Chapter no 20

The Silent Companions

‘My diamonds. Where are my diamonds?’ Elsie raked through her jewellery box, scattering chains and pearls across the dressing table.

‘Elsie.’ Jolyon sounded tired. He slouched against the bedpost. ‘Leave that. You must rest.’

‘But I cannot find my diamonds.’ ‘They will turn up.’

‘Rupert wanted me to have them.’ She dug faster. She had lost Rupert. She had lost the baby. She would not lose the diamonds too.


‘I am not being hysterical, Jo. Rupert heard it too. He wrote me a letter but I can’t—’ She shuffled through the belongings strewn over her dressing table. No one had cleaned it during her illness. The surface was coated in that coarse, beige dust. ‘I cannot find it right now.’

‘You need to calm down. This is not you speaking. You have been very ill.’

Ill. A laughably inadequate word. ‘This is not a nervous disorder. The wood inside me! And Sarah saw the companions,’ she whispered. ‘She saw them too.’

‘This is not like you, Elsie. You are no neurotic girl.’

‘Then why don’t you pay me the courtesy of believing me?’ Without warning, she burst into tears.

Jolyon came to her side at the dressing table and placed a hand on her shoulder, bringing with him his familiar scent of bay leaves and lime. His fingers trembled on her collarbone. Of course, he was not

used to seeing her cry. All these years she had hidden her sorrow from him, held herself tight, strong. But now a chamber inside her had unlocked and she could not seal it up again.

‘What you are asking me to accept, dearest . . . It is impossible.

You see that, do you not?’

It was all very well for him. His pressed suit, his necktie and shining shoes proclaimed his place in a world of order and sense, figures and business. He did not know what it was to ferment out here with a malicious, nameless fear.

‘I am not blaming you,’ Jolyon went on. ‘I do not think you made it up. Poor, dear heart, you have been cruelly deceived.’

She stared at him. ‘How do you mean, deceived?’

‘Consider it. Could a person butcher a cow and deliver it to your door without any witnesses? Someone must have seen something. Did Peters not notice Beatrice was missing? What about the gardeners? And where were the maids, all that time? Why did they not answer the door?’

‘You do not think . . .’

A thought was forming, drawing memories together as a poultice draws filth. The maids.

He removed his hand from her shoulder and ran it through his hair. ‘To be honest with you, I think the maids were playing a joke. Perhaps they did not mean for it to go this far.’

‘No . . . they would not.’

‘You got rid of all the servants at the factory after Ma died,’ he said gently. ‘You are not used to managing such people. It would be quite simple for the maids to move things, keep spare dummy boards hidden. Write in the dust. Consider. They could have orchestrated every move.’

It was too horrible to believe. ‘But . . . why?’

He shrugged. ‘They resent you. Your very presence in the house. Once their work was easy and slapdash. Now, with a mistress, and the prospect of a baby . . . No doubt they thought it amusing at first, but they have overstepped the mark.’

Could two women enact such spite? Slaughter a cow and shred a dress just to get back at her? Elsie struggled to imagine it. And yet . .


Mabel took the carriage home from church that Sunday before Christmas, didn’t she? She had plenty of time to set up Hetta and place the handprint on the glass. It was Mabel who came running to say Hetta’s eyes had moved, Mabel who screamed about the companion in her bathtub. She could have put it in the bath herself.

‘No, that doesn’t explain it. I saw things, Jolyon. I saw a pair of eyes move and I heard that one in the bath, brushing her hair!’

‘Did you?’ he asked softly. ‘Or did someone plant that idea in your mind? You have been ill and grieving, very open to suggestion. Maybe the maids just prompted you. They knew your frightened imagination would provide the rest.’

She experienced a shrivelling sensation in her chest as she remembered Mabel, standing by the wardrobe, looking guilty as Elsie and Sarah cried over the baby.

She looked at Jolyon, his dear face, hazy through her swimming eyes. ‘But . . . I raised Mabel up.’

‘And she has betrayed you, my poor love. I would wager she took your diamonds, too. She has the key to the box, does she not?’

Her clever boy. Nothing got past him. He had grown stronger than her, sharper than her. And here she was, an utter blockhead, thinking she had helped those in need. She had only helped them to rob her.

She covered her eyes with her hands. ‘Oh, Jo, I’ve been such a fool. Will you ever forgive me?’

He put his arms around her and drew her to him. Her head rested on his chest. How tall he was now. ‘Forgive you? Goose! What have I to forgive you for?’

She buried her face in his waistcoat and did not answer.



Her boxes were all packed and tied, ready to be loaded into the carriage. The tight-faced servants stood clustered around them in the Great Hall. Elsie walked past and thanked God she was leaving: leaving this horrendous place and all the ghastly things that had happened here. Leaving the companions.

They faced the wall, like children put in the corner for failing to learn their lessons. Had Mabel positioned them like that? Elsie could

not bring herself to look at Mabel, think of Mabel. She felt sick just sharing the same space as her.

Shakily, she went to the mirror and arranged her bonnet and veil over her widow’s cap. The face reflected below the brim was misshapen, strained with dread. She felt awful. Her body was in a state of flux. Tender breasts pushed hard against her corset, confused as to whether to ripen or deflate. And all the while her baby lay cocooned in a derelict church, bearing a name that was not his own.

It was Mabel’s fault. Helen’s fault. Mrs Holt must share the blame for failing to supervise them. Or perhaps she was laughing up her sleeve at Elsie, too.

The splinters. That hellish thought went round and round in her head like a child’s spinning top. It did not tie up with the rest. Scaring her and making her jump – that was one thing. But meddling with an unborn baby . . . She knew the maids would not do that.

What in the name of God had happened to her?

Jolyon’s steps sounded on the flags. She did not turn, but heard him pull on his gloves. ‘Did you find my sister’s diamonds, Mrs Holt?’

‘No, sir, I’m afraid not. I am sure they will turn up.’ ‘They will not.’ He took a breath. ‘Mabel has taken them.’ Mabel gasped. ‘I never did!’

Elsie whirled round, her fury leaping like a flame. ‘Oh, you did. I saw you with them once before, remember?’

‘I were warming them.’ ‘Without permission.’

‘Tell me, Mabel,’ said Jolyon. He was calm, in control. ‘Who else has access to my sister’s jewellery box? Besides you?’

Mabel’s eyes slipped to the door. ‘Miss Sarah?’

Sarah’s mouth flew open, but Elsie did not let her speak. ‘I trust Miss Sarah.’

‘I am sure it is all a mistake,’ Mrs Holt soothed. ‘I am sure—’

Jolyon put up a hand, stopping her. ‘am sure that your maids have been playing tricks upon their mistress. All this nonsense about companions! Mabel has access to the kitchen, does she not? Access to the largest knives?’

Mrs Holt blinked. ‘Sir, you are not suggesting the cow—’

‘You’ve gone barty.’ Mabel threw up her chin, but she was all puff. Elsie could see her lips quivering and the alarm stretching her eyes. ‘If you think I swiped them diamonds and killed the cow then you’ve lost your mind. Sir.’

Jolyon gave her a long, hard look. ‘Have I? We shall see.’ He placed his hat on his head. It made him look taller, more imposing. ‘Mrs Bainbridge and I will return at Easter. If the diamonds have not been located by then, I will report my suspicions to the police.’

‘But I don’t know where they are!’

‘Please, sir.’ Mrs Holt wrung her hands. ‘Mabel has worked here for over two years. I cannot believe she is a thief.’

Jolyon softened his tone. ‘Dear Mrs Holt, you are too trusting. You did not see what was going on under your nose. I think you and I need to sit down and discuss hiring some more . . . suitable servants.’


‘Do not be alarmed. Your employment is safe.’

‘Dear me. Dear, dear, me.’ Mrs Holt’s throat worked convulsively.

Bumbling, foolish old woman, Elsie thought. If she had supervised her maids properly, if she had considered what sort of girl she was taking on in the first place, all this unpleasantness might have been avoided. Elsie’s baby might still be alive.

Jolyon picked up a suitcase, his expression level, unfazed. ‘Take comfort, Mrs Holt. We will talk again when I return from London. In the meantime, Miss Bainbridge will be in charge of you.’ He passed his case to Peters and went outside with the man to supervise the loading of the carriage.

Sarah came forward. She could barely look at Elsie. ‘Mrs Bainbridge . . . This is all such a mess. I—’

‘Hush. You weren’t to know. We both got carried away with fear and our grief. Neither of us suspected the maids.’

She bit her lip. ‘Do you . . . Do you really believe they did it all?

Every last bit?’

Elsie swallowed. ‘Jolyon believes it, and I trust him.’ ‘But in the diary—’

‘Enough. I cannot bear to speak of it any longer. Return to your diaries, and your study of the family home. You will scarcely notice I am gone.’

Sarah trembled for a moment. Then she pitched forward and kissed her on the cheek. ‘God speed your journey. I am so sorry, Mrs Bainbridge.’

‘Well. I suppose you might call me Elsie now.’

It was not until Elsie was settled in her seat, waving goodbye to Sarah, that she saw it: another face, intent on their departure. On the second floor, staring out of the window that belonged to her own bedroom, was a companion.

This one she knew. Anne Bainbridge. Unmistakable: the same coral ribbons from the portrait in her hair; the same plump cheeks. Her yellow gown flowed and rippled where her arms lay, crossed over her chest. And there, painted on her throat, was a necklace. One glittering bow supporting three pear-drop diamonds.

Elsie’s diamonds.

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