"I've never seen it like this, in the city," Maisie repeated, for about the seventeenth time that afternoon.
What was there to say? Emma pulled Maisie's spare dressing gown tighter around her shoulders and looked out Maisie's bedroom window at Halifax, white-blanketed. The thing about a novelty was, once you'd seen it for the first time, and then continued seeing it from the same window for two days, it stopped being much of anything besides an inconvenience.
"I was meant to cover the February meeting of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of Empire," Emma said, and then yawned. "Or—I think that was today."
She was talking to herself, mostly. Gazing out at the snow.
"I—suppose you could try your luck on Charger," said Maisie. "Rowland's ridden him in the snow and the ice many times, when we took the children north. Of course, Rowland's such an excellent horseman; I don't suppose you—"
"No," Emma said, "no." She shook her head, as if she were a dog and Rowland a flea in her ear; then turned back to Maisie, with a sigh. "Don't be absurd," she said. "The Daughters won't be meeting in this."
"Well," said Maisie. "You've been spared an excruciatingly dull two hours, I should say."
She sat back in bed, her arms crossed; her lavender peignoir still half-undone over her bosom and tugged crooked over one shoulder, from—earlier. Emma's traitorous watering mouth.
"Not a supporter of scholarships for women?"
Maisie made a face. "I can support them perfectly well from here," she said, chin up, delivering her pat little opinion in that pat little—self-satisfied voice that made Emma want to—shake her, or. Something of the kind. If she'd possibly imagined, when she'd set out on Tuesday, being cut off from New Glasgow, unable to so much as look at her manuscript and meanwhile stuck in the same house as bloody Maisie for days on end she'd have—good grief. A friend of the heart, she had written to Paulie, sufficiently long ago that he'd probably even read the letter by now: and Emma felt, suddenly, tremendously cold, thinking of it. She stood at the head of Maisie's bed, fingers tracing the line of purple lace along the swell of a breast.
"Do you?" Emma said.
"Write out cheques to the Endowment for Female Scholarship," said Emma, slipping her palm inside to cup the heavy weight of Maisie's breast and then, what had she to lose, climbing back up onto the bed, her leg over Maisie's hips, both of them bare beneath their dressing-gowns. She couldn't entirely tell whether Maisie's scandalised squawk was in response to Emma's nip at her throat, or the suggestion she throw perfectly good money into the laps of impoverished schoolgirls. Under her Maisie moved and her hands and Emma didn't—for a moment she didn't care.
Later, looking out at the drifting white, Maisie laughed, out of nowhere, and said, "Is this why you didn't want to marry Paulie, then? For all those years?"
"Hm?" Emma rolled over to look at her. "Is what why?"
Maisie waved a hand: the room; the bed. The two of them. "You're," she said. "Like this."
Emma's neck went hot.
"You were noticeably like this about ten minutes ago, from what I recall," she said. "And thirty, and two hours since, and—"
"Oh," Maisie said, "but that's…" making a noise in her throat, waving her hand again, not bothering to finish. "If Rowland were here."
Emma—nodded. Drew the heavy duvet up around her: lovely, goose-down. Better than anything she and Paulie could afford, still sleeping as they did beneath the old quilts Rebecca had given him a decade ago. Between the down and the snow she felt, oh, clouded, vaguely. Cushioned; yet muffled, as well. She imagined trying to say to Maisie, sitting there with her mussed blonde curls and her pampered little pout in the exquisite lace Rowland had bought for her: what? When Rowland signed his consent for you to keep your own wages—it was absurd. Maisie'd nothing of the sort. Or: Did you ever notice, passing through New Glasgow, a tavern on Vale Road, the Blue Bear it's called, bought and paid for and run with my mother's scraped-up money and handed happily by the Honourable Justice George Burton to her liege lord my father when he stumbled back to us still drunk after—a decade—but just. Clouds, of pillowy silence. For several completely separate reasons, most of which had always applied equally to Paul, she knew perfectly well that Maisie would never in her life have drunk in a tavern on Vale Road.
"If you think I don't love your brother," Emma said, and her throat closed up. A friend of the heart: the phrase she had pulled up out of the depths of herself that horrible day after Annie had left her, when he'd taken her out and bought her dinner thinking something was really wrong, thinking she'd been swindled or struck by some brute or abandoned by a lover and he had said, But Emmy, laughing a little, relief all over his lovely open face, that's hardly—it's not as if I—mind—. And so she'd known, weeks back, writing to him care of the 25th Battalion, that he would take her meaning. She hadn't, however, mentioned the woman's name.
"Mama always wondered," Maisie said, her voice muzzy, unconcerned; and then rolled over away from Emma, burrowing into the covers. "She always said you must not be good enough for Paulie, if you dragged your feet like that. She always hated you for it, I think."
And before Emma could recoil, or—laugh, or bring her hand to her chest at the thought of Rebecca, with her kind, weathered, no-nonsense body amidst her sheep and her barley, hating her, for that, Maisie had gone soft, snoring into her pillow as outside the window the snow continued to fall.