This is the thirty-third part of a fiction serial, in 850 words.
In all the years that had passed since the birth of baby John, there had been no more children. Aileen suspected that was because Edward was spending too much time at the hospital, and not enough sleeping next to Verity. But it was never mentioned, so she didn’t ask about it. As she approached her eightieth birthday, she reflected on the events of the past twenty years, noting them in her journal in the spidery hand that had developed in her dotage.
Richard had died ten years earlier, still serving as a colonel in Yorkshire. He was taking the salute at morning parade, when he just keeled over on the parade ground. Edward hadn’t mourned a father he barely knew, but a funeral was arranged for interrment in the family plot in Essex, and he was buried in the presence of his remaining family, given full military honours for his long service.
Little John grew up preferring to be known by his familial name of Jack, and showed an interest in his father’s profession at an early age. He started to collect various specimens, which he stored in the summerhouse at the bottom of the garden. Delighting in telling Aileen, who he called grandmother, about the various dead birds, cats, and assorted wildlife that he dissected, and kept in jars of alcohol. She pretended interest, but it secretly gave her an uneasy feeling. The boy was growing up with no friends, and the day school he attended in London seemed to give him little outlet for his biological obsessions.
That same year, in June, news arrived from India of a terrible rebellion. Indian troops serving in the British Army there had rebelled against the British who ruled the country. The newspapers were full of lurid stories of betrayal and murder, and the white soldiers were under siege in many of the towns and cities. This worried Aileen, for George was still serving there, and he was close to sixty years old. Though they rarely heard from him, they knew he was a major in an infantry regiment, and based in a place called Lucknow.
It took until early the next year for the news to reach them that George had been killed there. His place of burial was unknown, and although Edward did not remember him, and Verity knew little of him, Aileen cried for the relative she also hardly knew. More than ever, she was aware that Edward and Jack were now all that remained of the Dakin family. Despite their wealth, the Dakins had been unable to escape the natural problems of life, and the effects of world events.
Jack’s marriage before Christmas was a hurried affair, and unexpected. Aileen lived long enough to meet his bride, the painfully thin and aloof Jemima Loe.
It was one of the two maids who found Aileen. Dead in her sleep, at the age of eighty, not far off her eighty-first birthday. Edward mourned her as if she had been his mother, and fulfilled her written instructions that she wished to be buried in Edinburgh. She had purchased a plot some years earlier, and mentioned her wishes to both Verity and Edward. So great was the esteem in which she was held, that the whole family took time to make the long and tiring trip to Scotland, accompanying her body.
For Verity, the loss of Aileen was significant. With George always at the hospital, and her son Jack following his father into medical studies, choosing The London Hospital in Whitechapel, she spent so much time alone, that she wondered what to do with herself. She had taken to gardening, and on the advice of the gardener, had ordered the building of two greenhouses in which to cultivate exotic species of plants. As the year turned, she sheltered inside from the cold, and thought about how she seemed to exist almost alone, save for the servants. Jack’s wife Jemima rarely appeared outside of her room, not even to take meals with the family.
When someone arrived from Saint Bartholemew’s, asking to see her, she was perplexed. She told the butler to tell him that her husband was not at home. He returned to say that it was her the man wanted to speak to, not Edward. So she reluctantly went down to the Morning Room. The man’s eyes were downcast, and he gripped his hat and shuffled his feet as he spoke. Edward Dakin had complained of a severe headache during surgery that morning, and had withdrawn from a delicate operation, leaving the rest to one of his juniors. He was found dead in his consulting room an hour later, and it was believed to have been a great brain seizure that had taken his life.
Verity thanked the man, and arranged for word to be sent to The London Hospital, to inform Jack of the news, and ask him to return home. She didn’t bother to disturb Jemima, as she had never liked the young woman anyway.
Retiring to her room that afternoon, Verity cried herself to sleep, wondering where her son was.