I sat in the drawing room, staring into a smoldering fire. The house was quiet, save the distant rumbles and creaking floorboards overhead. I’d been in the room a dozen, probably hundreds of times before, but now it was different. Death occupied the house, and as I glanced out the window there was no sign of the fine spring day I had left outside.
I had longed to befriend him; his Lyrical Ballads meant a great deal to me. I first met Coleridge, who in turn introduced me to William, and we became immediate friends. I am of course speaking of William Wordsworth, in case you were in doubt.
I was startled from my thoughts as footsteps entered the room. I stood from my chair and approached William’s sister.
“How is he, my dear Dorothy?”
“Oh, Mr. de Quincy, I fear…” Her eyes lowered as emotion overcame her. I knew then, what I had feared all along, my dear friend was dying.
Dorothy gently touched my hand, and then stepped outside for some fresh air. It would be hardest on her. Harder than his wife, harder than anyone else. Dorothy loved William more than anyone else in the world, and he her. It would be hardest on her.
I watched Dorothy meander through the gardens. The sound of approaching footsteps drew me from my observation. I turned as William’s wife approached me.
“He would like to speak with you – alone.” I nodded.
“There isn’t much time, much time at all.” She turned her head to the side and sniffed away her tears. “You ought to see him now. Be strong, you must be strong, for William.”
I passed the physician on the way upstairs. I didn’t look at him, or utter a word. My heart was pounding too loudly.Each step toward his chamber seemed like eternity. I felt like twenty years passed in seconds. When I reached his closed door, I felt as if I might be an old man.
I didn’t knock; instead, I gently parted the door, which hadn’t been closed all the way. I stared at my friend, lying flat on his back in bed, or what I knew to be my friend. I could see the life had nearly left him, and a shell of a man, as white as a ghost, was left behind. I had seen death before, as had William. We both witnessed Coleridge’s decline, and his terrible end, which affected both my life and work. William’s passing would wound me greater. I admired William as if he were my own father, though loved him twice as much.
I approached his bed on my toes, fearful of any noise harming him further. As I stood beside him, he opened his eyes, turning them in my direction.
“My dear Thomas,” he murmured weakly, “dear, dear Thomas.”
“William, do not speak, you need your strength to recover.” I said these words, as one was required to speak of recovering when one is gravely ill, even when it was obvious a recovery was impossible.
“But I must!” He said with all his strength, prompting a coughing attack. “I must, I must. I cannot leave his earth without giving you something.”
“You have given me much. Friendship, inspiration, and…”
“This is my last gift to you.” He said, as he extended a shaky hand to me. I swiftly grasped his hand, and realized within was a key.
“A key?” I questioned.
“It is yours, my friend. It is…” He paused with a cough. “It is yours to keep.”
I examined the key now in the palm of my hand. “What is it for?”
“You must know I did it for her. It was how she wanted it, and because of my love for her I did as she wished.”
“Who? What are you talking about?”
A coughing fit followed, worse than any I had witnessed before. He rose up, then collapsed back on the bed. The physician rushed into the room as I was ushered out without a response to my questions. He was not to be bothered again, the physician warned. Still, I lingered some twenty minutes longer outside his chamber, hoping I could speak to him further. My hopes were dashed when I learned the physician had given William a hearty dose of potent elixir, prompting immediate slumber.
The left the house with a feeling. I feared my friend would be dead before nightfall.
I was silent during his funeral. I didn’t like to be right about death, but like I said I’d seen it before and knew when it was coming. My mind was so preoccupied by the key in my pocket, and its meaning, I didn’t hear the words spoken over his body, or the cries surrounding me. I didn’t know what the key meant, and feared it was simply the madness of a dying man, and held no significance whatsoever. Still, I kept patting my pocket to assure it was safe.
An hour later, I was sitting at the Wordworth’s cottage with a cup of tea upon my lap. Conversations were about me, though I didn’t hear a word anyone said. It was all the same anyway. Lost a great mind, etcetera, etcetera, sentiments we all felt. I did notice the expression of shock on Dorothy’s face. How will she do it, I wondered. How on earth will she survive without him?
A few moments later, Dorothy stood and made her way toward the door. I watched as she walked outside, and down a garden path –the same path I had walked myself hundreds of times. I was sure she was headed toward the swing William had built for her years earlier.
I stood, with the intention of joining Dorothy outside, when William’s wife approached me.
“We must speak,” she said.
I followed her into the library. She turned her back on me, took something from the bookshelves, and turned back around with a wooden box in her hands.
“William wanted me to give this to you. He didn’t tell me what was in it, only that you were to have it.”
I accepted the box from her, and attempted to open it, yet it was locked. I suddenly remembered the key in my pocket, and as my nerves heightened in anticipation, I at once realized its purpose.
I thanked her, and eagerly returned to the inn I had been lodged for the past two days. There, in the privacy of my rented quarters, I opened the box. Inside, I found a book, and upon opening realized it was no ordinary book. It was in fact Wordsworth’s Diary.
I returned to the house a day later. I hadn’t slept all night, nor eaten a bit since I left the house the day before. One might suppose I was weak, though I was not. Something was coursing through me. I think it might have been disbelief, or perhaps sorrow. I was saddened by burden of my departed friend.
I didn’t knock, but instead went directly to the garden, where I trusted Dorothy would be. My assumptions were correct as I found her swinging amongst the lilacs and hydrangeas.
She turned and looked at me, and I could see she had been crying. I approached her and took her hand in mind.
“Dear Dorothy.” I said softly.
She looked up at me from the swing with wide, tear-filled eyes. “I do not know how I will go on.” She said. “He was my world, you know. The only one who ever truly loved me.”
“And love you he did.” I sighed. “He left me something. Some may call it a gift, others a release of conscious. I myself do not know what to make of it.”
She looked at me quizzically. It was then that I revealed the book. She looked down at it in my hands, and at once took it from me. She thumbed through the pages, and then looked up at me.
“It was you, always you.” I told her. “He writes it was all you. You wrote everything. You were the one.”
“No, it’s not true.” She said with a discernable quiver in her lips. “I helped him, that was all. William was the poet, not I.” She glanced down at the diary in her hand. “This diary is simply the ramblings of a dying man.”
“You did it for him. You wanted it for him. It’s truly one of the most selfless acts I’ve ever heard of.”
She shook her head and stood from the swing. “No, you’re wrong, Mr. de Quincy, you’re very wrong, indeed.” She turned and walked away, with the diary in her hand.
I tried to reason why William would have given me the key. Perhaps, it was some sort of deathbed confession, a clearing of conscious before he left this earth. Perhaps, he knew I’d never tell a soul. Perhaps, I was the only one he could trust with his secret.
I don’t know what happened to the diary, though I must assume that Dorothy burned it, or perhaps buried it. It didn’t matter anyway. It was embedded in my brain, haunting me, and would until the day I died. Every time I closed my eyes, there it was, with its deliberate words and painful confessions. Wordsworth’s Diary.
Bio: Melissa Lowes has a degree in Literature, and an MFA in Creative Writing, during which she began a novel set during the Boer War. She has published several critical essays, and her short fiction has appeared in Skive Magazine and Orchard Press Mysteries. A California native, Melissa currently resides on the east coast with her husband and son.