They were laughing again, there by the fireside.
It was colder by the window, but Colin liked to tell himself he didn't mind it; that he'd spent so many years in a closed-up, stuffy room that a faint chill was a pleasure.
Watching the pair of them, Mary seated on the floor next to Dickon's chair, her claret-colored skirts shifting around her as she knelt up for a closer look at the book they were browsing, Colin felt far more chilled than a simple London winter wind seeping through the casements in his father's townhouse could account for.
In a moment, he knew, the two of them would break off their muted conversation, and emerge from their own isolated world; Mary would look up and catch his eye, laughter still on her lips, and gesture for him to join them, the simple gold band on her finger flashing in the firelight.
Colin could see it all as though it had already happened, because it had, so many times before in the six months since Mary had agreed to marry Dickon; for far longer than that, if he was honest with himself. They had been three together, always, until one day Colin had found himself alone, pruning the roses in the garden, and he'd looked round to see Mary watching Dickon in a way she'd never looked at him.
That had been the beginning of the end for their pleasant trio. Colin had said, very firmly, that he was pleased for them, that he couldn't imagine anything better in the world than to have Dickon as a proper member of his family, and that much was true. He was pleased for them, was pleased to see the glow of happiness that surrounded them, the magic that one could fairly feel sparking off the pair of them when they were together. And yet, there was the chill, and an empty ache inside him that he'd once thought banished forever.
Just then, Mary looked up, rising to her feet and advancing across the room, though not towards him. He must have been too lost in his reverie to hear the bell, for his father was ushering in visitors – an older gentleman of his father's age, and a young lady with dark curls and a warm smile.
Preoccupied as he was, Colin barely took in the flurry of introductions, content to be thought rude and boorish and remain safe in his uncomfortable corner far from the fire.
Across the room, Dickon's low voice rumbled, and Mary laughed; Colin had once thought her laugh the sweetest sound in the world, and found he had to close his eyes to block the sight of her, to have just a moment to himself.
When he smelled roses, Colin thought for a brief second the magic had taken hold of him, transported him back to Yorkshire in summer, back to a time when all was simpler, and they were happy to be three together, instead of two plus one. The rustle of cloth brought him back to himself, and to a London drawing room; when he opened his eyes, he found the dark-haired young lady seated beside him.
“Do you overheat easily, Mr. Craven, that you sit so far from the fire?” she asked, smiling. “I have met many Englishmen in India who simply do not thrive in the heat, and would much rather be back in a foggy British winter. I suspect they would choose this corner as well.”
He studied her carefully as she spoke, managing to dredge up her name from his memory – Miss Sara Crewe. Her dress was elegant but simple, her face and hair unadorned, and all the more lovely for it. Best of all, her voice was even and pleasing; he doubted she was a lady who giggled or simpered, ever.
“You've been to India?” he asked, realizing he'd remained silent quite long enough.
“I was born there,” she answered, “and I have often returned since. It is a beautiful land, if overwarm for some.”
“That is much how Mary describes it,” he responded, nodding in Mary's direction. “Miss Lennox, I mean. She was born there as well.”
“Yes, I know,” Sara said, still with that soft smile on her face, as though she found something pleasant in every moment of life. “I met Mary when she was in London this summer. It turns out her mother and mine were cousins of some sort. She told me I must come and visit when she returned to town for Christmas.”
That summer – of course, Colin thought. Mary had traveled to London to have the trousseau for her wedding made up, a gift from Colin's father. Probably given in recompense for the look on his face when he'd been informed that his niece wished to marry a plain Yorkshire lad off the moor, Colin thought, then flushed with shame. His father had been very good about it, really (he would not think of the night his father had said to him over a few too many glasses of brandy, “I had always thought you and Mary well suited, honestly,” he would not), and the gift had been given with the most honest of familial affection, he was sure. Apparently it had been the making of a new friend for Mary as well.
“Have you known her long?” Sara asked, and Colin realized he'd been staring once more at Mary, letting his thoughts blow him about like so much rubbish.
“Since we were children,” he said, blinking and turning towards Sara, noting that her smile had vanished, replaced by a look of such seriousness and attention that he felt, for that moment, as though they were the only people in the room. “She is my dearest friend in all the world, along with Dickon, of course. We have all three been together for always, it seems.”
“Ah,” said Sara, her green eyes moving between Colin and the pair by the fireside. “How close you must all be.”
“We are,” he responded, the rose scent of her perfume drifting between them, making their cold little corner feel a bit enchanted. “They saved my life when we were young, I think. I was very ill, you see, or thought I was. They helped me to get well.”
“Really? How marvelous that is. How did they manage it?”
Colin smiled at her ruefully, shaking his head. “You likely wouldn't believe me.”
Sara tipped her head to the side, watching him carefully, as though she could see the thoughts running behind his eyes. “I might not,” she said, her voice still smooth and deliberate. “But I should try not to show it, and you will find me willing to believe a great many things.”
He paused for a moment, studying her face, wondering how she achieved the trick of making one feel that they could tell her anything, and find her not only sympathetic, but wholeheartedly willing, indeed, longing to hear every word. It was a gift Dickon possessed in abundance, and one that Colin knew well he and Mary never had.
“They brought magic into my life,” he said abruptly. “They showed me that magic was possible, and it healed me.”
Even with all her talent for sympathy, he half expected her to laugh, or to look at him as though he were still unwell; the few people he'd expressed this belief to outside of Misselthwaite always had, though with Mary at his back to say, in her stubborn little way, “They're just fools, Colin, don't pay them any mind – we know the truth of things, and that is quite enough,” it had never seemed so horrible as it might otherwise have done.
But Sara Crewe was, as he was growing more certain of with every moment, a very extraordinary person indeed; she did neither of those things, but instead leaned towards him and took a hold of his hand, squeezing his fingers in hers and saying in a breathless little whisper, “I believe you entirely, Mr. Craven. For you see, I know something of magic myself.”
Colin looked at her face, so open and honest and flushed with earnest belief, and felt some of the emptiness inside himself break and flow away, felt his chilled fingers warming with life under hers.
And he felt himself willing to believe, for the first time in months, that the magic was working for him still.