"Do you see this, boy?" Thomas nodded quickly, feeling as if he was fourteen once again. "This is a letter. It is addressed to a certain Mr. Albany, the charming gentleman who controls the money you earn on this ship. This letter holds the sad truth of your reliability. I regretfully inform him that Thomas Brown, his brilliant violinist, has not been entirely truthful; he is a twenty year old - who murdered his own father and uses a false name - liar.
Thomas was shocked into silence. "You wouldn't—"
"You would not say that if you didn't believe that I would."
The room spun around Thomas. He was hardly able to believe exactly what was happening. Mr. Wilcaster was going too far, especially if he thought he was entitled to that money.
Thomas had been pushed and locked into this room after he had finished playing in the lounge for the afternoon. He found he was beginning to get used to these little meetings.
"What do you want from me? I am unable to pay you now anyhow!"
"What do I want? I know you can't pay me right now. But I want a guarantee in writing that you won't slip away before the debt is paid. And that you will pay that debt immediately upon arrival of the boat."
Thomas was about to protest, but Mr. Wilcaster cut him off.
"And if you refuse to comply, you will find it very difficult to find a job – and avoid a prison sentence."
Thomas swallowed. "I – I have to think about it."
The other man laughed and unlocked the door. "There is nothing to think about. You don't have a choice."
Matthew sat at the desk in his room, working on a song he had been writing. He hadn't been composing as often as he used to, and he had started a new piece whilst on the boat. It was usually enjoyable, but not when he was having difficulty with the notes, as he was now.
Deciding to go ask Thomas for assistance and needing company anyway, he stood and went to the hall with his music sheet. He knocked on the door next to his own, but heard no answer. He turned the knob and walked inside, closing the door behind him.
The room was empty. Both beds were made neatly, the violin and the cello cases placed carefully on the floor between them.
He was about to turn to leave, then noticed the music sheets with Thomas' handwriting on them lying on the desk. He hesitated for a moment, debating whether or not to glance through them, but figuring that would be an invasion of privacy.
He walked to the door thinking he could ask Thomas later. As he reached it though, it swung open and James walked inside.
Both men froze at the sight of each other so unexpectedly, neither wanting to be the first to move or speak.
"Why are you here?" James finally forced out.
Matthew didn't quite know what to say to the subtle double question. He indicated his music sheets. "I was just writing." He said.
James sneered at him. "A letter to your wife, is it?"
Matthew froze, the papers crumpling slightly in his suddenly stiff hand. "I don't see how that is any of your business." He said after swallowing hard, trying to keep his tone neutral.
"Oh, but it is." James said with mock courtesy. "After all, Eliza was meant to wed me."
"She was never betrothed. You only courted her. It was her decision." Matthew retorted, keeping the same mock politeness in his tone. He didn't know why he was discussing this with James of all people, so he made to push past him back into the hallway.
James called after him, "Well who was it that 'swept her off her feet?' to use her words?"
Matthew stopped short, that simple phrase contradicting everything about this issue that he knew. He turned, knowing that that had not happened. "I didn't do anything." He shot back at him. "She came to me."
James scoffed. "Don't lie to me! I know what happened. You expect me to believe that, Mr. Riverton? You just want to cover up your guilty conscience." He looked Matthew over up and down. "You disgust me." He turned away and went towards the chair in the corner of the room. Apparently, the conversation was over.
But Matthew was not willing to let it go at that. "I don't expect anything of you, Mr. Albany." Matthew spat. "I've learned that by now. The only thing I am guilty of now is marrying that woman."
James stopped in the action of sitting down. He looked at Matthew oddly and stood straight again. "Pardon?"
Matthew realized too late what had slipped out and promptly was silent. He nodded a curt goodbye to James and went into the hallway to avoid further discussion of the matter. But now it was James not willing to let it go at that. He followed Matthew into the hall and blocked his path to the last room.
"Excuse me, Mr. Albany. I would like to get through." Matthew said, annoyed.
"Not until you tell me your meaning."
Matthew stared at him. "I beg your pardon? I do not have to tell you anything." He touched James' arm to move it, but James wouldn't budge.
"Please tell me." The softness in James' voice stopped his rival. "I – I care about her. I want to know what happened."
Matthew was surprised at this. James seemed well past caring about much, but the sincerity of his tone did not leave much to the imagination. It was clear that James, no matter how much time had passed, still felt some degree of love for Eliza.
Then he remembered who he was looking at. James was not someone he would care to unburden himself on. And that would never change.
"I'm sorry. I cannot. Now please let me pass."
James looked at him in disbelief, then reluctantly moved his arm. Matthew avoided his glance and opened the door to his room without thanking him. James watched him walk inside then turned to go back to his own room. Before he got far, though, the door to Matthew's room opened and he heard,
"Wait." James turned to see Matthew in the hallway again. "Just why did you think I lied to you when I said Eliza came to me?"
James thought this was rather odd. "Because she told me that you had swept her off her feet, and all she wanted was to be with you once you spoke to her. Why, is that not true?" Again, he could not keep the sneer from his voice.
"Actually, no. That is a lie."
The two glared at each other, sizing each other up, each waiting for the other to slip up in their story.
"Eliza came to me after you two had been courting for several months. We were casual acquaintances; we'd met in a shop. She knew you would be proposing at any time, but she didn't feel ready for that. She asked me for advice. I told her to tell you that she wished to take things slowly and to spend more time together before taking that step." He paused before continuing, still not looking into James' incredulous stare. "The next thing I knew, she had broken your courtship and asked me to court her instead. She never told me what had happened between the two of you. And that, I assure you, is all that happened."
James wasn't sure what to think. This basically contradicted everything he knew about what had happened between him, Matthew Riverton, and Eliza. Could he possibly have been mistaken about Matthew Riverton? The concept was difficult to wrap his mind around.
Matthew's arms were crossed, almost daring him to make a sarcastic or contradictory remark to what he had said. But what he did say surprised the both of them.
"Then I was wrong about you, Mr. Riverton." It was said quietly. Matthew had to strain to hear it, and once he had, he did a double take.
"I had the wrong impression." James said.
"I – You didn't know she had done that?"
James shook his head. "No. I loved her. She told me that you had 'swept her off her feet' and was ending our courtship. When you were married, I thought you were simply rubbing it in to me. So I can hardly be blamed for holding a grudge."
"Well, that is not true. And you don't have to worry any more about that." Matthew paused, unsure if he should really tell James what had happened between him and Eliza. But now James' curiosity was piqued.
"We are no longer together, I suppose you could put it. She took David and left."
There were several parts to this that James had to process. The first being that Eliza was the one who had initiated all of this. The second being that she left her husband, which was simply unthinkable. A wife just didn't do such a thing. And the third being that they apparently had had a son. David.
But just to be sure… "David?"
"My son." Well, James couldn't say he wasn't surprised. He didn't really see Matthew to be the fathering type.
On Matthew's part, he could hardly believe that he was having this conversation with James Albany of all people.
"So when you say she took him—"
"I mean that I don't know where they are."
They were silent, then James said, "Don't you think you should find them? I mean, David should have a father figure." He was ready to kick himself for saying that. This was none of his affair.
But Matthew didn't get upset. He actually seemed to be thinking about it. "I don't know." He said. "I shall think about it." He backed away and back into his room. "Thank you." The door closed and James was left alone in the hall, still wondering what on earth had just happened.
"I think I might have just tolerated a conversation with Matthew Riverton." He muttered to himself.
He stood still for a moment and then shrugged like this world was too baffling for him to comprehend, and then went back to his own room and closed the door.
I hope you guys don't forget to comment or critique as you please. I'd love to know your opinions!