Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 167

1

Chapter 1

Edward Rosewood, an upper middle-class businessman,


found the idea of owning a country estate so amusingly
novel, he procured a piece of land in Dorset just outside the
small town of Harbiford.
He built his home there and christened it Rosewood
Ridge.
The Ridge was a lavish house of considerable size for a
small family and half a dozen servants, yet still it appeared
quaint and inviting. A wooden porch snugly wrapped around
the whole house and the stick-style construction was
reminiscent of a cottage. Located on a hill just two miles east

2
of Harbiford, the Ridge saw the sun rise from beyond the vast
surrounding countryside and watched it set past the town.
It was all Mr Rosewood ever wished for.
He had made his fortune in the 1860s as a cotton
factory owner and soon after married a headstrong beauty
named Edna Stewart. Together, Mr and Mrs Rosewood had
two children.
Adam, the youngest, was Mr Rosewood’s pride and
joy—his blue-eyed heir who could do no wrong.
Ruth, in turn, was Mrs Rosewood’s favourite.
Ever since Ruth’s birth, Mrs Rosewood fondly dreamed
of the day she would see her daughter married and settled,
with much planning having gone into the event, but sadly it
was a dream the doting mother’s heart had eventually begun
to part with.
At twenty-four, Ruth still hadn’t managed to make a
lasting impression on any eligible bachelors in the family’s
acquaintance. It became a more common occurrence for her
to be overlooked in favour of younger, prettier girls. Ruth’s
problem was clear—she was simply too transparent to be a
flirt and too temperamental to be charming. Youth was all

3
that could have recommended her to a respectable man and
now it had been squandered.
The time had come to accept Ruth was past her prime,
but Mrs Rosewood couldn’t bring herself to give up
completely. She still dressed and treated Ruth as quite the
little debutante, becoming increasingly strict about her
daughter’s manners. This put undue strain on the
relationship and Ruth found herself turning more and more
towards her father.
Being a self-made man, Mr Rosewood strived to keep a
shred of his former working class days alive by encouraging
what could only be described as peculiar activities for the
average middle-class family. Mr Rosewood’s antics regularly
horrified Mrs Rosewood, who grew up quite wealthy and was
by no means new money.
Ruth, on the other hand, was grateful for her father’s lax
attitude. Mr Rosewood may have been an ignorant man who
didn’t take anything seriously, which was frustrating overall,
but it did grant Ruth a lot of freedom compared to the other
young women. Mrs Rosewood kept a suffocating leash on
things regarding propriety and society, but Ruth had a

4
healthy appetite for commotion which she indulged at every
opportunity.
Wherever the action was, Ruth was sure to be there, no
matter what objections were raised. It was not as if her
impulsiveness could ever kill anybody, so where was the
harm in it?

It was a warm July morning in 1888.


There was an uproar in the Rosewood household as
Adam, a boy of fifteen, had just returned home from
boarding school for the summer. From the very moment
Adam stepped into the house, Mr Rosewood started to
happily announce again and again that his son was home and
that everybody—including the servants—must see it to
believe it.
Ruth sat at her dressing table in her room, too absorbed
in her reflection to comply with her father’s chanting from
downstairs. She compulsively remained seated, battling with
her fringe in the mirror.
5
She couldn’t stand it when her hair was in her eyes.
There was something about not being able to see absolutely
everything in front of her that made her feel out of control.
She swept her dark red hair to the side time and again,
commanding it with wide turquoise eyes to stay put.
But it would not do.

6
Her maid, Millie faithfully stood by her side all morning.
She had only worked in the Rosewood household for a few
weeks by then, but she was already used to Ruth’s routine of
discontentment. So went every morning: Millie would finish
doing Ruth’s hair, after which Ruth would get up to head out,
suddenly flail around as though she were blinded, and then
sit back down to continue the battle in tense silence.
Millie popped her head out of the door and looked
down the hallway. “Miss Ruth, I do think we should go
downstairs. Mr Rosewood keeps calling us.”
Ruth frowned and absent-mindedly replied, “I suppose I
should… You can go, Millie. Tell Mr Rosewood I am…
preoccupied.”
The maid bowed nervously and left the room, but Ruth
called her back.
Ruth isolated the tuft of her fringe which insisted on
trying to blind her, holding onto it with conviction. “Millie,
bring me the scissors.”
Millie hung in the doorway. “Miss Ruth, I do not think
now is the time.”

7
“Quite right.” Ruth stared into the mirror vengefully.
“Quite right…”
“Miss! Please!”
Ruth jumped up. “Yes! I’m coming, I’m coming.”
Finally away from the mirror, Ruth had the faculties to
feel the excitement of seeing her little brother again. She
walked faster down the hallway and nearly tripped as she
turned the corner to head down the staircase.
Mr Rosewood stood across from Adam at the foot of the
stairs.
“Ruth, there you are!” Mr Rosewood chuckled. “Can you
believe it? Look at how Adam has grown!”
Ruth looked at her brother for the first time in six
months and couldn’t help but laugh. Although the boy’s
blonde hair and blue eyes were as she remembered them,
the rest of his face had completely changed. His jutted-out
jaw had become more pronounced and he had procured his
father’s big, round nose. How heart-warming it was to see
little Adam looking more like his father every time he came
home!

8
However, Adam was not equally pleased to see Ruth. He
just let out a dreary sigh and gave her a helpless sort of look.
There was a trick to reading his expressions, since he was a
quiet boy who did not emote readily, but Ruth knew him well
enough to know he was upset about something—and she
had an inkling what it might have been about.
Mr Rosewood was in exceedingly good spirits. “I was
just telling Adam about the apprenticeship.” He turned to his
son. “It was all Ruth’s idea, you know.”
Adam contemplated the statement for a few moments
before reacting. With just a flicker of emotion, he said to his
sister, “It was you?”
The boy may have shared his father’s looks, but certainly
not his father’s outspoken disposition. Instead of blurting out
his opinions at every opportunity, Adam was placid at best,
rarely bothered enough by any state of affairs to even form
an opinion.
Indeed, the very fact that Adam was complaining was a
source of hilarity for Mr Rosewood, whose large belly
bounced in laughter in response to Adam's tempered
protests.

9
“Father, please,” the boy murmured with his
characteristic slumped posture, “I don't want to work in a
shop.”
“Well, good morning to you, too,” said Ruth, completely
disenchanted by her brother’s cold greeting.
Mr Rosewood persisted in using the opportunity to
encourage his son. “Nonsense, my boy! A shop is the perfect
place for you to learn some real work ethic. You will be
apprenticed to an honest carpenter who will teach you what
it truly means to earn your way in life.” Mr Rosewood
paused, expecting Adam to give an optimistic response.
The room was quiet.
Finally, Adam spoke. “But, Father—a shop?”
“Watch your tone, Adam,” Ruth quickly scolded, still
standing in the middle of the staircase. “You know Papa
started out by working in a factory.”
“Yes, he worked hard so that we would never have to.”
“We are not doing anything,” Ruth defended playfully.
“Papa has a problem with your work ethic, not mine.”
“Yet I recall, sister, that this is your doing.”

10
Ruth smiled and leaned on the bannister. “You would
not be in this situation if you had a little more… kick in your
step.”
“Now, that is hardly fair, is it?” Adam pleaded.
“Compared to you, anyone would look like a glacier. You
think everything is a race.”
“Stop being so old-fashioned, Adam. Faster is better.”
“Yes, of course, because the Hare beat the Tortoise.”
Ruth rolled her eyes and groaned, “Ugh, Adam, do not
pretend you are capable of the hostility that makes sarcasm
potent.”
Mr Rosewood found the exchange highly entertaining.
“Such vigour you already have, Adam. This plan is yielding
results much sooner than I expected.”
Adam remained set in his sober senses, taking a deep
breath instead of letting his youth flare up his temper. He
would surely have proven his father right if he reacted
energetically.
Instead, he complained in a monotony that would put a
sermon to shame. “Father, my relaxed demeanour cannot be

11
worrisome enough to warrant a sentence to hard labour—
not during my time off at home.”
“Hard labour!” Mrs Rosewood cried as she rushed into
the room. “Goodness, Adam, you make it sound as though
we were shipping you off to a plantation!” Her tone feigned
optimism, but the lines on her forehead deepened with
concern.
Adam shook his head. “Mother, I know you did not
agree to this. Surely, you could not.”
Mrs Rosewood agitatedly shifted about in place, lightly
adjusting her already-flat skirt by way of a nervous habit. “My
son, working in a shop? It is wholly unnecessary and
unbecoming.” She recollected herself and stood as upright as
she could. “I wanted you to join your father with his daily
business, but he hardly goes out anymore. Should you go to
the workshop, you will actually do something with your time.
It is better than having you shuffle aimlessly around the
house for three months.”
“I do not shuffle aimlessly,” said Adam, his face
gradually quitting its usual pallor. “Honestly, I have no idea

12
where you all get these ideas. I am fine the way I am. Simply
because I never jump into anything—”
“Adam!” Mrs Rosewood interrupted, appalled. “That is
enough! Do as we say and for Heaven’s sake, do it quietly!”
She ripped the boy towards her. “Look at the state of you. Sit
down so that I can do something about that tie. Goodness,
Adam, did you even look in a mirror today?”
Adam quietly obeyed and sat in a nearby chair. His eyes
and face grew redder by the second, and his mother’s
constant preening only made matters worse.
Mrs Rosewood muttered angrily as she fixed her son’s
hair. “I have already agreed,” she swiftly looked around the
room at the others, “—against my better judgment, mind
you—” then back to Adam, “to send to you into a workshop.
God forbid I allow you to step out of this house looking or
acting less than your best. I will have my way in that respect.
This much I can promise you.”
Mr Rosewood, visibly entertained, gestured at Ruth to
take note of Adam’s sour expression. Ruth covered her
mouth to hide her smile from her already livid mother.

13
“Your behaviour since you have been back is absolutely
abhorrent,” said Mrs Rosewood, plucking at her son’s tie.
“You did not even greet your sister. Is this what they teach
you at school? Because you certainly did not learn it from
me.”
Adam pouted and stayed quiet. There was no fighting
with Mrs Rosewood once she got going.
“Sit up straight. Tuck in your shirt. And stop pulling your
face.”
“Father, please don’t make me do this,” said Adam,
thoughtfully controlling the volume of his voice with his
mother at his throat. “I have barely been home for ten
minutes and you are already sending me off again—to a
shop!”
“And stop complaining,” said Mrs Rosewood.
“Mother, I—”
“Ah! Are you talking back?”
Adam stayed quiet for a few seconds. “No, Mother.”
She finished his tie and propped it into place. Adam
motioned to get up, but Mrs Rosewood held him down with a
stern glare. “We will talk about this rudeness of yours when

14
you get back.” Adam nodded and Mrs Rosewood allowed him
to stand. She tapped him on the back as a cue for him to stop
slouching.
Ruth approached her defeated brother. She smiled at
him and gently squeezed his arm.
He frowned at her. “Time and again, sister, I am
honestly surprised by the brand new ways in which your
good intentions breed trouble.”
“Adam, I admit I am not the best judge of your
character. I mean, as far as temperament goes, you and I are
stark opposites. But—” She tilted her head. “I ask you to trust
me. Have I ever led you astray?”
“Yes,” the boy replied direly. He relaxed his posture and
finally a trace of a smile appeared on his face. “But I guess
you always set me right, too.”
Ruth laughed. “There you are! That’s the Adam I know.
Come now, let us get you ready. At this rate you will be late
for your first day of work.”
“Oh, there is no rush,” said Mr Rosewood with a
knowing grin. “Gangfield still has not arrived and I refuse to
leave without him.”

15
Just then, there was a knock on the front door.
“Speak of the devil!” cried Mr Rosewood, his cheeks
bright with laughter.
One of the servants went into the entrance hall to open
the door and Mr Rosewood enthusiastically followed close
behind, beckoning Adam to do the same.
Ruth wanted to join her father in the entrance hall to
greet Mr Gangfield, but her mother grabbed her by the arm
before she even took her first step.
“This does not mean you are off the hook, Ruth,” Mrs
Rosewood said quietly. “You are still meeting Mr Byron at
dinner tonight.”
Ruth had genuinely forgotten about the planned dinner.
Despite the blow to her spirits, she managed to sustain her
light-heartedness regarding the matter. “Oh, hurrah! Another
one of Papa’s old friends.”
“Actually, Mr Byron is the son of one of your father’s old
friends.”
Ruth flashed her mother a playful smile. “So at least we
are having a fellow under forty this time?”

16
She became distracted by the hearty greetings between
Mr Rosewood and Mr Gangfield from the entrance hall.
Mrs Rosewood remained on course. “Ruth, do not turn
this into another joke. You are twenty-four and still single.
Men have already stopped calling here and people might
start thinking there is something wrong with us. Think of
Adam! What employer would take him on, what woman
would marry him if people regarded this family as odd and
unrespectable?”
“We are already as odd as we shall ever be,” Ruth
replied matter-of-factly, her eyes sparkling with a hint of
amusement.
Their conversation was interrupted by Mr Rosewood
approaching the women to personally announce Mr
Gangfield’s arrival. “Right on time!” he cried. “Gangfield is
always on time, is he not? I said eight-fifteen and look at
that.” He took out his pocket watch and used it to gesture at
the standing clock in the room. “Eight-fifteen, on the dot!” he
chuckled.
Mr Gangfield, his top hat in his hands, strode into the
room and greeted the women in turn, first Mrs Rosewood—

17
who always involuntarily blushed and giggled whenever she
saw him—and then Ruth. “Miss Ruth, how do you do?”
“How do you do,” said Ruth, hopelessly unable to hide
her wide grin from her friend.
The sight of Mr Chester Gangfield, Ruth’s dearest friend
of four years, always made things so much more bearable for
her.
Then again, everybody Gangfield came into contact with
liked him very much, even though he was not as handsome
as the other men in the local society. He had dark hair and
eyes, which were pretty enough, but he had a rough
complexion and somewhat childlike features, as though he
never completely matured far past Adam’s age. His
expression was always slanted upwards, his one eyebrow
raised and his smile skewed, suggesting he knew an amusing
secret about every person in the room.
At about five foot four, Gangfield could only just boast
about being taller than Ruth. However, he carried himself
with such confidence and walked with such long strides that
it was hard not to look twice at the peculiarly little man—and
peculiar he was! Not only was he a stage magician, which was

18
an uncommon occupation to begin with, but he took his pet
rat everywhere with him. The vermin’s whiskers could often
be seen quivering out of a crevice in Gangfield’s clothing.
“Well, I suppose that settles it,” said Mr Rosewood,
satisfied that Gangfield’s reception had attracted all the
ceremony he felt the fellow deserved. “Now that our party is
complete, we can hurry on to the workshop. Come, Adam!”
As usual, Ruth was the first to respond. “Excellent! I will
get my things.” She grabbed her coat off the nearby rack.
“Where do you think you are going?” Mrs Rosewood
demanded.
“I am going with them,” Ruth replied innocently, pulling
her coat over her one arm.
“And all the things we must get ready for Mr Byron’s
arrival tonight? Shall I do everything by myself?”
“Of course not, Mama. We are only dropping Adam off. I
will be back before you can even get anything done.”
“This is no trivial matter, Ruth. You have absolutely no
business going into a shop, even less so than your brother.”

19
“Oh, but I must go! I need to look this carpenter in the
eye, Mama. Lions will befriend lambs before I allow my
brother to be apprenticed to a degenerate.”
Mrs Rosewood shook her head. “We are all worried
about that. It is why your father is going along.”
Ruth glanced at her glowing father who amusedly
gestured at Gangfield to look at the perturbed Adam.
“Mama, I’d really rather go myself.”
“Come now, my darling!” cried Mr Rosewood. “Ruth will
be looked after. Let her join us.”
Mrs Rosewood planted her foot on the ground. “I shall
no longer stand to be overruled in my own home—and I shall
certainly not stand for it when it comes to my daughter. I
despise this whole business and I shall make no more
allowances for it. Ruth, you are not going anywhere and that
is the end of it!”
Ruth looked over at her father and silently begged him
to come to her aid, but the old man shrugged and shook his
head. He turned and gaily herded Adam and Gangfield out
into the entrance hall.

20
She got an apologetic glance from her friend, Gangfield,
but other than that, nothing more was communicated to
Ruth. She stood and watched the front door close behind the
group. The house was suddenly much quieter.
“Now remove your coat and let us go to the kitchen,”
said Mrs Rosewood.
Ruth focused her attention on her father’s muffled
laughter outside.
“Come now!” Mrs Rosewood kept speaking as she
walked out the room, assuming Ruth was close behind. “I
have it on good authority that Mr Byron is allergic to nuts, so
we must plan tonight around that little misfortune…”
Mrs Rosewood’s voice trailed off down the hallway.
Ruth slowly walked towards the front door. She stood
for a few moments in the sudden silence, dejected, finding
the sound of the ticking clock unbearably prevalent.
She waited. She listened.
Mrs Rosewood’s voice was no longer audible, but the
men’s voices were.
Perfect.

21
Ruth grinned and quickly slipped right out the front
door.
Adam and Mr Rosewood were already in the carriage
when Ruth swiftly strolled down the pebble path towards
them. She did her best to outwardly appear only mildly in a
hurry, but inside her frantic nerves urged the carriage to fly
away before her mother caught on.
“And this?” asked Gangfield, who was standing just
outside the carriage.
Ruth purposely got too close to Gangfield to force him
to make way. “My mother changed her mind,” she said so
quickly, it was almost inaudible.
“Is that so?” Mr Rosewood questioned from inside the
carriage.
Adam rolled his eyes.
They could obviously tell she was lying, but they made
no effort to expose her. Yet again, Gangfield was left to think
her at least somewhat saintly.
She was helped into the carriage by Gangfield, but she
stopped mid-step to command her brother to move. “Adam,

22
do not sit next to Papa. Sit on the other side so I can sit next
to you.”
Gangfield was amused by this. “Still worried about
Dennis, Miss Ruth?”
Of course Gangfield’s vermin rat had a name—Dennis.
“Forgive me, Gangfield,” Ruth said as she scooted into
her seat next to her brother, “You know I normally have no
issue with sitting next to you, but in close proximities such as
these I shall forever endeavour to make it as difficult as
possible for that rat to scurry onto my lap.”
“Oh, I would not say that, Miss Ruth,” replied Gangfield
as he got settled diagonally across from her. “Just now
Dennis will climb onto you out of spite.”
“Pray, do not even joke about that,” she replied, holding
back a shiver.
“I am not joking.” Gangfield smiled his skew smile.
“What is it that you find so repulsive about Dennis, Miss
Ruth? Is it his tail?”
“You know very well I dislike things that cannot
understand what I say,” she proclaimed proudly. “And
animals certainly fall into that category.”

23
“You hurt Dennis’s feelings when you say things like
that, you know.”
“I do not care.”
This remark prompted Adam to join in. “Now, that’s not
very nice, Ruth. It’s just a little rat.”
Ruth’s mouth hung open. “Are you two seriously trying
to make me feel sorry for a rodent?”
Just then Dennis’s little grey face emerged from one of
Gangfield’s sleeves. “Look at those big eyes,” Gangfield urged
as he gently stroked the rat’s head with his index finger.
“And that pink nose,” said Adam, his face finally
brightening up. He reached over to pet the animal as well.
Ruth started to laugh, but she caught a glimpse of her
mother glaring out of the drawing room window. She
immediately shut up and ducked back into her seat, failing at
her every attempt to appear nonchalant. “We, uh, we should
probably go,” she said in a contained panic.
Mr Rosewood smiled and nodded. He tapped his cane
twice on the ceiling of the carriage and the driver beckoned
the horses into motion.

24
When they were a satisfactory distance away from the
house and heading down the wide road to town, Ruth felt
comfortable to sit upright again. Gangfield was politely silent
on the matter of her frantic behaviour, but his expression
made it obvious that he was trying not to smile too widely.
Harbiford was the centre of activity for miles around.
Ever since the railway was constructed to run past what used
to be a small village, the local farmers had procured an
effective means to export their crops. This naturally resulted
in the fast expansion of the town, the modernisation of its
facilities and the increase of its appeal to middle class folk
looking to retreat from stench and smog. It was also some
forty miles from the coastline, so a leisurely day at the beach
was never too much of a hassle to arrange.
The carriage passed the church and entered Harbiford
from the northeast. This was where the more well-to-do
residents lived and where Ruth spent most of her time when
she was in town. One of her obligations was to join her
mother in calling on the other women in the local society and
gossiping about anyone who wasn’t in the room at the time.
The only shops Ruth had cause to visit were in the centre of

25
town—the boutique, the coffee shop and bookstore, as well
as the local theatre which was only ever used to host charity
events.
While Mr Rosewood and Gangfield casually chatted,
Adam stared out the window angrily, his expression strained
and his arms crossed. Ruth couldn’t blame her brother—after
all, his time off at home was quickly being turned into
something very far from a holiday. He had been sentenced to
four weeks of hard labour by a sister who thought him too
spoiled and privileged for his own good.
It was true that the whole affair was Ruth’s idea. She
knew something had to be done about Adam’s alarming lack
of drive and ambition. His temperament had always been
quiet and controlled, but what worried Ruth lately was that
he excelled at absolutely nothing, despite the fact that he
was a bright and capable young man—and despite him
having been given every opportunity to excel. He simply
moved and spoke slower every time he got home from
school and displayed apathy towards an increasing amount
of topics.

26
Ruth decided that what Adam needed was something
new to challenge his mind and senses. She immediately
recruited Gangfield in her mission. His occupation as a
performer meant he moved with ease among the various
circles of the middle classes. After a swift enquiry, Gangfield
managed to arrange a holiday job for Adam with a carpenter
who carried on his business in Harbiford.
Carpentry—now that was bound to be hard work!
As they travelled deeper into town, Ruth found herself a
little lost amongst the unfamiliar sights, since it had been
years since she’d last seen past the town square. The
buildings were not as pristine as higher up in town and they
were built right up against each other. Even the road was
cramped as their carriage battled for space against one-horse
carts and men in aprons pushing wheelbarrows. Almost
everybody in sight was carrying something—crates and sacks,
tools and crops—and children ran about, playing games using
discarded rubbish as toys. It became hypnotising, watching
shop after shop after shop pass by, the people inside the
open buildings making, building and sorting.

27
Ruth couldn’t remember when last she’d seen so many
people wearing rolled-up sleeves.
She shook her head and, noticing a lull in the
conversation, she took the opportunity to voice her
appreciation, if only to shine a positive light on the situation.
“Gangfield, we cannot thank you enough for what you’re
doing for Adam.”
“Your thanks are misplaced,” he replied smoothly. “I
only came across the workshop—I did not build it. Though, I
did some extra digging since last we spoke and I learned the
place is quite reputable. Adam will be in good hands
apprenticing under Mr Wythert.”
The name struck a dreadful chord with Ruth. “M-Mr
Wythert?” she stammered.
“Yes, a Mr Theodore Wythert, if I’m not mistaken. I did
mention this, I'm sure.”
Ruth felt her stomach dip.
Mr Rosewood laughed. “My goodness! Did you hear
that, Ruth? Little Theodore!”
“Do you know Mr Wythert, sir?” asked Gangfield.

28
“Yes! Very well, actually. I contracted Theodore’s father,
Mr William Wythert, to build my house! I had no idea little
Theodore had turned to carpentry.”
Gangfield’s puzzled expression made it clear that he saw
how badly Ruth was taking the news. “And you, Miss Ruth?
Do you know Mr Wythert?”
Mr Rosewood ignored the fact that he was not being
addressed. “The Wytherts were like a second family to her,”
he explained. “At first I just took her along to the Wytherts’
workshop when I checked in on the construction progress on
Rosewood Ridge, but after a while I just left Ruth there on
the days I had business in town.” His nose was wrinkled by
another chuckle. “And, my! Was Theodore a favourite of
hers!”
Gangfield raised an eyebrow and smiled at Ruth. “Can it
indeed be?”
She sensed a certain spite in Gangfield’s tone.
“Yes, indeed it can, Gangfield! They were very close.
Never spent a moment apart if they could help it! Do you
remember, Ruth?”

29
Ruth stayed quiet, knowing her father would continue
without her input.
“Yes, yes, they were mad about each other! Inseparable
even for years after the Ridge was finished!” Mr Rosewood
frowned a little. “But then Theodore was needed in Ireland.
Luckily Ruth came out into society not long after and she lost
all interest in the poor boy—you know how easily distracted
young women are, Gangfield.” He lowered his voice and
looked out the window. “Ah, we did not see much of the
Wytherts again after that.”
Gangfield kept his gaze fixed on Ruth. She could see the
cogs in his brain were hard at work as his smile grew wider.
She couldn’t dwell on it, however. Had she only known
Theodore was Adam’s new employer! She’d have been happy
to stay at home and help her mother prepare for dinner. She
would have been happy to do anything, no matter how
mundane or pointless.
But now she was stuck in the carriage with no excuse for
an escape. She honestly feared seeing Theodore again. She
expected neither success nor failure—she didn’t expect

30
anything at all. The future was blank, unclear. And she hated
not knowing what to expect.
Adam was right. Her good intentions had indeed made
an art of breeding trouble.
She fiddled with her fringe again, desperate to regain
control of something.
All she could do was pray that she could help herself
when the time came that she stood face to face with
Theodore Wythert—the boy who broke her heart.
The rest of the carriage ride was dominated by Mr
Rosewood's lively chatting. Gangfield engaged with the
rotund old man out of politeness, but his attention was
mostly on Ruth.
Ruth knew Gangfield to be a perceptive man, so it came
as no surprise to her that he picked up on her restless
apprehension. However, she wished very much she could
swat his glances away. She was in no mood to be studied.
The dreaded moment came as the carriage stopped and
the party got out and approached the entrance to the
workshop.

31
The stink of wood and glue hit Ruth like a slap in the
face. Her every effort to never return to the workshop was
undone by her own meddling. All she wanted was for her
brother to learn some good work ethics. Now she paid for it
by being violently tossed back in time to a place she gave
herself permission to forget.
The Workshop’s facade was much as she remembered
it, the signage having been repainted, but not more than
that. It was a large, rectangular building with low, arched
windows. The red-bricked workshop was squeezed between
two other buildings, the one on the left being the Wytherts’
homestead.
Ruth froze and swallowed hard.
Mr Rosewood, Gangfield, and Adam, however, were
their usual selves. Adam moved at a snail’s pace in silent
protest and Mr Rosewood joyfully proclaimed how wonderful
it was to be back at the Wytherts’ workshop again.
Ruth dared to imagine her father would remain so jovial
even if he knew what humiliation she had endured within the
workshop’s walls.

32
Gangfield’s glances kept tugging at Ruth out of the
corner of her eye. He appeared wholly impressed with
himself for noticing her distress.
Let him think what he wants to, she decided. It makes no
difference either way.

33
Chapter 2

“There’s a good girl, Florence!” Theodore called from up on


his cart. He gripped the reins a little tighter. “Don’t go that
way, girl—Oh! Sorry, sir!—You’re all right, Florence, you’re all
right.”
Theodore’s open cart rolled through Harbiford town’s
streets, pulled along by but one elderly horse whose step was
no longer as sure as it used to be.
The old mare, Florence, often stumbled and yanked at
the reins, making Theodore suspect for quite some time that
she was becoming blind in her right eye. He had tried for a
few months to keep the poor horse at home, but she grew so
very depressed when confined to the yard. In the end,
34
Theodore couldn’t find it in his heart to yet retire his trusted
animal.
Florence was therefore allowed to pull the cart
whenever Theodore foresaw the load would not be too
cumbersome. A delivery of six dining chairs to his uncle’s
upholstery shop one mile away was the perfect opportunity
for Florence to stretch her legs and regain her spirits.
The ride was slow and bumpy, and Florence’s occasional
but small starts meant that her master had to cry a good few
apologies to similarly startled pedestrians. In the two or
three weeks since Theodore started travelling with Florence
again, he started to notice more and more people scattering
when he and his dear horse approached down the road, until
only the odd passer-by would be caught off guard to shout
and curse at Theodore—and working class folk could curse
up a storm that would make the devil blush.
Theodore felt sorry that he was disrupting people’s lives
as such—them having to dodge here and there in their daily
travels—but he was grateful that more people were catching
on. Florence may not have been sturdy anymore, but she
certainly was a big girl. She would suffer no harm should an

35
accident occur, but the same couldn’t be said for any poor
fellow, Theodore included, who happened to be by her side if
she faltered.
So Theodore was always on his guard when with old
Florence, ready to cry out warnings to people who didn’t see
them coming. The toll on his nerves was worth it, though,
and he was contently prepared to endure any public
persecution on Florence’s behalf. Seeing his old horse happy
to be out and about made it much easier for him to step on
others’ toes—metaphorically, that is, thankfully.
Besides, whenever he went to stores or walked on the
street, complete strangers would greet him by name. “Good
day, Mr Wythert!” they’d say happily. “And how is Florence
doing?”
Surely he couldn’t be that big of a bother if people were
pleased to see him.
Theodore and Florence stopped in front of the small
upholstery shop, both a little shaken up but safe and sound.
Theodore’s uncle came out of the shop to greet them, wiping
his hands on an old rag as he walked down the path towards
the cart.

36
“Mornin’, Uncle John!” said Theodore. He pulled up the
brakes and got off the cart slowly on the left side as to not
startle Florence.
John Brody, one of Theodore’s Irish uncles on his
mother’s side, was always pleased to see his favourite
nephew. They shook hands. “Goodness, Theodore. Every day
you look more like your father. Just grow a beard and cut
that mop of yours, and I’d swear William was back from the
grave!”
Theodore laughed weakly. “I think I’d rather keep my
looks the way they are.”
“Still don’t like talking about it, do you?” Uncle John just
shook his head. “Some things you just can’t help, Theodore.
You need to make peace with your reflection.”
The words sent disdain slithering through Theodore’s
chest. He turned away to pet Florence, which was sometimes
the only thing to help stifle his anger.
True Wytherts were able to spot each other anywhere in
the world by a single familial calling card—they all shared a
similar profile. It was characterised by a remarkably straight
bridge of the nose and the way the lower lip curved into the

37
chin with a tight C-shape. All Wytherts also had smooth and
delicate facial features overall.
Theodore’s late father, William Wythert, was unique in
that he had unflatteringly wide nostrils and the corners of his
mouth were deeply indented, forming smile lines far sooner
than they should have appeared. Most notably, he had thick,
dark eyebrows that hung over his mossy green eyes.
All these features were passed onto Theodore exactly as
they appeared on the original. He also inherited his father’s
broad shoulders and their hands were absolutely identical.
The only thing that had differentiated them was that
William kept his hair short and wore a beard. Theodore
swore to shave his face every day—and every night if it ever
came to it. He had to be different from his father somehow,
even if this obsession ironically made his facial hair harder to
control over time.
After taking a few moments to calm himself, Theodore
looked back at his uncle, mustering up the happiest tone of
voice he could. “I’ve made my peace, Uncle. Nothin’ to worry
about.”
His uncle rubbed his bald head. “If you say so.”

38
“I do,” Theodore replied with a fake smile that turned
genuine as he watched his uncle’s suspicions subside.
Through events best left forgotten, Uncle John had
learned how poisonous Theodore’s relationship with William
had been.
Together, Theodore and Uncle John decided that no
good could come from speaking ill of the dead, so they kept
Theodore’s mother in the dark about the whole affair. It
would have broken her heart to know what had transpired
between her beloved husband and her dear son.
Uncle John walked around the cart and unlatched the
hatch at the back. “So this is today’s delivery,” he remarked
gravely. “Six chairs. It’s less every time.”
“Ah, business will pick up,” said Theodore as he still
petted Florence, his eyes bright again. “After all, we finally
got that Valiard contract. That’s sure to keep us going for a
while.”
Theodore’s resolve made his uncle smile. “Well, you just
make the chairs and I’ll be sure to cover ‘em up the best I
can.”

39
“You sure you don’t want to join me tomorrow when I
go to the Valiard Mansion? Everybody says it’s ridiculous how
extravagant it is.”
“Oh! No amount of extravagance can persuade me to go
anywhere near that wretched place.”
“Come now, Uncle John! You don’t believe all those
ghost stories about the Mansion, now do you?”
“Let’s just say I have no interest in finding out if they’re
true.”
Theodore dug his head into Florence’s neck, laughing.
“Besides,” his uncle continued, “I might just join the
ghosts if I ever saw one of ‘em. My constitution wouldn’t be
able to take the shock.” He shivered. “Not a chance! You’re
on your own there, boyo.”
“That settles it!” said Theodore, still laughing. “When I
make my fortune with my furniture shop, I’m buying you the
Valiard Mansion.”
“Thank the Lord there’s no chance of that, then.”
They each took two dining chairs and headed inside the
shop. It had a front room with a reception desk, and through

40
the next door and into the yard was a small greenhouse that
Uncle John had converted into his working space.
Out of nowhere, Theodore felt quite out of breath
carrying the two chairs under his arms. He only just made it
into the greenhouse. He set the chairs down next to some
other bare furniture and leaned against one of the chairs,
catching his breath.
“Theodore? Are you all right?” Uncle John asked.
“I’m grand. It’s just—phew! What was that?” Theodore
tried to shake it off, but he was still a little breathless.
“Come here!” Uncle John slapped his nephew on the
back as if to revive him. “It can’t be the heat. It’s still too cool
out.”
“I must’ve been a little too lively on the cart,” Theodore
replied, wiping his forehead. “I’m so nervous with ol’
Florence. It’s bound to get to me somehow.”
“Sit down. I’ll have your aunt bring you some tea.”
“I’m actually in a hurry. My new apprentice will be
arriving at the workshop any minute now.”

41
“That’s today, then?” Uncle John leaned with his fists on
his workbench. “Ah, I don’t understand all this business—you
never needed an apprentice before.”
With his energy slowly returning, Theodore stood
upright. “I’m not really in want of an apprentice, but the man
I spoke to—a short lookin’ bloke—he wouldn’t take no for an
answer. But, I suppose with the restoration project at the
Mansion, now’s a better time than ever to get some help. I
just hope Adam Rosewood’s as hardworkin’ as his dad.”
“Do you think Miss Ru—” Uncle John cleared his throat.
“Do you think the boy’s sister will come?”
Theodore appreciated his uncle’s sensitivity towards
that girl’s name. He didn’t quite fancy hearing it. “Don’t
worry, Uncle. The odds of me seeing her again are very slight.
If she’s succumbed to her mother’s influence—as I know she
must have—she’d die before she set foot in a lowly workshop
again.”
“And if you get back and she’s there? You’ve got to have
a plan for it.”
“I do,” Theodore sighed. “I’ll be civil, but I’ll pay her no
real heed. I’ll be stone-faced.”

42
Uncle John burst out laughing. “Theodore Wythert?
Stone-faced? My boy, you wave your emotions on your face
like a white flag!”
“In that case, I still have the ride home to prepare for my
untimely surrender.” Theodore smiled to put on a brave face.
Still chuckling, Uncle John wiped a tear from his eye
using the old rag he had with him. He bent down to have a
good look at the engravings of flowers on the wood and
became quite earnest. “These chairs are worth much more
than what you’re selling them for, you know. Works of art,
they are! I don’t think I’ve quite seen detail like this
anywhere else. You’ve done well to focus on your artistic
talents.”
Theodore realised his uncle was trying to cheer him up,
but it only reminded him of something unpleasant. “Real
men work hard, out in the sun and rain,” he recited bitterly.
Uncle John let out a long groan. “Why do you insist on
hangin’ on to your father’s credo?”
“Because he was right. I should have been out there
more often, laying more bricks and planks. Instead I sat flat
on me arse in front of a canvas every chance I got.” He ran

43
his fingers through his brown hair then paused to look at his
hands. “If I’d just paid more attention, I’d have learned from
him and taken over the construction business. Imagine! I’d be
a contractor! God knows it’d better money than this.” He
lightly kicked one of the chairs and sent it screeching half an
inch to the side.
“You’re giving yourself too much credit,” Uncle John
replied, sympathetically shifting the chair back into place.
“Your father’s business failed. He made too many bad debts
and you laying a few more bricks wouldn’t have changed
that. Besides, you’re much better suited to carpentry! Things
worked out after all.”
Theodore grinned and teased, “You’re only saying that
because you want me to keep bringin’ you plenty of furniture
to upholster, eh?”
“Now I just need to take to making canvasses for you to
paint on and we’ll be set for life!” He chuckled and dusted his
apron off.
They headed out the greenhouse and through the shop.

44
When they reached the cart, Theodore went around and
lifted the two remaining chairs off the back. He set them on
the ground to the side so his uncle could take them.
Uncle John nodded towards the horse. “Don’t you let
Florence take you to the Valiard Mansion and back, you
hear? It’s a bit far for her.”
“She’s hardier than she looks.” Theodore closed the
cart’s hatch and glanced at his dear Florence. “Aren’t you,
girl?”
Florence shook her head, briefly sending her black mane
flying.
Uncle John walked up to the horse and studied her,
slowly waving his hands past her head. “Still favouring her
one eye, is she?”
The horse pulled her head to the side.
“She might not be going blind, you know. Maybe her
problem is a sore neck.” Contradicting his own words,
Theodore climbed onto the cart seat carefully and gradually
to avoid startling the old mare.
“Quite right,” Uncle John appeased. He reached up and
shook his nephew’s hand. “Take care, though.”

45
“You too, Uncle John.” Theodore grabbed the reins, but
paused as he felt his uncle’s hand on his arm.
“Theodore, I mean it,” said Uncle John in a grim tone.
“You must take care. Whatever you do, promise me you will
not turn your new apprentice away.”
“You know I can’t promise that! If he looks like he can’t
do the work, then—”
“This is no time for dignity! You’re on thin ice now, but
one good word from Mr Rosewood will mean steady business
for you for years to come—and one bad word will shut you
down. You’ve already slighted the young Rosewood lady. The
Rosewoods are people of consequence. You’ll not get away
with wasting their time twice. Now, promise me you will not
turn the boy away.”
After a few seconds, Theodore nodded and replied, “I
promise to think about it.”
This was enough for Uncle John to back off from the
cart. “Don’t turn him away,” he repeated.
Theodore and Florence then set off. The ride back was
the same as the ride in—rickety and slow.

46
After many starts and apologies, Theodore and Florence
finally made it back to the workshop. There was an expensive
black carriage in the road with a dressed-up driver and shiny-
coated horses.
The Rosewoods had already arrived.
Theodore drove the carriage right around the back and
into the yard where the stables were. With little time to
compose himself, he settled into the idea that as long as that
girl weren’t present, the visit would pass by effortlessly.
However, if she did decide to have shown up, he was
determined not to show any sign of emotion.
God forbid she ever found out how he suffered when
they parted.
Theodore put Florence away in her stable, promising
he’d remove her harness later, adding, “Wish me luck, girl.”
Then he took a deep breath and stepped through the
workshop’s back door.
The workshop was a big, open building with shoulder-
high, wooden partitions cordoning off its different sections.
Iron stairs led to a high-up office against the western wall and
there were some old walkways hanging by metal wires from

47
the ceiling overhead. Theodore had tested the walkways too
long ago to vouch for their reliability, but he did really like his
high-up office, so he didn’t dare to bother with the walkways
in case the whole office came crashing down with them.
In the corner adjacent to the workshop’s front door was
a cordoned-off area where the Wytherts received their
guests and clients. It was nothing to brag about. Three
couches, a coffee table, and a faded, green carpet were really
the only echoes of a drawing room. His mother and two
younger sisters had tried to spruce it up with some patterned
wallpaper, but in a strange way it only made the room look
shabbier. At least Theodore had found the time to make a
pretty mantelpiece for the fireplace and that tended to
distract people enough.
When Theodore turned the corner into the makeshift
drawing room, his eyes darted around to see who his visitors
were. He saw Mr Rosewood, that short Gangfield bloke and
what had to be Adam, all standing in a circle around the
coffee table.
Theodore’s lanky sister, Emily, stood off to the side.

48
He immediately felt an enormous sense of relief. So
much so, he broke out into a light laugh.
Emily raised her hands in joy. She was always happy
about everything. “Good, Theodore, you’re here. I’ll get us
some tea.” She then walked out of the drawing room and
into the kitchen right past the next partition. They could hear
her humming the whole time.
Mr Rosewood was fatter than Theodore remembered
and his blonde hair was now peppered with streaks of white.
At least he still refused to ditch his familiar moustache.
“Theodore, my boy!” Mr Rosewood exclaimed.
“How do you do, sir?” said Theodore as he shook Mr
Rosewood’s pudgy hand. The old man had retained his
enthusiastic grip. “It’s very good to see you after so long.”
“I say, would you just listen to that Irish accent!” said Mr
Rosewood. “All that time spent in Dublin, I wouldn’t
wonder.”
“Well, that and me Mam,” Theodore replied, allowing
himself to feel a little self-conscious. He had long given up on
keeping a decidedly English accent tacked on, and speaking
to his Uncle John only ever made his Irish brogue all the more

49
prevalent. This often drew extra attention to him, as his
sisters’ accents were typical to the Dorset region.
He then greeted Mr Gangfield. Now there was a fellow
who was too confident for it to be natural. Whenever Mr
Gangfield bared that lopsided smirk of his, Theodore felt he
wouldn’t trust the man with a pinch of salt. The bloke’s
manners were dignified, kind and open, but something about
it was disingenuous. In fact, Theodore had prepared himself
for the possibility that this meeting with the Rosewoods
would have turned out to be a farce.
Luckily for Mr Gangfield, it came to pass in the end.
Young Adam was a sore sight. It was clear he wasn’t too
happy about being there. Mr Rosewood introduced Adam to
Theodore, but the boy was interrupted before he could say
anything.
“Gangfield!” Mr Rosewood boasted, proudly holding his
hand waist-high, “I have known Mr Theodore Wythert since
he was this tall!” He then turned back to Theodore. “Now
look at you! You are as tall as your father. And the spitting
image of him as well!” Mr Rosewood narrowed his eyes and
studied Theodore’s face. “Goodness—spitting image indeed.”

50
Theodore felt that familiar sting of contempt in his gut.
Mr Rosewood cleared his throat and became serious for
a brief moment. “Dreadful business about your father. Your
sister tells me his heart gave in quite suddenly.”
“It did, sir,” said Theodore. “About two years ago now.”
“Poor chap! It must have been quite a shock for you.
Having your father be fine one instant, then gone the next.”
“I wasn’t here when it happened.”
“No, of course you weren’t,” said Mr Rosewood, puffing
his chest uneasily. “Well! William was a good man. He is
certainly missed.”
Theodore nodded mechanically. “Thank you, sir.”
“So!” cried Mr Rosewood, back to his cheery self. “Do
you think you can whip our Adam into shape?”
Theodore quickly studied the runt-like Adam. The boy
was no more than a bag of sand! He didn’t stand upright and
his limbs hung lifeless at his sides. His eyes showed no spark.
Given a choice, Theodore would have kicked the boy
right out the front door. The last thing he wanted was to
have the Workshop’s reputation degraded by a lazy
employee.

51
But the time had come for Theodore to swallow his
pride, however difficult it proved.
“May take some time,” said Theodore. He addressed
Adam, “We’ll be happy to have you here. I’m sure you’ll earn
your wage.”
Mr Rosewood chuckled. “Oh, nonsense! There is no
need for that. I will give him whatever he earns.”
Finally, Adam showed some expression, albeit only
raised eyebrows.
“It’s all right,” said Theodore. “He’ll have his wage, same
as everyone else.”
“Not at all! You are already doing us a favour. I will be
sure to give him a spot.”
“Then he’ll get paid twice.”
Mr Rosewood lowered his voice. “Theodore, my boy…
surely what you can offer Adam is negligible. In fact, I—”
“Negligible, maybe. But fair.” Theodore turned to Adam.
“You work, you get paid.”
Mr Rosewood appeared a little shocked and spoke
without his usual enthusiasm. “If you insist.”

52
Theodore immediately felt a tinge of remorse for his
sudden defiance against Mr Rosewood’s wishes, but,
however unintentional, Mr Rosewood insulted Theodore’s
living in front of his soon-to-be employee. Only a coward
would take that lying down.
Nothing was said after that. Mr Rosewood stayed quiet,
frowning slightly. Adam’s mouth fought off a grin.
Emily thankfully walked in with a tea tray and broke the
silence. “Goodness, it’s quiet in here!” she proclaimed
cheerily. She bent far over to put the tray on the coffee table
and snapped up, resting her long arms on her hips. Her wide
mouth was stretched into a smile. “Shall you have your tea
now or shall I get the girls?”
Mr Gangfield was the only one to reply, and even then it
took him a few moments. “We shall wait. Thank you, Miss
Wythert.”
Emily nodded obliviously and left.
“So, Mr Wythert,” Mr Gangfield began in an effort to
save the conversation, “you said before that you are doing
some work at Valiard Mansion?”

53
Theodore was happy to return to civilities. “Tomorrow
I’ll be startin’ some restoration on the furniture down there.
It’s why I could use the extra help.”
Finally Adam spoke, appearing a little animated. “The
Valiard Mansion? Wait, you mean the ghost house? Down by
Red River?”
Theodore nodded and smiled. “That’s the one.”
Mr Rosewood, much to Theodore’s relief, joined the
conversation. “Oh, Adam, it is not as bad as all that.”
Mr Gangfield flashed Theodore a sly smirk. “Do you
believe in ghost stories, Mr Wythert?”
“Only the interesting ones,” Theodore joked.
“Oh, good, then. The Valiard Mansion is plenty
interesting.” Mr Gangfield droned, sounding unnecessarily
dramatic. “A fire mysteriously broke out, sending all but one
Valiard to their ashen graves. And that one survivor—”
“He hanged himself, right?” Theodore finished as
blatantly as possible.
Mr Gangfield shrugged. “They never found his body. He
just… disappeared.”

54
Why on earth was Mr Gangfield taking a ghost story so
seriously? Was he just being a showman or was he really that
strange?
Not that the latter would be such a shock to Theodore’s
system.
At least Adam seemed entertained. Theodore was
pleased to see some life in the boy. He’d never have guessed
Adam was one for haunted mansions.
Just then, Emily popped back into the room and happily
proclaimed, “Look who I found!”
Theodore turned around and smiled, expecting to see
his youngest sister. Instead he got an eyeful of a purse-lipped
redhead dressed in pink.
Ruth Rosewood.
Theodore’s body turned ice cold as his train of thought
abandoned him. He was immediately transfixed.
The last time he’d seen Ruth, she was still very much a
little girl. She used to run everywhere in her knee-high frocks,
the pink ribbons in her loose curls bouncing and trailing
behind her.

55
But what had walked into the drawing room just then
was a fully-developed woman. Ruth’s round cheeks had given
way to a sharp face and her high cheekbones curved into
neatly arched eyebrows. Her hair was pulled up into a bun on
top of her head without a ribbon in sight.
She had also graduated from wearing flat and square
bodices to having her waist squeezed tightly into a fetching
hourglass shape. Theodore had seen such fashion on
countless other women and liked it enough, but seeing it on
Ruth was particularly disarming. It absolutely shattered the
image of the young girl he knew so well in his memory.
After their tumultuous parting years before, Theodore
expected with every ounce of certainty that the very sight of
Ruth would have disgusted him.
Instead he stood motionless, enchanted. He still found
her every bit as hypnotising as the first time he watched her
walk into the workshop—though, admittedly, his reasons for
that had drastically changed since then. They were only little
children when they first met.
Ruth, however, didn’t even attempt to look back at him.
Her cheeks flushed against her pale face, she stood with her

56
hands firmly clasped together and her chin sharply pointed in
the air.
Mr Rosewood beamed, probably at the unlikely sight of
seeing both Theodore and Ruth in the same room. “Ruth,
look—can you believe it? Look at how tall Theodore is!”
Ruth merely glanced at Theodore, her blue-green eyes
piercing his for but a moment. “Mr Wythert,” she greeted
coldly. She then immediately looked away, appearing wholly
absorbed in whatever speck on the floor she focused on.
Theodore remembered the anatomy of Ruth’s face well.
Her mouth was pulled into a small triangle and her eyebrows
were even more arched than usual. It was obvious to him
that after all those years, she felt she still had enough reason
to act wounded.
A smile spread across Theodore’s face. Hope silently
crept into his racing heart.
Little Lynnie, Theodore’s youngest sister, appeared from
behind Ruth. “I showed Miss Rosewood around the house.
We’ve cleaned up the yard a lot since you were last here,
didn’t we, Miss Rosewood?”

57
Theodore feared Little Lynnie might have gotten the
same icy treatment from the well-to-do Miss Rosewood,
since the thirteen-year-old girl was messily dressed and her
brown hair always managed to hide her right eye.
But Ruth was perfectly sweet in her dealings with
Lynnie. “Yes! Much less hazardous, I must admit,” she said
with a warm smile.
Her smile momentarily broke the restraint of her
controlled movements. Theodore caught a glimpse of what
he was missing, but her relaxed grace didn’t last for long. She
was quickly back to her cold ways.
Emily laughed. “It’s so good to see you again, Miss
Rosewood! I can’t believe we haven’t seen each other in—
oh, how long has it been?”
“Eight years,” chimed Theodore and Ruth in unison.
Ruth immediately rearranged her clasped hands and
stared ahead of her in dead silence.
Theodore intently watched her, desperately longing for
her to look in his general direction.

58
It became clear to him that eight years drove a wedge
between them big enough to make her effortlessly disregard
her childhood friend.
“Right,” said Emily, finally catching on to the
uncomfortable atmosphere. “Eight years! It’s really been so
long, then, eh?”
Ruth nodded. “I’m only sorry that Mrs Wythert isn’t
home.”
“Oh, I’m not married!” Theodore blurted.
Ruth finally spun to face him. Her puzzled expression
clearly questioned whether he really was that daft. “I meant
your mother,” she hissed, frowning, probably in equal parts
anger and confusion.
“Right!” cried Theodore. “Yeah, she’s, uh—she’s out.”
He grinned and wiped his sweaty palms on the sides of his
trousers.
Remarkably, Ruth looked even more annoyed than
before. She shook her head in disgusted disbelief and turned
back to face the rest of the party.

59
Unintentionally, Mr Rosewood swept in to save the
mishap. “So, Theodore! Shall we leave Adam here so you two
can get to work?”
Theodore tore his gaze from the agitated woman. “I’m
afraid I don’t have any work for Adam today, sir. Work starts
tomorrow, when we go to the Mansion.”
“Only tomorrow?” Adam asked in alarm, appearing
genuinely disappointed.
Mr Rosewood was urged on by his son’s sudden change
of mood. “Excellent! We shall have Adam here first thing in
the morning, then.”
“Forgive me, Mr Rosewood. I didn’t mean for all this
fuss,” Theodore explained, his uncle’s warnings ringing in his
mind. “Today was more of an interview than anything else.”
“Did you hear that, Gangfield?” cried Mr Rosewood with
a hearty laugh. “Adam passed his first job interview!”
Mr Gangfield nodded and then smiled at Ruth, who was
more than happy to return the favourable gesture.
Even the tiny man with the skew face got better
treatment from Ruth than Theodore did. It immediately
ticked Theodore off.

60
All was settled and Theodore walked his visitors to their
shiny carriage, his two sisters not far behind. He watched in
disbelief as Ruth allowed that Gangfield man to help her into
her seat.
“Well, Theodore,” said Mr Rosewood before he got in.
“I’m happy to see you’ve grown up so well. William would be
proud!”
Theodore, with some effort, kept a straight face. “Thank
you, sir.” He could have sworn Ruth glanced at him just then,
but she looked away again too quickly for him to be sure.
The carriage tilted with impressive suspension under Mr
Rosewood’s weight as he got in. “Send my regards to your
mother.”
“I will, sir.”
The carriage then started moving.
Emily and Little Lynnie happily waved good-bye, but
Theodore stood stunned, a strong sense of loss overpowering
him.
The carriage then turned a corner and was out of sight.
“Oh!” cried Little Lynnie. “How clever Miss Ruth is! She
remembered me right away.”

61
Emily bumped her shoulder against Theodore’s. “Well
done, brother,” she teased, flipping her yellow hair. “You
were very charming! Ruth’ll definitely show her face here
again.” Of course she’d caught on. She was nineteen, after
all, and probably had enough experience with her own
emotions to know exactly what Theodore was thinking.
“Please be quiet, Emily,” Theodore sighed.
“Well, maybe we can save your chances with Ruth if we
matched Lynnie up with Adam, eh?”
Little Lynnie whipped around, her arms crossed. “Oh,
he’s so dull!”
Theodore didn’t like the sound of it at all. “My baby
sister with that wet towel? I’d sooner see Emily with Mr
Gangfield.” He paused. “He’s a strange one, isn’t he?”
Little Lynnie groaned. “I tried talking to Adam—I really
tried—but goodness, he was quiet. I don’t think he cares
much for any type of conversation.”
“And that smirk of his,” Theodore mumbled. “I don’t
trust ‘im.”

62
“Were we even in the same room?” Little Lynnie asked,
looking at her brother as if he were crazy. “Adam didn’t
smile—not once.”
“I’m talking about that Gangfield bloke.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Emily. “I think Mr Gangfield has
a very nice smile.”
“He does if you like the look of those villains you see in
children’s books.”
Emily laughed. “I’m sorry, come again? Theodore—
you’re jealous!”
He didn’t even bother arguing. “I didn’t like him before,
but I admit, I like him a lot less after seeing him with Ruth.
How could she smile at him, but not me?”
Emily swiftly slapped her brother on the back of his
head. “Oh, dash it, Theodore! I’ve already had a lifetime of
this nonsense. If I have to listen to you gripe about Ruth one
more time, I will have a fit. There is a very simple solution to
all of this—you just don’t have the bottle to make it happen!”
She then turned around and headed back inside the
workshop, humming another tune.

63
Little Lynnie, so named because she was small for her
age, never let her size deter her from speaking her mind.
“Emily’s right, you know. Whenever you’re reminded of Miss
Ruth, you end up moping for three days.”
“I do not.” He still helplessly stared down the road
where the carriage had turned.
“Yes, you do! You become all quiet and drag your feet
and sit alone in your room for hours—and then the crazy
dragon drawings start piling up. You know you do it!”
Theodore scratched his head. “Not every time?”
“Every. Time.” Little Lynnie looked up at him earnestly.
“Even I can see this isn’t normal, and most of the time I’m
only using one eye.” She wrapped her tiny fingers around
Theodore’s hand. “Maybe this is a sign. Mam always tells me
if you love something, you let it go. None of my wild pets
ever came back to me, but Miss Ruth came back to you.”
He squeezed his sister’s hand. “That’s a nice thought,
Little Lynnie. Thank you. That’s cheered me right up.”
“If it’s cheered you up, why do you still look so sad?”
“I look sad, do I?”
She nodded.

64
Theodore knelt down and took his baby sister by her
shoulders. He took a breath to say something, but she
interrupted him.
“Oh! Please marry Miss Ruth!” Lynnie cried excitedly,
pointing down the road. “She’s right there. And what fun
we’d have with her as a sister!”
He sighed, but mustered up a smile. “It’s just—it’s not
that simple, you see.”
“Why do adults always say that? You know, sometimes I
wonder if you didn’t come back from Ireland stupider
because you’ve grown up. You’re just complicating it in your
mind, that’s all.” She patted him on the head to make her
point.
Finally, Theodore genuinely laughed. “Go help your
sister, will you? I need to check in with Florence.”
Little Lynnie gave Theodore a sceptical look and then
hugged him. Still kneeling, he watched his baby sister run
inside and a thought entered his mind:
It’s not that simple, but I wish it could be.

65
Chapter 3

Ruth let out a sigh of relief as the carriage stopped outside


the Rosewood house.
At last, she was home!
The ride back was unbearable. As if having to deal with
her embarrassing encounter with Theodore wasn’t enough,
she could feel Gangfield peering at her all the way home.
He always revelled in the chance to laugh at people and
she could tell she was his new favourite joke.
Adam climbed out of the carriage first, followed by his
father and then Gangfield, who finally helped Ruth get out.
The hem of her frock always caught on the step, so she
appreciated the assistance.
66
Mr Rosewood wasted no time in parading his son inside
the house—to announce their triumphant return, no doubt.
Left behind with Gangfield, Ruth’s mind wandered far
away. Her visit to the workshop unearthed some long-
forgotten memories. She slowly strolled down the path,
uncharacteristically entranced by the little cobblestones
beneath her feet.
Gangfield practically jumped in front of her, blocking her
way. Unflinching and lost in thought, she wandered past him,
but he cut her off a second time. She looked up at him and
discovered he appeared extremely amused.
Deciding she had had enough of his silent teasing, she
snapped, “Gangfield! Pray tell! Is there something on your
mind?”
“There is always something on my mind, my dear.
Perhaps you mean to ask me why I keep staring at you.”
“Well, why?”
“Why what?”
“Why are you staring at me, sir?” She grew even more
irritated, her mood worsened by the sun sparkling through
the trees and straight into her eyes.

67
He clasped his hands together. “Ah! I am very glad you
asked me that. Indeed I am staring at you to find out what in
the world Mr Wythert found so very fascinating about you.”
Ruth felt her face heat up.
“I think he was gaping at your eyes, but Dennis is
convinced the Chairmaker was distracted by that kink in your
hair.”
Ruth gasped and briskly brushed her fringe aside,
accidently sending more stray hairs into her eyelashes. “Oh,
Gangfield! I do not have the energy or the mental faculties
right now to even consider Theodore Wythert—or your little
rat. Mr Byron is coming tonight and I am about to die of
embarrassment and nerves as it is.”
Just as she said the words, she actually reminded herself
of Mr Byron’s visit that evening. She couldn’t believe she had
forgotten again. An escalating panic came upon her.
Gangfield rubbed his nose in an attempt to hide his grin.
“You have no reason to be worried.”
“Worried? I am long past worried! Mr Byron is the first
bachelor to call here in over a year.”

68
“Ah, yes, and I am but the cheery slice of ham that drops
by several times every week.”
“All right, fine. Mr Byron is the first eligible bachelor—”
“What makes you think I am not eligible?”
“This may be the last chance I have to snap up a
husband. Soon I shall turn twenty-five and it will all be over
for me.”
“Twenty-five is still very young, my dear,” replied
Gangfield with a warm certainty.
“I shall trespass on my family’s kindness for as long as I
breathe—surely they would wish me dead by the time I am
thirty.” She held her throat.
“I doubt they would wish you dead.”
She gasped. “And when my parents are gone, I will have
to rely on Adam. Lord, I shall die in destitution!” She then let
out a sound that resembled a whimper.
“Very well, you have made your point,” Gangfield
sighed. “What shall I do to help?”
Ruth stood back upright and waved her hand at her
friend. “No! No, you shall not ‘help’ me ever again. You make
me laugh at them, Gangfield—every time you make me

69
laugh. I cannot afford to see Mr Byron in a ridiculous light.
God willing, he shall be my husband. I declare it to be so.”
Gangfield laughed, but he quickly stopped, opting to
narrow his eyes instead. “My! You are serious about this.”
Down the path, the front door of the house flung open
and Mrs Rosewood marched towards Ruth and Gangfield
with purpose to her every step.
The pathway suddenly seemed very short.
Ruth’s eyes grew wide and she whipped back around,
whispering, “Oh, no! Here comes Mama. Pray, do not leave
me alone with her. She shall surely wring my neck the first
chance she gets.”
“Surely she shall,” he whispered back, “if you ‘declare’ it
to be so.” He quickly flashed Ruth a teasing smile then he
turned to Mrs Rosewood, beaming. “Mrs Rosewood! How
good it is to see you again.”
Mrs Rosewood momentarily hesitated at the sight of
him. She smiled and nodded, then looked at her daughter
with supressed hostility. “Ruth, I must borrow you from Mr
Gangfield.”

70
Gangfield, much at ease with thinking on his feet,
replied immediately, “I am afraid, Madam, that I cannot
spare her. She has promised me that she would help me find
a certain book in Mr Rosewood’s library.”
Mrs Rosewood’s eyes were wild, but she stayed
composed for the most part as she said to Ruth, “That can
wait.”
“I must be on my way very soon,” Gangfield explained,
Ruth nodding along at his side. “I give you my word I will not
keep her long.” He started walking towards the front door
with Ruth following closely behind.
Ruth smiled nervously at her mother, but it did not have
the same potency as Gangfield’s gracious grins.
Gangfield bore with Ruth stumbling over his heels all the
way into Mr Rosewood’s study, where Ruth slammed the
door shut behind them.
She rested her back against the door and wiped her
face. Her hands trembled a little.
Gangfield stood in the centre of the room wearing a
pleasant, unfazed sort of countenance. “Thank you for
making it obvious that I was lying—you looked like a young

71
child caught in the pantry.” He walked past the desk and
towards one of the shelves, browsing through the book titles.
“I could not help it,” Ruth sighed. “She can scare the
living daylights out of me sometimes.”
“You should not have snuck off like you did.”
Ruth wrinkled her nose and walked a bit closer to
Gangfield to study his expression. “Are you… Gangfield, are
you scolding me?”
He grew slightly less serious as he took a book off the
shelf and opened it. “You should not have snuck off,” he
repeated.
“How dare you accuse me of something like that,” she
replied, her voice shaking consistently with the guilty smile
spreading across her face. “I did not sneak off, sir! I did not.”
“I completely agree. Sneaking implies some degree of
stealth.”
Ruth flared her nostrils, feeling offended. “I simply left
of my own accord—and my mother happened to disagree
with my decision.”

72
Her friend looked at her, doing so with mischief in his
eyes. “Your impulsiveness will get you into trouble someday,
my dear.”
Flicking her fringe out of her eyes, she inescapably felt
like a little child—something which did not sit well with her.
“I shall not stand for this. I shall not have you correct me.”
“If I were correcting you,” he replied, paging through the
book in his hands, “I would have sent you to stand in the
corner for ten minutes.” He shut the book and put it back in
its place. “No, I am simply reminding you that your days of
brashness and immaturity are over. If you wish to be
somebody’s wife, then—”
“I do wish to be somebody’s wife, but I fail to see what
input you can possibly offer on the subject.”
His arm still resting on one of the shelves, Gangfield
looked at Ruth, then at the books, then back at Ruth again.
He shook his head.
Ruth cleared her throat somewhat through her nose,
hoping it made her come across as imposing.
Gangfield backed away from the bookshelf and
approached her, his face flooded with an apprehension she

73
had never seen in him before. He uncharacteristically
hesitated before speaking. “My dear,” he said in a low voice.
“Very few men will treat you as I do.”
His sudden solemnity overshadowed whatever
bitterness she allowed herself to cling on to, causing her
curiosity to get the better of her. “What do you mean?”
He came in closer, a slight line appearing between his
eyebrows. “Suffice to say—” he stared off past her for a bit
before continuing, “others will let you get away with much
less.” His mouth pulled into his signature skew smile. “You
are impertinent, Miss Ruth. And if you hope to hook in Mr
Byron tonight, you will have to watch what you say.”
Impertinent! Ruth was immediately enraged, but the
mention of Mr Byron’s name quickly brought her back down
below boiling point. She nodded calmly. “I know what to do.”
Did she?
“Good.” Gangfield’s smile grew wider and, with his eyes
still on Ruth, he reached his right arm to the side and plucked
out a random book from the bookshelf. He held it up by his
face. “I’ll take this one.” His hands whipped behind his back

74
and instantly reappeared completely empty. He beamed in
expectation. “All gone!”
Ruth sighed and rolled her eyes. She turned and headed
for the door, glancing over her shoulder to beckon him to
follow.
Gangfield sniffed and adjusted his coat collar. “You
know, normally, that always gets an applause. Do you know
how long it took me to learn that trick?”
“Oh, yes, that trick that every magician on earth can
do,” she said, walking out of the room.
“Completely impertinent!” was Gangfield’s reply as he
followed. “For that you shall stand in the corner, Miss!”

Ruth scuffled behind Gangfield for the next half-hour, very


appreciative of his allowing her to keep near him. She
successfully avoided a heated confrontation with her mother,
who visibly became more passive as time went on.

75
Mr Rosewood helped the matter a great deal when he
gathered everyone together on the veranda to share with
Mrs Rosewood the happenings of the trip into town.
When Gangfield got seated amongst the party, Mrs
Rosewood suspiciously questioned him about his insisting
earlier that he had somewhere to be, to which he replied
coolly that he had “simply miscalculated the time, madam”.
Mrs Rosewood definitely doubted him, but she always
cut off conversations with him as quickly as she could,
especially when Mr Rosewood was near.
Ruth felt a little nervous that her father would blurt out
whatever he observed taking place between her and
Theodore. Surely, if he took notice of their strained
interactions, he would have loved to tell his wife, since he
was so very convinced the reserved woman shared his sense
of humour.
But it soon became apparent that Mr Rosewood was
ignorant of Ruth’s humiliation. Instead, he told Mrs
Rosewood all he could remember about the Wytherts’
workshop. He spent a good while listing the various
alterations made to the workshop to facilitate furniture-

76
making—this he found fascinating—as well as the virtues
that any man would learn in such a humble place.
Adam had been caught in a state of blissful reflection
ever since they left the workshop. Although he was finally
partaking in the general conversation his family conducted,
he didn’t personally mention anything about their visit to the
workshop. A word or two about the Valiard Mansion was said
in passing, but that was as close as he got to speaking of the
trip.
At least he seemed content.
Then Mr Rosewood mentioned how kind and obliging
Theodore was. “And upon my word, how strict he is!” he
added with some visible offense. This gave way to a
realisation and a chuckle. “The perfect sort of teacher for
Adam if I ever saw one. Yes, indeed!”
Ruth saw her brother’s expression grow even more
peaceful at this remark. It seemed seeing Theodore had a
much better effect on Adam than it did on her.
Mrs Rosewood was not at all interested in any
description of the workshop, but she did become slightly
more animated when the conversation turned to discussing

77
Mr Theodore Wythert. Things and places she hated
discussing, but people were a favourite subject. “What a
dreadful, unkempt boy he always was! Quiet and
unassuming, to be sure, but never well-dressed, even when
he meant to be. Do you remember when we gifted one of
your old suits to him, Mr Rosewood? He still did not look
quite right.” She closed her eyes as she flapped her fan
faster. “But, I suppose that was to be expected. Pray—” She
opened her eyes again and frowned. “Has that unkempt
mess found himself an unkempt wife?”
“Oh, he’s not married!” declared Gangfield with
restrained pleasure, mimicking Theodore’s tone when the
carpenter had proclaimed it himself. “Definitely not married,
madam! He said so himself. I was there.” He glanced over at
Ruth with a playful grin. “He said, madam, ‘Oh, I’m not
married!’—just like that.”
Ruth felt herself glowing red and wished for nothing
more than to bury her head in her grave. She was grateful to
see nobody else’s expressions change at Gangfield’s jokes,
but perhaps that was because he deliberately underplayed
them. It just went to show that Gangfield’s only object was to

78
make her suffer in silence, stopping short of exposing her
shame to her mother.
The ever-dignified Mr Gangfield, it turned out, even
teased with cordiality.
“Well,” said Mrs Rosewood with much conviction, “I do
feel very sorry for poor Mr Wythert. He was quite fond of
dear Ruth, but naturally we could not spare her in favour of
someone from such a society of people who are too morally
bankrupt to help themselves.”
“Mama!” Ruth snapped.
The conversation stopped dead in its tracks.
Ruth felt the icy chill of regret as she watched her
mother’s eyes grow wider. “Um… um… Mama, something
just popped into my mind. Did you remember to leave nuts
out of tonight’s meal?”
Mrs Rosewood’s expression changed from appalled to
slightly annoyed. “Of course, I remembered, Ruth.” She went
back to fanning herself. “Had you been here, you might have
known that.”
Wonderful. Ruth could only ever get deeper into trouble
with her mother.

79
Mrs Rosewood turned to the rest of them and
explained, “Mr Byron is allergic to nuts.”
The men nodded together politely with an
accompanying “ah” and “oh” and Mrs Rosewood smiled
gracefully, all too pleased with their acknowledgement of her
accommodating nature.
Mr Rosewood then said, “I say! All this commotion with
Adam and his new occupation,” he quickly beamed at his
son, “and I clean forgot about Mr Byron coming for dinner
tonight. Gangfield, old chap, you absolutely must join us! I
hope you don’t think we would exclude you on Mr Byron’s
account.”
Gangfield’s face instantaneously contorted into a smirk.
Ruth was mortified. She glared at her friend as if she
were warding off evil spirits. All she could think about was
the myriad of ways in which Gangfield’s presence could ruin
her very last chance to grab a husband. The stage magician
was a loose cannon at the best of times—he always found a
way to make her laugh at her suitors. This would normally be
all fine and well, but Ruth could not afford to laugh anymore.

80
The joke was finally over and Gangfield didn’t seem to
understand that yet.
After thinking it over, Mrs Rosewood exclaimed,
“Actually, that is a splendid idea, Mr Rosewood! It would
certainly make Mr Byron feel more comfortable if he weren’t
the only young man at the table.” She addressed Gangfield,
but not without giggling. “Honestly, we do not want Mr
Byron to feel interrogated!”
Gangfield nodded. “Only if it is all right with Miss Ruth. I
should hate for her to regard me as imposing upon her
romantic pursuits.”
Everybody looked at her in expectation, except for
Adam who absently stared at the rustling treetops beyond
the veranda.
Ruth swallowed and bared her teeth to feign a pleasant
expression. “Of course, Mr Gangfield, you must come,” she
screeched, shaking her head profusely. “That is, if you do not
have something else to do tonight. Surely, a man like you
must be very busy.” She kept shaking her head, albeit more
subtly after a while.

81
Everyone except Adam then turned to Gangfield, who
was visibly calculating some outcome in his mind. After a few
seconds, he replied with much alacrity, “I am never too busy
for you, Miss Ruth! I accept your invitation.”
Mr and Mrs Rosewood expressed their joy at having an
extra guest that night, which beckoned Adam to snap out of
his daze and lazily ask what they were so happy about.
Meanwhile, Ruth’s mouth hung open. Impertinent, she
may have been, but Gangfield was downright ridiculous. No
doubt his only motivation was to witness another of Ruth’s
encounters with the opposite sex to add ammunition to his
teasing repertoire.
Feeling that familiar panic come back to bite her, Ruth
abruptly excused herself.
Mrs Rosewood excused herself as well and followed
Ruth inside the house. “Ruth, wait.”
Ruth paused, turned and said, “Mama, I am sorry I snuck
out this morning, all right? I could not watch Adam leave
without me to look out for him. I just could not do it.”
“I know. Now stop interrupting me so I can speak.” Mrs
Rosewood closed the door behind her.

82
Ruth let her shoulders drop, mentally fortifying herself
for the scolding she had done so well to avoid all afternoon.
“Ruth—did you see him?”
“Who?” Ruth asked, a little taken aback by her mother’s
calm tone.
“Who else? Did you see Theodore Wythert?”
Ruth nodded, but said nothing and made no eye
contact.
Mrs Rosewood’s voice grew even softer. “If I knew he
would be there, I’d have made dead sure to keep you at
home.”
“And I would not have wanted to go.”
“I hope you put him in his place,” Mrs Rosewood sighed
sympathetically.
Ruth smiled, her eyes still on the floor. “In a way.”
“And I hope he had no effect on you.”
“I… I shall never see him again if I can help it.”
“Good. The last thing you need is to get caught up in the
past.” Mrs Rosewood collected herself and spoke with more
confidence. She walked up to Ruth and brushed her
daughter’s fringe aside. “Now we must fix our sights on

83
tonight! Do not look so vexed. I shall be there at every tick to
back you up.”
Ruth looked up, a mixture of pain and excitement
wrenching her face.
Mrs Rosewood smiled and gently shook Ruth to liven
her up. “Come, let us catch you a man! I want to have to
leave this house to see you. God knows we have scant hope
for Adam.”
Ruth sighed. “He will be fine.”
“Yes, with a sister like you looking over his shoulder.”
She kissed her daughter on the forehead. “I swear my brain
shall rot when you take off. You keep me on my feet, Miss
Ruth!”
“You keep me on mine, Mama.”
Mrs Rosewood, satisfied that Ruth’s spirits were in a
good state, then headed back outside.
Ruth chose not to follow, instead heading upstairs and
into her bedroom. Checking up and down the hall to make
sure there were no servants around, she quickly shut her
door.

84
She stood for some time in front of her closet mirror and
tried to practice for her upcoming meeting with Mr Byron.
She mentally replaced her reflection with that of a 40-
year-old bachelor with waxed whiskers and waistcoat
buttons clinging on for dear life.
Holding out her hand, she greeted her imaginary visitor.
“Ah, Mr Byron! Good to meet you—ugh, no! Stop blurting
everything out, Ruth!
“Stop—” she sighed, “—stop being impertinent.”
She took a deep breath and tried again, this time with
the warmest smile she could conjure up. “Good evening, Mr
Byron. What an enormous pleasure it is to finally meet you.”
She dusted her hands off. “Ah, much better.”
Then came the matter of refining her posture. It started
out well as she turned from side to side, pulling her shoulders
far back, but she soon got distracted by a wiry hair above her
left temple. She licked her fingers and pulled at it to
straighten it, but it curled even tighter against her forehead.
This beckoned her to move in closer to the mirror. She
checked the usual things one by one. Her skin was clear, her
teeth were clean, and she ran her finger over her one

85
eyebrow to make sure all the hairs went in the same
direction.
She then looked her reflection in the eyes and was
immediately reminded of what she and Gangfield had in
common—their childish sense of humour.
“Oh, I’m not married,” she mimicked Theodore in a deep
voice, laughing at how poor her Irish accent was. She covered
her eyebrows with her thumbs to mimic his striking frown.
“Nope, nope, far too busy makin’ chairs to find me an
‘unkempt‘ wife!”
It’s always so much easier to laugh at something
embarrassing when you’re on your own, she thought
wistfully.
Memories of Theodore flooded her head and she
wished with everything in her that she actually had a good
look at him, since it appeared at a glance he had changed
quite a bit since they last parted.
Then again, given enough time in his presence, she
might have ended up kicking him in the shin—would have
served him right for all his foolishness.

86
Before long, she gave up on preening herself and paced
up and down in her room, eventually carrying one of her
pillows along so she could bury her face in it whenever the
embarrassment was too much for her to take.
And so she spent the rest of her afternoon.

87
Chapter 4

Evening came and it was time to get ready for dinner. Ruth
once again sat at her mirror, only partially dressed but
determined to straighten out the chaos that was her hair.
“Millie!” she cried as she pulled at her fringe. “Millie, do
hand me the scissors. Here is a wild strand—right here—that
needs my immediate attention. It simply will not stay put and
I am going to go mad!”
Millie approached her and quietly reminded her, “Miss
Ruth, the cut strands will grow back and will bother you all
the same again in a few weeks.”
“But it keeps tangling in my eyelashes. No, I need the
scissors.”
88
“I will gladly cut it for you myself, Miss Ruth, but please
let me try to fix it my way first.”
Ruth agreed, groaning in frustration. “It will do no good,
you shall see. I have tried everything.”
Millie took a fine-toothed, silver comb from the dresser
and carefully combed through Ruth’s fringe until the wild
strand was in place.
Ruth looked in the mirror in disbelief. “I can see!” she
cried. “Millie, you work miracles, you do!” She shook her
head a few times to make sure the strand would not escape
and she was delighted when it did not. But then she noticed
that the bow on her dressing gown was skew. She tried to
straighten it, but it kept slouching back into its sad state.
“Millie, we might need the scissors after all.”
Millie was mortified. “Miss Ruth, please! You cannot cut
your—” She sighed. “You’ll be late. We must get you ready,
Miss.”
“Quite right! I can deal with this later.” She raised an
eyebrow at the tiny silk bow, then hopped up.
Millie started lacing up Ruth’s corset. She was a mousy
girl of about Ruth’s age, and she had very small but strong

89
hands—strong enough to rein a corset so tightly, Ruth felt
her ribcage shrink a size a day.
However, breathing problems were the last thing on
Ruth’s mind at that moment.
“Perhaps this Mr Byron fellow will be the one,” said
Millie.
Ruth rolled her eyes. “Or he will be an embittered older
man with nothing more on his mind than my dowry. And
then he will run for the hills after spending five minutes with
me—just like they all do.” She let out a heave as Millie pulled
the corset even tighter. “Why do you think that is?”
“Why do I think what, Miss?” Millie said reverently as
she tied the corset off.
“Why does every man who calls on me eventually
disappear?”
The maid wrung her tiny hands, genuinely startling Ruth
with the sound of her crackling knuckles. “I cannot say, Miss.”
“I mean, I think I am pleasant enough. I must be doing
something wrong, but I cannot glean what it is.”
There were a few seconds of silence as Millie probably
struggled to find something appropriate to say. “Have you

90
spoken to Mrs Rosewood about this, Miss? She might have
some advice for you.”
Ruth was a little disappointed at Millie’s response, but
she was quick to admit that the thought had crossed her
mind, adding, “Oh, but Mama worries enough, what with
Adam and everything. I would much rather have her think
nothing of all of this.” She ran her hands across her squeezed
waist as though it would help her draw in deeper breaths.
Mille held up a big bustle. “She is your mother, Miss
Ruth. She knows.”
Neither Ruth nor Millie said another word in
conversation as Ruth got dressed, but she could tell Millie
was clearly unhappy about something.
When Ruth was in her frock and seated back at her table
to pick out jewellery, she took a moment to check up on her
new maid, in case she had said something to alienate the
poor girl. “Millie, are you all right? You have become deathly
quiet all of a sudden. Golly! I didn’t say something
impertinent again, did I?”
“Oh! Not at all, Miss. I only—” Mille stopped herself.

91
“What?” Ruth beckoned with a smile. “What is it, Millie?
Tell me.”
Millie shook her head. “I don’t want to upset Miss Ruth
before Mr Byron comes.”
“I’m already upset,” replied she with a sigh, but still
smiling. “You can tell me.”
“Well,” Mille began, “It’s just I heard that Master Adam
is… Well, I heard you saw Mr Theodore Wythert today.”
Ruth laughed hopelessly. “Do you wish to mock me as
well?”
“Not at all, Miss.”
Ruth stayed quiet and played with her necklace, her
heart beating a little faster at the mention of Theodore’s
name.
“I shouldn’t have said anything. Forgive me, Miss.”
“No, Millie, it is fine. I simply did not expect Mr Wythert
to still be a talking point downstairs. You have not been here
a month and even you know about him.” Ruth smiled
knowingly. “So! What have the others told you?”

92
“Not much,” said Millie. A slightly dreamy smile
appeared on her face. “Just that you were very fond of Mr
Wythert.”
“I was.” Ruth surprised herself with how whimsical that
sounded.
“I’m sorry if I’m speaking out of turn, Miss,” Millie
began, looking a bit nervous. “I’ve just wondered, and it
never came up, so… Just, if you were so fond of him, why did
you end things with him?”
Ruth let out a weak laugh. “What makes you think I was
the one who ended it?”
“You mean he ended it?”
“You’re surprised.”
“Shocked, Miss.”
Ruth got up. “Good. That means I walked away with at
least some dignity. All right, how do I look?”
Millie nodded. “Very nice indeed, Miss.”
“Thank you.” She started heading out, but stopped just
as she reached the door. “Millie—I would appreciate it if we
never spoke of this again. I do not like discussing Mr
Wythert.”

93
“Yes, Miss.”

The family plus Gangfield awaited Mr Byron’s arrival in the


entrance hall. Whilst each was dressed in their best, Ruth
wore, despite the occasion and to the resentment of her
mother, her favourite purple and white frock with her most
comfortable shoes. She figured if she were to be presented
to yet another old man, she’d at least want to be able run
away if it came to it.
When the carriage could be heard approaching in the
distance, Mrs Rosewood sprang into action. She checked
each family member’s appearance and adjusted everything
to her liking that she had adjusted otherwise just minutes
before. She even accidentally started preening Gangfield,
who humbly received her corrections after she apologised
profusely. Adam smiled in vindication.
The carriage stopped right down the pathway and the
family exited their home to receive Mr Byron.

94
On their way out, Gangfield quickly took the opportunity
to tease his friend. “Fear not, my dear Miss Ruth,” said he,
“for old men sometimes retain their handsomeness in their
bone structure.”
“If I do not take an old man now, then I will surely have
to persuade an even older man to likewise rely on my bone
structure.”
Gangfield grinned widely. “I apologise beforehand that I
will certainly enjoy this evening at your expense.”
Ruth glared at him and, seeing the sparkle in his eyes,
found herself both charmed and infuriated by him. “As long
as you behave yourself, Gangfield, you can enjoy it as much
as you like.”
“Behave myself? When do I ever fail to behave myself?”
Ruth wanted to threaten her friend once more, but they
had already reached the end of the path.
Everyone froze as the carriage door squeaked open.
A thick leg in a light grey trouser stepped out of the
comparatively small carriage and supported the weight of a
burly, square man who only appeared larger the more he
emerged.

95
Finally, Mr Byron stood upright and bore witness to the
tiny family of Rosewoods looking up at him in awe. Even
Adam’s drooping eyes grew wide.
The large Mr Byron was almost as wide as he was tall.
He was a little chubby, to be sure, but it was easy to tell that
his size was mostly attributed to muscle mass. His clothes
were tight, but not ill-fitting. He had wavy, grey-blonde hair
and pale brown eyes. His strong, square jaw matched his
sturdy build.
Ruth had to admit—Mr Byron was somewhat
handsome. Although she personally would have preferred his
size to be less imposing, he was by far the best-looking, most
clean-cut man to have ever called at the Ridge.
And, best of all, he appeared to be on the good side of
thirty!
Mrs Rosewood flashed her daughter a look of pure
victory. Ruth couldn’t help but return her mother’s gesture
with a hopeful smile.
Ruth happened to catch a glimpse of Gangfield, whose
nose was firmly in the air, his grin having completely
vanished.

96
“Mr Byron!” cried Mr Rosewood. “How good it is of you
to come!”
Mr Byron’s round cheeks formed deep dimples as he
revealed a row of perfect teeth. “Mr Rosewood, what a
lovely home you have!”
The bass in his deep voice momentarily drowned out all
surrounding sounds as he spoke. The big man definitely made
beautiful sounds!
Ruth stood in nervous anticipation as Mr Rosewood
introduced the family one by one. She clenched her fists and
tensed her jaw, repeating her practised greeting in her mind.
Good evening, Mr Byron. What an enormous pleasure it
is to finally meet you! Good evening. Enormous pleasure.
Don’t forget the good evening part. Good evening. Good
evening…
Ruth watched Mr Rosewood introduce Mr Byron to
Gangfield. Gangfield glanced at Ruth, then said to Mr Byron
quite loudly, “Good evening, Mr Byron. What an enormous
pleasure it is to finally meet you.” His eyes spitefully darted
towards Ruth.

97
Ruth couldn’t believe her ears—Gangfield had stolen
her one good line!
She didn’t have time to figure out how he could possibly
have known what she was about to say, as her turn to meet
Mr Byron followed directly.
Mr Byron stood in front of her, his open and pleasant
face towering above her. Ruth uncomfortably bent her head
far upwards to face him.
“And this is my daughter, Ruth,” Mr Rosewood finished.
“How do you do, Miss Rosewood,” said Mr Byron with
his drumming voice.
Ruth’s mind raced, completely thrown off balance. She
took a few breaths and hastily replied, “Ah, yes, golly! I’m
Ruth!” She then stuck out her hand so fast, Mr Byron actually
flinched, probably in fear of her hitting his crotch.
Mr Byron admirably took this quite well, unassumingly
shaking her hand and then following Mr Rosewood down the
path to the house.
Ruth stood in complete and utter shame, covering her
face as soon as Mr Byron was far away enough down the
path not to notice.

98
Mrs Rosewood was instantly on Ruth’s case. “What in
the world has gotten into you?” she whispered angrily. “Pull
yourself together right now!” Her mother then hurried after
Mr Rosewood and Mr Byron to continue with the
pleasantries inside.
Ruth stood still, trying to regain her composure.
Gangfield deliberately walked past her before following
everyone else inside. “Come now, my dear. You cannot tell
me to behave and then dawdle like this.”
Her temper got the better of her as she plucked
Gangfield by his arm. “You snake! You were eavesdropping
on me! In my room!”
He calmly smoothed out his sleeve. “What do you take
me for? I would never do such an utterly reprehensible
thing!”
“Then how? How did you know what I was going to
say?”
“I have a friend who is very good at hiding in small
corners.”
“Gangfield, I swear if I find out that you—”

99
“My dear, you are overreacting. I was simply reminding
you that you must think on your feet.” He took a deep
breath, stuck his chest out and then walked on.
Ruth didn’t pay him any more attention—she couldn’t
afford to. All her attention had to be on Mr Byron. She
planned to be wholly charming, to bat her eyelids and to
flatter the man until his shoes flew off, socks and all.
This was her last chance. She was not about to let him
get away disenchanted.
At the dinner table, Mrs Rosewood took the initiative
when she realised her husband would not. “Mr Byron,” she
said politely, “I understand you are a lawyer?”
“Yes, madam,” he replied in a smooth, dulcet tone.
Ruth, very eager to hear him speak some more, asked,
“And what area of the law do you specialise in, Mr Byron?”
She momentarily scolded herself for sounding as flat as a
scullery maid. Who could compete with Mr Byron’s soothing
vocal chords?
“Deceased estates—same as my father.”

100
“Oh, yes, Archibald Byron!” cried Mr Rosewood with a
hearty laugh. “What a capital chap! Do send my regards
when next you see him.”
Mr Byron nodded, and Mr Rosewood quickly kept going,
“Yes, yes! Archibald and I had so many rousing romps
together. Has he ever told you about the time we—”
Mr Rosewood then saw the look on his wife’s face,
which was so tensed, it was impossible to misunderstand. He
cleared his throat and kept on eating.
Mrs Rosewood continued, “The trip from London must
have been tiring. I hope you are well recovered and enjoying
Harbiford’s humble society.”
“I thank you, Madam, I am.”
“Harbiford,” said Ruth as pleasantly as she could, testing
a more breathy tone, “must be so quiet compared to the
commotion of London.”
“It is, but I greatly appreciate it,” Mr Byron replied. “I
quite dislike commotion.”
“Oh! So do I!” Ruth lied, her voice climbing in pitch
despite her attempts to keep it steady. “When things go, as
they say, without a hitch, I am most comfortable indeed.”

101
Mr Byron smiled his perfect smile and Ruth felt her
stomach flutter—the big man appeared so very plain until he
smiled.
“That is not to say I mind a busy town!” she quickly
chirped, grasping onto the table. “I find my quiet time
wherever I am. I have always quite fancied that a change in
scenery would improve my mood indefinitely. I am quite sure
I would be very happily situated in a place such as, oh, I don’t
know—London, I suppose is the best example.” She then
laughed coquettishly, twirling her fork with its impaled
potato.
Mr Byron shook his head. “Then you are very fortunate.
The noise is starting to unsettle me. I have long planned to
move to the country. I hope to realise my plans next
summer.”
“Oh, yes, do! I know I would never be able to live
anywhere but the country—in the long term, I mean. I am so
used to it, and I very dearly love it.” Ruth started to feel the
exhaustion of flirting already. How did other women keep it
up? It was no wonder she didn’t have a husband yet.

102
No doubt her sudden personality change was cause for
surprise. Her mother beamed with pride, and amongst her
father and brother was a mixture of amazement and
amusement.
Gangfield, however, silently studied Ruth and Mr Byron
and appeared completely unimpressed with whatever he was
uncovering. His left eyebrow steadily climbed ever higher on
his forehead and he barely touched his food.
The rest of the meal passed by without any apparent
embarrassments. Adam did briefly chirp in about his job at
the Wytherts’ workshop, but he was promptly silenced by
Mrs Rosewood.
Afterwards, they all retired to the drawing room, where
Mrs Rosewood did her utmost to isolate Ruth and Mr Byron
so the two could have some semblance of privacy. She
secretly ordered the others to keep away as much as they
could.
Mr Rosewood obeyed his wife, despite his strong desire
to hear of his friend, Archibald, and it was quite easy to
simply tell Adam where to sit—he was exceptionally good at
sitting.

103
Gangfield, however, proved far more problematic. He
paced around the room like a panther in a cage.
Ruth sat with Mr Byron on one of the couches to the
right side of the fireplace, whilst the rest of the family were
confined to the couches on the left. Ruth felt a little out of
sorts, having practised her standing posture, but not her
sitting posture. She shifted about aimlessly whenever Mr
Byron looked the other way.
“Mr Byron,” she started, visibly uneasy but doing her
best to conceal it. “Do you enjoy reading much?”
“No, I fear I do not read at all.”
Much to Ruth’s dismay, this was when Gangfield
decided to get involved in the conversation. “A lawyer who
does not read? Surely your clients must be livid.”
Ruth wrung her fingers together and gave Gangfield a
dirty look.
Mr Byron was quite amused by this. “Yes, they must be
turning in their graves at the fact I would rather distribute
their assets than to stay updated with romance novels.”
Gangfield indignantly mumbled something inaudible and
strolled back towards the others.

104
Mr Byron then turned to Ruth. “No offence to you, Miss
Rosewood, of course, if you enjoy reading romance novels. It
is just I do not have the time to read anything but law
books.”
Ruth was unsure of what to say. On the one hand, if she
said she did read romance novels—which of course she
gladly did from time to time—she might have implied she
was overly romantic and scared him right away. On the other
hand, if she came across as completely stoic, that would not
have cultivated any tender feelings in the man.
Instead, she brushed it off and changed the subject. “I
understand you are here on business, Mr Byron.”
“Yes, I am sorting out a will of a client who hails from
here, although it is taking a tad longer than I had hoped…”
For the first time she noticed a certain nervousness in
Mr Byron’s countenance, so she tried yet another subject.
“May I ask where you are staying?”
“With Mr Simmons and his family.”
Mr Rosewood could keep quiet no longer. “Ah, yes! Mr
Simmons! Delightful chap, he is! Their daughter came back

105
from her first season out this past January. Did she not, Mrs
Rosewood?”
Strangely enough, Adam was suddenly interested and
looked towards Mrs Rosewood as well.
Mrs Rosewood shuddered, but she did all right with
hiding her distress. “Oh, you know I do not pay attention to
such news, Mr Rosewood,” she insisted, laughing it off.
Ruth was grateful Gangfield did not interject on this
matter—on his own.
Mr Rosewood’s oblivious curiosity prompted him to turn
around ask the magician about it. “Say, Gangfield! Surely you
would know of Miss Simmons?”
Gangfield stood by the window, a sort of grimace
creeping onto his face.
Mr Byron was quick to respond. “Oh, you know the
Simmonses, Mr Gangfield?”
After a quick little sigh, Gangfield replied, “I take up
lodgings with Mrs Smith—Miss Simmons’s grandmother.”
Ruth almost did not recognise Gangfield by his curt
behaviour. He was usually curious about new acquaintances,

106
chatting to them unreservedly to gauge their character and
temperament.
“It is strange, then, that our paths have not crossed
before now,” said Mr Byron kindly. “I dined with Mrs Smith
not two nights ago.”
“I dine here every other night.”
And that ended the conversation. Gangfield made it very
clear from his tone that he was in no mood for small talk.
Gangfield’s eyes darted towards Adam and he
approached the boy, bent over, and whispered something to
him.
Ruth tried to ignore him, returning to her conversation
with Mr Byron by saying, “It is quite amusing, actually. Mrs
Smith refers to Mr Gangfield as Mr Gardiner, you see.”
“Oh, yes, now Mr Gardiner!” said Mr Byron, a grin
appearing on his face. “She could not stay silent about Mr
Gardiner for a second.”
“Yes, Mr Gangfield has been very good to—”
“What? Really?” Adam exclaimed, reacting energetically
to something Gangfield had told him. Adam turned to Mr

107
Byron and leaned forward, his blue eyes sparkling with
excitement. “Mr Byron! Have you ever seen a corpse?”
While everyone else was silent with complete shock, Mr
Byron hesitated for but a moment before replying with a
smile, “Ah, no, I admit I have not.”
Adam did not waver. “But you work with dead people.”
Gangfield stood upright, grinning from ear to ear. “Mr
Byron works with dead people’s money, Adam—a slightly
less tasteful pursuit.”
“So you go to dead people’s homes, then, Mr Byron?”
Adam quickly asked.
Mr Byron nodded. “Yes, sometimes.”
“Have you ever seen a ghost?”
“All right, Adam, that is enough!” Ruth interjected, just
in time to prevent her mother from doing the same.
Mr Rosewood was highly amused. “You must forgive
Adam, Mr Byron. He has a peculiar interest in the macabre.”
“I hope to see a ghost at the Valiard Mansion
tomorrow,” Adam added as though it were the turn the
conversation had actually taken. “Maybe meet the ghost of
Joshua Valiard himself!”

108
“Well, then, you must make sure he would want to meet
you,” Gangfield joked. “Perhaps you must take him a gift. The
dead seem to appreciate validly executed wills, for one. Do
you think you can whip one up for us before tomorrow, Mr
Byron?”
Mr Byron did not take Gangfield’s remark as a jab at all.
He happily proclaimed, “Mr Gangfield, you definitely are
exactly as I imagined you would be!”
Gangfield looked a little affronted. “Do you know me,
sir?”
“Of course, I know you! You are Chester Gangfield, are
you not? From the Amazing Gangfield and Dennis magic act. I
saw you in London a few years ago and I never could forget
it!”
This made Gangfield appear pleasant for the first time
that evening. He puffed up a bit with pride. “Yes, yes…”
“You two are just brilliant! I cannot imagine how you
trained your rat to do all of those tricks.”
This prompted Gangfield to sit down on the couch with
Ruth and Mr Byron, right next to Ruth to ensure she was
uncomfortably squeezed between the two men.

109
“I did not teach Dennis a thing,” Gangfield explained.
“Except the arithmetic. That is something we must practise
every day.”
“Oh, yes, where you put the marbles on the table and
Dennis has to ring the bell to say how many there are!”
“Yes, exactly! We have lately been working on a trick
where I write a sum on a blackboard and he must provide the
answer using the bell.”
“No! Really? That is brilliant. Simply brilliant!”
The two of them were very much engrossed. Gangfield
had found in Mr Byron the perfect admirer who was very
ready to flatter him and pander to his already
insurmountable vanity.
There was no getting a word in edgewise.
Just then, something caught Ruth’s eye. There, right out
of Gangfield’s coat, his little grey rat scurried onto the couch.
Ruth froze, but she didn’t take her eyes off of the critter.
The little rat stopped for a second, looking up at its
master with beady, black eyes, and then proceeded to climb
down the leg of the couch and run into the hallway behind
them.

110
Ruth decided to keep her pose. She quickly looked
around to see if anyone else noticed the rat was out and
about.
Everyone carried on normally.
Gangfield and Mr Byron still fervently discussed how
wonderful Gangfield’s magic tricks were when Ruth chirped,
“Mr Byron! Would you like to meet Dennis? Mr Gangfield
takes him along wherever he goes.”
“That so? Yes, I would love to, please, Mr Gangfield.”
Gangfield was clearly caught off guard. He stared wide-
eyed at Ruth. “Ah, Miss Ruth, I… Well, if you insist.”
Ruth smiled sweetly at Mr Byron. “Little Dennis surely is
the most charming rodent you shall ever meet.” She turned
to Gangfield. “Come on, now. Hurry up.”
Gangfield nodded. “Very well.” He propped himself
upright, placing his hands on his knees ceremoniously.
“Dennis!”
Nothing.
“Dennis, could you come out, please?”
Ruth contently looked on, the tickle of revenge putting a
knowing smile on her face.

111
“Dennis?” Gangfield patted his coat as if it were on fire.
“Dennis? Dennis!” He took a moment to return to his
ceremonious posture, then remarked quietly and steadily,
“Forgive me. I seemed to have misplaced my rat.”
Ruth feigned concern, struggling to contain her laughter.
She started whispering, just loud enough for Mr Byron to
hear her as well. “He could not have gotten far. You must go
find him directly. My mother will not appreciate the fact that
there is a rat loose in the house. Pray, do your utmost not to
alarm her—or the servants, golly!”
Gangfield forced a brief smile. “I would not dream of
alarming anybody. If you will excuse me.” He then slowly got
up and paced around the room again, his eyes secretly set on
the ground.
Ruth turned back to Mr Byron, her spirits renewed and
her smile more genuine than it had ever been that night. “We
are fortunate little Dennis does not venture out more often.
Else I doubt Mr Gangfield would ever be allowed inside the
house!”
“Surely, even a rat should be allowed to take a turn,”
said Mr Byron, although Ruth was unsure if he was joking.

112
She giggled anyway. “I would imagine that a rat that
travels in a magician’s pockets must see its fair share of sights
and sounds. Gangfield takes a great many short trips to all
sorts of places. He has just returned from—”
Ruth’s voice trailed off as she noticed that Gangfield, his
head firmly locked in looking down, strolled his way out of
the drawing room and into the hallway.
“Miss Rosewood?” asked Mr Byron.
Ruth’s attention was plucked back to Mr Byron. “Oh,
golly, I do beg your pardon, Mr Byron. What was I saying?”
“You were telling me that Gangfield travels to all sorts of
places.”
“Oh, yes. He has just returned from Italy some two
weeks ago…” Her attention drifted off to the hallway again.
She heard… whispering? Could it be?
She shook her head and briefly apologised, “Mr Byron,
please, will you excuse me for one moment?” She then got
up and walked past the couch and into the hallway.
The passage was unusually wide. To avoid having it look
completely desolate, Mrs Rosewood had lined it with as
many decorative objects as she could: cabinets chocked full

113
of gaudy trinkets, flower pots with plants that pricked you as
you passed by, a grandfather clock, two classical-style
statuettes of barely-dressed women, and three end tables.
It was at one of these end tables that Ruth spotted
Gangfield on his knees and elbows, his head ducked under
the royal blue tablecloth and his bottom perked up in the air.
She heard fervent whispering from under the table.
No doubt Gangfield had found his pet.
Normally, Ruth would have laughed at such a sight, but
it was hard for her to find anything funny when she had an
uncontrollable compulsion to strangle someone.
She clenched her fists and spoke in a way that sounded
like yelling without the excessive volume. “What on earth do
you think you are doing?”
“I am coaxing my rat out from under the table,”
Gangfield bellowed, not budging from his compromised
position.
He then continued whispering loudly under the table,
this time with a Scottish trill.
Ruth thought Gangfield’s fake accent was a bit too
much—she was a little unsure about whether he was

114
mocking her—but if he intended to insult her, he certainly
succeeded.
“Quit playing the fool!” she scolded, whispering a little
herself. “You know very well that you are ruining my chances
with my future husband!”
Gangfield popped his head out from under the
tablecloth, its tiny, bronze tassels still clinging to his hair.
“Future husband?” he sneered. “Future husband?”
“Yes. And what is wrong with that? Do you not like
him?”
“Oh, I quite like him. He is a good sort.”
Ruth sighed, a little relieved. “Oh, Gangfield! I did not
want to say this before, but it really does mean a great deal
that you approve of him.”
“I said I like him.” Gangfield lunged onto his haunches
with a groan and dusted his hands off. “I did not say I
approve of him. Not for you.”
“You do not even know him.”
“Of course I know him! Byron is a mediocre man with an
average life expectancy and an above-average income. He
shall never strive for anything more and he will gladly settle

115
for less if it means he can still watch his life pass by with
minimal discomfort.”
Although Ruth was intrigued by exactly how Gangfield
came to this conclusion, she chose the high road instead and
defended the soon-to-be love of her life. “Even if that is true
of Mr Byron specifically,” she lowered her voice even more in
case she might be overheard, “plenty of people settle and
they even find happiness in it.”
“I completely agree! But you, my dear, are not one of
those people.”
The little rat slowly dug through the blue drapery and
peered at Ruth, as if it anxiously awaited her reply. Gangfield
gave her a similar stare.
Convinced that the ball was officially in her court, Ruth
responded sincerely and with an assertiveness that surprised
even her. She took a deep breath. “Forgive me, Gangfield, if
this sounds unbecoming, but—I do not give a rat’s back-end
at this very moment.” She glanced at the tiny animal
apologetically and then went on, “Settling for life-long
security sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Right now I—
me, Ruth, right here—I have nothing. But sitting in that

116
drawing room is more than nothing. So! If you please, Mister
Gangfield, I would honestly appreciate it if you stopped your
self-righteous quest to save me from the clutches of
mediocrity, and started living in the real world.”
Ruth hoped her little speech would convince Gangfield
to change his opinion, but it only made the magician more
vigorously eloquent expressing his own point of view.
“He is not right for you! Watching you with Byron is like
watching a monkey dance for coins! He evokes absolutely no
emotional response in you, my dear.”
She immediately jumped to her own defence. “Did you
just compare me to a monkey?”
Gangfield sighed, a twinkle in his eye. “You do not look
at him in the same way you look at the Chairmaker.”
“No, I should think not,” she snapped, “as I am not
furious with Mr Byron. Besides, my disdain for the
‘Chairmaker’ has nothing to do with any of this!”
“Yes, indeed—completely unrelated! After all, anger and
passion are so very far apart on the emotional spectrum.”
The rat rightly fled back under the table.

117
“You go too far, Gangfield,” Ruth replied hastily. “Some
of your little intrusions I allow, but tonight you go too far.”
Gangfield took the tablecloth in his hand and lifted it up
again. “Marry Byron, then. Learn just how… transcendent a
passionless marriage can be.” He tucked his head back under
the table, his other hand once more reaching in to coax the
rat back toward him.
His tone infuriated Ruth. How dare he act so high and
mighty! He knew nothing of Mr Byron or of Theodore. He
knew nothing of marriage, either. He was but a peculiar little
bachelor with a filthy rat as his only companion.
She had weathered enough of Gangfield’s arrogant
antics. She planted one foot in front of the other and dove
down to her knees next to him, nearly knocking him over.
The trinkets on the table clinked as she violently plucked the
blue tablecloth over her head.
Her friend raised his eyebrows, hopefully in surprise, but
probably in amusement.
“Dennis!” Ruth agitatedly addressed the rat. “Tell your
master for me that he is an unpleasant, imposing animal who
needs to learn some manners.”

118
The little rat curled up against the wall and froze with
only his pink nose quivering left and right.
“What are you doing?” Gangfield chuckled.
“You keep insisting you can speak to your rat, so I’m
hoping he understands English—as you most obviously do
not.”
Dennis’s perceptive master played along. “Dennis,
please inform Miss Ruth that her childish tactic of using you
as a device to mitigate her own rudeness has magnificently
failed.” He paused, looked behind him, and returned to the
conference under the table. “And also that her shoes are
scuffed to high Heaven.”
Ruth whipped her head to face him, throwing herself off
balance for a moment as her one hand still held the
tablecloth up. “These are my comfortable shoes!”
“Your favourites, no doubt.”
“And what if they are?”
Despite the lack of light under the table, Ruth could
clearly see Gangfield’s brown eyes turn a richer hue. Instead
of making a witty reply, as he always strove to do, he quietly

119
studied Ruth’s face, the left corner of his mouth curling even
higher.
Ruth decided to stand her ground. If this staring contest
were another tactic of his to annoy her, it certainly wasn’t a
very good one.
His eyes narrowing, he was visibly deep in thought.
Ruth, unsure of what to do, checked in on the rat,
whose beady eyes also appeared to question Gangfield’s
sudden silence.
But God knows silence never lasts long when Chester
Gangfield is present.
Gangfield took a breath to speak, briefly hesitated, and
then asked with conviction, “What ever happened between
you and Theodore Wythert?” His face contorted into a
mischievous, slanted grin.
Ruth instantly saw red, her heartbeat quickening with
indignation. She was about to yell at him again, but a sweet
and low voice interrupted their interactions.
“Miss Rosewood? Mr Gangfield? Is there anything I can
do to be of assistance?”

120
Caught off guard, Ruth lost her balance and wrestled
with the heavy tablecloth, the likes of which never seemed to
end. She eventually won her lengthy struggle and escaped
from under the table. “Mr Byron!” she cried with a dopey
grin, her eyes squinting from the sudden exposure to the
comparatively bright gas lights in the hallway. She clambered
onto her feet faster than Mr Byron could offer her his hand.
“I was—” She cleared her throat and continued with her best
impression of what she thought a graceful debutant would
sound like. “I was simply helping Mr Gangfield to coax his rat
from under the table.” She nervously adjusted her hair,
feeling how frizzed and undone it had become.
Gangfield nonchalantly popped up from the floor with
his hair in perfect condition and his vermin pet perched
comfortably on his shoulder.
Ruth fought the urge to jealously sneer at her friend,
and instead managed to gesture towards him as graciously as
she could. “Ah, there we go. Naughty little Dennis, making us
worry like that.” She then forced a—well, one might call it a
giggle, for lack of a better term.

121
Gangfield remained ever at ease. “Pardon our apparent
rudeness, Mr Byron. I do hope we did not leave you on your
own for too long.”
Mr Byron laughed—Ruth felt a little like he was laughing
at her—and he replied politely, “Please, I cannot imagine
why you are apologising. It cannot be helped! Animals always
tend to get their owners into trouble. Why, my two Spaniels
often find ways to escape through the front door and run
right off.”
“Oh! You have dogs?” Gangfield exclaimed. “Miss Ruth
loves animals!”
“Is that so?” Mr Byron urged excitedly.
A little exasperated from all the lying, but not secure
enough to tell the truth, Ruth chose to brush past the
question. “I, um… Shall we return to the drawing room?” She
took a step forward, but Mr Byron interrupted her.
“Miss Rosewood, I wondered if… if Mr Simmons had
issued your family with an invitation to his ball this
Wednesday.”

122
Ruth was stunned by Mr Byron’s forwardness—or
perhaps she was flustered in general. She struggled to tell the
difference at that point.
Gangfield answered on her behalf, “Yes, they will be
there. As will I.” He narrowed his eyes intimidatingly.
Of course, the boy-faced man-child could not appear
intimidating even when he tried, especially in the presence
of the behemoth that was Byron.
“Good, good,” said Mr Byron, his flawless smile drawing
wider. “That is very good news indeed.”
Ruth nodded as politely as she could. She would have
liked to have initiated some exhilarating conversation about
the Simmonses, or their home, or what wonderful hosts they
were, or how talented their cook was, but she was far too
emotionally drained. The night—and especially that
morning—had taken a lot out of her and she wished she
could simply fling Mr Byron out the back door so she could
proceed to stew in her bed for three days.
What was it about the mere mention of Theodore’s
name that threw her world so off kilter?

123
Well, that and a full stomach always managed to make
her drowsy.
She glided past Mr Byron until she turned the corner
into the drawing room, at which point she lumbered like a
drunkard. She sat back down on the couch with her family
watching on, and picked a thread of the tablecloth’s tassel off
her right sleeve, hoping her mother wouldn’t ask where it
came from.
Gangfield and Mr Byron stayed behind in the hallway for
a few moments. Gangfield was probably saying something to
assert his so-called dominance and Mr Byron was probably
either unaware of it or simply unaffected by it.
The giant had a thick skin, that much could be said
about him.
Mr Byron did not remain at the Rosewood household for
much longer after that. He promptly excused himself,
remorsefully citing an early morning’s work schedule as his
reason for leaving.
The family escorted Mr Byron out the same way they
ushered him in—four Rosewood heads bobbing in a single
file behind him.

124
Mr Byron greeted Ruth last. “Good night, Miss
Rosewood. I am quite happy to have met you.”
Ruth wrote this off as simple politeness. “And I you,” she
replied, failing dismally at containing a hopeless sigh.
“I shall see you at Mr Simmons’s on Wednesday, then?”
“You shall, sir. Good night.”
He turned and got into the carriage, and when the door
closed behind him, Ruth spun around and rushed back inside.
She stood in the entrance hall, a wave of emotions
overcoming her—but still she did not react. She simply stared
at the wall opposite the front door.
The two men came back inside and passed her by
without even acknowledging her existence. Mr Rosewood
gushed to Gangfield about how much Mr Byron was like
“that jolly good chap, Archibald” as they headed back to the
drawing room for a drink and cards.
Adam crept up the foot of the stairs.
Mille closed the front door and was directed to Mrs
Rosewood to bring her a cup of tea.
“That… could have gone worse,” Mrs Rosewood
remarked grimly, a little more to herself than anything else.

125
Ruth let out a weak laugh. “I am not too sure about
that.” She sighed deeply. “He was perfect.”
“Was?” Mrs Rosewood wrapped her arms around Ruth
and hugged her shoulders from behind. “Now is not the time
to give up, Ruth.”
“Ah, Mama, promise me you will tell me when it is.”
Mrs Rosewood laughed and walked around to see her
girl’s face. “It is never time to give up.”
“Do you think I scared him off?”
“Why would you say that?”
Ruth shrugged. “I always scare them off.” She felt the
familiar chug of tears welling up. “I always scare them off…”
“Hey!” Mrs Rosewood snapped, flicking Ruth on her
nose. “Now is not the time to cry, either!”
“Yes, Mama. Yes, yes, yes. You are right!” She shook her
hands to get the blood flowing again.
“Remember—this was just round one!” Mrs Rosewood
started to walk out of the entrance hall, turning around
before going into the drawing room. She grinned and held
onto the wall firmly, adding, “Wednesday’s ball is round two.
And we will kill the competition!”

126
“Who is getting killed?” Adam moaned as he hung over
the staircase bannister.
“You,” scolded Mrs Rosewood, “if you do not stop with
that morbid tripe!”
Adam rolled his eyes and continued making his way up
the stairs as slowly as any human being conceivably could.
“Do not worry, Mama,” said Ruth quietly with a hopeful
smile. “He will go to the Valiard Mansion tomorrow and
either be scared straight or find nothing to admire. Both
results will silence him on matters of the dead forever.”
Mrs Rosewood chuckled. “Or it shall render him far
more interesting!”
“With the way I bored Mr Byron into leaving early, I
should hope tomorrow shall render us all a little more
interesting, Mama.”

127
Chapter 5

It was a little after 8 o’clock. A cold drizzle fell and dark


clouds blocked out the morning sun.
Theodore sat at one of his work benches, hunched over
and deep in thought. He couldn’t sleep a wink the night
before, and after some hours of tossing and turning in bed,
he had made his way to the workshop to keep busy.
The only problem was that business had dried up so
much, he no longer had any work to do. So he just grabbed
some small, left-over blocks of wood and carved away
aimlessly.

128
The longer he worked, the deeper into delirium he
descended. He started off by carving pretty flowers and curly
designs into the wood, but the decorated blocks piled up and
the images grew more bizarre as time went on.
Ruth would not escape his mind. His every thought
traced back to some childhood memory of their time
together.
Theodore had always loved to draw, but part of the joy
he derived from it was the fact that Ruth loved to watch him
draw. Whenever he took out his paper and pencil, seven-
year-old Ruth would scoot over to his side or drag another
chair closer so she could sit and see what he came up with.
Sometimes she would sit across from him, and because she’d
have to watch the picture develop upside-down, every now
and then she would forcibly pluck the paper out from under
his hands to turn it about, look it over, give her approval, and
then give him her permission to continue.
This did not mean Ruth herself was averse to drawing,
as they spent many hours drawing together when they were
younger. Often, she became frustrated with her own lack of
artistic skill and she would end up copying whatever

129
Theodore was drawing—after which Theodore would have to
comfort her because her copies were never as good as his
originals.
As they grew older, Ruth watched him draw less often
with every passing year, in an attempt to give him some
‘artistic gestation space’, as she had coined it. This didn’t
mean Theodore was ever left to draw alone. Ruth would
keep herself busy with a book or help Mrs Wythert in the
kitchen or do some sewing with Emily, and merely check in
every now and again on the progress Theodore was making
on a picture. She also regularly went through his completed
drawings, usually expressing praise, but never afraid to
criticise anything in a drawing that she did not approve of.
Theodore had for the longest time secretly wanted to
ask Ruth if she would return to watching him draw like she
used to, but something about it seemed inappropriate. By
the time he was fifteen, he fancied her so much that being
too close to her had the habit of sending his steady hands
into frenzied trembling, so in hindsight it wouldn’t have been
a productive activity, anyway.

130
The white light from outside silently shone through the
empty workshop and Theodore felt, for the first time in eight
years, just how harrowing it was to work without Ruth there
to constantly involve herself in every little thing he did.
Although he knew it was wrong, a small part of him
wondered if Ruth was also miserable at that moment. He
didn’t wish for her to have lost any sleep as he did, but he
allowed himself to picture her being a little sad whenever she
thought of what they had together when it was good. Surely
there was no harm in wanting her to miss him.
He now sat, lost and silent, engraving a fire-breathing
dragon into his last scrap block, though to amuse himself, he
made the dragon look a bit like Florence.
There was a knock on the front door of the workshop.
Theodore got up, his exhaustion manifesting in a sore back,
and he was about to go to the door, but he stopped and
looked at the embarrassingly silly dragon block in his hand.
Unsure of another way to get rid of the block quickly, he
turned around and flung it across to the other side of the
workshop. It landed with several hollow clunks.
There was another knock, louder than the last.

131
Theodore was working nearby the door, so he reached it
within a few strides. He opened it and saw Adam standing on
the step with his scrawny arms wrapped around himself.
Adam bobbed up and down a bit.
Theodore stepped back and let Adam into the
workshop. Adam shook himself off a bit, not having quite
enough vigour to really make a difference to his soaked
shoulders. He carried a black leather satchel, which he
carefully lifted over his head and set down. After he slowly
peeled his thick, blue coat off his shoulders, the bag was
picked back up immediately. He seemed unusually protective
over it.
“Ready for work, then?” Theodore asked, trying to
sound enthusiastic.
He didn’t get the spirited response he hoped for.
Adam held his coat in his arms and looked around the
shop. He nodded in the direction of one of the work tables.
“You still have a candle burning there.”
Theodore hesitated, wiping his hands on his sleeves.
“Yeah. I’ve been working since dark.”

132
“And the door is still open,” Adam added, draping his
coat over a nearby chair. He picked up a loose, bent nail from
the wooden floor and twirled it around in his hands, pacing
and taking in the workshop interior.
Theodore closed the door, and tried to think of
something to say, but he was too taken aback by how overtly
at ease Adam was. It was as if the little bloke thought he was
still at home.
But the carpenter was not long deterred from taking
initiative. “So, Adam!”
Adam peered at Theodore with half-open eyes.
“What can you do?”
The boy didn’t hesitate. “Probably nothing that could be
of use to you. Say! When are we leaving for the Valiard
Mansion?”
Theodore shook his head, partly out of confusion. “In a
little while. Are you saying you’ve never worked with wood
or other materials?”
“You know,” Adam said, pointing at his new employer
with the bent nail, “I remember you from when I was little.
You were always kind to me—never bullied me.”

133
There was a certain sincerity in Adam’s low voice that
made Theodore dismiss the fact that the boy wasn’t
answering any of his questions. “I remember you, too. You
were terribly quiet all the time. I’m glad to see that’s
changed.”
Adam smiled, albeit weakly. “I only speak when I have
something to say.”
“Right. Grand! Can you start by sayin’ what you can do
for me here, then?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
“Because there is nothing I can do, so there is nothing to
say about it.” Adam returned to twirling the nail and
wandering about the place.
“All right,” said Theodore, folding his arms, “I’ll teach
you, then!”
This prompted Adam to look at Theodore with slightly
widened eyes. “Teach me what?”
“Whatever I need you to do. Like right now I need you to
put that nail down and come with me to the supply room.
Though I think I don’t need to teach you how to walk.”

134
Adam smiled and raised his eyebrows. “Right.”
To Theodore’s surprise, Adam obeyed straight away.
The boy unceremoniously dropped the nail back onto the
floor and looked about in anticipation, probably in an
attempt to locate the supply room on his own.
Supressing his laughter, Theodore took Adam by the
shoulder to lead him through the workshop and into one of
the areas in the back.
The supply room wasn’t a room, per se. That was just
what the family called it. Much like the makeshift drawing
room, it was simply another area cordoned off by the
shoulder-high, wooden partitions in the open building. The
back door in the supply room was perpetually open and it
was the quickest route from the Workshop to the Wythert
household right next door.
The supply room housed all of Theodore’s tools and
smaller materials. He had inherited a great deal of tools from
his father, but, determined to use them only until he could
afford new ones, he slowly saved up and replaced his father’s
tools with his own. Only a few of William’s trinkets now
remained.

135
Leading Adam through the Workshop, Theodore could
hear the clinking of someone digging through one of the
toolboxes. “Adam,” he said as they reached the supply room,
“Meet Salty. He’s like you except he’s a lot better at his job
and he gets paid more.”
Salty’s crooked figure turned from the grey toolbox on
one of the tables and he grunted at Adam. He then returned
to his digging.
Theodore bent over and whispered to Adam, “Don’t
mind him. He’s shy when it comes to strangers.”
“I’m not shy,” Salty growled. “I’m angry.”
Salty was in his early twenties and almost as tall as
Theodore, but much skinnier, and he was determined to
grow out his beard to little avail, as he could only grow
patches of whiskers.
“What’re you lookin’ for?” Theodore asked, quite used
to Salty’s lack of manners.
Standing upright, Salty replied, “Little Lynnie’s been
pesterin’ me to fix up one of her doll houses. Says you told
her to ask me to do it.”
“So?”

136
“Can’t find the li’l hammer.”
“Have you tried the drawers?”
“Of course I tried the drawers! And the cabinets, and
yes—in there, too.”
Theodore was rummaging through the crate on the
floor. “It might have fallen in here and dropped to the
bottom.”
“Look, I already unpacked and repacked that damned
crate last night. It’s not in there, all right? I’ve been tryin’ to
find the blasted tiny hammer since yesterday!”
Theodore rested on his haunches. “Can’t you just use a
normal hammer?”
“It doesn’t bloody fit. One of the li’l floorboards has
gone loose in a space the size of a squirrel’s arse. Can’t fit
nothin’ in there!”
Theodore was worried about the image Salty was
projecting to Adam about the working conditions there, but
Adam had the widest smile on his face.
Little Lynnie ran into the supply room holding a little
piece of pink board. “Salty! Have you found the hammer
yet?”

137
“Little Lynnie!” Theodore interrupted. “Greet Adam.”
“Oh, good morning Adam,” she quickly chimed.
Adam nodded.
Salty sighed deeply, making almost a roaring noise as he
slammed the toolbox shut. “What’s that you’re holdin’?”
“Erm…” Little Lynnie guiltily looked at the delicate pink
board in her hands. “I thought I’d push the floorboard back
in, but I pushed the wrong way… so it came clean off.”
Salty was deathly quiet.
“Is it a crisis, Salty?” the girl asked.
“No,” Salty finally replied, still frustrated but
considerably kinder than before. He knelt down. “Give it ‘ere.
Maybe now we can glue it back.”
Just then the front door of the workshop flung open and
bashed against the wall. “Theodore!” Emily shouted from the
other side of the shop as she entered.
“Emily!” Theodore called back over the partition.
“Look—it’s Adam!”
Emily threw her arm up high and waved. “Mornin’,
Adam! Erm, Theodore, what in God’s name is this?” She held
up the very tiny hammer Salty had been looking for.

138
Salty jumped into a sprint towards the front door to
meet Emily. “Where did you find that? I’ve been looking for it
since yesterday!”
She shrugged and handed it over. “It was in my sewing
basket.”
The slightly plump Mrs Wythert followed through the
doorway. Being the second-shortest family member next to
Little Lynnie, she always had to look up past her spectacles at
everyone. “Oh, Emmie, don’t you remember?” she cried in
her Irish accent. “We nicked that hammer to get my ring out
of the roast chicken.”
Emily instantly burst out laughing. “Wait, what? You lost
your ring in the chicken?”
Mrs Wythert scratched her head, messing up her frizzy
chestnut bun even more. “Yes! Just the other day. You were
there, weren’t you?”
Little Lynnie climbed onto one of the working benches
and popped her button nose over the supply room partition.
“No, Mam! That was me!”
Her sister was still folded over in laughter. “You… lost
your ring… in the chicken!”

139
Salty didn’t share in the joke. “Little Lynnie! You had it
last?”
The girl froze for a moment then ducked back behind
the partition. “Don’t worry! I’ll fix it myself!” she declared,
running out of the back door and off to the house.
Salty followed bitterly, tiny hammer in hand. He
mumbled something about “using men’s tools in the
kitchen”, but he was soon out of earshot.
With Salty gone, the atmosphere in the workshop was
decidedly less prickly though Adam seemed amused by the
goings-on of the Wythert family.
Emily eventually collected herself enough to announce
through giggles, “Mam, Adam’s here!”
Mrs Wythert spun about, her grey eyes darting to find
the boy. She squealed when she spotted him. “Oh, Adam
Rosewood! Can it truly be?” She shuffled towards him at an
alarming speed. When she reached him, she lifted her head
to study him through the spectacles resting on the tip of her
rosy nose, chuckling. “Bless my eyes, so it is! Come ‘ere!”
She grabbed Adam and hugged him as if he were a close
relative. She was far too overjoyed to even notice Adam

140
wasn’t hugging back, but nevertheless, Adam received the
attention in his usual, placid manner.
“How do you do, ma’am,” was his reply as Mrs Wythert
let go of him. A vacant but polite smile appeared on his face.
Mrs Wythert tapped Emily on the arm, sweetly
remarking, “Oh, he doesn’t remember me, does he? You
were such a little thing, Adam, with bulging blue eyes and
barely any hair. Now look at you! How handsome you’ve
become!”
Theodore thought he’d step in to remind his mother
that her behaviour might be embarrassing Adam, saying,
“Mam, he’s fifteen.”
Mrs Wythert didn’t catch the hint. “Fifteen! Already?
My, you must be attending school, then. Gettin’ smarter than
the rest of us here. Tell me! How are your parents?”
“I left them in good spirits,” Adam replied.
“That’s grand, that’s grand. And tell me…” Mrs Wythert
briefly glanced at Theodore then returned to addressing
Adam. “Is your, erm, sister well?”
“As well as she ever could be, ma’am. She has the
uncanny ability to always find something to complain about.”

141
“All right!” Theodore interrupted, the conversation
having taken too winding a turn for his taste. “We better get
to work, Adam!”
Mrs Wythert waved her hands. “Yes, yes, yes, don’t let
me get in your way. Be sure to come say good-bye before
you two leave. It was such a delight seeing you again, Adam!”
She then went out the back door.
Emily followed, but paused to dig in her sewing basket.
She shoved a yarn of green string aside and pulled out two
yellow apples. She tossed one each to Theodore and Adam in
turn. “In case you boys are hungry.” She then pranced out
the back door, too, calling something out to her mother
about curling Little Lynnie’s hair.
At first Adam appeared unsure what to do with the
apple, but when he saw Theodore take a bite of his, he did
the same. The two of them stood for a few moments in a
crunching silence.
“Grab that toolbox, will you?” said Theodore after
swallowing his first mouthful. He popped the apple into his
mouth to free his hands and picked up the wooden crate
from the floor.

142
Adam mimicked Theodore by biting into the apple to
keep it in his mouth, and he lugged the toolbox off of the
work table. At first he nearly gave in under the weight, but he
soon found his feet.
Theodore led Adam out the back door and into the yard.
The Workshop’s yard was a little bigger than the
workshop itself. Although the drizzle had thankfully stopped
and the sun started to shyly peek past the clouds, the yard
was still muddy with a few red bricks sparsely laid down to
form paths.
The path from the workshop back door split off three
ways. One led to the stable, the other to the woodpile, and
the last to the back door of the house. The yard was blocked
off on two sides by a tall wooden fence and the third side to
the left was the brick wall of the shop next door.
Theodore and Adam followed the path to the stable
where Theodore’s wooden cart stood. Adam nervously trod
past the clucking chickens who didn’t seem bothered to
make way for the stranger. The back of the cart was already
open, so all they needed to do was load the crate and
toolbox into the cart.

143
One of the horses in the stable neighed.
“Calm down, Florence,” said Theodore as he chewed.
“It’s only Adam!”
Florence neighed again, at which point Theodore
realised she was probably eyeing the half-eaten apple in his
hand. He walked over and, without hesitation, fed the apple
to his beloved horse. “There you go, girl. You greedy thing,
you.”
The stable had only two compartments. One was
Florence’s and the other was for Berry.
Florence was a spectrum of colour with her rich
chocolate coat, her black mane, and her white nose and
socks. Berry, on the other hand, was pale with grey speckles
and she was considerably smaller than Florence.
Adam pitied Berry and fed her his apple. She
immediately took to Adam—and he to her, it seemed. Adam
petted her forehead and he smiled once more.
Theodore introduced Adam to the horses. “That one’s
Berry. She’s our youngest. We got her a few months ago
because Florence—” The old mare interrupted Theodore by
shoving her nose right into his face and nibbling on his hair.

144
Adam let out a weak laugh. “I see you are her favourite.”
Theodore gently shoved the horse away. “I think she
might be lookin’ for another apple. I haven’t got any, girl.”
“That’s a one-horse cart,” Adam noted. “Which one will
we be taking along to the Mansion?”
Although Theodore would have liked to take Florence,
he noticed a compassion in Adam’s eyes as he fluffed Berry’s
mane.
“I think it’s too far for Florence,” he said. “We’ll be
taking Berry today.”
It was probably for the best. Maybe Uncle John was
right after all. Maybe the journey was too far for Florence to
travel. She started so very easily, poor thing.

Soon they were off and on their way to the Valiard Mansion.
Theodore felt a little strange having someone sit next to him
at the front of the cart. It was as if a speck of dust was caught
in the corner of his eye, except, of course, that speck of dust
was a slouching blonde boy with a smug smile on his face.
145
As they travelled on Harbiford’s Main Street, the odd
passer-by would call out to Theodore, saying something
along the lines of, “Where’s Florence today, Mr Wythert?”
and “See you finally got the reliable one pulling you along.”
The baker stood outside his shop and joked, “When did
Florence lose so much weight?” The postman on his bicycle
honked his little horn and waved.
It was all in jest—well, likely—so Theodore laughed
politely, waved back, and made whatever reply was
appropriate. “Florence is resting today,” was the easiest one
to dictate. Though, “Ah, good one!” was reserved for those
who did the effort of attempting to be clever.
The townsfolk were elated about not having to dodge a
large, brown horse, making it easy for them to notice Adam.
And so they called out to them, asking who Adam was or just
going, “See you have a friend there, Mr Wythert!”
Adam whipped his head around at every person who
greeted them, and Theodore realised for the first time how
used to the attention he had become, since he himself
probably acted like a terribly important person, barely

146
shuddering and simply waving at everyone. He wasn’t
entirely sure if that was a good thing or not.
But Adam did enjoy it. Theodore could have sworn he
heard the boy chuckle once or twice.
After about fifteen minutes, they reached the outskirts
of Harbiford and the commotion died down. There was
nothing in front of them but vast, green fields, mostly
farmland, sparsely vegetated with trees.
It grew humdrum soon after they exited town. The
clatter of Berry’s hooves and the wheels colliding with loose
rocks was becoming deafening. Admittedly, with only two
younger sisters and a mother in the house, Theodore was
very much at a loss when it came to how one must treat a
fifteen-year-old boy. He did his best to imagine how he
would have wanted to be treated, but his own fifteenth year
suddenly seemed so long ago that the childhood he had
spent all morning remembering was forgotten in a flash.
It quickly became apparent that Adam felt no sense of
uneasiness in this new company. He contently appeared not
to mind any of the awkward silence, hugging his black satchel
closer and looking around at the passing scenery.

147
Still, out of propriety, Theodore felt obligated to engage
the boy in conversation. The only problem was that he could
think of nothing to say. Well, he could think of many things to
say—especially of many things to ask—but they all related, in
some way or the other, to Ruth. Probing the little bloke for
information about his sister seemed rather unfair, so
Theodore decided to stay quiet until something appropriate
popped into his head.
However, the monotony of the clatter and shuffle made
it so very easy for Theodore’s sleepy mind to drift off to
Ruth—and to the way she just stood in the drawing room the
day before, not batting an eyelid, not even looking at him…
“Do you think it’s haunted?” Adam mumbled.
Theodore shuddered. “Hm? Pardon?”
Adam repeated his question a little louder. “Do you
think it’s true that the Valiard Mansion is haunted?”
Theodore shrugged. “My uncle seems to think so.”
“Is your uncle a smart man?”
“He’s the smartest man I know.”

148
“Well,” said Adam, still watching the scenery, “Mr
Gangfield is the smartest man I know, and he says it might
very well not be haunted—that it’s just stories.”
Theodore involuntarily pulled his mouth to the side. “Is
that so? If you ask me, he came across as pretty enthusiastic
about the haunting when I saw him yesterday.”
“He was trying to unsettle you, that’s all. He is quite
strange in that way.” Adam looked up at the bright sky and
squinted at some birds flying over. “I really want to see a
ghost, but Mr Gangfield told me that ghosts are silly things.
They are just memories embedded into buildings that play
out over and over and over again.”
A cold shiver pervaded Theodore’s spine. “Stuck in a
memory forever... That must be right rotten.”
“Oh, they don’t mind! They’re not conscious, you see,
Mr Wythert. No use even talking to them. They can only say
what is contained in the memory.”
Theodore smiled in pure disbelief. “And this is what Mr
Gangfield told you?”
Adam nodded and bit his lip for a moment before
replying, “Yes, but between you and me, I don’t really know

149
where he gets all this from. I would much rather like to
believe ghosts can carry on conversations. It would make
meeting one a lot more fun, wouldn’t you say?”
“I don’t think the day would come when I’ll describe
meeting a ghost in any capacity as being ‘fun’, Adam.” He
laughed. “But, to each his own, I suppose.”
“Well, you might just have to see a ghost today! I hear
nobody visits the Mansion without experiencing something
supernatural.”
“You’re mighty interested in ghosts, aren’t you?”
The answer was predictably in the affirmative, and
Adam happily elaborated, “I like supernatural things in
general, I guess—ghosts, especially—but nobody else I know
cares too much about all that.”
“Except Mr Gangfield,” Theodore said plainly, feeling for
the first time that the magician couldn’t be all that bad if he
accommodated Adam so kindly.
“Yes, I guess Mr Gangfield is the only person who
doesn’t mind when I talk about ghosts. He sometimes tells
me new things about them, too, and he knows a lot of good
ghost stories. I would say he’s the closest thing to a friend I

150
have, but, ah—I might as well not exist when Ruth is in the
room with him.”
Adam’s final off-the-cuff remark sent a sharp jab into
Theodore’s gut and out of nowhere, he felt horribly ill. He
wanted nothing more than for Adam to keep talking about
Ruth and her relationship with that Gangfield bloke, yet at
the same time he was too afraid to learn the truth.
Either way, it was not right to use Adam to hear more
about Ruth. To preserve his conscience and his sanity all in
one go, Theodore changed the subject right around.
“What’s in that black bag o’yours?”
“Call it… my contingency plan.” The boy shifted the bag
behind his back.
“Contingency plan? For what?”
“You’ll see!” Adam grinned. “I am not a man who takes
chances, Mr Wythert.”
Theodore chuckled and thought nothing more of it. He
was grateful that he found at least one thing to talk to Adam
about, even though that one thing was a bit creepy.

151
Once Theodore had shaken off whatever inhibitions he had
when it came to speaking with young Adam, the conversation
ran freely. Adam, who ‘never spoke unless he had something
to say’, actually did have plenty to say, but only about those
things that the average mind would write off as silly or
impossible.
They spoke at length about ghosts—Adam shared some
of the ghost stories he had heard from Gangfield—and then
they speculated whether animals dreamed when they were
asleep, and if they did, what they dreamed about.
Adam believed that animals spoke in a language so
advanced that the human mind would never be able to
understand it, and so animals must dream of the ancient
secrets of the forgotten worlds.
Theodore wagered they dreamed about food.
And so it continued for the full hour and a half they
travelled. Adam’s outlandish ideas slowly began to do their
work on Theodore’s sleep-deprived brain, and he soon felt
like he couldn’t form a coherent idea even if he tried.

152
They had just broached the topic regarding the effect of
corsets on the female psyche when the Valiard Mansion
came into view.
Theodore had ridden past the Mansion before, but
circumstances never required him to go nearby. He therefore
knew the Mansion to be a solid, grey block in the rolling,
evergreen distance.
When Theodore told Adam to look to their right to see
the Mansion, the boy nearly jumped out of his skin, crying
out, “That’s it? The Valiard Mansion? I cannot believe it!
There it is!”
The road leading to the Mansion was indeed well-worn
and Theodore was grateful poor Florence wasn’t pulling
them along. Adam didn’t seem to mind this—he didn’t even
notice—as he sat, leaning forward and hugging his black bag
so tightly, Theodore was convinced the boy was about to
break whatever ‘contingency plan’ he’d packed in there.
Adam stood up once to get a better look at the house, but
the road was too bumpy for him to maintain his balance, so
he sat back down, excitedly repeating, “There it is… There it
is…”

153
The closer they rode, the larger the Valiard Mansion
towered in the distance.
They parked the cart under a tree about a hundred feet
from the main entrance of the Mansion. Plenty of other carts
and horses were there already, and there were people
working in the gardens. Theodore instructed Adam to take
the toolbox again, but the boy was weak with excitement.
Luckily, the boy found his feet and carried the toolbox along,
his eagerness making him walk in quick, short strides that
even Theodore’s long legs had trouble keeping up with.
Finally standing face to face with the Valiard Mansion,
both Theodore and Adam instinctively stopped dead in their
tracks and craned their heads upward to stare at the building
for a few moments.
The Valiard Mansion was a dark, imposing giant, built
with large, stone bricks, the bevelling of which formed a
chunky grid on its edifice. Rows of columns and tall, pointed-
arch windows decorated its walls and four sharp spires
symmetrically impaled the building on each of its corners.
Theodore had read some books about architecture before,
and he remembered looking at some Gothic cathedrals which

154
in hindsight looked very similar to the Mansion. He counted
five stories in total, but he didn’t include the tall towers,
which went up considerably higher.
It felt as though the Valiard Mansion bent over to study
them much like an angry mother would tower over a naughty
child. All they could do was look back up, hoping for a trace
of mercy.
What a sickening feeling.
Theodore knew immediately that he wasn’t fond of the
building. It was no wonder his uncle flatly refused to join
them.
Since his neck was sore from the night before, Theodore
was the first to look back down, and he looked over at Adam.
The boy’s mouth was agape in a wide smile and his droopy
eyes sparkled. It was apparent that the Mansion was
everything and more he had hoped for.
“Come on,” said Theodore, patting Adam gently on his
shoulder.
Adam shuddered back to life and returned to hopping
along like a piglet.

155
Stone steps led up to the entrance, which consisted of
large double doors, each adorned with engravings that
Theodore recognised as a reinterpretation of Michelangelo’s
The Last Judgment—countless figures plummeting into the
consuming flames of Hell contrasted with the blessed raised
from the grave and rising to Heaven.
Theodore wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a
cynic, but even he raised an eyebrow at the cheek the
building had by wearing front doors as unwelcoming as that.
They climbed the steps and saw one of the great doors
was slightly ajar. A buzzing commotion could be heard from
inside. The pair looked at each other, both unsure of what to
do.
“I suppose we should go in,” said Theodore.
But just then, one of the doors swung open with the
deep scream of metal hinges and the pair was left to dodge
two painters carrying out a ladder. The painters apologised,
but they were in a hurry, so Theodore couldn’t ask them if it
was all right to go in.
The building pulled Adam inside like a magnet.
Theodore followed, more to stop him than anything else. His

156
every instinct somehow fought against taking even a single
step inside the Mansion.
The entrance hall of the Mansion was dominated by a
large marble staircase that led up to the wall in front of
them, creating arches below leading to more rooms at the
back.
The walls were stripped bare and there weren’t any
plants inside. It was clear that the place was still very much
under construction. About a dozen or so people were
working in the entrance hall alone. Some worked together to
hang large paintings, others were scrubbing the corners of
the cornices with tiny brushes, and others were clearly
dawdling, but at least trying to look busy. It was quite noisy,
since everyone was chatting to one other, often shouting to
make themselves heard from across the room.
They were practically attacked by an older woman in
dark clothes. “And who are you?” she demanded angrily. Her
forehead seemed to screech in pain as it was pulled back into
a bun so tightly, Theodore was afraid something on her face
might rip open and spill blood all over the floor.

157
They explained who they were and she led them
through an archway on the left and into the great ball room.
It was the most completed room so far, so there weren’t as
many people working in there.
Not one, but four large crystal chandeliers hung above
the black and white, checkered floor. Being an artist, the next
thing Theodore noticed was a massive portrait of a blonde
man in military uniform hanging above the grand piano on
the opposite side of the vast room. He would have loved to
study the large painting more closely, since it appeared to be
skilfully executed, but he was there as a carpenter and not as
an art historian, so naturally the chance didn’t present itself.
The woman hastily paged through her ledger as she
walked deeper into the ball room. Theodore and Adam were
forced to keep up, despite the weight of their tools and
despite the fact they couldn’t help but gawk at their
surroundings.
“I cannot hear myself think in all that noise.” She
scowled briefly at the archway leading to the entrance hall
and then paged through her ledger some more. “Ah yes, Mr
W.T. Wythert. You are here to work on the furniture.” She

158
motioned her pen in the direction of what was probably the
dining room. “You are to start with the dining chairs. We
need twenty-seven chairs restored and reupholstered, and
we are missing three chairs that you will have to make from
scratch. You are required to notify us if any chairs are beyond
repair and we will make arrangements for you to make
additional furniture.”
Theodore laughed nervously. “That’s grand, but, ah…
I’m sorry, but—may I ask what your name is?”
“I am Mrs Dunswick.”
“Oh, you’re married to the curator, Mr Dunswick?”
“No.”
A sullen silence followed.
Mrs Dunswick kept going. “We have designated an area
in the attic for you to work, where all the chairs are ready for
you. Here are your official instructions with pricing
information.” She took a sheet of paper out of her ledger and
handed it to Theodore.
Theodore tucked it away into his trouser pocket quickly,
so Adam wouldn’t be able to spot how little the job paid.
“Please sign here as proof you have received it.”

159
Theodore awkwardly put his crate on the floor and
signed next to his name in the ledger. “Is there any way I can
speak with Mr Dunswick personally?”
“No.”
Another silence.
Adam shrugged. “So! Those chairs?”
“Yes,” said Mrs Dunswick curtly. “Follow me.”
She led them back into the entrance hall and up the
marble staircase. They were left to dodge the people walking
up and down the stairs, all of them carrying something. Quite
a few carried tools, but others carried around more delicate
items, like vases or mirrors.
At the top of the stairs was a long hallway peppered
with doors on one side and windows on the other. It felt
good to be walking on some carpeting for a change, since the
soles of Theodore’s shoes had been repaired with metal
plating and he made a great deal of noise whenever he
walked on hard floors.
Mrs Dunswick led them up one more flight of stairs until
they reached a dimly lit hallway. They turned left and walked
further down that hall until they reached the door at the very

160
end. She opened it to reveal a set of stairs consisting of stone
steps at the bottom half, and questionable-looking wooden
steps at the top half.
They lumbered up the steps until they reached another
door, which opened to a wide room with a wooden floor and
a low ceiling.
Exhausted from climbing all those stairs, Theodore
heaved to catch his breath and was more than happy to set
his tools down. His relief was short-lived, however, as the
attic was so hot and humid, it didn’t help much to draw a
breath and it stank badly of, well, oldness, which made
breathing even less pleasant.
Mrs Dunswick, not even having broken a sweat, looked
at Theodore in disgust. “I will return to check on your
progress at four o’clock this afternoon. That will signal the
end of your shift. Good day.”
And with that she shut the door and was gone.
Thankfully, there was one small window that Theodore
practically sprinted towards to open. He leaned against the
wall, holding his chest. His heart pounded and he felt quite
light-headed.

161
What is it with these dizzy spells? he thought.
Adam, meanwhile sat quite unaffected on the crate.
“You don’t look well, Mr Wythert.”
Theodore only nodded, wearily taking off his coat and
rolling up his shirt sleeves. He slid down to sit on the floor
and, closing his eyes, he gradually recovered.
Waiting patiently for Theodore, Adam asked, “I thought
your Christian name was Theodore. What does the ‘W’ stand
for?”
“William,” Theodore replied, opening his eyes.
“That’s a good, English name. Theodore is American.”
“I know.”
“Then why do you go by Theodore?”
“It has nothin’ to do with Queen or country, I can tell
you that.” He stood up, wiping his trousers. “I’ve held us up
long enough. Come on.”
Rows of dining chairs were stacked in one corner of the
attic. The rest of the attic, however, was populated with odds
and ends covered in dusty rags. Theodore wanted to lift the
rags and see what was under them, but it wasn’t his place, so
he just walked past it all.

162
Adam, however, had no such inhibitions. He approached
the rags next to the stacked chairs and peeked under them,
coughing terribly. “It’s just more crusty furniture.”
Theodore stood over the dining chairs, resting his fists
on his hips.
“When can we explore?” Adam asked, a smile spreading
across his face.
“Explore? We’re here to work, Adam.”
“Then can we explore after work?”
“I doubt we’ll be allowed to. Mrs Dunswick looks mighty
strict.”
Adam wandered around the room, checking the walls
and creaky floorboards, feeling and kicking. “Maybe there’s a
secret compartment here with treasure hidden inside!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Adam.”
“Or better yet, dead bodies! That would surely mean the
Mansion is haunted!”
Theodore paused to take in what Adam had just said. He
shook his head and dragged one of the chairs out. He knelt
down and closely studied its construction. “I should be able

163
to copy this just fine,” he said, feeling quite relieved. “Adam,
come over here.”
Finally, Adam paid some attention to the work at hand.
He knelt by Theodore’s side. “Hundreds of arses must have
sat on these through the years. Do you ever think about
things like that?”
Theodore couldn’t contain a brief chuckle, but, not
wanting to encourage the language, he reined himself in and
continued, “We don’t want to damage the upholstery while
we’re workin’. So first we’ll have to remove the upholstered
bits.” He tipped the chair over, exposing the base of the seat.
“I want you to watch me take the first few apart, then you’ll
be working on your own. We’ll go much faster if we do two
at a time.”
Adam raised his eyebrows. “You’re going to let me
work… on my own?”
“Only after I teach you. Now go to the toolbox and bring
me a hammer.”
Adam nodded and gingerly got up, back to his slow
ways. He walked along but froze the instant he heard a
terrible creaking under his feet.

164
He shifted his weight back and forth, making a
rhythmical ruckus.
“Adam!” Theodore called, doing his best to sound
authoritative, but ultimately unable to hide his amusement.
“Stop that and get the tools!”
Adam turned around and began jumping lightly, making
even more of a noise. “Mr Wythert, I think there is
something—”
A monstrous crack roared and Adam fell right through
the floorboards. He yelled as he fell and landed with a thud.
“Adam!” Theodore instantly jumped up and ran towards
the gap in the floor. He fell to his knees and looked down,
very ready to jump into the hole, but not before checking
things out.
“I’m all right!” Adam called as a coughed, looking up
from a swirling cloud of dust. His now dirtied face was
illuminated dimly by the light from the attic above, but his
surroundings were pitch black. “It’s just… it’s just so dark
down here!”
Theodore let out a sigh of relief as he saw that Adam
had only fallen about seven or eight feet.

165
“I’m coming down!” said Theodore, a bit panicked. He
ran to his crate to grab a lamp and a match, and he lighted it
as quickly as he could. He tied it with a piece of rope.
Adam slowly got up, dusting himself off. “Ugh, right on
the arse! My sitting days are over, eh, Mr Wythert?”
Theodore showed up at the top of the hole again and
lowered the lamp. “I’m letting down a light!”
The boy took it gratefully and began looking around the
dark compartment.
Theodore rolled up his sleeves some more and hung his
legs over the edge in preparation for dropping down into the
hole. He thanked his lucky stars he used to climb so many
trees as a child and that he wasn’t too afraid of heights to be
of any help to Adam.
But just then, Adam sucked in a huge gasp. “Mr
Wythert!” he exclaimed excitedly. “You have to see this!”

166
THE VALIARD MANSION and all affiliated characters © 2011-2016 Ezelle Van Der Heever.

This copy is authorized for personal use only.

167