Farewell and Finding Peace

Dear Reader, I have tried so hard lately not to be the second Bernice! I threw myself into my lessons with Professor Eberhart last night, and while he said I did very well heating the water (it almost boiled! indeed, bubbles rose up from the bottom of the glass, and I could feel the warmth when I wrapped my hands around it) and even better cooling it (that practice glass was filled with solid ice, after a lot of concentration) I still was not satisfied with myself. I begged to stay later, and he agreed. I succeeded in moving the water from one cup to the other, but then he sent me to bed. Tonight we are to work on controlling the water so that it moves almost of its own accord from one glass to another. Apparently last night I was just moving it as I had done with the other objects, but I need to learn how to tell the water to move, rather than moving it myself. It doesn't make much sense to me, but I shall try my best.

Even after as hard as I had pushed myself last night, and as exhausted as I felt in body, my mind would still not let me sleep. I lay awake for over an hour, my mind whirring from one subject to the next. That is when the second Bernice came through, pushing the first Bernice--the logical, structured one--to the side. I wondered how long I would stay at the Academy, mostly useless and mostly bored but for my lessons at night with the professor. I worried about how useful I would be in the coming war (though Professor Eberhart refuses to call it a war, instead saying "conflict"). I thought about the awkward goodbye between me and Captain Winters, which was not at all like I thought it would be, had I imagined meeting him even a month ago. And I went over and over the time I spent with Zebediah--Mr. Miller!--yesterday.

I suppose I should say a few words about my parting from Captain Winters. He left just after breakfast, as I wrote yesterday. As he brought very little with him, he had little to pack, and stood at the front doors with a sack over his shoulder. (He had worn his mustache and kept his hair dark all the time we'd been at the school, in case anyone should recognize him; I am sure it will please him to go back to normal once he boards his ship again.) Professor Eberhart and I were there to bid him farewell, and we both wished him the best. Then he turned and went away, intending to walk to town where he could catch a carriage for wherever he was meeting his ship.

I thought that was it, but after a minute, something made me run down the pathway after him. "Jack!" I called, then caught myself. "Captain Winters," I panted, coming upon him as he turned around. "Forgive me," I said, still a little out of breath. "I..." What did I want to say, after all? "Thank you. For... Well, you have taught me... many things about the war, and about your part in it. About all our parts, really. I... I see things differently now. And I apologise for... for acting as I did, before. It was foolish of me, and I beg you accept my apology." I curtseyed and kept my eyes downcast.

He didn't say anything for a moment, and I began to get nervous, but then I looked up and he spoke. "I am glad to have enlightened you," he said, sounding neither kind nor stern. Then, sounding a little kinder, he added, "And I am glad that you have admitted it. You have changed since I first met you, Miss Gardener. I know your Gift will flourish under Professor Eberhart's tutelage, and I think you will be an asset to our cause."

Dear Reader, I hardly think I have received such high praise in all my life! I felt a bit of faintness, and feared I would swoon as I had upon meeting Captain Winters (even in the disguise and shabby clothes, his eyes are still almost the prettiest I have ever seen), but I took a deep breath and was all right, then. "Thank you," I managed to breathe, feeling butterflies knocking about inside my chest.

"Farewell, Miss Gardener," he said. He made me a little bow, then turned and was on his way. And that is probably the last I shall ever see of Captain Jack Winters of the Grand Tourbillion.

Goodness, now I hardly feel that I can write about Mr. Miller. Dear Reader, I would never confess this to another living soul, but the same butterflies I felt when I bid Captain Winters goodbye began fluttering within my ribcage when I was around Mr. Miller. I do not know what to think of this! I know that my infatuation with Captain Winters was silly and childish, and that I was in love with the idea of him which had been presented to me in articles and novels and sequential picture books, not the man himself (which I realize I do not know hardly at all, even after spending days on end near him).

If that is true, and I know it to be so, then my feelings for Mr. Miller must be the same, yes? Silly and not based in reality, as I met him under dire circumstances and befriended him out of necessity. For I feel the same faintness, the same nervousness, the same heat in my palms and on my cheeks, around Mr. Miller as I did, upon occasion, around Captain Winters. My heart pounds so hard that at times, I can feel my pulse in my throat and the back of my head. It becomes more difficult to speak, but it is worse with Mr. Miller as I feel I must fill the silence with words! And so I fear I end up sounding like a complete idiot when I do speak.

We have taken to strolling the grounds morning and evening as we used to do on the Erebos. I do not know why. I was only aboard that ship for a handful of days, and it had been more than a week since last I saw him, which one would think would be enough time to forget a habit. But when I returned to the parlour after bidding the captain farewell, Mr. Miller was still there, sitting by the fire. He jumped to his feet when I entered, but I bid him sit, as I had only returned for the sewing I had left the night before. (I felt horrid sitting around doing nothing most of the day, so I begged the housekeeper, whose name I finally learnt was Mrs. Dogwood, to give me something useful to do day before yesterday. Miss P___ would be proud, as I have sat for the last two days patiently hemming sheets with as small and neat of stitches as I can manage.) I meant to take the sewing to my room, but Mr. Miller asked if I would stay. For the sake of keeping each other company, I agreed.

We sat for some time in silence, I sewing and he staring into the fire, but at length I asked if he would not like something to read. The school had quite a nice library, I had been told, though I had not yet ventured there. (I did not admit that it was because I was afraid of running into those awful girls again.) He only shook his head, but nodded in thanks for the suggestion. Then I asked if his shoulder was feeling better. He nodded, but I noticed tension around his mouth and eyes and thought it must still pain him, though I did not ask.

At length, I tired of sewing and wished to stretch my legs. As I put my things away and rose, it occurred to me that it would be only polite to ask him to join me, and so we agreed to meet at the front door in a few minutes' time. This proved rather silly, as our rooms were just down the hall from one another, so he ended up walking me to my door. Instead of going straight to the front door after I got my coat and gloves, I simply waited in the corridor, where he joined me a minute later. Sufficiently bundled up, we headed out of doors, and then to the path which curled around the entirety of the grounds.

The school is bordered on two sides by a forest; on the third, there is a cricket pitch with a field beyond it, and on the fourth side runs the road which leads into Reliance. We are not so far from town that, when it is clear and still, sounds of carriages and shouts cannot be heard, but we are sufficiently removed for town not to be a bother. "Much more refreshing than a dozen turns around a ship, isn't it?" I asked after a while, and he nodded. I suddenly thought it stupid of me to have brought up the Erebos, but then noticed he did not look particularly troubled at its mention. "Do you miss it?" I asked hesitantly. He shook his head without a moment's thought. That at least was a relief.

There were a handful of students out on the grounds, most of them merely taking the air as we were, but a few of the boys seemed to be playing keep-away, making one of the younger boys scream. I was not worried about being seen, however; Professor Eberhart had told me he spread the story that I was his niece, come to visit him as my parents were very ill, and I had been sent away that I might be spared. I have not yet heard if there is a "story" about Mr. Miller; I should ask the professor tonight.

The sky looked like snow yesterday on our morning walk, and indeed has continued grey and heavy-looking, but nothing has happened yet. The dirt beneath our feet was packed hard, and the lawn all around was mostly dead, though there was a bit of greenery around the school building itself in shrubs and little evergreen bushes, as well as in the forest. All was quiet, but for the occasional shout from one of the boys, and we circled the whole of the grounds before returning to our rooms. We parted with a smile in the hallway (and the butterflies returned for a time), and did not see each other until lunch time. We took another walk before supper, while the sun was still up, then dined together, after which I saw the professor. This morning, our walk was mostly the same: quiet, peaceful, and almost comfortable but for the jumping around of my heart every time Mr. Miller cleared his throat, or accidentally let his coat sleeve brush mine. It is most infuriating, being slave to my pulse when all I am trying to do is take a walk with a friend!

It is a very odd friendship, that I admit. We almost never speak, yet somehow we communicate what we need to. I know almost nothing about him, and he knows little about me. Other than writing letters back and forth, I do not know how to rectify that. And at any moment, something could happen to part us again. Bellclaire could show up in the Erebos and take me to Mr. Bergstrom, or shoot Mr. Miller in retaliation for his desertion, or any number of terrible things! Yet I try not to think of all that on our walks, and instead ponder peaceful things like the sound of our footsteps almost--but not quite--in time, or how pretty the forest is at sunset. I feel at ease, then. The best part is that I do not feel like one Bernice or the other. I am not trying to be logical and steadfast and loyal to my country, nor am I worrying about silly temporal things. I simply.... am. And it is nice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bernice, I am so glad that your illumination is progressing so rapidly, it must be very exciting and I think that you are doing an excellent job describing what must be so hard to put into words. It's wonderful that you had a good parting with Mr. Winters.... you can truly say that you know him better than most people in the world, truly know him.

Have a grand day!

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