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Chapter 6............ Faye Conducts a Nervous Breakdown

Updated: Sep 16, 2022

Rowe’s Wharf was bustling with morning commuters. The cab rolled on at a crawl through the crowd of people, and eventually, Faye got out and walked the rest of the way. She bought her ticket and sat down at the edge of the wharf to wait for the ferry. The sun was above the horizon now, and the light glinted off the waves in the river. Faye tapped her foot against the ground as she watched both the river for the ferry, and the crowd in an involuntary need to look for Silas, though there was no reason in the world for him to be anywhere near Rowe’s Wharf.

By the time she arrived at East End and disembarked the ferry, it was getting close to noon. Well, that was good. George would definitely be home sleeping at this hour. She walked the rest of the way since his flat wasn’t far from the wharf. He lived in the top floor of a large tenement mostly occupied by immigrants, Canadian, Irish, and otherwise.

George’s parents themselves had emigrated from France with Faye’s parents, both with shining dreams and only one or two children. Faye’s father hadn’t made it far in his aspirations of being a composer, but George’s father worked in the banking industry, and eventually owned a branch in Boston. Their family was quite affluent until the scarlet fever came through and killed every member of them but George. They’d left him an inheritance, but they entrusted the management of it to the vice president of the bank, who managed George right out of it with so much adeptness there was nothing anyone could do, especially after the man left the country. George lived mainly off a small investment the vice president had failed to steal, and whatever he could get from his small jobs.

Faye walked past the crumbling and ramshackle buildings. The best of them looked like prisons, and most looked like fragile sandcastles. The tenement that George lived in was at the far side of the community, about a mile away from the wharf. It had more windows than most tenements did, and was far away enough from other buildings to let light into the rooms. This made it more expensive.

Faye walked through the front door and it was no warmer inside than it was outside. Each tenement had its own stove to heat the rooms.

George could have afforded more than a tenement. He’d had connections enough to attend a university, even if it was only the small Boston University, but he’d given up after a semester and a half. He never could focus on one thing for long. The longest job he’d ever held had lasted a year. Most others only lasted a few months. Still, he would have had enough to rent a respectable room at a boarding house if he didn’t spend everything he earned on clothes, symphony tickets, and expensive liquor.

Faye climbed the steps and they creaked under her feet. The layout was familiar. She’d grown up in a tenement before her father had bought the shoe smithing shop and they had moved to the apartment above it. Despite the dinginess of everything, the grey hallways brought back fond memories. She climbed four flights and walked all the way down the hallway and to the right. George’s door was the only one with an ornate brass doorknocker on it. She pounded on it, waited a moment, then knocked again.

George opened the door a minute later still in his satin pajamas, hair scraggly and eyes half closed.

“Faye!” he yawned. He started to smile but it turned into a scowl. “What’d’ja go an’ wake me up for? Do you know what time I go to sleep these days?” He looked down at himself. “Good gravy, hold on a moment.”

He slammed the door in her face and she heard scuffling in the room. Minutes later he opened it again, now dressed in a pressed suit, hair combed, and the smell of coffee wafting through the small room.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “Come in, come in. Sit down. Wait, don’t. Hold on a minute,” he moved a few books, a newspaper, and an empty bottle of rum off the sofa. “Sit down, sit down. Coffee?”

Faye sat down and nodded. George poured a cup of coffee into a blue teacup and handed it to her with a spoon.

“Let me find the sugar. I know it’s here somewhere, I just can’t remember where I put it. Give me a moment.”

“Silas is gone,” Faye said, setting the cup down.

George paused imperceptibly and kept on searching for the sugar. “Gone?”

“He wasn’t at home when I came back from bridge last night and he hasn’t come home since. I checked the college. No one had seen him.”

“Did you tell Silas’ father?”

“He said he would take care of it.”

George nodded, found the sugar under a sock on the Rococo side table, and opened it. He spooned two scoops into the coffee and stirred it, offering some to Faye, who shook her head. He put the lid back on and set it on the side table as he sat down beside her. He took in a breath, slapped his hands on his things, and blew the breath out.

“I suppose you’ve been through the ringer with questions already.”

Faye nodded.

“Are you holding up alright?”

Faye nodded. “There’s no reason to worry. He’s likely perfectly fine. It’s probably only… only…” George put an arm around her and the panic she was holding back broke loose. The tears came in a flood. “Oh, George, I know I’m being silly, and I shouldn’t worry, and I need to stay calm, but he’s never done this before. What if… what if something happened and he’s–”

“Woah, there,” George said, his voice soft.

“I know, I know,” Faye sniffed. “I just…”

“I know.”

Faye buried her head in his shoulder and sobbed until her coffee went cold.

George took her cup and tossed the coffee out the window as she hiccupped and wiped the tears away. He poured a fresh cup and handed it to her, sitting down again and leaning back with his eyes closed and a hand on her back. She wrapped her hands around the warm cup, feeling it scalding her fingers and not really caring. She didn’t have any more tears to cry and now she only felt numb.

A clock ticked in the corner, sitting on top of the oak cabinet where George kept a well-stocked inventory of liquor, good wine, fresh bread, and rare spices. He’d always managed to live above his means, and though his tenement was the same size as any other poor immigrant factory worker, it was as out of place in the building as a tenement room would be in Mr. Lawrence’s home. The sofa and end tables were Rococo, at least a hundred years old and still in perfect condition. The sofa appeared to be recently reupholstered. There was an ornate carpet underneath, the walls were covered in a delicate cream wallpaper and dotted with several paintings, and a small bookshelf stood against one wall, full of old, ornate (and untouched) books.

The room was meticulously clean, and that made the dirty wine glasses and plates, with the discarded socks on the table, quite noticeable.

“Did you have someone over?” Faye asked, sniffing.

“Yeah,” George yawned. “Ira was here last night for dinner.”

“Oh,” Faye said. She paused, rubbing the porcelain teacup with her thumbnail. “George…”

“Mm?”

“I don’t believe anything has changed, you know. She’s still with…”

“I know,” George patted her back. “It’s nothing like that.”

“Then why have you been spending so much time with her?”

“I just want her to know she’s welcome back anytime. That’s all. She’ll go back to Jack eventually when they’ve had enough arguing, I shouldn’t wonder, but while she’s here, I thought I’d spend what time I could.”

Faye frowned. George laughed.

“Believe it or not, it’s the truth. After the incident with Skander, she started ignoring me, so I told her fair and straight that I didn’t like her one bit, and she told me she didn’t like me one bit, and we’ve been best friends ever since.”

“Best friends who flirt with every sentence?”

“It’s only in fun,” George shrugged.

“Why is she in Boston?”

“Something about Jack’s business. She came to deliver some papers and messages, or something. She and he have been in a bit of a ruffle lately, though, so she thinks she’ll stay a while here.”

“I wish she’d leave him.”

“I think she does, too.” George yawned.

“I’m sorry I woke you up.”

George gestured dismissively. “You know my shoulder’s always available to cry on.” He patted her back and closed his eyes again. “You heard from the family lately?”

“Not since the letter from mother last month. You?”

“Will and Mary both wrote me. They told me to get a real job. Again.”

“They’re probably right about that.”

“You think you should tell them?”

Faye rubbed her nose. “Not yet. I wouldn’t want to worry them. Besides, there’s nothing they can do from South Carolina.”

“What about Favian?”

“I don’t know… not yet.”

George shrugged. After a while, Faye stood. “I should go back to the boarding house and see if any messages have come.”

“I’ll come with you,” George said, pushing himself up and taking his shoes out from under the couch.

“You don’t need…” Faye trailed off. “Alright. Thank you.”

They walked back to the ferry and took the next one for mainland Boston. Faye leaned against the railing at the front, letting the wind blow against her face, making her eyes water. She took her handkerchief out of her purse and rubbed away the tears. As she was putting it back, she saw a dark reflection in the railing, right behind her, and she turned quickly, but no one was there. She frowned and leaned against the railing again, staring out at the water.

When they arrived back at the boarding house, Mrs. Finch informed them there had been no messages. Of course, Faye hadn’t expected Mr. Lawrence to have found any information in only a few hours… but she had hoped he would.

“Tell you what,” said George. “Silas has a few haunts around town, right? Let’s check there. No use waiting around doing nothing.”

Faye nodded, relieved. Silas had a few contacts around the city who frequently bought antiquities from him, and they checked with each of them. One after another, they told them they hadn’t seen Silas in weeks. They walked out into daylight after visiting the last contact Faye knew about and stood directionless in the street.

“How about the library?” George asked. “He goes there sometimes, doesn’t he?”

Faye nodded, looking down the street. There was a man walking on the walkway across from them wearing thick winter clothes and a scarf over his mouth and nose. It wouldn’t have seemed odd except he was watching them as they walked. Faye cocked her head and watched him. As soon as he saw her looking, he looked back at the sidewalk and continued on.

“And what about that pub!” George said. “By the college. What’s it called?”

He looked up and down the street as they crossed it, her hand in his arm, and turned the opposite direction the other man had been going. She glanced behind her once more. The man had paused in his walk, waiting for traffic at the corner, and was watching them again. She frowned and gripped George’s arm a little tighter.

They checked both the library and the pub, then checked again at the college to see if there had been any word. Nothing.

They arrived back at the boarding house early in the evening, discouraged and exhausted, and Faye had to lean on George to keep from collapsing. The world was spinning and threatening to turn upside down. Perhaps it already had. George paused to open the door of the boarding house and Faye glanced behind her shoulder, the feeling that someone was watching her increasing the longer the day went on. She kept seeing people, and then not seeing them, appearing and disappearing and reappearing and always watching and she was almost certain she was having a nervous breakdown.

“What is it?” George asked.

Faye shook her head. “Nothing.”

“Message for you… Mrs. Lawrence,” Mrs. Finch said, gesturing with her head toward the entryway table when they came in.

Faye snatched it and ripped it in half trying to open it. She swore at herself under her breath and stuck the two pieces together.

Mrs. Lawrence,

No success yet in locating Silas. I have three investigators working and we hope to know more in the morning. I will send word with what information is found.

Yours,

Mr. Gregory Lawrence

She bit her lip and set the pieces of paper back on the table, stumbling toward the stairs.

“Will you be… coming to dinner, then?” Mrs. Finch wheezed after her.

Faye didn’t respond as she stumbled up the stairs.

“I think Faye’ll want to be alone, if you don’t mind bringing it up to her afterward,” George said in a low tone.

Mrs. Finch sighed.

George walked up after Faye and took the key from her as she fumbled with it. He unlocked the door and swung it open. The room was empty and dark and Faye shivered, frozen in the doorway. George walked in and threw a few logs into the hearth to get a fire going, then walked around lighting the candles and lamps.

“You coming in?” he asked.

Faye took one step inside and leaned against the entryway table.

“I could stay,” he said.

“No,” Faye said. “You have work, don’t you? I’ve taken enough of your time today.”

“Come here,” George said, taking her hand and dragging her to the couch. She collapsed into it and buried her head in her hands. “When Mrs. Finch brings up supper, eat something. Got it?”

Faye nodded.

“And get some sleep.”

Faye gave him a half-hearted smile. George gave a small smile back and pressed her hand. “Let me know if anything comes up. Here’s the address where I work.” He scrawled a note on the paper on the end table and left it. “I’ll come back in the morning, alright?”

She nodded again.

He left and her mind barely noticed. It was spinning too much.

Mrs. Finch brought up a tray of food after a while and she did as George said and tried to eat a little. It seemed to turn to ash in her mouth and she couldn’t manage much. Her eyes were burning now and though she doubted she would be able to sleep, there was nothing else she could do, so she put out the lights and wandered to the empty bedroom. Clothes still on, she crawled under the coverlets, reaching instinctively for the book she kept under her pillow.

She propped up the pillow and leaned back, opening to where she had left off.

Darkness will indeed come, for the night is as regular as the day, but it cannot stay. As soon as the first rays of sun hit the horizon, it will always flee like a fading dream, till even the memory of it is gone. During the night, it often seems all is lost, and how easy to forget the existence of day when the light is gone. It’s at that moment you must remind yourself the most.

Faye frowned. This was not her book. She looked at the cover again, eyebrows furrowed. She must have skipped ahead something frightful. She’d probably spoiled the whole story now. She flipped backwards through the pages and read again.

“I am terribly confused,” said the girl to the wandering knight.

You think you’re confused, Faye thought. Was she going crazy?

“You look confused,” the knight laughed, amiably. “Here is a word of advice. When I’ve lost something, I often go back to the beginning.”

Faye paused, her eyes narrowing, and flipped to the beginning of the book. The cover was looser than she remembered and when she saw the endpapers, she knew why. The book block had been cut away from the cover. The book’s endpapers had been light red. Whatever book was now glued into the cover had black silk endpapers. She turned to the title page. ‘The Dascyleum Text’ was all it said. No author, and the publisher at the bottom was some oddly-named Phantom Publishing House there in Boston. It sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t remember why. She turned the page again, thinking that reading the Table of Contents might help.

But the next page was not the Table of Contents. It was blank except for the symbol of a dove printed in the center of the page with some Latin inscription below. It was the top right corner that caught her attention, though. There was a name scrawled there in handwriting she didn’t recognize.

Faye Maribelle Lawrence

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