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Authors: K.M. Grant

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BOOK: HartsLove
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The door swung closed behind him and his lamp flickered, but Garth did not retreat. Instead, putting the
lamp down, he went to the wine section first, pulled out a bottle and with sudden, furious force, hurled it against the wall. The glass split and the neck of the bottle, still corked, rolled sideways, coming to rest in a dent in the floor. The noise was duller than he expected. He took another bottle and threw it. Then another and another. The wine did not spray; it trickled slowly down the wall like blood, and the rolling bottle-necks unaccountably reminded Garth of French aristocrats being beheaded. He got into quite a rhythm as he hurled and hurled. The stain spread. The smell was sweet and sickly. The floor grew sticky. Shards of glass floated on a thick red sea. He had to take care not to slip.

He saved the brandy until last, and when he pulled out the final bottle he did not throw it at once, but uncorked it and took six or seven deep pulls. The fading fire in his belly reignited with astonishing vigour. It was a strange, not unpleasant feeling, and as the liquor crackled through his veins Garth felt an extraordinary lightening. He took another gulp and the empty hole in his heart filled with blurry exhilaration. Taking one last pull, he hurled the bottle with all his might. It was done. His father's cellar was destroyed. He tried to pick up the lamp. His hand did not want to obey him. He found that very funny. Leaving the lamp, he squelched his way to the door and let himself out. His feet were wet, the sleeves of his shirt stained and soggy. The fumes buzzed around his head.
He swayed slightly, thinking he would go upstairs and sit with the Furious Boy, but he only made it to the dead hare before he sank down, closed his eyes and let the brandy burn the last memory of the good times clean away.

2

Daisy found him. She had been sent by Mrs Snipper, the only indoor servant to remain at Hartslove, to fetch the hare which, so Mrs Snipper said in her curiously emphatic way, would Do For Supper. Daisy disliked going down to the larder, but she never refused Mrs Snipper, who, unasked, had taken over the kitchen when Cook had left. First, though, she had to find the crutches which, since her accident, had become as much a part of her as her hands and feet.

Other people felt sorry for Daisy, but Daisy had long since given up feeling sorry for herself. Certainly, crutches were a pest and callipers an inconvenience. Certainly, nobody would want to marry her. However, Daisy did not care about marriage. She more than did not care. Daisy never wanted to leave Hartslove, and her lameness bound her to the place in a very practical way: elsewhere, she would feel a burden; here, she was part of the furniture.

Also, her accident bound her particularly to Garth, for Garth had dragged her from under the weight of the fallen pony, and when she was recovered as much as she was ever going to, it was his teeth that had scarred their nanny's buttocks when she had made Daisy cry, and it was his fists that had punished the grocer's boy for imitating her hobbling gait. Daisy knew she had a special place in the corner of Garth's eye and, in return, she loved him with unswerving devotion. This devotion had deepened since their mother left, particularly after Garth ticked Rose off for scoffing at Daisy's habit of saying, ‘Goodnight, Ma,' to a cobweb that hovered above her bed. ‘It's a very good idea,' Garth had insisted with such firmness that even Rose had not dared contradict him.

Daisy found her crutches at the bottom of the kitchen stairs, took a candle and clumped down to the larders. The acrid smell of alcohol hit her before she found Garth folded up on the floor. ‘What on earth?' – she saw red stains on his sleeves. Horror seized her. She slammed down the candle, manoeuvred her legs to kneel and rolled him over, a scream gathering in the back of her throat. ‘Garth! Garth!' Who had attacked him? Where were his wounds? She could see only hollow cheeks, dirty smudge marks and greenish skin.

Garth unwillingly opened his eyes and licked his lips. He had no idea how long he had been down there. His tongue was furred and thick and he could no longer feel his feet. When he tried to sit, he was like Clover's rag doll. It
was when he slumped again that Daisy noticed the amber-coloured footprints leading from the wine cellar. The scream died away. ‘No,' she said loudly. ‘No, no, no.' She let go of Garth, clambered up, opened the door wide and found herself slithering in a ruby, glass-encrusted sea. ‘Holy Moses!' she cried, sliding back and slamming the door behind her. The dead hare swung in the draught. ‘Who did this?'

‘Did it on purpose.'

‘What?'

‘Pa shouldn't drink. Now he can't.'

Daisy stared. ‘
You
did that?'

Garth tried to sit up by himself. ‘Because of The One.'

Daisy paled. ‘What on earth do you mean?'

‘He's bought another The One. He can have his horse or his drink. Not both.' He smiled a brandy smile, a drink-on-the-breath smile, his father's smile.

Daisy recognised it and shook Garth until his head rattled. ‘You're drunk, Garth.' She was appalled.

‘Drunk as drunk,' Garth said gaily. ‘Ma's gone off. Pa's gone mad. I've gone drunk.' He flapped his arms.

Daisy stood up. ‘I'm getting you some water. Holy Moses, Garth.
Holy Moses
.'

Garth tried to stand. The world capsized. He did not feel so good now. His teeth began to chatter. Daisy hooked his arm over her shoulder and they both struggled up the steps into the kitchen, where Garth collapsed on to a chair. The
range was unlit, but Mrs Snipper had laid the fire and Daisy put a match to it. She felt Garth's hand. It was as frozen as the hare. She forced him to drink some water but his teeth clattered so badly against the glass she was worried it might shatter. She wished she had not shaken him. There seemed nothing else to do except fetch more and more water until at last he sipped quietly. The blaze quickened. His clothes began to steam and his colour returned to something a little more normal. Daisy sat down opposite him. ‘You were joking when you said Pa had bought another The One,' she said when she thought he could hear her properly. ‘I mean, he couldn't have. We can't even pay Mrs Snips or buy any groceries.'

This last did not appear to be true since there was a side of ham, a basket of vegetables and a large vanilla cake with a bite out of it on the kitchen table. However, although all the de Granvilles knew that none of this food was bought, they never enquired where it came from. Mrs Snipper never told them that she had a son, Snipe, who, despite his bird-name, had the pulse of a fox and the same thieving talents. It was not that Mrs Snipper was ashamed of Snipe. Far from it. It was just that Snipe was not sociable. His only expressions were watchful, murderous and blank and his only human emotion was worship of Lily, for whom he often left gifts, their intended recipient clear from the lily invariably attached. Mrs Snipper did not worry about Snipe being detected as he lurked round the castle: he could smell
danger on a dandelion head and never used the front door, preferring to creep along the dank, earthy passage which led from the deep roots of a chestnut tree in the field at the front of the castle to the back of the kitchen range. The bite out of the cake carried his teeth-marks. It would never have occurred to him to cut it.

Garth glanced at the cake. His gorge rose. He tried to speak but the brandy's skim was a foul coating on his teeth and his insides seemed filled with grease. He lurched to the sink and was violently sick. ‘He doesn't care about Mrs Snips. He handed over four hundred guineas,' he said, wiping his mouth, ‘and there's a “for sale” sign at the bottom of the drive.' Daisy gasped, dropped the glass and felt herself shattering. Garth knew as he spoke that he should have been more careful, but with the brandy gone he felt cold and even emptier than before. ‘At least if Pa goes on selling things, there won't be much of anything left to move,' he said in a vain attempt at humour.

‘It's not true.'

‘It is true.'

Daisy sat down heavily.

‘I'm going to the Resting Place.' Garth was suddenly short of air. He staggered out, his stained shirt sticking to the bones in his back. Daisy got up and began automatically to gather up the slivers of glass. She was giddy from the news and hardly noticed when she dropped the glass again. Tough she didn't want to be a nuisance, she didn't want
to be alone. She left the glass, hobbled up the stairs and through the hall, automatically grabbing a cloak for Garth. It was perishing outside and he would never take one for himself.

What the de Granvilles called the Resting Place was not a place so much as a tree. It was, indeed, the chestnut tree amongst whose roots Snipe's tunnel began. The tree was so old it did not grow or spread; it simply was. Gnarled and twisted, its branches nothing more than sapless ropes, it nevertheless retained a mystical dignity, in part because around it, half buried and weathered into strange shapes, were three ancient tombstones. Set against the prevailing wind, parts of the stones' inscriptions could still be felt by careful fingers. Nearby, and clearly part of the group, was a flat stone whose inscription had been worn away entirely apart from an H too deeply etched for even the harshest wind to obliterate. The de Granvilles had always been told, and had no reason to disbelieve, that the remains of their crusading ancestors were buried here, and Daisy knew instinctively that the flat stone belonged to a horse. She did not know how she knew, but this belief was reinforced by the shadows that occasionally flitted over the field even under a cloudless sky. Sometimes the shadows were armed men. Sometimes they were horses, snorting and whinnying on the edge of the wind. Sometimes they were girls dancing. There was no pattern.

Daisy found Garth leaning against the tree. She knelt and scraped the frost from the flat stone so that she could trace the H with her thumbnail. The feel of it steadied her. ‘Nobody will buy Hartslove,' she said decidedly. ‘Why would anybody want a tattered old place that's half falling down and so filled with us? And they'd have to have Mrs Snips! I mean, she's nowhere else to go.'

A hard nut formed in Garth's chest. ‘Don't be silly, Daisy. Some rich mill owner'll buy it, stick Mrs Snips in a workhouse in Manchester and hire retinues of cleaners to scrub us out. And when the place is pristine, they'll clear all these stones and make a golf course. It'll be as if we were never here.'

‘It won't,' Daisy said fiercely.

‘It will,' said Garth.

Daisy could not bear to argue. Instead, she hooked the cloak over Garth's shoulders, huddled her arms round herself and gazed at her home.

In the eight hundred years since the first foundations had been dug into the small, rocky hummock set bang in the middle of a moorland valley, Hartslove Castle had undergone many transformations, none of them fashionable, for the de Granvilles never had enough money to employ a grand architect to tear down the old fortress castle and start again. Instead, over the generations, the family had waited until bits fell down naturally, and then employed the same silvery stones to rebuild as best they could. The effect
was peculiar, as though the castle had occasionally shaken itself and, when the dust settled, was surprised to find itself slightly differently configured. Above the old keep, flatter than when initially built and now forming the third wing of a square courtyard, hung a large flag. The flag was draped listlessly today, but in a breeze a red horse at full gallop was revealed, along with a black raven, wings closed, perched on a chestnut-and-silver plait in the shape of a crescent.

In the autumn, the ivy that completely covered the ruined fourth wing turned flame-red and was host to strange rustlings. They were not the rustlings of ghosts. The rustlings were Garth, flipping and tumbling. Sometimes the girls would watch: Rose tightlipped; Lily terrified; Daisy thrilled and envious in equal parts; Clover and Columbine crowing and clapping. Garth himself heard nothing. He just leaped and flipped, boneless as a fish, performing some private, high-risk air-ballet to which, though all his sisters provided an audience, they were not invited – or perhaps only Daisy was.

Her throat tightening, Daisy turned towards the narrow river. Amid the skeletal winter branches on its far bank she could just see a small grey church and the outline of the churchyard wall. The church was not used, although the bell was still rung randomly by a young priest who had made it his home. Since he had never offered his name, the de Granvilles called him Father Nameless.

Valley and hill, river and wood, castle and church: this
was Daisy's world. It was the only world she wanted. She forced herself to look down the drive towards the gate. Thankfully, the ‘for sale' sign was too far away to see. She stood up, her chin set. ‘We can't leave here,' she said.

‘No,' agreed Garth, getting up too. ‘I'd rather set the whole place alight and burn with it.'

This was not an idle fancy: Daisy knew Garth could do it. Her fists crunched into a ball. ‘Garth –' A crash.

Skelton was forcing The One along the carriageway from the stables and the horse, jibbing, had smashed into a fence post. Daisy pressed her shoulder against Garth's. He pressed back.

The horse and Skelton skidded to a halt in front of the drawbridge, the horse sweating and his eyes foolish with fright. Daisy said the first thing that came into her head. ‘That's not a racehorse!'

‘Oh,' said Garth with heavy sarcasm, ‘don't you know anything, Daisy? It
is
a racehorse, and not just any old racehorse. It's The One. It must be. Pa says so.' Sneering did not suit Garth. Daisy did not smile.

The horse bucked and kicked out with his back legs. He tried to gallop off, but Skelton's weight dragged on his tender mouth. The cause of this particular upset was soon apparent. A saddle had been strapped to the horse's back, the girth tightened under his stomach. Though he was well past breaking age, this was his first experience of the saddle and he did not like it. More than that, he would not have
it. He did not recall that he had had just the same reaction when the steel bit was first pressed between his teeth. The bit was now so familiar he hardly noticed it. This saddle, on the other hand, with its flaps and buckles, was certainly an enemy.

BOOK: HartsLove
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