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Authors: K.M. Grant

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BOOK: HartsLove
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‘Why didn't she take us with her?' asked Clover or Columbine. They had been barely four when their mother had left, and only now, in her empty room, did she seem real to them. Garth took the chestnut leaf and balanced it in his palm. Colourless and gossamer thin, only the tiny tracery of veins stood between it and a puff of powder. He hardly dared to breathe. That his mother thought of
him as a chestnut leaf seemed entirely right. Had he been asked to choose something himself, it was what he would have chosen – a chestnut leaf from the chestnut tree at the Resting Place. He let the leaf float on to the dressing table. Rose opened a drawer. ‘Let's put them in here,' she said. They obeyed. Rose shut the drawer and turned the tiny key.

Daisy went back into the closet and opened her arms. Soft muslins, scratchy brocades, ticklish furs and a faint smell of damp enveloped her. Some clothes slid off their hangers; others brought their hangers with them. Stumbling under a multicoloured billow, Daisy collapsed on to the bed. Rose caught the nearest dress, a pale green evening gown of fine silk embroidered all over with tiny lilac flowers. She held it against herself. The bodice, drawing to a tiny waist, was boned and lined; the skirt, without the crinoline to support the dome of the cut, hung in a shining waterfall. Lily caught another dress, this one grey and sprigged with aquamarine feathers. ‘Put them on!' urged Clover and Columbine. Clover went to Lily and Columbine to Rose and, though the older girls never expressly gave their permission, began to unhook the coarse cotton dresses that Mrs Snipper had run up for them.

Before they had finished with the hooks, Daisy was bringing out soft chemisettes, gauze fichus and pantalettes of lawn cotton and lace, all spotless white and more delicate than the snowflakes still falling outside. Lily exclaimed with
delight. Daisy disappeared again, and this time emerged draped in doeskin gloves, swansdown tippets and three woollen shawls still smelling of spices.

‘Pa brought these home from the war!' Rose exclaimed. ‘Don't you remember, Lily? He spread them in the drawing room and told us that they should slide through a wedding ring.' She picked up one of the shawls and held it against her. Green and gold thread glistened. She gathered the shawl, made a ring from her thumb and index finger and drew the shawl through. ‘Ma folded one over her head and covered her mouth. Pa said she looked like a Turkish princess. You must remember.'

Lily nodded. They shared a smile.

Daisy was busy shaking out three high-waisted dresses of creamy muslin, each dress spun transparent as a butterfly's wings. Rose gazed at the dresses in amazement. ‘These must have been our grandmother's, or even great-grandmother's,' she said. ‘Nobody would dare wear such things now. They're completely see-through!'

‘Put them on! Put them on!' chanted Clover or Columbine. Rose and Lily demurred, then, unable to resist and with the twins as willing helpers, they were slipping the gossamer dresses over their heads. Their cotton shifts protruded. ‘Use these,' said Daisy, and handed over specially made matching underclothes of tissue and lace.

‘You can't!' Garth was scandalised.

Rose and Lily disappeared into the closet and minutes
later wafted back, barefoot and shaking out their hair. Clover and Columbine gasped.

‘You've turned into fairies!' Daisy breathed. ‘Real fairies.'

Clover vanished, then edged out of the closet caged in a circular crinoline, its whalebones clicking. On her head, she had squashed a wide-brimmed hat, and round her ankles flapped a pair of long drawers. She flashed a feathered fan, then promptly tripped. The whalebones rose above her head like a heap of petrified snakes. Despite herself, Rose began to laugh in a very unfairylike manner, and Columbine, not to be outdone, ran into the closet and leaped into a huge black silk taffeta, all flounces and bounces.

‘You look like a giant spider,' Garth said.

Whipping out a voluminous cambric undersleeve, Columbine plonked it on Garth's head and curtsied deeply. ‘Garth, King of the Closet,' she said.

Garth whisked up a shawl and wrapped it round himself. ‘No King of the Closet, me,' he said. ‘I'm the Emperor of Siam. May I have the pleasure?' He whirled Columbine round until her skirt, heaving like the sea, knocked them both over. Helplessly, Columbine began to giggle, and Garth, head poking out from beneath the flurry, felt a burst of laughter bubble up from a place he thought had withered away.

Then, quite forgetting why they had come here, they began pulling everything on in ridiculous combinations. Garth found a pair of frilled drawers and a half-crinoline,
which he tied round his waist. Attaching a plume to his head, he pretended to be an impatient coach-horse, neighing and scraping his feet. Clover and Columbine, their faces veiled like Persian sultanas, announced they were off to the opera. Rose pulled on a ballgown with matching high-heeled shoes. Only Daisy tried nothing on, though she longingly stroked a pair of Polish boots with leather tassles. In the end, pressed by Clover or Columbine, she wore a brown velvet nightcap with thick earmuffs which, after some disputation, they agreed must have belonged to an old man whose wife snored.

In the end, Lily outdid them all. As the laughing, arguing, jostling and jangling rose to a pitch, she appeared framed against the closet in the candlelight. The dress she wore was of blue-white satin warmed by a filmy froth of lace tumbling layer upon layer from wrist and neck. The skirt flowed from her waist like milk, and under its shadow peeped two narrow, pointed shoes sewn with pearls. She had pinned up her dark hair and set a silver comb above it. From the comb drifted a veil of wide-spun net, fragile as Garth's chestnut leaf.

‘Oh!' whispered Daisy, but nothing more, for at that very moment the bedroom door was thrust open and first Gryffed, then Charles appeared. Charles's hair was rough, his shirt only half tucked into his trousers. His boots were unlaced and he was holding a pistol, raised and cocked. He stopped dead when he saw his children. ‘You!' he exclaimed,
stunned. ‘Thieves! I thought thieves –' Then he spied Lily. For one moment he stood transfixed, then he dropped the pistol. It went off with a loud retort. Daisy gasped. Charles did not seem to notice. His face lost all its colour. ‘Clara?' he whispered. ‘Clara?'

There was nothing but petrified silence. Rose went to him. He jumped when she touched him, but he never took his eyes from Lily. ‘It's Lily, Pa,' Rose said. She could feel her father's muscles tight as springs.

‘Clara?' her father repeated, then suddenly his face purpled and Rose was hurled across the room. ‘How dare you!' Charles cried. ‘HOW DARE YOU!' He rushed at Lily. ‘Your mother's wedding dress. Take it off! Take it off this instant!'

Lily tried to reverse through the closet door, but her crinoline was too stiff, and she found herself splayed against the frame like a moth against a window. Charles raised his hand. Garth catapulted forward. ‘Don't, Pa! Don't you dare lay a finger on her!'

Charles hit Garth and in the same movement seized the comb from Lily's hair and tossed it aside, snagging the net veil on his jacket buttons. He pulled the veil off, then caught at the collar of the dress and tore it from top to bottom. The ruins fell about Lily's feet with a small sigh and she was left marooned. Aghast, with Clover and Columbine crying loudly, Charles fled back to his room.

For what seemed like an age, nobody moved. Eventually
Clover and Columbine's sobs quietened. Rose picked up a discarded glove. ‘We shouldn't have come in here,' she said, livid with herself. ‘We've done a terrible thing. We can't ever come in here again.' She began to blow out the lamps.

There was a small sound from somewhere near the door. Gryffed was sinking. The slug from the pistol had gone straight through his heart.

7

The dog was quite dead. Only habit had kept him upright this long. Now he lay peacefully, as accepting of death as he had been unquestioning of life. They all crouched beside him, calling his name. Garth and Daisy cradled his head. Rose and Lily frantically searched for a pulse. Clover and Columbine desperately stroked his back. Daisy got up first and, after kissing both Gryffed's ears, went very slowly to find Mrs Snipper. The old woman, roused from sleep and with her nightcap askew, took a moment to understand. ‘Oh My Dear God!' she said, and followed Daisy up the stairs.

It was Mrs Snipper who eventually chivvied them out of their mother's room. ‘But Gryffed can't stay here,' Rose said. She kept looking behind her. ‘He can't, Mrs Snips.' She was trying not to cry.

‘No, dearie,' Mrs Snipper said. ‘You leave the Dear Dog to me.'

‘He must be buried at the Resting Place,' Garth said. He knew that his sisters expected him to rant and rave against their father. They did not know what the early evening had taught him about himself.

‘Who's going to tell Pa?' whispered Lily.

Daisy's face was gaunt with shock. ‘I'll tell him,' she said. ‘It was my fault. If I'd never suggested using Ma's clothes, this would never have happened.'

Mrs Snipper bristled to the fullness of her tiny height. ‘We'll have none of that,' she said. ‘You hear me, Miss Daisy? None Of That. Things happen. That's what. Sometimes there's blame. Sometimes there isn't. Gryffed Had His Life and now It's Over. Your Pa had a life and it's Gone Wrong. You're trying to make it Right Again. What's wrong with that?'

‘Gryffed shouldn't have died,' Daisy said. She was beyond tears.

‘And your Pa shouldn't drink,' Mrs Snipper reminded her, ‘and this place shouldn't be for sale.' They reached their father's room, paused and walked on. The Dead Girl was standing under one of the standards. She raised one hand. They walked straight through her. Only when they were back in Daisy's room did Mrs Snipper leave them. When she got to her kitchen, Snipe was already waiting. She did not need to tell him what had to be done.

‘It's the end, isn't it?' said Clover or Columbine, huddling into Daisy's bed and trying to make herself
as small as possible. ‘We'll have to move. We can't go on now.'

The twins expected Rose or Daisy to answer, but Garth knew it was his voice Daisy needed to hear. He swallowed. ‘It's not the end. We can go on,' he heard himself say. ‘It's terrible about Gryffed, but we're de Granvilles. Going on is what we do.' He knew it was not much to offer, but he could think of nothing else. They heard the front door bang and presumed it was Mrs Snipper. ‘How would we manage without her?' Daisy whispered. They tried not to imagine what she was doing.

But it was not Mrs Snipper who slammed the door, it was Charles, and just like Garth earlier, he was heading for the stables, only he did not go near The One. Instead, he rattled Skelton's door. It opened a crack. Shoeless and in a gentleman's velvet dressing-gown, Skelton had been combing his whiskers.

‘I need a drink,' Charles said abruptly.

Skelton was startled at first. ‘It's very late.'

‘I need a drink,' Charles repeated, and pushed his way in.

Skelton closed his door and his mind began to work.
Well, well
, he thought.
Now here's something
. ‘You're giving up the drink.' He made a face like the parson.

‘Just give me a drink.' Charles was pacing about.

‘I'm really not supposed—' said Skelton sanctimoniously.

‘For the love of Christ, man,' Charles roared in a torment of need. ‘Don't I still give the orders round here?'

‘Oh, indeed, sir,' said Skelton, with mock deference. ‘Of course, sir.' Without further ado, he gestured to a chair and furnished Charles with a nearly empty bottle. Charles drank the contents in one. He exhaled and wiped his mouth. ‘I've had a fright,' he said, half defiant, half apologetic.

‘Indeed,' said Skelton.

‘Is there more?'

Skelton demurred just enough to see the need rise like a tide in Charles's eyes. ‘Wait,' he said, and with a broad, secret smile went to retrieve the first bottle from his stash.

In the dawn, Daisy heard Charles return. He was clearly listing heavily, crashing against the statues in the hall and ordering Gryffed, whose absence he was too drunk to notice, to be quiet. She wanted to tell him at once of the tragedy. She pulled on her dressing gown as he climbed the stairs. When she got along his passage, the door of his room was open and she called to him in a low voice. There was no answer so she peered in. Charles was lying face down on the bed, melting snow trickling down his neck. Daisy gazed at him, in all his wreckage. She wanted to hate him. She could not. She wanted to love him. She could not do that either. She put down her candle and with some difficulty drew the bedcovers over him. A small miniature of their mother had fallen out of his pocket. Daisy wiped it dry and placed it on the pillow.

She did not go back to bed. Instead, she went to their mother's room and found Garth outside the door. Neither
seemed surprised to see the other. They went in together. Gryffed was gone. Everything else was just as they had left it: the pistol on the floor, clothes strewn like fallen leaves, the milky wedding dress spilled all over. Wordlessly, they folded and tidied as best they could. Sometimes they both started, imagining their father's footfall, but only the Dead Girl came. When everything was tidy, the three of them stood very quietly, Garth and Daisy breathing the last of their mother's scent. Daisy felt the Dead Girl touch her shoulder. The touch reassured. Garth was right. They were de Granvilles and de Granvilles did go on.

Garth stooped and picked up the pistol.

‘What will you do with it?' Daisy asked fearfully.

‘I'll throw it in the moat,' he answered.

‘You promise?'

He hesitated. The pistol felt good in his hand. ‘I promise,' he said quickly. With a last, lingering look, they left their mother's room and closed the door behind them.

BOOK: HartsLove
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