Silence of Scandal - First Chapter

 
 

Copyright © Jackie Williams 2015

Prologue

1799

“How is that cart going to move without the horses? The kettle is surely far too small to create enough steam to move this thing.” Alexander Currurgh waved his hand towards the two wheeled barrow that normally carried the apples from the orchard. It was usually pulled by their oldest horse, Thyme. Now it stood resting on its two wheels with a very strange looking contraption at the front end.

Alexander raised a scornful twelve year old eyebrow. His brother had clearly flipped the coop this time.  “Don’t you recall the ones that drive those engines? We saw them in that mine. They’re huge. The amount of fuel you need to keep the fire running is enormous and we don’t even have a running water supply. Are you sure that you haven’t been at father’s brandy again, Phillip.” Alexander looked up at his elder brother with suspicion and swallowed hard as he remembered the recent late night trip to their father’s study and the fiery amber liquid burning his own throat. He didn’t even want to think about the subsequent spinning head and strange visions he had suffered for two days that made him wish he had never accepted Phillip’s reckless dare.

Phillip looked down his long nose at his slightly shorter sibling. There were only a couple of years between them in age and not a lot in height or build but Phillip gave an extremely superior sniff.

“You haven’t been listening, Alex. This is my first experiment into steam locomotion. I want to see if I can do it myself. Look here, see this pipe from the kettle spout, I’ve sealed the join, and when I release the valve the steam shooting from the kettle will force its way down this pipe to the piston attached to this spoke.’ He indicated a shinier tube of metal that Alexander had seen him guarding for days. “Then with the high pressure steam being forced into the piston, it will turn the wheel.” He scratched his head doubtfully for a moment as he wrinkled his nose at the bits of metal bound together with strips of oiled leather and cloth. “Well, that’s the plan anyway. I’m going to see if this works now and then I should be able to replace the horses by the end of next year, if I can find a kettle big enough.” Phillip explained as though Alexander had never seen an engine before. It was their father’s insistence on letting them see a working mine with steam driven pumping gear that had begun all of Phillip’s experiments. All the noise and machinery had fascinated him.

Alexander had not been nearly so enamoured of all the industry. While he knew about the progression of things he wasn’t entirely happy with such noisy, filthy changes. He looked curiously up at his brother.

“Why do you want to get rid of the horses, Phillip? I don’t think Jennings will be at all happy if you do that. He won’t have a job for a start but apart from that at least the nags are clean, quiet and have several uses. This looks as though it’s going to be hard work and noisy.” Alexander peered at the copper kettle. It looked suspiciously like the one that had hung above the huge stove in the kitchen for many years. The same one that cook had accused Callum the woodsman of removing without permission. Alexander had liked the phrase ‘removing without permission’. He’d remained seated at the kitchen table with a lardy cake halfway to his lips as cook waggled her finger angrily at Callum while she demanded to know where her biggest kettle had disappeared to. Callum had looked as though he was going to choke over the words aimed at him. His face turned beet red and the whiskers in his nose wriggled as he breathed out furiously. Removing without permission obviously wasn’t quite stealing, but it was near enough for Callum to storm out of the kitchen after denying the accusation loudly enough to be heard in the next county.

Phillip peered into the kettle and gave it a small shake.

“Jennings will have to move with the times though I don’t think father will give up his hunters anytime soon. This will be for farm machinery, maybe even for transport. The new century is only a few months away; new inventions are coming. The horse as a working beast will soon be a thing of the past.” He tipped another bucket of water into the kettle and looked a little more satisfied. “That should do it.” He pushed a blackened rag around the hole in the top and then forced the lid into the gap. He grunted as he made sure it was tight before he tied some leather strips that looked very much like the missing set of traces that Jennings had spent the best part of the day looking for, around the lid and under the spout. He fastened the buckles, sat back on his heels and nodded in satisfaction. “Now it’s your turn, Alex. Light the fire, will you. Keep adding the wood until I tell you.” Phillip passed a tinderbox from his pocket to his brother.

Alexander slid down from his position on a heap of tightly bound hay and looked at the salver hanging beneath the kettle. He glanced up at Phillip as he recognized the large silver platter on which their butler, Grady usually served their mother’s afternoon tea. Phillip ignored Alexander’s raised eyebrows and motioned his brother forwards.

Alexander struck the steel against the flint and sparks burst onto the thistledown. Puffing gently as he added shaving curls brought small flames licking to life and he added twig after twig until the fire was well established and needed larger chunks of wood. Phillip passed him several chopped logs that he had ‘borrowed’ from the woodpile and Alexander positioned them carefully for maximum impact. Then they both stood back and stared at the flames while they waited for something to happen.

Watching the kettle come to the boil was not the most interesting activity in which he been involved. Alexander sat back on the comfortable and sweet smelling hayrick and stared at the blue and gold flames while Phillip tinkered with something attached to the wheel.

“Is this going to take long do you think?” Alexander was not known for his patience. “I promised Jennings that I would help with the new filly father bought mother for a birthday gift. She’s a fabulous high stepper. Mother wants to take her out tomorrow but father says she has to wait until her special day. I don’t have to wait though and I wanted to have a ride first. Only to see if it is safe for mother you understand.” Alexander hid his grin at the prospect of riding the beautiful young horse.

Phillip looked down at his dark haired brother. He might be only twelve years old but the slightness of his body hid inner strength. Riding the new filly would be easy for Alexander. Phillip smiled as he shook his head and he then looked back at the kettle.

“Shouldn’t take too long to get up a head of steam. It’s getting the timing right that might be a problem. I need to keep as much steam in the kettle for as long as possible and then when I release the valve it should shoot out under great pressure to give it a good chance of getting the piston moving. It’s lucky that I haven’t figured out how to attach the kettle to the two wheels actually. At the moment the cart will only turn in a circle but that will suit my purposes for now.” He looked around at the barn. There was less roomy than he had hoped due to the sudden and unexpected arrival of several unidentified crates stacked in the corner near the door, but there was still plenty of room for the cart to turn. He adjusted the angle of the wheels accordingly.

Alexander kicked at the slender stems beneath his feet. He picked a stalk from the stook, sniffed at its sweet scent and twirled it in his fingers.

“I wish we had thought to bring some tuck. Cook was baking lardy cakes. They smelled as though they had just come out of the oven. I could have brought a few up here if I had known I was going to be all morning.” He sighed wistfully at his missed treat. He could almost imagine the aroma of the delicious cakes as they left the oven, freshly baked and begging to be eaten. He sniffed the air and wondered at his own imagination. He would swear he could actually smell the things.

Phillip laughed as he consulted the drawing he had brought along with them. Satisfied that he had everything in perfect order he folded the drawing into his pocket.

“Half an hour is not all morning, Alex. A few hours without filling your stomach won’t kill you and at least if you are here with me you don’t have to put up with Lily Smith hanging onto your coat tails. She was loitering about waiting for lardy cakes too, you know.”

Alexander rolled his eyes dramatically as he thought of his narrow escape from the curly haired Lily earlier that morning.

He had been on the prowl for extras after eating what he considered a very meagre breakfast of coddled eggs, smoked haddock, bacon, kippers and butter smothered crumpets, when he heard and deliberately avoided her. After being forced to marry the urchin only the previous week he had hidden behind the tapestry and covered his ears at Lily’s tuneless singing as she headed for the kitchen. It was her usual ditty and she sang it every day, loudly and at inordinate length.

He’d waited until she was well past before slipping from his hiding place and turning back the other way only marginally sorry that he wouldn’t be able to scrounge any titbits from the kitchen. It wasn’t that she was horrible or anything but a seven year old girl attempting to play with grown boys was not the done thing. She had a tendency to sing her favourite rhyme at the worst possible moment, when either Phillip was making his dying speech on the battlefield or when Alexander was in the middle of rescuing his brother from murderous cutthroat pirates.

Even worse, she occasionally tried to entice him into horrifying scenes of matrimonial bliss on their excursions into shark-infested waters and Phillip, as Captain of the ship, wasn’t always as helpful as Alexander felt he should have been in extricating his brother and fellow crewmembers from such peril. Only last week Phillip had actually married them before the mast. Alexander had been mortified, but not nearly as mortified as Geoffrey, their steward’s son. Lily had draped the lad in a sheet and made him hold a bunch of freshly picked wild flowers while he acted as her attendant for the day. Alexander still blushed at the very thought that anyone might have seen them. Fortunately they had been well hidden in the deepest recesses of the garden.

It was at times like these when he thought it a shame that Smith, their ill-tempered tenant farmer, had been told that the child could come to the house while he worked in the fields, though if this favour hadn’t been bestowed after Lily’s mother’s horrific death, the child might have been sent to the orphanage. Even Phillip would have been appalled if that had happened to the girl. The trouble was that as she grew up she became used to the boys outlandish adventures and she now followed them everywhere, Alexander especially.

He knew that he should be firmer with her, after all, being the farmer’s daughter, it wasn’t her place to play with gentle folk, but he hadn’t been able to harden his heart to the tears that fell from her huge, dark eyes in the same way that Phillip had managed. She made him feel guilty if he left her out and he avoided her as much as possible rather than tell her that a seven year old girl wasn’t wanted. Alexander paused in his thoughts as he realized that he and Phillip were quite happy for Geoffrey, their steward’s son, to join in their games as either foot soldier or cabin boy and he was only five or six, so maybe it was a girl thing after all. The raven haired horror’s eyes filled with water every time he even frowned at her and she always wheedled her way past his manly heart.

He plucked another stem from the hay beneath him and grunted as his stomach rumbled audibly.

“Well, it’s her fault that I am about to waste away as we sit here waiting for this blasted kettle to boil. I didn’t have much for breakfast and what with coming the long way around after father discovered our shortcut, I’m nearly famished. I would have had time to grab provisions if Lily hadn’t turned up so early today.”

Phillip nodded.

“I agree that she arrives at the most inconvenient times but father says we must put up with her. Smith is a sad and harsh man. His wife died in an accident only weeks before he took the farm at Ormond. He had come from a holding in Oxford.  The young Lord who owned the land was trying a new method of feeding cows on a rotating field system but he had not been careful enough. The cows were starving. Annie Smith had been walking across a different field when a herd of the ravenous animals broke through a fence to find fresh grazing. She was trampled and crushed in the stampede. Smith has taken it very hard. Father is worried that he will take out his anger on the girl. I think that father should run Smith off the land if he is that worried about Lily but mother won’t hear of it. She calls Lily her Little Treasure! Good grief!” He shook his head in wonder at his mother’s pet name. “She’s afraid that Smith would abandon the girl and then it would mean we would probably end up having her stay with us permanently. At least she’s only around during the daytime at the moment. Can you imagine if she were about all the time?” He snorted disgustedly.

Alexander held back a shudder as his head warred with his heart. Having Lily in the castle permanently would cause havoc to his normal boyhood activities. No more midnight or mid-morning excursions to cook’s delicious smelling larder. No more sneaking into his father’s study to try out the abominable brandy; though he wouldn’t actually miss that experience, Phillip had suggested that they try the port next and he was quite up for that. No more sliding down the polished wooden banisters. No more sneaking up to the loft to steal peeks at the martin’s eggs. As it was they had been forbidden to use the tunnel leading from their father’s bedroom to the beach.

In feudal times, it had been built into the castle as an escape route for an endangered Lord, but now it was a fun way to arrive at the beach undetected. That was until their father had spotted Lily disappearing into his wardrobe. Alexander had been rather shocked to find himself on the end of a sharp telling off for leading the girl into a dangerous passageway, one that according to his father, due to its age and disrepair, could collapse at any moment. Both boys had been forbidden to use the secret passage ever again. Life would become intolerable if she interfered anymore and he didn’t think he could bear the thought of playing with the girl more than necessary already.

There was a sudden movement in the shadows and, as if listening to the conversation, Tabitha the farm cat jumped down from the wooden crate at his side and presented him with a dead mouse. She dropped it at his feet and gently prodded it forwards with a paw.

Phillip pulled a face but Alexander bent to retrieve his gift. He picked up the mouse by its pale pink tail and began to swing it left and right.

The cat followed the movement with wide yellow eyes and Alexander made his swings bigger as the cat’s head swivelled comically, her eyes never leaving her prey. He was about to drop the mouse again when the little grey creature flung off over the haystack leaving Alexander holding its now worm like tail.

“Ugh! How disgusting!” He yelped as he dropped the pink tail before he looked over at the hay where the mouse’s tailless body had landed. Suspicious rustlings came from in the corner beneath the dry grass. “Go find them, Tabby. Go find dinner, eh?” he urged the cat into the hay after live vermin. “But please don’t bring it back to me next time.” Alexander looked up as Phillip stared down at the forlorn pink tail lying on the floor.

Phillip sniggered at his brother’s horrified expression.

“That will teach you to play with your food…or rather the cat’s food.” He bent over the cart wheel once again and gave it a small shove. It moved an inch or two easily and he added more wood to the fire before he stepped back to ponder his experiment once again.

Alexander watched as the cat prowled forwards slowly and then sprang into the pile of hay, tearing at it furiously as it searched for its prey. Alexander drew in a sharp breath as the dry grass flew in all directions but it all landed a good few feet from the fire. He breathed a sigh of relief. Phillip had swept the floor around the base of the cart and beneath the silver tray to make sure that their fire remained contained and there was no danger of it catching the rest of the straw alight but there was always a slight risk.

Alexander laughed as Tabitha sprang into the air and let out a yowl of frustration as her breakfast had obviously escaped her. He knew exactly how she felt.

Phillip glanced over his shoulder and laughed with him when the cat stalked off to another corner of the barn her nose and tail both held high in the air. The feline looked most put out.

It was only as they both quietened their bellows of laughter that they heard a strange clunking sound. Neither of them recognized it and for a moment they looked quizzically at each other. The noise came again then rapid knocking sounds could be heard a second later and Phillip’s eyebrows shot to meet his hairline.

His eyes opened wide.

“My God, the valve, I forgot to open it!” he managed to splutter a second before he launched himself over the top of Alexander, shoving him hard into the earth floor and covering both their heads with his arms.

Alexander was about to shove back, thinking this must be some new form of wrestling game when the mighty explosion came. He only had time to realize that the kettle had blown apart and that fire was leaping around them while super heated steam sprayed in an ominous hiss across the back of Phillip’s coat, when there was a strange fizzing, a screaming swirling sound and then yet another much bigger explosion.

Even Phillip’s protecting arms couldn’t save him. His whole face was covered in blisteringly hot sparks as Alexander felt his and Phillip’s bodies lift from the ground simultaneously and land several yards from their starting point some few seconds later, knocking all the wind from his chest as his head lurched forwards and hit his brother’s elbow. Both boys yelled out in pain and for a few seconds there was a nearly deafening cacophony of noise. Screaming, hissing and ear splitting explosions whizzed around them while stars danced in his eyes, and then there was nothing as blackness enveloped him.

 

Lily stared with big round eyes at the two older boys. The hay covering her head was itchy but she fought the desire to scratch. If Phillip discovered her presence, he was likely to shout at her and she didn’t like that. Alexander would probably pull his eyebrows together in that horrid dark line they sometimes made and even though he never shouted she disliked his frown even more than Phillip’s raised voice.

She had guessed that they were coming to the barn when Alexander had avoided her after breakfast but she could smell the soap he used in his morning ablutions as he hid behind the tapestry in the little hallway behind the kitchen. He had then rushed out of the house and off towards the garden making a long circuit so as not to be seen by his father or mother who sat finishing their meal in the breakfast hall.

Taking a good guess at where he was off to, Lily grabbed up two lardy cakes from cook’s fresh and still warm batch and after tucking them into her pocket, scampered directly to the master’s room in the west wing. She listened carefully outside the great door before she decided that the bedroom was empty and then she slid inside the room.

Jackson the valet had probably gone to have his own breakfast while his master ate and the maids had clearly done their work as the bed was made and drapes drawn back from the windows. She ignored the temptation to leap onto the middle of the huge bed to bounce up and down for a few minutes, but walked across the room and turned the key in the wardrobe door. She inhaled the Duke’s scent, marvelling that his clothes smelled exactly the same as Alexander’s before she slipped into the vast wardrobe. She carefully parted the line of white shirts and dark jackets and opened the secret panel at the rear.

She climbed down into the room behind the wardrobe. It was small and looked less than inviting but she had seen the boys disappear through the panel in the wardrobe once before and knew exactly what to do. She turned quickly and made sure the Duke’s shirts hung without creases and closed the wooden door.

A narrow slit of a window let in a slither of light and she could make out a fireplace that looked far too big for the size of the room. A dusty table and chair sat beneath the window but she couldn’t imagine anyone sitting at it. There was barely enough gap to let in air let alone light to do anything constructive. There was a short bed covered with a dusty blanket pressed against the side of the room and she stared at it, trying to imagine how the tall frame of the Duke fitted into it.

She bypassed the bed, walked slowly into the shadows at the side of the chimney and grabbed the lamp and tinder box that someone had left in an alcove. It took only a few flicks of her wrist to light the wick of the lamp before she pressed the secret stone on the underside of the mantle.

The panel at the side gave an echoing click and opened just enough for her to slide through into the darkness beyond. Cool air wafted at her hair as she walked quickly down the steep stone steps and along the narrow passage, avoiding the piles of fallen stones and heaps of muddy soil. She ignored the alcoves and side turnings and in a just a few minutes, she was through the tunnel and standing at the back of the cave that opened in an outcrop of ragged rocks at the back of the beach. The entrance was hidden by the angle of the rocks and she leaned forwards, peering around checking that her way was clear.

The sea was a perfect blue under the cloudless sky but she ignored the sparkling waves that rushed up the sand in a frothy white surge, turned up the cliff path, and ran towards the stone outbuilding that stood on the hill. The closed door was still locked tight and she sighed a relieved breath that she had made it before the boys. She climbed up through the low window and nibbled at the corner of her lardy cake as she lay in wait beneath the straw.

She didn’t understand why the boys took pains to avoid her. It wasn’t fair. They let Geoffrey join in with everything. It was a pointless effort on their behalf anyway as she knew exactly where they were nearly all of the time. She only didn’t bother following them if Mr Lovell, the tutor, was expected. He didn’t look much older than either Phillip or Alexander but she liked him even less than she liked Alexander’s frowns. He shooed her out of the schoolroom while switching his thin cane at her bottom every time she tried to sneak in.

Lily loved both Phillip and Alexander of course, but she had decided that she was going to marry Alexander when she was grown up enough. She liked how his dark hair matched her own and how his eyes were the colour of the evening sky.

She smiled at the thought of their wedding game only the week before. It had been such fun and he had looked so handsome as he stood reciting the lines that Captain Phillip spoke before him. The strange noise that reached her ears as Alexander said ‘I do’ sounded exactly the same as when her own father ground his teeth if he was angry, but that must have been a figment of her imagination. Alexander had absolutely refused to kiss her after the ceremony too and instead insisted that she walk the plank to await rescue from a deserted island, but she hoped that one day he would. Maybe one day he would hold her hand and kiss her the way she had once seen Grady the butler kiss Sarah the maid. Sarah had turned very pink and had then smiled shyly up at Grady but Lily thought she would grin like mad if Alexander ever kissed her.

The barn door opened a crack and the two boys slid in. They began fiddling with a cart that Phillip had dragged to the barn only a couple of days before. For once little Geoffrey wasn’t with them and she wondered why as she watched Phillip grunt and strain to fill cook’s biggest kettle with water from the butt beside the door. She pulled out the second lardy cake and bit a piece while she peered nervously as Alexander lit the fire on the tray beneath. The boys seemed happy with their game but it was a little boring for Lily whose legs had begun to cramp what with squatting for so long.

Alexander’s face was a picture when Tabitha had arrived a few minutes later and gave him her prize. Lily stuffed her hand in her mouth as she tried not to laugh out loud, but his face had been even funnier when the mouse’s body separated itself from its tail. It wasn’t quite so funny for her when the poor little creature’s dead body landed right atop her head.

If she hadn’t had her mouth full of her cake and her hand she might have screamed. As it was she merely poked Tabitha hard with a bony finger when the cat came to retrieve its dinner. Tabitha’s yowl of surprise nearly made her yell out with laughter again but she was distracted by sudden odd clumping sounds coming from inside the big kettle.

She glanced out of the hay to where the two boys should have been but all she saw was Phillip flying through the air to land squarely upon Alexander’s stomach. Alexander let out a great ‘Oomph” and then there was a sudden almighty bang.

Lily didn’t even have time to scream in surprise. The very next second the loudest noise she had ever heard sucked all of the goodness from the air surrounding her and flung her into the stone wall of the barn. She didn’t stop there but carried on as the wall burst outwards and flew through the air with her. She landed with a painful thump amidst the rubble and lay there panting for breath as all the air sucked out of her and then came whooshing back just as quickly. A million fireflies danced around her. She tried to bat them away as they stung her face, but her limbs felt far too heavy to move. She lay there and stared up at the blue sky. Thick clouds blocked the sun and the air seemed strangely charged, almost thick. She tried to lift her head but dizziness and the sound of her own heartbeat were the only things she could even fathom.

When big arms came to lift her she looked up drowsily into the face of Alexander’s father. His mouth was moving slowly. She wanted to laugh because he looked like the big mackerel the boys had pulled from the sea only the week before.  His mouth opened and closed close to her face and she thought she was laughing at him, but no sound came. She closed her eyes and concentrated on breathing but she didn’t know if she was doing it right. There was a strange ringing in her ears and her chest hurt with each pull. She decided she didn’t like the pain. She tried to take another breath but she felt something heavy on her chest. She could feel herself being moved around on a cool surface and the ringing in her ears hit her again. She yelled for it to stop but her voice seemed to echo around inside her head. Someone was washing her face with too cold water. She shouted again, her voice straining to be heard but the silent torturer carried on and Lily gave up fighting.

She would go to sleep. When she woke she would feel better and everyone would take more notice. She settled back into the darkness and waited for morning to come.

 

 

The sound of his father’s voice woke Alexander some four days later. His head still thumped and his face was still sore with a myriad of needle like burns.

“No, my dear, you can cry all you like but the boy has to be taught a lesson. I know he never expected anything like this to happen but it did. We are lucky that the magistrate didn’t haul him up in front of the judge for murder. He could have made a solid case if pressed. As it is we don’t know if Alex will survive. Better that Phillip is out of the way for the moment.”

Alexander cowered back into the pillows. He hadn’t meant to murder anyone least of all his brother, Phillip. His heart thumped loudly in his chest as he felt a cooling cloth dab at his stinging face. Then the cloth wiped a particularly sore spot on his forehead and he couldn’t help but yelp in pain.

There was a rush of rustling skirts and his mother crooned.

“Alex, speak to me darling. You’re safe in your bed at home. Speak to your mother, tell me that you are well.”

Alexander gulped. It was time to face the music. He opened one eye and then realized that he couldn’t yet open the other. It seemed to be glued shut. He raised his fingers to touch puffy skin as he peered up at the pale countenance of his mother and the stern but relieved face of his father.

“I’m sorry,” was the first thing he stammered but his father smiled gently.

“You have nothing to be sorry for, Alex. Phillip confessed all to us as soon as we knew that you were both alive. We have been waiting anxiously for you to wake up.”

Alexander glanced at the tears on his mother’s face.

“What happened? I thought Phillip was about to rough me up but then there was a bang and a few seconds later the most enormous explosion. We were flung through the air but I recall nothing afterwards. Where is Phillip?” He began to turn his head, looking for his brother in the next door bed.

His father cleared his throat.

“Phillip is not here. We have sent him to school. I felt that your tutor wasn’t exerting enough control over the boy. Young Mr, Lovell already teaches at the school two days a week. He has gone back permanently with Phillip so you needn’t worry that he’ll be alone. The other boys and tutors will whip him into line. He needs a hard lesson Alex, but he will become a better man for it.”

Alexander swallowed. His father’s normally passive features had unfamiliar creases covering them.

“But why, father? I am fine. Phillip protected me. He never meant for the kettle to overheat. We were watching Tabitha hunt for mice and misplaced the time. Phillip simply forgot to open the valve,” he tried to explain in a husky voice as he worried about his brother among a crowd of older boys. Phillip would hate it. Unless he was adventuring with Alexander, he was the quiet, learned type who loved to sit and read and discover new things. A school of loud and possibly rowdy boys wouldn’t suit Phillip at all. Alexander was only too glad that Mr. Lovell had accompanied his brother.  

He noticed tears leaking from his mother’s eyes and she lifted a small square of silk to dab them away. She looked as though she were about to speak but couldn’t. He frowned up at his father, shocked to discover the hopeless expression there.

“Father, what happened?” Anxiety rose in his stomach as he struggled to sit upright. There was something more, he knew “Phillip is alright, isn’t he?”

His father nodded mutely and then did the strangest thing. He sat down on the edge of the bed and took Alexander’s hand in his own. He entwined his fingers with Alexander’s and squeezed tightly. Alexander was horrified as he noticed water gathering in his father’s eyes. He gulped and waited to hear the worst.

“Yes, my son. Phillip is fine, a few bumps and bruises and a couple of burns but nothing that will put him out of action for long…I’m afraid the same can’t be said of young Lily,” his father nearly choked over the next words. “We think she followed you two and was hiding in the hay. Unfortunately I had concealed a surprise gift for your mother in the barn. Fireworks to mark her birthday ball next weekend. When your kettle blew up it scattered the burning hay. The resulting blast as the fireworks blew up all together was heard over a mile away.” He hesitated as he took a deep breath. “Poor Lily was blown through the wall of the barn. We brought her straight here of course and it seemed that she was recovering. Smith took her home with instructions that the doctor would be available to him at all times but apparently, our doctor was wrong and her injuries were far greater than first appeared. Smith sent word yesterday morn. She passed away that same night. He has taken Lily’s body to be buried with her mother. The blast razed the barn to the ground. I have put a small memorial at the spot to honour little Lily.”

Alexander couldn’t believe his ears. A band of pain wrapped his chest and pulled tight as he turned to his distraught mother.

She nodded sadly confirming the horror he hadn’t wanted to believe.

“Our little treasure has gone to the angels Alex. We must pray for her.”

Alexander felt his throat tighten. He choked before he spoke.

“This cannot be true…You mean little Lily who sings out of key and pinches the lardy cakes from cook? Our Lily? She couldn’t have followed us because she wasn’t in the barn, unless she guessed where we were going and arrived first.” He heard his own voice rising as the panic set in. “We never saw her father. She never spoke up or told us she was there!” He began to shout wildly as his father attempted to restrain him in the bed.

Alexander tried to stop the tears falling but it was no use. Little Lily may have been a pain to put up with but he would never have hurt her and he certainly didn’t want her to die. Especially not at his hands. The thought was too horrific. He gave up fighting the tears and his father. He grabbed up the sheet as the salty droplets ran down his cheeks. He pulled the linen over his head, sank back down on the pillows and tried to make the darkness take him once again.

**************

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