XXIV

"THE EMPTY HOUSE"

-as narrated by William-


I never intended to stay in Derbyshire for more than a week. I had it all planned in my head: I would find my father before my brother could intervene between us, look him straight in the eyes, with the perfect amount of courage yet meekness, and tell him right away that I would not leave my wife, that I would continue to bring shame to his family name and would be ashamed to do so, but that I nevertheless needed his acknowledgment, if his approval was too much to ask for. Also, I had to inform him about Henry. I would've gladly given up all of my inheritance and gone to a faraway place where they'd never hear from me again if it made them feel remorseful about me.

Turns out, I was not wise — leaving without sending a letter first. I could not act on the spot as was my intention. My father was in a poor condition. He was getting older with every passing day and at the time of my arrival, I found him reclining in his armchair, a huge blanket thrown over him and a cup of tea beside him, instead of his usual glass of wine. I stepped back as soon as I entered his room and went to my brother's office instead.

"Will! What a surprise! Wait! Do not tell me — you've come to your senses and came back to your family! Father will be so glad! I told him you'll eventually —"

"Don't start with this, John. Tell me what is the matter...? Is he sick? I did not dare to disturb him… not before I knew."

"Well, he's been having a hard time indeed. The doctors say it's his heart."

"Is it serious? Come on; don't just be quiet like this. It's important I know the truth. I cannot just talk to him about serious matters while he lies like a sick man in his bed."

"Listen," he sat up and came towards me, "chances are, he does not have much time left to live. It would be best if you did not disturb him. You know what he wants to hear from you. He wants you back. He can just not have rest until you get a divorce." I opened my mouth to interrupt him, but he cut me off, "You are a wealthy man's son, Will. Schemes can be done, of which nobody will know anything."

"You disgust me, John. You really do."

"Or you could just leave and come live with us. I told you before; nobody will ever know."

"What do you want out of this? What will you get, eh? Tell me," I shouted, as I grabbed him forcefully and pushed him against the wall. "You may be my half my blood, but I will forget you are family if you ever play with me again."
I heard heavy footsteps behind us and the door creaking and I knew that my father was fully awake and coming towards us. I let go of John and stepped forward.

"Son, is that you?" he said in a low voice. "What are you two talking about? I cannot sleep with this agitation." Even in his sickness, he was still the grumpy man I remembered, who did not wish to be disturbed from his evening repose.

"William heard that you were not feeling well and came to see you, father. Isn't it nice of him?"

"Really?"

"Well, the truth is, father —" but I was cut off both by my common sense which told me that it was not a great moment, and by the old man's invitation to join him for dinner. It was clear as day there would be no talk of my future that day. There was a grave silence while we ate; nobody said a word. We did not even look each other in the eye. When the dinner was finished, I stood up and said in loud, clear words: "I see my presence is not needed anymore. I will leave you now. There's no need to prepare a room for me since I'm only going to stay for tonight. However, tomorrow wish to have a word with you, sir. It is of a most urgent importance."

He stared at me as I broke the silence then avoided looking at me, not knowing what to say. In the end, he said, "Very well. I will expect you no later than twelve o'clock. But you are wrong about staying for only a night. I expected you'd want to stay with your dying father at least a few days more."

"I apologize, sir, I did not know what to believe. John refused to tell me more."

"Didn't you say, John… that he came to see me, upon hearing…?"

"Sir!" John said, hesitantly. "I could not tell you the real reason he came, which I am positive you will find out tomorrow!"

"So, I reckon you want something from me… I am ashamed of you, son."

"Sir, I did not know you were sick. You never told me!"

"Enough with this, already? We'll clear things out tomorrow. Now I need some rest. I don't want to hear you two arguing, is it understood?"

"Yes, father," said John submissively. Turning to me, when we were alone, "You couldn't keep your mouth shut, could you, brother dear?"

"You never told me he was dying. And upon my word, John, he doesn't look like, either!"

"Listen to me, William. I'm going away tomorrow. Think about my words. You should not disturb your father any more than you did. Don't make him feel more ashamed of having an unfaithful son any more than he is."

"How much has he got to live anyway?"

"A month, maybe two. Doctors said it could be less."

"And where are you going? Maybe we could sort some things out as well."

At this, he started, looking quite confused. "I… I do have my own business, you know! And it's none of your business."

The next day, I was called in by my father in the morning.

"Listen, son, I know what you want. You want me to give you my blessings. Even if I do, what good will it do to you? I will never wish to see that girl of yours anyway. What can I change anymore than you did? "

"She is no girl, sir! She is my wife and I ask for some respect when you speak of her."

"I cannot acknowledge her as such! You understand me? There are some things beyond my power. Some things you just have to let them be and leave them in the past where they will forever remain."

"Father, I am slowly losing my temper. What is it that you do not understand? One day we will have a family, a child. What am I to tell our little girl or boy when they will ask me about the rest of their family? That you do not exist? Just tell me and I will do so. I swear I will not give a damn!"

"Mind your words —" His words came out like a storm, but he suddenly stopped and put his hand over his heart. I hurried over to him, feeling remorseful of what I said, and helped him take a seat.

"Forgive me, sir; that was reckless of me to say. Are you feeling better?"

"Son, what am I going to do with you? Give me that glass of water and the little bottle over there." He took his medicine and resumed, "The only way I can let you go is by disinheriting you. Is that what you want?"

"Just that? Father, this is a small price I have to pay. I will gladly give up my fortune for this."

"But you would give up your family, this is what saddens me. To have a fortune, and not have anybody whom to leave it with... this is my curse."

"But you have John. Surely you can leave it to him."

"I will never leave my fortune in the hands of your brother and you know this very well!"

"No, I did not. Sir, even if I asked you, you wouldn't leave John my inheritance? Is there no chance at all?"

"He does not deserve it and you know it! Is this your only wish, to leave John all the money you deserved?"

"Father, look at us," I said while I brought out a picture of me and Rose, "we are happy together. I only wish to be happy. I'd give up anything… the way you'd give up anything to have mother again by your side. Wouldn't you? Wouldn't you pass all your fortune to John if you could just have her by your side? Would you care if mother were like Rose is, a poor woman —"

"Don't you dare taint your mother's name!"

"Would you have cared less for her if she had another name? Another family history? If she were poor? For God's sake, father, let me be, it's all I ask for! What I want is to be left alone, for you to be reconciled with the fact that I married Rose and if you could just convince John to let us be as well, that would be perfect! And if it's not much to ask, I want you to meet my wife, just once, it doesn't have to be a long visit, I could bring her here if you can't come to Oxford… but we only want you to understand. But I want John to stay away and never interfere between me and my wife."

After a long pause, my father burst out, "Well alright! So be it! Your brother will have all that was meant for you. Such a shame… But at least show a little consideration for your old father and don't just leave now that you got what you wanted! If your poor mother would've lived to see this…"

"She would've been proud of your decision! Thank you! Thank you, father! I will stay, a month, I only need to write to Rose, and I will tell her the good news; and I will get you a better doctor too! You'll get better, you just wait and see!"

"No doctor who can cure the pain in my heart, son. Now leave me alone, will you? I have to make some changes in my will."

"I appreciate that, sir. Honestly I do. Oh, and one more thing I have to tell you… about Henry, I am afraid..."

"I know everything about you and Mr. Lowsley. Rumors travel fast. I couldn't believe it when one of your men told me… You did well to fire him. Your company is better off without this kind of men… Still here?" he resumed on his usual cross manner, "I told you I want to be left alone!"

The next moment, I hurried to the post office to send a wire to my dear wife who must've already been missing me. "Dear Rose, all is well. Got my father's blessings at last. Will tell you everything when I get back. Father is not feeling well, must stay a few days more. Hope you are well, write me back at the included address. Love, Will."

And so I spent my days in a place I barely knew, tending to my father's needs. It was the least I could do. To be honest, I never thought I could get along so well with him. We never have before, since my mother died. I found him another doctor; he said he could do all that it was in his power to turn my father into the perfectly healthy man that he was before, but the truth was that he was old and there was nothing in the world he could do to restore him to his younger self.

A whole week had passed and I had not received any letter from Oxford. I was beginning to worry about Rose. As concerned as I was about my father, I could not help but be even more worried about John's behaviour. He no longer engaged in his usual arguments against me. When I informed him about my father's sudden decision to leave his fortune in his hands, he could not believe it.

Soon as my father regained some strength, I packed up my bags and decided to leave. Upon seeing me pack, my brother proved to be surprised. "You're leaving already?"

"Might as well. Father is as healthy as he's always been. He agreed to let me be. Congratulations are in order, I assume. For your new-found fortune."

"William, you cannot leave. Your father still needs you."

"No, he doesn't. I have a feeling it is you that needs me so much. Tell me," I said, picking at his collar, "what is it that you need? Say it, whatever it is. Look at me – I'm a man who wants peace of mind. I will give you anything material, and God knows there's nothing else you would like most. So try me, while I'm still here." I waited for an answer. John was perplexed, but it did not take him much to make up his mind. It looked as if he had already made up his mind a long time ago.

"Your company. I want to be your partner, and I obviously can't be one if you're still fooling around with that woman of yours."

"Leave my wife out of this. You are not telling me the whole truth. I could make you a partner any moment now. What does it have to do with me being a married man?"

"Be serious, William, you have no interest in your father's company, not as long as you are with her. If you had lived here with us, that would be something else."

"I will give you my father's company. I'll sell it to you for a small price."

"You would?" He stared at me, not completely sure if he were to believe his ears.

"Yes, I would." After thinking the matter over, John's worried look turned into an almost foolish smile. "If only you will never interfere in my life, and promise you might as well try to forget you have a brother."

"Agreed," he said, and we both shook hands.

"Come with me tomorrow and we shall sign the papers."

"Come, with you? Can you not bring the papers here?"

"Now don't be foolish, John. It is you who wants the company, isn't it?"

"Alright, but I can't stay much. We will stop by your office first of all."

"Fine by me."

We agreed to leave early in the morning. John was fidgeting around on the way home. He even seemed to change his mind and asked me if I could make him a partner instead, but I only wanted to get rid of that company as soon as I could. Under no circumstances would I want a partner like him. He was reconciled in the end. The next day around 10 o'clock I was signing what I thought would mean the end of my troubles and I could not wait to return to my dear wife.

Before this could be possible, though, I had to assist a very peculiar fight between my brother and Henry. I was just leaving my office when I heard some voices outside the building. One of them was my brother's. The other sounded like Henry's. Between insults such as "traitor" and words such as "you were supposed to be my partner", I was given time to make out the whole story in my head. John and Henry were allies, conspiring against me. Henry was planning to work behind my back while my brother would become my so-called partner. Everything was clear to me. I stepped outside in the middle of the fight, determined to not let them know I care. Indeed I did not care. The company I had just sold my brother was not going to bring him any considerable profit. I was already in possession of another business that I knew was going to bring me enough profit that I could buy another home for myself and Rose, one that would be far away from all the family I ever had before, and just as close as the new one I wanted.

I walked calmly between Henry and John, not even bothering to greet them. "Good luck, my friends." They continued to fight behind my back until I finally heard them reach a conclusion. John made Henry a partner. Partners in ruin, on their way to bankruptcy.

As I opened the door to my house, I called Rose's name. But she did not answer. Martha came down from upstairs with a bag full of Rose's clothes.

"My lady is gone, Sir."


A/N: Hello guys, I know this chapter is kind of "raw". I don't know I managed to write it, but I want to finish this novel so bad. I guess I have so much editing to do. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story itself.