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Authors: Tracy Chevalier

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BOOK: Falling Angels
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"I have to go now," I said. I didn't want to look scared like Lavinia, but I didn't like hearing about the smell of bodies.
Simon shrugged. "I could show you things."
"Maybe another time." I ran to catch up with our families, who were walking along together. Lavinia took my hand and squeezed it and I was so pleased I kissed her.
As we walked hand-in-hand up the hill I could see out of the corner of my eye a figure like a ghost jumping from stone to stone, following us and then running ahead. I wished we had not left him.
I nudged Lavinia. "He's a funny boy, isn't he?" I said, nodding at his shadow as he went behind an obelisk.
"I like him," Lavinia said, "even if he talks about awful things."
"Don't you wish we could run off the way he does?"
Lavinia smiled at me. "Shall we follow him?"
I hadn't expected her to say that. I glanced at the others--only Lavinia's sister was looking at us. "Let's," I whispered.
She squeezed my hand as we ran off to find him.
Kitty Coleman
I don't dare tell anyone or I will be accused of treason, but I was terribly excited to hear the Queen is dead. The dullness I have felt since New Year's vanished, and I had to work very hard to appear appropriately sober. The turning of the century was merely a change in numbers, but now we shall have a true change in leadership, and I can't help but think Edward is more truly representative of us than his mother.
For now, though, nothing has changed--we were expected to troop up to the cemetery and make a show of mourning, even though none of the Royal Family is buried there, nor is the Queen to be. Death is there, and that is enough, I suppose.
That blasted cemetery. I have never liked it.
To be fair, it is not the fault of the place itself, which has a lugubrious charm, with its banks of graves stacked on top of one another--granite headstones, Egyptian obelisks, Gothic spires, plinths topped with columns, weeping ladies, angels, and of course, urns--winding up the hill to the glorious Lebanon cedar at the top. I am even willing to overlook some of the more preposterous monuments--ostentatious representations of a family's status. But the sentiments that the place encourages in mourners are too overblown for my taste. Moreover, it is the Colemans' cemetery, not my family's. I miss the little churchyard in Lincolnshire where Mummy and Daddy are buried and where there is now a stone for Harry, even if his body lies somewhere in southern Africa.
The excess of it all--which our own ridiculous urn now contributes to--is too much. How utterly out of scale it is to its surroundings! If only Richard had consulted me first. It was unlike him--for all his faults he is a rational man, and must have seen that the urn was too big. I suspect the hand of his mother in the choosing. Her taste has always been formidable.
It was amusing today to watch him splutter over the angel that has been erected on the grave next to the urn. (Far too close to it, as it happens--they look as if they may bash each other at any moment.) It was all I could do to keep a straight face.
"How dare they inflict their taste on us!" he said. "The thought of having to look at this sentimental nonsense every time we visit turns my stomach."
"It is sentimental, but harmless," I replied. "At least the marble's Italian."
"I don't give a hang about the marble! I don't want that angel next to our grave."
"Have you thought that perhaps they're saying the same about the urn?"
"There's nothing wrong with our urn!"
"And they would say that there's nothing wrong with their angel."
"The angel looks ridiculous next to the urn. It's far too close, for one thing."
"Exactly," I said. "You didn't leave them room for anything."
"Of course I did. Another urn would have looked fine. Perhaps a slightly smaller one."
I raised my eyebrows the way I do when Maude has said something foolish. "Or even the same size," Richard conceded. "Yes, that could have looked quite impressive, a pair of urns. Instead we have this nonsense."
And on and on we went. While I don't think much of the blank-faced angels dotted around the cemetery, they bother me less than the urns, which seem a peculiar thing to put on a grave when one thinks that they were used by the Romans as receptacles for human ashes. A pagan symbol for a Christian society. But then, so is all the Egyptian symbolism one sees here as well. When I pointed this out to Richard he huffed and puffed but had no response other than to say, "That urn adds dignity and grace to the Coleman grave."
I don't know about that. Utter banality and misplaced symbolism are rather more like it. I had the sense not to say so.
He was still going on about the angel when who should appear but its owners, dressed in full mourning. Albert and Gertrude Waterhouse--no relation to the painter, they admitted. (Just as well--I want to scream when I see his overripe paintings at the Tate. The Lady of Shalott in her boat looks as if she has just taken opium.) We had never met them before, though they have owned their grave for several years. They are rather nondescript--he a ginger-bearded, smiling type, she one of those short women whose waists have been ruined by children so that their dresses never fit properly. Her hair is crinkly rather than curly, and escapes its pins.
Her elder daughter, Lavinia, who looks to be Maude's age, has lovely hair, glossy brown and curly. She's a bossy, spoiled little thing--apparently her father bought the angel at her insistence. Richard nearly choked where he heard this. And she was wearing a black dress trimmed with crape--rather vulgar and unnecessary for a child that young.
Of course Maude has taken an instant liking to the girl. When we all took a turn around the cemetery together Lavinia kept dabbing at her eyes with a black-edged handkerchief, weeping as we passed the grave of a little boy dead fifty years. I just hope Maude doesn't begin copying her. I can't bear such nonsense. Maude is very sensible but I could see how attracted she was to the girl's behavior. They disappeared off together--Lord knows what they got up to. They came back the best of friends.
I think it highly unlikely Gertrude Waterhouse and I would ever be the best of friends. When she said yet again how sad it was about the Queen, I couldn't help but comment that Lavinia seemed to be enjoying her mourning tremendously.
Gertrude Waterhouse said nothing for a moment, then remarked, "That's a lovely dress. Such an unusual shade of blue."
Richard snorted. We'd had a fierce argument about my dress. In truth I was now rather embarrassed about my choice--not one adult I'd seen since leaving the house was wearing anything but black. My dress was dark blue, but still I stood out far more than I'd intended.
I decided to be bold. "Yes, I didn't think black quite the thing to wear for Queen Victoria," I explained. "Things are changing now. It will be different with her son. I'm sure Edward will make a fine king. He's been waiting long enough."
"Too long, if you ask me," Mr. Waterhouse said. "Poor chap, he's past his prime." He looked abashed, as if surprised that he had voiced his opinion.
"Not with the ladies, apparently," I said. I couldn't resist.
"Oh!" Gertrude Waterhouse looked horrified.
"For God's sake, Kitty!" Richard hissed. "My wife is always saying things she shouldn't," he said apologetically to Albert Waterhouse, who chuckled uneasily.
"Never mind, I'm sure she makes up for it in other ways," he said.
There was a silence as we all took in this remark. For one dizzy moment I wondered if he could possibly be referring to New Year's Eve. But of course he would know nothing about that--that is not his set. I myself have tried hard not to think about it. Richard has not mentioned it since, but I feel now that I died a little death that night, and nothing will ever be quite the same, new king or no.
Then the girls returned, all out of breath, providing a welcome distraction. The Waterhouses quickly made their excuses and left, which I think everyone was relieved about except the girls. Lavinia grew tearful, and I feared Maude would too. Afterward she wouldn't stop talking about her new friend until at last I promised I would try to arrange for them to meet. I am hoping she will forget eventually, as the Waterhouses are just the kind of family who make me feel worse about myself.
Lavinia Waterhouse
I had an adventure at the cemetery today, with my new friend and a naughty boy. I've been to the cemetery many times before, but I've never been allowed out of Mama's sight. Today, though, Mama and Papa met the family that owns the grave next to ours, and while they were talking about the things grown-ups go on about, Maude and I went off with Simon, the boy who works at the cemetery. We ran up the Egyptian Avenue and all around the vaults circling the cedar of Lebanon. It is so delicious there, I almost fainted from excitement.
Then Simon took us on a tour of the angels. He showed us a wonderful child-angel near the Terrace Catacombs. I had never seen it before. It wore a little tunic and had short wings, and its head was turned away from us as if it were angry and had just stamped its foot. It is so lovely I almost wished I had chosen it for our grave. But it was not in the book of angels at the mason's yard. Anyway I am sure Mama and Papa agree that the one I chose for our grave is the best.
Simon took us to other angels close by and then he said he wanted to show us a grave he and his father had just dug. Well. I didn't want to see it but Maude said she did and I didn't want her to think I was afraid. So we went and looked down into it, and although it was frightening, I also got the strangest feeling that I wanted to lie down in that hole. Of course I didn't do such a thing, not in my lovely dress.
Then as we turned to go a horrid man appeared. He had a very red face and bristles on his cheeks, and he smelled of drink. I couldn't help but scream, even though I knew right away it was Simon's father as they have the same blue eyes like pieces of sky. He began shouting terrible things at Simon about where had he been and why were we there, and he used the most awful words. Papa would whip us if Ivy May or I were to use such words. And Papa is not a whipping man. That's how bad they were.
Then the man chased Simon round and round the grave until Simon jumped right into it! Well. I didn't wait to see more--Maude and I ran like fury all the way down the hill. Maude wondered if we shouldn't go back and see if Simon was all right but I refused, saying our parents would be worried about us. But really I didn't want to see that man again, as he frightened me. The naughty boy can take care of himself. I am sure he spends much of his time down graves.
So Maude is my new friend, and I hers--though I do not see why such a plain girl should have a beautiful muff, and a nanny, too, neither of which I have. And a beautiful mother with such a tiny waist and big dark eyes. I could not look at Mama without feeling a little ashamed. It is really so unfair.
Gertrude Waterhouse
Once we heard the news I lay awake all night, worrying about our clothes. Albert could wear his black work suit, with jet cuff-links and a black band for his hat. Mourning has always been easier for men. And Ivy May is too young for her clothes to be a concern.
But Livy and I were to be dressed properly for our queen's passing. For myself I did not mind so much what I wore, but Livy is so very particular, and difficult if she doesn't get exactly what she wants. I do hate scenes with her--it is like being led in a dance where I know none of the steps and she all of them, so that I feel tripped up and foolish by the end. And yet she is only five years old! Albert says I am too soft with her, but then he bought her the angel she wanted for the grave when he knows how little money we have for that sort of thing, what with our saving to move house. Still, I can't fault him for it. It is so important that the grave be a proper reflection of the family's sentiments to our loved ones. Livy knows that very well, and she was right--the grave did need some attention, especially after that monstrous urn went up next to it.
I rose very early this morning and managed to find a bit of crape I had saved after my aunt's mourning. I had hidden it away because I was meant to have burned it and knew Livy would be horrified to see it in the house. There was not enough of it to trim both our dresses, so I did hers, with a bit left over for my hat. By the time I had finished sewing, Livy was up, and she was so delighted with the effect of the crape that she didn't ask where I'd got it from.
What with the little sleep and the waking early I was so tired by the time we reached the cemetery that I almost cried to see the blue silk Kitty Coleman was wearing. It was an affront to the eyes, like a peacock spreading its feathers at a funeral. It made me feel quite shabby and I was embarrassed even to stand next to her, as doing so begged comparisons and reminded me that my figure is not what it once was.
The one comfort I could take--and it is a shameful one that I shall ask God's forgiveness for--was that her daughter, Maude, is so plain. I felt proud to see Livy look so well next to drab little Maude.
I was of course as civil as I could be, but it was clear that Kitty Coleman was bored with me. And then she made cutting remarks about Livy, and said disrespectful things--not exactly about the Queen, but I couldn't help feeling that Victoria had in some way been slighted. And she made my poor Albert so tongue-tied he said something completely out of character. I could not bring myself even to ask him afterward what he meant.
Never mind--she and I shall not have to see each other again. In all the years we have owned adjacent graves at the cemetery, this is the first time we've met. With luck it won't happen again, though I shall always worry that we will. I shan't enjoy the cemetery so much now, I'm afraid.
Albert Waterhouse
Damned good-looking woman. I don't know what I was thinking, saying what I said, though. Shall make it up to Trudy tomorrow by getting her some of her favorite violet sweeties.
BOOK: Falling Angels
2.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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