The Beginning Of Suspense

Today I’m putting up the second chapter to my historical fiction novel REDEEMED FROM THE ASHES. The first chapter can be found under the post “The Spark Of An Idea.”

Chapter 2

During the next few days, Carl and Evelyn were newlyweds, trying to adjust to the other’s schedule and to each other’s sleeping arrangements… but the initial marriage passion usually present under such circumstances was still nonexistent. They would wake up together at seven in the morning. When they arrived at the round dining table, breakfast was being served. Carl would stand behind Evelyn’s chair and pull it out of its place for her to seat herself upon it. He would then fetch the newspaper from the front steps of his home, where it had been discarded in a hurried fashion, and bring it into the dining room. He read about the war in Europe as he leisurely ate his breakfast. He related any prominent news to Evelyn; and she would view him with concern, hoping he would heal from his battle scars and cast off his obsession of needing to know anymore of the dreadful war that had altered the lives of so many, including their lives. Every day, he left home at eight o’ clock to walk to work. And some days, when he returned from work, he would hide in his study. She could never tell what he was doing in there. Sometimes she would walk up to the door with a glass in her hand. She would put the glass against the grain of the wood and press her ear against it to hear whatever secrets he hid. But she never heard anything. It was almost as if he knew she stood on the other side and would wait until he heard her retreating footsteps to let go of the pain that seemed to build inside him. The only evidence of tears she could see after his hour in hiding was the subtle red streaks that had been painted across his eyes. She felt… hopeless, knowing that she could not do a single thing to help him. Her fortitude was gradually being crushed by the myriad of concerns she carried day after day.

#

“Carl?” Hearing the front door groan, her eyes peeped out from behind the top of her novel.

“Yes?” He unravelled a black and white checkered scarf from around his neck and hung it upon one of the lower branches of the hall tree. He came into the living room and settled down upon their blue sofa.

“How did you fare at work today?”

“Well, some of the writers are very hesitant to… converse with me. I sometimes feel their stares piercing me through my office walls. They are civil enough. I just need to work hard and show them I am a man they can trust. I must demonstrate my approachability.”

“That must be somewhat unnerving.”

“It is not so bad, really. How was your day?”

“Same as the day before.”

After small conversation, he would again retire to his study, and she would sit upon her chair brooding over her misfortune of having a husband with whom she could no longer commune.

#

The next morning, husband and wife languidly sat at the dining table as they heard the pit-pattering of the rain beating upon the window. “What a dreadful day it is! And I shall have to walk in this rain.”

“Why do you not take the cab this once?”

“There is no point of my hailing a cab to drive me a few blocks down. It is a waste of money and time of entering and exiting the carriage. No, I shall walk. Wait! Do we not have a parasol?”

“We… did. I had to dispose of it because one of the ribs cracked.”

“Well, I shall have to bear it. Mmm…”

“What is it?”

“The Imo, a relief ship from Brussels, Belgium, arrived at the harbor yesterday. It is supposed to set sail later on this week for New York to then return to the war front and bring more supplies to the troops. Splendid, how there are many people who want to see this war ended.”

“What sort of supplies would they be collecting from New York?”

“They will amass clothing, bandages, food, and war supplies. A lot of these necessities are supplied by women who have entered the work force to continue outputting goods. They are some of the those who are filling in for the men overseas.” He quickly sipped the last of his coffee, folded the newspaper, and reached for his crutches. “Well, I should be getting along now.”

“Will I see you later on?”

“Yes, except I will not arrive home at my usual time. I have an extremely important piece for the newspaper I need to work on along with the usual others. Do not expect me earlier than ten.”

“Ten?!”

“Yes, ten. Goodbye! I will see you then.”  Carl gave her a quick kiss. “My dear, you will eventually catch a fly with such an open trap.”

“Right… ten. I understand.”

“Good. Goodbye.”

Guiltiness washed over her. A bitterness had settled within the pit of her stomach ever since she realized Carl was not the same man anymore. Only hints of his previous amiable personality would protrude during those times when he left his walls unguarded. But those moments were so few.

Perhaps, I am not the same anymore.

So many neighbors, friends were bearing the same despondency she was; yet they were doing so much more to help the war effort, giving their loved ones a greater reason to come back home. Many bought victory bonds, knitted clothing, served overseas as nurses, truck drivers and so on. She had hardly done anything to help.

At the start of the war, she had been involved with many volunteer services. The joy of giving had infected her to the point that she had spent most of her days out and about helping in any way she could. She and many other women who sat quilting in a circle on Saturday afternoons would comfort each other with the hope that the war would be over by Christmas, that their men would come home. Christmas passed; there was no sign of any immediate withdrawal from Europe. And so little by little she lost any incentive to spend her time giving of herself to a seemingly hopeless cause.

#

As the day dragged on, Evelyn became very fidgety and anxious. Every little creak from the old flooring or scratch from a scampering mouse inside the walls made her jump. She tried to finish embroidering one of her pillows, and she tried to read. But nothing would do. She could only hear the clock go tick, tock, tick, tock.

“Casby?” She called out, hoping he was nearby to answer.

“Yes, Madam?”

“I… I need to go out for a stroll. When will supper be ready?”

“ Six o’ clock as always. Would you like me to postpone it?”

She quickly glanced at the grandfather clock which stood at the northeastern corner of the room. However, despite her intense gaze upon the clock hands, she could not read the time. Her eyes blurred as they became sheathed in translucent wetness.

“You have an hour before supper, Madam.”

“Yes, yes, of course.” She darted from her chair, jerked her coat from the hall tree, and almost ran outside. How did it come to this that she could not find proper peace in her own home but would have to venture into the miserable world around her to find some note of healing?

Where do I go?

All around her people bustled about, some accidentally shoving her from one side to the next. Without any conscious thought, she let her feet propel her toward the harbor away from the stench of apathetic souls. She let her tears fall freely, knowing no one would care to or dare ask what the matter was.

Reaching the harbor, she wiped the drying tears from her cheeks. She milled through the small crowd of soldiers that must have been dropped off not more than half an hour ago. These were the ones that seemed to have no family or friends to greet them. They were alone just as she was. Some sat upon benches staring off toward the sea; and others walked off in haphazard directions. One or two actually looked her way and smiled, raising their hands in friendly

greeting. She did not know why. But their kind gestures warmed her heart in a way she could not understand.

This is all I was looking for, some human warmth although a few feet distance away.

She wanted to stay, to talk, to sense or fathom that she was not the only person in the world who felt the way she did, day in and day out. But she left, knowing dinner would be ready soon.

Such a convenient excuse.

#

After dinner, Evelyn retired to her bedroom. She tried to do some more reading, but her eyes roved over the words so quickly;  eventually the words became a blur. Letting out a deep sigh, she snapped the book shut.

“This is ridiculous! I can hardly do anything!”

She began to pace up and down the candlelit room. Her steps strode in unison with the flickering flame. Only her steps were lit, the rest of the room engulfed in darkness. She thought of changing into her nightgown and snuggling into bed. Perhaps the preparation and actual act of sleeping would calm her nerves. But she was so agitated she could not even undo the buttons down the front of her dress. Her fingers fumbled and slipped. Pausing from her taxing chore, she blew out the candle, and sat down in her chair that faced her mirroir. A large breath in and a large breath out she tried to perform. Large puffs of smoke escaped her open lips. The moon’s chilly light washed over the room. Her rosy cheeks had acquired a ghostly complexion, and even paler still as she saw its reflection. Winter’s chilly breath blew down her partly exposed spine, the hairs on her back tingling.

“Oh dear! I’ve left the window open.”

As she was closing the window, she noticed a shadowy figure approach the front door and slip from her sight under the porch roof. She glanced back at the clock to faintly see it was not yet ten. Perhaps Carl had finished his work sooner than he had expected. And if it was not Carl, who else could it be? She could not recall if she was supposed to have a visitor tonight. And anyways, it was much too late to entertain any guests. Suddenly, she heard the front door swing open.

For ten minutes she waited for Casby to come up and inform her of the visitor’s arrival, or for Carl to fumble into their room and allay her incoherent fears. But neither one knocked upon her door. What kind of game was this? Her knees quaked, her hands quivered. She slumped to the floor and could hardly breathe, nulling any previous effort of calming herself. This man was up to no good. What should she do?

“Oh, God, wherever you are, please help me.”

Inhaling deeply, she shut her eyes to shut out the fear that was overtaking her body with its vise-like grips. 

All right. I am going downstairs. I will not be afraid.

She proceeded into the darkness with extreme caution, relying only upon her instinct and weak night-vision. Every step she took she held her breath and calculated every muscle she moved in her feet. With sweaty, trembling hands she managed to turn the doorknob and steal her way into the corridor. After five minutes of groping around, her foot finally encountered the edge of the staircase. She took great pains descending the old stairway so that the steps would not creak. However, as she was about to sidle from the last step onto the main floor, the step’s moan betrayed her vulnerable position. Her heartbeat ceased for a moment. The next second it accelerated to the sky. She pressed herself against the wall, putting her hand to her heart to stop its insanity. It was all at an end. She had been discovered. She could only wait for her fate.

But five minutes passed, and no one had come. Had they not heard her stumble? She could hardly believe her good luck. She resolved to continue her mission. As she slid along the wall opposite the staircase, she accidentally smacked into the entrance table. The bottom of the glass vase teetered precariously until she deftly amended its balance.

Of all things!

She stayed still for a minute, determining whether she could continue her mission. Not a sound approached her hiding place. She neared the kitchen toward the back of the house, stopping at the halfway open door. Casby’s hoarse voice streamed through the opening of the door. Had he been drinking? She strained to listen to what the other man’s voice sounded like, but unfortunately he spoke so softly she could hardly hear him.

“Good wine, isn’t it?” drawled Casby.

The other man’s murmurs were inaudible to her prying ears.

“Complements of the good master and mistress, Mr. and Mrs. Richardson. Ha! Oh, if they only knew.”

What was he thinking?

“Now you have five more deliveries to make. Make use of the friendships you have with the officers. You will know where to find me. And always watch your back. Only then will you be released from your side of the bargain.”

The unknown man muttered something.

“Yes, well, I know it’s going to take time; but you must be hasty. Our country is counting on you. I am counting on you.”

Which country did he mean? What was he talking about? And five more clandestine meetings in her house? Evelyn would not stand for it.

The men’s conversation turned to trivial matters. She left her sleuthing position, grabbed her shawl from the hall tree, and exited the house. She wished she had taken a little more time to find her coat. Although the office was only a few blocks away, she was sure she would nearly freeze to death; the temperature had dropped to an even lower degree than it had been during that day. Already, the freezing wind cut through her shawl and was biting her skin. The little snow which painted the streets was shimmering in the glow of the moon’s favor. The street lamps had been extinguished due to the curfew that had been imposed upon the city since the war. She ran as quickly as she could to the office of the Halifax Herald.

When she finally reached the office, her legs started to tingle. She bent over to breathe in the snappish cold. Her hand flit to her heart to rest its pounding. She beheld a single lit room on the second floor. Carl! She stumbled to the door and rested against it for a small moment. After catching her breath, she tried to open the door, fully knowing it would be locked. But to her surprise, the door was unlocked. She threw open the door and trampled up the stairs to Carl’s office.

“Carl!”

“Evelyn?!” A worry took hold in Carl’s surprised gaze. He tottered out of his seat and fastened his arms around her. “What is the matter?”

“Casby… home… he….”

“Come, come, now, take a seat, rest a little. Did you run all the way here in the freezing cold wind with only a shawl upon your shoulders??”

All she could do was nod her head, and close her eyes knowing the notion was preposterous. “We need… to… to go home.”

“All right. We will go. But you must put on my coat. I will not have you galavanting about in such a miserable condition. You can tell me everything once we are on our way.” He touched her frozen cheek.

“Thank you. Wait. What will you wear?”

“We are just going to be outside for a few minutes. I can endure. I’ll tell you what, I will wear your shawl. See. How do I look?”

“Carl… you are not serious, are you?”

“Of course, I am.”

“But that is a women’s shawl!”

“Yes, I know.” He flung it across his shoulders in a dramatic fashion. His mischievous grin forbade her from infringing upon his circus any further.

“Oh dear… Your sense of humor is outrageous.”

“Was that not one of the reasons why you fell in love with me?”

“Yes, it was.”

Carl stashed a pile of papers into his desk, blew out the lamp, and guided Evelyn out of the building.

“What about your work?”

“I was able to finish most of it. I will come in early Monday morning to conclude it. Now, Evelyn, what is the matter?”

“After such a horrid day of not being able to do much of anything, I went upstairs to read some more of my novel. As I was sitting on the chair in our bedroom, I realized I had left the window open. I approached the window and saw a man.”

“Did you recognize him?”

“No, and I was not expecting anyone to pass by. I waited for Casby to inform me who it was, but he never came. I thought something was wrong; therefore I went downstairs. To my surprise, he was doing some sort of business with him. He said something about deliveries.”

“Can you remember anything else?”

“No.”

After a moment’s silence, Carl whispered, “Evelyn, we are fast approaching our house. When we arrive, I want you to stay at the bottom of the steps. Wait for me to let you know if it is safe to come in. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

Carl clumped up the stairs and entered the house. The darkness swallowed him. Evelyn waited and waited. Five minutes seemed like an hour. Finally Carl’s head poked outside the entrance door. He waved her forward, holding in his right hand a gun.

“I never knew we had a gun!”

“I bought it in case of an emergency.”

“Well? Was anyone there?”

“No, Casby’s gone.”

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