The Erebus Accounts: His Last Christmas – Chapter II

The Erebus Accounts: His Last Christmas – Chapter II

This was far from my first meeting with Her Majesty, but the first since the funeral. The black-clad ghost watching over the sombre proceedings had been a melancholy sight then, and the year had not been kind to her.

She had put on noticeable weight, yet still a gauntness lingered about her ashen cheeks. The light in her blue eyes had faded; two pale, watery orbs peered from the shadows, staring blankly at some unremarkable spot in the corner of the room. Her misty irises were the only element of her appearance from which sorrow had not yet sapped all semblance of colour: her clothing was but a monochromatic affair of black, tinged with the occasional hint of grey and white, while her hair had grown darker and more flaxen, and was pulled taught behind her head in an austere bun. Perhaps it was a deception of the pale excuse for daylight that crept into the drawing room, but I suspect there lingered a hint of grey about her roots.

Her Majesty’s miserable appearance did not surprise me, but I was nonetheless given a moment’s pause by this stark affirmation that the bright, diligent, and, at times, disarmingly affectionate woman my father had cherished as if she were his own niece had all but died with her husband. Lord Victor indicated no such perturbance, passing Colonel Grey before he had enunciated even the third syllable of his title, and crossed the floor at once to kneel at the Queen’s side and take her fragile hand in his own.

Once inside, my eyes swept the room instinctively, taking stock of the entrances; the windows, the vantage points beyond them; and the persons within. Of the latter, there were now thirteen: my father and I; the two Secretaries and a pair of guards shuffling awkwardly in behind them; Her Majesty and the three youngest of her nine children; a black-clad servant at the far door, another by the one through which we had entered, and what I took to be a third by the window, gazing out across the grounds. This last individual held my notice a moment longer than any other, being the only denizen apparently unstirred by their guests’ histrionic entrance.

“Alexandrina,” Victor began, with a furtiveness in his voice so antithetical to his usual persona as to elicit another confused exchange of glances between the two Secretaries. Likewise, the men at either door looked in muted alarm at one another for a moment, while the children raised their heads in chorus from their subdued play to the emerging scene.

Only the man by the window did not stir.

She turned, seeing him for the first time. Her expression was a mixture of confusion and annoyance, but I counted no more than three seconds before recognition dawned in those watery eyes, and the ghost of a smile limped across her pale visage. The pair made for a peculiar sight in that moment: two faces similarly unpractised in the art of smiling of late, each straining to conjure one for the benefit of the other. The image sparked an unfamiliar pang in my chest; a sudden reminder of Evelyn, and with it the inescapable feeling that my duty to the Order compelled me to failure in my duty to my wife.

It is entirely natural that the mind’s eye should struggle to conjure the image of one’s parents in their youth, and, at virtually all other moments of my life, my father offered a singularly stark example of this effect. Yet, there, if only for an instant, I glimpsed through the iron façade the reserved, yet dutiful, youth who once took it upon himself to quietly safeguard the wellbeing of a young princess whose father died when she was less than a year old. In hushed tones and whispered words, many still credit – or disparage – Lord Victor as the individual whose secret counsel ensured the infamous efforts of the “Kensington System” – her mother and comptroller’s childhood-spanning endeavour to browbeat the young Alexandrina into a vapid pawn of their ambitions – ultimately came to naught. Chief amongst my father’s accusers had long been the disgraced comptroller himself, Sir John Conroy, whose repeated accusations against him had never been dignified with a response beyond the silent, inscrutable contempt at which the Morscroft are so legendarily adept. Upon Conroy’s ignominious death in 1854, banished from the Royal Court and spectacularly indebted, many had expected my father to respond with some leering statement of vindication and victory upon outlasting a perennial slanderer and rival in influence. They were summarily disappointed, however, as my father sent a short, polite letter of condolence to Conroy’s family, and that was all.

Whether these accusations had ever been true or not was of little importance now; what mattered at present was the avuncular bond between Victoria and Victor, and the latter’s consequent ability – unparalleled ability, quite possibly – to revive the spirit of the former amongst the living and save her from ever-spiralling dependence upon the dead. Beyond the fact that it continued for more than a handful of words, their conversation itself was unremarkable, but it was never the focus of my attention. Nor, I suspect, did my father ever intend it to be.

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