Excerpt from Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Life After Life

By Kate Atkinson

Life After Life

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"Yer man'll be stuck in the snow, I expect, ma'am. It's sure dreadful wild out there. The road will be closed."

Sylvie and Bridget were alone in their ordeal. Alice, the parlor maid, was visiting her sick mother. And Hugh, of course, was chasing down Isobel, his wild goose of a sister, à Paris.Sylvie had no wish to involve Mrs. Glover, snoring in her attic room like a truf­fling hog. Sylvie imagined she would conduct proceedings like a parade-ground sergeant major. The baby was early. Sylvie was expecting it to be late like the others. The best-laid plans, and so on.

"Oh, ma'am," Bridget cried suddenly, "she's all blue, so she is."

"A girl?"

"The cord's wrapped around her neck. Oh, Mary, Mother of God. She's been strangled, the poor wee thing."

"Not breathing? Let me see her. We must do something. What can we do?"

"Oh, Mrs. Todd, ma'am, she's gone. Dead before she had a chance to live. I'm awful, awful sorry. She'll be a little cherub in heaven now, for sure. Oh, I wish Mr. Todd was here. I'm awful sorry. Shall I wake Mrs. Glover?"

The little heart. A helpless little heart beating wildly. Stopped suddenly like a bird dropped from the sky. A single shot.

Darkness fell.



Snow

11 February 1910

"For God's sake, girl, stop running around like a headless chicken and fetch some hot water and towels. Do you know nothing? Were you raised in a field?"

"Sorry, sir." Bridget dipped an apologetic curtsy as if Dr. Fellowes were minor royalty.

"A girl, Dr. Fellowes? May I see her?"

"Yes, Mrs. Todd, a bonny, bouncing baby girl." Sylvie thought Dr. Fellowes might be over-egging the pudding with his alliteration. He was not one for bonhomie at the best of times. The health of his patients, particularly their exits and entrances, seemed designed to annoy him.

"She would have died from the cord around her neck. I arrived at Fox Corner in the nick of time. Literally." Dr. Fellowes held up his surgical scissors for Sylvie's admiration. They were small and neat and their sharp points curved upward at the end. "Snip, snip," he said. Sylvie made a mental note, a small, vague one, given her exhaustion and the circumstances of it, to buy just such a pair of scissors, in case of similar emergency. (Unlikely, it was true.) Or a knife, a good sharp knife to be carried on one's person at all times, like the robber girl in The Snow Queen.

"You were lucky I got here in time," Dr. Fellowes said. "Before the snow closed the roads. I called for Mrs. Haddock, the midwife, but I believe she is stuck somewhere outside Chalfont St. Peter."

"Mrs. Haddock?" Sylvie said and frowned. Bridget laughed out loud and then quickly mumbled, "Sorry, sorry, sir." Sylvie supposed that she and Bridget were both on the edge of hysteria. Hardly surprising.

"Bog Irish," Dr. Fellowes muttered.

"Bridget's only a scullery maid, a child herself. I am very grateful to her. It all happened so quickly." Sylvie thought how much she wanted to be alone, how she was never alone. "You must stay until morning, I suppose, doctor," she said reluctantly.

"Well, yes, I suppose I must," Dr. Fellowes said, equally reluctantly.

Sylvie sighed and suggested that he help himself to a glass of brandy in the kitchen. And perhaps some ham and pickles. "Bridget will see to you." She wanted rid of him. He had delivered all three (three!) of her children and she did not like him one bit. Only a husband should see what he saw. Pawing and poking with his instruments in her most delicate and secretive places. (But would she rather have a midwife called Mrs. Haddock deliver her child?) Doctors for women should all be women themselves. Little chance of that.

Excerpted from Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Copyright © 2013 by Kate Atkinson. Excerpted by permission of Reagan Arthur. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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