I don't know if they'll kill the afflicted man. I know that wherever they do it, I don't want to be there. So I go to a place where I'll get a definite answer, without having to bear witness to the vote or the murder.
I go to the room where Quill builds coffins.
Though the night holds actual monsters, I'm somehow more afraid of the dark inside the workshop. Despite my long mourning for my father, I have never been comfortable with the trappings of death. I collected my tears in my lachrymatory as my mother commanded, as she thought it a very European and stylish custom. I wore a lock of his hair in a ring, though it disgusted me. I dressed in black and wore a veil, numbly played my theatrical part in public while lamenting genuinely in private. Since the very moment of my father's death, the specter of my own mortality plagued me. Now that death lingers quite literally around any corner, I can't stand the sight of yet another ghostly reminder.
I wait for Quill, my back turned to the rows of coffins. There are a greater number now. If he comes here, it means that Vernon Dale is dead. It means that Quill was forced to take the poor man's life.
Lantern light glows through the narrow window in the door. I hold my breath. When Quill enters, he doesn't see me.
"John?" I say, and his Christian name feels strange in my mouth.
He startles, nearly dropping the lantern. "Dammit, Evie! Don't sneak up on someone in a room full of coffins!"
His exclamation hangs in the silence between us, angry, yet sublimely ridiculous.
I laugh. I can't help myself. Quill stares at me as though I need to go to the asylum as Benjamin has suggested. Then he laughs, too.
John Quill laughs, and it's a sound as beautiful as any Italian aria, as precious as my father's last breath. That laugh lights the only remaining part of me not claimed by despair.
And I snuff out its flame. "Did you kill him?"
I don't know why I said it, why I can't simply leave well enough alone. I know the answer; why else would Quill come here, if the afflicted man still lived?
Quill turns away. "Think what you want of me. I have work to do."
"And how do you imagine I think of you?" I challenge him, following him around some planks laid across a pair of saw horses. The planks, I assume, will become a part of yet another box.
He doesn't answer me, but for the anger in his movements as he pulls a coffin from its place on the wall.
If he won't answer, I will. "I do think of you. I think of you all day and all night. I dream about you. I live to catch glimpses of you. Every word you speak to me burns into my mind like a brand. And you believe that any of that will change if you tell me you killed that man?"
His hands tighten on the edge of the coffin lid. He doesn't look at me. "Go home, Evie."
"I can't go home!" I shout. Let them find me. I am beyond caring if my intentions toward Quill, if what I believe are his intentions toward me, are found out. "I have no home, and neither do you. But you are the only..." I take a breath, my stomach sours with nerves. I've never been so honest with another person; it scares me and exhilarates me at the same time. I feel as though I stand on a precipice that taunts me to jump.
"You're the only home I have."
His head sags forward, and he leans against the stacked coffins, now. "Go home, Evie," he repeats.
It takes only the touch of my hand on his shoulder, and he throws the lid aside to clatter on the hard packed dirt as he turns to me. He grabs my wrist, then the other, pushing me back to the edge of the planks.
YOU ARE READING
After her father’s death and her mother’s hasty remarriage, Evelyn Whitney is handed over to the Shaker commune of Bannock, New York, into a life she has little chance of escaping. When the dead become monsters and community loyalties fracture, Evel...