All the Devil's Greed

“By trying to convince himself I was a devil by nature, my father made me a devil by nurture.”

Mary-Ann Lansfield’s outbursts cause strange happenings in their house, prayers and church visits seem to stir unbearable pain inside her, and her hunger is so insatiable she’s forced to raid the pantry every night just to keep it at bay. It’s no wonder, really, that everyone believes she’s possessed by the Devil.

The more she’s hurt and berated by those around her, the wickeder Mary-Ann feels, and the more she longs for the freedom she’s been denied all her life- the freedom to live however, love whoever, and eat whatever she chooses. Even after everything she’s been told about the evil in the world, what she really wants is to become every inch the monster she’s feared to be.

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Author's note

Hello! I'd just like to stress that this book contains a lot of blood, guts, violence, abuse, and religious themes. My protagonist is extremely morally skewed and her opinions are most definitely not my own. If you're sensitive to anything of this nature, I'd recommend giving this story a miss, but if it sounds like your jam, I hope you enjoy! Jem :)
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2. Clumsiness

One of the few things my father and I have in common is our thorough disdain for modern fashion. I don’t understand, for instance, why even my most forgiving corsets insist on pushing my breasts so high from my neckline. I suppose I’ve got enough chest that there’s really nowhere else they can go.

Whenever I strip down to stare at myself, clinging onto the thin hope it’ll eventually disgust me enough to push down my hunger, which it never does, I end up standing there for far too long. Five minutes. Ten. Fifteen. I know every inch of myself by now, but the urge to do so is unstoppable. That mirror’s been broken several times. Replaced without a word.

Despite my father’s cruel words about my weight, I’m not an ugly girl. My eyes are large and upturned like a doll’s, and their dark, stormy violet-tinged blue is a rare beauty, according to those precious few who’ve ever passed me kind words. My lips are full and my nose isn’t too big and my jaw’s not too hard. My skin, whilst it’s reddish and mottled whenever I flush, which is frequently, is creamy and smooth when I blank my mind, and my golden-blonde hair, tangled and huge as it is when I loose it, is possible to wrangle into sensible ringlets given enough time.

My father has spent five years trying to convince me that my outward appearance is my most important asset, and that the fact I’m overweight is keeping it from me, just as it’s keeping the suitors from me. It’s rare that a girl as rich as me isn’t married by the age of sixteen, but I don’t believe my weight is the reason; I believe my bad reputation is. The townspeople have seen me riding through town seated astride my horse like a man; they’ve seen the mud and sometimes the blood on my skirts. They observe my strange side-twisted grins and awkward catching giggles and the way I tug the hoods of my cloaks over my face whenever I catch them looking. They see my austere dresses, my long sleeves and high necklines and elbow-length gloves even in the very hottest depths of summer- and they whisper, not entirely behind my back, about my puritanical father. They fear him.

I finally cut off my stare and begin to dress. Since it’s a Saturday, I’m permitted to wear one of my lighter dresses- the ones my mother buys for me from the boutiques in the city whenever she visits. They don’t flatter me- the empire waistbands inflate what little waist I have and make me look oddly boxy, where my painful corsets at least give me a figure- but they comfort me. I wish they were darker, colder colours, but my status means I must stand out in a crowd. Hate it, but that’s the way it is. After my underwear I pick up my favourite dress- the grey-green with the worn hem- up from where it’s slumped in a puddle on the bathroom tiles and pull it on over my head. It gets stuck on my hips- but I grit my teeth and tug till it fits. I’d sooner be hanged or drowned or burned alive than ask Lula for help with my dressing. Than let anyone see me less than dressed.

I sigh, looking back up into the mirror as I fasten my green cloak around my shoulders and bundle myself into the swathes of fabric, pulling my wild gold hair out and tumbling it down in front of my shoulders. Hiding myself further. Wish I didn’t have a mirror. Didn’t have to look at myself. But that’s the way it is.

I’m hungry. Starving, even. I wonder what’s for breakfast.

 

 

The fact that my father never sickens of staring at me is astounding. He must know every detail of me by now, so why must he keep looking? His eyes bore into me as I eat, even though I’m only eating the last few scraps of the two pieces of unbuttered toast I’m prescribed by the kitchen. Nothing wrong with what I’m doing at all. Maybe it’s the way I gulp the ale from my glass, thrust it back down with a tightly clenched fist like I’ve seen the young workmen do in the taverns. Glare at him through my hair, then smile a smile everyone in this room knows is as artificial as his. I deliberately lick my lips as I drop my head back to my empty plate. I wonder why it is that we never have anything to talk about. Marriage and my accursed clumsiness are the only subjects that leave our lips in the breakfast-room. Or the lunch-room. Or any of forty-one of our forty-two rooms, for that matter.

“Good day, everyone.” My father grumbles. My mother looks up at him in surprise as he gets up to leave.

“Henry? Leaving so early?”

“I’ve got work to do in my study.” He crosses the room and yanks the door open, vanishing with a clattering of heavy footsteps into the darkness of the hallway.

“Where else would we have him work, I wonder.” I say softly, picking up my fork and jabbing it down onto my empty plate.

“Mary-Ann.”

“I was merely wondering why he felt the need to tell us, Mother.” I look up at her, and see she’s pressed her lips thin. “That’s where he always goes when he leaves us. To his study. To work. So why would he bother to clarify?”

I’m just trying to pick a fight with him, and I know it, but the household is more than used to that. They know to ignore my foolish remarks, so I see no purpose in holding them back.

My mother sighs. She’s a beautiful picture of the delicacy and innocence of her birth class- a class even higher than our own. Her skin is pale ivory and only lightly sketched with age lines. Her brown eyes are large and seem permanently nervous, her lips full and perpetually gormless or frustrated. Her long dark hair has a hint of red about the bottom, and a hint of silver about the crown- unlike mine, it obeys elaborate braids and tight buns with very little tantrum. I suppose I look like her, or would. Had I been thin. Or she fat.

Mother sits back in her chair. She finished her breakfast long ago, but typically doesn’t get up from that seat till nearly lunchtime. After all, she has nothing to do. Ever. She just tends to sit here, and sometimes I see her losing her focus entirely, or leaving this plane- she keeps her poise, but her eyes glaze. I see it beginning to happen now, and so I seize my opportunity.

“Mother?” I say again, trying to lighten my voice.

She blinks a couple of times before looking at me. “Yes?”

“May I…” I trail off. “Go for a ride?”

She blinks again. The woman does very little other than blink. “You know you’re supposed to be practising your piano this morning before we visit Martha.”

I slump lower in my chair. I’d forgotten all about our planned visit to the Klines across town- Mum’s thoroughly dull friend and her two thoroughly dull daughters I suppose are the closest friends I have. “But why?”

“Why what?”

“Why must you insist I learn the piano? We all know I can’t carry a tune to save my life.”

Lula, the housemaid, laughs as she comes in to start clearing the plates. I grin to myself, but when I glance up at Mother I see her expression has turned irritated.

“I don’t insist on the piano, Mary-Ann. I insist on your competence at at least one skill- the piano is merely the latest we have tried.”

“Mother, I’m not terrible at needlework.”

“Not terrible is not synonymous with competent.”

“But I’m competent at it.”

“You’re more competent at embroidering your fingers than a handkerchief.”

“But it’s still something.” I sigh, slumping over in my chair. Anything to get out of the piano practice and the house, at least for the morning. Anything. “Father even told me to stop the other day.” I press her. “The piano, I mean. He was working and I was trying to play the new chord progressions. He did! He came out of the study and told me he’d rather listen to a thunderstorm.”

He also slammed the piano lid on my fingers with a BANG, but Mother doesn’t need or want to know that.

“You’d be able to carry a tune better if only you practised, darling.” She says.

“Please, Mother. I will practise. But I want a ride this morning. I’ll be back in time for the visit, I promise.”

“And not muddy your clothes.”

I look down guiltily.

“Or at least if you muddy your clothes get back in time for us to fix you up before you go out on your visit, Miss Lansfield,” Lula says, ruffling my hair as she comes to clear my plate away. I smile, but then wipe my expression clear to plead with Mother with my eyes.

“Please, Mother.”

“Your father won’t approve.”

“I know.”

Mother pauses, then sighs and leans back in her chair. I wonder if it’s me that’s making her ill, or just the desperate difficulty of being a noblewoman whose servants answer her every whim.

“Yes, you may.”

I blink at her. “I may?”

“You may. But you know the rules.”

“Yes, mother,” I say, getting up from the table and snatching my cloak- which Father made me take off during the meal- from the back of my chair. “No mud.”

“No injuries that’ll need cleaning. No going too fast.”

“Yes.” I pause, one hand on the doorhandle. I chorus the final rule with Mother. “And side saddle only.”

 

 

Never understood the point of side saddle. That’s why I don’t ever ride that way, even though it means I’ve got to lean all the way forwards to keep my skirts down and avoid making a spectacle of myself. Riding side saddle may look more ladylike if you’re elegant like every other girl in this town, but not if, like me, you’ve got all the poise of a burlap sack of vegetables. Let’s see who looks more ladylike once one of us has slid sideways off the horse and landed face-down in a puddle of mud and skinned both palms and a cheek because she was trying to sit like a lady. I never fall off when I’m riding like a man. Besides, who’s going to see me? Nobody but the horse, and I’m pretty sure my non-secret is safe with him.

Once I’m past the limits of the town I straighten up, readjusting myself so I’m sitting on my skirts. The freezing wind streams through my hair and my cloak like water and presses in sheets to my face, bringing sharp pricks of pain to my cheeks, and I try to suppress the wild grin from my face. I coax the horse to begin cantering as we reach the edge of the cliff. The tide is in, striking the walls of steeled granite at the base of the cliff and drawing back and forth, back and forth over broken shards of rock. One wrong move by the horse and we’re both dead. That’s why I love it so much. Before my father placed his curfews and ordered the servants to begin watching me more closely, I was able to sneak out in the evenings to walk along the beach. Sometimes Duncan would come with me, and we’d do all of the silly beach things siblings were meant to do- paddling in the froth, building muddy sandcastles, hunting for creatures in the rock pools. Sometimes I would come alone, but when I did come alone it would only be to sit and stare at the setting sun till it was nearly too dark to find my way back. Wetting and muddying my dresses till they clung to my legs like a second skin. Spreading my hair and arms out on the sand. Delaying the beating I was bound to receive on return. Wondering why I detested my family so much even though we were rich. Why, when even the bits of the world I can see from my bedroom window are so vast, must I be I doomed to spend my life sequestered in a dark miserable house with but forty-two rooms? Why, if my father detests me so much, can’t he just let me go?

I keep my eyes focused on my horse’s mane, gently slowing him to a trot as the ground beneath us thickens from dry mud to low tangled bushes. I’ve never been this far along the cliffs before- usually, my rides take me through town or up around the edge of the forest. Wonder if I’m going to get lost. If the undergrowth will grow taller and taller and swallow me. If the cliff will disintegrate, and feed me to the ravenous sea. I guide the horse away from the edge of the cliff. Wonder how much time has passed.

We crest a hill and just as we do, I feel my world lurching backwards, and hear the horse’s shrieking whinny. I yelp as he rears, but I’ve barely got the time to catch a breath before I’m flung back from the saddle. No mud puddle this time. No- that wouldn’t be painful enough. As I land amongst the bushes on my back, jarring the rest of the breath clean out of my body, I instantly feel guilty for forcing the horse to walk through this undergrowth. The bushes are thorn-bushes, and they scratch me up good and true. I wince as I stand- several spiked strands of weed peel from my arms, pulling their thorns from my skin.

“It’s okay.” I say to the horse, patting his back and stroking his mane as he continues to fuss. “Look, I’m okay. Look!”

I hold a palm out to his face, even though it’s peppered with black flecks of thorn and running with thin lines of blood. Then, I lean against his flank as I start to dig the thorns from my flesh. I wince, once, twice, three times. It’s nothing. I try to mount him again, but he whines and staggers back.

“Really? Very well.” I reach up to hold his rein. “Then I guess we’re going for a stroll. Side by side. Come on.”

Instead of turning back, as I know I should, I take another step through the undergrowth, feeling the ground reaching up to claw and snag at the hem of my dress. I tear it free. I sigh and keep walking, pulling the horse behind me; only when we’re free of the bushes do I glance up at the path in front of us. I feel eyes on me. There’s a lonely farmhouse a few tens of feet down the path, a solid black shadow against the grey-green sky. The front garden juts out close to the edge of the cliff and I can just make out a woman standing at the fence corner, surrounded by a cluster of pigs, watching me. She’s within shouting distance, but I don’t shout and neither does she. Why would we? To wish one another a good morning? I haven’t got the energy for empty pleasantries and most of the townspeople haven’t got the courage to acknowledge me, especially when I’m all cut up and dirtied. As I pass the farmhouse, though, I notice two things about the woman: Firstly, she’s more like a girl. My age, maybe younger. Fifteen or sixteen. Secondly, she’s smiling at me, and her smile actually looks genuine.

“Nasty fall?” She says.

I smile. “No, I’m fine. Don’t worry- I’m the clumsiest girl in town.” I look up at the horse as he pulls, trying to hold him still. Then, I turn back to the girl. She’s wearing a black tatty dress with bright scarlet rubber boots, and is ankle-deep in mud. Her build is slight, though she’s no shorter than me, and her face is elfish, with a pointed chin, high cheekbones and a small spray of freckles. Her brown hair is escaping from its ponytail. Must be new to town.

“But your dress.” She says, looking me up and down. She’s right- my dress is torn at the hem and smeared with blood wiped from my arms. I should be embarrassed to be talking to this commoner in this state, but I’m not. I’m just a girl and so is she.

“It’s alright. I ruin a lot of dresses. This one’s my favourite, though. Or was.”

“Well.” The girl blushes. “I guess when your father’s the richest clothing merchant in town that’s not a problem.”

I raise one eyebrow. “I beg your pardon?”

“Oh- Oh, Lord, I’m so sorry, Miss Lansfield. How rude of me. I- I’m sorry.”

“No, no. It’s okay.” I smile. “You’re right.”

“I’m a right rotten mess, Miss Lansfield.” The girl looks down at her feet, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “Can’t even talk polite without making a fool of myself.”

“Oh, you and me both.”

I smile, and she smiles back, nervously. This girl’s the last one in town who still calls me Miss Lansfield. Blind respect is respect nonetheless, not that I deserve it, and I can’t help feeling good, even though the poor soul’s so embarrassed. I see her looking around, like she’s unconvinced I’m out here alone.

“So.” I say. “What are you up to?”

She looks up from the pigs to me, eyes wide.

“If you don’t mind me asking.” I hurriedly add.

“No, no- no. Of-of course not. I, uh… I’m feeding the pigs.”

“Of course. I suppose I should have inferred that. From the pigs.” I smile, spotting the burlap sack in her hands and the tin trough against the other side of the fence. “And the trough with all the food in it.”

“Yes. Yes, I also, uh… I’m picking one out.”

“Picking one out?” I say. “For what?”

“Oh, for… for… the slaughterhouse.” The girl blinks. “Father’s inside with the flu. Asked me to deal with it.”

My gaze travels over to the black wooden hut beside the house. There’s an axe leant up against the door. I look back at her.

“Sorry.” She says, suddenly nervous again. “It’s not pleasant fare.”

“It’s okay.” I say. “Lord knows I’ve eaten enough meat. Knew well enough it didn’t grow on trees.”

She giggles, covering her mouth with her hand, and I grin at her. The horse pulls again, but I hold him still. I don’t want to go home- the longer I stay out here, the longer before I’m scolded for ruining my dress.

“My, um…” The girl steps forwards, detaching her boots from the mud with twin sucking sounds. She curls her hands around the railing and leans on it, smiling up at me. “My father and I sold some things to Lansfield Hall last… last week, actually. When we first arrived. Some chicken and some sausages.”

“Oh, yes?” I feel my cheeks starting to burn at the word chicken as I remember last night. Half of it. Half of it I ate. Its grease still dapples my nightgown and its bones are still in the flowerbed. Shameful. But the word sausages still pricks up my ears.

“Yes. How did you…” She tucks her hair, which is blowing in the wind, behind her ear again. “Find them?”

“Lovely.” I smile thinly. “My family had them for dinner yesterday. The best chicken I’ve ever tasted.”

I can still feel my cheeks burning. She cocks her head at me slightly, so I laugh. “Excuse the blush.” I say.

I know I should leave her alone, but I’m scared to go home. Besides, I already like her. Something in her face is welcoming, and the right sort of kind- not the polite kind. The genuine kind.

“It’s okay.” The girl giggles, but I see her trying to suppress it.

“Don’t be nervous.” I say. “You mustn’t be scared of me just because I’m rich.”

“It’s not because you’re rich at all.” She grins at me. “It’s not a disposition. Father used to say it’s a good half of my personality.”

I snort with laughter. She laughs back. Then, I look over at the ocean, which has calmed a little.

“You’re very lucky.” I say wistfully. “I wish I lived somewhere with a view like this.”

“But why? You’ve got such a… beautiful big home.”

“Big, yes. Beautiful?” I shudder at the thought of my big, dark, empty, cold house. It’s almost as though Father built it to be uncomfortable on purpose. “No. My home is like an… underground cavern.”

“Least your family’s got more money than the mad King. Least you don’t have to…” she turns and clutches the rail as she attempts to steady herself in the sucking mud. “Trip over pigs to scrape a living.”

I blink, surprised. Just seconds ago, she was too nervous to say a word and now she’s joking at my expense. I like her. “You’re right.”

“Nice view comes with real muck. You could live here if you fancied. Instead of me.” The girl looks down again, perhaps comparing her blackened mud-heavy skirt with my dog-eared blood-speckled one. “I could live in your nice big mansion. Pass for you.”

I raise one eyebrow, remembering for the first time she knows little of my father. I think of telling her living in my home is like prison.

“Think you’re a little thin to pass for me.” I say instead.

She was already thinking it. She was looking me up and down as I pulled my cloak away from my body to pick at a thorn in my dress. I’ve made her more nervous, so I laugh again.

“Still.” I say, cutting her off as she goes to speak. “I think if you dipped your head you’d pass for me for a good few days. Attention my father pays.”

She laughs again, more nervously. “My…” She runs a hand up through her fringe and the ribbon slides out, loosing her long hair which is instantly grabbed and pulled sideways by the wind. “Dark-haired head.”

“Yes.” I smile, but I see the girl looking down at the pigs. The burlap sack of feed in her hand is empty, and so is the trough- I realise I need to leave.

“Anyway.” I say. “I need to leave you alone now. Since you have work to do, and I don’t. I apologise for holding you up.”

She just smiles. I turn away to remount my horse. Once I’m on his back- side saddle, since she’s watching- I smile at her again.

“I might come back here some time.” I say. “Down this path, I mean. Seems a bit lethal for my horse, and me. But I’d like to talk to you again. If I won’t be a disturbance, that is.”

It’s the truth. We’ve talked for less than a few minutes, but I suppose I’m so lacking in friends that it was time enough to make me want to see her again.

“Oh, no, of course not!” the girl says. I smirk. “I mean.. no, no. No, do come back. I meant no, I’d like to, um… talk to you again. So do come back.” She sighs and looks up at me, wincing at her muddled words. “Miss Lansfield.”

“Oh, don’t call me Miss Lansfield.” I smile. “Call me by my first name. Any of the four. Take your pick.”

“Oh… oh, really? Okay. Okay.” She bites her lip, looking down.

“And you mustn’t worry about me like this. According to Father, the only real prestige in town, I’m not really worth the dirt on my dresses. But anyway. What’s your name?”

The girl bites her lip again. “Oh. Uh. Uh… Catty. Catherine. Catherine St. Clair.”

“Catty?” I say, smiling. “Which is it?”

“Uh, my… my father calls me C-Cat. But my real name’s Catherine. Of course. And…” She tucks her hair back again, only for the wind to snatch it out of her grasp. “My… my mother called- calls me Catty.”

My horse tries to pull away, but I yank him back one more time. “I’ll call you Catty. Since it’s the first name you got out.” I smile, and she smiles back. “So I suppose I may see you next Saturday. If you’re going to be here?”

Catty smiles. “Yes.”

“Nice to meet you, then. As I said a while ago before I then continued to talk, I’ll leave you in peace now.”

I laugh. She laughs back.

Then, I coax my horse to start moving, and we canter away, back towards the cliff edge.

 

 

Somehow, I manage to become utterly lost in the swirling of the pale-brown froth in my teacup. My eyes follow it around and around in circles and I only realise once my mother has pinched my arm and hissed my name that Martha’s just finished her story.

“Mary-Ann.”

“Yes, Mother?”

“You must have something to add.”

“Oh.” I look up at Martha, whose patronising grin makes my cheeks ache just from watching. I think I remember her saying something about a new tea-set, so I go with: “Yes, it’s marvellous.”

 Mother stares at me. “Have you no sympathy?”

“Um.”

“Oh, it’s perfectly alright, Alice- she’s just a bit of a daydream. It can’t be helped!” There Martha goes with that grating cackle again. “Mary-Ann, I was telling your mother about my younger cousin Celia. Her husband left her on Wednesday.”

“Oh.” I say, my cheeks starting to burn. On the other couch, I see Verity and Selina- Martha’s two daughters- hiding their giggles behind their hands. “I- I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Why ever would he do that, I wonder?” Mother asks.

I cough. “Probably ran off with someone younger.”

“Mary-Ann, watch your tongue.”

“I’m sorry.” I clear my throat and look up at Martha, whose sweet grin makes me grind my teeth. “I’m sorry.” I repeat.

“Now.” Martha waves her hands and looks over at Selina, her older daughter, just a year younger than me. The girl jumps up, the corkscrew tendrils about her ears springing back and forth as she rushes to sit with her mother. “For the important news.”

As Selina removes her glove I feel Mother just barely taking hold of my hand. Two of her fingers find and constrict around two of mine.

“Mr Fitzgerald proposed to Selina yesterday!” Martha says, beaming with pride. The girl holds out her hand to show us the ring on her finger, and we admire it and gasp and coo accordingly. Me just barely.

“Oh, how wonderful!” Mother tells her. Her grip on my fingers tells me she’s lying. The sick feeling in my stomach tells me I’d better do the same.

“Yes, and he’s so wealthy!”

I remember Mr Fitzgerald. I’m fairly sure his first name is Gerald. Or perhaps Fitzwilliam. Something that clashed uncomfortably with his surname. He’s an austere man with a large hooked nose and small eyes- his hair’s not quite ginger or quite brown, but a muddied colour somewhere between the two. I break off my smile as I try to remember what he was actually like and draw a blank.

“How long had the two of you been courting?” I ask Selina as she sits back down next to her younger sister. Selina looks at me, her smug smile flattening.

“We were introduced at the ball last month. You were there- don’t you remember him?”

“Oh, yes. Of course.” I remember the ball perfectly well and try not to shudder. Married to a person she’s known less than a month. “It’s delightful, Selina- I’m so happy for you.”

“Yes.”

The looks the four women in the room shoot me tell me don’t worry, it’ll be your turn soon, but what none of them realise is that I’m not worrying I’ll die a spinster. I’m worried I’ll die married. My parents are desperate to get me married off- don’t know why, since they’ve got enough money already, but I suppose they want to be rid of me as they were rid of my brother.

“Don’t look so glum, Mary-Ann.” Martha grins at me, smugly. Lord, why does no woman in this town give away honest kindness? I wish the imbeciles I have to visit on my Saturdays were just a little more like that sweet farmgirl, Catty.

“I’m not.” I narrow my eyes.

“Yes, having received no marriage proposals is nothing to be glum about.” Selina chimes in, elbowing her giggling sister.

I scowl at them. “I know.”

They glance at each other in confusion. Mother looks at me.

“Mary-Ann.”

“Yes, mother?”

“Silence.”

I look down at my cup of tea.

“Why aren’t you drinking your tea?” Martha says. Mother looks up.

“I prefer it with milk.” I say stiffly.

“Yes, I’m sure you do, honey.” Martha looks me up and down and I blush all the way down to my neck, instinctively sucking in my stomach. I grit my teeth. Want to shut her mouth, but can’t.

There are a couple of seconds of silence. Then, Verity erupts into fresh peals of giggles. I put my teacup down onto the table with enough aggression to make Mother jerk her head up.

“What are you laughing about, Verity?” I ask, my anger flaring at the back of my throat. “Do you somehow still find it amusing that I’m overweight? Or have you finally found something else about me to laugh at?”

I know that was a stupid thing to say. After all, there are a million things other than my weight to laugh at.

“Mary-Ann!” Mother says, and Martha glares at me. “Apologise this instant.”

“For what?”

“For your outburst.”

I clear my throat. “Mother, I’m sorry.”

“Not to me.”

“I’m not a child.”

“Yes, you are. As long as your tantrums continue to embarrass me and you continue to leach your father’s wealth you’re a child to us.”

“Speak of leaching Father’s wealth.” I jerk my head down to our clasped hands and snatch mine away. “All you want, Mother. If I do ever get married, Father’s wealth will be why.”

I know why she was grabbing me. She was deathly afraid I was going to stand up and embarrass her. Scream. Cry. Or maybe that my face and eyes and lips would darken. Maybe she was afraid I would collapse and fit on the floor again. What I don’t understand is why none of our hosts have thrown me out yet. Oh, that’s right- they’re too jumped-up with false politeness to do anything of the sort. With her next breath, Martha loosens her foul expression and changes the subject. I stop paying attention, focusing my thoughts instead on Catty. I clasp my hands in my lap and lean back, pondering my appetite as my mind turns away from even her and towards the sausages she told me were somewhere in the pantry.

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