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The Lady of the House

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    Edmund took care that his approach should be audible as he made his way down into the garden. The sky was darkening, and the air was damp with the rain just passed. Almost out of sight of the house, he found a small figure huddled on an old stone bench.
    'Lu?' he ducked under a branch in dire need of pruning, and perched on the arm of the bench. His sister turned her head sideways, resting her cheek on the arms she had wrapped around her knees, and slipped him a tiny smile.
    'Hail, brother,' she said, and her voice barely wobbled. He laid a hand on her shoulder, forgoing the reprimand Susan would have given her for her mode of speech.
    'Hail, Queen Lucy. Our noble host sends me to enquire if you will join us in his study to drink of the finest wartime cocoa.'
    Lucy untangled her limbs reluctantly. 'Oh, all right then. I suppose I'd better put on my best royal face and endure the celebrations.' Edmund offered her his arm with his best courtly bow, and Lucy took it to rise, and then tucked one small brown paw into his and clung rather too tightly to his elbow with the other. 'Is this how Su felt the night before the three of us went off to battle, do you think, Ed?'
    'No...' Edmund looked down into her serious eyes, and knew comfort would be of no use. 'I don't think so at all, Lu. After all, she had Tumnus, and the whole court, and her own work to do in the castle. Whereas you'll be at a bit of a loss, won't you? New school should be good fun after a while, but I expect you'll have a rotten time of it for the first week or so, with just the Professor for company.'
    'I shall have a rotten time of it until half-term, and then a rotten time until Christmas, and probably a rotten time until Easter and next summer, and you know it, Ed.'
    'With any luck, this dratted war will be over soon, and you'll be back home long before any of us.'
    Lucy was silent for a long moment. As they came up to the house again, she kicked her Wellington boots off resentfully. 'I should think that would be worse, in its own way. At least the Professor knows. And the gardens... if I concentrate hard enough, I could almost be in the gardens of Cair Paravel again. Don't you think it all seems so close sometimes, Ed?' Edmund could not deny that he did. 'Sometimes I think I could just tear this world away and find Narnia underneath,' Lucy finished, ripping off her Macintosh coat in a sharp motion.

~

November 15th, 1942

Guillamerose Manor

Dear Peter,

    I'm afraid I have been terribly lax about writing you, but having known me, no doubt you shall be surprised to hear from me at all. You may, perhaps, be equally surprised to hear that I have been an avid audience to such news as Lucy will share from your letters. It is not, you understand, that I am disinterested in your doings, but I am comfortably certain you have it in you to do well, and that you should write me if there were any way in which I could help you. It is apparent, however, that Lucy has been a good influence upon me: it is hard on her, with no one her own age about, and harder still if I follow my wont and take to my study for days at a time. Thus, I find myself eating regular meals, having regular conversation, and taking a regular interest in the activities of mankind. Lucy tells me you row for the Second Eight, and that Edmund has taken up a place on the Junior Debating side. I'm pleased to hear it, firstly because the activities themselves are worthwhile, and secondly because, as I am sure you are aware, they will stand you both in good stead when you come to apply to a College. In addition, I'm pleased to hear you have both found something to which you may devote your energies. I know well that after an adventure such as yours, it is difficult to live the life in front of us, but you understand, my boy, that it is better to live fully the life you have than to be lost in one gone.
    Peter, this brings me to the matter which concerns me most. I fear that your adventure has hit Lucy harder than it has the rest of you, perhaps because she is all alone here (for I understand, an old man such as I does not matter much by way of company to a small girl). She does not speak often of her adventures, nor ask me about mine, and I feel this is probably for the best. Yet I sense she is troubled of mind. Her teacher writes that she has no real friends in class- which is not entirely surprising, for these wartime schools are unstable institutions, with children coming and going, and overcrowded with evacuees. I believe the teachers are truly overworked, and Lucy does not seem to be the only child to cause concern. You and I know, however, that Lucy is not entirely like the other children of London. I believe she is naturally a sociable child, and this self imposed isolation worries me. I voiced my concern to your mother when she came up to take Lucy to spend half-term with you, and she seemed confident that Lucy would come good in time. But your mother, of course, does not know what you children have experienced since you left home.
    In the letter I have from her teacher, it seems that not only is Lucy most often alone, she has been seen to be talking to herself, or to such animals as are about, and the teacher believes she lives more than half in some world of her own devising. Mrs Macready, who has a nephew in the same school, tells me that the children often ask her nephew if he has heard anything queer about Lucy from home. Boys will talk, and it does not do to give too much credence to rumour, but it is nonetheless distressing news. I believe her classmates may not be entirely kind to her, and that can hardly improve her state of mind.
    Lucy misses all three of you terribly, as I'm sure you know, Peter, but I believe she misses you most of all. When she had your letter saying you were in the Second Eight, she fairly flew into my study to tell me at once. She is very proud of you in everything, and I must ask that you make a special point of writing her often, although I know you will be increasingly busy with examinations. Furthermore, I hope that when you return for Christmas, you will take particular care of Lucy, and perhaps find some way of coming into her confidence. I think the loneliness is the worst part of it all for her, and perhaps her troubles would not weigh on her so much if she had someone with whom to share them.
    Please give my best regards to Edmund, and urge him to write more often himself. I shall look forward to seeing you at Christmas. Your mother writes that, if I will extend my hospitality (which of course I shall), she will be here the day before you return from school, and your father will join us on Christmas Eve.

    Yours, with warm regards


    Prof. Digory Kirke.

~

January 22nd 1943
Oxford

My dear Digory,

    I am delighted to hear from you, and of course, I shall come to stay with you for a few weeks. I would offer to stay with you until the summer, but I have responsibilities with the Red Cross here, and I do believe it is good for you to have charge of a child. Why, you answered my last letter within a few weeks of my writing it, and that is quite an unheard-of occurrence. I am sorry to hear, however, that Lucy's state of mind has not much improved since Christmas. I had felt sure that the chance to spend nearly two weeks with her parents and siblings would bring about some good change for her.
    Being quite sure of your welcome, or at least quite sure of your indulgence of my wishes, I have taken the liberty of extending your hospitality to a young gentleman I have met recently. An Australian soldier in the British army, he was wounded some months ago and has been staying with a good friend of mine in Cambridge for his convalescence, but has not recovered his full strength as quickly as we had hoped. The country air at Guillamerose may do him a world of good. I hope he may be good company for Lucy, as well. He is barely twenty-one, and has at home some seven brothers and sisters ranging in age from six to seventeen, so he is quite at home with children. But of course, your Lucy is no ordinary child, and it seems to me that if she is not at home in the company of her peers, then perhaps the company of younger adults than you or I may do her good.
    You remain puzzled as to why Lucy does not have any companions her age, when she is so comfortable with her siblings. From what you have told me of their time in Narnia, Digory, the child you have in your care less than a year ago was some twenty-five years old. What a shock like that would do to a girl's mind I cannot say, but in all, it should not be surprising that she prefers the company of adults. I hope then that Walter (that is the friend of whom I spoke) and I can do something to lift her spirits. I think you might do well to charge her with showing Walter the grounds and entertaining him a little, a sense of responsibility may bring her out of herself.
    For myself, I look forward immensely to meeting another friend of Narnia. I ought to be miffed with you, that you did not invite me earlier, to meet all of the children. Why, you did not even tell me about their adventure, until you had cause to worry over Lucy! Just like a man.
    I will arrive Thursday week, on the evening train, and I shall bring Walter with me, unless you telegram otherwise.

    Until then, all my love to you and Lucy,

    Polly.

~

April 2nd, 1943

Dear Su,

    I'm sorry your pantomime was cancelled this year, but what else did you expect? There is a war on, as the Rector often reminds us, and pantomimes take fabric and fuel that could be better spent. Have you thought about debating? I've found it great fun, and of course debating does not require costumes or lights or any such things.
    Peter has had a letter from the Professor again. We are to take our names off the lists to stay over Easter- he wants us home with Lucy if we can. I think he's beginning to seriously fear for her stability of mind, and honestly, so am I. You remember the kitten Mother gave her for Christmas? I found her in the garden, crying and begging it to talk. The Professor says she's better when we're around, and I for one would rather spend the hols at Guillamerose than at school.
    Peter and I have taken our names off the Easter list already. Do change yours as soon as you can, and write us back to say which train you're on. We'll meet you at that little junction and take the train to Guillamerose together.

    Love, as always,

    Ed.

~

    Peter settled into the window seat, resting his chin on his knees and watching the rain fall on the window panes. He felt the heavy presence of the wardrobe behind him, but he refused to turn, refused to look and find mere furniture. Instead, he watched the rain, and remembered.
    The big door creaked open, and Peter wondered how often Lucy came in here, to keep vigil with the wardrobe alone. He made space for her in his window seat, but Lucy slid into his lap and curled against him. Peter rested his chin on her curls with an almost imperceptible sigh, and tucked her into the safety of his arms. He had feared this might have changed, in the year that he had grown younger (never say weaker), and she had grown... stranger.
    He did not know what to say to her anymore, but silence between them was even more discomfiting.
    'That was an awfully queer service this morning,' he said, more to fill the silence than anything else. It had been a queer sort of service. The Professor's church was a good deal more elaborate than anything Peter had been to at home, or even at school. The pomp and ceremony reminded him a little of Narnia, but even Narnian funerals were never so stifling. He knows the man playing Christ had moved around the nave in stages, but Peter remembers the service as a frozen tableau. Edmund, his fists clenched and his face white, his eyes locked on the trial at the Sanhedrin. Susan, head demurely bowed before the altar to receive communion. The Professor, standing up to sing, hymnbook in hand but the singing the tune by heart. Aunt Polly, an old friend of the Professor's, her eyes falling on the children with that funny hungry look Peter fancied he had caught in them a few times before. Lucy, her face streaming with tears as the women waited at the foot of the Cross. And there was Peter, watching over them all in their private worlds, and barely noticing the service himself. He tightened his arms around Lucy now, as he had not been able to do in church that morning.
    'Those women can't have hurt half as much as I did,' Lucy muttered into his shoulder. 'He was only a man, after all.'
    'No, Lu... He...' Peter found himself unable to unravel the intricacies of Trinitarian doctrine- that was more Ed's thing, after all. But he suspected that it wouldn't matter to Lucy anyway.
    'Everything hurts more in Narnia,' he said instead, thinking of battlefields and tactical mistakes and the death of friends.
    Lucy's voice was quiet, but sure. 'Everything loves more in Narnia.'

~

May 15th 1943
Finchley

Dearest Lucy,

    Thank you for your letter; your father and I are both well, and we miss you dreadfully. I'm pleased to hear you have been cooking with Mrs MacReady- remember how you all complained about her when you first moved to Guillamerose? Although how you can enjoy cooking anything on wartime rations, I have no idea. There are days when I quite despair at the things I have to set in front of your father.
    I have been busy with the Red Cross here, as usual. We have made miles and miles of socks, acres of sheets and furlongs of bandages! But the need never ends, I suppose. You might turn your hand to knitting, Lulu- I'm sure Mrs MacReady could turn the heels for you. Your sister writes that her class have been hemming sheets and the students are all tending the school vegetable patch.
    Speaking of Susan, I was hoping to take you up to the school at half-term to sort out your enrolment for next year. I have written to the boys' school and asked if they may take the train over, and with any luck we will all have a day out once I have finished my business at the school. I am very much looking forward to seeing you all again. This war seems to drag on and on, doesn't it?
    Lulu, Peter and Professor Kirke have both mentioned to me that you don't seem entirely happy at Guillamerose. Your school marks have been outstanding, but it has been harder for you to adjust to the new school than I'd expected. Would you like to come home? Oh, I know the danger has not passed here, but many of the first evacuees have returned to London already. I cannot bear the idea of you so homesick and on your own. If you were to come home, I suppose the others would as well, when term ends. London is hardly a jolly place to be during the war, but perhaps we will endure it better together.
    Write me soon, love, and I shall come up and collect you as soon as you like. Your father sends his love and his regards to Professor Kirke.

    All my love,

    Mother

 

~

2nd June 1943

Dear Lu,

    Good news! We took out the Lacrosse tournament! It was a clean sweep, we were all delighted, particularly considering that we were down four of our best players. Alice and Joan have stayed at home in Scotland this year, and the Morseby twins have the mumps. The last sport for the year will be archery, and I've been training for months. The school bow felt very peculiar in my hand, at first, but after the first few weeks it was like an old friend. I must say I'm rather proud of myself, too- my aim is truer than it was last year.
    Aunt Polly came and took me out to tea the other weekend. I was surprised to hear from her. I liked her pretty well when we met her at Easter, but I hadn't thought to hear from her during term time. She had bought a few books in the village that she thought she might lend to you- I hope she does, the Professor's house isn't exactly well-stocked with the sorts of books you'd read, is it?
    Lu: Aunt Polly and the boys, even the Professor, have all been worried about you. Mother and Father too- Mother wrote that she wanted to take you home, but that you would rather stay in the country until the war is over. Lu, I do wish you would write and change your mind. Just think- we could all be home by August! Of course, there's still bombing in London, but that would almost be an adventure if we were home again. I know you're not homesick for Finchley, but you might spare a thought for those of us who are.
    I'm afraid you're dwelling too much on Narnia, Lucy. You and Peter both. Did you see that bruise he had at half-term? I got it out of Ed eventually- Peter's been in fights all year over the silliest things. Ed thinks Pete might be close to losing his place in the boat, if he keeps on giving lip to the coach and the rest of the team. High King of the Second Eight. At least you aren't getting into fist-fights, I suppose. Lu, do buck up. Remember what the Professor said: 'once a King or Queen, always a King or Queen.' It's not a matter of where we are, it's who. King Peter would never have been in fisticuffs behind the boat shed, although our Pete doesn't seem to realise that. And the Queen Lucy I knew would not have wasted nearly a year in dreamland.
    Give some thought to what I said about going home, would you, Lu?

    All my love,

    Susan.

~


23rd June 1943
Oxford

Dear Lucy,

    I am glad you liked Mr White's books. I'm afraid there are only three, although you're right, it does seem unfinished. Perhaps that is the best kind of adventure: one which leaves you always wanting more. It's funny, isn't it, how the idea of Camelot is so powerful, though it is long lost? Many years ago, the Professor and I used to play at knights and ladies in garden at Guillamerose. The summerhouse was our fort, if I recall correctly.
    You might ask the Professor about Thomas Malory's book- it would, I think, be too much for you to read on your own, but he has done some work on it when he was at Cambridge. If he is half as vain about his knowledge as I think he is, he would delight to read it with you, and no doubt furnish you with endless long-winded explanations. Malory is nearly as long-winded as Digory at times, and no doubt they would make a fine pair. But don't let that deter you!
    For something more suited to your age, I believe our Professor has a copy of Professor Tolkien's delightful little book The Hobbit which you might enjoy. It has everything one needs in an adventure: elves and dwarves and goblins and trolls, and even a dragon! No story is really complete without a dragon, don't you think?
    Summer is well on its way, and I shall make a point of coming out to visit you when your brothers and sister are home again. With any luck, I will have found some new book to share with you by then! Send my love to Professor Kirke, and remind him that he has not written to me since Easter.

    Until we meet again,

    Aunt Polly.

~

10th July 1943

Dear Lucy,

    Well, the school year is almost over. It has gone by in quite a blur, although I expect it has dragged its heels and grumbled its way along for you. You've been a real trooper, Lu. This year has been rough on you, but if it counts for anything I'm proud of you for sticking it out on your own. I don't know what I'd have done without Peter here this year, although I don't mind saying he's been a right ass most of the time.
    I've plenty to tell you, but we're at the point where it can wait until we see each other again. Would you tell the Professor that we will be in on the afternoon train? We're meeting Susan at the junction up line, and we'll all three come down to Guillamerose together. You know, I fancy I miss the manor as much as home.

    My love and Peter's,

    Edmund.

~

    Lucy sat and fidgeted in the bay window at the front of the house, watching the road for the tell-tale cloud of dust. She fretted at the collar of her new dress- a birthday present from the Professor, in flagrant violation of the war rationing. Wars, he declared, were not won and lost over little girl's dresses. Every so often, she dashed to the kitchen, to pester Mrs MacReady and make sure, for the umpteenth time, that everything was in place.
    At last! Dust on the horizon formed itself into the distant shape of a cart.
    'They're here!' Lucy shouted, wrenching the front door open and hopping on one foot on the step. The Professor materialised behind her, and she stood straighter, determined to act with all the solemnity that befits a state homecoming. There, there they were, turning into the drive! There was Mrs MacReady's eldest nephew, looking less like a royal coachman than anyone ever did, chewing on a straw as his pony jogged along up the drive. And there was Susan, with gay ribbons in her braids; and there was Ed, perched on the front board of the cart, handling the reins with great concentration, as if he had never ridden Narnia's most fearsome warhorses. And there was Peter, leaning out of the side of the cart, the sun gleaming in his hair as he waved his hat and cried 'Ho, Lucy!'.
    They all tumbled out of the cart in a heap, and surged up the path to overwhelm Lucy with hugs and greetings. At length, she disentangled herself and drew about herself the remnants of her formal demeanour.
    'Won't... won't you come inside and take your coats upstairs?' The Professor, sensing his cue, held the front door open. 'And then, when you are ready, if you will join us in the sitting room, there will be tea and war cakes.'
    Lucy stood by the door as her siblings trooped past and clattered loudly upstairs. Susan gave her an odd look as she went inside, and Peter gave her a tolerant smile. Edmund, the last to enter, presented her with one of his rare grins.
    'Sounds fabulous, Lu,' he said, and ruined her solemn pose with another bear hug.
    And then she and the Professor were alone in the doorway again. Lucy was about to wish that she had tumbled upstairs with her siblings, to perch on the end of a bed and chatter while they took off their coats, and then to clatter downstairs with them again. But as she turned to go inside herself, the Professor caught her eye, and made her a small bow.
    He offered her his arm, 'If it please you, my Lady.'