Excerpt of The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds
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"Are we not too many now?" Hannah asked. "The brother may be a little overwhelmed."
"They both might be," her father rejoined. "But a warm family welcome will do neither of them any harm."
"I'll only wait with you a moment," Eliza Allen said. "I've things to do, only I saw you all standing out here in the sun. Oh, look, there's Dora seeing us now."
Hannah turned and saw her sister's face in the window. She wouldn't come out, Hannah knew. She didn"t like extraordinary people. She liked ordinary people and was preparing for her wedding, after which she could live almost entirely among them. She retreated out of sight like a fish from the surface of a pond, leaving the glass dark.
"Abi, put that down," her mother instructed. "And don't wipe your hands on your pinafore. Come here." Abigail joined them in a mildly shamed, dilatory way and allowed her mother to clean her palms with a handkerchief. "Where's Fulton?" Eliza asked her husband.
"He's occupied, I'm sure. We don't have to be all arranged here like this. We're not having our portrait painted."
This was not how Hannah had arranged this meeting in her imagination. She would not have had the clutter of her family around her, not at first, and she would have happened by at the right moment, or at least could have easily dissembled her preceding vigilance. She could have been a solitary, attractive girl of seventeen, a wood nymph even, discovered in her wandering. She stared along the road as far as she could: it turned sharply to the right a little way ahead and the forest cut off the view down the hill. Through the trees she felt them approaching, an event approaching. Who knew how significant it might prove to be? She should try to expect less; there was little chance it would match her hopes. But it might. Certainly, something was about to happen. People were about to arrive.
And then it was happening. The carriage from Woodford was approaching, trunks strapped to its roof, the horses bowing their way up the hill, the driver dabbing at their broad backs with his whip. Quickly, hoping not to be seen, Hannah pinched colour into her cheeks. Mrs. Allen picked up Abigail and held her on her hip. Matthew Allen smoothed his whiskers with both hands, tugged his waistcoat down, and enriched the swell of his cravat.
As the carriage slowed beside them, the driver touching the brim of his hat, Matthew Allen stepped forward and opened the door. "Misters Tennyson," he said in his deeper, professional voice. "Welcome to High Beach."
A cough and a thank you was heard from the shadowy interior where long limbs were moving.
Hannah stood a little closer to her mother as the two brothers emerged.
The two Tennysons were tall, clean-shaven and darkly similar. They greeted the three females with courteous bows. Hannah felt close to saying something, but didn't. She heard her mother say, "Gentlemen, welcome." One Tennyson mumbled a reply as they both stood blinking, shifting on their feet after the confinement of the carriage. Both began lighting pipes.
The trunks were unfastened and brought down by Dr Allen and one of the Tennysons. Both the Tennysons were handsome, one perhaps more sensitive in appearance than the otherwould that be the poet or the melancholic? Hannah waited for them to speak some more. She wanted desperately to know which of these two men her interest should fall upon.
Excerpted from The Quickening Maze
by Adam Foulds. Copyright © 2010 by Adam Foulds.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Books. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.