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Small Deaths

by

S. W. Williams







All the characters in this novel (apart, of course, from Edmond Locard) are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The places and events are mostly historically and geographically accurate; some are fictitious. The reader can decide which is which.



SMALL DEATHS © S.W. Williams

ISBN 978-1-9996652-2-4

eISBN 978-1-9996652-3-1

Published in 2017 by Crime Scene Books

The right of S.W. Williams to be identified as the author

of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the

Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

A CIP record of this book is available from the British Library.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored

in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means,

electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise,

without the prior written permission of the copyright holder.

Maps by MapArt.co.uk

Book design by Clockwork Graphic Design

Cover design George Foster Covers















Dedication

In memory of Muriel Rose








Mystery graves in wartime woods

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, in their ongoing task of finding and recovering remains of British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in both world wars, has announced the discovery of eight graves in a wood not far from Cambrai in northern France. The scene of intense fighting during the summer and autumn of 1917, the area is known to harbour untold numbers of unidentified soldiers killed in the conflict. The woods where the remains were found have long been the subject of local folklore as the resting place of a number of dead from World War I, but it was only in the last few weeks that forensic anthropologists began their excavation of the site. They have reported that the remains discovered appear not to be those of soldiers, but rather of a number of small children. Investigations continue.



www.theglobalguardian.com/world

July 2017






















1917




















CHAPTER 1

1st November, morning

The boy was playing at the edge of the stream, poking at the water with a stick, half pretending to fish, half wanting the fish to play with him. He didn’t notice when the shadow fell over him. Hands lifted him almost gently, one covering his mouth in case a cry escaped, and then child and man were gone together into the shadows of the wood.

The man carried him carefully but firmly, like a squirming lamb needing to be weaned from its mother, he thought. Yes, that was it, a lamb to be sheltered. He hurried through the woods to his special place. A rough lean-to of branches and sticks, a clearing with blackened stones where he had had a fire the previous winter. ‘You’ll be safe here, Little Lamb,’ he said. ‘You’ll be safe here.’


***


Jack leaned against the slight warmth of the brickwork, and simply shut his eyes. The sun seeped through his skin and soothed his aching shoulders, his heavy-beyond-bearing limbs.

He was almost without thought, stupefied with weariness. He had been driving and lifting, carrying and comforting, for forty-eight hours now, catching a few brief moments of rest, here and there, stunned islands of numbness in the buffeting storm of noise and wild movement.

The worst, for the moment, was over, and he had simply walked off the ward and out behind the barn and stables which were serving as the Casualty Clearing Station. Now he stood, ears ringing, eyes able at last to close, his mind clenched tight against all he’d seen.

With infinite tiredness he half raised his eyelids and fumbled in his breast pocket for his precious packet of Woodbines. Something inside him smiled as he imagined Dr Werner’s despairing tirade, ‘Ach, Johann, you must not the cigarettes be smoking. Your lungs, they cannot work with smoke in them.’ It was true, his breathing was dreadful every time he lit up, but it hardly seemed to matter, and he couldn’t conceive of a day, an hour passing without the fragile comfort of a smoke.

The woman glanced across the farmyard to the stable building. No horses now. They were long gone. Just men, wounded, dying, laid out in twos and threes where the stalls had been. And their carers, moving between them, sleeping in heaps in the straw of the loft, or standing, like this one now, dazed in the sunlight, his face raised towards the thin winter warmth.

She gave herself a shake. No point crying over spilt milk, or lost horses. There was enough to do, simply cobbling together the bits of a life that were left. She glanced up at the sun – almost midday. Another couple of hours and she would need to fetch Alex from her mother’s. She turned back into the house. The beds and the dishes and the food – such as it was – would not do themselves.

Jack saw her go out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head just enough to watch her as she went back into the farmhouse where half a dozen of the officers were billeted when they were out of the line. A bed, Jack mused, when was the last time he had stretched out and slept between clean sheets, with nothing but darkness and silence?


***


Major John Carter RAMC paused in something like wonder when he got out of the car which had fetched him up from the CCS. Every person and animal and vehicle around him seemed to be moving with purposeful energy. The very air appeared to hum and quiver with anticipation.

‘Well,’ he said to himself, straightening his uniform and striding towards the main building housing Divisional HQ. ‘Watson old chap, without a doubt, the game is afoot.’ A light smile played briefly over his face as he recalled the zest and brilliance of his favourite fictional character. ‘If only they could hand this whole bally mess over to Holmes and Mycroft. They’d have it sorted in no time.’

Snapping out of his reverie when he reached the guard at the door, he returned the soldier’s salute and enquired where the medics’ briefing was being held.

‘Up the main stairs, right at the top, second door along the corridor on the left, sir.’

‘Thank you, private,’ replied the major crisply.

He stepped into the gloomy, rather chilly building and made his way up the stairs.

On reaching the meeting room, he saw it was set up for a significant briefing. Forty or fifty chairs were laid out in rows, facing a long table with half a dozen more chairs behind it. On the far wall, facing the rows of chairs, a large map had been pinned up. At the moment it was covered by a sheet. Doubtless, when the time was right, all would be revealed.


***


The major’s briefing had been brisk, workmanlike, exciting and terrifying in equal measure. Sitting in the back of the car being driven back to the CCS, he started to go through his notes, beginning to put in order of priority everything that needed to be done in readiness for the forthcoming battle. There were a number of difficulties he could foresee, not the least of them being the requirement to keep all the preparations as secret as possible, surprise being, as they had been told forcefully a number of times, absolutely of the essence. Fundamentally, as far as he and his men were concerned, it came down to three essentials - supplies topped up, beds emptied, and everyone in position and ready to jump to it when the time came. The Powers That Be had seemed positively optimistic over this new plan of attack. The major wished he could believe in his superiors as much as they appeared to believe in themselves.

Back at the CCS, he dismissed the car and driver, and made his way over to the bedroom in the farmhouse which also served as his private office. He had a lot of planning to do.


***


In the silence of his home, isolated right at the edge of the village, the man sat at the ancient wooden table, his hands resting quietly round the slender bottle still half full of beer. It had taken a long time, the best part of two years, in fact, but he had thought, and watched, questioned and observed, and now he had it all set in his mind. Ten. Ten to start with. He told over their names, more precious to him than any prayer. These he would rescue. These he would save. The first was already safe.


***


Jack had already spent three years in a sanatorium in the German Alps when it became clear that war was imminent. There was no question of his becoming a soldier, even if he had felt he wanted to, needed to, should. His lungs were riddled with TB and he could barely walk fifty yards without having to rest his head against a wall, a tree, whatever was to hand, and quiet his heaving chest. He was already, he had smiled equivocally to himself, one of the walking wounded.

The doctors had become very distressed when it was known that their English patients could no longer stay with them in the clear mountain air. Jack and the others, some fifteen of them, had been wrapped and tucked into the stiff, scratchy seats of the little Alpine railway, and had found themselves ticking their way down from the mountains, across Germany, across Belgium, into France and onto one of the last ferries to leave Calais in that early August.

He had gone up on deck and watched the water dancing in the brilliant sunshine. The French coastline dropped away, and, almost immediately, the English coastline rose up ahead. It had been five years since Jack had been back in England, first in Paris and then in the sanatorium. He had no idea what he would do, where he would go, how he would feel. England, he thought, held nothing for him. It was going to be a strange time.

And it had been, stranger than he could ever have dreamed. War was declared and crowds cheered and waved flags. Young men, boys, queued from dawn to dusk to join the army and ‘go and do their bit’. Jack could not credit it. Did they not understand what war was like? Did they not understand what high explosives could do to the fragile human frame? Had they learned nothing from the war in South
Africa?

Jack had been a reporter for a few months in South Africa twelve years before, at the end of the war against the Boers. He’d seen the aftermath of fighting, he’d seen the concentration camps, the desperate, hungry children, the despairing, bitter women. He had written as fully and vehemently as he could against the mad inhumanity of it all, the inglorious greed for gold and diamonds and land. And he had been recalled.

‘We mustn’t upset the good burghers of Croydon over their tea and toast, must we, Jack?’ said the editor, not unkindly, but with a firm cynicism born of years with the newspaper. ‘But you do write well, you infernal little cur,’ he smiled at Jack. ‘If you don’t like war, let’s see how you do with art.’ And so Jack had been despatched to Paris, to become the newspaper’s art correspondent. And he had loved it. He’d met all sorts of interesting men, and some fascinating women. Some extraordinarily difficult women too. He had sat in bars until the small hours, sipping carefully on a glass of absinthe – he wanted to be one of them in some ways, but not in the ways that led to desperate feelings and desperate actions. Ironic, as it turned out. He’d guarded his health so carefully. Not sleeping with the women, or men, who offered themselves to him. Not drinking ruinously. Not taking the drugs which were always readily on offer for those who knew what to ask for, and of whom. But still he’d fallen ill, and found himself becoming the classic type of the romantic artist his companions so much despised. He’d lie in his small room, right at the top of the narrow building (not quite an attic, but close enough) and cough and cough into his handkerchief, shivering, feverish, white with illness and exhaustion, the cloth crumpled and foul with his blood. In the end it had taken the ever-reliable Evelyn coming over from England, worried at the lack of letters, and bustling around, taking him in hand as only an elder sister could do. Just as well she’d not married. Ever since Mother’s death, he and Father had completely depended upon her to make things right when they went wrong, and to keep things running smoothly no matter what.

Evelyn had contacted the Embassy, got from them the name of a doctor ‘who we can trust’ and quickly established that Jack had TB. Which he had known, of course, but hadn’t wanted to think about. He was tired, and cross, and very afraid. Evelyn shook him, literally as well as metaphorically, into some sort of shape. She got him out of bed and had him out in the fresh air from dawn till dusk. She bought litres of cow’s milk from the local dairy, and forced him to drink glass after glass every day. She fed him on wholesome foods and vegetables, scoured with energy from the local markets. Nothing seemed to make much difference though. Jack continued to get thinner and paler, his eyes more hectic, the handkerchiefs still soaked with gleaming fresh blood every time he coughed – and he was soon coughing almost continuously.

Evelyn went back to the doctor. What could he suggest? Clear mountain air, he replied. Which mountains, where? The Germans, he had heard, had an excellent sanatorium on the shores of Lake Constance. Perhaps they could try there?

Evelyn returned to the Embassy and had them, first, find out about the sanatorium and then book Jack in for an extended stay under the care of the head of the Clinic, Dr Jakob Werner. She had taken him there herself, looking after him firmly and fussily on the long train journey, as he lay slumped on the seat, coughing, moaning, sweating.

The sanatorium was large and modern, with wide sweeps of balconies overlooking the deep blue waters of Lake Constance, with the crisp, snow-clad mountains beyond. The regime was simple, Spartan and effective. All day the patients lay in rows on wooden deckchairs (like chrysalises, Jack had thought), wrapped in heavy blankets, only their white faces showing over the top of the wrappings, with woollen caps on their heads and pulled down over their ears. Sometimes they chatted in a desultory manner, picking their way through fragments of language from French to German to Polish to English to Russian to Italian and beyond. Most often, though, they sat in silence, gazing out numbly at the deep blue, icy water, feeling as little as possible. Nurses moved amongst them with quiet solicitation, bringing them hot drinks at intervals – strange herbal concoctions that tasted of grass and bitter things, which filled their mouths with unexpected aftertastes for hours to come. Gradually, gradually, some of them moved out of their torpor, and began to walk a little, lift their eyes a little, from lake to mountain, and to take some interest in the world around them, as though, after all, they might have a future.

It was two months before Jack felt able to read anything. At first it was only old familiar books, Trollope and Dickens mostly, friends he could rely on, then, gradually, after more time had passed, more alchemical potions had been swallowed, more strolls taken around the perimeter of the verandah, and even, on a couple of occasions, into the edges of the grounds, Jack found himself picking up newspapers and scanning the pages.

The sanatorium had newspapers in all the European languages. At first, Jack stuck to the arts pages, particularly in the French papers, reading a few sentences here and there about the people he had met in Paris, the exhibitions they were mounting, the scandal they were causing, the excitement they were stirring up. It seemed an odd, irrelevant world to him now. What on earth did it matter whether a woman was painted soft or angular, whether paint was applied in sweeps or stipples or dollops? How could he once have cared? He would lay down the newspaper, and simply sit back on his deckchair, draw up the blanket, and shut his eyes. The silence, the cold, his breath slightly warm against his lips, that was all that was real to him now.

Then, slowly, again very slowly, Jack started noticing the headlines in the papers, the news articles, the political commentaries. It seemed that everyone was getting very exercised about an assassination in Austro-Hungary. A crown prince and his morganatic wife – what a wonderful word, morganatic, and what an extraordinary concept. It appeared, Jack gleaned from articles in French and English and German, that there might be a war in Europe. He wondered what that meant, and whether it meant anything for him. If there were a war between the English and the German Empires, would that affect them, the chrysalises, high up here in the mountains, with their smiling, solicitous nurses?

He soon learned. Dr Werner brought them all together in the main hall of the sanatorium, men sitting, some slumped, in rows of hard chairs, the nurses and other staff ranged standing around the back and along the sides. All foreign nationals had to leave the sanatorium within the month, could they please make arrangements with their families, the sanatorium would be running buses to the train station every day for the next seven days.

Jack went back to his narrow room and wrote a letter to Evelyn. A week later, his small suitcase packed, a bundle of books tied tightly with string on the seat beside him, Jack was on the train. A small train first of all, down the mountainside, then a larger, much busier train, full of slightly frightened, slightly excited people, heading for the Belgian coast. Then the boat from Ostend, crammed now with people carrying bundles, silent, fearful. Jack found a corner of the first class saloon where he could sit down on the floor in a corner of the bar. He leaned back against the polished mahogany and watched the huddled clumps of families around him. Some of them were straining to see out of the window towards the Belgian coast as it disappeared behind them, some were craning forward to try and catch their glimpse of the cliffs of England, most though had their heads down, thinking of what they had had to abandon, wondering what they were going to find ahead.

Jack wasn’t thinking at all. He still carried with him the calm and detachment of the sanatorium. He felt that this world of worried men and women had nothing to do with him. He had not sought this war, he did not know what it was about or what it meant. All he wanted was to go home. Slowly, though, as he sat with his back against the warm wood, a thought took shape. He realised he had no home. He was just the same as all these other wretched, uprooted, unhappy people. How surprising. He tried the idea on, holding it up against his picture of himself. He couldn’t make it fit. Shrugging slightly, he settled back again into his customary torpor. He would go and stay with Evelyn. She’d sort it out. She’d sort him out. She always did.























CHAPTER 2

1st November, afternoon - 2nd November, overnight and early morning



Murray lay sprawled on the fire step. The Boy Jones (to distinguish him from the Man Jones) stood above him, crouched, looking through the periscope across to the Jerries half a mile away. Murray tried to angle himself so that the midday sun touched his face. They’d been in the line for coming up to ten days – another four and they’d be relieved, squirming back down the supply lines to the road, and then tumbling down the road to the rear, to fresh water, thin wine (if he could scrounge some up) and sleep.

The guns were thumping further down the line – some other poor buggers would be going over the top then, he supposed. He found his eyes shutting, but forced them open. Murray was determined to feel the sun, to see the day. He wriggled round and knelt up on the fire step next to Boy. Slowly, slowly, he reached up so that his fingers were on the top step, and then he drew himself up by inches, his face close to the caked, dry mud of the trench wall, and lifted his head so that he could see across No Man’s Land.

Murray rested his gaze on the clumps of grass which lay lank, ungrazed, across the open space. In the summer there had been flowers – poppies, daisies, something low and blue he couldn’t name, thronging the ground. They had thrived on last winter’s dead, unrecovered. Now they too were dead, but next year they would bloom again. Oh for crying out loud! Tired metaphors for tired minds. Murray shook his head in self-disgust. He laid his cheek against the cold trench wall and shut his eyes.

He dozed, dreaming of summer grass.

‘Where are you off to? Wait for me?’ He turns to see Miranda’s slight figure come skittering down the steps and into the garden. She hurls herself along the path after him.

‘You can’t come. I’m going fishing. You’ll frighten the fish.’

‘I won’t, I promise I won’t. I’ll sit as still as, as still as...’ The little girl comes to a halt, racking her brains, her foot tapping out her impatience on the path. ‘As still as a gargoyle!’ she cries out triumphantly. It is a word he’d taught her just a few days before, when they’d been coming back from church.

‘Alright, then, Turnip Top,’ he concedes, laying a hand on top of her head and ruffling her straight blond hair. ‘But any wriggling and I’m packing you back off to Mrs Mifflin, understood?’

She grins, ‘Understood,’ and slips her small, slightly sticky hand into his.

It is he who tires of fishing first. The sun is too hot, the day is too languid, the grass along the riverbank is too soft and lush and inviting. The two of them lie belly down side by side in the long grass and gaze into the limpid waters. Weeds waver in the current, little fish dart, larger fish saunter through the shadowed depths. Together they drift into sleep in the hot sun.

Then Edwin’s voice, calling from the end of the garden.

‘Sir, sir, wake up, you’ll have Jerry taking a pop at us if you don’t get down.’ Murray saw Boy Jones’ face peering up at him anxiously, and felt his hand tugging at the hem of his tunic. He looked blearily around, caught between his dream and the reality of the trenches.

Slowly he slid down the fire steps, past the relieved Boy, and resumed his seat, half on the bottom step and half stretched out across the duckboards at the bottom of the trench. He shook his head, trying to free his mind from the echoes of Edwin’s voice calling to him excitedly that war had been declared, trying to free his limbs from the memory of the warmth and wonderful comfort of that high summer.

With sleepy fingers he reached into his breast pocket and took out his notebook and a stub of pencil. He’d promised to write to Miranda every day. He was all she had left now that Edwin had been killed. Mother had retreated into some place where she couldn’t be reached, the war didn’t exist, and her greatest concern was that she couldn’t get anybody to come in and cut the grass properly these days.

Dear Turnip Head, he wrote. Nearly at the end of our holiday on the Côte de Boue. Not that it’s too bouey at the moment. In fact, it’s a lovely drowsy winter’s day, almost like summer, just like that day in August ’14 when we went fishing together. Remember that, Turnip? It seems a world away, not just 3 short years. And how much has changed! How you have changed! Not a tedious, sticky 9 year old any more, but a lady now, doing all sorts of useful things. I really loved the scarf, Turnip, and I’m sure all 7 feet will be really handy come the colder weather! And I love your letters. Keep them coming. That and the cake. Love and kisses, M.

He tore the sheet from his notebook and crouched his way back into his dugout to find an envelope. With luck he might get the letter away with the messenger this evening, assuming he came. Then two days, three nights, and proper sleep.

Murray’s father had been a village doctor, with a practice just outside Oxford in a little place called Eynsham. They’d had a biggish house a little outside the village – only the squire and the vicar had bigger ones – with a garden that ran down to a path and then to the river beyond. After Father died, Mother and the three children had stayed on in the big house, although it was really too large for them. Mother didn’t quite know how to cope, and sank into a gloomy listlessness, not dragging herself out of bed until 10 or 11 in the mornings, and then spending most of the day on the chaise longue in the conservatory. Sometimes she went visiting to the other ladies in the village, sometimes they came and visited her, but as a rule she governed the little household languidly, from a supine position.

The two boys and Miranda were educated in a haphazard way, with a series of tutors and governesses. Mrs Coverdale didn’t want the children away from her, but, on the other hand, she didn’t want them disturbing her. So long as they were polite and clean, and appeared to be able to read and write and play a few small tunes on the piano, Mrs Coverdale was satisfied that her duty as a mother was being done. The result was that the children spent a lot of their time together, playing inside the house or out, depending on the weather. They were more than just brothers and sister. They were all the society any of them had, and they grew into a close band, devoted to each other, and fiercely antagonistic to anyone who sought to come between them. A number of tutors and one particularly tiresome governess had been driven to give in their notice through a sustained campaign of disdain and disobedience from the children when the educators had rashly sought to teach them separately and to ration the time the children spent together.

Inevitably, though, time passed, and the children grew into different people, with different interests.

Edwin, as the eldest, was the first to feel the pull of the world beyond, and especially of Mary Smith, the vicar’s eldest daughter. He spent, it seemed to Murray and Miranda, an incomprehensible amount of time going to church, helping at church, and even volunteering to assist Mary in the Sunday School. But Edwin’s absence only drew the two younger children together, with Miranda tagging along behind or, if permitted, beside Murray as he explored the countryside around their home. Together they fished, or sat in the woods watching the fox cubs playing in the spring, or lying breathlessly in wait for the snuffling badgers going ponderously about their business as dusk set in.

Then came the War.

First Edwin went, volunteering on the day war was declared, only telling Mother when the deed was done, and leaving her even more prostrate, a handkerchief pressed to her mouth, her back pressed down into the cushions of the chaise as though she was trying to drown in them. Edwin kissed her perfunctorily on the brow, and rushed up the road to the village to break the news to Mary. It was a complicated moment, as Mary deeply disapproved of the war and of any kind of fighting, while at the same time deeply approving of Edwin, his flushed, enthusiastic face, and his courage.

Edwin left, and the household settled around his absence. Letters came, then Edwin himself, strange in a stiff uniform with creaking boots, and a servant who accompanied him home (‘His family’s too far for him to get back to, Mother. You don’t mind him lodging with us here, do you?’). They had barely come than they were gone again, though now Mary wore a slender gold band with a single small diamond on her finger.

More letters, postcards, long silences, and then the telegram.

Murray and Miranda learnt the news through hearing their mother’s cries. Rushing down from the schoolroom where they’d been playing canasta, they found their mother standing in the hallway, the telegram in her hand, her mouth open in a single, long, interminable scream.

Even when the new doctor, Doctor Green, had come and settled her into her bed and dosed her into unconsciousness with laudanum, the house seemed to echo with the wrenching sound of her grief. The children went out, and wandered aimlessly, anguished, uprooted, touching familiar trees, walls, gateways, trying to connect the world they knew to the world they had entered.

Two years passed. The war had settled into a routine horror, as father after father, brother after brother went from the village, some coming back on leave, some bandaged, limping, wounded, some not coming back at all.

Murray and Miranda talked together about what they should do. He was now seventeen, she was eleven, yet they seemed on an equal footing in understanding.

‘You know I’ll have to go, don’t you,’ said Murray one evening as they sat together in the parlour after dinner, gazing into the fire. It had been two years since their mother had last been downstairs. She lived in her room, the curtains drawn, barely speaking, leaving the running of the household to her children.

‘I know,’ said Miranda. ‘I’m going to volunteer for the VAD as soon as I can. I look almost eighteen, don’t I?’

Murray looked across at his slender, gawky sister, curled up in the leather armchair which had once been their father’s. ‘With a hat and some proper shoes, and a stiff serge suit, you could probably manage it today, so long as you wash the cinder toffee off your fingers,’ he grinned. ‘But seriously, Turnip Top, I can’t not go. It seems so dreadfully unfair that other chaps should be having to go through it all, and I just sit here cosy and comfortable in front of a roaring fire with my best chum.’ He paused, ‘Could you manage, do you think, with Mother and everything?’

Miranda responded to the seriousness of his tone. ‘Of course I can, M. I’ve been telling Mrs Mifflin what to do around the house for the last two years, and if I’m stuck I can ask Mrs Smith.’

The pair fell silent. After Edwin’s death, Mary Smith had left the village, unable to stay in the place where she had been so happy, and where that happiness could never come again. She was nursing in France, as close to the line as she was allowed, and refusing all leave. She just wanted to be where the men were, tending to each of them as she had been unable to tend to the man she loved.

‘Very well, then,’ said Murray, resolute. ‘I’ll go in the morning. Don’t tell Ma until after I’ve left.’

‘I won’t,’ said Miranda, unfolding from the deep armchair and stepping over to her brother. She knelt at his feet in front of the fire and rested her head in his lap. ‘I know you can’t promise anything,’ she said, her voice muffled against his leg, ‘but can you try as hard as you possibly can to keep yourself safe? Don’t volunteer for anything, will you? Albert said it’s volunteering gets you killed.’

‘I promise I won’t volunteer, Turnip,’ said Murray, resting his hand on his sister’s head. ‘I’ll just go and do what I can, as well as I can, and keep my head down. You know better than anyone, I’m no hero.’ He stroked her hair. ‘I just want to do what I have to do, get home, and then get enough tutoring to get myself into Balliol to study law. It seems to me there’s a distinct lack of order and reason in the world today, and it’ll be up to you and me to supply it in the years to come.’

Miranda raised her head, and looked up into her brother’s face. ‘Well, that’ll be a poor show for future ages, won’t it?’ They smiled at each other, trusting, open, at rest, perhaps for the last time living the life they knew, knowing that from this evening on, they would be parted, would see different sights, learn different things, become different people.

Miranda laid her head down again, and so they sat until the fire died down and the room began to chill, the almost man resting his hand on the head of the most precious being in his world, the hardly child resting her head on the knee of the only person she knew she could rely on.


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