We were not discovered; Sarah arose at dawn, and slipped softly downstairs to begin her duties in the kitchen, and only after the fire was going and the water brought in did she leave to see her mother. I did not see her again for two days, and did not know that she discovered her mother abandoned by the friend, and in need of the assistance which prompted her to apologize to Cola and submit to his experiment with transfusion. She was sworn to silence and was a woman of her word in all respects.
For myself, I went back to a blissful sleep and awoke late, so it was several hours before I walked to an inn for some bread and ale, an occasional extravagance I indulge in when I am feeling at ease with the world, or wish to avoid my mother’s conversation. It was only then, as I was sitting dreamily over a pot, that I heard the news.
There are countless tales in myth to warn us of our heart’s desires. King Midas wished to be so rich he desired that everything he touched might turn to gold, and legend has it that he died of hunger as a result. Euripides talks of Tithonus, whom Eos loved so well she begged Zeus to give him eternal life. But mistakenly she asked not for youth as well and he suffered an eternity of decrepitude until even the cruel gods took pity on him.
And I wished to be spared the scandal which Grove in his malice threatened to visit on me. The memory of him cut into my mood, and I prayed that his mouth might be stopped forever, and that I should not suffer for what I had done and said, however deserving I was of punishment. I had scarcely finished my ale when I heard that my wish had been granted.
The moment I heard the news my blood ran cold with horror, for I was absolutely certain that my own prayers and private vengeance had been responsible. I had killed a man. I believe there is no crime greater, and I was tormented with remorse at my deed, so much so that I felt as though I should instantly confess. Cowardice soon overcame this urge, as I thought of the shame of my family should I do so. And I convinced myself that I was not really to blame. I had made a mistake, that was all. The intent was lacking, my guilt was limited, and my chances of discovery small.
So speaks the mind, but the conscience is not so easily quelled. I recovered from the shock as best I could, seeking out all the information available in the attempt to discover some small detail to convince me that I had not, in fact, caused this awful event. I persuaded myself for a brief while that all was well, then tried to return to my labors, and found all my concentration gone, as my rebellious soul confronted me with what I had done. And still I could not take any step to relieve myself; my contentment vanished, my sleep soon after and in the days and weeks that followed I grew haggard and sickly in my struggle.
I aim for sympathy but do not deserve any, for it was easy to remedy and cleanse myself of disquiet. I merely had to stand and say, “I did this.” All else would be taken care of.
But to die myself, and make my family live under the obloquy of having engendered a murderer? To have my mother hooted through the street and spat on, my sister living out her old age in spinsterhood as no man would attach himself to her? My cousin’s trade dry up into failure because no one would drink in his tavern? These were real concerns. Oxford is not London, where all sin is forgotten within a week, where criminals are celebrated for their deeds, and thieves rewarded for their endeavors. Here all know the business of all, and the desire to maintain good morals is acute, however great secretive breaches might be. My greatest loyalty is, and always has been, to my family. I have lived to bring what little luster is in my power to my name, and maintain our position of respectability. I would have accepted that the courts might punish me, for I could not deny that it would be deserved, but I recoiled in horror at doing such great injury to my people. They struggled as it was, due to our losses in the troubles, and I would not add to their burden.
I nursed my guilt to myself for the next few days, and kept to my room in miserable solitude, refusing food and conversation even with Sarah, whom I dared not look in the face. I had told her I had been to see Grove, but dared not tell her what I had done as I could not abide her disgust, nor could I burden her with information she would be obliged to share. I spent much of my time in prayer, and even more staring blankly at empty pieces of paper on my desk as I failed to get my mind to concentrate on even the dullest and most mechanical of tasks.
And in those few days I missed much of importance in my tale, for it was in those days that Lower discovered the bottle of brandy and took it to Stahl; dissected Dr. Grove to see if the corpse accused Cola through bleeding; and performed the experiment of transfusion on Anne Blundy. It was also in these days, it seemed, that the finger of suspicion first began to point at Sarah, but I swear I was totally unaware of this. I was aware only of Lower’s growing discomfort with the Italian, and his fear that Cola was out to steal his glory.