• ERIC BUTLER

The Ephraim Godwin Chronicles - Part 26: Chapter 63


CHAPTER SIXTY-THREE


Zona Whitlock stared at the folded paper held loosely in her right hand. She didn't need to read it again, the words burned in her memory.


Dear Ms. Whitlock


I must bid you adieu. Please understand, it fills me with profound sadness, but it is time for me to leave this cursed island and travel home. I want to thank you and your brother for such a fine vessel and hope that you can help me one final time. I have left a gift for our Mr. Godwin that will allow him the closure he so desperately needs. Simply walk a mile until by the end each step aches and you see nature's sanctuary spring from the very ground. The answers can be found if you search deep enough.


Sincerely,


Zachariah C. Whitlock


So the man has finally taken my brother's identity as well as his flesh. The thought made her heartache, and once again she wondered if she was up for the task. Zachariah would know what to do, no hesitation just action...while Zona lay in bed, barely able to hold down a piece of toast.


Of course, it would help if she understood his message. If only her mind was clearer, but the poison the fiend had fed her still clouded her mind. Taking a deep breath, she swung her legs and let them dangle over the side of the bed. Her mind swirled, flooding her sight with colors, and forcing her stomach to flop around like a fish.


Zona steadied herself before slipping to the floor. She smiled as her legs held her weight, and she stepped forward, timid at first but her confidence grew with each new step. She slipped out of her nightgown, and into a simple dress that required no help from Mary. Mary would not approve. A giggle slipped out at the thought. There were very few things her lady's-maid approved of in all actuality.


With her boots on and her hat pinned, Zona opened her door a crack and sighed. No one was sitting in the hall to stop her. That was a welcomed surprise. Creeping down the hall, she made it to the kitchen before she detected the ever-present mumbles of her lady's-maid; the topic appeared to be Ephraim.


Zona smiled. That man had made quite the impression on Mary, and not at all in a positive manner. Zona's stomach fluttered in excitement at the thought of trying to convince her otherwise, but now was not the time for such thoughts. She slipped past the opening and hurried down the hall snatching her umbrella by the front door before exiting the house.


"Hello Ms. Whitlock," a cheery voice said from the side. Zona turned slowly, a painful smile on her face, as Constable Hill stood. He looked exhausted and quite disheveled. She wondered if he had slept the night out here by the door.


"Constable Hill," she said looking to fill the awkward silence. "What a surprise."


"Yeah, after what happened to Clark they thought it best if someone kept an eye on the house."


Zona raised an eyebrow. What happened to Clark? She had no idea what the man was talking about which infuriated her. She had been down days because of that awful man, and she hastily needed to catch up.


The front door opened and Ephraim stared down at the pair with an amused smile. Zona glared at the man, before swinging her gaze to the constable. He shrank back with cheeks ablaze. She deduced the turncoat...as if the suspect pool was numerous.


"Don't blame him...or me," Ephraim said as he held out his hand. She took it after a moment and let him lead her inside. "Your dear Mary suspected something might be up once you received a letter."


"Did she now?" Zona grumbled as she placed her umbrella back and the pair moved to the kitchen.


Dr. Livingstone stood, a broad smile on his lips, "Ah, Ms. Whitlock, so good to observe you up and about."


Zona smiled as she clasped his hands in greeting. She found herself quite fond of the doctor. Zachariah would have enjoyed his company as well. Ephraim pulled back her seat and after she sat, moved to his seat across the table.


Mary poured Zona some tea, fixing it as she preferred. Neither woman spoke; Zona sighed in relief. The last thing she wanted was to be dressed down in front of them. Worry flooded her as she studied the two men.


They wore their exhaustion like badges, but Zona could see cracks forming. She sipped her tea and waited.


"We have been discussing pulling back...a retreat if you will," Dr. Livingstone said, his eyes on Ephraim while he spoke. Zona studied the doctor before glancing at Ephraim's grim expression. He seemed embarrassed and angry with the statement, leading her to believe he was its originator.


"To what end?"


"To save the lives of the doctor...and yourself," Ephraim said his voice level as he fidgeted with his teacup.


Zona leaned forward, her eyes flaring with emotion, "And what of the others? The casualties of Mr. Cook's pardon Mr. Whitlock's actions."


"I don't know," Ephraim mumbled. He stared blankly ahead.


"Well, I have something here that just might help ease your mind Mr. Godwin," she said as she placed the letter in the center of the table. Ephraim stared at it, but made no move to pick it up. After a long pause, Livingstone opened it and read it aloud.


Ephraim stood and paced around the kitchen, forcing Mary to either march in front of him or leave the room. Zona smiled as she watched her lady's-maid storm out. Livingstone rose an eyebrow at Zona before moving his attention to Ephraim.


"Any ideas?" the doctor asked. Zona shook her head and frowned. Her planning went no farther than sneaking out, suddenly grateful that Hill stopped her from leaving.


"I'll need a map, but obviously we are meant to walk down Mile End," Ephraim said, pumping his fist at the table. He wore a crooked smirk, and his eyes shone with a battle lust that took Zona's breath.


"Let's send Hill for the inspector," Zona said as she rose. "I will secure a map, and we can plan while we wait."


The front door opened and Hill appeared. The doctor and Ephraim exchanged looks.


"That was fast."


Hill appeared confused, "What was?"


"I didn't think Ms. Whitlock had time to summon you."


"She didn't," Hill said his face reflecting the room's confusion.


"Then why are you here?" Zona asked as she reentered the room. Their conversation had floated through the house, and she tired of waiting for the constable to disclose his reason without prompting.


"Oh...right," Hill said with a sheepish look and wide eyes. "Two messages arrived; almost on top of one another...the inspector is on his way with a carriage. A Mr. Whitlock has been spotted getting on a ship to France. He is requesting your help in the matter."


"By Jove," Livingstone exclaimed as he stood. "There might be time to catch the scoundrel no matter what the note claims."


"You said two messages," Zona reminded Hill as he got caught up in Livingstone's excitement.


"Oh yes," Hill said as he rummaged in his pocket for a moment before producing a folded envelope. He held it out to Ephraim who studied the paper as if a viper. He took it gingerly and held it flat.


"Well?" Zona asked, his actions enhancing her intrigue.


His face showed no emotion, but flashes of something Zona couldn't place danced across his eyes. Anger, disappointment, apprehension; she struggled to recognize which was strongest as they all seemed to be there.


He tore open the envelope, removed a single slip of folded paper, and read the letter without commentary. Zona slid next to the doctor, hoping to get a better look at the letter without invading Ephraim's space.


"It's my brother, Samuel," Ephraim said after reading. "He's been in an accident, and I am being summoned back home."


Zona stepped closer; her hand hovered before she placed it on his forearm. She offered him a reassuring squeeze. And he nodded his thanks.


"Doctor," he said, his voice heavy with emotion, "will you be so inclined to join me? I would much appreciate a medical man's opinion in case the situation is worse than the letter presents...after this Mr. Whitlock situation of course."


"But of course," Livingstone responded with a head bob.


Loud banging on the front door grabbed their attention, and they hurried to the front. Zona stared at the back of Ephraim's head, she would give him an hour, and then if he hadn't asked her to join also...well, she guaranteed Ephraim Godwin would rue the day.

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