Chapter no 28

The Silent Companions

It hurt to breathe. Try as she might, Elsie could not shift into a comfortable position. Every time she moved, a dagger slipped between her ribs.

Her nose felt bent. One of her eyes had swollen until she could only see a thin strip of light through it. There was no doubt in her mind now: she was not mad. Something was coming for her, as surely as the tide inching up the shore. But it would not come quickly. No. They enjoyed making her run.

She turned her head. A pillow puffed beneath it; she was not in the nursery. Someone must have heard the crash and found her in the rubble. She could not remember. Everything blurred beneath snatches of pain.

Footsteps sounded in the corridor, accompanied by a voice. A male voice – one she recognised.

‘Jolyon!’ His name a croak, barely audible. She made an agonising attempt to move. Pillows supported her on either side, she was propped sitting up at an angle.

The feet came to a halt outside her door. Elsie waited. Nothing happened. No one came in.

Straining her ears, she heard Jolyon and Sarah in conversation. ‘She is still asleep?’

‘I think so.’ Sarah sounded spent. ‘Heaven knows she was drugged enough, Mr Livingstone.’

‘This is my fault. I should never have let her come back here, alone.’

‘You must not blame yourself.’

Jolyon said something she could not make out. Then Sarah spoke again. ‘The doctor said she cracked two ribs and sprained her left knee badly. It’s a miracle nothing was broken. There is some damage to the face, but only cosmetic. Lots of scratches and contusions—’

‘No,’ said Jolyon – or perhaps it was someone else, for surely the tone was too harsh? ‘That is not what I mean. You cannot pretend this is acceptable behaviour, even after all she has been through. What was she thinking, capering around attics at midnight?’

Sarah mumbled incoherently. It must have been something in Elsie’s defence, for Jolyon shot back, ‘You must not encourage her, Miss Bainbridge.’

The door creaked on its hinges. Elsie shut her eyes, knowing she would not be able to hide the hurt burning inside them.

Steps padded across the carpet. ‘Elsie? Are you awake?’

She murmured and moved her head in the direction of the door, but she did not open her eyes.

‘It’s Mr Livingstone, Mrs Bainbridge, come to see you.’

Blindly, she stretched out her hand. It was not until Jolyon took it that she realised her gloves had been replaced with bandages.

‘Elsie. How do you feel?’

She wet her lips. They were swollen and parched. ‘Like I’ve been in the ring with Tom Sayers. I came off the better, though. You should see the state of the nursery.’ She tried for a jovial tone, but it fell to the ground like a dead bird.

‘I have seen it,’ he said. ‘Terrible damage.’

Carefully, she cracked open her one good eye. Jolyon floated into her vision. He looked ghastly. Uncombed hair straggled behind his ears and stubble covered his chin. Purple marks sat beneath each dull eye.

‘Oh, Jo.’ A tear slid down her face. She wanted to reach out and stroke his cheek, but there was something else beneath his concerned expression, something too hot to touch. ‘I am sorry you’ve had to come down here and deal with this. We’ve had nothing but bad luck since the day Rupert died.’

‘So it would seem.’ His lips pressed together. ‘What were you doing in the garret, Elsie?’

‘Looking for something. There was a . . .’ She trailed off as she glimpsed Sarah behind him, shaking her head and signalling madly with her bandaged hand.

‘A what?’

Sarah was right – she could not tell him about the diary. He would take it away, say it excited her too much, and she would be back to the red lavender, back in the cold sitz-baths.

‘An ornament,’ she improvised. ‘Helen saw it up there and took a fancy to it. I thought it would be a nice gesture if . . . if we buried it with her, in the coffin.’

‘Oh.’ A cold sound, impersonal. ‘I see. And that could not wait until the morning?’

She had lied to him all his life. Why was it so difficult now? Perhaps the drugs Sarah had mentioned were slowing her down, numbing her faculties. ‘I . . . couldn’t sleep.’


‘We can none of us sleep,’ Sarah cut in, shrill. ‘Not with the goings-on in this house.’

‘No. I expect not.’ He released Elsie’s hand and hooked two fingers in his waistcoat pocket. He looked, but he did not see her. His gaze was slack, insensate. What was going on in that mind of his?

Once she had known him, through and through. Her darling boy. Only he wasn’t a boy any longer, was he? He was a young man, six years older than she had been when Ma died. Capable of all the things she had been capable of, back then.

Keeping secrets from Jolyon was second nature. But what if he hid things from her?

‘Look at the clock – it will soon be time for dinner,’ Sarah said. ‘Shall I have Mrs Holt bring up a tray for you, Mr Livingstone?’

‘No, I will come down and dine with you. Just one moment more.’ His eyes lifted, suddenly, pinning Elsie to the bed. For one ghoulish moment, he looked just like Pa. ‘Elsie, I need you to tell me what happened with Helen.’

‘She . . . I do not know what happened. I came into the card room and she was there . . . like that.’

‘Peters said you were acting strangely. Agitated.’ ‘Was I? I don’t recall.’

‘It must have been memorable,’ he said, still in that cold, dead voice. ‘It made quite an impression upon Peters. He has given me his notice.’

Well, Peters was never stupid. With the way things were falling out for servants around The Bridge, he would be a fool not to abandon ship.

‘Is that so? I will be sorry to lose him. He has been an excellent driver.’

Jolyon nodded. ‘Yes. Mr Stilford and the gardeners have left too. With all these deaths, one can understand it. Our household is sadly reduced since the winter.’

‘Mr Livingstone.’ Sarah moved towards the door, twirling a strand of hair anxiously around her finger. ‘I have just heard Mrs Holt ring the gong.’

‘One more word, and I have done. We bury Mabel and Helen on Friday, Elsie. We cannot in conscience leave it any longer. I wish for you to remain here, resting.’


‘There is no but. I will not have you put through unnecessary strain.’ He moved his mouth, trying out a sentence, tasting it before he spoke. ‘You are my sister. I will be . . . obeyed.’

Obeyed. The word roped around her throat.

‘Get some sleep, now.’ He bent to kiss her cheek. His lips were cold, dry. ‘Mrs Holt will carry something up for you to eat later.’ He walked to the door and offered Sarah his arm. ‘Shall we, Miss Bainbridge?’

‘Yes, certainly. Let me just say goodnight to Mrs Bainbridge first.’ Sarah came forwards and repeated his kiss. Her breath was warm against Elsie’s ear. ‘The diary is under the mattress. I didn’t have a chance to read it, I just hid it from Mrs Holt when I found you. Please, look while we are at dinner. Find out how we can stop this before it is too late.’

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