The next morning was even colder than the day before with little feathers of frost in the corners of the Emily’s bedroom windows. The sun was low and long, already cutting a few melting strips across the roofs, but the meadow was still wedding cake white – crisp and even. Emily thought she felt better but wasn’t sure yet. She’d spent most of yesterday in bed — asleep and awake — drowsy even without painkillers. Janet had sent a nurse from the village who changed the dressing (it was smaller now and not so awkward) and said everything looked good. She also sent the housemaids up with blankets and a portable electric heater. They took Emily’s work clothes and laid out two heavy sweat suits, black and grey, and a pair of dark tan Uggs. (Emily wondered if they were from Janet’s personal collection.) Cozy warm clothes helped Emily’s mood, even though she’d struggled with the drawstring and zipper until finally, giving up, she found a big, bulk knit sweater that was loose enough to pull over her head. She turned away from the window. The fireplace looked lonely cold. When she was a child, there had always been fires going on Christmas at Pyaridge Hall. She remembered waking up to the sound and the smell of them. But that was then, and it was time for breakfast and “morning prayers.”
At the top of the stairs, Emily saw the tree, towering in the entrance hall, two floors tall and a perfect cone. She could see that they’d already strung the lights, and for a second she thought about switching them on in the dim morning but realized that she had no idea where the outlets were. From the stairs, she could just reach the higher branches, and she touched them with her good hand, rubbing her fingers on the needles. She leaned out as far as she could over the bannister, closed her mouth and took a deep breath of pine. It smelled like Christmas, and now it felt like Christmas, and she knew she was feeling better.
Breakfast was the same/same, and Janet Miller was right on time, if perhaps a little more professional than usual. There wasn’t much, mostly scheduling.
“I’ll need help today to dress for the children.”
“Anything special?” Emily added.
“No, the usual: cricket, student garden group. The Doughty’s daughter won a poetry contest.”
“Uh. . . ” Janet consulted her notebook. “Tynal.”
“They’re from Birmingham.”
“Hmm,” Emily agreed.
“Don’t worry: I’ll have Lillian there with the crib.”
“Lunch here,” Janet gestured, “Thank you, thank you. Then load them back on the bus.”
There was a hum it the air. Janet noticed, paused and tilted her head. Then, unable to decipher it, she went back to her book.
“Anyway, here’s the details on the pagans.” Janet passed Emily a sheet of paper. “It’s Donald, not Ronald, and he was two years behind us. It’s called Science and Sorcery, something or other. I can do this if you like.”
“No, it’ll do me good to scold somebody. I don’t remember him, though.”
Janet shrugged, “Apparently Billie knows him quite well.”
“No. You know Billie. He worships the water you walk on.”
Emily smiled and thought for a second. “What did he do with the Jag?”
The hum was louder. Both women heard it and glanced at the windows.
“Left it in London,” Janet said, turning her head back to the table. “Brought you home in the Roller. Carried you upstairs. Rolled up the rugs. Banished the dogs. I finally had to throw him out.”
Emily smiled, remembering close to none of it.
“Ah, they’re at the Dilfords.” Janet said, slightly distracted by the hum that was now a noise, “Moping.”
“I’ll bring them home tomorrow.”
The noise was getting louder. Both women looked at the windows again. Janet put her hand up.
“Just a moment.” She got up and went to the window. Outside, at the end of the drive, there was a school bus turning onto the estate and a full blue sky with – with birds? Three big black birds were flying – but they weren’t birds? They were . . . too steady, too symmetrical.
Janet turned back to Emily.
“Come see this,” she motioned. By the time she turned back, both women could hear the unmistakable whoop/whoop of helicopter blades. They were helicopters. In fact, they were three R.A.F. Puma HC support helicopters, flying in formation towards the house. Emily got to the window just as they settled high over the front lawn. She looked up and one slowly began to drift down, as the others hovered above it.
“What the ….?”
Suddenly, Emily shot her hand over her open mouth and gave a short I-should-be-embarrassed-but I’m-not, breathless laugh.
“It’s Sinclair,” she said. “My God, it’s Sinclair.” And she laughed out loud.
The two women turned their faces to each other.
“I told you,” Emily said, spun around and ran out of the room.
“Mind your hand!” Janet shouted after her.
She turned back to the window just as the helicopter touched the ground.
Tuesday – Part 5