I noticed the change in Elsie’s personality the moment I stepped into the room. She still retained the graceful bubbliness of before, but she was concealing something behind her bluebell eyes. Even when she smiled, her nervous smile, it was a shaken one; I could see exactly what Carrie had meant about the girl having some traumatized heart.
“Hello,” I muttered, smiling. The girl froze, her eyes flicking about the room. I watched her closely, watching the way she gazed at the doors and windows.
“Do you see?” Carrie whispered into my ear.
Leading her away, I nodded.
“She’s worrying, can’t you see?”
“I can see.”
Before our conversation began to turn into that of a pantomime, I turned back to watch the children, to see what it was that they were in the habit of doing.
Whilst Ivor occupied himself with building a toy car out of complicated pieces of small multi-coloured bricks, Elsie studied him in the same way that we studied her. Although her face was unmarked by expression, she could not conceal all her concern for him. Leaning down to his level (as he was splayed out across the carpet), she tenderly placed a hand on one of his, making the boy glance up. The youngest of them whispered for a second in Russian that neither Carrie nor I could understand, and then Elsie drew away to the space between him and the wall, where she could keep an eye on her brother in peace
She had not replied even to him, giving only a curt nod. Finally, after a minute of just standing there watching him, she leant down and pulled him into her warm embrace again, the silence still lying in her eyes.
“They’re very adoring of each other,” I said, turning away from the window, from which I had been watching the ever-growing crowd of tourist eager to see the house. None of them seemed to care that the day was growing by every second, and the more that came, the longer they would all have to wait. No, none of that ever bothered them.
The whole of the porch area could be seen from my position at the double-spread window, along with, if I gazed sideways, the beginning of the leisure garden, open to tourists, unfortunately, and the private garden. The latter I could tell was greener, less used, and the path to the cellar was illuminated.
“They are,” Carrie nodded. “I reckon Elsie would do anything for Ivor. It’s the lack of having their parents around that makes her so protective. It’s my fault, I guess, for not being as close as I could to her. I’ve, in a way, made her the enigma that she is.”
“What?” I snapped, turning to her. “It’ll never be your fault. You’re right to say that she has to cope for herself in a society like this.”
“I’ve influenced her though,” Caroline muttered.
“She’s only a child!”
At that, Elsie looked up, real fear finally painting her placid face.
“It’s okay,” Carrie said, smiling and nodding patronizingly. At the governess’ words, Elsie settled herself down beside her brother again.
“Thank goodness she understands the basics of English,” Carrie sighed from her place beside me.
I looked to her, and only one thought remained in my mind.
“How odd,” I muttered as a reply, still observing the children, and Ivor’s game, out of which Elsie had retreated once again, this time much more formally as she continued with her own work, her nose in a Russian story.
Carrie followed my glance.
“I know. She’d become so unlike her usual self these past days.”
“I meant about the cultural divide.” My voice, I found, was sharp on the matter.
In lieu of a response, Carrie shrugged and moved back over to the children, where she wiped Ivor’s face with a pocket-handkerchief despite his struggling.
I followed her walk, watching gravely.
“I’ve just got used to the Russian society as it is,” Carrie finally replied. She lowered her voice and murmured to Elsie, “what is it, darling? It’s okay to tell aunt Caroline.”
I raised my eyebrows at how affectionate Carrie was being; surely that was not the general idea with tutors? And yet, my hypocrisy was plain, when I had been all too intimate with my late teacher.
Even though Carrie’s sucracity, the young woman was resolute. She shook her dark head.
I pulled Carrie to one side, with the intent to whisper into her ear.
“Come on. Don’t worry yourself, Carrie. Leave it all to me.”
She nodded, turning away.
“Oh, that reminds me,” she cried, “the Karkroffs have invited you to dine with everybody in the case.”
That was never going to be good.