Abigail started neatly at a walk as her mother had just smartened her, plucking and smoothing her dress into place. She had run a fingertip down Abigail's nose as she bent down with a crackle of her own dress and repeated the message to carry. But outside the door and with the sun warm through the trees and the path firm under her tightly laced boots, Abigail couldn't help it: after a few paces she broke into a run.
She ran across the garden and over into the grounds of Fairmead House, then along its side and past the pond where Simon the idiot was throwing stones; even she knew he'd been told not to do that. He looked round sharply at the sound of her footsteps just after he'd launched one. It couldn't be stopped: their eyes met at the moment it plopped in and slow circles widened across the green water. It was only the child, though. He smiled naughtily at her, knowing she wouldn't tell. She ran round the corner past Mr Stockdale the attendant whom she did not like. He was large and strict and when he tried to play with her it was not meant, not meant properly, and his hands were heavy. But there was Margaret sitting on a stool, sewing. She liked Margaret, her thin, sharp chinned face like a wooden toy, and wide, clear, kind eyes. She was a peaceful lady, mostly, and now Abigail walked over and leaned against her knees to be for a moment inside that calm. Margaret didn't say anything, stroked once the back of Abigail's head as the child looked down at her sampler. There were three colours of thread: green for hills, brown for the cross and black for lines coming out of the cross. Abigail put out a finger and felt the bumpy black stitches. "God's love," Margaret whispered. "Beams." Briefly she wound the thread she was working with a couple of times around Abigail's finger. "Wrap you up in it."
Abigail smiled. "Good day," she said and set off running again, past some others strolling there, and then when she saw him, with greater speed towards her father.
Matthew Allen swung the axe down onto the upturned log. The blade sunk down into it, but it didn't split, so he raised the axe and log together and brought them down hard. The log flew apart into two even pieces that rocked on the grass. "Nothing to it," he remarked. He stooped and added the new pieces with their clean white pith to the barrow and stood another log on the stump.
Seeing Abigail bouncing towards him, he handed the lunatic the axe and grappled her up into his arms. "Just go on like that until you've filled the barrow, please." Abigail could feel the warmth of his body through its compress of clothes. She wriggled at the sensation of his humid whiskers against her as he kissed her cheek.
"Mother says to come now because they'll be here pleasantly."
Allen smiled. "Did she say "pleasantly" or "presently"?"
Abigail frowned. "Presently," she said.
"Then we'd better set off."
Abigail leaned her head into his neck, into the smell of him in his cravat, and felt her feet swinging in the air with each of his steps, like riding a pony.
Patients greeted her father with a nod as he passed or with some rearrangement of their posture. Simon the idiot, who definitely was not throwing stones into the pond, waved with his whole arm.
Outside the house Hannah stood waiting, holding her sharp elbows and thoughtfully drawing a line on the path in front of her with the toe of her boot. She looked up at them as they arrived and spoke as if to justify herself.
"I thought I ought to wait to greet them, given that there was no one else."
Allen laughed. "I'm sure even a poet is capable of pulling a door bell." He watched his daughter ignore the comment, staring at the ground. Abigail was twisting in his arms now the ride was over, and he set her down. She ran off a few yards to pick up an interesting stick. The front door opened and Mrs. Allen walked out to join them. "Fine weather," she commented.
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.
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