The Dower Houseby Annabel Davis-Goff, Davis-Goff
Molly Hassard grew up in the dower house of Dromore, a house built to accommodate a series of Hassard widows displaced by the deaths of their husbands and the marriages of their eldest sons; grandeur replaced by comfort, power by convenience. Caught up as she is in the peculiar world of the Anglo-Irish Protestant Irish in an almost totally Catholic Ireland &
Molly Hassard grew up in the dower house of Dromore, a house built to accommodate a series of Hassard widows displaced by the deaths of their husbands and the marriages of their eldest sons; grandeur replaced by comfort, power by convenience. Caught up as she is in the peculiar world of the Anglo-Irish Protestant Irish in an almost totally Catholic Ireland Molly sees that Anglo-Irish tradition is now too expensive to maintain, that their society is in decline. But as they emerge from the postwar years, the Anglo-Irish refuse to face the inevitable: They have beautiful old houses that are freezing cold; although food is sometimes scarce, the tables are always exquisitely set; and people talk very seriously about the importance of making suitable marriages.
Feeling as abandoned by her country as by her parents' deaths, Molly flees the elegant poverty and painful memories of Ireland for the modern luxury and easier life to be found in the swinging London of the 1960s, a place where the houses are cozy and dry and people actually buy jewelry rather than inherit it. As Molly learns that coming-of-age means not merely growing up, but coming to find her place between the romance of tradition and the allure of the new, Annabel Davis-Goff combines a moving love story with an unforgettably vivid glimpse of a world that no longer exists.
- St. Martin's Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 5.46(w) x 8.28(h) x 0.80(d)
Read an Excerpt
There was roast lamb for lunch. Roast lamb with mint sauce, newish potatoes, and carrots. The mint, potatoes, and carrots came from Lady Marjorie's garden.
Molly glanced nervously at her father as Mr. Paget carved two slices of lamb, each heavily streaked with fat, and laid them on Molly's plate. But her father did not intervene. He had one hand curled comfortably around a glass of claret and was listening to a racing anecdote, one with which even Molly, who had not yet been born at the time of the incident, was familiar. From her father's smile, Molly could tell that, far from being bored, he was listening to the story with pleasure.
Tibby Hassard was enjoying himself. Sunday lunch at the Pagets', although the household was not luxurious nor the family famous for its wit, gave pleasure to Molly's father. Shared memories--there were photographs of a younger Frank Paget among those in the Hassard albums--of a time when life had been easier gave Tibby a safe feeling, a feeling that had started with the glass of sherry before lunch. The modest lunch party was a small respite from the worries, largely financial, never far from the minds of all the adults present.
Molly was eight years old, and although not old enough to be able to describe her father's attitude in words, she recognized it. Mr. Paget was also enjoying himself, was maybe even happy. His wife (not called Mrs. Paget but, as Tibby had reminded them in the car, Lady Marjorie, since her father was a duke) did not share her husband's light spirits.
If Molly's mother had been at lunch, she would have smiled, too, but she, unlike Tibby, would have prevented their host from serving Molly with a piece of meat that, although a treat for Tibby (and an extravagance for Lady Marjorie, one of five daughters brought up on a heavily mortgaged Scottish estate), Molly was unable to eat. Even if she could have forced herself to cut off a small piece and put it into her mouth, Molly could not have swallowed it. But Morag was not at lunch. She was at home, resting. Morag's resting was why Molly and her father and her ten-year-old cousin Sophie were visiting the Pagets instead of eating Sunday lunch at home.
The lamb--pink, greasy, and oozing a tinted liquid that ran into the mint sauce--prevented Molly from eating the vegetables--the safe part of the meal--with any enthusiasm. Playing for time, she cut her potatoes into small pieces, lifted them to her mouth, and chewed them until she felt able to swallow. The plate in front of her was part of a Mason's ironware service. There was a small chip on the side of the plate. The fork in her hand and the spoon and fork above her plate were silver, so old and worn that the tines of the forks were a little shorter than they were meant to be, and not quite even. Since silver is too soft to cut meat, the large knife in Molly's hand was of steel, too old to be stainless, and turned black where it had touched the juices on her plate. She laid down the knife and fork and looked despairingly at her father. Mr. Paget's anecdote was finished, and he was refilling Tibby's wineglass. The glass was Waterford, and it was beautiful but not large; Tibby's relief was apparent to Molly.
"Eat your lunch, child, it's getting cold." Lady Marjorie had been partially deaf since childhood, and her voice, in which her Highland origins could still be heard, was loud and somewhat strident.
Molly felt her face turn red. She was afraid that she would begin to cry. Her lip began to quiver.
"She's not hungry." The Pagets' nineteen-year-old son, Desmond, had not spoken since the beginning of lunch, although Molly had noticed that he, too, had appeared entertained by his father's steeplechasing story. Molly looked at him with her complete attention for the first time. Before lunch while the adults had drunk the traditional Sunday after-church glass of sherry, Molly and Sophie had been sent to admire a mother cat and her kittens in a basket beside the fire. Since Tibby did not permit animals in the house, the kittens had been of greater interest to Molly than had been the young man in a tweed suit whom she knew to be attending an agricultural college in England. She now realized from the way he spoke to his mother that he was not quite a grown-up but, although he belonged to the younger generation, his voice suggested that his opinions carried weight in the family.
"Don't be silly, Desmond, Molly needs her lunch. I've never heard of such a thing," Lady Marjorie said.
The rest of the table was silent. Molly glanced at her father, who seemed mildly put out by the interruption of the more entertaining reminiscences. Sophie, from whom Molly hoped for nothing more than sympathy, was looking thoughtfully at the velvet cuff on her dress. She, too, had been silent during lunch. Although children, when they sat with adults at a dining table, were not encouraged to speak unless spoken to, Sophie did not usually take that convention to apply to herself. Unless Tibby were present. Her uncle Tibby was the one adult whom Sophie treated with respect. Even by the age of ten she seemed to give his good opinion more value than Molly had ever seen her give anything else. Today, content with the knowledge that she was by far the prettiest and the best-dressed person in the room, she was acting the part of a demure princess. The sudden silence was, however, too much for her.
"My mummy says that I--" she started when, to Molly's amazement, Desmond pushed his chair back from the table and stood up, smiling.
"She doesn't feel well; look how pale she is. I'll take her to the greenhouse and show her the fleurs du mal. Be sure to save us some gooseberry fool." With a gesture of his hand, he indicated that Molly should follow him.
As they left the room, Molly heard Lady Marjorie say: "The child is worried about her mother."
Desmond closed the dining-room door behind them. Molly felt a wave of embarrassment overtaking the relief she felt at leaving the plate of congealing food behind her.
"On second thought, I think it might be wise to make sure of the gooseberry fool now. Why leave anything to chance?"
Molly followed silently as Desmond left the large paneled hall and turned right through a swing door into a long, bare corridor. Just inside the door, which was lined on the back with green baize held in place with brass studs, was a large gong. Desmond pointed to the gong stick, a piece of polished wood with a bulbous end covered in worn chamois. It was hanging from a piece of equally worn leather.
"Like to have a go?"
Molly shook her head.
"Mind if I do, then?"
Molly was fairly certain that Desmond was not really asking her permission to strike the gong, but she was unsure how to answer. She remained silent as Desmond took the gong stick and, holding it in both hands, raised it over his shoulder and slowly swung it toward the gong. As the discolored chamois met the metal, it produced a low, deep, booming sound. Molly hoped that no one would think that she had been responsible for the noise, but at the same time she hoped that Desmond would repeat his invitation.
But Desmond, turning right again, led them into the butler's pantry. Not since a brief period around the time of the First World War, when the Pagets had received a large payment under the Wyndham Act and had dipped into what was intended to be capital, had they employed a butler, but, as in the house in which Molly lived, many of the rooms bore obsolete names, evocative of the days when some of the Anglo-Irish landowners had not only the money and power to live in a feudal manner but the necessary proportion of cold blood to carry it off.
From behind the door leading from the butler's pantry to the dining room could be heard the low hum of conversation and the clink of glass and silver. Desmond raised a warning finger to his lips, and he and Molly moved carefully to a table on which had been set the gooseberry fool, a large Stilton almost entirely hollowed out, and a salver with a decanter of port.
Molly was now quite hungry. While Desmond helped them to the smooth, pale-green pudding, Molly looked into the Stilton. At the bottom of the cheese a small, fat, white maggot crawled slowly over a blue vein. Molly looked away. The decanter contained only a couple of inches of port. Her father had once complained on the way home from a previous visit that he had been given the smallest glass of port that he had ever been offered without humor having been intended.
"We'll eat this in the greenhouse."
Desmond handed Molly her plate and led the way through the hall, not pausing, as Molly would have liked, for a better look at the polar bear skin on the polished floor. Molly had in the past been encouraged to pat its huge head and gaze into its yellow glass eyes. At the far end of the hall, Desmond pulled back a heavy baize curtain and opened a glass-paneled door. A border of stained glass, wine red and a faded green, surrounded the larger opaque central glass panels.
Desmond led them into a small, unused conservatory; ferns and one lichen-covered wall all that remained of what had once been a palm-filled male sanctuary where Desmond's grandfather had been in the habit of smoking an Egyptian cigarette each day after lunch. The conservatory smelled of mold and damp, and Molly was glad to reach the open air through a peeling white door at the far end. Outside, a eucalyptus and a jungle of bamboo served, more than the pantry named for a long-departed manservant, as tangible reminders of a time when Desmond's grandfather could afford--or, rather, not afford but had access to enough money--to collect exotic trees and shrubs and plant them in the mild, moist, hospitable climate of the south of Ireland.
Desmond led Molly into a large, domed greenhouse in the center of which was a lily-filled pond. Molly was happy to sit beside it and take tiny bites of her gooseberry fool.
"Look," Desmond said. A large pink goldfish was nosing the underside of a lily pad on which sat the smallest frog Molly had ever seen.
"Sophie's your cousin?" Desmond asked.
"Yes. She stays with us when her parents are away. Sometimes I stay with her. She's an only child, too."
"But your mother's having a baby?"
Molly looked at the dark-red tile at her feet. More than thirty years of mud and grit had coated and scratched it.
"Yes." Molly was old enough to understand that her mother was pregnant, but she had never been told that this was the case. She worried that this meant she wasn't supposed to know. The idea embarrassed her, and she put it out of her mind much of the time. She knew that her mother was at home with a nurse and there was a reason why she and Sophie had been taken out for the day by Tibby, but she didn't want to think about it.
"I suppose they're hoping for a boy?"
Molly supposed so, too. If she had it to choose, she would have preferred a girl. She and Sophie could dress up the baby in the old lace dresses and embroidered shawls that were kept between sheets of frayed, crumpled tissue paper in a chest of drawers in an unused bedroom. But she knew that each family needed a son to inherit the property and encumbrances and to carry on the name for at least one more generation.
"If I ever have children, I want them to be girls," Desmond said.
Molly looked at him in surprise. It was not a view she had ever heard expressed before.
Desmond was silent for a moment. Molly had the impression that he knew what he wanted to say but was trying to find a simple way of explaining it.
"The wine glasses at lunch. Did you notice them?"
Molly nodded. She remembered them not only because she had been watching her father but because they were similar to some that were kept in a glass-fronted cabinet in the dining room of her own house.
"When I was a child there were eleven wine glasses left. There had originally been twenty-four of each kind. Now there are seven, and one has a chip in it. They set that glass in front of my mother because she doesn't drink. The glasses can't be replaced. They're original Waterford, not the stuff they make now and sell to Americans. We couldn't afford to replace them, anyway. Everything's like that--we're living on leftovers, preserving and patching and making things last. There's not quite enough to last my parents' generation, and there really won't be enough for you and me, but we'll probably do it anyway. But after that ... If I have children I hope they're girls and grow up to marry Catholics or have jobs."
"Sophie's going to be a film star."
Desmond laughed, and Molly wished that she had not proffered this information in quite so reverential a tone.
"A film star. It's perfect. The healthy impulse to swim away from a sinking ship, modified perhaps genetically by the Anglo-Irish compulsion toward the impracticable. I admire the long-shot aspect of it, of course. How's she going to go about it?"
Molly didn't know, and she suspected that Sophie didn't know either, and she wanted to protect herself as much as Sophie, to change the subject.
"Where are the flowers you were going to show me?'
"They're in the other greenhouse."
Desmond closed the door of the second greenhouse behind him, and Molly noticed that the temperature was a little cooler and that air was moving through openings where panes of glass had been removed and stacked, grimy and a little green around the edges, against a wall. Molly also noticed that the window frames had grooves of soft lead, less than an inch wide and shaped like blunt hooks, into which the glass could be slotted at night or during inclement weather.
Her family had briefly employed a Swiss au pair, and Molly, if pressed, knew enough French to understand what "fleurs du mal" meant. But when Desmond had first spoken of the flowers, Molly had been occupied with the food on her plate. Nor did she remember the implications of the phrase now that she saw them--irises in stained, lichen-covered clay pots; pansies in flat wooden boxes; tulips in a freestanding trough. All of them black. The darkness of the flowers did not seem sinister to Molly; what surprised her was the absence of warm color. In a greenhouse or garden, she expected her senses to be a little more stimulated than they were indoors.
"They're black," she said.
"We're still working on getting them black. They're really only a deeply compromised purple."
"Mummy read me The Black Tulip. It doesn't say how he did it. I thought maybe he soaked the bulbs in black ink."
"That's not the way it's done. Do you know who Charles Darwin was?"
"Daddy says that what he said wasn't true. It's in the Bible what really happened."
"Ah." Desmond smiled. Molly was shocked. It was the first time that one of her father's opinions had not been enough to clinch an argument.
"Let me put it another way. If you wanted to breed a Dalmatian with more spots, you would choose the most spotted male you could find and the most spotted bitch. When they had puppies you would take each puppy and count its spots. " Molly laughed. "You would discard the less-spotted puppies from your breeding program and breed the more-spotted dogs with other highly spotted Dalmatians. You can see that that would work?"
"Yes," Molly said. She could see where this was leading; it made such sense that she wondered how her father could disagree.
"You do the same thing with a tulip. You breed for darkness--sometimes you breed in a related species to accelerate the process. These things happen in nature, only there it is more random."
"But there aren't any black flowers in nature."
"I was thinking of people. You import a fairly large number of English people into Ireland. The strongest, richest men and the prettiest women tend to get first choice of who they'll marry. From the strongest, richest, prettiest pool they look for other desirable characteristics: a good seat on a horse, wit, nerves of steel about unpaid bills, the ability to hold large quantities of alcohol, a way with words, good enough circulation to live in large, cold houses, and the ability to eat awful food. Pretty soon you've got the Anglo-Irish. They're not exactly not English, but they're different."
Molly's mind was racing. She wondered if her father would like the black flowers. They had an air of restraint that her father, who despised excess, might have admired. He would have liked, too, the greenhouse oddly drained of color. Except for a strand of wisteria that had forced its way through a broken pane on the roof, the grayish-green foliage of the black flowers was the only color in the glass building. Molly wondered if the vine had broken the pane to get inside.
After lunch on Sundays, unless the rain was heavy (the occasional shower not considered a deterrent), Molly's father would take her for a walk on Woodstown beach. If Sophie were visiting, she would, a little less enthusiastically, come, too. Walking was a large part of Tibby's life. He wore old knickerbockers, hand-knitted stockings, and brown laced shoes that had been very expensive twenty years earlier. He walked for reasons he knew about and for reasons he did not understand but never questioned. In winter, if there was still enough light, he might carry a gun in hopes of putting up a couple of snipe, but game was not the purpose of his walk, either. Tibby walked over the field, not looking for something, not thinking of buying the land, not to flatten his stomach or to work off a heavy lunch, but because it gave him pleasure. It would be a rare afternoon in which he did not see, or remember, something of interest. One of the most admirable aspects of Tibby's character was his ability to remember without bitterness or regret.
After lunch--a little later than usual; Tibby had lingered at the Pagets'--her father took Molly and Sophie for their usual Sunday walk. The heavy jacket and matching trousers that Molly had changed into in Lady Marjorie's bedroom were recent hand-me-downs from Sophie. Molly felt none of the resentment that children usually feel while wearing clothes that had been chosen and bought for someone else. She attended a school in Waterford, where her fellow pupils--largely the children of Church of Ireland tradesmen and farmers from the surrounding counties--admired her clothes and their London department-store labels with the same frankness with which they let Molly know her deficiency in so many more important areas. The material of the jacket was thick enough for her to feel warm on the deserted beach. A thin mist blew in from the Atlantic. Molly felt nervous and guilty. She was not sure whether there would be repercussions from her behavior at lunch. Tibby seemed preoccupied. She was fairly sure that she was not the object of his thought, but she hoped that Sophie would not introduce the uneaten meal into the conversation.
Rush, the aging black Labrador that had waited patiently outside during lunch, ran joyfully on the beach, splashing in the water, making ineffectual attempts to catch a seagull. Sophie bent and picked up a small piece of driftwood and threw it into the water. Rush dashed after it and returned, shaking doggy water on them. He laid the piece of bleached wood at Tibby's feet.
"Good Rush. Who's a good boy?" Sophie said in a tone somewhat like that of Belinda, her mother, as she crouched down to hug the dog.
"Don't make a fool of that animal," Tibby said, not unkindly.
Sophie leaped to her feet, a little pink, remembering that what was considered charming in her own family was, by Tibby, thought affected and confusing for a dog that was supposed to earn its keep.
"Look! Look!" Molly shouted, pointing to the far end of the gritty beach where, partly concealed by the gusts of light mist, a small aeroplane was about to land.
"Heel, Rush," Tibby said, leading his small party up onto the low dunes that were held in place by clumps of beach grass. There were small sheltered pockets of clean, warm sand where Molly's family sometimes ate picnics.
They stood and watched in a silence broken only by Rush's panting as he sat on his haunches, mouth open. Molly watched as the plane, still tiny in the distance, touched the sand, bounced lightly but unevenly once, and came toward them. There was no sound. As the plane--its silver metal shining from the thin rays of sun penetrating the sea mist--came closer, they could finally hear the sound, not loud, of its engine. The colors, too--yellow wings, silver body, mahogany wing struts--became brighter as the plane came level with them, then rolled to a halt about seventy yards down the beach past them.
Molly waited to see what her father would do.
Unlike Molly, who was often unable to voice her simplest needs, Sophie had no difficulty in stating her wishes. "Let's go and see," she said.
"It's Mr. Hannon. From Knockboy." Tibby was walking toward the small plane, from which a man was alighting. Sophie, without hesitation, put herself at his side. Shy, nervous of the unknown, Molly made a pretense of calling Rush. The dog, obedient to a command from Tibby, ignored her, choosing instead--tail wagging and nose to the ground--to make his way back to the water.
Molly came to the tracks in the sand made by the aeroplane. Water had begun to seep into the four ridges, two wider than the others. Following the tracks, Molly walked slowly to where her father was talking to the man who had just climbed from the plane. Sophie was holding Tibby's hand.
"Mr. Hannon is going to take me for a ride. Do you want to come? There's room for two," Sophie called out. Her excitement made Mr. Hannon laugh.
"Two very small girls, if one sits on the other's lap," he said.
Molly looked at her father.
"Would you like to, Molly?" he asked, his smile encouraging, although his tone did not give the question any particular weight. The light craft appeared insubstantial, fragile, but not so small as it had appeared when she had been watching it land. She saw, with some alarm, that the section of plastic that served as a roof to the cockpit was transparent, and it was even more fragile than the rest of the aeroplane.
"No, thank you, Mr. Hannon," she said, not meeting his eye.
For a moment she thought that Sophie would try to persuade her. Then she realized that Sophie, who was clambering into the passenger seat without a backward glance, had been counting on Molly's timid nature. She was pleased to sit, like a grown-up, beside Mr. Hannon, without the disadvantage of a small girl on her knee. Molly felt sad. She slipped her hand into her father's; he had no way of knowing that for her to do so was a tiny act of courage.
Molly and Tibby drew back as Mr. Hannon switched on the engine. The propeller began to turn. The noise of the engine was loud, and there was a smell of fuel. They watched as the plane moved along the sand and then, gradually, lifted off and rose over the small tree-covered headland at the end of the beach. Tiny again, it circled out over the sea and then turned landward behind them. Soon it was out of sight.
Tibby and Molly continued their walk along the beach. Having the complete attention of her father was a rare pleasure for Molly, and she felt as though she should say something to please him, but she was considering the easy way in which Sophie had taken Tibby's hand. If her mother really was having a baby, might not that baby also want to hold Tibby's hand? Molly did not for a moment imagine that Sophie would graciously withdraw her hand, either literally or metaphorically, to allow Molly her place at Tibby's side.
"Mr. Hannon's father was the agent at Carrig when old Mr. Butler was alive. I went to school with the Butler boys: they were about the same age as Hannon. He went to Newtown. Old Mr. and Mrs. Hannon were very good sorts--he'd been in my father's regiment in the First World War and she was the rector's daughter from Dungarvan."
Tibby's conversation was full of biographic and geographic references. Being an agent on a large estate such as Carrig was one of the few acceptable forms of employment for an Anglo-Irish male, but Molly inferred that the Hannons were socially modest. Tibby and the Butler boys had gone to school in England at Repton, which was where Anglo-Irish families of their sort sent their sons. Mr. Hannon, however, had been educated at Newtown, a Quaker school in Waterford.
"Hannon used to come home from school sometimes at the weekend and his parents--well, the Butler boys were away at school, and I think they wanted their son to have friends that he'd have more in common with--told him if he wanted to bring a friend home with him that he could. He was a shy boy, and I suppose they thought it would be something pleasant he could offer another boy of his age: real food, only going to church once on Sundays--you know. So, early on in his second term he said he would like to bring a friend to stay. Old Mr. Hannon went to collect them after school on Saturday, and there was young Hannon with a little girl from two classes below his."
"A little girl?"
"Her name was Irene. Her father was a solicitor in Cahir. The Hannons were surprised, but they hadn't specified a boy and they didn't know what to say. Later, that was; of course, they welcomed the little girl. Mrs. Hannon quickly made up the spare room--they'd assumed that young Hannon would share his room with his guest--and neither of the children seemed embarrassed by the mistake. The weekend went off well enough, although the little girl hardly spoke a word. Then the same thing happened two weeks later."
"What was she like?" Molly asked.
"I saw her one weekend when I was visiting the Butler boys. She was little and thin. She had ginger hair, and she was wearing a dress I imagine was a hand-me-down. She was almost silent. I was mystified, the Hannons were mystified, but the Butler boys didn't go in for being mystified, and they tried to tease Hannon about the girl. He didn't rise to the bait. One afternoon that weekend the Butler boys were off at a tennis party--they were beginning to have places to go that I hadn't been asked, and they and I were invited to parties that young Hannon wasn't; we were getting to that age--I walked over to see Hannon. I took the path past the vegetable garden and along the lake." Molly nodded. She had a clear although not necessarily accurate image of how the house and grounds looked. She had never been to Carrig, now a hotel, the Butler family long gone. "When I got to the old boathouse--even in those days it was crumbling; now I suppose it's gone--I heard voices coming from the reeds. They didn't see me. The path was in the shade, and they were in the sun. They were sitting in the old punt in the reeds, young Hannon listening to Irene. I was too far away to make out what she was saying, but he was listening and nodding. She had a little book in her hand. After a while I called out to them, and she stopped speaking. They brought the punt in and got out. Irene didn't say a word except hello all the way back to the house."
"What was the book?"
Tibby smiled. "I thought you'd ask that. She slipped it into her pocket as she stood up. As though it was something private."
"And then what happened?"
"Well, nothing. The family got used to having her around. George Butler nicknamed her 'The Wife,' and it stuck."
"And what happened when they grew up? Did they get married?"
"Oh, yes. I never doubted it for a moment after I saw them in the punt, although I still have no idea what she was saying or what the book was--it could have been Latin verbs or her diary. It was the way he was listening to her."
Molly was silent for a moment, trying to imagine Mrs. Hannon, whom she knew by sight, as a girl her own age. Her father lifted his head, and she saw the aeroplane was returning. It appeared against the white herring clouds and pale-blue sky as a dense black insect, then it grew to the size of a bird. The sound of the single engine, choppy but not unpleasant, became audible, and Tibby tightened his grip on Molly's hand and drew her up to the dunes. For the second time that afternoon they stood in silence as the small craft landed on the beach below.
Sophie was exultant. "You can see everything! We saw the cook at Woodstown House picking raspberries and Mr. Mulcahy walking his greyhound and an old woman feeding hens and some little girls skipping rope. You should have come, Molly."
Molly hoped that Mr. Hannon would repeat his invitation. She wanted to see what Sophie had described, to look down into the walled garden at Woodstown House. And she wanted an opportunity to look at Mr. Hannon, now that she felt some curiosity about him. But after a moment her father thanked Mr. Hannon for his kindness to Sophie, glanced at his watch, and said it was time to go home.
Late-afternoon sun reflected on the upstairs windows of Fern Hill as they approached the house. A well-tended lawn, weed-free gravel, and syringa bushes in bloom under the library window suggested peace and order. A frightened, inarticulate maid weeping in the hall was their first intimation that something was wrong.
"Go into my study, Maisie," Tibby said quietly. "Girls, go upstairs and change for tea."
Maisie, responding to Tibby's tone, stopped crying, and Molly hurried upstairs followed by Sophie, who had opened her mouth as though to ask a question and had then thought better of it.
Molly, scared, although her fear had no name, did not want to be left alone with Sophie and to bear her curiosity and speculation, and when Sophie went directly to the night nursery, Molly continued along the corridor to the nursery bathroom. Next to the nursery bathroom--the house had been built along simple plumbing lines rather than for comfort--was the bathroom that served the guest rooms. The door stood ajar, and Molly could see, lying on the tiled floor, next to the lion's claw foot of the bathtub, a pile of stained sheets. Appalled, fascinated, she stopped and looked, trying to understand. There was blood on the sheets, of that she was certain. But pale blood, diluted with some other liquid and darker at the edges of the stains. Understanding that the stained sheets and Maisie's tears meant that something terrible had happened to her mother, Molly slowly closed the bathroom door.
Meet the Author
Annabel Davis-Goff was born in the south of Ireland. She now lives in New York City.
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