They watched Mab drop the first clod of earth into the grave. Her face was a pale mask, the same mask Osla had seen when she was wrenched away from the terrible heap in the Coventry garden. Her rending shrieks had stopped as if a switch had been flipped. Oh, Mab, come back, Osla pleaded silently, looking at her friend’s empty face.
Would Mab come back—not just to herself, but to Buckinghamshire? What would Bletchley Park be like without Mab?
Somehow the graveside service was over. The mourners broke up, shepherded by a middle-aged woman in black crepe. “There’s a bit of luncheon laid out in my parlor,” she told Osla. “Do come get a bite, dear. How did you know Mr. Gray? Such a fine man . . .”
Osla watched Mab walk out of the churchyard in her pale hat. “Yes, he was.”
Beth was still looking at the grave. “Coventry couldn’t have been evacuated,” she whispered when the middle-aged woman hurried off.
“Shut up!” Osla exploded.
Beth started as if she’d been slapped. Giles put a consoling arm around her, and Osla looked away, strangling her black-bordered handkerchief. She knew she should apologize, but she couldn’t. All she could see was her own fingers letting go of Lucy’s tiny wrist—the silent, terrible heap of stones and beams—Mab on her knees in the rubble, cradling a tiny riding boot and giving those terrible choked screams . . .
In the hotel parlor, Mab managed to accept a tight hug from Giles before being walled off by suits and condolences. Osla and Beth stood with untouched plates of prune pudding, waiting for a chance to speak with her, but there wasn’t one. At some point the crowd cleared, and she was simply gone.
“She went walking,” the hotel landlady said, clearing plates. “Around Derwentwater, up to the lookout. A lovely view up there.”
Osla and Beth exchanged glances with Giles, and Osla knew they were all sharing the same thought.
Mab wouldn’t throw herself off . . . would she?
No, Osla thought. Not Mab.
But her stomach rolled in sudden terror, and her mind flashed with a horrifically clear image of Lucy’s tiny body, pulled from the rubble. It was your fault, the thought whispered. You let go of Lucy. And if something happens to Mab, that will be your fault, too.
“Go,” Giles said, moving to head off some incoming gossipers. “She needs you both right now.”
Last time Mab had taken this walk, it had been with Francis. We’ll bring Lucy, she’d thought at the time, head against his shoulder as they looked out at the lake. She let herself sink into that dream now: Francis pointing out the flowers she couldn’t identify; Lucy running after butterflies; Mab following in a summer straw hat. Francis would have carried Lucy over the steep bits of the climb—Lucy would have allowed that. At the very end in Coventry, she’d let him pick her up. She’d been learning to trust him. She would have let him carry her all the way to the top of the lookout here.
Only now she never would.
Why. The word had been echoing through Mab’s brain for three weeks now, about everything. Why. Why. WHY.
Why didn’t you marry him at once, instead of waiting until you were sure he was a good prospect?
Why didn’t you quit working at Bletchley Park and make a home right away for him and Lucy?
Why were you so careful not to conceive a child?
Why and if. The two most painful words in existence. If she’d married Francis Gray the week he proposed, they’d have had three more months of married life. If she’d resigned from BP, she would have had her family together every night when Lucy came home from school and Francis came home from work, not spread out and waiting because war work had somehow seemed more important. If she hadn’t been so careful to avoid conception, she might have had something of Francis besides a packet of love letters.
You have more than that, she reminded herself bitterly. You have everything you ever dreamed of, Mab Gray. She’d wanted to ditch the name Churt and remake herself as a lady of means, with no whiff of scandal that she’d ever been a cheap East End slut who gave birth out of wedlock. Well, she was Mrs. Gray now, and she was certainly a lady of means: Francis’s will named her sole inheritor of his modest royalties and not-so-modest accounts. She could afford all the fine hats and leather-bound books she wanted, and no one would ever know she’d given birth out of wedlock because her child was dead.
She realized that she was ripping her blue-ribboned hat to pieces and flinging them off the lookout. The ribbon went drifting down the hillside, as blue as the surface of Derwentwater, then the straw brim, then the wafty netting. In Francis’s wallet, returned to her with his effects, she had found a folded sheet of paper with a few scribbled lines in his writing:
But there were more lines, reworked and crossed out and reworked again, and at the very bottom he’d squeezed in a note: Work Lucy into the metaphor? Titania’s sprite Peaseblossom? Or is Luce more of a Mustardseed . . .
The pain clawed Mab like some hungry beast, doubling her over. It never hit when she expected it to—she’d stood entirely numb through Lucy’s funeral in London, through Francis’s here. Sometimes it crept up on her at night, leaving her sobbing, or it overcame her when she was pouring a brandy and wondering if she’d sleep if she drank an entire bottle. She never knew when it was coming, only that it would never stop. She was twenty-four years old; she’d been a mother for six years and a wife for less than one, and the pain was never going to stop.
Then she turned and saw Osla and Beth coming up the path onto the lookout.
Mab didn’t wait for either of them to speak. She pulled her head back and spat at Osla, hitting Osla’s black cashmere coat hem. “How dare you show up at his funeral, Osla Kendall. How dare you.”
“I came for you,” Osla whispered. “I’m your friend.”
“You killed them,” Mab rasped. “You let go of Lucy—you let her go, and Francis went tearing off after her—”
“Yes.” Osla stood chalk white and shaking, but she didn’t flinch from the accusation. “It’s my fault.”
“All you had to do was hold on to her, and you let her go.” Mab heard her voice scaling up and choked it off. She would kill Osla and Beth right here and now if she cried in front of them. “We—if we’d got to a damned air-raid shelter—”
“You can’t blame Osla,” Beth whispered.
“Yes, I can.” Mab felt herself smiling mirthlessly. The smile hurt. She welcomed the pain, dug into it, ate it raw and sopping red. “I can blame everyone.” The Luftwaffe, for bombing Coventry. Herself, for insisting Francis take them there. Francis, for stepping left instead of right to get out of the garden. “But all Osla had to do was hang on to Lucy’s hand, and she fucking let her go.”
“I did.” Osla’s eyes overflowed, tears streaking sooty and black down her cheeks.
“She was my daughter,” Mab whispered. “You killed my daughter.”
“She was your sis—” Beth began automatically, literal as ever, and then even Beth stopped dead, her eyes huge and horrified.
Osla trembled. “Oh, Mab—”
“Shut up.” Mab was shaking, too, now. “Don’t you say a goddamned word to me ever again, Osla Kendall. Don’t you dare.”
The tiny lake at Bletchley Park sometimes froze thick enough in wintertime for skating. Some off-duty codebreakers were playing hockey today, bashing sticks around the ice, but Beth ignored them. She stood on the bank, looking at the beaten-steel sky, thinking of Coventry. Francis and Lucy—Mab’s daughter. Osla and Mab . . .
I can’t tell them, Beth thought, breathing raggedly. Not ever.
Couldn’t tell them how all hell had broken loose in ISK, tearing Beth away from the message she’d been decrypting about the Coventry raid . . . someone shouting about Allied forces and North Africa. Suddenly everyone had been gathering round the radio, breathless with excitement. It was the kind of turnaround that made all the double shifts worthwhile, Beth thought—the moment you finally understood what you’d been working on for so many months. “So that’s what Operation Torch was,” she’d marveled, hearing of Allied landings in Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria, and Dilly’s women had all cheered because now they could look back at the October rush and realize what they’d done. Because they’d cracked the Spy Enigma, the German agents had been turned and forced to feed false information about where Operation Torch’s convoys were headed. Because of ISK, Operation Torch had hit like a bolt from the blue and Rommel in his desert headquarters was having a very, very bad time of it.
Beth hadn’t come back to the message about the Coventry raid for hours, and when she did, her duty had seemed quite clear. She’d just witnessed the importance of secrecy firsthand—even the slightest leak outside Park walls could have turned Operation Torch into a slaughter. You can’t tell Osla or Mab, she’d thought, filing the Coventry message. You swore an oath. So when she bid them goodbye in the canteen later that morning, knowing they were off to catch the Coventry train, she’d done it with barely a hitch. What were the odds, after all, in a city well accustomed to bolting for air-raid shelters at the first blare of a siren, that her friends would be hurt?