Read The Gilded Lily Online

Authors: Deborah Swift

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Historical Fiction

The Gilded Lily

BOOK: The Gilded Lily
7.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

In memory of my mother, Ruth Margaret (1929–2005)

And for her sister, Barbara

The two children were so fond of one another that they always held each other by the hand when they went out together, and when Snow-White said, we will not leave each other,
Rose-Red answered, never so long as we live – and their mother would add, what one has she must share with the other.

Traditional fairy tale

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Westmorland 1660
Chapter 1

Netherbarrow

Anyone else would probably scream – woken in the night like that, with a hand clamped over the mouth in the pitch black. But not Sadie, she knew it was Ella, even
though she heard not a single word, for the smell of her sister’s skin was as familiar to her as her own.

A blast of cold air buffeted her through her thin shift as the covers were wrenched back over her feet. Sadie scrambled out of bed. Silently she felt the floorboards for her clothes, shivering
as she slipped her arms awkwardly into her bodice and tied on her skirt, with fingers fumbling in half-sleep. She tripped as she put on her clogs and one of them clattered down.

‘Sshh,’ said Ella. They listened in breathless silence for a sound from below. Sadie could hear nothing, except her own heart beating.

A cuff round the ear. ‘Carry them, mutton-head.’

Sadie felt a strong grip steering her shoulder and Ella’s voice hissed in her ear. ‘If you waken him, I’ll do for you.’

Ella pushed her down the stairs and out of the front door into the wet, before she had time to catch her breath. In the white chalk of the lane Ella was silhouetted in the darkness; Sadie could
just make out her dark eyes in the pale oval of her face and the outline of her hair, which had escaped from her cap and sprung into curls from the damp.

‘Is it time?’ whispered Sadie. ‘Have you come for me already? What shall I fetch over?’

‘Nothing,’ said Ella shortly, almost dragging her along the road. ‘Hurry, can’t you.’

Sadie hopped along, trying to fit her clogs on her feet as she went. This was not what she had imagined at all. When Ella had left home to be the Ibbetsons’ lady’s maid she had
promised Sadie she would come back for her, as soon as she could find her a position in the household. But surely they wouldn’t be asking for her in the middle of the night.

‘Why are we in such a fret? What’s the matter?’

‘Muzzle it. Or I’ll leave you behind.’ She set off at a run, with Sadie hanging onto her sleeve, haring down the road through the sleeping village, under the shadowy dripping
trees. Though at fifteen she was three years younger than Ella, Sadie was almost as tall, but she was not used to running and soon had to let go of her arm.

Ella did not slow – her skirts were hoisted up over her knees, her feet kicked up gobs of dirt as she ran. Sadie dropped behind, clutching a stitch in her side, but when she saw the flash
of her sister’s white calves getting smaller she forced herself to sprint on behind her, pounding through the puddles, her eyes screwed up against the sting of the rain.

The big house loomed up ahead of them. The windows were blacked-out holes, no smoke came from the chimneys. They stopped on the front step, both of them doubled over and panting. Ella produced a
key to open up and thrust Sadie into the hall. Sadie tried to calm her breathing, expecting to see a housekeeper, a footman or other staff. From long-standing habit she pulled her hair forward over
the left side of her face to hide the wine stain on her cheek. Strangers often feared this birthmark as a sign of bad luck. But she need not have worried – there was nobody there. She rubbed
her eyes and wiped the drizzle from her face with her sleeve, letting her dark hair fall back. It was the first time she had been inside the Ibbetsons’ house. She peered around eagerly.

Ella took out a tinderbox from the drawer and lit a candle on the side table. Sadie gasped as it illuminated a sudden sheen of polished wood panelling. Ella turned around to face her, holding
the candle. She was breathless, her face grim. In the flickering light her eyes were like swimming fish, darting from side to side. A dread settled on Sadie’s shoulders like a cloak.
Something was wrong.

‘The dawn’s coming, and we must be away before ’tis light. Listen to me. There’s no time to explain. Get ahold of that basket and fill it with aught you can find
that’s worth having. Silver plate, linen – naught too big, but we’ve got to be quick.’

Sadie whispered, ‘You mean, just take it?’ She did not move, holding tight to the fabric of her skirt with both hands.

‘Oh, for God’s sake.’ Ella grabbed hold of her arm and pulled her towards the stairs. ‘Come here. I’ll do it. Take the basket, will you? We’ll start up
there.’

The house was eerily quiet. Not a sign of anyone else, and the fires were cold in the grates. Where was everyone? Why was Ella allowed to roam the house alone at night? The stairs creaked.
Sadie’s wooden clogs scraped on the edges of the steps, despite the fact she did her best to tread quietly. She clasped the basket in both hands, staring round her in astonishment. Ella
seemed to know exactly what she was doing. They cleared a room of a lady’s things – a silver mirror, glass scent bottles still reeking of lavender, lace gloves, thimbles, a
mother-of-pearl fan. Ella shovelled armfuls of lace into the basket, leaving all the drawers gaping.

Sadie pushed the door of the second room; it swung open silently at her touch. In the gloom she glimpsed a mound of blankets and the top of a stubbled head.

She scuttled backwards onto the landing. ‘There’s someone asleep in there.’ She could barely speak and caught hold of Ella’s arm to stay her. Ella shook her off and
pushed past her, the candle in one hand, the basket with its trailing lace balanced on her hip.

‘Get that trunk –’ Ella pointed under the bed – ‘we’ll need that too.’

Sadie tiptoed over and inched out the trunk in case she should wake him, but the man on the bed slept on. Even when Ella cleared his side table of its ivory combs, brass candlesticks and
magnifying lens on a stand, he did not stir. Ella jammed all the things hastily into the basket, packing them tightly round with nightcaps, gloves and hose dragged from the linen press at the end
of the bed.

Sadie stood up; the man remained hunched under the bedcovers. She leaned over and peered down at him. His eyes were like two whelks staring up at her.

She stepped back and almost lost her balance as her heel banged into the trunk. A part of her would have fled, but she could not take her eyes away. His mouth was slightly open as if he was
about to speak. In an instant she knew. No more words would come.

Sadie felt a lurch in her chest and a pounding in her ears as if the silence had suddenly become too loud. She stood stock-still. The room whirled to a stop.

‘Don’t just stand there. Get his watch,’ hissed Ella.

Sadie glanced at the window. The first stirrings of the dawn had crept in unnoticed through the shutters, making a stripe of gold on the floor. Ella rifled through a leather pouch, and Sadie
watched her wrinkle her nose in disgust when it contained only a few tokens and a silver toothpick.

‘Go on,’ Ella said.

Sadie swallowed hard and raised her eyebrows in question.

‘In his pocket.’

Sadie shook her head and stepped further away from the bed.

Ella strode over and stood over the man. Her hands hovered in mid-air a moment before she jerked back the blanket. Sadie saw the quick movement of a mouse flash across the pillow and the room
filled with the stench of death. She brought her hand up to her mouth. Ella started; her lower lip trembled and she bit down on it. They did not look at each other. Sadie saw her steel herself,
squeeze her eyes shut, take a deep breath and thrust her hand into the pocket of his waistcoat. She withdrew the watch with its ruby seal hanging from its chain. Without looking at her, she pushed
it into Sadie’s open hand – its cool slinking weight dropped into her palm. The touch of it repulsed her. She let it slither straight into the basket and scrubbed her hand on the rough
linen of her skirt.

‘Come on,’ said Ella, in her angry voice, ‘downstairs.’

After that, Sadie followed Ella in a daze. By the time the birds were in full song, Ella had picked the house bone-clean.

They took the mule and cart, driving it hard down the dripping country lanes, the rain stinging their faces, the baskets and trunks sliding from side to side behind them. By
milking time they were almost at Lancaster. Sadie was in the driver’s seat, as the reins were greasy and Ella acknowledged she had always been the better driver. On the road they saw only two
other conveyances – one a canvas-covered miller’s cart and the other a carriage drawn by a pair of high-stepping chestnut thoroughbreds.

When Ella saw the dark blur of that carriage in the distance she yelled, ‘Pull off the road!’

Sadie skewed the cart into an open gateway, spraying grit and mud, and hauled it to a standstill behind a hedge. A few moments later the carriage bowled past. Through its open window Sadie
caught a glimpse of a dour-faced man and a woman in a fine hat.

‘It’s them,’ muttered Ella. ‘It must be them.’

‘Who?’ asked Sadie.

For the first time that night Ella answered one of her questions. ‘His brother and his wife. Neighbours sent for them. When word got out he was ill. We’d best get a pace on,
we’ve not got much of a start. And keep your face covered.’

‘Where are we going?’

‘London. Where no folks know us and no one can ask questions. The centre of the world.’ Ella paused, added, ‘Where the sun always shines, the streets are paved with gold, and
everyone is always smiling.’ They both fell quiet, mulling over this obvious untruth.

Sadie could not imagine it. London. It was too far away, she had never been to a city before. She knew it only from the childish rhymes they sang as they played skip-rope or bull-stones.
Oranges and lemons, saith the bells of St Clements, I do not know, saith the great bells of Bow
. Eventually she said, ‘When will we be able to come home?’ She asked it, even
though in her heart she already knew the answer. Ella did not speak, just twitched the reins out of her hands and clicked her tongue, setting the mule going again with a start.

Sadie turned around, craned her neck, looked back over the jolting road and saw the hills of Westmorland, grey behind the morning mist, already fade into memory.

Chapter 2

BOOK: The Gilded Lily
7.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Playing for the Other Team by Sage C. Holloway
Cravings by Liz Everly
Glimmer by Anya Monroe
Riding the Snake (1998) by Cannell, Stephen