Motes are drowning in a sunbeam. Eliza turns her head away from the light. On the door of the wardrobe, the sea-green taffeta hangs from a satin covered hanger. Her eyes close. Below her, the house moves at its own pace. Catherine is in the study, raking still-warm embers from the grate. She will rebuild: funnels of paper and kindling under a tumulus of coal. At the back of the house, Laddie barks.
Feet on the rug. She launches herself into the day. She drags open the curtains and blinks at the morning. Her head rests against the sash window. Its brass latch ploughs the parting in her hair. A bicycle turns into the drive and she watches the boy cycle – standing on the pedals, slow against the prevailing wind. He brakes. Kicks the stand under the bicycle. He looks up, blushes, and adjusts his cap. She pulls back. Catherine is in the hall. Catherine. Quickly! Door.
The door closes. Silence. She stares out. He is sailing, freewheeling down the drive. The wind is at his back, wreckage in his wake. Downstairs, there is movement. There is murmuring. His voice. Then he is moving ponderously, nearer. Even so, the knock at the door makes her jump.
‘From Cousin James. Sit down, my dear.’
He is holding the slip of butter-yellow paper away from his body. His hand shakes. She takes the telegram.
‘I should like to read it to the servants.’
‘Of course, Thomas. I must dress. Please ask Martha to come up.’
Ruddy normality has washed from Martha’s face. She sniffles as she pulls tightly on the corset ties.
‘I will be down presently, Martha.’
Each stair sends a shockwave through her. She goes down, and crosses the hall. Laddie appears from nowhere and snuffles at her skirts. She will not look at him. In the study, Thomas reads the telegram to the servants. The women cry. Eliza holds out her hand.
‘I must tell the bees.’
Laddie zigzags from the house and skelters down the lawn. Catherine watches Eliza and the dog move through the long grass towards the beehives. The top of Laddie’s tail bobs beside his mistress. Catherine halts at the garden’s verge. She scuffs her shoes in the gravel. Wait.
Eliza says: ‘There is news of our golden boy.’ She reads to them:
“Interviewed Titanic’s officers. All unanimous Andrews heroic unto death thinking only safety of others…”
The bees hymn in her ears. Expansion comes tearing, like the cracking of a corset’s steel bones. Grief rushes in. She goes down; billowing black watered silk.