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The Coldfall Sanction

Of What I Know

Session Fourteen, Part Nine

14 March 1916 – from the Diary of Thomas Smith – Later

And then they are gone. To their fencing. The clacking of swords is what it is. With tips on the blade so as to not draw blood, I guess. What’s it all about I don’t rightly know. And what has it to do with a fence. I mean some are spiked. And them that are of iron are more like a spear I would say that a sword. And what’s a lady needing to do with a sword? Ready to do her part? It shames me. As I am but to stand duty at the sideboard, rather than with my fellows in arms, being as I am a footman. This morning. As every morning being as we are lacking several in staff what with John and Simon gone and having signed up. In France. Or so Simon says in the letter he wrote back to Mrs Clarke, who be his cousin. So, there we are alone looking to one another. Me and Mr Haines. Hearing them clacking at the swords. He all calm and standing with that patience of his. As there’s not a soul in the dining room. Them that remain having not come down. Well that daft Miss Renfield, she had come down, but had gone away. With her Ladyship. Gone to watch the clacking. Assured they had gone through, Mr Haines he gave me the nod as he stepped away to take leave of me at my post.

I must say it grows on me. To have to stand here beside the burners. Standing duty over the sideboard while there is fighting to be done. I know I should put aside the livery and put on the uniform but there is the wages. And Beatrice has now only to do the one shift at the presses at the laundry. Her not being as lucky as I. And so there is the worry who would help should I take up the colours. But soon it may be a decision I don’t make as the Conscription they say is soon to take effect. I know it to be more certain as Marge says Miss Cooper heard Mr Haines and her Ladyship discussing what to do when it comes round to me. Mr Haines, I hear from Mrs Barnes more likely wont be in the call as she says he had some bad wound in his time with Lord Cyril in some place called Moldova.

Mr Haines upon his return had that most vexed look of his. “It would seem Mr Mellilow finds it more comfortable to dine in the servants hall.” He says.

“What – he is to eat with us?” I asks.

“As it would seem.”

“Mrs Clarke says he’s a rogue who knows his way well about the felon’s dock.”

“It would be wise, Thomas, to keep the opinions of others to oneself.” He says

And having checked the burners he was putting back the lid of the back bacon when that Miss Carstairs arrives. And what a fine sight she is to see. Those delicate wrists. The curve of her knuckles. The long fingers. Her walk. So unlike all the ladies that come here to call. Vigorous. As is her figure. Slender. But not such that it isn’t pleasing to the eye. The thought fills me with all kinds of wonderings, owing to what Marge had told Mrs Cooper. What she had seen through the crack of the door. When she had gone up. Miss Carstairs there in Miss Renfield’s bed. What with the sheet down and about so as to show the nakedness as Marge says she were. A crack from which I would have liked a peek. A sight I would much have liked to see. A thought of it comes to me as she enters. But then there is what Marge said — which just don’t seem right.

“Don’t be getting any fancy man ideas, Thomas.” Mrs Clarke says having seen me there at the side door overhearing, having come to be certain of them that would be at breakfast as the ladies I knew to not be wed — and them talking about what Marge had said she had seen.

And I not leastwise saying anything though there might have been some look. In some ways to say I have already taken a fancy to which they turn looking one to other and give themselves a smile.

“Fancy Man?” Mrs Cooper gives that laugh of hers that’s not so much a laugh. “If one were to get that bed a-singing you can rest assured it will be in a harmony of flats.” She says.

Them being all smiles when Mrs Barnes pushed through with that frown of hers when she is of a mind to have catched us at a dally. “Why not go out and get him one of them picture cards.” She says. “Fillin his head with such filth. Ain’t enough we got to open the doors to it.”

“It’s unnatural is what it is.” Mrs Clarke says, “Foreign. Comes from some isle. In Greece.”

“What?” I asks.

“Never you mind Thomas.” Mrs Barnes says, “What your mind don’t know you cant imagine.”

Best not tell that I can’t help of what I imagine. Thinking now of what it must have been like having seen through that crack. Miss Carstairs in her all together. The curve and weight of them exposed with the sheet down low. Perhaps a bit smaller I think than that hint of what I had peek of once of Beatrice when I entered a mite too hasty. Forgettin to knock. That quick look of hers to say it be of no mind. The forgetting. In that I couldn’t. Not then. And not now. Well, not the seeing, leastwise, but the thought now of them. Of imagining those of Miss Carstairs of which I would have much like to have a far longer peek than the hasty one of Beatrice. As I think upon it, her entering as she does with that walk, of what Miss Cooper and Mrs Clarke were of mind to, and it just don’t seem right. To look at her. What they lay some suggestion to. Which is what I think being what John once said of the girl to whom he had taken a fancy. But she had fast told him off. I asked Simon what it was he had meant. In that I couldn’t make sense of it. Not that she was from Amsterdam — least ways that I knew of. Not to worry, Simon he says. It was just a bit of anger, he says. But I asks any ways to make some point of it — what John had said. He took a moment and says that there are such that aren’t taken to fancy men but rather to fancy one another. Like sisters I says. To which he gave that smile of his. No. Not like sisters, he says. Thomas there are girls that like to go together to do things like husbands and wives he says. You mean – I was about to ask getting a sudden mind to it. But before I could get it out, he patted me shoulder. There are more things in the world Thomas than what God intended, he says tossing out his fag end. But never you worry about it. There’s ever a bright girl out there awaiting for a lad like you.

I hope she looks like Miss Carstairs.

Her hair pulled back in a bun. Her blouse collar high and stiff winged. The red broach at that hollow of her throat.

“Gentleman.” She says.

“Miss Carstairs.” Mr Haines says.

“A telegram.” He removed it with that flair I so long to have. “It just arrived for you.” He handed it over. She nodded and strode over to stand before the windows. So as to open and read. Holding it in her fingers. Long and slender. The curve of her knuckles. As she stands in the sunlight I cannot help thinking of it. Harmony of flats. However do they do it? With those long slender fingers? I can imagine. But what does flat mean?

“Miss Renfield? She asks looking up from the telegram.

“Miss Renfield is in the main parlour with her Ladyship. Attending her Ladyship’s fencing exercise.” Mr Haines says.

“Mr Mellilow?” She asks as she folded the telegram up.

“Mr Mellilow finds comfort dining in the servants hall.” He says.

There is still the clacking of them swords but must stop – not at all sure when he may return.

14 March 1916 – from the Diary of Thomas Smith – Later

The excitement of it all I have to put it down. I want to write it as it is still fresh of mind. I know Mr Haines gives me his disproving look when he catches me at my note book and pencil. But he knows as well I do so want to keep up with my education and writing as I have said. Which he says he does not want me not to continue. Just to not be seen doing so by her Ladyship.

What now I put down is of much importance. I would say if he sees me at it. So as to help me in my memory of it. For the police and such like —

I had been standing duty to the sideboard. In that I had slipped my note book away from earlier having taken a look to see just what the time it was. Knowing it to be sure as to be soon to be expecting them. What when the clacking of them swords should come to their end. Especial that Miss Renfield who had put off breakfast to accompany her Ladyship to the fencing. I checked to be at attention – that the bit of flour on me cuff could not be seen. Being as I had been left alone to attend the burners. Mr Haines having taken Miss Carstairs down to see to Mr Mellilow. And then to escort her to the front door to see her out. I heard him return along the main hall and seen him go past the doors. The thought of Miss Carstairs in that bed of Miss Renfield was still of mind. Being not as Beatrice and Emily did at the orphanage. No. Not sister like. Not like Beatrice would do for Emily. What with Emily ever being of the restless nerves from something in her life before she arrived. And Beatrice sure to comfort her. When the lights went out. And Emily’s tears came.

And so, I could hear them at the swords. Still at it.

What I know – of beyond my duty at the sideboard – I heard from Marge as she told it.

In the main parlour her Ladyship and Mrs Cooper were in at the fencing. Miss Renfield was sitting so she says watching with much interest. I know not where everyone else in the house was as I have not had time to ask about. But Marge having seen Miss Carstairs go down from the guest room and being told she was going out had gotten linens from the linen pantry and was about to make her way up to make the bed of Miss Carstairs and Miss Renfield. It being close on to 10.

Marge says she was upon the first floor landing when she seen Miss Kathryn. She was carrying her best doll she says. Had a look about her, she says. Odd like. Like she was a bit puzzled, so Marge says. She looked at her, Kathryn to Marge, and asks where is her mum. Downstairs in the main parlour, she says. And Miss Kathryn says nothing. She just does down the stairs. Marge she says she felt something wasn’t right. Miss Kathryn does not carry her best doll about like that. Close held to herself, Marge says.

And so she comes down behind her.

Miss Kathryn she goes to the parlour where they are at that fencing. Marge says she stood there at the doors watching for a long moment. That Miss Renfield she sees her and asks, how are you this lovely morning Kathryn. Isn’t mummy extraordinary, Margery says she asks. Miss Kathryn she says oh yes my mummy is most extraordinary. Then she asks. You sent all the flowers? Miss Renfield says yes. Miss Kathryn then she asks, so you did get the flowers from Madagascar as well? Miss Renfield she asks, from Madagascar? No, but I have telegraphed to Amsterdam for white roses, Marge says she says. Won’t they be so lovely? Miss Kathryn says oh yes they would be. But she says she thinks Miriam must have gotten one of those flowers from Madagascar. To which Marge says, her Ladyship, having seen Kathryn, had stopped the fencing and was coming over to ask why ever would she think so. Oh, because Miriam is lying on the floor and she’s dreadfully dead mummy.

Everyone looks to one another Marge says of them that were in the room. Her ladyship having swept up Kathryn to carry her, they all rushed upwards to her rooms.. Marge says she put aside the sheets and rushed after. Thinking now she should have called out for Mr Haines but didn’t. What with her Ladyship running up the stairs as she was and that Miss Renfield was fast to her heels. As if the two were racing, Marge says.

I heard the silence of the swords and prepared for service. Only there was the sound of running feet. Loud voices. All of which was out of place in the house. And so feeling something wasn’t right, I left my post to see what was what and seen them all in a hurry. Rushing up the stairs. Straightway I followed. As quickly as I could to catch up and as I was about to call up to ask what was the matter. He came out of nowhere. Pushing me aside. Mr Mellilow charging past. Taking steps two and three at a time. Her Ladyship ahead of us all. Even carrying Miss Kathryn. With Miss Renfield ever but a step behind. There’s nothing but the sound of running feet on them stairs.

Fast as ever past the first floor, we clamoured to the second. And it is a mad dash down the corridor to Miss Schiff’s room.

See mummy the thorns pricked her throat, Marge says Miss Kathryn says as they rushed into the room – the door being open as she recalls.

Marge says when they rushed in they had seen the bed. Where she had been. Covers and linen pulled half off. They saw roses scattered about the floor. And then going in further they saw her. Miss Schiff lying on the floor at her window. It being open and the cold bellowing in at the curtains. I came in behind as they rushed to her. Mr Mellilow already at the side of Miss Renfield reaching out for to take ahold. He pushed her back — but she wouldn’t go.

I watched as Mr Mellilow made for the window. He leaned to peer out. Like and how he expected there to be anyone as that side of the house be straight up and nothing near. No tree or such. I seen them gather about her lying on the floor in her nightdress. Not sure if I should enter further, but did. And she was pale. Much too pale. God awful pale. She looked dead.

Her Ladyship handed Kathryn over to Mrs Cooper quick like to bent closer to kneel to look to Miss Schiff. She clasped her and then looked up to us and says she’s alive and she’s up and rushing past me to dash out the door. I hear her running when her Ladyship never runs. And then in the most urgent I have ever heard her voice. Loud. “Haines! Dr Hanwell! Quickly!”

I stepped in closer to see. She looked like she was sleeping in that her eyes were not open. But pale. Lord was she pale. I could see then there were these two marks at her throat. Red and raw with blood there against the much too pale skin.

Miss Renfield she looked from Miss Schiff to Mr Meillow. He looked back. There was something in the look — to that I could swear. Have not talked to Marge about it. Miss Renfield she moved to step over to her Ladyship as she returned. It was the most fretful I have ever seen her. As I was close by I heard Miss Renfield say whisperlike. What is it? Then I took notice. Her Ladyship had a folded piece of paper in her hand from which she must have taken from Miss Schiff’s. Her Ladyship handed it to Miss Renfield and I heard it as she read in a voice still whispelike. Give me what I want.


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