|Standing in his missing wife’s bedroom in the Marsden manor, Edwin Blackwell split the tapestry curtains, allowing the morning light to escape from outside. There were items of furniture positioned all around the room: a divan; a small tea table swathed in white linen; two chairs facing an unlit fire, currently one occupied by Mrs Marsden; ornaments adorning the mahogany shelves as well as books. Mrs Marsden – his mother-in-law - dressed in her finery was like an ornament herself, with matching magenta ribbon that tied her hair and festooned around the hem of her frock. Judging by the room you could tell the Marsdens were rich; it was no wonder why they were enthusiastic when Edwin proposed to their daughter.
Ever since one of the servants had reported Porphyria missing, he and Mr and Mrs Marsden had been enquiring all day about her whereabouts. At last the maid had piped up saying that she had found “something curious” in her bedroom the following morning. The “something curious” turned out to be stacks upon stacks of letter addressed to Porphyria. Though, after reading some of the letters they had found, any joy Edwin had briefly was dissipated.
“When did you find these?” Mr Marsden was holding a pile of envelopes and letters.
The maid brushed off her apron. “Yesterday afternoon…I was fetching Mrs Blackwell’s parasol for her. She couldn’t remember where she put it and then I came across this” the maid said, gesturing to the small wooden box that had once been hiding under Porphyria’s bed. Edwin recognised that box; the burnt design of grape clusters and leaves decorating the lid, the hinge side with flowers resembling carnations, the gold hinges. He had bought it for her, making the disloyalty worse. “I went to ask about them to Mrs Blackwell but she ordered me to never speak of them again.”
This time Mr Marsden turned to Edwin. “Let’s through this once more,” he began, straightening the lace at his throat. “You were the last person to have seen Porphyria. She must have told you something. Anything.”
Edwin Blackwell spoke up at once “I’m sorry, sir, but I have stated what I know. When she was leaving my manor, she said that she was going to yours. Nothing more.”
The silence was devastating in the room. What broke it was Mrs Marsden shuffling uncomfortably in her seat. Edwin could see desperation fill her eyes. He realised it was rare that you ever have hope without desperation – hope is like a hand pulling your drowning self out of the sea and you grasp the hand with all your might, desperate to not fall in again. “Then we should alert the police!” she cried.
Her ignorance, like usual, was ignored.
Edwin grudgingly reached out to pick more letters from the box. They’d only found one indication to where Porphyria was:
My love, meet me by the lake outside my cottage.
Reading each letter intensified the sickness of humiliation he felt.
Sorry about yesterday, dear. I did not mean it. You know I love you.
Where were you yesterday? You were with him, weren’t you?
After of what seemed like hours to Edwin of reading My Porphyria, My Porphyria, My Porphyria, My Porphyria, Mrs Marsden let out a small shriek. She passed the letter to her husband. Edwin read over his shoulder:
My love. Meet me outside Grove Chapel
“That’s in Camberwell, probably only half an hour away.” said Mr Marsden. He wasn’t triumphant like he had expected – but of course, Edwin thought, how you could feel triumphant when you find out your daughter is a disgrace? On contrary, Mrs Marsden could hardly contain herself. She was now in a frenzy of elation, not humbled by any remembrance of her daughter’s transgression.
Edwin focused and tried to picture where Grove Chapel was. A memory resurfaced from his brain: Porphyria and him riding in his carriage, travelling back from town. Porphyria had commented that a lake was not too far from where they were.
“I know where the lake is.” he declared.
“Brilliant! Miss,” Mr Marsden addressed to the maid. “Please tell Mr Wakefield to get the carriage ready. It seems I and Mr Blackwell will be travelling to Camberwell.”
* * * * *
My Porphyria, My Porphyria, My Porphyria. The pounding in his head hadn’t stopped the whole journey. She wasn’t his Porphyria, whoever he was. Edwin didn’t know what to expect at the cottage. The carriage jolted to a stop. His heart fell in his stomach.
Edwin jumped out the black carriage and nodded to the coachman. Immediately rain drilled down upon him. The wind was still battling from the morning against the elm trees – some still standing, some victims dead on the floor. The wind off the vexed lake gained a rough edge, whipping and numbing his ears in a matter of seconds. He could taste ozone. “There it is” he pointed to small building ahead.
His reply was lost in the howling.
It took a while for the pair of them to reach the cottage as the wind raged against them. Moving a branch out of the way with his gloved hand, Edwin got a better look at the cottage: it was microscopic compared to his manor and looked as though every rumble of thunder would bring it down. He let Mr Marsden lead the way through the gate (which was currently swinging on its hinges). Though he wanted to see his wife, anxiety conquered him. He couldn’t believe Porphyria would come to a place like this.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” whispered Mr Marsden in his ear.
“Must be” but doubt dripped in his own voice. Edwin was about to worry about keeping quiet but was reassured the wind would shield any noise they made. Slowly he followed him to the door and hesitantly opened it. The cottage smelt faintly of smoke, as though a fire had just died. His pupils dilated to adjust to the dim light. Mr Marsden had frozen just after taking a few steps from the door and had transfixed his eyes on a dank rosewood settee. At once he followed the gaze which seemed to astonish his companion…
Edwin failed to form a coherent thought. Porphyria had her arms wrapped around the old scratch, her yellow hair was cascading over the man’s shoulder, rising and falling as the man inhaled and exhaled. However it was the eyes that Edwin noticed first – once bright and shining orbs of blue were now skulls, unblinking, fixated on a point in the distance which didn’t exist. Her head, which droops upon the shoulder was still smiling, even once Death had laughed at her.
Edwin lost grip on hope’s hand and dropped into despair.