Edward was expounding scripture to the Lady Lucy-Emma, whose sarcastic comments went completely over his head. Lord Charles and Clarice were engaged in a fierce debate over politics and the latest batch of election results. Joseph saw his chance and turned to his right to speak to Anne-Mary, who was moving food around her plate with a fork.
“My dear, you haven’t spoken to me at all since that night.”
Anne pretended not to hear him.
“You were a real asset to the team, Anne - we need people like you.”
“Mr Worthy,” replied Anne-Mary, still focussed on her near-empty plate, “this is not a subject I choose to discuss.”
“We struck a decisive blow for animal rights, Anne, a blow they will not soon recover from. You and I made a difference.”
“I regret few choices I have made in my life, but that night is one of them.” She looked up and faced Joseph. “Mr. Worthy, please do not press the matter further.”
“But don’t you see? We need you! You and others like you. These bastards need to be stopped, we need to send them a message. There’s another lab. They cut up monkey brains while they’re still alive! Anne, come on another job, I promise it will be different.”
He reached out and grasped her hand. Firmly, she removed it.
“Joseph, for two weeks I have seen his face every time I close my eyes. The bulging eyes, the sweat on his brow, the blood erupting from his broken lungs. I see everything, all the time. What he was doing to those creatures was wrong, I know that but... I can’t do it. Now, please drop it.”
She turned away once more.
“It all comes down to those dirty under-dwellers,” said Clarice, becoming the centre of attention instantly. “They are a scourge, a blight on our fair city.”
“There at least, we can both agree,” said Lord Wytherington. “They have no place in London. Quite frankly, the culls are the best thing for them.”
“I’m so glad to hear you say that, my Lord. I have volunteered to join a cull Sunday next, after tea,” said Joseph. “Would you care to join me?”
“Perhaps,” answered Charles, “I may be busy”.
“Are the culls really necessary?” said Lucy-Emma. “They seem a bit, um, harsh.”
“Reverend, what have you to say on the subject?” asked Charles.
“Well,” Edward coughed, “scripture is somewhat vague on the subject. There are many interpretations but there are those who say we must purge the unclean from our midst.”
“Well, that certainly settles it then,” said Lady Wytherington.
“They are sub-human,” declared Clarice. “All they do is take their drugs and sleep in filth. Without them, London could soar like an eagle.”
“I couldn’t agree more, my dear,” said Joseph. “And I think there may be at least one other who shares your passion. Lord Wytherington, do you know much about your under butler?”
“He seems to be adequate at his job.”
“I saw him at a cull a month ago,” continued Joseph, “he seemed - keen. Anyway, I’m all in favour of it. The only good rat is a dead rat.”
Emily shuffled out of the dining room to refill the wine. She did not look at anyone.
“Please excuse me,” said Lord Wytherington, “but nature calls.”
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“My Lord,” Emily murmured.
“Well? Don’t think you can hide from me.”
“Sorry, my Lord.”
“I don’t know why I put up with you, I really don’t. And then you go and break a pile of my best bowls. If I knew what was good for me I would throw you out on your ear. Maybe I will.”
“Please, my Lord, I didn’t mean to.”
“We don’t have any room for clumsiness in Wytherington Hall. You should go back to the sewers where your grubby mother came from.”
A tear came to Emily’s eye. She wiped it away hurriedly.
“But maybe there is a use for you after all,” Lord Charles whispered, moving in close, holding her waist. She held her chin down.
“I will come to your room at midnight, be sure to be ready for me.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“And maybe you can be a little more enthusiastic than last time.”
Dessert was being served, individual vats of hot fudge sundae and bitter cherry.
“I thought he was simply magnificent,” exclaimed Anne-Mary, “deep and majestic.”
“Who are we talking about?” asked Edward.
“We’re talking about Othello,” responded Lady Wytherington, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Didn’t that just open in the Lyric?” said Clarice.
“Yes it did,” said Anne-Mary, “Lucy and I had tickets to the premiere last night.”
“How was it?” said Clarice.
“Oh, it was marvelous, delightfully thrilling. Nicholas Burton was born for the role - the embodiment of noble savagery.”
“I never was much of one for theatre - give me a good 3-D movie any day.”
“Why am I not surprised?” said Lord Wytherington.
Clarice flashed him an annoyed look.
“We took the kids to see Blood Battle the other night, right Joseph? Nice effects.”
“Shame about the story line and cardboard cutout performances,” muttered the Lady Wytherington.
“I never caught the end anyway,” said Clarice, “important business.”
“Isn’t there always?” said Joseph under his breath. His head was buzzing from a little too much to drink.
“Don’t complain, Joseph. If it wasn’t for me, you and your hippy friends couldn’t afford a bonsai.”
Anne-Marie snorted into her ice-cream.
Lucy-Emma pushed back her chair. “Excuse me my lord; ladies and gentlemen.” She stood, feeling the press of gravity on her bladder. Lord Wytherington, Rev. Hall and Mr. Worthy stood as well and politely waited for Lucy-Emma to leave the room.
The hallway felt dark and cold, compared to the warmth of the dining room. It was refreshing. She dragged her feet a little, lingering over the dried flowers and portraits that lined the oak-paneled walls. How had she come to this?
She rounded the corner and began to climb the staircase, counting each step. One at a time, moving up and out. There was, of course, a nearer bathroom she could have made use of but that was hardly the point.
Lucy-Emma stepped onto the landing and paused. She heard something, a sharply taken breath, a soft sob. It was coming from behind the parlour door. It was slightly ajar and dim light spilled out into the corridor.
Lucy walked closer, being careful not to be heard. She reached the door and peered in. There was Emily, her maid, crying into her apron.
Lucy-Emma watched her for a while from the darkness. Why was she crying? Lady Wytherington toyed with the idea of comforting her, putting an arm around her small shoulders. Maybe Emily could help her.
Emily sniffed and wiped her nose.
No. Emily would not want her mistress to see her in this state; better for her not to interfere. Besides, she was Lady Wytherington and it would not be seemly.
She backed away and headed for the bathroom.
The guests dipped their fingers in lemon-scented water and wiped it on their napkins.
“A splendid repast, Lord Wytherington, truly a masterpiece,” said Edward.
“My compliments to the chef, maybe I ought to take her back to London with me,” said Ms. Spencer.
Lucy-Emma fixed Clarice with a hard look, and stood. Clarice got the message and stood as well, followed soon after by Anne-Mary.
“I believe it is time for us to retire to the billiard room,” said Lady Wytherington. “Gentlemen, if you will excuse us.”
“Of course,” said Charles.
The ladies moved to leave the room as John held the door open for them.
“And maybe we should head for the library, I have an excellent port and some fresh cuban cigars for us to sample.”
“Delicious,” said Joseph.
“You spoil us, Lord Wytherington,” said Edward. They rose as one and drifted to the library.
“Where is that girl?” stormed Albert. “It’s past eleven and we’ve barely made a scratch on the dishes.”
“Don’t you go fetching her, Albert,” said Mandy, “she’s had a tough night already. She’s probably gone to sleep.”
“I suppose you’re right. What has become of the youth these days? It wasn’t like that when we were young - we knew the meaning of responsibility.”
“Speak for yourself, my dear.”
John relaxed and lit a cigarette. If the bell didn’t ring he had no responsibilities. He lay in bed and took a long drag. It had been a pretty good day. The cook’s brandy should get him at least a couple of hours off work. He didn’t want to have to work too hard, certainly not with the big cull on Friday. John pulled a small flask from under his bed and took a swig. It was going to be a good week.
It was a quarter to midnight and the guests had just gone home. Lady Wytherington came into her bedroom and removed her earrings. It was a relief to be rid of them. She pulled the chord for Emily and waited, looking at herself in the full-length mirror.
‘My God, I look old,’ she whispered to herself, picking out the new wrinkles and grey hairs. She shook her head sadly.
She waited a bit longer and rang the bell again. This was out of character for Emily, she was normally so reliable. Where could she be?
Something was wrong. Lucy-Emma left her room.
She slipped softly down the stairs quietly, making sure not to disturb anyone. As she walked past Charles’ room she held her breath.
The parlour was dark now, the candles had all been extinguished. She opened the door anyway and looked inside. It was empty.
If I was sensible, I would go back to bed, Lucy-Emma thought. She didn’t.
She went further down, past the dining room. The smell of lemon and roasted beef still hovered like fog in the air. Lucy shuddered involuntarily, and headed further down.
The kitchen was still ablaze with light and the sound of Mandy’s singing drifted towards Lucy as she tip-toed past the door. Mandy had a pleasant voice, she thought suddenly, funny that I hadn’t noticed before. But Emily wasn’t there, and so Lucy-Emma continued.
At the end of a white-washed hall, lit by only a few small bulbs, Lucy found the servants’ stair case. Narrow and well-worn, it reached out dark and steep. Steeling herself, she ascended.
Up and up she climbed, up to the highest part of the house, higher even than the rooms of the other servants. This was Emily’s room.
Lucy stood before the portal and stopped. I shouldn’t be here, I am the Lady Wytherington. I should call for Albert to sort it out. I should go to bed and check on Emily in the morning.
She didn’t move. One hand reached out to the door and knocked.
There was no reply.
She knocked again and pushed the door open.
“It’s such a shame,” said Mandy, wiping away a tear, “she was so young.”
“Hush Mandy, it’s not your fault.” Albert hugged her awkwardly.
“Get rid of it,” said Lord Charles, “I don’t care how.” He left the room without a second glance.
“I’ll deal with it in the morning,” said John, “I’m going to bed.”
He and Albert went down the stairs.
“Come my lady, you should get some sleep,” said Mandy.
Lucy could not help but stare at the tiny body of Emily swinging gently to-and-fro, like a pendulum marking time.
“I just don’t understand, I don’t understand.”
“Come miss, I’ll help you to bed.”
Lucy allowed herself to be manoeuvred out the room and down the narrow stairs but she could not take her eyes from Emily. So small, so small.
When the dreams came to her that night, she could not say she was surprised.
“We are disappointed in you, Lucy-Emma.”
It was the voice of her father, the voice of her mother on the end of the phone.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I think you have the wrong number.”
“We had such high hopes for you.”
She was sitting at her desk in her old house, paintbrush in hand. She was drawing a big house but only had black paint.
“Father, could I have some other colours?”
“We are not your father though you are our daughter.”
Lucy looked up at a world too big. The black paint spilt and spread over the table but when she tried to mop it up it became red, and hot, and sticky.
And she was sitting at a picnic in Hyde Park, watching the ants swarm over a discarded slice of cake. Her sister was singing a song about ducks while she splashed in the pond.
“You are our daughter, now and forever.”
And she was in the ocean, trying to tread water as her father had taught her. It was too hard. Salty water splashed into her eyes and into her mouth.
“Come on little Lucy, just another five minutes.”
“I can’t, I can’t.”
“You must, daughter, there is nothing more vital, nothing more crucial. You are a daughter of the dream now, you have taken the place of the one taken from us. We are unreal, as you have become. Beyond the pall of death we sip from eternity. You are become a child of the unreal gods, Lucy. You are Emily, forever hanging from the rafters, forever kicking the air.”
“It isn’t fair,” she said, or thought.
“No,” they answered, “it seldom is.”
The next day the Lady Wytherington was no more. Lucy set fire to her wardrobe and left the manor with only her nightwear and a warm coat against the cold. The affair was hushed up, of course, though rumours persisted for years.
Lord Charles Wytherington was secretly delighted, though he put on a brave face of disappointment, misery and rage. Now he could have the sons he had always wanted.
The Reverend Edward Hall was unsurprised. She had, of course, rarely listened to his sermons.
Ms. Clarice Spencer and Joseph Worthy barely noticed her absence, though in quiet moments over dinner, Clarice wondered if Lucy had made anything of her life. But running away was quite unforgivable.
Albert did not miss Lady Wytherington. She had married above her station and it was only a matter of time. With regards to Emily, it was sad but she was hardly irreplaceable. Life went on.
Mandy shed a tear for a day or two but she had five mouths to feed and had to buckle up.
John stepped up his involvement in the culls. He hoped to become a group leader some day.
Only Anne-Mary Hoking suffered from a twinge of guilt and loss. As days turned to months, she realised how much she missed her sister, the quiet conversation, the sharing of secrets. And then she would remind herself of how selfish Lucy had been, to run away and leave her, and she stilled her heart.
But once, while walking past Hyde Park, Anne-Mary thought she saw a familiar face at speaker’s corner. A woman stood and spoke to the crowd, told them of hate, and hope, and dreams. Grime-smudged and blackened she seemed barely human but for an instant Anne-Mary thought she saw her sister. But it couldn’t have been.
She closed her mind, ignored her dreams, and went for a drink.