Though this one might find it’s way into The Duchesses.
The pile of cushions was cleared with ease and Meg thought she should take her sister’s from the bed while she wasn’t looking to make the jump a little higher. It was the chest that once again proved George’s undoing. Last time round, he’d swerved at the last second, but this time she made him go back and try again. He was too little – his legs too short – to jump it, but Meg had been taught that there was no challenge to life if you just kept on doing the things you knew you could. His hobbyhorse in one hand, George scrambled over the top of the box and fell down in a heap on the other side. Meg thought he might cry, so loud had been the bump when his head hit the floor, but her laughter distracted him and soon he was giggling as well.
On the windowseat, Richard all but forgotten in his well of cushions beside her, Bess sighed heavily. Bess was always sighing about something.
“I’m trying to concentrate,” she said. “Why don’t you go outside?”
“It’s still raining,” Meg said. “You wouldn’t want George to catch a chill.”
She got up and began to rearrange the obstacle course, snatching Bess’s pillows and adding them to the pile. She turned around to deliver the most brilliant insult to Bess when she noticed their mother standing in the doorway.
Taking George by the arm as he careered past, she pulled him, protesting loudly, to the door and stood quietly, her hands folded demurely at her waist as she’d been taught. Bess put down her book, picked up her baby brother and did her best to set him in order, cleaning his grimy face with the hem of his smock and running her fingers through his soft brown hair.
Cecily cast her eye over each of the children, then bent down to be kissed by first Meg then George.
“Your father and I are going to London in the morning,” she said. “I hope you’ll be good while we’re gone.”
“Are we not go come with you?” Meg said, struggling to keep the whine of disappointment from her voice.
She’d been to London before and had vague fractured memories of grandeur, crowds and noise. There’d been an air of menace that had thrilled her but the rows of rotting severed heads on London bridge, glimpsed no more than in passing, had spoiled her dreams for weeks.
“I don’t know how long we’re going to be there,” Cecily said. “It may only be for a few days. Your father’s been called to a meeting. We’ll see what happens after that. If we’re still there, maybe you can come down for Christmas.”
“Will the king be there?” George said.
“No,” Cecily said. “He’s not well and we must pray for him. Your father’s going to see what he can do to help. Someone has to look after England while the king’s getting better.”
“Is Daddy going to be king?” George said, his face screwed up into a frown.
“No,” Cecily said firmly. “He’s just going to do his duty.”
Again Meg pictured the row of heads and shuddered. Their grandfather had been accused of treason, his head struck off on Southampton Green when his son was just a boy. Meg knew it was foolish, but every time their father rode away, she worried that she’d never see him again. The whispers of adults, which they fancied they kept from the ears of children, gave her an image of a dark dangerous world where one’s life could be ended on a malicious word.
“He’ll need us!” she said. “If we’re there, they won’t… they won’t…”
“They won’t do anything,” Bess said. She slid down from the windowseat, Richard now wriggling impatiently in her arms. “They don’t, you know, unless you commit treason.” She stopped, a look of horror on her face. “John’s father. He was…”
“That was madmen,” Cecily said quickly, “who blamed him for all that was ill and took matters into their own hands. No-one’s going to hurt your father. I shall make sure of that.”
George, who’d clearly grown tired of the whole conversation, caught hold of her hand.
“Mummy, Mummy!” he said excitedly, jumping up and down. “Guess what’s under my bed?”
Her hands on his shoulders, Meg tried to draw him away. So like him, she thought, to behave like a baby!. George’s world might contain at its edge kings and fathers, but mostly it was centred around George.
Bess put Richard down onto the rug, flopped down beside him and reached for the toys he pointed to in mute expectation.
“I don’t know, George,” Cecily said. “What’s under your bed?”
“The shirt you can’t find. The one Anne made you.”
George shook his head emphatically, his blond curls bouncing and flicking across his face.
“An angel.” Again the shake of the golden head. “The shoe your father lost last week. The doorway to the kingdom of the fairies.”
“Mab had puppies under George’s bed,” Meg said. “He hasn’t stopped pestering her. I told him: she’ll bite you if you don’t watch out.”
“He’s hardly going to listen to you,” Bess said.
George grabbed his mother’s hand and pulled as hard as he could. Cecily stood up and let him lead her to his bed. He dropped to the floor, lifting the bedcovers with one hand, and peered into the dusty shadows. Cecily joined him.
There were vague shapes, small movements deep in the shadows; the squeals of the pups, the soft warning growl of their mother.
“See?” George said. “Puppies!”
Cecily sat up on her haunches, grabbed her son and gave him a fierce hug. He struggled to get away, but she held him firmly and showered his face with kisses. Meg waited patiently nearby for her turn. Little brothers were good for some things, she conceded.