When I look back to previous work, one of the things I notice is the personality traits my MCs seem to share.
It’s funny what kind of aspects of your own character come out when you’re writing. I always expected I would write something light-hearted, funny, easy, but my characters, no matter how hard I try, always seem to come out cynical and at least a little sarcastic.
Some say writers should let flow what feels natural, let their characters do their own thing. And I’ve read about writers who describe their characters’ stories as a journey of discovery both for them and the character. Just as you can’t know everything about a person, it’s impossible to really know everything about a character you’ve created and where they end up may surprise even you.
But I wonder, if it feels like your story is slipping out of your control and perhaps, veering off route and into a ditch, isn’t it time to step on the brakes and take a few steps back? Discipline or flow, that is the question.
Anyway, this chapter ended up longer than I thought, most likely because I have yet to process it through an intense editing session, but here’s the last part of chapter 3.
Sighing, she gave up the pretence of dignity and sat herself on a chair. “How long have we known each other, Mr. Arden?”
I shrugged. “Too long, evidently.”
“Quite. You were the only one who did not look at me with condescending eyes when I first came as a child bride.”
“Your family was destitute. Mr. Hastings was comparatively well-off. You did what was needed.”
“Exactly. And you have never judged me that.”
“If it is any consolation, it’s been done many times among high society.”
“But they have their titles and their bloodlines to hide behind. I did not even have the dignity of a husband who loved me.” Ah yes. Mr. Hastings had infamously died in the bed of his mistress…while wearing a corset. Ahem.
“Would love have made a difference?”
“…No. I suppose not.” She smiled sadly at me. “But if you were any sort of rake, you would have turned this conversation into quite a seduction.” Madeline was young and beautiful and there were many men who gladly prostrated themselves for her slippers to step on, young men who talked of flowers and song and conducted awful poems that no one should be subjected to. Fanciful men. I had been called many names that were unfit in mixed company, but fanciful was never one of them. “I am not a rake. I am simply, a lapidary.” I gave her a sharp smile. “And a very good one at that.”
“Also, not modest.” She laughed, but it was harsh. “I don’t understand why I keep trying.” “Neither do I.” Loneliness was an insipid thing, slithering under all defenses and lodging into your spine until it felt like all your strength was sapped away. I had so wanted myself to be consumed only by the need for revenge. If there was even the slight hesitation, I knew I would be defeated. But I had found to my disappointment that like my parents, I was only human. I had been lonely. And of course, I had reached out to another lonely creature and regretted it before the deed had been done. It was hurtful to Madeline, who had obviously adopted certain expectations, but I found I hated to look at her, a reminder that I had been weak. I could not be weak.
I had sacrificed too much to be weak at this stage.
She paused at her seat for a long while, then tilted her head up and it was as if the conversation never took place. “Mr. Moore wishes to take me to the theatre tonight. I hear there is a lovely, passionate rendition of a play which I can’t remember the name of.”
I knew Mr. Moore. Mr. Moore was a clerk at a money-lending business. A young buck who wasn’t known for treating ladies all that well. Rumor was that he’d left a girl at the altar once. “I hope you enjoy yourself.” I said mildly.
Her smile was thin enough to cut into flesh. “Thank you. Perhaps I will find the passion I have been missing.”
The plight of women. Even as cynical as she was, she wished for love. It prompted me to ask, “Why do you not approach Kenneth?” Kenneth would treat her like a queen. He was solid, dependable and possibly to certain young women, as exciting as an old shoe. But Madeline would not be looking for excitement.
When she lifted green eyes to look at me, her gaze was clear and strong. “The Inspector is too good for me. And you, for people like us. I would that he remain so, without a taint on his soul.” I couldn’t argue with that.
In a way, Madeline Hastings reminded me of myself. We were both people who had been targeted by fate and just managed to survive by the skin of our teeth. But survival required a focus. And mine, at least, was most likely slowly killing me inside.
It didn’t matter.
It couldn’t matter. So long as I survived long enough to see the Company demolished, it would all matter to nothing.
I felt for Madeline. But she wanted something in me I couldn’t offer to anyone. And the worst of it was, she knew, but she couldn’t stop hoping. Hope was a vicious thing.
Much worse than any plague or sin could be. It was no wonder it was the last thing that came out of Pandora’s box. Rubbing my eyes, I went back into my lab. I looked at the small pile of gold shavings.
That boy, the murdered rent-boy must be known. The slums had a way of smelling soft flesh, sifting out the few people who at one time or another, had known something other than the bleak despair that was their life. If nothing else, there would have been people trying to take advantage of this boy who hadn’t known what it was like living day by day, filching, scrambling and screaming just to survive another day because it was all they could manage, all they had to look forward to. Death was a release, oblivion was preferable and even if the murderer hadn’t found the boy, he would likely have ended up dead soon enough. Still, there should be someone who would have spoken to him, possibly one who knew his name. I took the shavings, added a touch of this and a dash of this and watched it melt to a milky blue potion in a flood of purple bubbles. I closed the shop early, taking my hat and coat and set off to Fleet Street.