Authors: The Jekyll Legacy (v1.0)
Ingrid with gratitude and admiration
Hester shifted one of the grayish net curtains
that veiled the single window of the room and which, from the start of its
service, had been so relentlessly starched that its edge might slash an unwary
finger. There was the smell of boiling cabbage in the air, battling the choking
fog outside. She pulled her shawl closer about her shoulders. There was
certainly no chance of lighting a fire in that cramped iron basket. Beyond the
window the yellowish billows closed in more closely, rising to blot out the
street and the resolutely respectable, if narrow, houses on either side.
She bit her lower lip as she let the lace
weapon of the curtain clank back into place and turned a little to survey this
prison for "respectable" females, which Mrs. Carruthers kept
mercilessly so that it might in turn keep her—at least in toast and kippers—two
new scents having now been added to the general collection controlled by the
Skirting two unsteady chairs and a small
bow-legged table, pulling her skirts as tightly against her as she could lest
one of the skimpy ruffles upset all the furnishing just as a domino might bring
down a whole line of its
herself upon the board-hard bed and took up her lap writing desk. Bringing out
that book she had bought so hopefully two months ago, she now ruffled through
its pages. Her head was turned once more to the curtained window, but what she
saw in imagination were the gallant flames of maples against the less
flamboyant oaks. September in
was a riot of color. Here in
it was the dregs of a not-too-well-washed
She settled the desk carefully lest the small
ink bottle drip its contents on the coverlet of the bed. Hester began to write,
slowly at first, with rolling loops and the flourish of a document meant for
official eyes. Then, as her fingers grew less stiff from the chill, she covered
pages with greater speed. The scratch of her pen now did not produce fine
penmanship but rather was ridden by the desire to keep some record of her own
recent actions, reactions, hopes, and more common fear.
"Thus I left Eakand Abbey yesterday."
Her pen sputtered. She needed a new one, but even so small an expense must be
carefully considered now. "Her Ladyship was pleased ..." Hester's
lips tightened into a thin line and the wrinkle between her straight brows
deepened—it was fast becoming a permanent feature there. She blotted one of the
splatters of ink and continued. ". . .
me a recommendation.
"When I declined, I was treated to a
major outburst of that pettish anger that Lady Ames uses to control her house
and family. I no longer wondered why Major Ames had entrusted me with the care
of his daughter's overseas traveling. Now I am sorry to have to leave Hazel
with such a guardian. If there was only some way I could see her in better
hands— but I am powerless. So I came away just before dusk with skimped pay for
two months of work and an exceedingly scanty wardrobe. Thus I am to meet a
that is far different from that I have
built for myself in dreams."
Unconsciously she was listening to her
father's querulous voice to snap her into life, ready to take dictation.
Hester gave a slight shake of shoulder and
straightened. She would never hear that voice again. This was
, not a thousand miles away and months in
the past. Her hand smoothed the already too-well-worn black skirt considered
suitable for a governess in mourning. Though the purchase of that, and two
other very modest and most simply fitted dresses, had made a hole in her funds.
"Does my present situation really please
you, Father?" Even in her own ears her voice sounded harsh and rasping.
She was—was beginning to sound like him. Hester brushed her hand across her
lips and refused to be silenced.
"You so often commented that I was
practically useless to you—it would seem that opinion of me is nearly universal
Hester dropped the pen into its groove on her
desk and began leafing back through the ledger. An envelope insecurely kept
there fluttered to the bed. She ran her finger along its open edge to pull out
its contents though she already knew them well. One was certainly her first
step toward her own freedom. She had heard and wondered at the sums of money
paid by the New York Ledger and its like— and that women writers did more than
a little of that earning. She herself ventured once to send them a much copied
and toiled over manuscript—though it had not sold.
had sold elsewhere—to The British Lady, which was housed right here in this
This note was from one of the editors approving two short
articles she had dared to send. Though, of course, she did not use her own
name—no lady would.
Here she was addressed as Dorothea Meadows.
However, the words beneath that somewhat stiff beginning brought her warmth
even in this cold room. ". . . like your article on the wonders of the
and your descriptions of the primeval
forests of our sister country overseas. If you should come to
, I would like to meet with you and discuss
some matters that might be to our mutual advantage."
She folded the much-creased letter briskly—
that must be acted upon—and put it back in the envelope. But the other scrap
that had fallen free was different; she really did not know why she had kept it
all these months.
Father had managed to turn all funds toward
his own comfort, buying an annuity that made no provision for her. But he had
been unable to part with the only things he had ever enjoyed—his books. Those
she had taken a kind of savage delight in selling, doubtless for much less than
they were worth but enough then to give her a tiny refuge against becoming an
utterly penniless woman. What she held now in her hand had fallen from one of
the leather-bound volumes of poetry printed in its native Greek. It was for
that reason a good hiding place, because Hester did not know the language; she
had been battered through Latin in order to better serve her father's work, but
she had not been pushed to learn Greek. The book had remained on his bedside
table during those hours he had lain like one already dead. It had not been
added to those tied up in unwieldy bundles waiting for the bookseller to clear
them away. She had even brought it with her—why she did not know—one of the few
things to remind her of that other narrow house and the musty-smelling rooms
where fresh air never entered.
The book had borne, under its cover, a shield
bearing the arms of what she now knew was an
college, hinting at one of those parts of
her father's past that he never discussed. Below the shield, in a flourish of
lines and loops, a name was
the ink so faded
now that it had near disappeared forever.
"L. Jekyll," a name she had never
heard her father refer to.
The clipping was not a part of the past. Just
a newspaper notice she was sure her father had cut out, so meticulous was the
Information leading to the
discovery of one Leonard Jekyll, Esquire, who left
in the year 1863.
If he or his descendants (if any exist)
wish to hear something greatly to their advantage, let such write to Robert
Guest, care of Turk's Court, The Temple, London.
She spoke the name aloud now. It was a strange one and for some reason she took
a dislike to the sound of it. Now she laid the clipping aside and drew from the
bottom of her traveling desk, turning out paper and envelopes to secure it, the
very book that had given it shelter in the past. The binding was of maroon
leather, quite unlike any she had seen before. She wondered if her father or
one of his acquaintances of the far past had not abstracted it willfully from
its native shelf. Page by page she examined it. There were a few comments on
some of the margins written in a spider-foot lettering, which she recognized as
her father's before the bouts of crippling rheumatism had crooked his fingers
so he was unable to write at all.
On impulse she took up the scrap of paper,
smoothed it out as well as she could and laid it over the
seal, closing the cover firmly. She very
much doubted that the earnestly seeking Mr. Guest would consider this the sort
of evidence that would be worth her paying out the price of a cab on such a day
to take it to Turk's Court.
The fog seemed to have crept into the very
room, gathering in the corners to build up behind the chairs and under the
table and bed. She had thought that some of the rooms at
would be good places to conceal a ghost,
but this shabby, long-used chamber, in spite of its breath of too-old cabbage
and kippers, might readily summon the unknown. Nonsense! She was an intelligent
she had run a house since she was twelve, at
the death of her last downtrodden governess. Ghosts existed only on paper, and
here—in this shabby room—none worthy of frightening anyone could possibly
Hester turned her head to study her reflection
in the dull and wavery surface of the small mirror. Her skin was olive, to be
sure, but it was clear and when she was troubled or angry had a faint glow
about the cheekbones. There had been rumors raised in the Sisters' School,
during the two terms she had attended, that she had Indian blood. But the
rumors had died when the very correct manners her father had drilled into her
(and railed at Poor Mouse Fremont to do the same) met each and every covert
taunt or snicker or suggestion with aloof dignity.
Her hair was not black but a dark brown, very
thick and long, which sometimes in the full sunlight showed a reddish tinge.
For the rest she was in want. She had a nose, neither aristocratically bold nor
turned up or down—just a nose. Even all the rest was undistinguished—her mouth
was over-wide, with faint lines about it that appeared to be permanently set by
now. Her broad forehead was revealed to its greatest extent by braiding her
hair and pinning the braids as close to the skull as firmly as she could for
her governess role. There were no stylish fringes or loose locks flying. Her
dark eyes, of course, did not possess any mysterious depths.
Hester chuckled, recalling the various
eloquent descriptions of heroines in the books of fiction she had read during
stolen moments. Fluff and trifling those novels were, but they had the art of
transporting their readers into a kind of dazed shadow-life. And she did not
doubt that their writers got better returns for their pains of procreation than
she had been paid for the sale of travel articles that had won her grudging
awards in the past. No, if one was to live by one's pen, one had to be a Mrs.
Southworth and possess a powerful imagination.
She did not need to look into her purse to
count her riches—it was so flat that one worn sealskin side rubbed the other in
a most familiar fashion and had done so for a long time. Hester had been
trained solely to be a handmaiden to one man's selfishness and now, at
twenty-three, she needed work and had no suitable skills to offer. She had not
been judged a proper governess, and she had no introductions to take her past
the outer door of any girls' school. Could she be a servant? She feared not.
Kitty's tales of life downstairs were most discouraging, and besides, she had
no written references to back her.