Heathcliff Hilarious had had a stroke of luck in his younger years; born into a numerous and poor family it seemed that the small boy would not have many chances of a swiftly achieved success in life.
However, when he was fourteen, the keeper of the local inn seemed to take notice of him. His inclination towards learning proved to be deceptive to his parents, who had placed hope in a son that would go on to acquire, through study, a respectable profession that would come to take the family out of the poverty in which it had been damned. However, despite this, he turned out to be a hard worker, something which the keeper of the inn took notice of, and soon hired the lad to work as an assistant.
The pay wasn’t exactly abundant, as the inn was not of the most respectable kind, but tips were bountiful, especially when he would procure certain things that clients of the hotel would need, anything from food to arms and even women.
Later in his life, Fate proved to favor Hilarious once more for the keeper of the inn was neither handsome nor rich, and as such he did not come to marry, something which in all given honesty, did not surprise Heathcliff in the least. He found it hard that that old, slightly hunchbacked man would have attracted any woman, with a stomach as round as a watermelon and his face slightly pinched of chicken pox. As he never married, no legal heir or other relative was there to inherit his great heritage. So when close to his death, the keeper placed the deed of the inn into the late adolescent’s hand, naming him thus his successor.
At first Hilarious found it hard to come to terms with the luck he had been awarded. Not only did he find himself released from underneath the horrid man’s constant orders, and annoying errands, to which he never raised a voiced complaint but that he would always murmur about to himself, but he was also now the soul keeper of a place, which in his thoughts appeared to be prolific.
Over the years, despite his efforts to better the inn, which he had named „The Wigs and Torrys”, Heathcliff found himself faced with failure conjured up by two reasons, one consisting of the hotel in itself. Its poor, desolated air had done much less than to attract the height of society dew to the reputation it had acquired under the ownership of its former patrons. How can one better a hotel where only thieves, drunkards, men down on their last few pounds and other such rift-rafts would show their faces? The answer to such a troublesome question always seemed to keep itself hidden.
The second impediment, one which Heathcliff was more than careful not to boast about, was dew to his wife, Glascia, a stubborn woman, of immense greed. Born as poor as Heathcliff had been, the woman seemed to have a voracious appetite for money, yet not to squander them, as some think inevitably tied to women’s nature, but to amass them to no end.
She adored to see the money which would gather, to hold them in her hands and watch their rich green paper for hours, always imagining what she would come to make of them, yet never putting any plan into application. Every penny would be put aside carefully, hidden in a small leather sack beneath a loose floor board in her and her husbands sleeping chamber.
At first Heathcliff did not criticize his wife’s precautionary methods. After all, in times like those, no one knew what could come to happen next. Yet as time passed, Glascia’s greed appeared to increase more and more.
With the passing of the years, a quite important sum had been acquired, enough so as to make essential alterations to the inn. Yet Glascia Hilarious would always darken whenever she would hear of such nonsense. Rare were the occasions when money were extracted from the leather pouch.
She had said that those would be money placed aside when the worries of old age would come across them. Now they were living that melancholic part of their lives, and still the sack remained untouched, much to Heathcliff’s dismay who often spent his nights shivering beneath the thin blankets, craving for luxuries such as warmth, meat and wine, and listening to his wife, snoring loudly from beneath her bonnet.
How ironic, he thought then, that the Fates had taken away her sight a few years into their marriage. Though he never admitted it, he was proud that God himself had punished the woman with such an illness of the eyes, robbing her of her great joy of goggling at the money for hours on end.
During the day, from behind his counter, Heathcliff sometimes wondered whether he would ever be offered the chance of actually spending the hard-earned small fortune. Indeed a strange and satisfying idea had risen itself once in his head. What if he was to extract some money from the pouch, enough so as to at least make some small restorations to the inn, at least a proper coat of paint on the walls, and replace the money with sheets of paper? Then when his wife would touch the pouch she would be under the impression that what she was actually feeling was money.
At first he proved hesitant to do such a thing, what if she would come to observe that money was missing? What would he do then… But the man’s cunning wit was placed into play and was quick to respond to such a query. He would test his theory first, yes he would, Hilarious thought. He would take a small sum of paper money and replace them with sheets of crumpled paper, measured exactly so as to mirror the real thing. If his wife would notice the difference, for as he came to observe her sense of touch had heightened with the loss of her eyes, he would simply state it was a mere prank and that the money were safe and sound, which of course, they would be at the time. And if, luck would smile down on his again, and his wife would show herself unknowing of the switch, then it would mean that he would have free liberty to use the money whichever way he saw fit.
And so Heathcliff began to do just that, extracting the money when his wife was down stairs and he was lying in their bedchamber feigning an indisposition of some sort, and introducing sheets of paper on which he would come to write the number that should have replaced the real paper money, in their place. The logistic was that at the end of the week, when his wife would ask him to count the money, he would perfectly do so, without the slightest stir or worry, for he would have the numbers jotted down and everything.
To his immense joy, the plan proved not only well thought, but fruitful as well yet time brought with it great temptations upon the man’s shoulders. The years he had spent in poverty, followed by the freedom to spend all the hard earned money. Thus, unknowingly, despite his forward age and decaying body, he began more and more to waste his money on finer drinks, foods and women of the night.
So there came one Sunday, that upon sitting at the table, his wife carefully placing the pouch into his hands and spilling the money onto the table, her ears perking slightly at the wonderful sonorous sound that the small fortune made, Heatcliff began to count it and saw not with little startle that most of the money he had worked so hard for had now turned to bits and crumples of old paper on which his shaken hand writing showed the worth of each note he had so cunningly extracted.
All night he found himself unable to sleep for fear and despise towards what he had done Not all the money was gone, this was true, there must have been still enough pounds so as to assure them a modest lifestyle, but so much had been spent, so horridly much that the thought made him want to cut off his hands for what he had done. Heathcliff then made a decision that night, he would not use the money for his own pleasures anymore, if Glascia would have found out there was no telling what her reaction would be, and with no little justification, he reasoned to himself…
The next night Heathcliff sat behind his counter once again so as to check the newcomers in, and make sure that everyone paid their fees earnestly, or at least that was what a stranger might think, for though the keeper would have never admitted it aloud, the reason was another. A great many things could be observed from behind the dusty counter; great, useful and interesting sort of things. Indeed Heathcliff would find himself fortunately seated in his own private box, watching as a spectator the execution of actors on a second hand stage, with the soul purpose of amusing his daily life. Bald and crooked from the years that weighed upon his shoulders, the man looked very much like a vulture, carefully stalking his pray. The spectacle did indeed amuse him at times and it often helped to relieve the troublesome matter of money that was often on his mind.
As Heathcliff was sending an errand boy on his way, not before striking him for the nerve of accusing the keeper that he had not fully paid the boy, the creaky and heavy door of the inn opened to let out the heavy smoke of cheap cigars and cigarettes.
As the door opened, all heads of those many present turned, more or less subtly so as to see the intruder, for after all, chances would arise from opportunity as those.
A cloaked figure stepped inside, oddly dressed and keeping their face concealed from prying eyes which only seemed to further attract the attention of everyone in the room. Yet without even a glance to those around, nor a movement so as to either disclose or further conceal their face, the person calmly neared the counter.
Heathcliff turned from the boy after letting go of his arm and proceeded to walk towards the person with a lively step. He himself wondered the moment he set eyes on the figure, who the person was, for it was surely anything but a regular of the inn.
Only when coming closer did he notice that the hood was concealing a woman’s face, and his face twitches slightly with a knowing smirk Women would not come here unaccompanied unless their goal was to leave with company. If that would have been the purpose of the woman, than she would have surely managed, the man thought to himself, but something told Hilarious that the woman’s intentions, given from her serious air, and the ebony color of her robe, were not as such.
„Good evening misses!” The man greeted.
„A good evening to you as well. I am in need of a clean room, with two beds; I would like some food to be brought up as well, cakes if you have any and wine.” The woman said sternly yet with as much politeness as Heathcliff had ever heard.
„Well we don’t have anything fancy or anything here mam,” he began almost as if excusing himself for the lack of refinement of the place, „but I’m sure we can manage something…” he ended.
Somehow the man felt compelled to assure this woman the best of what he had, not because he suspected that she was rich, though from the fine cut of her dress that was slightly showing from beneath the robe, that could have been easily obvious but dew to the fact that she appeared to be so out of place in the horrendous room, where men and women of the worse sort gather so as to eat and drink. Heathcliff himself was dumb-struck at the reason for which a woman of her nature would even come to consider sleeping in a place as such, where even the mediocrity of society would evade his inn as if it were the Consumption.
„Thank you.” The woman said shifting something in her arms.
„How are you to pay though?” Heathcliff asked slightly frowning in curiosity towards the person’s gesture, noticing, that in her arms, beneath the covers of the elegant robe, a boy no older than five was sound asleep.
The woman extracted her hand and placed a silver ring on the counter, laced with emeralds that in the middle shun with a dazzling blue light.
„Please forgive me,” she began slightly embarrassed. „I have no other means of payment at the present time…”
The man said nothing but merely stared at the ring in awe. Never in his days had he seen such a magnificent treasure, not even in the town of London or on the hands of the few lords and ladies he had been given to see in his life. The craftsmanship appeared to be almost out of man’s reach, as if magic of the grandest kind had been used to create it.
„I trust it will suffice?” the woman asked.
„Yes, yes, of course…” the man said eyeing the ring hungrily, stumbling over every word he uttered. „Second floor, third door on the right… Food will be ready in a jiffy. Anything else?” he finally asked awakening from his daze.
„Yes, there would be…” the woman began hesitantly. „If anyone should come and ask about a woman, whatever they offer you, I will pay you double, for it to remain a secret.” And she continued her voice diminished to a whisper of warning, which held a cold and certain truth in every word the cloaked woman uttered. „I will warn you though, that I shall know, should you think of lying to me about the matter…”
The man nodded, feeling a slight chill going down his spine, and handed a rusty key to the guest, which began to slowly ascend the stairs still under the very watchful eyes of all those present.
The moon had not yet set when Heathcliff Hilarious retook his natural position behind his beloved counter and while he watched the maids and errand boys scurrying about with their instructed chores, he touched the pocket of his pants, in which he still held the ring, tapping it slightly. Suddenly a want started to overcome him once more; the want to touch the noble material, to feel the carving of each precious rock began to overtake him and two of his fingers quickly bored into his pocket, as if with a will of their own, touching the ring, reading it carefully with his hands.
He had not slept all night dew to that cursed ring the woman gave to him. He held it in his hands, playing with it around his fingers as if scared that by loosing contact with it, the ring would disappear.
Perhaps, he thought, he could go trade it for money, a large sum of money, then place the earnings into the satchel. It wouldn’t matter much compared to the sums he had thrown out the window out of the want of experiencing different pleasures, but it would be a start, yes it would indeed be a start.
This pleasurable thought did not leave Heathcliff until the next day when around the time the broken pendulum announced that it was eight in the morning. As his thoughts traveled to the joy he would feel when placing part of the money he had squandered back, the maid which was supposed to serve the new guests came down the stairs, wearing a consternated expression on her face.
„Now what’s wrong with you?” he asked picking up a rag and beginning to clean the counter carefully.
„The strangest of things…” The woman said leaning on the counter with one elbow, before continuing in a strong accent. „I can’t say for the boy, ‘cause I didn’t get a right look at ‘im, but I’m sure she had different clothes on last night!”
„Well, people make a habit of changing their attire from time to time…” Heathcliff said humoring the old maid which had been working there for years on end.
He of course would have gotten rid of her a very long time ago; the woman was far too nosy and gossipy even in Hilarious’ view. But Glascia proclaimed that she refused under any circumstances to let her poor cousin out on the streets, especially when in the old days she used to brag all the time of her husband’s wealth and riches. But then of course, as the maid, whose name was Louisa, grew older, then man’s taste for youth grew stronger, and so the boastful woman found herself out into the street at the mercy of a cousin on which she had so snobbishly looked down upon.
„Oh don’t be giving me that Heathcliff!” She complained with a wave of the hand. „She ‘ad no luggage in ‘er room, did you see ‘er comin’ in with luggage?” The woman questioned.
„No, I don’t think so…” said Heathcliff, now honestly trying to remember.
„Strange…” the woman said with a curious satisfaction.
„Not so strange, prolly just had some small hand baggage around.” The man said, but as soon as he did, he knew that that could not be the case either. She was barely managing to hold the boy, and place her ring on the counter, let alone carry baggage.
„Well she’s a right peculiar one if I’ve ever seen one… And those clothes of ‘ers, I don’t think me grandmother wore stuff like that in ‘er younger years. And don’t even get me started on the way she acts! All ‘igh and mighty as if she’s the bloody queen of the castle…” the woman said with a slight envy in her tone.
„Well she sure as hell isn’t from the same batter as you and me came from.” Heathcliff said now growing tired of the woman’s rants.
„Hmph, you think?” the woman asked as if something of the sort would have been preposterous.
„Yeah,” The man said nodding. „And you know what else I think?” he questioned, reducing his tone to a whisper, and motioning towards the woman to lean in closer so no one could hear them.
Louisa’s eyes grew large as she neared the man with hungry curiosity.
„What?” she asked her eyes glazed with excitement and a hideous smile playing on her shriveled lips.
„That-” Heathcliff began quietly as if weary that the walls had sprung ears over the night „you should get back to work!” he carried on, raising his voice to a bellow ” I’m not paying you to sit around jabbing about!” the man yelled, making the woman wince with fright, whipping the wood where her elbow once stood.
Louisa huffed angrily and set off with her nose high into the air as if she had never known a greater insult.
Yet as he watched her leave, Heathcliff came to realize that she was right, there was indeed something very strange about this woman, and even stranger in her request. Perhaps, he reasoned, she was of noble birth, one of those which were forced to marry into a family according to their own rank- after all he had heard of things of such sort still happening between noble families. Now, all grown up, and ready to live her life, maybe she had gotten fed up with an old bore of a husband, and decided to leave, taking the young child with her. That would explain why there was no luggage, she had ran away. Would explain why she was weary of people looking for her- a father wouldn’t allow to be separated from his child, a son even more so.
Again his fingers rand down his vest, to his pockets and touched the outline of the ring. He didn’t need to bother with a stranger’s problem he decided. He had troubles of his own to deal with. He would have to find an appropriate time and go to the Jewelers to see how much he would get for it. And soon enough he envisioned himself returning the money and ridding himself of the guilt and worries that had begun to weigh on his shoulders. But this time, the thought of even handing the ring to the fine dressed young man at the shop did not resound as wonderful as it had done the previous night. If the sum of money would consist of such small worth compared with his squandering then why would he come to put it back? Indeed it would make no great difference so maybe it was best to keep the money for himself… After all, it had been such a long time since he last visited Leonora, that beautiful young girl of only twenty, but who’s body held so much mystery and such great talents unrivaled by anyone, not even by the courtesans he had come to hear that would often roam around the crowned princes themselves in ages that not even him had lived in, but of which he had heard about.
Again though a spasm of doubt raised in his mind for maybe his wife would not find out today or tomorrow or even in two years of the loss, but one day she would, and if not then one day he would grow older and feeble and prove unable to work. With what will he support himself and his wife then? The thought of winters spent without fire, food or a drop of wine chilled Heathcliff to the bone more than the iciest of winds. But it would be one night, just one night, one last night he vowed. Yes, after tonight he would never visit Leonora again, he would put all money aside as it was good of him to do, but tonight he needed to see the girl. Yes, he would keep the money for himself he reasoned, patting the ring once again with satisfaction.
Captured in his web of thoughts, Heathcliff lost all track of the world around him, not even noticing the woman present in front of him, and paying no attention to what she had previously said.
At long last, he raised his eyes, jumping slightly, startled by such an instantaneous appearance.
„I came to leave the key and thank you for your hospitability.” The woman said and when looking at her, Heathcliff did indeed observe that she was now dressed differently.
A silver dress could be spotted towards the ground one of a simple elegance, and a cherry coloured cloak hung heavily over her shoulders to protect her from the cold winter that had settled upon England that year.
The boy, which was now looking curiously around the tavern of the inn, had a similarly tailored cloak, only difference being that his was a dark green one.
„Yes, yes, thank you…” said Heathcliff smiling stupidly at the woman as if he had been drunk the previous night before and the effect manifested itself on him even today. The smile though came from no drink but from a thought, the remembrance of the woman’s request…
„About your request…” Heathcliff started carefully, adjusting his glasses.
He had had a magnificent thought! The woman had said that she would be able to pay him more if he would not divulge the presence of her or her son to anyone who would come asking. Indeed she had worn him, but she was no mind reader to tell of whether or not if from his words sprung truth or lies… But as he prepared to skillfully portray a false scene of last night’s events her words of warning ran once more through his mind, their security, the tone, her threatening and demanding eyes, eyes which were just as demanding now as they had been the night before. His mouth turned dry for a strange reason, making it difficult for him to word anything out. It felt to him as if he had already lied and had been discovered, but how could that have been when he had not uttered a single word?
Heathcliff lowered his head slightly and opened his mouth to speak once more.
„No,” he said the first word with such tone as if someone had ripped it with a pair of tongs from his mouth. „No, no one came asking madam, you can rest right at ease about that one.” he said, appearing partly relieved partly in pain that he had told the truth.
„Very well then,” The woman said smiling and Heathcliff began to get a frightful feeling that she knew exactly every thought that the he had had from the moment she had laid eyes on him that morning.
„Goodbye Mister Hilarious, you are an honest man, and I hope the future brings good fortune into your life.”
The man smiled once more, this time though slightly embarrassed with a compliment he knew was not entirely befitting for him.
Taking no further notice the woman placed the key on the counter and since he had never had much to do with the upper classes, Heathcliff wondered whether or not he was allowed or actually supposed to kiss the strange noble woman’s hand.
The person however did not await such manifestation, and with a slight nod of the head, turned on her heels and exited the inn along with her son.