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Authors: K.M. Grant

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BOOK: HartsLove
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‘That's right, dearie,' said Mrs Snipper. ‘Who On Earth were you Expecting?'

5

In the library, Charles sipped his tea as best he could. He was still twitching, wretchedly panicked by the recurring vision of Garth slowly cartwheeling to his doom. Eventually he dropped his teacup and pulled the bottle out of his pocket. Gryffed observed him, unblinking. ‘What are you looking at?' Charles asked, uncorking the bottle. But though he took gulp after gulp, his hand still shook and the liquor was bitter in his throat.

He leaned against the chimney piece and thought of himself at Garth's age. How often, in those days, had he lain face down on the stone at the Resting Place? He was going to be a crusader then, just like his ancestors, and he was going to have a horse so famous that it would also merit a stone and an inscription. He slumped down. Hartslove had been his whole life. But when had he last seen the Dead Girl, with whom he had played as a child? When had he last felt the castle breathing? Once, he had been so rooted here
that his bones ached when the castle was lashed with rain. Once, he had known just which candles would be snuffled at supper and which left alight. Once, he had felt hugged by the castle walls. How had he become as detached from Hartslove as he was from his wife and his children? His fingers closed over the bottle and raised it up. He stared at it as though he had never seen a bottle before. With a strangled cry, he tipped the remaining contents into the cold ash and watched them dribble away.

Gryffed sniffed the ash. Charles called him. Gryffed obeyed. Charles forced himself to march through the great hall, past the kitchen and down the steps to the cellar. Without pausing, he rolled up his sleeves and carried all the cases so recently carried down back up again. He did not think about anything else. It was all he could do to concentrate on the task in hand. Within two hours he had harnessed up the vegetable cart, returned the cases to the wine merchant and was standing next to the Furious Boy full of cash and good intentions.

At dinner that evening, during which, unaccountably, the candles all remained alight, he drank water. Garth had reappeared and was sitting in his usual place. Nobody mentioned the intruders or the cheque. Like his sisters, Garth gaped when he saw what was in his father's glass. It was left to Lily to ask if Charles was unwell. ‘No, I'm quite well, Lily,' Charles said, though his skin was clammy and his body dry as dust. He lifted his tumbler with a trembling
hand and licked flaky lips. ‘I have a toast to make,' he said.

‘A toast?' repeated Rose nervously.

‘Yes, a toast. To Hartslove and The One,' Charles said. Garth looked at his plate. The girls looked at Rose. She sighed very deeply. Her face was bleak. Daisy's heart sank. It seemed an age before, with a small, resigned toss of her head, Rose picked up her glass. For a moment, Daisy thought she would smash it, but instead she raised it. ‘To Hartslove and The One, Pa,' Rose said, though she looked at Daisy.

‘Hartslove and The One,' Lily murmured.

‘Hartslove and The One,' Daisy said joyfully.

‘Hartslove and The One,' the twins echoed.

Garth alone said nothing. ‘Garth?' Charles asked. ‘Will you drink with us?'

‘Not that toast,' Garth said, and ground his glass into the table. Charles set his own tumbler down without tasting a drop. The rest of dinner was eaten in silence.

When their father and Gryffed had left the dining room, Rose turned on Garth. ‘Why couldn't you join in, Garth? Pa was trying. He was actually trying. Why couldn't you just have joined in? I mean, when did he last drink water?'

‘He must be sick,' Clover or Columbine said fearfully.

‘No, he's not, stupid,' the other contradicted. ‘He's trying to be good.'

Garth shoved his chair out. ‘I won't drink to The One,'
he said. ‘The horse'll be the end of Hartslove, not the saving of it.'

‘Never mind that stupid horse. You could have just done it for Pa!' Rose gripped her seat to stop herself leaping up and walloping Garth. ‘I managed.'

‘Pa!' Garth spat on to the floor.

‘How dare you do that?!' shouted Rose. ‘What's wrong with you?'

‘What's wrong with
me
? What's wrong with
you
?' Garth shouted back. ‘You should have seen Pa counting out the money for that horse. Piles of it. Just piles. Right underneath the “for sale” sign.' He felt his heart might burst. ‘I hate him!' He sprang up, sending the firedogs clattering noisily into the hearth, and ran out of the door, slamming it behind him.

He did not stop in the hall. He ran right outside. It was windy and snow had started to fall again. He took no notice. He was going to do something even better than smashing the bottles. He headed for the stables, shoved open the yard gate and let it swing. Skelton's house was dark. Garth found a lamp and matches. He went to The One's box. The horse was lying flat out, almost asleep. Garth climbed on to the stable door. He barely felt the wind scouring his face. He looked only at the horse. This was what was wrong. This horse. This big, ugly, silly, money-eating horse. It did not belong here. It should not be here. He climbed down, pulled open the top bolt, kicked up the bottom bolt and
opened the door. A flurry of snow blew in. The horse raised his head and slowly lurched to his feet. Outside did not look inviting. ‘Do what you should have done the day you arrived,' Garth said loudly. ‘Get out of here.' The horse did not move. Garth hurried to the back of the stable, set down the lamp and smacked the horse's rump. ‘What's the matter with you? Go on! You're free.'

The horse blinked. ‘I'm ordering you to get out!' Garth flung his arms in the air. ‘Get out!' The wind chose that moment to gust and the door banged shut. The horse jerked not forwards, but backwards, straight into the lamp. It tipped over. In half a second, the straw was smoking; in three-quarters, small flames licked. Garth lurched for the door, but the lower bolt, which he had not secured, had dropped back into its socket. Garth was on top of the door in an instant, but for one absolutely clear-headed moment he did not jump down, kick the bolt up and release the horse; He decided to leave him to burn. That would be a truly symbolic end to everything. He could see his father's horrified face. He could hear ‘Yankee Doodle' cut off midstream. He sat on the door, almost smiling.

The horse could smell the smoke. His eyes were like saucers. He nudged Garth's leg.

Garth felt nothing. His smile was fixed. He was suspended in time. A flame shot up and subsided. The horse uttered no sound, only trembled. Still Garth sat. The horse shifted. His tail swished against the flames and the air filled
with the smell of singeing hair. The smoke prickled Garth's nose. Fire, the great cleanser, he thought. He felt a surge of something. This was how it would end. A huge great bonfire. During several long seconds, the smoke increased. The prickle moved from Garth's nose into his brain. The picture in his mind altered. He no longer saw a glorious bonfire and his father's horrified face; he saw the dreadful image of the horse alight. He saw the horse's mouth open. He heard the horse screaming.

With an awful groan Garth dropped down and opened the door. At once, the horse shot into the snow and Garth rushed to tip the contents of the water bucket over the lamp and burning bedding. The flames resisted only momentarily, and when they were doused Garth ran into the yard, snowflakes biting the tops of his ears. The One, confused, had not gone to the gate. He was pressed against the wall, his rug askew. Garth caught him and led him back to the stable. The One was not keen to enter. Garth let go, grabbed a fork and sifted out the charred straw, praying that the kerfuffle had not alerted Skelton. When he had buried the remains in the midden, he grabbed the horse again and this time the horse reluctantly followed him in. Garth refilled the water bucket and adjusted the rugs. Apart from the lingering smell and The One's look of alarm, it was almost as if nothing had happened.

Except something
had
happened. As Garth closed the door and leaned against it, he realised the full wickedness of
which he was capable. It was a horrible realisation. The snow hardened into hail and he raised his face to its whipping. He leaned over the door. The horse jerked back. Garth looked him full in the eye. ‘I'm sorry, The said abruptly. ‘It's not your fault.'

The horse's ears flicked. He had no idea what the boy was saying. He only knew that the fire was out, that it was warm in the stable and that there was hay. Nevertheless, though he settled quite quickly, he did not lie down again that night.

6

Garth returned to the castle. He would sit with Daisy for a bit, though he would not tell her what he had almost done. He would never tell anybody that. As he passed through the hall he touched the Furious Boy's sculpted arm and wished him alive. He would understand. He made his way slowly to where Daisy slept at the top end of the south-east wing and had pushed her door open before he realised she was not alone. Clover and Columbine were nestled together on the window seat like two little birds. Rose was sitting on an old rocking chair with a blanket over her knees. Lily was on the bed, curled around her birdcage, and Daisy was bundled into an armchair whose springs had long since given out. He would have retreated, but five faces were already turned towards him and Daisy was making room for him to huddle up beside her.

He squashed himself in. She leaned on his arm. Garth
found that he wanted to make his peace with them all. ‘Is that a new dove, Lily?' The asked.

‘Yes,' Lily said. ‘It's my fourth. I found it in my room.'

‘It's very pretty.' The dove's cooing comforted.

‘We're discussing the best way to do our hauntings.' Daisy told him, glancing nervously at Rose, who was looking out over the moat and down towards the Resting Place. ‘It was wonderful, the way you frightened those people off today, Garth, but I don't think our hauntings need always be so spectacular. All we've really got to do is Create An Atmosphere, as Mrs Snips might say.'

‘Aren't we going to dress up?' Columbine or Clover asked. ‘Isn't that what you said?'

Rose turned away from the Resting Place. ‘In what? We've no dressing-up stuff,' she said.

‘We could use some of Ma's clothes,' said Daisy.

Rose stopped rocking.

Lily uncurled very slowly. ‘You mean, we'd go into Ma's room and take clothes from her closet?'

‘Yes,' said Daisy.

‘We couldn't,' said Rose.

‘Why not?' Clover or Columbine asked. ‘After all, she's not using them.'

The moon was emerging, and its pearly light stole into the room. Without saying a word, they all found themselves looking at the cobweb in the corner. It glittered. The dove cooed and cooed.

Garth coughed. ‘I don't think Ma would mind. After all, clothes are just clothes and we can put them away after . . . after . . . after we've used them.' He wanted to say, ‘
after The One has won the Derby
,' but could not quite form those words. He no longer wanted to hurt the horse, but that did not mean he believed in it, and even for Daisy's sake he could not pretend otherwise. He picked up the lamp. ‘Shall we?'

Rose tensed. ‘Now?'

‘Why not?' He turned. ‘Come on!' he said, and strode purposefully out.

Rose felt obliged to follow him. Lily put down her birdcage and followed Rose. The others followed her. Down the passage they trooped, past Rose's room, and Lily's, past the room Clover and Columbine shared, past the old nursery, past the room that had once been their nanny's, past rooms unused for sixty years, past Garth's room set into the tower. In single file they skirted the spiral staircase that circled dizzily down from the top of the castle to the bottom and swung right-handed into a wider, grander passage, with ill-fitting mullioned windows through which small draughts constantly disturbed the de Granville battlestandards hanging from the beams. This was their father's passage. They tiptoed quickly past the Cannibal and past the Earl's Room, where their father slept. They could hear Charles moving about and none of them wanted him to ask where they were going.

At the end of this passage, again turning right-handed, the castle softened into their mother's domain. This passage was narrow, matching the south-east wing, and between long lancet windows overlooking the courtyard closely hung watercolours of flowers made a painted garden. It smelled like a garden too, for though everything was covered in a glazy film of dust, Mrs Snipper still hung bags of lavender and rose petals behind the curtain pelmets.

At their mother's door, Garth stood back for Rose. ‘I can't,' she said. Lily shook her head. In the end, it was Clover or Columbine who pushed the door open. Garth held up the lamp. The furniture was sheeted, the room icy and as dismally tidy as the room of a dead person whose personal effects nobody quite likes to move. It was at that moment Rose realised she had been hoping that their mother might actually be there; that somehow she would have materialised from Daisy's cobweb and be sitting at her dressing table, putting up her hair. She knew her disappointment to be ridiculous but felt it keenly nonetheless.

Daisy slid past and hobbled straight towards the big dressing room on the far side, in which, though they had never actually been in it, they understood all their mother's clothes had hung. The door was unlatched. Slowly, Daisy pulled it open, dreading to find it empty. That would certainly mean their mother was never coming back. For a second, there was only darkness; then, as though waking from a spell, the silks and satins began to rustle and
shimmer. ‘Come in,' they seemed to whisper. ‘We've been waiting.' Daisy found Garth behind her. ‘Everything's here,' she said. ‘Listen! Look!' They listened and looked together.

It took only three lamps and the pulling off of the sheets from the furniture for the bedroom to look more as they remembered it. Even the chill seemed to lift. Far from taking everything, their mother seemed to have taken nothing with her at all: not the china vase filled with hairpins; not the tiny muslin nightcap that always rested on a small cushion like a crown; not her silver-backed brushes. A bottle of cologne, half used, sat where it had been left, with a little heart-shaped cambric bag next to it embroidered with ‘CdeG'. Rose picked the bag up. ‘Clara de Granville,' she said. ‘I stitched this.' She opened it and started when out of it fluttered what seemed to be dead moths. Lily caught them as they fell. They were not moths. ‘A rose petal, a lily petal, a daisy, a columbine spur, a clover flower and a chestnut leaf,' Lily said, gazing into her cupped hands. She smiled a little sadly. ‘We're in the bag.'

BOOK: HartsLove
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