Chapter 8: Off On A New Adventure
"Master Van Dort?"
The empty page stared up at him mockingly. Oh, you wanted to draw today? it sneered. What did you have in mind? Your friends Below that you might never see again? The two women who threw you over in favor of something better? The butterflies that will always remind you that you came within hours of lifelong happiness, and lost it? Why don't you just take that pen and drive it into your hand? The ink's almost sure to be toxic.
"Excuse me, Master Van Dort?"
Victor finally lifted his head. Barry frowned at him from the doorway. "Your parents request your presence in the east drawing room," the butler said. "As soon as possible. Er – are you all right?"
Victor nodded, setting his quill on his desk and snapping his sketchbook closed. "Tell them I'll be down in a minute."
"Very good." Barry turned to go, then looked back. "Is there – anything you'd like, first? We have chocolate biscuits."
"I'm not hungry, but thank you." Barry's frown deepened. "Really, I'm not. I'll be fine. I promise."
The butler's expression was dubious, but he nodded and hurried away. Victor sighed, rubbing his forehead. He knew it wasn't like him to turn down anything chocolate, but. . .ever since he'd left Emily's oak tree, his appetite had simply dried up. Along with his inspiration, his artistic and musical talents, and his general desire to do anything that wasn't sitting around staring aimlessly at the walls. It took all his energy just to drag himself out of bed and get dressed in the mornings. And I barely even managed that yesterday, he thought, glancing at the ceiling and remembering how he'd stared at it until noon. By April I'll have probably forgotten how to walk.
He'd tried to fight back against this thick, syrupy malaise. He'd sat in front of his sketchbook for hours, pen poised and ready. He'd lingered in front of the piano, fingers resting on the keys. He'd even tried drafting a letter to Victoria, telling himself he needed someone to talk to. But the smell of the ink dripping from his quill reminded him of the afternoon he'd spent sketching his favorite specimen before being summoned to the Everglots, and the feel of the ivory under his fingertips brought back the sounds of a solo interrupted by a shy smile and a duet ended with a girlish giggle, and the meaningless pleasantries at the start of his missive had summoned up the image of Victoria with her head on Mr. White's shoulder, looking more content than he'd ever seen, and of Emily, face bright as she faded out of his life forever. The entire world seemed determined every second to remind him just how unneeded he'd been in the end. Just how alone he was. Message received loud and clear, he thought, shooting a bitter glance at the sketchbook. Maybe I should just stay in my room and sleep the rest of my life away.
But that wasn't an option just yet. He pushed himself to his feet and headed into the hall. Might as well see what Mother and Father want. . .I thought we were pretending I only boarded here after Dr. Zemeckis left, he thought, descending into the main hall. Just show up for meals and we'll leave you alone. . .it's a good system. Certainly better than being forced to meet with another potential bride. . . . He scowled to himself. I hope they're not going to play at being sympathetic or anything like that now. It's far too late for them to pretend they care.
He entered the drawing room to find his parents whispering to each other on the big couch in the middle. "So we'll – oh, there you are," Nell said as she noticed him. "Have a seat. We've got news."
"News?" Victor repeated, a spike of anxiety shooting through him as he sank down into an armchair. Oh God – did I just jinx myself? Has she actually – but who would even want to marry me now? Please, please no, I can't go through that again. . . .
William nodded solemnly. "Victor, we're worried about you," he said, leaning forward. "All you've been doing for the past few days is moping about. You won't talk to anyone, you won't practice your scales, you barely eat – and you still wouldn't let Dr. Zemeckis have a look at you. Would it have been so hard to give him a chance?"
"He couldn't have helped me," Victor mumbled, looking at his feet.
"Quite right," Nell declared. Victor's head snapped up in surprise. "He couldn't have helped you, because you wouldn't let him. But we think we've found someone who can. Dr. Zemeckis recommended him to us right before he left. Apparently he specializes in stubborn cases like yours."
Oh lovely. Did my refusal to speak to the last five mean nothing to you? Victor sighed and leaned on his hand. "When does he get here?"
"Oh no – you're going to him."
That made Victor sit up straight. "What? You're – you're sending me away?" A cold chill raced down his spine. "You're not – I – you can't be – n-not to an a-a-asylum!" Oh God, not that, anything but that!
"No, no, not one of those," William assured him, though his smile was less than encouraging. "Just a – home away from home. Our new man happens to run an orphanage which specializes in children with troubled pasts. You're not his usual sort of client, but when we wrote to him, he assured us he could take you on."
"He's something of a miracle worker, according to all the reports," Nell agreed, with a smug little grin. "I think he's just the person to help you forget this 'corpse bride' of yours."
Did his mother always have to say that like she was trying to get a bad taste out of her mouth? Victor's eyebrows lowered. "I'm not going to forget her," he said, voice hard.
"You say that now," Nell said, fanning herself carelessly. "This man will make you see sense. I'm sure of it."
"You need help, Victor," William added, shaking his head. "It's not healthy to cling to this fantasy for so long. Look what it's doing to poor Pastor Galswells. Man can barely get through a sermon without twitching. And what about Mrs. Carter, may she rest in peace? Your little 'adventure' didn't do her much good."
Victor's face softened. "No, I suppose not. . .but at least she's with her husband now," he added.
"She's n– well, I suppose she is in Heaven," William corrected himself, awkwardly adjusting his glasses. Victor allowed himself a tiny smirk. "But the fact remains she could have had a year or two left in her if you hadn't. . . ." He hesitated, rubbing the back of his head. "Look, son, I'll lay it all out here – I'm still rather concerned about your – taste in women, let's say?"
Victor's jaw nearly hit the floor. "What?! Father, I've told you before – it wasn't like that! Yes, fine, I tried to marry a corpse, but – the very idea of – it never crossed my mind!"
William sighed deeply. "I so wish I could believe that, son. I really do." He smiled again, a hopeful glint in his eye. "But it won't matter soon enough. A couple of months in our new man's care, and you'll be a fit member of society again! He'll wipe all those horrible thoughts right out of your mind."
"It's all settled," Nell said, cutting off Victor's protests before they could even begin. "We'll be taking you up to London before the week's out."
"And if I d-don't want to go?" Victor managed to say.
Nell glared at him. "You don't have a choice," she snapped. "Our reputation is already in the pits. If you keep on like this, we'll never claw our way back out. You've already ruined my best chance at being someone important – you're not dragging us all the way back to the gutter."
"Victor, it's all for your own good," William added, as if Victor was five again and protesting his bedtime. "We want you to be well. Move out in society. Make yourself a good, solid marriage."
Yes – a good, solid marriage you'll arrange for your benefit, Victor thought, his fingers digging into the arms of his chair. All of this is for your own good, not mine! "I'm not mad," he growled, jaw clenched. "I don't need this."
"Yes you do," Nell shot back. "You're not getting out of this, Victor. And if you even think of running away, we will hunt you down and drag you there by your ear." She whipped up her fan as Victor opened his mouth to speak. "And don't say anything about being nineteen! You still live under our roof, which means you do as we want! You are getting your head screwed on straight whether you like it or not!"
"Don't get all aflutter, dear," William soothed, patting her arm, before turning back to Victor with a rather harder look. "But she's right, son. Whatever it takes to get you there. We're willing to do it."
Victor thought about the massive fee Depp and McGee had collected right before their ill-fated trip to the Everglots. He bit his lip. If his parents had been willing to spend that much to find his missing fiancee, they'd probably be willing to empty their bank account to corral their runaway child. And if he did try to escape, maybe they'd consider him too unstable for any regular doctor and. . .Dr. Strumkeng's helmet swam before his eyes, making him shudder. If there was anything like that waiting for him in an asylum, he'd just go ahead and end it, friends waiting for him Below or not.
He glanced around the room, taking in the various knickknacks his mother had collected over the years. Maybe – maybe it would be good for him to get away from all this. It wasn't like he was unfamiliar with London – Nell had dragged the family around the West End a few times for the Season, and he'd visited various docks on the Thames with his father while learning the family business. And it would be nice to spend some time in a place where everyone he passed didn't automatically shun him as Satan's spawn. Dr. Wilson himself had suggested a fresh start in a new place if worse came to worst. Granted, Victor knew being hauled off to yet another crackpot wasn't what the doctor had meant, but – where else could he possibly go? The only place he could think of that would actually offer him shelter was Victoria's, and – his heart twisted in his chest. Yes, that was right out. He needed someplace far away from both Burtonsville and Sandford. Away from all the memories. And, unfortunately, this orphanage sounded like it fit the bill. "All right," he sighed, giving in. "I won't make trouble. I'll go."
Nell smirked in triumph. "Good. We're leaving in two days, so you ought to start getting ready. Be sure to pack your best suits – even if you are mad, you aren't going out in public looking like you're ready for Bedlam."
"Yes, Mother." Victor dragged himself to his feet. "I'll go do that now."
"Oh, don't look so depressed," William told him, grinning. "You might like it there! New place to live, new people to meet – you might actually make a few friends! And you'll be in very good hands with the doctor."
"Oh yes," Nell nodded. "He's quite respected in the medical community. Does amazing work. If anyone can fix you, it's him."
Victor strongly doubted that, but decided not to say so. "Who is he?"
Nell beamed. "Dr. Angus Bumby."