Chapter XVI: The Man in the Woods

The day of the funeral arrived and Lucy was surprised at the amount of people that poured into the small church on the top of ­­­­­­Brookenshire Hill.  Families of all classes were present to honor the beloved tailor.  Many of Adrian’s schoolmates came, as well as Mel’s entire household.  The Bedford’s dressed the church just as Lucy’s Mum would have liked it. White flowers hugged the walls, and a simple maple coffin rested in the middle of church, closed with soft silk about it. The windows remained open, just as she would have wanted.

“Thank you for everything,” Lucy told Miss. Bedford before the procession of people began.

“Of course, my dear.  Anything for your family,” she touched her handkerchief to her wet eyes.  “Such a loss.  Such a loss,” she sniffled.

Lucy, herself, struggled to keep her own tears at bay.  It helped to have her mother’s letter tucked near her breast.

As the people crowded in, many could not help but comment on the beautifully tailored dress and veil she was wearing.  It was bittersweet, but Lucy was happy that her mother received one last acknowledgement of her work in this world.

The time began to draw near for the funeral when her brother approached her.

“It’s time to sit down,” Sebastian told Lucy as he held out his arm.

She tentatively took it, but took one last look towards the door.

“What is it?” Adrian asked.

“I was hoping he would come,” she muttered.

Sebastian shifted uneasily and looked to Andrew.  The older brother sighed and took his sister’s other arm.

“Come on,” he said, pulling her gently away from the doorway as two altar boys shut the doors.

Lucy strained her eyes, taking in fresh snow against the undecided sky.  The woods along the path waved peacefully with the breeze and all was silent.  Yet, there was something else.  Could it be him?  Could that be a Top Hat wavering in the breeze?

The service was simple, a fitting passage about the importance of family with the priest touching on all the right things.  Lucy’s job was quite effortless as she helped lay a white cotton cloth over the coffin.  Her brothers’ duty, on the other hand, was quite a bit harder as they eased the coffin onto their shoulders.  A few men in the crowd pressed to help but the boys stoically refused all but one, keeping their eyes fixed straight ahead as they walked the casket out to the buggy waiting for them.  Not when the graveyard was only a little ways from the church.  The crowd buttoned their coats about them, and Lucy slid black gloves onto her fingertips.  She didn’t search for the man, as her mind gave into the sorrowful melody shared by the crowd.

When they arrived at her gravestone, Lucy found herself in shock.  There, huddled around the grey marble, stood dozens of Top Hats from the Society.  Her brothers looked just as surprised but also quite grateful.  This time, when her brothers took the coffin back onto their shoulders, they did not argue when a number of Top Hats went to aid them.  Lucy’s eyes began to shake as tears fell onto the snowy ground.  This was what it meant to live as a Top Hat.  This was a Society of brothers.  Lucy’s eyes looked among the solemn new-comers.  Lewis, “The Weasel”, Marley, Winston, and even the duel-master Vaan had shown.   There were many faces she couldn’t place, but as Lucy looked over at Sebastian and Andrew it seemed clear that they recognized many of the strangers.  Still, she couldn’t find his face.  In the sea of Top Hats, her father still hadn’t shown up.

The priest began and Lucy found herself crying not for herself, but for her mother.  It wasn’t fair that the man she had loved couldn’t show his face.

“Would anyone like some parting words?” the priest questioned the crowd.

Not a word was said as the wind whistled between each person.  But then Lucy heard it.

“I will love you to my dying day.  Forgive me, my Stella.”

Lucy’s eyes widened and snapped towards the nearby forest.  In the trees sat a silhouette of a man with a top hat perched upon his knee.  Lucy’s heart stopped and her gloved hands dropped the lace umbrella she had propped up above her.

Charles O’Rourke had come.

“Lucy?” Adrian asked, lightly tugging at her sleeve as they began to lower the coffin into the ground.

She never took her eyes off the shadow in the tree.  Sebastian watched his twin carefully as she walked towards the forest.

Step by step.  Step by step.  And it quickened as she lifted her skirts to run into a full fledge sprint.  Onlookers gasped and tried to call back the suddenly maddened girl.  Lucy only put her low heeled boots further forward.

“Lucy,” called Sebastian but Andrew once more held his brother back.

“She needs him right now,” Andrew explained. “It is something between the both of them. We have no right to interfere .”

The middle brother looked around the gathered Top Hats and realized they too remained planted in their place.  He had his time with his father.  It was time for Lucy’s.

The silhouette in the trees vanished as quickly as it had appeared when she made it to the front of the forest.  Lucy felt panic sink deep.  Had she lost him as quickly as he had appeared?!  No.  No, he must still be here!

The quiet winter woods were filled with old trees huddled close.  Some spiked out in jagged needle point while other fluffed their pine coats.  A fine layer of snow kissed each of them.  Yet Lucy rushed deeper still, her eyes never stopping.  She had to find him if it was the last thing she would do.

“I know you are here,” she told the forest as it swallowed up her voice.  Lucy quickly took note of the silence.  An unnatural silence, not a single chirp nor animal call whispered in the wind.

“Mummy, when’s Papa coming home?”

“Soon, darling,” Stacy told her daughter.

“When’s soon?” Lucy whined.

“Hmm, would you like to know a secret?”

“Andrew told me secrets are a terrible thing to keep.”  Lucy yawned as her five-year old body cuddled into the quilted blanket.

“Your brother is very clever.  But not all secrets are such.  This a secret passed from my mother’s mother to my mother to me, and now it’s your turn.”  Her mother smiled and rested her head against her daughter’s.

“You shall always know a Top Hat is near when the world goes quiet about you.”

Lucy’s little eyes grew heavy as the words sunk in deep.

“When the world gets quiet,” she repeated.  “Why is that, Mummy?”

“I’m not certain, love.  Perhaps, it is just the good of the world’s way of respecting them.”

“Do they know that?” she yawned once more, this time her eyes closing.

“Not a single Top Hat knows this.  Only you and me.”

Lucy hissed through her teeth as her breath caught itself in a small mist around her lips.  “Why can’t you show yourself?!”

Nothing.  Just silence.

“Mum waited for you for ten years! I waited for you.  You . . .you just left us!”

Lucy lifted up her skirts and walked deeper, looking further.

“I needed you, Papa. I needed you and you weren’t there.  You were off fighting demons, but couldn’t find a few minutes just to come home,” she yelled. “It wasn’t fair!  Everyone talked about it.  Everyone still talks about how great you Top Hats are.  I want to know what’s so great about men leaving their families in utter pieces.”

Lucy screamed in frustration and kicked a nearby tree as hot tears pricked her eyes.

“Do you expect me to lay down in silence?  My brothers, my mother, even you – all gone.  Am I really just destined to be a poor baker’s apprentice left all alone?!”

Nothing moved as Lucy glanced around the  cold slumbering woods.

” No.” Her heart lit on fire as she threw an accusing finger to the trees. “I refuse to let that be my fate.”

Never be afraid to fly.

Lucy looked at her wrist as small blue sparks crackled from her palm.

“I’ll be a Top Hat,” her declaration started out as a whisper.  And then, it burst in brilliant fireworks.

“You’ll see!” she told the forest. “I’ll stop the world from turning to the darkness, just like you.  I will be a Top Hat, just like you!”

Lucy looked down at her fists balled together by her dress, the sparks vanishing.  “You think I’m just you daughter, but I have to believe I am more than that.  I will do something.”

Lucy looked back to the trees. “One day we will meet again.  And you’ll see.  I’ll prove to you that I can do it.  I’ll make Mum proud.  And you won’t even recognize your little girl anymore. . .” Her mind buzzed and she quickly picked up her skirts once more.

Lucy did not even turn to realize that the thick oak behind her contained a single Top Hat, watching in the shadows of the trees as his daughter raced into her destiny.  And then the forest returned to its melody of life and noises.

When Lucy returned to the gravesite, all the company had gotten into cars and buggies to go back into the city.  A single horse and carriage remained with a rather grumpy driver.

“Hurry!” she shouted from across the way.

“W’at’s this?” he grumbled.

“I’ll pay you double if you shut it and drive as fast as this horse can carry us back to the Clock Tower.”

“Miss, ta’t is a good ways.”

Double!” she emphasized.  She didn’t have time for this small talk.

Luckily, the man quickly snapped his mouth shut and motioned for her to get in begrudgingly.

During the ride,  Lucy could barely keep her hands still as she watched the country fade into the city as the brisk trot bumped forward.  Other cabbies passed, but the horse remained surprisingly focused.  By the time they had arrived at the foot of the stairs, Lucy’s fire had reached its peak.  She stormed from the coach, skipping the steps two at a time.

“Bloody hell!” the cursing driver yelled, his due unpaid.

Lucy strode past the guards and pushed her way through the crowd of Top Hats returning from the funeral.  Her brothers watched in absolute shock as she reached the front desk.

Winston, himself, was leaning with one hand against the desk to sort out the business that had passed while they were away.  All it took was a simple slam of Lucy’s open palms  on the wood to get his attention.

“I’ll do it.  I’ll stop humans from turning to the darkness –  I’ll stop demons from eating our hearts and souls.  I’ll fight alongside this society, and I will prove to everyone that I am a Top Hat.”

Winston eyed the girl carefully before straightening himself up to his full height.  Lucy never realized how he towered over her.  But it didn’t frighten her.  She didn’t even a single flinch.  “You know that once you agree, you can never go back.”

Lucy threw down her veil and looked the leader directly in the eyes. “Where do I sign?”

And with that, the Lady of Dawn entered into the world once more.

2016 E. M. Vick

 

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