Philip sat in his uncle’s library, eyes fixed on a sputtering candle flame. The melting taper dripped rivulets of molten wax, pooling at its silvery base. Other than flames from a fireplace, the candle was the sole source of light in the room.
A howling wind, chilled by ocean air, seeped through the mullioned windows to his left. The flame fluttered, causing shadows to dance around the room.
“Tiny flame,” he muttered, “how mighty you are to make the darkness sway.” He moved his hand, as if to test his own substance. “Nothing but shadows; the darkness does not flee.”
The clink of crystal against crystal followed by liquid being poured broke the silence. The sharp but sweet smell of brandy filled the air. “It’s not the flame, you know.” A voice claimed across the room.
Footsteps followed and Philip looked up to see his uncle, Charles, carrying two glasses. Charles extended one of them to his cousin. Its amber liquid was pungent with ancient past summers, its depths holding opalescent shadows of its own.
“If not the flame; then what?”
“It’s the wick, dear nephew.” He raised his glass and nodded. “The tethering stoutness of the wick - not the flame.”
A log popped and sparked in the grate. Shadows danced around the room. “Then I am weak at best - a man of little substance.” He leaned forward, elbows on knees, watching the flames flicker above the brass andirons. He swirled his drink in thought.
“What brings this introspection? The howl of the winds around this drafty manor, the air’s chill,” he stopped, “or could it possibly be the rumor my wife shared after dinner that Caroline has rejected your proposal of marriage tonight?”
Two women’s voices, softly muffled by the wall between the study and the next room met their ears. Philip looked at his uncle. “What matter the cause? Shouldn’t the answer be level and certain regardless its origin?”
“Perhaps, but a surgeon does not apply the same measure to all wounds.”
“Would you call my introspection a wound?”
“From your morose pose, I would.”
Philip put down his glass. “You’re a dear relative, Charles. But even so, I will not confess my heart. But the rejection of which Jayne reports is but temporary. If I can but right myself.”
Charles sipped his brandy. “Then the wound must deal with character.”
“Wounds afflicted by love are deep; piercing the thin casing of our souls; giving us pause to consider ourselves.”
“In what regard?”
“Attributes of prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude.”
“Virtues my father once instructed make a man.”
“And you feel you’ve none?”
Philip laughed. “You’ve known me too long to ask such a rhetorical question.”
“Most men are as you, including myself. What can we do, we are men subject to the weaknesses of the flesh.” He came to stand beside Philip. “Which wound are you licking, or is it possibly all four?”
“Can one be forsworn without impugning the others?” He looked up. “Are they not links in a chain?”
Charles came to sit in a chair opposite, his countenance blending in the shadows cast by the fire. “Your goal is too lofty, my friend. God’s charity includes forgiveness and bids all men do likewise – even those whom we’d wish be unaware of our imperfections.” Piano music from the adjacent conservatory filtered into the room. He studied Philip’s face. “The women seem to be enjoying the evening and Caroline’s greatly improved upon her Mozart.”
Philip put his head into his hands. “She is so good, so pure…”
“You love her.”
“Yes, a thousand times, yes,” he whispered, “and the impossibility of my character to ever flame her devout affection stabs my soul. Indeed, the moral fiber lacking within me to strengthen the tethered wick to chase the shadows of past recklessness deadens my tongue.”
“It was much the same between Jayne and myself once.” Philip looked up in astonishment. “I found, at last, we are but sanctified by God’s grace alone.”
“Through prayer, scripture and Holy Communion, only by them is a man truly transformed into a state of perfect love – made acceptable to whom we would most genuinely link our hearts here on earth.”
“I ache to change…”
Charles raised a hand to stop him as the women entered the study. “Be resolved,” he whispered.”
“The stoutness of the wick,” Philip whispered back, rising to greet Caroline at the door.
“Indeed,” Charles affirmed, following close to embrace Jayne with temperate and sincere affection.
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