Authors: Hanya Yanagihara
“Very well, thank you.”
“It is very good of you to come teach my children. You know they are very fond of you.”
“And I of them.”
“I came to bring you this,” Matron said, and drew from her pocket
a thin white envelope, which he took and nearly dropped when he saw the handwriting.
“Yes, it is from
” she said, witheringly, spitting out Edward’s name. “He has at last deigned to return to us, it seems.” In the weeks since Edward’s disappearance, Matron had been David’s only, unlikely, and unwitting ally, the sole person in David’s life who was as interested in Edward’s whereabouts as he was. Her motivations for recovering him, however, were rather different—Edward, she had confided in David when he had finally forced himself to ask her, had begged her for leave because of an emergency in his family; he was to return to class on February twenty-second, but that date had passed and there had been no word from him, and Matron was finally forced to terminate the class altogether.
(“I believe his mother, who lives in New England, is very ill,” Matron had said, sounding put out by the fact of the ill mother.
“I believe he is an orphan,” David had ventured, after a pause. “I believe it was his sister who had had a baby?”
Matron stopped and considered this. “I’m fairly certain he had said his mother,” she said. “I would not have given leave for a baby. But, well,” she said, softening—at some point in every interaction with David, she would visibly recall that he was her school’s patron and would adjust her voice and manners accordingly—“perhaps I am mistaken. Goodness knows there are people telling me things about their lives and difficulties all day long and I am simply unable to keep track of every last detail. He said she was in Vermont, is she not? There are three sisters?”
“Yes,” he’d said, relief filling him. “Exactly.”)
“When did you receive this?” he asked, faintly, wanting both to sit down and for Matron to leave, immediately, so he could tear into the letter.
“Yesterday,” Matron huffed. “He came by—the nerve!—to ask for his final payment, and I gave him a piece of my mind as well; told him how he had disappointed the children, how selfish he’d been, taking off and not returning when he promised he would. And he said—”
David interrupted her. “Matron, I’m very sorry,” he said, “but I really must leave; I’ve an appointment I mustn’t be late for.”
Matron drew herself very straight, her dignity clearly injured. “Of course, Mister Bingham,” she said. “I certainly wouldn’t want to inconvenience
. I shall see
at least next week.”
It was only a few meters from the front of the school to his hansom, but he was unable to wait even that long, and he opened the letter directly on the front steps, nearly dropping it again, his fingers trembling from the cold and the anticipation.
My dearest David—
March 5, 1894
What must you think of me. I am so ashamed, so embarrassed, so deeply, profoundly apologetic. I can only say that my silence was not by choice, and that I thought of you every minute of every hour of every day. It was all I could do, upon my return yesterday, to not throw myself onto the steps of your house at Washington Square and wait for you to beg your forgiveness, but I was unsure of how I might be received.
I am unsure now, as well. But if you will give me the privilege of attempting to make my amends to you, I beg you to come by the boardinghouse, anytime.
Until then, I remain—
Your loving Edward
There was no choice for him. He sent the hansom driver home with a message for his grandfather saying he was meeting Charles Griffith that night, and then, turning and wincing from the lie, he watched the driver round the corner before he began running, not caring about the spectacle he made. His potential embarrassment now meant nothing against the promise of seeing Edward once more.
At the boardinghouse, he was let in by the same whey-faced maid, and hurried up the flights of stairs. It was only at the final landing that he hesitated, aware that beneath his excitement lurked another set of sensations as well: doubt, confusion, anger. But it was not enough to deter him, and even before he’d finished knocking, the door was opening, and Edward was in his arms, kissing him wherever he could, as eager as a pup, and David in turn felt his earlier misgivings disappear, swept away by happiness and relief.
But when he managed to hold Edward at arm’s length, he noticed his face: his right eye blackened, his bottom lip split and seamed with dried blood. “Edward,” he said, “my dear Edward! Whatever is this?”
“This,” said Edward, almost pertly, “is one of the reasons I was unable to write you,” and after they were able to calm themselves, he began to explain what had happened on his ill-fated visit to his sisters.
In the beginning, Edward said, all went well. His trip was uneventful, if bitterly cold, and he detoured to Boston to spend three nights visiting some old family friends before continuing onward to
Burlington. There, he was greeted by his three sisters: Laura, who was soon to deliver her baby; Margaret; and of course Belle, visiting from New Hampshire. Laura and Margaret, who were close in age and in everything else, shared a large wooden house, with each sister and her respective husband occupying a different floor, and Belle was settled in Laura’s section and Edward in Margaret’s.
Margaret left in the mornings to her schoolhouse, but Laura and Belle and Edward spent the days talking and laughing, admiring the tiny sweaters and blankets and socks Laura and Margaret and their husbands had knitted, and when Margaret returned in the afternoon, they sat before the fire and talked of their parents, and their memories of growing up together, while Laura’s and Margaret’s husbands—Laura’s husband, a teacher as well; Margaret’s, an accountant—completed the chores the sisters would normally have done themselves so that they might have more time with one another.
(“I of course told them about you,” Edward said.
“Oh?” he asked, flattered. “What did you say?”
“I said I had met a beautiful, brilliant man, and that I missed him already.”
David found himself blushing with pleasure, but said only, “Go on.”)
Six days into this blissful visit, Laura gave birth to a healthy baby, a boy, whom she named Francis, after their father. This was the first child born to the Bishop siblings, and they all rejoiced as if he were their own. It had been planned that Edward and Belle would stay for an additional two or so weeks, and despite Laura’s exhaustion, they were content: There were six adults to dote on one baby. But being together, the four of them, after such a long time, made them think as well of their parents, and on more than one occasion there were tears as they discussed how much their mother and father had sacrificed on their behalf to give them better lives in the Free States, and how, whatever their disappointments, they would be so pleased to see their children together.
(“We were all so busy that I scarcely had time to do anything else,” said Edward, before David could ask him why he’d not
written. “I thought of you always; I began a hundred letters to you in my head. And then the baby would cry, or there would be milk to heat, or I would need to help my brothers-in-law with the chores—I’d no idea how much labor one small baby could generate!—and any time in which I might have set pen to paper would vanish.”
“But why did you not write me with your sisters’ address, at least?” he asked, hating himself for the tremor in his voice.
I can only attribute to my idiocy—I was certain,
that I had given it to you before I left. In fact, I thought it very peculiar that
at all; every day, when one of my sisters came in with the post, I would ask if there was something from you, but there never was. I cannot tell you how sorrowful it made me: I feared you had forgotten me.”
“As you can see, I had not,” he murmured, trying to keep the petulance from his voice as he indicated the embarrassingly fat bundle of letters that the maid had tied with twine and which now sat, unread, on the trunk at the foot of Edward’s bed. But Edward, once again anticipating David’s injury, put his arms around him. “I saved them in hopes I might see you and be able to explain my absence in person,” he said. “And then, after you had forgiven me—as I so desperately hoped, and hope, you will—that we might read them together, and you could tell me everything you were feeling and thinking when you wrote them, and it would be as if our time apart had never happened, and we had been together always.”)
After almost a fortnight, Edward and Belle prepared to leave; they would go to Manchester, where Edward would stay with his sister for several days before finally making his way back to New York. But when they reached Belle’s home, Belle calling out for her husband as they entered the front door, they were greeted only with silence.
At first, they were unconcerned. “He must still be at the clinic,” Belle said, cheerfully, and sent Edward up to the spare room while she went to the kitchen to make them something to eat. But when Edward came back downstairs, he found her standing immobile in the middle of the room, looking at the table, and when she turned to look at him, her face was very white.
“He is gone,” she said.
“What do you mean, he is gone?” Edward asked her, but as he looked about him, he noticed that the kitchen had not been occupied for at least a week: The hearth was blackened and cold, the dishes and kettles and pots dry and traced with a light layer of dust. He seized the note Belle held and saw it was in his brother-in-law’s hand, apologizing to her and telling her he was unworthy, but he had left to make a life with another.
“Sylvie,” Belle whispered. “Our maid. She’s not here, either.” She swooned, and Edward caught her before she could fall, and helped her into bed.
How upsetting the next few days were! Poor Belle vacillated between silence and weeping, and Edward sent word to their sisters to inform them of the unhappy news. He stormed down to his brother-in-law Mason’s clinic, but both of his nurses claimed ignorance; he even went to report Mason’s absence to the police, but they said they were unable to involve themselves in domestic affairs. “But this is no mere domestic affair,” Edward cried. “This man has abandoned his wife, my sister, a good and faithful woman and spouse, stealing away while she was attending to her pregnant sister in Vermont. He must be found and brought to justice!” The police were sympathetic but claimed powerlessness, and with each day, Edward felt his anger rise, along with his sense of despair—seeing his sister staring mutely into the empty hearth, her hair twisted sloppily into a bun, kneading her hands and wearing the same wool dress she’d worn for the past four days, made him ever-more aware of his impotence, and ever-more determined to, if not recover his beloved little sister’s husband, then to at least avenge her.
And then, one night, he was out at the local tavern, drinking a cider and thinking of his sister’s predicament, when who should he see walk in but Mason.
(“He looked the same as ever,” Edward replied to David’s question. “I realized then that I had thought that if I saw him again he would look somehow transformed, as if his poor character and caddish ways would somehow have announced themselves on his countenance. But they had not. Thank goodness he was not with that girl, Sylvie, or I’d not have been able to do what I did.”)
He’d no plan when he stalked over to Mason, but just as he could see his brother-in-law recognizing him, Edward drew back his fist and walloped Mason in the cheek. Mason, once he’d recovered from his initial shock, responded, but their tussle was quickly ended by a number of the other patrons, who separated them—though, Edward noted with some satisfaction, not before he was able to tell them of his erstwhile brother-in-law’s despicable behavior.
“Manchester is a small place,” he said. “Everyone knows everyone else, and Mason is not the only doctor in town. His reputation will never recover, and why should it, for he has damaged his own prospects by his poor behavior.”
Belle, Edward said, expressed horror at his actions—and, indeed, Edward was remorseful as well: not for assaulting Mason but because his confrontation brought her further pain and embarrassment—but, he ventured to think, she was also secretly pleased. The two engaged in a long conversation the following day, after Belle had cleaned his face and sutured his lip (“I do not mean to boast, but I’m certain Mason got the worst of it, though I also must admit that throwing punches wasn’t the wisest recourse, given my profession”), and agreed that Belle could not stay in either Manchester—where Mason’s entire extended family lived—or the marriage. Laura and Margaret had already sent first a telegram and then a letter urging Belle to come live with them in Vermont—there was plenty of room in their house, and Belle, who, David would recall, was trained as a nurse, would be able to find good work there. But Belle was reluctant to interfere in such a joyous and busy time for Laura, and besides, she confided in Edward, she yearned for some quiet, some time and room to think. And so the siblings decided that Belle would accompany Edward to Boston, where he would once again stay for several nights in the home of their family friends before at last returning to New York. Belle was very fond of these friends, and they of her, and there she would be able to consider her options more calmly: She would divorce Mason, that was certain, but whether she would stay in Manchester or perhaps join her sisters in Vermont was undetermined.
“So you see,” Edward concluded, “the trip was by no means what
I’d anticipated, and every good intention I had vanished in the face of Belle’s difficulties. It was wrong of me—so
wrong of me—not to communicate with you, but I was so consumed with my sister’s struggles that I neglected everything else. It was terrible of me, I know—but I hope you can understand. Please tell me you forgive me, dear David. Please tell me you do.”
Did he? He both did and didn’t—he felt for Belle, of course, and yet, in his selfishness, he could not but persist in thinking that Edward might have found time to jot him even the briefest of notes; even that Edward
to have, because if he had confided in him, he might have been able to help somehow.
was unclear—but he would have liked the opportunity to try.
Though to say any of this would have been too childish, too small. So “Of course,” he told Edward. “My poor Edward. Of course I forgive you,” and was rewarded with a kiss.
But Edward’s story was not yet finished. By the time they arrived at their friends’, the Cookes, Belle was already much calmer, more resolved, and Edward knew that a few days with them would steady her further. The Cookes, Susannah and Aubrey, were a married couple a little older than Margaret; Susannah, herself a Colony escapee, had lived with her parents in the building next to the Bishops’, and she and her siblings and Edward and his had grown up as great friends. Now she and her husband owned a small textile factory in Boston and lived in a handsome new house near the river.
Edward was pleased to see the Cookes again, not least because Susannah and Belle were so fond of each other, with Susannah assuming the role of a third elder sister—the two would repair to Belle’s room and talk late into the night, while Edward and Aubrey remained in the parlor playing chess. On the fourth evening of their visit, though, Aubrey and Susannah told the Bishop siblings that they wished to speak to them about an important matter, and so, after dinner, they all retired to the parlor together, and the Cookes announced that they had important news.
A little more than a year ago, the couple had been contacted by a Frenchman with whom they had traded over the years, and who
presented them with an irresistible proposal: to establish California as the New World’s preeminent silk-growing region. The Frenchman, Étienne Louis, had already secured a lot of nearly five thousand acres north of Los Angeles, planted almost a thousand trees, and established nurseries that could house tens of thousands of worms and eggs. Eventually, the farm would become its own self-sustaining colony: Already, Louis was employing the first of what was anticipated to be one hundred people expert in various aspects of the silk-making process, from tending the trees to feeding the worms to harvesting the cocoons to, of course, spinning and then weaving the silk itself. The workers would be, for the most part, Chinamen—many left indolent after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, unable either to return home or, due to the laws of ’92, to bring over their families from the Orient. An alarming number had fallen into destitution, depravity, and opium addiction, among other unsavory activities—the Cookes and Louis would need to pay them only a pittance; the city of San Francisco, where most of them lived, was even helping Louis find likely candidates that he might convince to come south. The plan was that the colony would begin its operations in the early fall.
The Bishop siblings took nearly as much excitement from the Cookes’ announcement as the Cookes did in the telling. It was, they all four agreed, a brilliant plan—the population in California was growing so rapidly, and there was so little organized textile industry, that they were certain of a handsome return. Everyone knew the sort of money a clever and industrious person could make in the West, and the Cookes were not just one clever and industrious person but two. They were bound for success. It was a cheering development, made more so after a difficult week.
But this was not the only surprise the Cookes had. For they intended to ask Belle and Edward to oversee their enterprise. “We were going to ask you anyway,” Susannah said. “You both and Mason. But now—and dear Belle, you will know I mean this with no malice—it seems providential. It is a new opportunity for you, a new life, a chance to begin again.”