I saw understanding dawn in my father’s eyes, and he played to our audience as well. “He has said that he thinks he could begin in two days. He is finally feeling recovered from his journey.”
His beating, I thought. Such a polite pretense we were all sharing, but enough had seen his battered face when he arrived to know why our new tutor was keeping to his rooms and bed.
“That is wonderful, then.” I looked slowly around my new room, smiling large to be sure that all would see and know how pleased I was with it. “The room is finished? I may sleep here tonight?”
Revel smiled. “As soon as the bedding is smoothed on the bed, mistress.”
“Thank you. I’m sure I will love being here. There are some things in my old room that I will want to bring here. I’ll fetch them.”
“Oh, little need, Lady Bee, I assure you!” Revel strode to the chest at the foot of my new bed and flung it open. He went down on one knee and beckoned me over as his long fingers crawled down the stack of folded fabrics. “An extra blanket of yellow and cream, for when the nights are very cold. And here, a lap rug for when you want to sit in your window. A new red shawl with a hood. Now, as we had to dispose of so much of your wardrobe, I had Seamstress Lily fashion you some new tunics. Looking at you, I fear we have made them too large, but they will suffice until we have time to get a proper fitting done. See, here is a brown one with yellow trim, and here a green one. This one is a bit plain; would you like some embroidery done round the hems? Never mind, of course you would. I’ll send it to the seamstresses.”
I had stopped listening. Revel was wallowing in his enjoyment. His words flowed past me. I did not know how to feel. All this new clothing, all at once, and none of it made by my mother’s hands. No one had held it up against me to check the length, or asked if I would have flowers or scrolls round the hem. I knit my brow and tried to comprehend my mother’s death, all over again. Every time I thought I had mastered it, some new manifestation of it would overwhelm me.
Revel had finished. I was smiling. Smiling, smiling, smiling. I looked at my father desperately and managed to stammer out, “It’s all so lovely. Still, there are a few things I will bring from my other room. Thank you all so much.”
Then I fled. I hoped I exited gracefully, but once I was out of the room, I ran. I skittered past two servants carrying in a rolled-up rug, turned down the hall, and found the door of my old room. I bolted inside and shut the door behind me.
The hearth was swept, empty, and cold. The stripped bed frame looked skeletal. I made myself go to the door of the maid’s room and peer in. It was as bare. The heavy bedstead was still pushed into the corner, the headboard neatly obscuring the subtle joins in the woodwork that concealed my entrance. That, at least, was still safe.
I came back slowly into my room. Nothing on the mantel over the fireplace. No blue pottery candleholder. No little carving of an owl that my mother and I had bought at the Oaksbywater market. I opened my small clothing chest. Empty. The larger chest at the foot of my old bed. Empty save for a faint waft of cedar and lavender. Even the sachets had been cleared away. The blue woolen blanket, worn to thinness, was gone. Not one of my old nightgowns or tunics remained. All those stitches from my mother’s hands, gone to ash to protect my father’s pretense, so no one could know we had burned a body in the night. The only old clothing left to me would be what I had carried off to my mother’s room where I had been sleeping. And the nightrobe I had hidden there. Unless those had already been discovered and taken, too!
I crossed my arms on my chest and held myself tightly as I cataloged what else was missing. The engraved “book” of herbs that I had always kept by my bed. The candleholder for my bed table. A terrible fear seized me and I fell to my knees by that table and opened the cupboard beneath it. Gone, all gone, every one of the fat scented candles that my mother had made. I’d never slept in this room without one burning as I drowsed off, and I could not imagine moving into a new room without their comforting fragrance. I stared into the dim emptiness of the cupboard and held myself tighter, digging my nails into my arms to keep from flying into pieces. I shut my eyes tightly. If I breathed slowly through my nose, I could catch the fading essence of the candles that had been there.
I wasn’t aware of him until he sat down on the floor behind me and put his arms around me. My father spoke by my ear. “Bee. I saved them. I came back here, late that night. I took the candles and a few other things that I knew you would want. I’ve got them safe for you.”
I opened my eyes but I didn’t relax in his arms. “You should have told me,” I said fiercely, suddenly furious with him. How could he have let me feel that loss, even for a few minutes? “You should have let me come here to get my important things before they were burned.”