstairs and have something to eat before bed, would you?"
"I'll consider it."
"I'll talk no more through this shaft," Mr. Borough said warningly, "you'll need to come down if you'd like supper."
James shut the shaft doors in answer and left the library, breezing past the stair landing. At the bottom of the stairs stood the butler, with an exasperated and desperate look on his face.
"Where on earth are you going, Master James?"
"My private library," said James, "in the case that my father wants to read after dinner, I should like not to be in the same room as him."
"You'll have to eat something."
"I've gone without dinner before."
"And look how thin you are."
"Look how thin you aren't," said James frankly, motioning at the butler. "You glutton." The butler looked put-out at that. "Mr. Borough," continued James acidly, "continue to try and be a friend or father figure or whatever it is that you aim for to me and I will see to it personally that the moment my father falls out of his wheelchair from alcohol poisoning that you'll be the first thing to be dismissed, do I make myself clear?"
"Will it be tea, then?" Mr. Borough said dully, after the terse silence had passed, and James continued down the hall upstairs.
"Tea would be excellent."
Jude stared at his reflection in the brandy, and wondered what he had done wrong.
The radio crackled on about Soviets and Italy and Germany and treaties and then it flipped to the nightly radio shows as the clock over the mantle softly chimed nine-o'-clock.
Jude wondered what he had done wrong, and if he was perhaps a sociopath, and if it would hurt if he tried to walk.
He gave a long sigh, and took an equally long sip of brandy, stroking the rim of the glass as he set it down. His hands shook and he felt suddenly immeasurably older than he was. He felt his face crinkling into wrinkles and furrows like a field newly plowed, and had to touch his cheek gingerly underneath his eyes to remind himself that his skin still was firm, if not just beginning to crease. The hair at his ears was turning white, as if the little heathen he'd sired was sucking the life and pigment right out of him.
He rubbed his face, feeling cold all over, and he grunted, leaning forward, reaching for the shelf against the wall of the drawing room and the small lacquered box. His arm ached and his wheelchair creaked as if to give him a plaintive warning. He strained, reaching for the box. His fingertips brushed it and he felt the telltale creak of body and wheelchair before the glass of brandy slipped from his hand to land softly against the thick carpet with a spectacular splatter of liquor before it rolled away. Jude felt briefly like he was standing, and he gave a laugh as he felt warmth on his face, and then he fell.
The box clattered to the floor with him, and tumbled open, his rosary slipping against the carpet in the brandy. He reached out for it slowly, and closed a hand around it, taking a moment to catch his breath. He shifted around slightly, until he was on his back, staring up at the chandelier and one hand weakly holding on to the handle of his wheelchair until slowly he let go, and relaxed.
He couldn't stand to be in the same room with James. He hated it when James would snarl and frown and roll his eyes and give that tired sigh of his that meant he wanted to be anywhere but where he was. He didn't even like it when James smiled, because all that meant was that he had triumphed in some small way and it was always smug and arrogant. He disliked his progeny so much that the hatred spilled over to the boy's deceased mother for ever having conceived him in the first place. Yet for some reason there was something in him that badly wanted to see James happy, even if it meant forsaking his pride, though his pride wouldn't hear a word of it and stuffed the whole instinct back down his throat.
Jude turned the rosary over in his palm and gave a sigh. No good Catholic could go with such a weight upon their breast, and quietly he closed his eyes and began to mumble the prayers, slowly, and careful not to slur the words. It was difficult to enunciate properly, and the scent of brandy in the carpet reminded him why.
"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed—hallowed be the name. Thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…" He swallowed. "Give us this daily bread—"
He frowned, shaking his head. "Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, and del-deliver us from evil."
What had he done to make James hate him so? It enraged Jude to no end how much the boy was like him. He had the same sharp blue eyes and angular face that might have been handsome were he not so sallow, sickly, and skinny.
"Hail Mary, full of grace…"
He couldn't remember the prayer, and he rubbed his fingertips anxiously over the bead as if it might help him. He wondered how long he would lie on the floor like this, and tried slowly to pull himself up and stand. He couldn't even sit up.
"Hail Mary… damn it… what…?" He laid back and sighed, "what is it…?"
James would know. James would smirk at him and correct his father as he so liked to do. James stood over him in his imagination, coaxing him along, with a tired sigh. Jude knew if he were real it meant he wanted to be anywhere but where he was. Anywhere but in the room with him.
"Come now, Father, let's get you up."
Jude closed his eyes, and exhaled through his teeth. "I can take care of myself, James."
"We both know you can't."
"I can. I can too."
"Father, you sound like a child."
"It's the absinthe."
"Brandy…?" Jude swallowed thickly, and nodded. "Maybe."
James's voice sighed, and it took Jude a moment to realize he could feel a thin, bony hand take him by the elbow. He opened his eyes. James was still there, and real.
"James…?" Jude said slowly.
"You weren't trying to walk again, were you?" his son said bitterly. "Mr. Borough heard you fall." It took all the strength in James' skinny body to heave his father up and back into the wheelchair, less than gently.
"No," Jude said, hoarsely, narrowing his eyes, "no."
"The physicians said you wouldn't walk again," James said finally, "and they wouldn't say it if they didn't know what they were talking about."
"Funny," Jude said with steel in his voice, "they also said you wouldn't live to be six, and you turn sixteen this spring."
James picked up the brandy glass and set it on the table. Jude stared at it blankly, and then less blankly, a slow thought coming into his face. A long silence passed.
"You're lucky it didn't break," said James quietly, tentatively.
"It's carpet," Jude said briskly, "it won't break on carpet."
"It would if you dropped it from high enough," retorted James.
"And would you, if I dropped you from high up?" Jude asked him in a hard voice, looking up at him sharply.
"I'd sooner jump myself," James responded curtly.
"I'd drink to that," Jude said dully, lifting the empty glass.
"You're already drunk, Father."
"So I am," Jude said nonchalantly. "Off to bed with you. Tell Mr. Borough I'd like a little more brandy before I go to bed." He doubled in on himself, reaching for the rosary on the floor. James restrained the urge to kick it away, and instead bent, handing it to his father's searching pink hand slowly.
"Mm," said Jude, as if a thought had stricken him, "it will be Christmas in a few days, won't it?"
"Yes," James said, clenching his jaw slightly as he gently eased the glass from his father's other hand.
"Maybe we'll have your mother come up from Glasgow."
James stared at him for a moment, and said quietly, "You're drunk." Jude was silent, seemingly in deep thought, and James decided to be kind despite his father's brazen offense. "I don't think she'd want to come even if she could."
"I fear she's fallen out of love with me, James," Jude said quietly. The sight of him was pathetic and made James' stomach turn.
"More than that," James said, in a cold voice hard as diamonds. He was shaking all over.
"Don't ever trust a woman, James," Jude murmured, fingering the rosary lightly. "They'll only leave you in the end."
"Mother didn't leave you," said James hardly, "she died."
"It's all the same in the long run, isn't it?" said Jude dully, laying his head carefully back, staring once more at the empty glass. "She isn't here. I end up alone. You end up without a mother. The both of us are left to tear each other's throats out."
James exhaled tightly through his nostrils, and his mouth tightened to a thin line. "Don't blame Mother for me hating you! Blame yourself!"
"What have I done to you, James, that you despise me so?!" Jude snarled, lunging at him so suddenly James leapt back, frightened, before he regained himself, and his lip curled.
"Everything!" he sputtered after a few seconds of searching for an answer. "Everything! I hate you for everything you do! You're pathetic and I pity you! I pity you!"
"Get out of my sight!" Jude hissed, all color gone from his face. "Get out!"
James stared at him in cold fury for a moment before he swatted a thin hand at the empty glass on the table, just for good measure. It fell, and he heard it shatter as he ran upstairs and safely to his room, slamming the door, locking it, and shucking his shoes before he crawled up under the covers from the bottom of the bed, and lay there for a long time.
He didn't remember falling asleep, or anything he thought about before doing so, but he was woken in the morning by a somewhat frightened knock on his door. Slowly he peeled the quilt from on top of himself, and sat up slowly, feeling wretched.
"What?" he finally managed, touching his bare feet to the floor and letting out a shiver as he did so.
"You've a telegram, Master James. From Somerton."
A shock of energy ran through him and he sprang bolt upright, almost falling as he did so, and pulling on his socks and hurriedly straightening his shirt—he'd slept in his clothes—he tried to yank the door open before remembering that he'd locked it. He slid the latch across with entirely too much force and tore the door free of its jam, seizing the little slip of paper from Mr. Borough and shut the door again.
MASTER JAMES MCKINLEY
11803 PARRISH STREET; ABERDEEN SCOTLAND
VIA SOMERTON, ENGLAND
HELLO STOP HOLIDAY GOING WELL I HOPE STOP TELEGRAM FASTER THAN LETTER THOUGH IT COSTS MORE STOP HAPPY CHRISTMAS TOO STOP HAVE YOU GOT TREE YET STOP OURS HAS VIOLET STREAMERS PICKED OUT SELF STOP CAN APOSTROPHE T WAIT FOR TERM AGAIN STOP WILL SEND GIFT IN MAIL STOP TELEGRAM BACK IF YOU HAVE MONEY IF NOT WRITE STOP HAPPY CHRISTMAS STOP FROM ALEC END.
James read it twice before it made sense. Alec had probably had a wonderful time translating his letter into 'telegraphese,' as he had a fascination with secret languages and the like. But once he understood the general jist of Alec's lighthearted letter, he couldn't help but smile at his friend. He opened a drawer, and dug out some spending money. He half-considered sending a telegram announcing that he would be coming to Somerton to stay with Alec and then using the rest to buy the train ticket. Quietly, he took out a slip of paper, counted out a few paper bills and coins, totaled how many words he could send, and started to draft a reply, smiling softly the whole time.
A/N I have no idea what telegrams actually look like or how they are written but have seen references to telegraphese before in other period stories. If anyone has any useful, accurate information on the matter I would well appreciate it. :)