A Drabble Without A Hero (new update Monday 3 July p.2)
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The CBB -> St Mildred's House

#1: A Drabble Without A Hero (new update Monday 3 July p.2) Author: RóisínLocation: Ireland PostPosted: Mon May 29, 2006 6:27 pm
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This was lost in the hacking Crying or Very sad but now it's back Very Happy I'll repost it in four large chunks (ie four chapters) before I start on the updating and new bits. Anyone coming to this for the first time: it's pre School At in time period and is basically the story of how Madge, er, worked her way to the top Wink

Chapter One

The air felt like a thick tropical soup, as it always did before the rains came. Wiping the sweat from her brow, Madge hugged her knees closer to her chin. Her eyes were wide and frightenend as she listened to the noises in the rest of the house. The staff were agitated and the baby was crying. Her fingers ran anxiously over the scab on her knee that had been caused yesterday when Dick tripped her up and pulled her hair. She heard a soft scuffling outside the wardrobe door and quickly pulled her short cotton skirt down farther over her hunched legs. But it was only Dick.
“Alright, Madgeree?” His blond hair stood up in its usual tufts of untidiness. Madge wanted to smooth it down with her palms, she wanted to chastise him for using that hated version of her name, she wanted to do something to pull the corners of Dick’s lips up in a smile again; but she could do none of this. The lump in her throat prevented all speech. Silently crying in sympathy, Dick tumbled into the cool dark wardrobe beside her. He clutched her hot sticky paw in his own and there they sat, waiting for the news which they knew would come.
***
When the dreaded came, as it turns out, the twelve year old twins were asleep. Asha the nursery maid found them, cramped into a corner of Major Bettany’s wardrobe. Her own eyes were traps of tears as she shook them gently awake and led them, confused, into their beds. They knew without asking what had happened. In Madge’s mind, something new existed – a cold stone wall had been built inside of her, where once the soft warm love of her parents had lived. Asha tucked her into the crisp sheets, left her with a cool glass of sweet lassi, and bestowed one final cuddle and comforting kiss.
Madge cast her mind back over the last week. When it had been confirmed that both Major and Mrs Bettany had contracted the deadly water disease, cholera, Dick had gone into hysterics. He had run into his beloved forest and refused to leave it for almost a whole day. Only his twin knew the little hideyholes where he had fled to, and only she held the power to persuade him away from them. She was only seven minutes older than him, but sometimes it felt like a decade. The new steeliness that invaded her soul was partly due to the realisation that she was now the eldest of the Bettany family. She turned her face into the thin mattress and sobbed herself to an exhausted, mindless sleep.
***
Six weeks later saw the twins stepping off the boat that they had come to know so well, into a new world. This world was cold and windy. The sea was dark grey and choppy. Sleet threatened to sting Madge’s face if she let go her grip on the brim of her hat, just as it had already stung Dick’s cheeks into a raw redness. When they had left India, in June, the southwest monsoon had just broken on the southern part of the peninsula, and the heat had been oppressive. England felt like a different kind of wetness – harder and less forgiving, somehow.
Madge’s musings were cut short by a sharp cry in the salty air.
“Dydh da! Ass yw euthek an gewer!”
Madge and Dick stared. Asha was with them still, to take care of the baby, but she would return with the ship when it left. Now she turned to a nearby sailor and questioned him softly. He replied that the woman was merely calling good-day and remarking that the weather was bad. Nodding, Asha asked,
“Do they not then speak the English language?”
“They do indeed, ma’am, aye and also their own tongue here in Cornwall,” he answered. Madge heard this and sighed relievedly, then moved forward to take the hand of the woman who was so clearly calling to her.
***
She reached out her hand and was immediately pulled into a hot and scratchy embrace with a large and mobile fur coat. The woman’s companion, similarly clad, did the same for Dick, while both of them cast eyes full of sympathetic tears at the baby.
“Now dear,” said the first fur coat, authoritatively, “I’m your Aunt Eselde. This is your Aunt Blejan. We have come to take you home with us, my little dears!”
Overwhelmed by the women’s kindness and bluff manner, the twins began to cry. This fuelled the aunts even more in their vigorous kindness, and the children were ushered swiftly into a waiting carraige. The baby was taken rather brusquely from Asha.

Inside the carriage, Dick took Madge’s hand nervously. Madge squeezed it, though she did not feel much more confident herself. The mist continued to shroud their journey, so that they didn’t see much of the land over which they were travelling. This was not to say that they lost the experience, however, as both aunts kept up a running commentary full of colourful description. Before the horses had trotted five miles, the twins knew that Eselde was the wife of Pasco, who worked as a site manager in the nearby mines. She had eight chidren – including two sets of twins. Blejan was widowed but far from alone as before her husband died he had managed to aid her production of ten children and three grandchildren. These all shared her little house, in a small village near the town of Taverton. Asutely, Madge could tell that this made things more than a little tight for the two ladies. Mining was not doing well at the moment, Aunt Eselde informed her, and only the eldest of her children had started bringing in a wage.
“But this will have no effect on ye, me dearies!” she assured them. “Things will be a bit of a squash, but there’s always room for a few little ‘uns in our midst! And the Reverend will help out – he always does, the chicken.”
“Aye,” chimed in Aunt Blejan, “He’s a petal, that man, a petal.”
“A petal,” agreed Eselde, and then there was silence for a while.
***
At around lunchtime, or so Dick could tell by the rumble in his stomach, the carriage rolled up to the gates of a modest brick house. The twins peered out the window excitedly.
“Is this to be our house?” asked Madge, her chocolate eyes round.
But the horses walked past it and up a laneway. There, in a small field adjacent to the house, were two tiny two storey cottages. Their roofs were thatched, but hadn’t been repaired in some time, to the effect that they seemed part of the grass on which they stood. Bright lilac budleia flowers shot out of odd corners and lifted their coneshaped heads to the watery sun, burning their hearts orange as they did so. There was a buzz of activity about the place that contrasted sharply with the quiet service Madge had been used to in India. A row of wellworn black and grey boots stood in an orderly line along the front wall of one of the cottages. The gardens were not ornamental, but bursted with herbs and vegetables. To the twins, the jolly flowers and leaves looked like unkempt weeds. Madge felt that things were most unruly, but there was a music about the place that hummed quietly to her. She looked at Dick’s face and knew he could hear intricate symphonies between the vibrant vegetables and the tall solemn trees, the warbling of the thatch-dwelling birds and the crashing and gurgling nearby brook. He looked happy for the first time since the cholera had come to their Indian home, and for that she knew she could tolerate anything.

Dick’s happiness was something she had to cling to in the days to come, however. Because of the aunts’ impecunious situation, it had become necessary to split the little Bettany family up. Aunt Eselde had taken Dick because she had less children than Aunt Blejan, and more boys with whom he could share a room. Aunt Blejan had taken Baby Joey because there were three small people in her house anyway, and she had her two eldest married daughters to look after them. But Madge was in an inner turmoil when she found out that she was to live in the brick house at the front of the lane with the Reverend. The aunts instructed her that this was for her own good as she would soon be a young lady, and needed to learn the ways of one. The Reverend’s sister lived with him and she would be able to act as a governess to Madge while Dick went to the local boys’ school with his cousins. Also, there was the simple problem that not six foot square of space existed in either of the two cottages, for Madge to sleep in. Thus she would have to go and live with the Reverend. Madge was secretly delighted in the orderly, mannerly and thoroughly polite corner of her soul. She was also furious at being separated from her twin and her little sister. At the same time, she saw how happy living in the rough, fresh and wild countryside made Dick. So she hung on. With small, even, white teeth, she pinched together the luscious almost-teenage lips, and faced the world with a determind smile, seemingly unafraid of the time to come.
***
And thus the years passed. Dick grew tall and blonder with the time he spent outdoors. Madge lengthened and slimmed into an elegant slip of a teenager who looked forward to very soon becoming a proper young lady. Baby fattened and blossomed under the maternal, ever-wrinkling eyes of Aunt Blejan. She learned to blabber her name and other simple words first, before mastering little speeches that she carried out with quite a solemn air. Madge would skip down the laneway in the early evenings to put her to bed every night and Joey was never so quiet and absorbed as when she was listening to the stories read to her. Her eyes remained bright and awake until the last sentence, but when Madge kissed her and smoothed down the glossy black head, she was already deep asleep. Joey’s elder sister watched her grow and an awareness began to grow in her sixteen year old mind that it was wrong for the three Bettanys to be living apart. She felt sure that families were not supposed to work this way, and she missed Dick, who had been a constant presence at her side since birth.
“Madge, chicken, it’s time you were gone.” Madge jumped at Aunt Blejan’s kindly tones. “You know they’ll be wanting you for the tea, dearie.”
Nodding, Madge gave her aunt a small smile. “Thank you, Aunt. I do so enjoy putting Jo-Jo to sleep.” Impulsively, she threw her arms around the older lady and squeezed her tight in sudden gratefulness. Blejan was surprised but hugged the girl back, marvelling once again at how pretty and well-mannered her niece had turned out. It was only a brief embrace but when Madge lifted her head again there was a film of tears in her eyes.
Shocked, Blejan stroked the girl’s hair, “Lovey, what’s wrong? They’re treating you right above at the big house, aren’t they?”
“Oh yes,” Madge nodded quickly. “I love living there, Aunt. Reverend Jacob is a dear, and Bethany is quite good to me. Cookie says I’m to tell you she said I was a great help!”
Blejan smiled, “That’s good, chicken. I think you’re tired now, so run along up and go straight to sleep once you’ve done the tea, eh?”
Madge’s long dark lashes swept rosy cheeks as she complied and, kissing the head of Baby one more time, she took herself off up the lane to the brick house there.
***
Every step up the rough laneway saw her mulling over her new problem. Madge was a singleminded little lady and once she had realised that it was her heart’s desire to reunite the Bettanys, the cause occupied her mind constantly. Her eyes flicked over the landscape in front of her as she considered options.
“I’m only sixteen,” she murmured quietly to herself, “And Dick and I are far too young to take care of Baby by ourselves. Dickie is still in school and though we could leave, what kind of work would we have to do to get by? I don’t want to be a lady’s maid forever ...”
“Hi-oh! What’s this?” a deep, smiling voice thundered. Madge jumped. “Have sweet young ladies so little company these days that they must revert to inquiring of themselves?!” it boomed again.
“Not at all, sir!” Madge regained her composure almost immediately.
“Hmph,” grunted the man. He was tall and attractive with an aquiline nose and ramrod chin. His hair was liberally flecked with grey and his beard and moustache of the salt and pepper kind. Madge’s heart beat a little faster.
“Well, then, who are you and why are you... frolicking, yes frolicking is the word I should think, on my brother’s land?” he demanded.
Eyebrows raised delicately, Madge introduced herself. “Not,” she said, “that I am required to identify myself to the common public, but I am Miss Bettany, Sir.”
His eyes narrowed. “Miss Bettany, eh? Hmph. And do you live there?” Here he pointed with his large folded umbrella toward the cottages where Madge’s cousins and aunts lived. Biting the inside of her lip ever so slightly, Madge shook her curls and lifted her eyes to the Reverend’s house. “I live there, Sir.”
Confusion waved across the man’s face. Then he came to the decision that they had been standing about for far too long.
“Well. Well, Miss Bettany,” here he folded her ungloved hand into the crook of his elbow and patted it there, “Since we are clearly walking to the same destination, it is sensible that we should walk together, no?”
At a loss, Madge nodded. She kept her face serene and almost aloof as Samuel Wickstaff introduced himself and explained that he had just arrived. The Reverend and his sister were a quiet, private sort of family and though Madge had lived with them for four years now, she had not known of Samuel’s existence. She said as much now.
“Ah yes,” he grinned. “I am rather the black sheep of the family, I’m afraid. They don’t fully approve of my methods of living or of my love of travelling this fine world of ours. Tell me, Miss Bettany, do you love to travel?”
Ignoring this question, Madge asked “Your method of living?” and purposely widened her eyes.
Samuel laughed. “Impertinent little miss, aren’t you?”
“So, what do you do?” Madge pressed.
“Oh nothing a girl like yourself would understand. I deal in property a little, investments a little, shipping sometimes. My portfolio is varied and interesting, Miss Bettany. Shouldn’t life always be interesting?” Samuel’s face clouded a little. “My dear Reverend brother, however, prefers to look on what I do as a sort of gambling. Ah, here we come to the door now.” And taking her hand out of his elbow, he placed it in his own palm as he helped her step inside.
Madge knew she would be needed in the kitchen – indeed she was already late – for it was one of her small duties that she serve the evening tea. Dropping into a small curtsy, she bowed her head to him and took her leave. As she let herself into Cookie’s domain though, her eyes were bright and a tiny smile illuminated her face. And her heart was still beating that little bit faster.
***
Samuel sipped tea from the tiny willowpattern cup that Madge had served him. The only sound in the room was the clink as he replaced it in its saucer.
“So you have taken a ward, brother,” he stated.
The Reverend nodded. “Miss Bettany’s family live at the bottom of the lane, but she has been with us so long, four years now, that I hope she considers us as a sort of family too.” Here the Reverend smiled at Madge, who blushed prettily.
“Marguerite, veuillez obtenir du lait de la cuisine?”
“Oui, Mademoiselle,” Madge replied in precise, accented French, before dropping into the small curtsy that was her habit with the Reverend’s sister, and leaving the room. Samuel watched her as she went, his eyebrows raised.
“You have taught her well, Bethany.”
“Thank you, Samuel, I do try,” Bethany replied, a little tartly.
“Has she yet visited La France?” he inquired.
Reverend Jacob shook his head. “My good man, it is all we can do to keep her at times. A trip abroad is certainly out of the question.”
At this point Madge returned bearing a fresh jug of milk that was thick with yellow cream. Setting it down before the three siblings, she looked towards Samuel. “Vous avez été en France, Sir?”
He grinned and flicked his eyes over her. “Indeed I have, Miss Bettany. Would you like to hear about it?” And then, once Madge had nodded with deliberately innocent eyes, he proceeded to regale the little company with a few wellchosen tales of his sojourns. She listened intently and made sure he knew he had a captive audience.
***
The stories lasted as long as the brandy held out, and then a slightly tipsy Bethany lifted herself from her fireside chair and proclaimed that she was fit only for bed. She leaned in over Samuel and kissed him. “My brother, it is so good to have you back with us. So good. I always told Jacob that you would return.” She smiled. “And I was right!” Then, throwing a cheery look towards where Madge and the Reverend were sitting, “You’ll follow, Madge?” Madge nodded and then Bethany was gone.
The Reverend rose shortly and took his own leave of them. He glanced at Madge, who promptly reassured him that she would stay only long enough to clear away the glasses and bottle they had been using. He trusted his responsible young ward and only paused to smile at her, and bid his brother good-night.
Alone in the room now, Madge and Samuel looked at each other. Each privately recognised a powerful attraction to the other.
“And those businessmen in your last story, Mr. Wickstaff, what happened to them in the end?” she asked.
“Mr. Wickstaff makes me feel like a sixty year old man, Miss Bettany. Call me Samuel,” he replied quietly. Roses grew in Madge’s cheeks, but she remained silent.
He continued, “The businessmen left the country and nothing was ever heard of them again. Does that satisfy you?”
Returning his soft gaze now with an almost-defiant one of her own, Madge turned clear brown eyes straight on him. “No, Sir, I am rarely satisfied in my present existence.”
“No?” he inclined his head a little. “I would have thought a young lady as luminous, as elegant and as talented as yourself would not have trouble carving her way in the world.”
Madge feigned a fog of confusion and lowered her gaze. “Sir, you tease me.” He tipped her chin upwards and looked meaningfully at her. She grinned slightly, “Samuel, you tease me...” She may have gone on but we will never know, for at that moment she felt the full pressure of his warm lips on her own.
***
In a moment he drew away, leaving Madge gasping. She felt a supportive arm around her shoulders and sank gratefully into it. Eventually, she felt brave enough to raise large eyes to Samuel’s face again. Immediately she lost herself once more as kiss followed kiss followed kiss.
Outside the moon rose and inside the fire died in the grate but still the lovers sat close in the parlour. Soon the kisses became interspersed with whispered murmurings and muffled giggles, serious confessions and earnest pledges. Dawn had arrived before they separated to snatch a few hours sleep, but not before the conspirators had plotted to their satisfaction.
***
Madge dried her hands on a teatowel slowly. She was pale – Cookie had already remarked on this – and her eyes were unnaturally large with anxiety and tiredness. She jumped slightly when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Lovey, sit yourself down there and do not stir til you have this drank,” and with her other hand, Cookie pressed a hot cup of sugary tea into Madge’s own. “I won’t ask what’s the matter,” she went on. “But you look mighty anxious.”
Madge smiled gratefully and sipped from the rough earthenware mug. “I can’t tell you, Cookie, though I very much want to! It’s all to remain a secret until... well, until later...” she trailed off but Cookie didn’t have long to wait as just then the door of the kitchen burst loudly open.
“It’s done! He’s agreed!” Samuel’s grin was so wide it threatened to separate brain from jaw. Catching Madge up in his arms, he swung her round and round, his eyes full of youthful spirit.
“Oh, Samuel!” Madge rejoined joyfully and squeezed him back.
Cookie stood by respectfully, her eyes questioning. Madge disentangled herself from Samuel and flung her hands round Cookie, gasping out words breathlessly.
“Cookie! It’s all so wonderful! I am to go and be Mr. Wickstaff’s housekeeper in Taverton, and Dickie and Baby are to come too! Oh, it’s all too beautiful for words! Our guardianship is to be transferred to Mr. Wickstaff, and I’m to accompany him to the continent, Cookie, the continent!”
***
Madge’s eyes were full of genuine tears, which she hid unsuccessfully by burying her face in Joey’s blankets. The sturdy four-year-old sat comfortably on her lap in the carraige, waving a chubby hand in the air at her cousins. Opposite sat Dick, his legs too long for the little trap and so folded rather uncomfortably in front of him. He had been upset and angry at first to learn that he had to leave the place that had been his home for the last four years for he really had loved it there. But Uncle Pasco and Reverend Jacob had been convinced that he could not stay there once this offer had come up. This way his education would be sponsored by Mr. Wickstaff and he would gain the necessary skills to become a gentleman, not to mention the experience, languages and cultural knowledge that occasional travelling would bring. Dick idolised his uncle and willingly and happily accepted his fate, once Pasco had said that this was how it must be. Now he waved to his cousins like Joey did, and kissed his weeping aunts dutifully and kindly.
Samuel took Aunt Blejan’s hand and raised it to his lips.
“Taverton is not so far away, Ma’am,” he comforted her. “And our journeys to my business interests on the continent will be brief.” Blejan was quite charmed by his manner and brightened up considerably. She turned to Madge and tucked the cherry-red coverlet in around Joey’s knees tighter. “You will manage Baby all by yourself my chicken?”
“I noth a baba!” Joey protested indignantly. Blejan smiled and her tears threatened to fall again as she buried a last kiss in the toddler’s coal-coloured hair.
“We will be fine, Aunt,” Madge reassured her. “Sa-, er, Mr. Wickstaff has staff that he keeps year-round at his Taverton house – I will not be alone.”
Sniffing, Blejan consented to be led back from the carriage by her sister. Those of the children who were not at work or at the local school had turned out to wave goodbye, and this they did now, accompanied with many calls of good wishes and luck.
Samuel climbed into the carriage and settled himself opposite the little family. He gave his man at the front a nod, and the horses began to trot. Madge found it easier to focus on the burning watery sun that hung before the horses rather than lean back, as Dick was doing, to call out farewells. She looked ahead. Their journey had begun.
***


Last edited by Róisín on Mon Jul 03, 2006 1:01 pm; edited 6 times in total

#2:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Mon May 29, 2006 8:10 pm
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Thank you Róisín, it's really great to see this back! Hurrah! Very Happy Very Happy

Kathryn

#3:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Mon May 29, 2006 8:10 pm
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Oh I'm so glad you're reposting this! Does this mean we can hope for more of it soon Very Happy ?

#4:  Author: EilidhLocation: North Lanarkshire PostPosted: Tue May 30, 2006 7:51 am
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It's here! And there are new bits! *bounces*

#5:  Author: LizBLocation: Oxon, England PostPosted: Tue May 30, 2006 8:31 am
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Yay!!

It's back!!! *bounces*

#6:  Author: LLLocation: Random bits of North London PostPosted: Tue May 30, 2006 11:34 am
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Cool Very Happy
Thanks Roisin!

#7:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Tue May 30, 2006 3:26 pm
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Nice to see this back, thanks, Róisín.

#8:  Author: francesnLocation: away with the faeries PostPosted: Tue May 30, 2006 5:02 pm
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Oooh I remember this!

Thanks Róisín

#9:  Author: NicLocation: Cheshire PostPosted: Wed May 31, 2006 3:23 pm
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This is great, will there be anymore?

#10:  Author: TiffanyLocation: Is this a duck I see behind me? PostPosted: Wed May 31, 2006 6:06 pm
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hurrah, for it is back! *looks askance at creepyoldman*

#11:  Author: RóisínLocation: Ireland PostPosted: Wed May 31, 2006 6:32 pm
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Chapter Two

The sun was dipping low when the carriage pulled up to the tall townhouse. Slumber had captured all three Bettanys some time before this and Samuel decided to wake Madge first. Slipping a leather-clad finger beneath her nodding chin, he caressed her cheek, and she gently woke. She was careful not to upset Joey in her lap.
“Is this it?” she whispered, “Are we here, Samuel?”
“We are,” he returned, in gravelly low notes. “My sweet, you must remember to address me as Mr. Wickstaff when we are around others. You understand, don’t you? It would be a scandal in this narrowminded town, were we to appear overly familiar with each other.”
Madge nodded mutely in reply, but her eyes were knowing.
Just then, Joey woke up with a whimper and Madge devoted herself to the baby’s care. Dick came to life also and jumped promptly out to help his sisters descend.
They entered the house a little nervously, but Samuel soon put them at their ease. He had no housekeeper – this would be Madge’s post – and thus only a parlour maid met them at the door. She took Joey from Madge’s arms with a little soft exclamation at the baby’s head of poker-straight black hair. As she shuffled away, Samuel spoke to the twins.
“You will have to engage a nursery maid before long, Miss Bettany, as Marya here is rather unqualified, I fear. Dick – here are some funds,” – he handed Dick a thick brown envelope – “to get your school things tomorrow. Now, I think you should both be away to bed as it’s so late. Not that I intend to mother you, you hear! Both of you are adults now, and free enough, in my eyes, to do much as you please.”
“That’s awfully good of you, Sir,” Dick began.
“Nonsense. Miss Bettany, before you retire I would like to see you about some housekeeping matters in my study, if you please.”
Madge bobbed the little curtsy she had been in the habit of giving Bethany. She stared into the distance distractedly as Dick gave her a quick hug goodnight and whispered in her ear as he did so, “Gosh, Madgeree, we have landed on our feet!” before he tramped off to bed with a beaming grin. Then she picked up her skirts a little and walked in the direction Samuel had taken moments before.
***
He was sitting on the Chesterfield when she slipped through the door and his arms opened wide when he saw her.
“Come in, my darling,” he smiled. Gazing brightly at him, she fell into his lap with a deliberate little sigh and held her face up for a kiss. He responded to this immediately and thoroughly and it was some time before they parted, flushed.
He looked happy, she thought, and she wondered how much indeed he had fallen in love with her.
Samuel caught her earnest eyes examining him and put his hands on her shoulders. Wrinkles folded into patterns on his face as he smiled.
“This is what you want, isn’t it, Madge?”
“Samuel?” she answered him, her eyes innocent.
“This is what you want,” he repeated. “You are all here – the Bettanys are together. And it will get better, you know. You are my ward now, though you are almost an adult yourself, and I am quite well known in Taverton society.” His words sounded as if he were uncertain, but Madge could detect no such tone in his voice. He was, she thought, confident that he had got the better end of the deal. For what was money, a great house and a nursery maid to him? she pondered bitterly. She turned a girlishly joyful face to him, however, and began to lean in closer.
“Samuel, darling, I came here for you and nothing and nobody else. You have given me a great gift in bringing Dick and Joey here too, but I would have come regardless.” When she was almost touching his lips, she continued, very quietly and softly now, “I am quite the slave to your presence, my love.”
Samuel chose to submerge himself in the wonderful dreams and pictures she was weaving for him, and closed his eyes for her kiss.
***
Some days later Madge had quite settled into her role as little mistress of Samuel Wickstaff’s big townhouse. She had supervised the engagement of a nursery maid to mind Joey and had also taken on a cook to run the kitchen. Dick spent his daylight hours at a school across the town learning the sciences, as he planned at some stage to return to India and pursue his dream of working in the forests there. Unknown to her twin, Madge had spent two of their first three nights in Samuel’s bed, and indeed a great part of the days too. But now he had taken himself off to Italy for a fortnight, though he had left her a fat sum of housekeeping funds.
So Madge was suddenly finding the great house somewhat empty. It was no longer proper for her to spend any great deal of time in the kitchen with the cook, as she had done in the Reverend’s. She had begged Samuel to take her with him but he had insisted on making this trip alone. It would give her time to settle in properly, he had said to her amid a flurry of goodbye kisses, and anyway his reasons for travelling were not business this time.
Madge’s finely arched eyebrows had shot up at this last statement. “Why, then, do you travel?” she had queried.
Samuel’s thin lips set in a straight line. “I don’t want to alarm you, my darling. My heart is not what it once was, and there is a doctor there who, I have heard, can perform miracles. Some new pioneering treatment or some such...” He trailed off, then sought to reassure her in a firmer tone. “I will be fine. This is just a precaution. In two short weeks I will return and we can begin to plan a sojourn before Christmas!”
With this, he had left.
Now it was three days later and Madge was still musing as to what he had said.
As she stared blankly ahead, Marya opened the wooden doors of the little sitting room in which Madge was presently occupied.
“Madame,” she addressed Madge, in faintly accented English, “Zer is a Mistress Cochrane come. Shall I bring her through?”
A little startled, Madge nodded. She had no idea who this could be, but she was bored. “Yes Marya, thank you.”
The pretty maid smiled shyly before leaving again. Madge swiftly patted the loose curls into tidiness and smoothed her skirt. She did not have long to wait. Almost immediately the doors swung open again and a tall, elderly lady entered and regarded the self-possessed sixteen-year-old girl with kind eyes. She held out a slim, gloved hand.
“Wonderful to meet you at last – Miss Bettany, isn’t that the name? Yes, I thought so, my dear.”
Madge smiled politely and grasped the hand offered.
“Yes, it is Miss Bettany, but you may call me Madge if you wish. You are Mrs. Cochrane, I believe?”
“Indeed I am – oh, thank you, I will take a seat if I may – and the only Mrs. Cochrane, since Victoria passed away last year. Yes, tea would be lovely, dear.”
Madge reached for the bell and rang it to summon Marya.
“Victoria?”
“My son’s little wife,” the lady responded sadly.
“Oh, I am so sorry to hear that,” Madge replied with genuine sympathy in her voice. Mrs. Cochrane heard this and felt it to be sincere.
“Sorrier for small Grizel, I’m afraid. Yes, just the one child – a little girl. She is with me now, until Henry marries again.”
“What age is Grizel? I have a little sister here with me – Josephine, though we call her Joey. She is just four – perhaps the two might be playmates?” inquired Madge. It turned out that Grizel was six and quite lonely, so Mrs. Cochrane agreed that a visit of some kind must be arranged.
“And,” she said as she laid a hand on Madge’s knee, “that will give us a chance to hobnob some more! It is so nice to have fresh members of the local community, I think. And I am anxious for you to meet Henry. Have you engaged any governesses with which you could finish your education?”
“Oh no, Ma’am, my education is quite complete,” Madge answered earnestly.
“Very well!” Mrs. Cochrane’s voice was pleased. “And you have travelled to improve your languages, yes?”
“Not yet,” replied Madge, “That is one reason why Mr. Wickstaff has taken on my guardianship.” Mrs. Cochrane immediately demanded to hear all the details and a pleasant half-hour was spent discussing the various destinations which the Bettanys might visit. Neither noticed when the tea had gone cold. When Mrs. Cochrane had finally left, it was with a promise that Madge call round with Joey on the following Thursday, as this was her day ‘at home’.
Left alone in the room again, Madge’s eyes were bright with excitement at the thoughts of next week’s visit. She decided on much that must be done before then, and got up presently to do it.
***
Dick’s cup of coffee clinked as he replaced it on the saucer. The Bettanys were spending a pleasant morning together, lazing about the big sunny drawing-room. It was Sunday. Service would not be until noon. Mr. Wickstaff was still away and Madge didn’t expect him until Friday. Joey was revelling in being allowed to dine in the drawing-room at all as she was usually confined to eating upstairs in the schoolroom with her nurse. Small wonder either, as she had yet to learn how to eat without spilling or crumbling. Now though, she sat quietly listening to Dick, a great white mug of warm creamy milk clutched before two large inky eyes that were absorbed in their subject.
Her brother continued. “And even when there is no breeze, the leaves of the peepal tree spin like tops, trying to attract people in under its shade.” He struck his palms together suddenly, making Joey jump. “And their long slender tips are constantly striking together to make a sound like a pattering of raindrops. Instead of housing birds and insects, like the banyan tree does, the Hindus believe that the peepal tree plays host to mischevious spirits.”
Joey had been only six months old when she left India and thus had no recollections of it, but as Madge listened, her eyes glowed at the memories. She remembered the wet heat of her childhood and her heart still mourned the darling parents she had left behind there. Dick saw her reaction and hastily changed changed the subject.
“The exams are coming up,” he intoned glumly. “Although Professor Patterson says I should be fine.”
Madge’s face lightened. “What does he teach?” she asked.
“He’s Professor of Logging Engineering,” answered Dick. “And old Bakey seems confident in our group as well...” Then, in answer to more questions from the girls, “Professor Baker – Assistant Professor of Lumber Manufacture. He used to be in charge of Forestry Nursery, but just started teaching this course last Christmas. Any more of those cakes, Madgeree?”
Madge lifted the stand of tiny fairy buns that had been iced so delicately and prettily by Marya (Cook was on a week’s leave), and passed them to her twin with a slight frown at the version of her name. Unheeding of her, Dick carried on, “Bakey’s actually just back from the Punjab. Says the place is bald from supplying us here for materials to make ships and things. He was telling us ‘bout the situation when you first go out there. Unless we have a contact there already, we may as well forget about it. But heigh-ho! Joey-baba’s getting bored with all this talk, aren’t you?” He grinned and swung Joey high up in the air, to her delight.
“Dick – don’t!” admonished Madge, “You know she’s got a slight chest infection!”
Dick dropped her again and ruffled Joey’s hair, not noticeably concerned with Madge’s tone.
Presently, Dick rang the bell for Marya to come and clear away their tea-things, while Joey was taken away by her nurse to be cleaned and changed. Then the Bettanys strode out together to attend the noon service at the local church.
***
The Taverton church bells rang out gladly into the sunny afternoon. The inside of the building itself was full of chatter as the congregation moved from their seats and prepared to leave. The Bettanys had seated themselves in the Wickstaff pew, as they had done the Sunday before, but last Sunday they had known no-one else. This time, a clear voice called out to Madge in clipped English tones.
“Miss Bettany! How lovely to see you again!” Madge turned, her eyes round and questioning. She smiled then as she spied Mrs. Cochrane among the throng, waved a grey-gloved hand to her.
“Mrs. Cochrane, it is a pleasure,” Madge shook her hand warmly and was surprised when the other woman bestowed a friendly kiss to her cheek. “Let me introduce my brother, and of course, you’ve met the family baby.”
The older woman appraised the tall blonde youth in front of her and was pleased with what she saw. “Dick, isn’t it? Wonderful... oh darlings, here come some people I’d like you to meet – this is my son Henry, and his little daughter, Grizel.”
A tall, dark man with a sombre look came over to the group, with a little curly-headed girl of about six attached to his hand.
“’Lo,” she piped. “I’m Grizel, and this is my daddy. Are you Grannie’s friends, then?” Mrs. Cochrane smiled indulgently at her grand-daughter’s happily improper behaviour. Joey put her hand up to Grizel’s ringlets and ran her fingers along them with big eyes. “I like va hair,” she said wistfully. Grizel beamed. “They’re curls,” she informed her younger counterpart, before taking Joey’s hand and offering to show her round the Sunday School garden.
As she watched Grizel lead Joey down the path, Madge felt a touch at her elbow. She looked up and saw that Henry Cochrane was staring rather intensely down at her.
“Miss Bettany. Pleased to meet you,” he said quietly. Madge shook his hand and waited while he shook Dick’s.
“And what are you doing, young man? Working or studying?” Mr. Cochrane asked Dick.
“Studying at the moment, sir. I’m hoping to go on to Forestry.”
“Forestry, eh? That’s a hairy place to be a the moment, no?” Mr. Cochrane scratched his chin and raised an eyebrow. “A hairy place.”
Dick didn’t really understand this, but nodded anyway. They had walked some way out of the chapel at this stage and were standing by the gate. Madge and Mrs. Cochrane were keeping an eye on the children over by the flower-garden.
Mr. Cochrane’s eyes travelled over to where they stood.
“Tell me, Dick, none of your family ever had the surname Seddon?”
“No, sir, not that I know of...” Dick was surprised. He was about to ask why, when Mr. Cochrane went on.
“That girl – your sister.”
“Madge?” prompted Dick.
Henry grunted. “Yes. She is – so like my Victoria to look at – I don’t know – it is – like they could have been sisters.” His shoulders slumped. “I wonder Mother didn’t notice it.”
***
Samuel!” Madge threw her arms about the older man’s neck and hugged him tightly. She had genuinely missed his presence while he had been away. Now he groaned a little under the pressure of her eager arms.
Madge drew back. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
Samuel smiled wearily and Madge noticed suddenly how old he looked. Looking at him now, it was brought home to her that in five years’ time he would be seventy, no matter how youthful he was in spirit.
“I’ve had some treatment done, darling. It’s left me a little under the weather.” He gestured towards the bell. “Would you mind?”
She pulled it, to summon Marya, and then turned to him.
“Samuel, are you ill?”
“Sweetheart, I will need to rest for the next fortnight or so. Then I’ll be fine.” He continued with some housekeeping details for Madge. Then the door opened and Madge turned to Marya. “Ah! Marya! Can you air a room and prepare it – a nurse will be arriving in the morning and staying for a fortnight or so. Thank you – yes, that will be all.”
Marya curtsyed and left. Samuel proceeded to reassure Madge using all the ways he knew how, and she slept a little easier than she would have done, that night.
In the morning, a new, temporary, member was added to the household – Concetta – who had travelled from the sanatorium in Italy where Samuel had undergone his treatment. She was a beautiful, vivacious and worldly girl, and Madge was under no illusion but that Samuel would work his charms on her, just as he had on Madge herself. But she didn’t mind. It meant that she did not have to nurse him herself, and even though she lunched with him every day, not once during Concetta’s stay did Madge spend the night in his bed. For this she was glad.
And besides, Madge had other things on her mind. She worried over what Dick had said in passing the week before. The Bettanys no longer held any contacts with India and she despaired of him ever returning if the situation was indeed so closed. She was resolved to finding a solution for him as soon as she could. She was also preoccupied with the visit she was to pay to the Cochrane’s on Thursday. Mrs. Cochrane’s son sent shivers down her spine with his dark and grave eyes – why did he stare at her so?
***
Madge looked around her a little uneasily and clutched her long, black, folded umbrella tighter. Her cocoa-coloured eyes swivelled round as she stepped smartly through the gloomy park. She had spent a wintry Saturday afternoon at the shops in Taverton and was now making her way back, but hadn’t realised the time and before she knew it, dusk had fallen. In her hand was a heavy bag – unfortunately she had spent all the money in her purse and so was forced to walk home. Clip, clip, clip. The only sound in the deserted tree-lined path, besides her heels on the concrete, was the swishing of a breeze through dead leaves on the ground. Inside her shoes, her feet were warm with the exertion of hurrying in the high-heeled boots she had taken to wearing.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” she told herself firmly, in quiet tones. “I’ve walked this path hundreds of times during the day. And nothing’s ever happened before. Why should it now? I won’t fret!”
Setting her lips into a determined grimace, she walked on. Suddenly she stopped. Was that a noise? Surely not. Ignoring her fears, she began along the path again. But the noise continued when she did. Genuinely frightened now, and wishing fervently that she had waited for Dick to walk her home, she spun round.
“Who’s there?” she hissed.
There was no answer – but she could hear hoarse breaths coming from behind a nearby elm. She fixed her eyes on its shadowy trunk and saw the outline of a bowler hat. She did not wait to see its occupant, but dropped her shopping, gathered up her skirts, and started to run.
From nowhere, it seemed, a big hand fell heavily on her shoulder, stopping her in her tracks with its weight. Madge gasped sharply, then felt another strong hand on her other shoulder. The stranger spun her round to face him. The only light in the park was behind him so that although her face was illuminated brightly, she was blind to his.
***
Urgent lips pressed down on hers and she felt a repulsive, unwelcome wetness on her face. The man had been crying and his cheeks and chin were saltily damp. He had also been drinking, she remarked to herself, and heavily too. Even though panic had invaded every cell in her body, she was amazed that she could still notice small details.
The stranger emitted an odd and ugly noise that was somewhere between a grunt and a whimper. He was now caressing her hair with one hand and her face with the other. Madge was too frightened to make a sound, or to move. She desperately hoped that he would stop, or leave, or somehow disappear into the charcoal night.
Suddenly a sound tore itself reluctantly away from the man’s dry throat – “Vicky...” Madge’s eyes narrowed. She knew that voice. She had heard it before. Then she remembered.
Abruptly, she pulled away. She had caught him by surprise – he had been quite entranced in his drunken fantasy – and he didn’t try to hold her. Pointing the steel spike at the end of her umbrella towards his chest, she faced him.
“Mr. Cochrane!” she emitted, in shocked, still-frightened bursts of syllables. “Mr. Cochrane! How dare you! You are drunk! Get away from me!”
Her voice had an effect on him, and he rapidly came to his senses. He was still drunk, but now he was aware of what he had almost done and his eyes held a stunned look. He looked at her as if seeing her for the first time.
“Miss Bettany?” he whispered. “Oh, Miss Bettany. Oh my. I – I was sure – I thought my Vicky had come back to me again. I thought...” He collapsed into a series of rasping sobs and it was some minutes before he collected himself again. Madge could see that now he was quite sober. He took her hand, but gently this time, as if she was a deer and if he moved too suddenly or made too loud a sound, she would leap away from him.
“There is no apology I could give you that would cancel out what I just did to you,” he croaked. His eyes were full of pain, and though she had been badly frightened, Madge’s heart melted a little. He went on, encouraged by the fact that she seemed to be listening.
“I – I’ve been drinking. I miss my wife so much, Miss Bettany, since she...” His grief overwhelmed him here momentarily and the little speech broke off into a choking sort of gurgle.
“Victoria means – meant – the world to me. Forgive me, but you look so like her that when I saw you walking past just now, I thought you were her.” Fastening his eyelids shut, he finished so quietly that Madge strained to hear the words, “I wish it had been her.”
Madge gazed solemnly at the broken man bowed before her. She had no idea what to say, no clue as to how to deal with the situation that had enveloped her.
Henry Cochrane raised bloodshot eyes. “Is there anything, Miss Bettany, any way, that I might make this up to you?”
***
Madge’s sharp mind began to work again after her shock. Was this the answer to the problem she had been thinking on for the past fortnight?
“Mr. Cochrane,” she began in an angry voice. Then she saw his face and changed tack. Her voice trembled. “You gave me such a fright!” she finished, before dissolving into girlish tears. “I don’t know of anything whatsoever that you could possibly do for me!”
Henry’s dark eyebrows drew together in concern.
“Oh, please!” he pleaded. “Do let me do something to compensate you somewhat. Do you need money?” Here he thrust a hand into the pocket inside his blazer where he was accustomed to keeping his wallet and cheque-book.
Madge stiffened. Mr. Cochrane read her stance immediately, and withdrew his efforts in his pocket.
“Of course you have no pecuniary needs – you are Wickstaff’s ward, after all,” he muttered, almost to himself. He thought, and Madge fancied she could see the cogs and wheels of his brain turning. He was almost there, she thought, he would need no further prodding.
After a minute or so, Mr. Cochrane’s face brighted a little, and she was proved right in her judgement.
“Of course!” he exclaimed. “Your brother – he’s after a career in forestry, eh?”
Madge nodded innocently and proclaimed that she could see no reason for discussing her twin’s training at this particular moment in time.
Henry looked at her seriously. “Say nothing, Miss Bettany, say nothing,” here he tapped his rather prominent nose. “But consider it done.”
Feigning confusion, Madge asked, “Consider what done, sir?”
“I represent the British wing of the Indian Forestry Department, Miss Bettany. You may consider your brother’s future career confirmed and covered.”
Madge opened her eyes wide, though inside she was raving with delight. “Mr. Cochrane,” she began in a solemn tone. “Let us not discuss further what has happened tonight. I wish to return home now and not think of it again. If it eases your concience to improve opportunities for my brother, by all means do so, but do not think that I will feel any less humiliated, hurt or ashamed.”
Henry was truly chastised by this speech and in his heart he became even more determined to help young Dick Bettany as much as he could. He said nothing more, however, but instead offered Madge his hand and an escort home. She refused outright. He was left standing in a drizzle of rain, watching her step purposefully forward into the moonlight.
***

#12:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Wed May 31, 2006 11:20 pm
    —
Thanks Róisín Very Happy

#13:  Author: LizBLocation: Oxon, England PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2006 12:40 pm
    —
*shudders*

Thanks Róisín

#14:  Author: RóisínLocation: Ireland PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2006 8:16 pm
    —
Chapter Three

The rain lashed the windows and melted the landscape into endless grey churning. Madge was sitting quietly in her private sitting room with some darning lying, forgotten, in her lap when she heard the great front door burst open and then shut again as rapidly. The thundering of feet on the stairs told her that whoever had arrived was making their way towards her, and she sat up a little straighter. She did not have long to wait.
“Madgeree! I’ve done it! I’ve done it!” Dick Bettany fell into the room excitedly. Madge jumped up at once. “You heard then?” she asked.
Dick nodded vigorously, “Yes! Bakey gave me the letter today. I qualified with honours and I’ve received the offer of a place in the Punjab!”
Emotion welled up in Madge’s eyes. “Oh, Dickie,” she sobbed happily. “This is wonderful...”
Madge had never felt so relieved. Ever since the incident with Henry Cochrane, two years ago now, she had worried over whether he would indeed look after Dick’s career, as he had promised to do. She had never told a soul about that night, and he had kept studiously out of her way. For weeks after he had assaulted her, she had been unable to sleep or even to tolerate the dark, and she had wanted so many times to confide in someone. But now she was satisfied that it had all been worth it. Dick would never have attained such a high honour without some kind of help. If he was in India, she reasoned, he could send home money without being a burden on her in Taverton.
Dick proceeded to dance Madge gaily round the room, through rays of dusty sunlight that entered forlorn gaps between heavy drapes.
“Where’s the baby?” he inquired.
Immediately a shadow fell across Madge’s face and her lips lost their curves.
“She’s in bed, Dick, she’s had another attack.”
Dick’s face grew serious. “Why didn’t you send a boy for me?” he said in broken tones.
“I didn’t want to spoil your last day – anyway, it’s not too bad an attack,” explained Madge, as she slipped an arm through Dick’s and walked with him towards the nursery. “She didn’t wake at her usual early hour this morning and when I went in to check, she was icy cold in her sleep. We’ve had the doctor in and she’s been dosed. All we can do now is keep her warm – and wait.” Madge finished as they reached that part of the house.
***

The twins entered the room and gazed on the little bed. Underneath a warm pile of blankets lay a small six-year-old girl, her skin as pale as rice paper against an untidy mop of jet black hair. Her pointed face looked even more delicate than usual. She was awake. Next to her, seated on the Chesterfield, was Samuel. Both looked up at the intruders.
Samuel had been reading The Coral Island to Joey. Now he placed down the book and looked at Dick, his bushy grey eyebrows raised. “Well?”
Dick tore his eyes away from his younger sister and a little of his earlier warm smile returned. “It’s good news, sir. I did well in the examinations and I’ve been offered a place in the Punjab.”
With a little help from the stick that he used sometimes, Samuel rose slowly and grasped Dick’s hand to shake it. “Well done, my boy!”
They were interrupted by the noise of the front door banging shut and some conversation in the hall.
“That’ll be the doctor to see Joey,” Madge murmured and excused herself to go down and meet him. She left the room and made her way down the staircase, supporting herself with one slender hand on the bannisters. The further down she glided, the more she thought that whoever had come in did not sound like their usual doctor. Her curiosity piqued, she hurried a little.
***
She reached the end of the stairwell and stared at the scene before her. A very tall, well-built man stood on the tiles, dripping wet from the rain. He wore no hat and his dark hair gleamed in very short, glossy waves. When she arrived he spun around immediately and, pulling off expensive leather gloves, reached for her hand.
“Hallo!” His voice was low and smooth and Madge could feel herself drawn to it and wanting to hear it again. She let him lift both of her hands from where they hung next to her skirt, and pull her towards him. She did not speak – she was transfixed by his eyes – they were deep green with flecks of hazel. Feeling as though everything was moving in slow motion, she smiled as he leant in to kiss first one cheek and then the other. Madge felt like they were the only two people in the room – in the world. The stranger lightly dropped two kisses on each of Madge’s cheeks and then grinning, spoke.
“Karl Wachowski, Madame. It is a pleasure to meet you.” He stared deep into Madge’s eyes. “Truly a pleasure. May I say,” the man went on, “that you have the most delicious eyes I have ever seen?”
Madge blushed but luckily was not called upon to answer him, as at that moment Samuel stepped into the hallway.
“Humphries!” he bellowed in the voice that had never lost its boom with age.
The man who had just introduced himself as Karl Wachowski snapped his head up and treated Samuel to a most alarmed glare. Samuel answered him with a wry grin.
“Oh, Humphries, can’t you see the resemblance? There’s no need to keep it up before this little maid – she’s the Major’s daughter.” Then, in answer to a muttered question in a language Madge had never heard of, Samuel nodded to him.
The newcomer looked into Madge’s face closely, while she reddened even more, before flashing her a wide smile.
“Forgive me, Miss Bettany, for my overcautious manner. You must let me explain...”
“Yes, yes, plenty of time for that over tea,” Samuel rejoined. Slipping an arm behind Madge, he directed her to the small sitting room and bade her to ring up the kitchens for some tea to be brought. Neither he nor Madge noticed that in his gesture Samuel had rubbed the small of her back affectionately, as they were both used to the other’s touch by this stage. But the newcomer, whatever his name was, did, and true to his training, he filed away that small bit of information to be used later, if necessary.
***
Feeling the newcomer’s eyes on her, Madge lifted the tall silver pot and poured out three tiny cups of coffee. She had never met anyone as magnetically attractive or as charming as this man who now sat before her. It wasn’t only her, she knew, as she could see Marya’s eyes on him as she brought in the tea trolley. Madge straightened her back, which she knew showed the profile of her torso to its best advantage, and took her seat.
Never taking his eyes from her, the stranger began to speak.
“Miss Bettany, you must permit me some explanation.” Here Madge nodded and opened her eyes wider.
“My name is not Karl Wachowski, though it is the name I am living under in my current post. The name is Humphries – Ted Humphries. I worked with your father when I was first taken on by Army Intelligence.”
Madge’s lips formed a round ‘O’ of surprise. Raising neatly trimmed eyebrows, she asked, “You knew my father? And why do you need two names?”
Here Samuel took up the tale. “Oh Humphries here has a lot more than two names, eh, boy?” and he slapped the table with a bang. “What about our time in Germany?”
Ted’s eyes slid back to Madge. “Let me endeavour to relieve you of your curiosity, Madame,” he said silkily but, Madge thought, sincerely. “When I finished my training in Eastern European Languages and History with Army Intelligence, my first post was in Germany. Wickstaff here was my Major. While I was there, I lived under an assumed name – Karl Schreber. After many years, I was moved to Poland, and that is where I took up the name with which I introduced myself to you first.”
He paused, but Madge’s face did not clear of confusion.
“But I don’t understand,” she said, “Why take on different names at all?”
“Because, Miss Bettany,” Ted smiled, “My life’s work is to bring down the scourge that is Bolshevism. And in order to do this, I am a spy.”
***
Madge gasped. She didn’t understand fully what Bolshevism was, or why it should be a scourge, but she was hugely impressed by the tall, suave man’s confession. She had read her fill of detective novels and mystery stories, and was immediately entranced by the idea. Ted watched her reaction and was satisfied. He had always enormously enjoyed revealing his occupation, especially to delectable young ladies like this one here. Hearing a small noise behind him, he watched the maid enter. Another luscious specimen of woman, he thought to himself. Then his eyes narrowed.
“Ma wy jest w Anglii długi, dość kobieta?” he fired at her. Marya’s swirl of black hair almost fell from her hairpins as she snapped her head round to stare at Capt. Humphries. She was about to reply, when Samuel broke in.
“She has indeed been here a long time, Ted. It’s been ten years since I last visited Poland, and I brought her home with me.”
Marya gave Samuel a grateful look and swept her skirts up into a deep curtsy.
“Kocham waszego pana kraju, robi wy lubicie kopalnia?” she spoke softly to the captain. Ted flicked his eyes over her figure as he replied in the Polish they had been speaking, “Yes I do like Poland, they have the most beautiful women there, I find. So elegant and – satisfying.” Marya appraised the gentleman, her lips pursed together, then returned to the kitchens.
Madge looked at her companions for some enlightenment. Underneath the table, Samuel took her hand and patted it. “Nothing for you to worry about, my dear. They were just passing the pleasantries of the day in a language they both shared.”
Nodding, Madge smiled. She could see she wasn’t going to get any further explanation than that and she judged that this was not the right time to pry any further. But she could tell from the expression on Capt. Humphries face that she would get a chance to find out soon enough.
***
Madge lay back in her bed and watched the moon’s rays as they shone in through her casement windows. She could hear the murmured conversation and occasional guffaw travel up the stairs from where Samuel and the captain were drinking nightcaps. Putting her hands lazily behind her neck to prop up her head, she smiled as she thought of all the words that had passed between her and Ted at the table and she felt again the ghost of his kisses on her cheeks. Though she was only eighteen, Madge was quite an experienced young lady in matters of an intimate nature, thanks to the early tutelage she had received from Samuel Wickstaff. She knew what she liked and didn’t like. Samuel had taken her to his doctor friend almost immediately on their arrival to Taverton, and she had gone through the distinctly unpleasant experience of having what the doctor referred to as a Gräfenberg inserted. Thinking of this led Madge on to the last time she had seen that doctor – when he had arrived shortly after Ted himself arrived that afternoon – to see Joey. Thankfully he had been able to prescribe a new type of medicine for the little girl and Madge’s mind had rested easier since.
Madge sighed a little as she considered once more the green-ness of Captain Humphries eyes and the shape of his lips as they drew back in one of his easy grins. She imagined her finger tracing along the lines of his face – up over his high, fine cheekbones and down to that firm jawline, and then below that to where the open neck of his shirt revealed just a few stray black chest hairs. When Samuel came to her that night, he found her eager and responsive to his touch. Grinning wryly to himself, he could guess the reasons behind her newly found ardour, but he was always a man to take advantage of any opportunities the moment presented.
***
From behind his back Captain Humphries slid a tanned, muscular arm, to reveal that he was carrying something small and glittery. This he presented to Madge.
“Captain Humphries, what is this?” she exclaimed prettily.
The man in question grinned boyishly. “A gift. To show my gratitude for your hospitality. Please take it – ” Here he grasped one of her slim white hands in his own, and pushed the little box into it. Madge felt it with her fingers and then removed her hand from his touch so that she could open it properly. Excitedly, she pulled one long string of white satin ribbon, which loosened the second, and immediately the tiny chic bow that had been adorning the box fell away. It fluttered to the floor, unnoticed by either party. Free from its chains, the thin glittery wrapping too fell away and Madge was treated to a view of a plain white card box embossed with one, foreign word.
She looked up at Ted, puzzled.
He smiled gently and, taking her hand once more, and especially her index finger, he traced below the golden lettering and sounded it out in a smooth, low voice that caught the guttural German beautifully yet precisely. “von und zu Miaskaraktar”
Madge caught her breath – she was no longer looking at the letters, but instead was lost in Ted’s eyes. He didn’t flash his usual grin at her this time, but instead slipped a finger under her chin and directed her attention back to his gift.
“And see...” his voice took on an intense tone, as he lifted the lid on the tiny box with one fingernail. Madge peeped in and was astounded.
“Why – it’s – it’s a chocolate!” she exclaimed.
Still with that serious look, the captain corrected her gently.
“Not just a chocolate, Miss Bettany. Oh no.” He freed it from its stylish cage and lifted it to her lips. Obediently, Madge opened them a little and could feel the cold shell of the chocolate melt into a smooth sugary cocoa syrup against the heat of her tongue.
“Yes,” whispered Ted. “Just as I thought it would. It matches your eyes...”
Madge could indeed tell by this time that this was no ordinary chocolate. Closing the brown eyes that so captivated the captain, she lost herself in the exquisite sensations that this sweet was unfolding in her mouth and throat. Dreamlike, she could hear Ted continue to whisper to her the secrets of the chocolate.
“This was made in a small Austrian town – Innsbruck – by an artisan called von und zu Miaskaraktar, from a 400 year old cacao tree, the seed of which was given to his ancestor by Cortez. Cortez had stolen it from the last Aztec Emperor – Montezuma II.”
The captain dropped his voice even lower. “The Aztecs consumed the chocolate to seal a marriage ceremony – the beans were grown and blended to bring out the love magic that it contained. To arouse and intensify the men and the women...”
As he spoke, Madge could smell the vanilla, the pepper, the spices, the cream. She was slowly letting it melt its way into her, when the wonder of the moment doubled as, with her eyelids still folded loosely shut, she felt a new intrusion – the captain was kissing her.
The magic of the chocolate had worked and though the sweet shell was now gone, its power continued to flavour the night that lay ahead of the two lovers.
***
Madge smoothed down untidy tufts of black hair as she tucked Joey in for the night. The six year old was asleep already – tired out from her long day. Dick had left for India that afternoon. Samuel, the three Bettanys, Captain Humphries (who was yet staying with them) and the servants had all been up since dawn, either helping him prepare or accompanying him as he did the compulsory round of visits to say goodbye. He had travelled to Cornwall a fornight before this to spend a week with his aunts and cousins there, as he knew it would be years before he saw them again. At three o’clock, Madge and Samuel had accompanied him to the dockside, where he was to board his ship. Joey had stayed behind with her nurse. Madge’s eyes filled with tears as she thought of Dick’s departure again – she would miss her twin dreadfully, but knew in her heart that this was right for both of them.
She straightened up from the cot and gasped as a sharp pain shot through her abdomen. Clutching the handle of the door, she breathed through the cramp until it was almost gone. This wasn’t the first time that this had happened recently, though Madge had a fear of being ill and had not told Samuel. She had shut her eyelids before but now opened them, only to find herself gazing up into that very man’s eyes.
“Darling,” he murmured in a low voice. “Are you well? What is the matter?” Samuel looked so concerned for her that Madge felt a brief, vague guilt over the fact that she had been spending so much time with the visiting captain. She forced herself to smile.
“I’m fine, Samuel! Really,” she wasn’t really lying, she told herself – the pain really was starting to fade. Samuel seemed satisfied. “Well, if you are sure. Now,” he continued, taking her arm, “Marya has served tea – won’t you come down and sit with me?”
“Of course, my love,” agreed Madge, and slipped downstairs.
As she sat at the little table with Samuel, the captain and a business associate of Samuel’s who was due to leave that evening, she watched Ted from beneath her lashes. She thought again what a handsome man he was, especially in full uniform, as he was wearing tonight for the benefit of Samuel’s visitor. Her eyes slid down the metal buttons fastened over his broad chest and she made up her mind to request that he stay dressed as he was when he came to her that night.
***
“Madge, you are ill,” Ted stated flatly one night, after letting himself silently into her room. He had caught her, wiping the corners of her mouth after she had been sick in a basin. Her eyes were wide and white as she searched for words – any words – but none came.
“Ted, I...” she whispered feebly.
Immediately he was at her side, one strong arm supporting her waist while the other smoothed back hair from her hot scalp. His words were gentle but his tone was commanding. Quietly he questioned her.
“You said you had been fitted with a Gräfenberg,” then – as Madge nodded - “So, what has gone wrong?”
Madge started to cry. Now she was sure that he knew. She had hardly dared to admit it to herself. In rasping hoarsness, she sobbed out, “Do you think it’s true then?”
Ted’s eyes were serious. “Darling, you must know it for yourself. It is your body, not mine. You have all the symptoms. The contraception has gone wrong, somehow, though I was careful. I will call for my personal doctor in the morning – he can be trusted. But you must face up to reality yourself, my dear. You are going to have a baby.”
***
The captain’s doctor confirmed what Madge and Ted had suspected. Madge was three month’s pregnant. Thanks to her slim figure, it was not yet possible to tell. She was at her wit’s end as to what to do. Her housekeeping duties that day were barely touched as she paced about the house, able to find neither Ted nor Samuel. She received her usual letter from Aunt Eselde, but flung it away from her, unable to concentrate. The baby, she handed over to the nursery-maid. Her fractious temper had been felt by Joey and that sensitive little lady had gone to bed quite upset.
Finally, finally!, Madge heard the door bang closed downstairs and the sound of men’s laughter floating up towards her. She peeped over the bannisters and saw Ted and Samuel there, derobing themselves of their coats. For a moment, she feared that Ted had told Samuel the terrible news, and a wave of shock made her tremble. She must speak to the captain as soon as possible! For now though, she crouched and waited for Samuel to leave and make for his room or somewhere.
“Ted, I shall miss you,” Samuel was saying, as he clasped the captain’s hand in his own. He had clearly been drinking, Madge could see.
“It will only be for six months, my good man,” rejoined Ted. “I cannot thank you enough, you know. This mission would have been impossible without them.”
“It is you who do me the favour, Ted,” Samuel answered. “I have not been able to take her away as I promised I would. It is time for her to see the world –” Here Samuel faltered and almost tripped. He laughed. “It is late and I fear you have gotten me drunk, Captain Humphries. I will away to bed now – we will talk more tomorrow – goodnight!”
When Madge was sure she heard Samuel entering his own room she spun down the stairs. Ted had been wearily hanging up his coat when he heard the young whirlwind and jumped.
“Madge! It’s only you,” he relaxed and continued to put away his things.
In a loud whisper, Madge cajoled him to come into her own room, where he sat on the bed and scrubbed his eyes tiredly.
“Did you tell him?” she asked urgently.
“Of course not!” replied Ted quietly. “I am not stupid, my dear. If he knew you and I were lovers, you would lose your inheritance. Not to mention that I would lose a friendship I have held for many years now.”
Madge grew angry. “Some friendship,” she spat at Ted. “That you sleep with his ward.”
The captain sat up straight and Madge was impressed by his commanding figure and authority. She had never seen him like this before – he was not angry at what she had said, she thought, he was – serious – somehow.
He raised one eyebrow quizzically. “Ward?” was the only word he spoke and yet there was an ocean of meaning behind it. Flushing badly, Madge knew suddenly that Ted had known about the nature of her relationship with Samuel from the start. Her nostrils flared and she whispered, “You do not know what I have had to go through...”
Ted knew she was about to storm out of the room, so he caught her round her still-slim waist and held her close to him.
“Let’s not dredge up anything now, my sweet. You need to take care of yourself. I need to take care of you. I’ve told Samuel that I need a cover for my next mission for Army Intelligence – two people willing to act as my wife and child. I’m taking you and Joey away for the next six months so that you can have this baby and then return to Taverton, as if nothing had happened. Indeed, you will be more popular in the area, because of your continental travel.”
He looked at her earnestly, “Madge, this... this baby... will not be a stain on your life.”
Full of relief, Madge fell into his arms gratefully. But before he let her sleep, he had one more question to ask her.
“Honey, I need to know this.”
Exhausted now, Madge half-opened one eye.
“Does anyone else know?”
Wide-awake again, Madge sat up. “Just one person,” she replied. “But no-one important.”
Ted narrowed his eyes. “Who?”
***
“Well, that’s it! She’ll have to come with us then,” Ted stared ahead, his eyes full of plans.
“Why?” asked Madge. “She’s only a servant – her English isn’t even good enough to spread rumours!” If Madge had admitted to herself, she didn’t want to share her holiday with Marya. The maid knew all about Madge’s predicament from having to remove the soiled basins from her room every morning. Madge had a sharp eye, and she knew that the maid fostered a secret affection for the captain – her captain, she thought jealously.
“She must come,” Ted reiterated. “You will need a woman with you when the time comes. We can hire someone when we are in the Alps, but you will appreciate a familiar face – trust me,” he added. Immediately, the thought crossed Madge’s mind – how did he know so much about this? Had he been through a similar experience before? But then her mind caught up with his speech and she realised he had told her their destination.
“We’re going to the Alps?!” she squeaked.
Ted smiled at last. “Yes. I have to travel about the mountainous regions of Central Europe for a time. We will not meet many people so your disposition will not be noticed, but even if we do, I will tell them that you are my wife. We leave in a week’s time for Chamonix, in East France. From there we will cross into Italy and thence to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Your languages should be much improved!” This last line he said quite jokingly, and Madge was happy to go along with it. This was a dream that she had often longed for, but which had seeemed further and further away as Samuel’s health had deteriorated. Now it was coming true, and in her excitement, she managed to either forget about or ignore her growing bump in the weeks to come.
***
Madge looked down at the little bundle that the nurse had placed so carefully in her arms. This same kindly German nurse had banished Captain Humphries from Madge’s quarters yesterday and Madge had still not seen him. Just as well too, she thought, she must look atrociously untidy in her present state. With soft, sweet eyes she gazed at the tiny pink and wrinkled baby. It was a girl, just like she was, thought Madge, and had her own dark curling hair. Madge began to cry uncontrollably. She knew she must hand her over. From the corner of her eye, she could see Marya already approaching, a warm blanket ready in her hands. Feverishly Madge tried to think of ways that she could keep the child. Her mind worked fast but she discounted every plot, every plan. How could she have known that she would feel this way about this – this – warm little pile of swaddling? Bursting into fresh tears, suddenly Madge had an idea. She could give her a name! Marya was reaching down gently to catch up the baby and take her away from her mother, when, clawlike, Madge’s hand clasped her wrist and she gasped out, “Marya! You must call her after me! You must give her my name!”
Marya, recently married quietly to the captain, looked down at her old mistress, full of sympathy. She was not an evil woman – she did genuinely love Ted – and she felt she was doing her best for this young, unmarried girl by taking on her child. Now, her voice was very tender as she shook her head and refused Madge’s request.
“It would look bad, Madame. Anyone with ze least suspicion would guess at it.” Then, in response to Madge’s desperately pathetic aspect, “Think of another, Madame. Another name. Not Margaret.”
Wildly, Madge glanced about the room. Another name? Not Margaret, and for the same reasons, not Josephine? Her senses threatened to desert her when her eyes fell on the branch of a tree outside the window and the small, sunshiny creature hopping up and down on it, her cheerful cherry-red chest like a coverlet or a tiny shawl around her.
“Robin,” she croaked, in a hoarse whisper. Then she fainted.
*
Later that day, Marya showed the new baby to her husband and told him of Madge’s request. His eyes were concerned but he refused.
“I wish I could do something to ease her pain,” he commented, “but I have the correct false papers in place for this child already. She will be a French citizen, as you are now, and her name will be Cecilia Marya.”
Disappointed, but determined, Marya laid the baby back into her cradle and tucked her in carefully. She waited to make sure that the mite was comfortable before responding, in her faintly accented English, to the captain.
“I understand that this mission is imperative for you to break into the circle of French Bolshevism, and that the parts that I and the child will play are vital too. Her papers may say that she is Cecilia Marya. But to me,” and here she dropped a kiss on the little girl’s curly head, “she will always be the Robin. And when the doors are closed against the outside world, I shall bring her up the way that my mother brought me up, and sing to her the Russian lullabies that my grandmother sang to her.”
And Marya Humphries, neé Staniszewska, suited word to action, and began to croon softly to the Robin, the words of The Red Sarafan.
***

#15:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2006 11:32 pm
    —
Thank you Róisín, it's very powerful when you read it all in one go.

Kathryn

#16:  Author: LizBLocation: Oxon, England PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2006 11:56 pm
    —
*sighs for the gorgeous Captain*

So sad that Madge had to give the baby up though Crying or Very sad

Thanks, Róisín

#17:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Fri Jun 02, 2006 3:52 am
    —
So sad, but at least she'll get her back! Thanks, Róisín.

#18:  Author: LLLocation: Random bits of North London PostPosted: Fri Jun 02, 2006 11:30 am
    —
wow Shocked
Thanks Roísín!

#19:  Author: TiffanyLocation: Is this a duck I see behind me? PostPosted: Fri Jun 02, 2006 4:20 pm
    —
Shocked Gosh, I never read this far last time round! Am totally boggled; what a compelling read! Thankyou! Poor Madge...

(why is it called a Grafenberg?)

#20:  Author: francesnLocation: away with the faeries PostPosted: Mon Jun 05, 2006 5:35 pm
    —
Ohhh I remember that bit! It was brilliant to read it all in one go though.

Thanks Róisín.

#21:  Author: Rosy-JessLocation: Gloucestershire-London-Aberystwyth PostPosted: Mon Jun 05, 2006 8:49 pm
    —
Oooh. Now this is all new to me, and it is fabbity! Thankyou!

#22:  Author: RóisínLocation: Ireland PostPosted: Tue Jun 13, 2006 1:34 pm
    —
Chapter Four

Twenty tiny candle-flames flickered out in a rush, as Madge blew softly on them. Joey leaned over the table with bright eyes and, grabbing her wrist, bade her sister to make a wish. Silently, Madge complied, and thought of the little dark-haired baby that she had borne and then given away. She would be two now, thought Madge. She sent a brief prayer heavenwards before turning back to the lanky eight year old next to her.
“Joey! Don’t lean over the table so! It isn’t done!” she exclaimed. Grinning impishly, Jo settled back into her chair, not a whit disturbed by her sister’s chastisement.
“Sorry, Madgeree!” she answered. Then, turning to the sole other occupant of the room, she giggled. “I say, Guardian, what a topping idea this was!”
Samuel smiled indulgently at his little ward. “One of your finest, Joey,” he replied.
“Madge, I did so want to invite all of our friends...” Joey began.
“Oh!” blushed Madge, “Darling – the two of you are quite enough! And I have had a card and a letter from Dickie just this morning – I hope he got ours today too. If you are good, I will read it to you after tea.”
Nodding violently, Joey had to forego responding, as her mouth was full of cake just then.

#23:  Author: LizBLocation: Oxon, England PostPosted: Tue Jun 13, 2006 1:39 pm
    —
Happy Birthday Madge Very Happy

Thanks, Róisín

#24:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Tue Jun 13, 2006 1:43 pm
    —
Lovely to see more of this.

#25:  Author: EilidhLocation: North Lanarkshire PostPosted: Tue Jun 13, 2006 1:58 pm
    —
*so impressed with the drabble productivity today*

That was a nice update. Thank you.

#26:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Tue Jun 13, 2006 1:59 pm
    —
But it is sad to think of Robin. She'd have been so happy with them. Thanks, Róisín.

#27:  Author: MaryRLocation: Cheshire PostPosted: Tue Jun 13, 2006 2:03 pm
    —
Roisin, I have just read the whole of this and am amazed at how you have welded all the different strands together to make such a riveting story.

Thank you.

#28:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Tue Jun 13, 2006 2:16 pm
    —
Such a beautiful yet such a sad scene. Thank you Róisín.

Kathryn

#29:  Author: RóisínLocation: Ireland PostPosted: Tue Jun 13, 2006 3:06 pm
    —
Eilidh wrote:
*so impressed with the drabble productivity today*


Embarassed Yes, I was not at all procrastinating from *whispers* work.

#30:  Author: TiffanyLocation: Is this a duck I see behind me? PostPosted: Tue Jun 13, 2006 7:15 pm
    —
oooh, it's back! thankyou Roisin - it's very unselfish of you to drabble so finely when we know you're secretly dying to write your thesis :p

#31:  Author: RóisínLocation: Ireland PostPosted: Wed Jun 14, 2006 11:36 am
    —
When the little impromptu party had finished, Joey returned to the day nursery, where a local girl came and gave her lessons in the afternoon, and Madge cleared up slowly. She replaced the fine, pretty china on its broad tray and carried it through to the kitchen, where Cookie was waiting to wash it and put it away. She thought back to two years ago, when she would never have had to clean like this. But Marya had never been replaced. And when, as housekeeper, Madge had suggested it to Samuel, he had apologised but refused. Samuel’s finances had taken some kind of downturn while they had been in the Alps, and shrewd Madge saw that they hadn’t fully recovered yet. But so upset and depressed as she had been when they returned, that she hadn’t fully considered it at the time, and since then, having to ‘make do’ had seeped into the normality of her routine.
She arrived back at the tea-room door and pushed it open. She was surprised to see Samuel still sitting there, instead of gone to his study at this time, as he usually did to try and turn his fortune around again. His hands were crossed on his lap, and his smile seemed tender, as he beckoned her to sit with him.
“Madge, I have some news,” he began.

#32:  Author: LizBLocation: Oxon, England PostPosted: Wed Jun 14, 2006 1:11 pm
    —
*hopes the news is good*

Thanks Róisín

#33:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Wed Jun 14, 2006 2:02 pm
    —
A nice little cliff there Róisín, thank you Very Happy

Kathryn

#34:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Wed Jun 14, 2006 3:51 pm
    —
I hope the news is good, although I'm a little worried about it.

Thanks, Róisín.

#35:  Author: francesnLocation: away with the faeries PostPosted: Thu Jun 15, 2006 12:30 pm
    —
*wibbles about the news*

Thanks Roisin

#36:  Author: RóisínLocation: Ireland PostPosted: Mon Jul 03, 2006 12:37 pm
    —
Madge folded her legs together nervously under her skirt. What could he mean, news? She had taken in the post that morning and there had only been the usual business correspondence for her Guardian. None of this showed on her face, however, as she raised one trim eyebrow in an inquiring aspect.
Samuel placed a hand on her knee. “Darling, you have been very good to carry on as you have been doing, in our present circumstances. I can only assure you that they are temporary – really, Madge – this economic downturn is affecting all of Central Europe at the moment, never mind Britain and France. But this is getting away from things. Since you came back from your travels, you have seemed a little down too – not your usual sparkling self.”
Here, Madge shook a little, afraid that he might have suspected something of what had happened. But she needn’t have worried.
“It must have been hard,” he went on, “to settle back into ordinary life after so much excitement. So! I propose a new scheme – a double-winner, as we call it in business. I have arranged that you work a couple of days a week as governess and tutor to an acquaintance of mine here in Taverton. They are a lovely family – you will no doubt have come across Margery before in society. We could do with the extra cash and, more importantly, this will give you something fresh to think about. So, what do you say, my dear?”
After such a long speech, this last line was put somewhat anxiously. Samuel felt that if Miss Bettany was not agreeable to this scheme, there was no way he could push her into it. So he waited for her reply.
Madge thought it over and privately agreed with all of his sentiments. She was bored in the house all day, now that Joey was bigger and didn’t need as much of her attention. Secretly delighted at the idea, she kept a cool face and informed Samuel that she was willing, if he were determined to go ahead with this. Below almost-white hair, his face wrinkled into a glad smile as he reassured her that his friend was indeed the most pleasant of men, and that his wife would prove a good friend to Madge.

#37:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Mon Jul 03, 2006 1:46 pm
    —
Thank you Róisín, it's good to see more of this!

#38:  Author: EilidhLocation: North Lanarkshire PostPosted: Mon Jul 03, 2006 2:11 pm
    —
Thanks Róisín! Good to see some more.

#39:  Author: LizBLocation: Oxon, England PostPosted: Mon Jul 03, 2006 2:14 pm
    —
Hmmmmmm!

Thanks Róisín

#40:  Author: francesnLocation: away with the faeries PostPosted: Mon Jul 03, 2006 11:59 pm
    —
Good to see more of this.

Thanks Róisín



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