Élucide: part two
She ate the biscuits; one, and then the rest in a handful. She downed crumbs with a gulp of tea, and winced. Sweet tea tasted foul as medicine. She knelt, and plunged her hand blindly among the folded things in her trunk, her own body blocking the candlelight. Here at last was a crocheted bed-jacket. And here was disarray. Her mother would tick her off for this, leaving Geneva a mess to straighten.
Well…I’ll tidy, she told herself. Later.
On slippered feet she padded softly through the hall, down the stairs, meaning to sneak outdoors by the library window. She would sit on the swing for an hour or two, or go down to the summer house. Since she couldn’t sleep, she would watch the sky grow light, hear birdsong rise…that rarely witnessed interlude that could so lift the heart.
But it was early, much too early.
Her passage through the house seemed marked. The clock on the landing struck one; the grandfather clock in the library chimed, a minute or two after, just as Élucide had slipped inside, and pulled the door closed. She thought of, as she groped in the dark, how her mother or her sister―her father especially―would tell her, “Be careful. You’ll put your hand on a black widow.”
Its bite would feel like the pricking of a thorn.
She found the night was almost cool. She would have discarded the jacket even so, for the clamminess of sleeve over sleeve bunched against her arms…but she must not discard the jacket. It took awful restraint. She must not push her feet against the boards, and creak the chains. Far below, she could see Lawrence’s fire. Or the copper aura of it, the reflection that mimicked the flames, flare from time to time like a strobe of lightning across the mist. This was what she could see, from the hilltop.
But Lawrence was not down at the riverside, sitting on his log.
By Ziegler’s intelligence—“That boy does all right for his self, I reckon, fish all night, and sleep all day”—Élucide knew things of Lawrence Everard that she had never seen. Ziegler’s reports gratified her father’s sense of rightness…but Élucide cared only how Richard spent his days. Ziegler had told her, though, that whenever he stopped by the stead, he hardly saw Richard.
The dog arrived first. Or was perhaps heralded by a yap, muffled in its progress to the porch from her mother’s sitting room (where the spaniels slept in their baskets), by all the rooms of the house between. She hadn’t listened with attention to its warning. On any night, the spaniels barked at odd times, the Gremot property better guarded by Lawrence’s three or four mongrels.
This one came up the steps and nosed her hand, following with a bath from a furtive tongue. She caught the collie by the ear then, and with thumb and forefinger caressed the hollows of its skull. Giving way to an immoderate joy, the dog began to whine and pant.
“Fish, what you doing? Come down off there!”
Lawrence, instead, came up. She heard one boot land, crunch as though mud-encrusted, on the bottom step; one on the step above.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)