The house was dark when Victor entered. Where were his parents? Were they out looking for him? How long had he been with Emily in the Underworld? It was difficult to tell. Time didn't seem to exist down there. Perhaps his folks were still wandering around town, stirred up from all the excitement.
They'll return home eventually, Victor thought, lighting an oil lamp and trudging up the stairs. Each step felt weighted and his eyelids pressed heavily against his eyes. No one ever seemed to sleep in the Land of the Dead. They probably didn't need to. But up here rest was important. Victor couldn't remember when he'd last slept.
Moonlight was spilling into his bedroom, onto his desk where he'd placed his drawings of the blue butterfly he had been working on. He still found it hard to believe that Emily had transformed into those butterflies, hundreds of them, and drifted away, toward the moon. Had that really happened? Or had it been an illusion, brought on by sleep deprivation?
Wherever you are, Emily, I hoped you're happy, he thought, staring up at the moon. An overwhelming feeling of gratitude toward her filled him. He had almost married Emily, had come so close, after his crushing disappointment when he heard that Victoria had married someone else.
I was fond of Emily, he thought. She was vivacious and beautiful and they shared the same passion for music. He remembered the duet they had played together and how her anger at him for betraying her had dissolved as they joined together in that song, their notes forming perfect harmony. Where did she learn to play like that? It was frowned upon in this town for women to partake in such activities, something that Victor personally felt was ridiculous. He had wanted to ask her that but then had become distracted by news of Victoria, followed by his near-marriage to Emily.
Still, in spite of her grace, beauty, kindness and musical aptitude, Emily didn't fill him with the same warmth that Victoria did. Was it because she was dead and he alive? Could he have grown to love her the same way had they gone through with the marriage? Perhaps I'll never know, he thought.
The fuzzy warmth within increased as he thought of Victoria. Petite, soft-spoken Victoria who had an inner strength. He could see an image of her in his mind, her lovely, heart-shaped face and the delicate rose flush of her cheeks. And she had such beautiful eyes: large and colored a rich mahogany, speckled with gold.
He remembered, with a jolt, that she had been married to that newcomer Lord Barkis. He shuddered to think that she had been forced into that marriage by her parents, and to the same man who had murdered Emily. At least he was now dead, Victor thought, settling on his bed. He felt a gnawing disappointment as he realized that the newly widowed Victoria would have to wait an entire year before she could marry again.
Well, she will be worth the wait. His eyes wandered to the photographs of Scraps that hung on the wall. Victor smiled as he thought of his childhood pet, now a walking skeleton, happily roaming the Underworld streets. How had Emily known that Scraps had been his dog? She had been able to communicate with him. Perhaps Scraps had told her. That was something else he had meant to ask her.
He lay back onto his bed without bothering to undress and instantly fell asleep.
Victor was awakened suddenly by loud noises coming from downstairs.
"Of all the indignities!" his mother Nell was yelling. "Riding driverless through town until we crashed into that tree! I'm going to strangle Mayhew for deserting us like that. He could have killed us! I—"
"Now, dear, calm down," said Will, his father. "What we need is a good night's sleep. We'll work all this out in the morning."
"I'd like to work it out now, if you don't mind."
"Mother! Father!" Victor rushed toward them, where they had collapsed on the settee in the drawing room. Both were badly disheveled and Nell's feathered hat was bashed down over her head. "Are you all right? What happened? Where have you been?"
"I'd like to ask you the same question," Nell said, pulling her bulky body from the settee and striding toward Victor. She wacked him over the head with her folded up fan. "Do you know how much trouble you've caused us, running off like that?"
"I'm so sorry." Victor sank into the nearest chair and buried his face in his hands. He was so tired and didn't even know where to begin to explain about all that had happened. "I-I got a little…sidetracked, that's all."
"That's no excuse!" Nell scolded. "First thing tomorrow morning, you're going straight over to the Everglots and apologize. I doubt that will do us any good. They probably don't want us to be part of their family anymore. Not if we begged them. Not after what you pulled tonight." She sighed. "There go our teas with the queen and fancy parties."
"I-I'll do that," Victor whispered. "I'll apologize to Lord and Lady Everglot. But Victoria and I have worked it out." He didn't bother to tell them that she would have to wait a year since she had been briefly married to Lord Barkis who was now dead… Just thinking about all that made his head hurt. He'd worry about that in the morning. Now he just wanted to sleep.
"Let's all go to bed, now shall we?" said Will, rising to his feet and starting toward the stairs. "It's been a long day for all of us."
"First I need to have a word with Mayhew," said Nell, her eyes flashing. "Believe me, he's in for an earful. Who does he think he is, deserting us like that? I ought to—"
"Mayhew's dead," Victor blurted.
"What did you say?" Nell yanked off her hopeless hat and tossed it onto a low table.
"He's dead," Victor repeated. "I s-saw him tonight, in the Land of the Dead."
"The Land of the Dead? Victor, if I find you're making up stories, I'm going to give you another whack with this fan."
"That's right, Mother. That's where I was tonight. In the Land of the Dead. But the dead all rose above the ground temporarily for…for a wedding ceremony." He didn't bother to explain that it would have been his wedding. Just thinking about that made him even more tired, if that was possible.
Nell glared at him and raised her fan—Victor flinched—but then lowered her arm. "Was that what our neighbor Gertrude was babbling about? Something about seeing her husband Alfred again, after the man had been dead for fifteen years?"
"And the town crier had been shouting something about the dead walking the Earth," Will said. "Could it be?"
"It was true," said Victor. "I was there. And Mayhew was amongst them."
"He was?" Nell's voice softened. Her eyes took on a tearful shimmer. "Then he really died? Was that why… why he disappeared on us? Because he dropped dead?" She sank back onto the settee and sobbed. Will settled beside her and placed an arm around her. "I-I always told him he should take care of that cough of his, that it would be the death of him someday. But I never told him that I cared for him, that—"
"Mayhew is fine," Victor said, placing a hand on his mother's plump shoulder. "I know. I saw him myself in the Land of the Dead. He was perfectly happy."
Nell looked up at him. The tears had smeared her makeup and her hair was a tousled mess. "He-he was?"
Victor smiled and nodded. "He told me himself that he felt great. And I'm sure he knows that, deep down, you really cared about him."
"We'll have to get a new driver now." Nell's voice was low and shaky. "But no one will ever take the place of Mayhew."
"Let's just work all that out in the morning," said Will, helping her up. "It's late and we can all certainly use a good night's sleep."
"I know I can," said Victor, heading back to his bedroom. He was looking forward to going to the Everglots first thing in the morning, to seeing Victoria again. But for now he was going to sleep and nothing else was going to keep him from it.