Perhaps it was because they were all weary of cleaning, repairing, and organizing, but the entire Hathaway family fell into a desultory mood that evening. Everyone but Leo gathered around the hearth in one of the downstairs room lounging while Win read aloud from a Dickens now Merripen occupied a distant corner of the room, near the family but not quite part of it, listening intently. No doubt Win could have read names from an insurance register and he would have found it enthralling.
Poppy was busy with needlework, stitching a pair of men's slippers with bright wool threads, while Beatrix played solitaire on the floor near the hearth. Noticing the way her youngest sister was riffling through the cards, Amelia laughed. "Beatrix," she said after Win had finished a chapter, "why in heaven's name would you cheat at solitaire? You're playing against yourself."
"Then there's no one to object when I cheat."
"It's not whether you win but how you win that's important," Amelia said.
"I've heard that before, and I don't agree at all. It's much nicer to win."
Poppy shook her head over her embroidery. "Beatrix, you are positively shameless."
"And a winner," Beatrix said with satisfaction, laying down the exact card she wanted.
"Where did we go wrong?" Amelia asked of no one in particular.
Win smiled. "Her pleasures are few, dear. A creative game of solitaire isn't going to hurt anyone."
"I suppose not." Amelia was about to say more, but she was diverted by a cold waft of air that slipped around her ankles and turned her toes numb. She shivered and pulled her knitted blue shawl more snugly around herself. "My, it's chilly in here."
"You must be sitting in a draft," Poppy said in concern. "Come sit by me, Amelia—I'm much closer to the fire."
"Thank you, but I think I'll go to bed now." Still shivering, Amelia yawned. "Good night, everyone." She left as Beatrix asked Win to read one more chapter.
As Amelia walked along the hallway, she passed a small room that, as far as they had been able to tell, had been intended as a gentlemen's room. It featured an alcove that was just large enough for a billiards table, and a dingy painting of a hunting scene on one wall. A large overstuffed chair was positioned between the windows, its velvet nap eroded. Light from a standing lamp slid across the floor in a diluted wash.
Leo was drowsing in the chair, one arm hanging loosely I over the side. An empty bottle stood on the floor near the ' chair, casting a spear-like shadow to the other side of the room.
Amelia would have continued on her way, but something about her brother's undefended posture caused her to stop. He slept with his head slumped over one shoulder, lips slightly parted, just as he had in childhood. With his face wiped clean of anger and grief, he looked young and vulnerable. She was reminded of the gallant boy he had once been, and her heart contracted with pity.
Venturing into the room, Amelia was shocked by the abrupt change of temperature, the biting air. It was far colder in here than it was outside. And it wasn't her imagination—she could see the white puffs of her breath. Shivering, she drew closer to her brother. The coldness was concentrated around him, turning so bitter that it made her lungs hurt to breathe. As she hovered over his prone form, she was swamped in a feeling of bleakness, a sorrow beyond tears.
"Leo?" His face was gray, his lips dry and blue, and when she touched his cheek, there was no trace of warmth. "Leo!"
Amelia shook him, pushed hard at his chest, took his stiff face in her hands. As she did so, she felt some invisible force pulling at her. She held on doggedly, knotting her fists in the loose folds of his shirt. "Leo, wake up!"
To her infinite relief, he stirred and gasped, and his lashes flickered upward. The irises of his eyes were as pale as ice. His palms came to her shoulders, and he muttered groggily, "I'm awake. I'm awake. Jesus. Don't scream. You're making enough noise to wake the dead."
"For a moment I thought that was exactly what I was doing." Amelia half collapsed onto the arm of the chair, her nerves thrilling unpleasantly. The chill was receding now. "Oh, Leo, you were so still and pale. I've seen livelier-looking corpses."
Her brother rubbed his eyes. "I'm only a bit tap-hackled. Not dead."
"You wouldn't wake up."
"I didn't want to. I? He paused, looking troubled. His tone was soft and wondering. "I was dreaming. Such vivid dreams?
He wouldn't answer.
"About Laura?" Amelia persisted.
His face closed, deep lines weathering the surface like fissures made by the expansion of ice inside rock. "I told you never to mention her name to me."
"Yes, because you didn't want to be reminded of her. But it doesn't matter, Leo. You never stop thinking about her whether you hear her name or not."
"I'm not going to talk about her."
"Well, it's fairly obvious that avoidance isn't working." Her mind spun desperately with the question of what tack to take, how best to reach him. She tried determination. "I won't let you fall to pieces, Leo."
The look he gave her made it clear that determination had been a bad choice. "Someday," he said with cold pleasantness, "you may be forced to acknowledge there are some things beyond your control. If I want to go to pieces, I'll do it without asking your bloody permission."