This was the first major piece of writing I have undertaken since being a teenager (although I did write and post a short story a couple of months back). The idea was already there and the writing wasn't as difficult as I had first thought. The editing however was a nightmare as I was limited to 3000 words and we all know how I like to go on! I've done my best though and am about to submit my entry to the competition. I didn't enter to win (although don't get me wrong, that would be AMAZING!) I entered just to see if I COULD write a 3000 word piece, to see if I COULD meet a writing deadline and to see if I COULD get anywhere in the competition. So...fingers crossed, hopefully they will like my work. And as I re-read the story and compare it to my short story, you would think I was obsessed with house fires wouldn't you?!
Here it is....(apologies for the formatting)
It was a time of great music given to the world by composers such as Mozart, Bach and Schubert. A time for musical prodigies and Lucius Augustus Brown was no exception.
He was four years old when he wrote his first composition. His father Edward worked as a butler for a wealthy family known as the Crawford’s in Hampstead, just outside of London. He would often take Lucius with him to the grand mansion, when the family were away visiting relatives. It was on his very first outing that he spotted the huge, wooden object dominating the drawing room. Little did he know that this wooden object would turn out to be his greatest friend. And enemy.
Edward had chores to attend to and so he often put Lucius in the drawing room by the grand piano as he knew his focus would be held. Edward could not afford to buy Lucius his own piano but that did not matter to Lucius as he had access to the Hampstead Mansion. These regular visits made Lucius realise that he wanted to make a living out of writing music but not just any music. The quest was simple; he wanted to write the most beautiful music the world had ever heard.
At fourteen, Lucius was with his father at the Crawford’s when one of the family (who happened to be at home that day) heard Lucius’ piano playing. The echo of the melody floated around the mansion like a soft, summer breeze. “Why, he’s a prodigy!” Clara, the eldest daughter proclaimed as she found Lucius at the piano. She was no older than Lucius and shared the same bright, blue eyes. “Like pools” her father once said. Clara was mesmerised by the music and maybe a little by Lucius too. She spread the news about her discovery to her family and insisted that her father listen to this curious boy. The entire family were open mouthed in astonishment at the boy’s natural talent and insisted on funding his education to a music conservatory.
Lucius was entirely in his element at the conservatory and continued with his quest to write the most beautiful music the world had ever heard. It was five years later, in London during his first piano recital that he saw a familiar face sat in the front row. She had a faint, knowing smile, like a proud mother watching her son. Lucius was of course too wrapped up in the performance to look more carefully but when the applause started and he got up to bow, she caught his eye. It was Clara Crawford. Clara stayed after the performance to seek out Lucius. Although she had not seen him in years, she had written to him on occasion and he rarely left her thoughts. It was if he had bewitched her with his music that day she first heard him play. She was keen to know if he would recognise her as she had recognised him. How he had grown into a striking young man. She found Lucius backstage. “Lucius! What a wonderful performance, I see that your training has served you well”
“Clara Crawford? His face lit up. “I hardly recognise you. Although. The eyes do give you away”. Clara’s eyes dropped to the ground and she blushed just a little. “I can’t believe you came”
“I heard you were giving a recital and I wanted to see how my father’s investment had grown”. She had a twinkle in her eye. She had indeed wanted to see what sort of man the boy had grown to be. Lucius offered to show Clara around London and then looked embarrassed when he realised she had likely already visited the city on many occasions. She was very well dressed and looked quite the lady. She was a Crawford after all.
Lucius’ embarrassment only served to amplify her affections for him. “How about you let me show YOU around?” Lucius grinned in defeat and held his arm out for Clara. Clara spent the next couple of weeks showing Lucius around London. Lucius was discovering Clara just as she had discovered him all those years ago back at the mansion. Their acquaintance quickly grew into a friendship. It was only a matter of time before their friendship became a courtship. Love blossomed and they were married the following spring. Clara’s father passed away shortly after the wedding and it was decided that Clara and Lucius would live in the family home. Lucius was blessed once again as he had no way of providing such grand surroundings for his new bride. He found the old piano he learnt to play on and knew he was home.
Lucius spent most of his time at the piano, surrounded by a mountain of messy, manuscript paper. Clara spent her time in the library but often longed for more attention from her young husband. She knew when she married him that music was important to him but now she was his wife, she had expected him to put her first. She knew how important it was for him to create beautiful music; she just wanted him to create beautiful music with her, so to speak. Months had gone by since the wedding and Lucius was always too tired to show her any affection. He spent more and more time at the piano, becoming increasingly agitated and frustrated. He wanted to create the most beautiful music the world had ever heard but the melody was always just out of reach. His quest was everything to him. As a composer, he did not make a lot of money. Lately, it seemed like there was no income at all. The inheritance Clara gained when her father died was slowly running out. Lucius did not even notice when the housekeeper and serving staff were dismissed.
One day, Lucius was at the piano as usual when he heard the sound of Clara retching and coughing. He sprang up from the piano and darted upstairs to find her. She was on her knees, clutching her stomach whilst vomiting into a bowl. He pushed her hair from her face and rubbed her shoulders to soothe her. She simply looked up and said “I’m pregnant”. Clara wasn’t sure what sort of reaction she was expecting but Lucius started smiling which then turned into a grin. He wanted to grab her and twirl her around the room but thought better of it when he remembered her delicate condition. He started laughing and stood up. “I’m going to be a father”. His face dropped as he realised that his quest was now more important than ever. He was going to be a father and although they were living off Clara’s inheritance, that wouldn’t last forever and he would need to start providing for his unborn child. If only he could compose the music he wanted to, then the riches would surely follow.
Time ticked away and Lucius became more and more anxious. In his desperation he had turned to the bottle claiming that it ‘gave him strength and inspiration’. Clara often found him slumped at the piano. What kind of father would he be if he continued like this? He didn’t pay her any attention so what makes her think that he would pay their unborn child any attention?
Had it been weeks since he last noticed Clara? She was blooming in her pregnancy. She was an English Rose, beautiful even when scrubbing the floor. It dawned on Lucius now that she had been forced to take over the household duties as there was not enough money to pay the staff. His guilt was tremendous and this made him even angrier and frustrated. Why could he not write this bloody piece of music?! He stormed back to the piano and opened the lid. He began playing with little melodies. Suddenly, he banged the lid down with such force that the noise echoed around the room with a sense of foreboding. Clara dropped her head. She then rose from her knees to confront her husband. She put her hands around his shoulders. “Why do you do this to yourself? Go to bed, rest”.
Lucius shrugged away from her “What? You know I have no time for such luxuries. This has to be done”.
“Lucius please, you’ve been trying to write this piece for years and at some point you have to realise that it’s not going to happen”.
Lucius looked at his wife with sadness in his eyes knowing that she had lost faith in him. His voice quietened “Do not ever say that, you KNOW how important this is”
“Oh I know alright. I’m your wife Lucius but I feel like your mistress. Clutching at any attention you decide to pay me whilst you spend most of your days with your first love.”
“Clara please, don’t do this”.
“No, YOU don’t do this. Be my husband. Be the man I fell in love with. You have a family to support”.
“We can continue as we are for a little while longer”
Tears pricked Clara’s eyes. “I think you are mistaken husband. I cannot continue like this anymore”.
Lucius shot up from the piano in a burst of anger and with the force, Clara accidentally fell backwards onto the ground. The anger drained away immediately and Lucius felt waves of guilt wash over him as he dropped to the ground to attend to Clara. Her face was wet with tears as Lucius scooped her into his arms. “I’m so sorry Clara; I didn’t mean to hurt you. I never do. I love you more than anything”. Not more than anything, Clara thought but couldn’t force the words out through the sobs. He carried her upstairs and insisted she rest. The light outside was dying now anyway.
Racked with guilt, Lucius made his way downstairs and went straight for the bottle of whiskey. He didn’t bother with a glass nowadays, preferring to swig it from the bottle. His father had called it “The Devil’s Drink” and he was beginning to understand why. He kept a picture of Clara on top of the piano but had not seen it for months now as it was buried beneath the manuscript paper. He frantically searched for it and when he found it, he put it on top of everything else so that it could be in full view. “Oh Clara...”he sighed and took another swig from the bottle. As the light died, he lit some candles like he normally did. He took more and more of the devil’s drink into him until he became so miserable that he started to cry. He called out. “Why....why can’t I write this piece of music...if only...if I could just...I would do anything, anything...It has to be the most beautiful piece of music ever written otherwise it’s of no use”. Lucius looked around as if talking to someone who wasn’t there. “Surely you can help a desperate man who is willing to do anything to achieve his dreams. I want to be a good husband and father, please let me do this”.
He sobbed into his hands, eventually rubbing his eyes. When they opened again, he cast them onto the picture of Clara and suddenly felt so much love for her. As his thoughts lingered on Clara, his fingers began to run up and down the piano keys. He stumbled across a sequence of notes that sounded pleasant and that grew as he added chords made with his left hand. Suddenly, a new fury came upon him as he started playing and playing and playing. It was music to his ears, literally! He played with such passion. He hadn’t played like this for years. After what seemed like an age, he would stop and feverishly start writing note after note on the manuscript paper. The days came and went and Lucius never moved from his place at the piano. Clara became understandably worried. He was like a zombie, so focused that he did not see anything outside of his world which consisted of the piano and him. She would shout at him, shove him, anything to provoke a reaction but he did not falter. She didn’t understand how he could keep going, day and night. He did not eat; he did not sleep, and only drank whiskey which seemed to keep him going. He looked and smelled like a vagabond. The doctor was at a loss for words. He could not explain Lucius’ strange behaviour and suggested to Clara that he would ‘snap out of it’ at his own accord, when he was ready to do so. Clara could do nothing but watch as her husband carried on playing the piano and scribbling down the notes. Her eyes glistened with tears as she realised that her picture was dominantly placed on top of the piano. She had not seen it for months.
Two weeks went by before Lucius finally flopped exhausted onto the piano. “Lucius! Lucius!” With eyes shut, he groaned. She could not carry him upstairs and so she dragged him to the seating area and covered him with blankets. She started to cry mainly because she didn’t know what else to do. “Rest my love, rest”.
The whiskey bottle had been empty since the day he came back to her and he hadn’t wanted to touch another drop. He slept for days. Not surprising since he hadn’t slept for two weeks straight, how was that even possible? She kept him warm and nursed him back to health. On the sixth day he woke from his slumber.
“Lucius, are you alright?” She sat on the bed and stroked his face with her hand.
He looked at her lovingly “Clara, it was all for you, you know. I did it all for you”
Was he still delusional? Clara handed him the plate of food she had prepared and a cup of sweet tea.
“Get your strength back my love” She rubbed her ever growing belly. “We need you”
Lucius ate, drank and slept until his strength returned. The first thing he did when he got up out of bed was go downstairs to the piano and Clara sighed at this. Lucius vaguely remembered composing a beautiful piece of music and wanted to make sure that he wasn’t dreaming. The manuscript paper was neatly piled, tons of it. He set it out in order and called for Clara. When she came to him, he simply said “This is for you”. This was the first time Lucius had played FOR her. She thought it was the sweetest music she had ever heard and tears ran down her cheeks.
When the last note had been played, Clara stood there open mouthed and speechless. By the look on her face, Lucius could tell that it had gone down well. Eventually she spoke. “Dear God.....you’ve done it, I never thought you would...but you’ve done it. How?”
Lucius grinned like a Cheshire cat and started laughing. He sprung up from his chair and embraced his wife. “You. You’re my inspiration...you made this happen”.
Clara knew that everything was going to be alright now.
Lucius was as proud as punch and could hardly believe what he had accomplished. He had always felt like he was teetering on the edge of greatness and now he was finally there. Now all that remained was for the world to hear it. A recital had been booked at the local concert hall and word had got around that this was going to be something special indeed. During the busy recital preparations, a dinner invitation arrived at the Browns. It was from the owner of the concert hall. He wanted to meet the young man who was going to give a supposedly spectacular performance, so much so that he had bet his life on it. This was the first invitation Lucius and Clara had received since getting married and so this was exciting, especially to Clara. It gave her a chance to dress up, although this was difficult at the moment in her heavily pregnant state.
The evening went by in a spin. Lucius delighted in teasing the dinner crowd with promises of his music and looked like the proud father when his wife talked about his unborn child. He was finally becoming responsible, he would provide for his family and never again lose himself.
Lucius decided that they would walk home as it was such a delightfully warm evening. He put his arm around Clara and casually strolled through the streets. “I’m sorry Clara, for everything I’ve put you through. But I’ve finally done it and you will enjoy the fruits of my labour once the recital is over”.
As they got closer to home, Lucius could see smoke rising up into the dark sky. It was shortly after that, that he saw the house, lit up like a beacon showing the way home.
“NO! NO!” He ran towards the flames, followed by Clara. “Lucius! Lucius! STOP!”
He turned to face her, looking her right in the eyes. “Don’t you see? The music, the manuscript....it’s inside!!” He ran into the burning building. A crowd started gathering, no doubt woken by the commotion. Clara looked on as Lucius was nowhere to be seen. The crowd had to move back as the heat intensified. She dropped to her knees as she realised that Lucius wasn’t coming back.
And so the most beautiful music that ever existed had indeed been created and this is the very reason it has never been heard.......because Lucius and his music perished in the fire. Little did he know that he made a deal that night whilst consuming the devil’s drink. He said he would give anything didn’t he? And he paid the ultimate price.