XVII

The effect of that changing darkness to light was almost too astounding. Onto my head the morning came, pounding waves of dreariness. As I lay, listening to the somehow heavy squawks of the birds, I wafted in and out of pure exhaustion, more exhilarating than exhaustion had ever before appealed to me. My out-of-phase breathing became the single piece which corresponded with the swishing sounds in my ears, later recognisable as my blood as it rushed through my head. I knew little of the thoughts that wandered in and out of conscious queries, replacing them with the empiricism that this pleasant drowsiness gave.

I mustn’t lose sight of the morning ideology, I chided myself. Slowly, however, my cloudland faded and the lines of my vision returned to their sharp relief.

Ten of the clock left anger that I couldn’t deny myself, but, nevertheless, I converted my energies to the understanding the midnight wanderings and discourse. It would have been all but a dream if only the images cluttering my head were not so vivid.

Too, evidence for the new era’s revelations still called from the half-hung side of the curtain-rail, flap over dishevelled flap.

Having clambered into my clothes, the same from the previous day, since my mother possessed the rest at the hotel, I stumbled down the main staircase and into the living room, ignorant to where breakfast was supposed to be brought. Slowly, however, as I began to sprawl myself across the sofas, the dribs and drabs of the Russian society traipsed in. Marina settled down beside me first, another light-coloured sundress clinging to her figure; a giddy expression played on her face, as she rested her head against a back-cushion.

“Morning…” we mused to each other simultaneously. That we could bear the same intonation now disturbed me.

It didn’t occur to me, in that second of meeting, to ask where breakfast might be held; in my state of drowsiness, all I wished to do was rest lazily. In any case, she seemed as tired as I was feeling.

A door ached open somewhere beyond my sight and, in another minute, Carrie emerged from the tapestry, dressed in uniform, but with her red hair gleaming with droplets.

I smiled, lifting fingers up and down in a wave. “The children aren’t up yet, are they?”

“They’ll be up soon, no doubt,” Carrie replied.

Another creak from the doorway signalled Mrs. Karkroff’s sweeping entry, tissue-patterns of dark blue barely visible under her warm dressing gown shade. The lady radiated happiness in herself.

Meez King!” The smell of fragrance was strong on her person. “I ‘ope you slept well?”

“Indeed, I did. I slept much better, much more succinct than I would normally do,” I conceded. “I found myself drifting off upstairs with ease.”

“Ah,” Marina remarked with her trademark smile. “That would be the sleeping pill I added to your water. I felt you needed to have a bit of ease drifting off. You didn’t need your headache to be keeping you awake. What with the case –”

I jerked upwards, away from the haze. “You drugged me?” I cried. I didn’t care if the people around me thought that I was over-reacting. I growled under my breath in contention with the gentle attitudes that I should have attempted to give the singer fairness. “Do you know how dangerous that could have been? I could have been allergic…or on some other drugs…or a recovering addict!”

Marina burned bright red. Too, I saw Carrie flash a tone of pink and the woman looked away.

“I’m sorry!” the singer cried. “I was only trying to help.”

Carrie leant forwardly, but quickly pulled away from me again. “I’m sure she didn’t mean you harm,” added the governess, imprudently.

I tried not to ‘huff’, and I could not deny how well I had slept, in fairness. It felt good. I looked between Marina and Carrie, the latter who had now settled across from us; their eyes sparkled with the joy of friendship, but Marina’s sparkled with something more. I wondered how many of those little white pills she had taken.

Mrs. Karkroff cleared her throat and I knew that my pair of eyes was not the first to turn to her. “When my husband arrives, we can adjourn to the miniature kitchen-room. There is no point of a repeat of the week’s nights and days…occurrences. It’s just through here, where all seven of us can sit comfortably.”

“I know, but that’s not really necessary….”

My words were drowned out by the arrival of Mr. Karkroff. His loopy hair lay down on his face, and a bemused expression before it, as Maripose enveloped him in her glamorous self. Brief words in Russian were exchanged, kissing good-morning, and Mr. Karkroff turned to address Marina and me. As her employer neared, I spotted Carrie slipping out the back way with a subdued manner.

“It’s so good to see you all so bright and well-rested,” Mr. Karkroff boomed. “If you’d just follow me. I apologise for our secondary dining area being so out of the way.”

“They still don’t want to return to the place where Ivor almost…” Marina hissed, swallowing. “I don’t why Mrs. Karkroff is so loving all of a sudden, either. She’s possibly remembered the quality of loving children – or she’s pretending joy.”

Although Marina had a point, I thought it best not to respond. We followed Mr. Karkroff across the mansion, when I became suddenly aware that I knew this route. Mr. Karkroff was bypassing the sections of the house that the public trawled through, but nevertheless, I was beginning to have flashes of the memories of that faded wallpaper and the carpet that looked like broken wool. It turned out that this was the way I had taken myself once Ivor had been poisoned, that time when I had wanted to clear my thoughts of Carrie’s dominance. To think I had been jealous of her taking over my place! It was clear that she was better as the governess, and I as the ‘visiting ‘tec’.

As the group (I counted it to be four, including myself) walked, we passed various windows over-looking the grounds, including that which I had surveyed for many times before. The garden hadn’t changed, hadn’t aged even when the dark times had themselves. Instead of winding up the stairs as I expected, we began to wind down them, across the cracked wood of back way, until we gradually arrived at the back-kitchen with the patio area I had encountered last night. This morning, the French windows were wide open, and there, sitting on one of the chairs she had placed outside, was Caroline. As always, the governess had taken duty before heart and leapt one step ahead of us higher mortals.

Amongst the concrete ornaments of the patio, the little Karkroffs frolicked in and out, performing balancing acts on the fountain so precarious that my mind was turned to their generic safety before my heart intervened with its own panic. The organ thumped wildly to see Elsie alive and well, but, even so, each beat was filled with the kind of worry that only occurs after a murder.

Ignoring the continental breakfast laid out on the accompanying metal table, the food enough for each of us to help ourselves and the circular table diametric enough for those certain people to be seated, Mrs. Karkroff strode over to her children, catching Ivor and clutching him to her bosom.

“So good to see that you are in the fresh air! I am not taking you, young sir, out of my dear sight!” Her words were clear and English, as if she wanted us all to hear the unusual declaration of love.

I shot Elsie a look. Our eyes connected with some sort of malice. I didn’t think the girl knew the definition of the subtleties she was shooting at me. She shook her head and I knew that the lie was good. I had no need to complicate the situation by throwing Mrs. Karkroff extraneous information. I didn’t trust the new her.

“Oh, please do sit,” Carrie added as Mr. Karkroff and Marina took places around the table, leaving we four partitioned by the fountain, “help yourself to breakfast.”

Gratefully, I let myself cast aside the issues of the night and eat.

***

The End

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