She told Marcella what had happened. When she got to the part about losing sight of Jason, her voice broke and her eyes spilled over with tears.
“There, there,” said Marcella, handing her a clean tea towel to dry her eyes.
“What if he missed the boat?” she sobbed, “And just kept falling forever?” She pressed the towel to her face to dam the flow of tears.
“Forever?” said Marcella, “I’ve never heard of that before. I don’t mean to sound brutal, but if that is the case, there’s nothing the police can do anyway. Let’s hope for the best—that he did land safely on deck of the ship, all bones intact.” She gave Rosalyn a friendly squeeze on the arm, and said, “You get right in the warm tub and drink a hot cup of tea and you’ll soon be able to dry your eyes.”
The kettle whistled right on cue and Marcella poured the boiling water first into a mug then into the metal tub. The thought of bathing in full view of this stranger was enough to halt her tears. Great was Rosalyn’s relief, therefore, when the housekeeper retrieved from the far corner a creaky folding screen covered with a yellowed floral print and set it between the tub and the rest of the kitchen.
The water was scalding hot, and Rosalyn stood in the tub up to her calves thinking only of the pain and pleasure of the heat. Slowly, she submerged as much of her body as she could fit in the tub until she was seated with her knees folded to her chest. Half too-hot and half too-chilly she hugged her knees and lay her head on them, letting the tears flow silently for the brief moment she could be alone. When the water started to cool off she heard Gaétane drop something off to Marcella.
She got out and stood wrapped in her towel, dripping onto the stone floor and shivering slightly. Marcella draped a piece of clothing over the screen and said, “They’ve found you a lovely dress, maybe one that was to go to town in a few days. Well, that’s very generous,” she approved. It was a dark green velvet dress, embellished with fine cream lace at the collar, cuffs, and hem and two lines of ruffles down the front and back. It fit comfortably and Rosalyn smoothed her hands down the skirt, enjoying the soft pile of the velvet. She had never worn such a fancy dress. It made her feel so different from her usual self, the girl who only had two dresses hanging in her closet, one of which she had probably outgrown. They had also left her a pair of grey slippers with delicate green flowers embroidered on the tops, which she put on.
When Rosalyn emerged with the towel wrapped around her head, Marcella handed her a mug of steaming tea and said, “Bath for the outside, tea for the insides.”
A plate of cookies was now sitting on the long wooden table. Rosalyn, more mindful than ever of her posture and manners, sat down, shoulders back, on a stool, remembering with an inward sigh that it was probably not good etiquette to dunk.
“These are delicious,” she said, after eating a cookie. “Did you make them?”
“Of course. They’re a favourite of Miss Nora’s.”
Marcella was dumping the bath water down a grate in the floor and said with a grunt, “She’s the lady as made all the lace you’re wearing. Would have been sister-in-law to Herself, but the groom went missing.”
“Oh yes, and it all went from bad to worse after that. And if it weren’t for Miss Nora, I’d have left service at the Manor long ago. Herself stays on because she’s got nowhere else to go and Miss Nora stays for her as she reminds her of her brother, and I stay for Miss Nora, poor soul.”
Rosalyn had a another sip of the scalding tea which sent a column of heat straight down her esophagus.
“So there are three of you living here?”
“That’s right. Now, if you’ll excuse me a moment, I’ll just step out and get the asparagus for supper.” She folded up the screen and took it out into the passageway. Rosalyn heard her clap it into a cupboard then heard a door open and shut at another end of the corridor.
Rosalyn had to stop herself from looking over her shoulder at every creaking sound. There were no humming sounds of electricity, no voices, just a clock ticking on the wall, its pendulum swinging. Rosalyn dunked her third cookie since no one was watching and thought about how weird everything was. There was an echoing loneliness in the house as if it remembered a time when it had been full of people. It certainly was isolated. No other houses had been visible on the way up from the dock. How far were they here from the nearest town? Neither Gaétane nor Marcella seemed to be in any hurry to mount a search for Jason, and here she was, drinking tea, practically playing dress-up and he was who-knows-where. She sighed and took another cookie.
A door creaked open again and she heard Marcella stamp her feet on a mat before coming down the hall. On her arm was a pail with the purple-green heads of asparagus spears poking out. “Rain tomorrow,” she announced.
“Can I help?” offered Rosalyn.
“Well, that’s very kind,” said Marcella placing the pail in the sink with a clang, “but in your finery…” She shook her head. “No, you’d best run along upstairs when you’ve finished your tea.”
There was no delaying the moment. Rosalyn had one last sip left. Marcella took her mug and shooed Rosalyn out of the kitchen and pointed her down the hall toward the room where she had first come in. “See the stairs at the end of the hall? I’m sure you’re welcome to look around, though it’s not much to look at anymore.”
Feeling a little spooked at the dark shadows criss-crossing the long corridor, Rosalyn headed toward the stairs. It was one thing to go exploring in her grandmother’s bsaement, but here she was worried she’d bump into someone, or be caught doing the wrong thing, not that she could think of anything wrong she might do, but people always had their own unwritten rules.
The stairs were also odd, just like the kitchen pegs, counters and table. On the right was a low handrail, like a safety measure for young children, on the left was a thicker, higher handrail, at the height of Rosalyn’s shoulder. And there were three sizes of steps: on the right were steps so small two fit into every normal size step running up the left of the stair, and in the middle there were steps so tall Rosalyn had to lift her knee to her waist to climb. Had the Three Bears designed this house? Marcella and Gaétane seemed to be normal size but perhaps Miss Nora had some kind of special needs.
At the top of the stairs that doubled back on themselves up to the main floor, she found herself looking down a corridor running the length of the house. She followed it past several closed doors toward an opening and turned left between two stately columns into a grand entrance hall. The front doors were massive, carved oak rectangles with a similar assortment of handles as the side door, flanked by two benches, one low and one high. To her right and left two staircases curved upward toward the second floor. Turning in a slow circle on the , she thought she could count at least six rooms. As she slowly took in her surroundings, she noticed that the left hand staircase had the same giant steps she had come up and the right hand had small and normal size steps, all covered with threadbare red carpet. Curious. A tall lead-paned window above the door filtered the afternoon light on a massive chandelier with hundreds of glinting crystals, hanging overhead like a dusty moon.
Other doors could be seen to left and right of the entry hall, but Rosalyn didn’t want to start poking her head in rooms where she might find a giant for all she knew. Instead, she took a closer look at the grandfather clock standing in the curve of the left staircase. Up one side was a vine carved in such lifelike detail it appeared to be growing up the side. On the other side were carvings of flying birds were. On the front was a coat of arms with the motto, “My justice rises like the sun.” The clock was nearly double Rosalyn’s height and she had to step back to get a clearer view of the golden clock face. She wasn’t particularly hungry yet, but it would be nice to know how long it had been since this whole rigamarole had started, and when she might have to meet Miss Nora at dinner. But this was no ordinary clock.