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Hearts Are Only Strangers After All

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“Did you hear that?”

Clarke turned her head quickly, frowning. She hadn’t heard a sound, but Miss Reyes had proven to be a most adept guide and Clarke trusted the woman’s instincts.

“I didn’t hear anything,” Wells said quietly, but Raven held her finger up, silencing him. The trio remained frozen as they listened for anything untoward.

For a moment, all was completely still.

Then, the distinctive sound of a pebble being crushed underfoot filtered through the corridor, in surprising proximity. Perhaps the run-down building was less abandoned than they had thought. Raven whispered hastily, “Quick, behind me,” ushering both her charges into place with one hand, while taking her gun out of the holster with the other.

Wells looked like he disagreed with his placement behind the two women, but had no time to argue before they were met by another group turning the corner.

Raven raised her gun at the group of five, carefully studying the man opposite her, but Clarke’s eyes immediately fell on the first in their party, and her breath stopped. The man was initially focused on the gun, but then he looked further and his expression changed entirely when their eyes met.

“Clarke?” he croaked hoarsely.

She could feel Wells and Raven’s eyes on her, but she paid them no notice. She was already moving, running, to embrace her husband.

Locking her arms around his neck, Clarke buried her face in his shoulder, breathing in his scent. Bellamy.

 


 

The Lady Clarke Griffin wed Mr. Bellamy Blake on a Saturday in June.

On the fourth Monday following, he left their home in London to attend to business in Arcadia. Although easily within a day’s journey, his sister’s residence in Polis nearby prompted him to stay with her for the duration, instead of travelling back and forth by train. He assured his wife he would return no later than three days hence, but when that Thursday arrived, all Clarke found waiting for her at lunchtime was a letter—and a short one at that.

Still, it included all the requisite details: an apology, a brief explanation of his extended absence, an intended location, and a vague return date. Clarke experienced some disappointment at the news, though much less than what may have been expected of a new bride. She was still learning about her husband’s field of work—the research and recovery of magical artefacts—but it seemed reasonable that something may have been urgent enough to require his immediate attention. Even if it was in another country. At any rate, Clarke had no reason to doubt the veracity of her husband’s letter.

His sister had a decidedly different opinion.

 

“And you just believed it?” Octavia scoffed down the phone.

Clarke bit her tongue at her sister-in-law’s gruff tone, reminding herself that even though it had been more than a week for her, the girl had only just learnt of her brother’s departure. Something that must have come as a surprise considering she had called to confirm her upcoming visit to London, which had apparently been discussed during his stay in Polis.

“I had no reason not to believe it,” Clarke defended. “Or the telegram he sent to confirm his arrival in France.”

“A telegram!” she exclaimed. “Bellamy doesn’t like telegrams, they’re too impersonal.”

“But they are very practical, considering the delay of international post,” Clarke said sensibly. “I still have them both, if you could hold, I can find it.”

“I’m low on change,” Octavia replied. “Can you call me back?”

Once she had rattled off the number of the public telephone box for Clarke to ring back, Clarke had barely wished her goodbye before the younger girl hung up. Clarke returned to the sitting room to scour her writing table for evidence of her husband’s communications, pleased with her habit of saving all correspondence. She had almost forgotten her guest until she saw him still waiting patiently, sat in the chair by the fireplace.

Her childhood friend, Mr. Wells Jaha, smiled. “Is everything all right?”

“I’m not certain,” Clarke admitted. “Blake’s younger sister, Mrs. Octavia Wood called. Apparently, when Blake was in Polis he invited Octavia and her daughter Aurora to visit us this weekend, but he never mentioned anything to me.”

“That is rather careless,” Wells said, frowning.

“It doesn’t seem like something he would do,” Clarke said truthfully. For all that she had only known her new husband for a few months before their wedding, there were some things about his character that she was certain of. “He is most considerate of his sister and niece. Octavia is a widow, and Blake is her only family. Blake had been staying with them, so I assumed he told her of his trip in person as he did not ask me to pass any messages on that he had gone to France. If his new business arose after he left her, I would have thought he’d send her a message to spare the child from making the journey at least.”

“True. Though I cannot speak to the man’s character from personal experience,” Wells said. He had not completed his work in America in time to return for the wedding, and this visit had originally been planned for him to be introduced to Clarke’s husband. “But Father seems to think well of him. Perhaps Mr. Blake sent his sister something from France and it has been misdirected?” he offered.

It was a possibility, Clarke supposed, but if he only had time to write one letter before setting sail, she found it far more likely he’d have written to his sister and asked her to pass on the message to his wife, whatever convention might dictate.

On finding the telegram and letter, the latter of which she had kept in its original envelope, Clarke took both out to the telephone in the hall. When she rang back, she read the letter to Octavia and the girl grumbled immediately.

“That was not written by Bellamy.”

Affronted, Clarke glared at the blank wall of the hallway in front of her. “We may not have been in correspondence before, but I do know his handwriting.”

Octavia clucked her tongue dismissively. “It may be his handwriting, but it’s not his words. It is not Bellamy’s style of writing at all.” The ‘You should know that,’ of her sentiment remained unsaid, but Clarke heard it loud and clear.

“I realise I do not have your years of knowledge of Blake’s writing style, but I don’t see how you can be so certain. He must have been rushed, so he did not have time to write more.”

“So why didn’t Bellamy find a way to call instead? And why didn’t he tell me not to visit, or mention to you that I was coming? Bellamy would have told at least one of us. And besides, when Bellamy left my house on Monday, he said he would go straight back to you. So, when exactly did Bellamy write that?” Clarke surmised that Octavia’s repeated use of her brother’s name was intentional to highlight her dislike of Clarke’s calling Blake by his last name. It was yet another piece of evidence to back up what Clarke had suspected from their first meeting, just days before her wedding: Octavia Wood did not approve of her brother’s marriage.

But any further musings on that would have to wait, as Octavia’s words prompted another revelation in Clarke’s mind.

“Did you say Monday?”

“Yes, Monday,” Octavia confirmed. “Is the line not clear?” she asked, tapping the receiver.

“Yes, that’s not— Blake told me he would stay at least two nights with you, possibly three.”

“That’s what we had planned, but his business in Arcadia concluded faster than he expected, so he didn’t need to have another meeting on Tuesday,” Octavia explained. “He came to my house for lunch after the meeting, but said he was going to go home instead of staying the night. That was why we arranged for me to come visit you in London so soon.”

“What time did he leave you?” Clarke said, turning the letter over in her hands before reaching for the envelope, which she had not previously studied in detail.

“Just after 3 o’clock. Definitely by half past.”

“You’re certain?”

“Yes. Bellamy said he wanted to make it back home for dinnertime, so he had to get the 4 o’clock train. Why does the time matter?”

“Because I only received this letter on Thursday. And,” Clarke said slowly, staring at the evidence in front of her, “the postmark on the envelope is from Polis, on Wednesday. If he left you on Monday—“

Octavia gasped. “What was he doing in between?”

 

“Clarke? Has something happened to Mr. Blake?” Wells asked, concern etched on his face. He stood in the doorway to Blake’s study, watching as Clarke rifled through the papers on the desk. She had headed straight for the room after hanging up the phone, correctly assuming Wells would hear her and follow.

“I’m not sure, but his telegram gave the name of the hotel where he was staying,” she said as she considered the different piles of documents on top, before switching to opening drawers. Clarke was glad Blake had already told her he kept no magical objects himself, so she was not worried about encountering something potentially dangerous.

“No address?”

“No, but he’s mentioned to me before that he’d been to Paris frequently in the last two years. He always stays at this same place, but I cannot remember the name of it. I know he keeps his receipts here somewhere. If I can find the hotel’s information, we can contact them. Aren’t you going to help me look?” Clarke added after a moment, noticing Wells had remained in the entryway of the room.

“It would be impolite to rifle through another man’s study.” At Clarke’s raised eyebrow, he said, “You’re his wife. I’m a stranger to him, and for all we know he is—“

Clarke was saved from having to reprimand her friend by an important discovery. “Here it is. The Maurice.” The piece of paper firmly in hand, she sat down in the desk chair and picked up the telephone receiver.

Her husband had thought it the height of excess to have not one, but two telephones in the house, when Clarke had said she would get both installed upon moving in. However, Clarke had insisted the second, for his study, was her wedding present to him, at which he had looked away and muttered something about it being her money to spend as she pleased. Clarke wasn’t sure if he had used it, but it was certainly convenient now. She had never needed to make an international call before, but it didn’t take as long as she would have thought for the switchboard operator to put her through to the Maurice.  Once she had inquired as to Mr. Blake’s room details, Clarke had to wait a few moments before she was informed, “I’m afraid he is not staying at the hotel, Madame.”

“I see. Did he check out this morning?” Clarke asked into the phone.

“No, Madame,” the voice was scratchy, but still intelligible, through the line. “Mr. Blake has not visited us since last year.”

Clarke swallowed. Recalling a conversation with her husband, she realised that tallied with his last trip to Paris, not long before they’d first met. “Are you certain there have been no new visits? Mr. Bellamy Blake?”

“Yes, Madame. He was a regular guest of ours, but I have not seen him at the hotel since then. He did leave a forwarding address if you need to reach him,” the hotel concierge told Clarke, before proceeding to list the address where she currently resided.

After she hung up, Clarke didn’t have to tell Wells the details of her conversation. They were quite plainly written on her face.

“I take it Mrs. Wood thinks something untoward has befallen her brother?” Wells asked, to which Clarke nodded. “Do you share that opinion, or do you think he simply…”

“Lied to me?”

“I don’t mean to suggest—”

“That’s alright, Wells,” Clarke assured him, “It’s not an unreasonable idea, considering our… arrangement.” She had not made any such suggestion to Octavia, uncertain of exactly what Blake had told her, but Clarke had already informed Wells through her letters that her marriage had been for practical reasons, and not love, so there was no reason to pretend otherwise now. Some of her husband’s absence could be explained away, by a mistress, perhaps. “But it would not tally with his conduct to his sister. The telegram was sent from Paris, and I’m certain Blake would have made sure Octavia would have a way to contact him.”

Wells seemed thoughtful while Clarke tried to recollect past conversations with her husband regarding his work.

Clarke had always been fascinated by the history of magic, but it was an avenue of study her mother had steered her away from, so her early friendship with Blake had revolved around the subject. However, now that she cast her mind back on it, Clarke realised she did not truly understand the mechanics of how he carried out his work. She had been too interested in the history and the magic itself—understandably, she would have thought—to have asked about the practicalities of his profession. Clarke knew that although he found the practice of having to cosy up to rich people for funding distasteful, he absolutely abhorred the researchers who undertook private commissions and gave their discovered artefacts to collectors instead of museums. As such, Blake was currently working on projects for the British Museum, but she couldn’t just call up and ask someone for the details. She didn’t even know whom to ask for.

Looking around the room with a sigh, her eyes caught on a collection of leather-bound books on a shelf to her right. Getting up from the chair, Clarke crouched down next to them and ran her fingers over the spines.

“What is it?”

“I think they’re Blake’s old journals. I’ve often seen him scribbling in a book like this,” Clarke explained, taking the last one off the shelf.

“We shouldn’t read his journals,” Wells said, affronted.

“You shouldn’t,” Clarke corrected. “But I asked him once what he writes in here, and he said it was mainly for work, to jot down any relevant thoughts he might have while he was out.”

“Then wouldn’t he have taken his most recent one with him?”

“I imagine so. But there could be something in here that will tell me what took him to Arcadia…” She let the book fall open naturally, and smoothed down the page, roughly just after the middle.

Clarke noted the date at the top, weeks after she had first met her husband. It was probably too long ago to be of use, but curiosity prompted her to start reading anyway.

 

Unproductive day again. Funding priorities have changed so the museum has now asked me to start looking into the Leiden mask, but the Magical History Library could provide me with very little. I was surprised the texts I consulted contained no mention of the item—although perhaps I cannot fault the texts entirely on my failings as a translator. My Dutch has become rusty from disuse and yet I did not give it my full concentration after my encounter on the way in. Clarke was outside.

The woman confounds me. When we are apart I can think of at least five charming things to say to her, and any number of interesting anecdotes that she would enjoy, and yet the moment we cross paths, I am compelled to irritate her. I cannot explain it, even to myself. Though I suppose it is not surprising that she would then decline to spend more time with me in the library. And yet, even that brief encounter has only fuelled my longing for our next meeting.

But I ought not think this way. Even if I did conduct myself in the most proper manner, Clarke must have innumerable suitors. I am sure a Lady such as herself could have no thoughts of someone as far below her station as I, let alone a man who also purposefully begins disagreements with her.

 

Clarke gasped and shut the book sharply between her hands.

“Did you find something?” Wells asked, curious.

“No,” she said, quickly, returning the book to its place on the shelf. “You’re right, journals are private. I was just surprised by some of Blake’s… language,” she said lamely.

Wells cocked his head, unimpressed. “I didn’t think you would be offended by swearing, Clarke.”

“Would you like tea?” she asked, standing up and ignoring him. “I think we need some tea.”