“What is it?” Kate asked, turning to him.
He shook his head disbelievingly. “That’s how you looked last night,” he said. “Exactly how you looked. I thought those very words.”
“I…” Kate looked from Anthony to Mary. But she didn’t know what to say.
Anthony gave her hand another squeeze as he turned to Mary and urged, “Please, go on.”
She nodded once. “Your eyes were fixed on your mother, and so your father turned to see what had horrified you so, and that’s when he…when he saw…”
Kate gently disengaged her hand from Anthony’s grasp and got up to sit beside Mary, pulling an ottoman down next to her chair. She took one of Mary’s hands in both of her own. “It’s all right, Mary,” she murmured. “You can tell me. I need to know.”
Mary nodded. “It was the moment of her death. She sat upright. Your father said she hadn’t lifted her body from the pillows for days, and yet she sat bolt upright. He said she was stiff, her head thrown back, and her mouth was open as if she were screaming, but she couldn’t make a sound. And then the thunder came, and you must have thought the sound came from her mouth, because you screamed like nothing anyone had ever heard and came running forward, jumping onto the bed and throwing your arms around her.
“They tried to pry you off, but you just wouldn’t let go. You kept screaming and screaming and calling her name, and then there was a terrible crash. Glass shattering. A bolt of lightning severed a branch from a tree, and it crashed right through the window. There was glass everywhere, and wind, and rain, and thunder, and more lightning, and through the whole thing you didn’t stop screaming. Even after she was dead and had fallen back onto the pillows, your little arms were still clutched around her neck, and you screamed and sobbed and begged for her to wake up, and not to leave.
“And you just wouldn’t let go,” Mary whispered. “Finally they had to wait until you wore yourself out and fell asleep.”
The room was hung with silence for a full minute, and then Kate finally whispered, “I didn’t know. I didn’t know that I’d witnessed that.”
“Your father said you wouldn’t speak of it,” Mary said. “Not that you could, right away. You slept for hours and hours, and then when you woke up, it was clear that you’d caught your mother’s illness. Not with the same gravity; your life was never in danger. But you were ill, and not in any state to talk about your mother’s death. And when you were well, you wouldn’t talk about it. Your father tried, but he said that every time he mentioned it, you shook your head and clamped your hands over your ears. And eventually he stopped trying.”
Mary gave Kate an intent gaze. “He said you seemed happier when he stopped trying. He did what he thought was best.”
“I know,” Kate whispered. “And at the time, it probably was best. But now I needed to know.” She turned to Anthony, not for reassurance exactly, but for some sort of validation, and she repeated, “I needed to know.”
“How do you feel now?” he asked, his words soft and direct.
She thought about that for a moment. “I don’t know. Good, I think. A little lighter.” And then, without even realizing what she was doing, she smiled. It was a hesitant, slow thing, but nonetheless a smile. She turned to Anthony with astonished eyes. “I feel as if a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders.”
“Do you remember now?” Mary asked.
Kate shook her head. “But I still feel better. I can’t explain it, really. It’s good to know, even if I can’t remember.”
Mary made a choked sort of sound and then she was out of her chair and next to Kate on the ottoman, embracing her with all her might. And they both were crying, the odd, energetic sort of sobs that were mixed with laughter. There were tears, but they were happy tears, and when Kate finally pulled away and looked at Anthony, she saw that he, too, was wiping at the corner of his eye.
He pulled his hand away, of course, and assumed a dignified mien, but she’d seen him. And in that moment, she knew she loved him. With every thought, every emotion, every piece of her being, she loved him.
And if he never loved her back—well, she didn’t want to think about that. Not now, not in this profound moment.
Probably not ever.
Has anyone besides This Author noticed that Miss Edwina Sheffield has been very distracted of late? Rumor has it that she has lost her heart, although no one seems to know the identity of the lucky gentleman.
Judging from Miss Sheffield’s behavior at parties, however, This Author feels it is safe to assume that the mystery gentleman is not someone currently residing here in London. Miss Sheffield has shown no marked interest in any one gentleman, and indeed, even sat out the dancing at Lady Mottram’s ball Friday last.
Could her suitor be someone she met in the country last month? This Author will have to do a bit of sleuthing to uncover the truth.
LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 13 JUNE 1814
“Do you know what I think?” Kate asked, as she sat at her vanity table later that night, brushing her hair.
Anthony was standing by the window, one hand leaning against the frame as he gazed out. “Mmmm?” was his reply, mostly because he was too distracted by his own thoughts to formulate a more coherent word.
“I think,” she continued in a cheery voice, “that next time it storms, I’m going to be just fine.”
He turned slowly around. “Really?” he asked.
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