19. Tempest

London, England
June, 1667

Father!”

The door slammed open with such force it rattled the walls of the house, and the scream which accompanied it was feral, as though the young man who’d just entered the vicarage was more wild animal than man.

Young William’s shoulders heaved as he caught his breath in huge gasps. He appeared to have run flat-out from wherever it was he’d come: sweat dripped from his brow and the ends of his hair. His eyes were wild, darting from floor to walls until they landed on William.

His heavy boots thunked ominously as he stalked across the room.

The screams continued in that strange, anguished pitch. “How dare you! How could you! You bastard! You imbecile!”

The boy swept his hand across the table, sending William’s Bible, pens, and paper crashing to the floor. The bottle of ink flew into the stone and smashed. At once, a dark river of black began to run under William’s feet.

Now that he was closer, William could see his son’s face more clearly. One eye was half-closed, his cheek and lip were gashed, his nose had swelled to nearly twice its normal size. His doublet was covered in blood.

William leapt to his feet. “My child, what happened?” He began to reach out but found his arms were slapped away.

“You,” came the scream. “You happened!”

“I—”

“How did you find her, Father?” he growled. “Tell me! How did you find her? Where did you take her?”

Take who?

Confused, William backed up a few steps, putting his arms before him to act as a buffer. His son was the larger man, in both weight and height, and if he swung…well, William would end up looking not so different from his son, he imagined.

“William, please,” he murmured. “I do not understand…”

“Carlisle!” the boy shrieked. “Call me by my name, you sniveling coward!” He leaned in. William backed up again. His hand fumbled behind his back, in case he needed—he could hit him over the head with the chair, perhaps, or a broomstick…

“Who?” he managed asked as he groped for something to use as a weapon.

He was answered by only a snarl.

“She was to be my wife!”

His wife?

And at once everything snapped into place. Why Daniel had known that Young William courted a woman. Why his son had seemed so unusually happy. Why the woman on Ratcliffe Street had regarded him so especially warily.

His heart jerked, and at once, his right hand began to tremble with such force that it slapped against this leg.

“The girl…” he muttered helplessly.

“Elizabeth!” roared his son in answer. “Her name is Elizabeth!”

“My son—”

His tankard clanged against the wall behind him before William even managed to get the rest of his sentence out. At once, he flattened himself to the cold wood of the table, just narrowly missing being hit by the ladle from the pottage, which clattered to the floor next to his chair. It was shortly followed by the pot itself, slopping stew onto the table as it went. Young William’s fury was mad enough that he was a rather poor shot, however, and few of the items made contact with William, instead crashing loudly against the wall and floor around him.

“How could you,” the boy cried over and over as he flung item after item. “How could you!”

“Son—”

Another crash. This time it was one of the table stools; one the boy had crafted himself. He flung it at William’s head; it missed by inches and exploded against the wall.

“Enough!” William roared. “Stop this at once!” He was panting as though he’d gotten into a fistfight, even though all he’d managed to do was duck projectiles.

For a brief moment, his son stopped. His chest, too, was heaving. Odd streaks had appeared in the tracks of blood smeared across his face.

He was crying.

The boy gulped. “Where did you take her, Father?”

William backed up again. His leg trembled beneath him so violently he thought he might lose his balance and fall to the floor.

“Where?” This time it was the same, high-pitched shriek. “Tell me where, you bastard!”

Flattening his back to the wall, William threw his arms in front of him for protection. “William, she confessed! She confessed to what she did, and the woman in her coven, also.” Never mind that his mind was still trying to process his son’s earlier words. She was to be my wife.

What did that mean for his son?

“If…anything…I’ve saved thee,” he panted.

William didn’t think it was possible for his son to become any more enraged, but he was. The eyes which had been wild were now completely on fire.

“Saved?” He took a step toward William. “Saved? You believe yourself to have saved me?”

This time it was William’s voice which was strangled and oddly high-pitched. “William, thou art a Christian! We believe in the devil! We oust him where we find him! She is not worthy to be thy wife!”

“Christian?” came the answering snarl. “You claim authority to murder my wife in the name of Christ?”

And before William could so much as lift his voice, his son reached out for the cross which hung on the wall next to the fireplace. It easily weighed several stone; hurling it was no small effort. But it presented no problem for William’s enraged son.

He swung it in a huge arc as though it were an axe, and brought it down on the floor with a crash so loud it caused the table and stools to shake. The crossbar broke from the upright; the upright splintered into two.

William could only stand and stare in shock.

“You are the one whose soul is blackened by the devil, Father. You. Not her.”

William found his whole body trembled. Was it the ague? He had not been to the barber-surgeon in a fortnight. His son’s eyes still held the crazed, fiery expression. Both their breathing echoed in the small kitchen—wet, ragged.

“William…” His own voice sounded feeble. Nothing like the authoritative tone he wished to take; the commanding voice that would make it clear to his son that it was he who was in charge of this situation. Instead, he sounded like a weak, old man.

Which was exactly what he was.

Perhaps that would help cool his child.

“I am ill, William,” he managed. “Son, I am ill.”

The words sliced through him like a freshly forged knife, hot and painful. At once, William dropped his gaze to the floor. There was no way he could look into his child’s eyes. Not those eyes; the clear blue, as wide as the sky, as deep as the ocean.

He couldn’t look into Sarah’s eyes.

Because if he failed Young William, wasn’t that who he was failing? The woman he loved; the woman with whom he was supposed to raise his family and grow old.

His son was silent.

“I am ill,” he repeated.

“You are dying.” There was an odd edge to the voice.

Was it anger, or remorse?

Dying. Exactly what William had been trying to avoid saying, or even thinking. That he grew nearer and nearer to losing his life with every bloodletting, every tremor, every passing day. That he would not live to see his son take the helm of his own church. That he would not live to see his child become a father.

And he wouldn’t become a father now anyway…

William nodded.

“How long?”

William shrugged. “There is no way to know how long. That is in the hands of the Almighty.”

His son shook his head, the blond hair whipping back and forth furiously. “Not how long shall you live, Father. How long have you known? How long have you been ill?”

He began to search his mind. The tremors had been with him this Ascension Day, and the Easter before that, at the Christmas, at St. John the Baptist.

“A year,” he muttered.

“A year,” his son repeated. “A year you have been ill, and you did not see fit to tell me?”

Because I wished to spare you the pain, William wanted desperately to say. Because what father wished to tell his only son that he would soon live the rest of his life alone?

Yet, he’d spared his child no pain, it seemed.

“I only wish to care for thee,” he said.

Young William’s lip curled into a snarl. “Care for me? Not telling me that you are dying, sending the woman I love to the gallows—this is what you consider caring for me?” He nudged the broken pieces of the cross with the toe of his boot. They made a scratching sound as they slid, making William wince.

It was destroyed.

The cross. His son’s betrothed. The future minister. The family that was to be. The banns were not yet read, the children were not yet conceived.

Even William himself.

All destroyed.

And in the name of what?

“I do this, to see…” He choked. Now, his purpose seemed feeble. But he swallowed and prayed briefly for strength, and when he continued, his voice was stronger.

“To see thee accepted into Heaven,” he said. “I do this to make the world safe for thee, and for thy family.” Even if it were to be a different one than expected.

A long silence.

“Oh, I will be accepted into Heaven, Father,” he said darkly. “It is your soul I fear will burn in Hell.”

He made it partway through the doorway before he turned.

“And, Father?”

William raised his eyebrows.

“You do not make the world safe for my family. It is my family you intend to hang.”

And then he was gone, like a summer storm; blown in strong and washed away by rain.

~||x||~

The long blades of grass stung Carlisle’s ankles as he moved swiftly up the hill. It was dark, the locusts having already given up their twilight chirpings.

As a boy, Carlisle had found the small grove behind the church a welcome retreat; he could disappear among the branches and leaves and revel in their shelter. Forget that he came from the little house down the hill. In the wood, he would pretend; he would tell the trees about his mother, who doted on him, and his father who taught him and loved him. He would come here to refresh himself, and to allow himself space to think. And when he grew old enough to understand that such things required seclusion, this was the place he came when he needed to cry.

When Christopher accosted him in the coffee house, it was all he could do to protect himself and try to understand what the other man was telling him. He’d lost consciousness for a good minute, and even upon awakening, had still been clumsy enough that he needed Thomas to partially drag him from the room.

By the time he’d regained his wits, Christopher’s friends had restrained him, and Thomas, doubting Carlisle’s stagger, had done the same. He’d landed a few choice blows to the other man, of which he was proud. And all told, he was far too wound-up to notice much of his own pain, though he suspected his nose might forever be out of joint.

So it was the accusations more than the blows which caused the pain. For as they stood there, struggling against their friends, they shouted at each other until they were both blue in the face.

“She was selling from our garden,” Christopher screamed at him. “Vegetables, Cullen! She needed the money!”

At once Carlisle’s mind raced back through the times he and Elizabeth had gone to market. The way she reached into her purse and came up short of coins. The way she seemed to worry about how they spent. He’d paid so little mind to it; it felt so good to provide for the woman he wanted to be his wife, but now he saw it for the pattern it was.

“If she needed the money it is only because you are profligate with it. You are to care for your mother and your sister. Instead I do it!”

Christopher attempted to spit on him again, but the two of them were held too far apart and it landed on the floor between them instead.

“This is your fault, Cullen. Your father wouldn’t know her if it weren’t for you! And because he’s the vicar…” His lip curled into a snarl. “Our own mother won’t believe her, you dog.”

He didn’t know her, Carlisle wanted to say, but his mind was racing too quickly to keep up. Witch. Money. Gardening.

His father…

At that moment, Thomas managed to drag him out into the cool night air.

“I beg you to think, Sexton,” he said quietly. “We could go to my home if you wish.”

Carlisle actually growled at his friend. “My father deserves the fruits of my thinking,” he snarled. “And possibly also the fruits of my fist.”

And so it had been that a scant half-hour later he stormed into the vicarage and destroyed everything in sight.

Even the cross…

He’d never seen his father look so afraid. If he thought of himself, he still pictured the skinny boy, so easily held down and whipped for his disobedience in attending a hanging day. He still thought of his father as the strong one; the one to fear.

It was inaccurate, he realized. He was the strong one. He stood a head and shoulders above his father, now. He winced as he remembered the sickening sound the cross had made as it shattered against the wood floor.

He’d told his father that he would burn in Hell.

And it would be soon…

Pressing his back to one of the solid, ancient trees, Carlisle inched his way down until he was sitting on the forest floor. The summer rains soaked this part of London almost every night it seemed, and the ground was wet and pliable beneath him.

His mind raced in several directions at once. Death. That was all that this day was. Elizabeth’s. His father’s.

He could ask his father to bargain for Elizabeth, to pardon her. The clergy could do that. But if William Cullen had been the one to bring the accusation, then for him to pardon would mean he would have to recant—which was unlikely.

He could attempt to break Elizabeth out of the prison, and they could run. Maybe he could bribe a guard. They would go together, perhaps to France, or even to the New World. It seemed almost daily now that new handbills were posted, calling for healthy young couples to go to the colonies, to work the land and populate the new England half a world away.

But if he were caught at that, he would end up on the gallows himself.

Which, now that he thought on it, didn’t sound so terrible.

A strangled yell echoed off the trees.

His muscles felt twitchy, as though to keep them still would be to do them harm. The same feeling which had driven him to begin hurling things at his father. His hands clenched, remembering the feel of the items in his hands, the easy way the things in that room shattered. The noise. The furor. The way his father cowered in the corner.

The Reverend William Cullen was no match for Carlisle any longer, and that realization felt strangely good.

As he sat, he absently yanked up small tufts of grass from around where he sat, until only a ring of churned mud remained. This wasn’t enough. It took less than a minute for him to begin ripping branches from the smaller trees, uprooting the small bushes. His low, keening wail echoed off the trees.

When he was out of leaves and branches, he turned on the huge oak at his back. It was ancient, nearly as big around as Carlisle was tall. At first his fingernails scrabbled at its bark, trying to rip it to pieces. But they were utterly ineffectual. Little flecks of dark brown lodged their way under his fingernails, a splinter jabbed him in his nail bed, causing him to cry out. Yet this was a tree he could not take down.

So he kicked it.

Even through his boot, the pain reverberated through his toes and up his shin. But it was a good pain; the pain of doing something, anything in a situation where his father had rendered him completely impotent. He kicked it again and hollered.

The next thing he knew, he was kicking and punching the tree, his efforts making no visible change to anything but himself. His toes ached—he was certain he’d broken more than one of them—and his knuckles became shredded and bloodied by the tree bark so that his repeated assaults left wet red stripes on the trunk.

“Father!” he screamed as he punched.

“I hate you!”

Punch.

“I hate you!”

Punch.

“You will not control me!”

Punch. Kick.

“You will not kill her!”

This blow caused one of his knuckles to seem to shift.

“You will not rule me!”

Because that was the true point. He had been willing, for a short time, for Elizabeth, to do what his father wished. To go to seminary. To be a parson. To raise a family of his own.

His mind swam back to the dream, the dream he’d had so shortly after meeting Elizabeth for the first time at that hanging day. Holding her hand, laughing. The little towheaded boy darting between them.

His son.

And his father dared say he did this because he cared for Carlisle’s family?

Another scream rent the air, but this time, it fueled nothing. All at once it crashed back to him. A stinging pain rose in his knuckles and in his toes, his nose and lips throbbed from the beating he’d taken only hours before. The world swam; he fell to his knees and was sick in the grass. He crawled a yard and became sick again. Collapsing next to it, he panted in exhaustion, the disgusting smell permeating his nostrils as he thought.

If only he’d noticed the pattern. The missing money. Christopher’s profligate ways.

If he’d told his father the truth.

But Carlisle had favored secrecy, his and Elizabeth’s, preferring to revel in love than face anything which might stand in their way.

He deserved it, he thought, to lie here alone, in the woods, in pain. To have his insides tear themselves in two.

It was his fault, and he deserved this.

The earth was soft and wet, and his hands pressed into it, the cool mud soothing his bloodied palms. He’d been fighting for hours; first Christopher, then his father, then even a tree. More and more fruitless with each iteration.

His intended would die. And his father would die.

He would be alone.

Carlisle almost couldn’t remember the last time he’d prayed, at least, for any reason other than show. Of course every Sunday, he recited the prayers, bowed his head when he was supposed to, spoke the words he’d memorized years ago. But how long had it been, he wondered, since he had said words of his own, had made a plea from his heart?

And would God even bother to listen, given the subject? Elizabeth was no witch; he was sure of this. But he was mortal. Wasn’t it every bit as arrogant of him to proclaim to understand Elizabeth’s heart as it was for his father to do so?

So when the words came, they were half-incoherent. Not a rational plea; not the demands or the rage that had accompanied his tempest in the parsonage. They were the words of a tearful, desperate man.

“Lord, please,” he moaned. “Please, spare her. Please save her. Please.”

And finally, he let his body go slack and began to sob.

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§ 2 Responses to 19. Tempest"

  • jfly says:

    Blessed are the weak. Or is it meek? Maybe both. Thing is, Carlisle’s really neither. He’s fully grown into himself and has come to own it. He is ready to accept his burdens and mistakes, his duties and desires. He is a man. He is strong of body, and through sad experience has grown strong of mind. He is bold of heart, and because others would try to dictate his heart’s course for him, has become bold of spirit as well.
    This arm of his storyline is very mich the story of his journey from innocence to experience while i think the early 20th century storyline might be the journey back again in which he realizes that having been everywhere and done everything needn’t necessarily leave him jaded and cynical.

  • soonermom says:

    Angry, raging Carlisle? I like it! It adds yet another layer to his humanity. But of course, by the end he’s turned it around and brought everything back on himself. Regardless of his emotional state, my heart breaks for him. To be in that situation is simply unimaginable, yet you’ve imagined it here with a kind of elegance. Well done! Thanks for sharing!

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