Do? What do you mean? I am horrified. I have always hated change, and this past week has brought me change enough. I cannot think that more would suit me.
Well, I trust you wont stay cooped up in this dingy set of rooms anymore. It hardly becomes the widow of such a Great Man.
And what do you suggest I do instead? Move in with you and Augustus?
She stops eating, flushes red. Well, of course you may. You are always welcome. But thats not what I meant . . .
No, it was unfair of me to say that. She thinks I am unaware of how Augustus treats her. Out all day and sometimes far into the night. She wouldnt want me to witness his neglect at first hand.
I simply meant that you are more independent, now. You dont have to think about whether His Greatness would approve of what you do. All thisshe flings her arms around like a veritable Indian goddesswas what he wanted; what he thought fit. Every blessed chair, every cushion, every plate and cup and cake stand! Now you can do anything you choose. You could take a cottage in the country. Return to Chiswick, perhaps? The air would be better for you. And I could still come and visit.
I find the air quite well enough where I am, thank you, Kitty. I glance around at the red plush curtains, the easy, old- fashioned chairs, the Turkish rug, the walnut piano; and I appreciate for the thousandth time how he had such a tremendous instinct for other peoples comfort. I falter, however, as I catch sight of my music on the piano. The page is open still at The Sailors Hornpipe and I feel his arm, so firm around my waist, as he propels me around my parents parlor at breakneck speed. I think I shall never move from here, I tell her. I like it, and Im used to it. And on the contrary, it makes me happy to know that he chose every chair and cushion and cake stand himself.
He gave you all the old things he didnt want anymore, she retorts. Why dont you admit the Truth for once?
The Truth? I look her in the eye and sigh. You mean, of course, that I should agree with you?
Not necessarily. She tosses her head and the slivers of jet at her ears do a macabre dance. But now hes no longer here, you dont need to be loyal. You can admit it all now, surely.
Admit what, Kitty dear? We have been over this so many times.
Oh, Mama! Admit that he never gave you anything but heartache. And children, of course, she adds sarcastically.
I wont have that. If I have had heartache in my lifeand God knows I haveyour father was not to blame for it. He gave me everything I have valued. If blame there is, well, it is the fault of circumstance.
Kitty glares. Circumstance? Oh, of course, she says, starting to pleat her handkerchief with angry movements of her fine, active fingers. The One and Only cannot be wrong. Yours Truly remains forever above reproach.
She means to provoke me; but I know her of old, and will not be drawn. You may pretend to think ill of him, Kitty, but he has always shown a proper regard for me: I have these comfortable lodgings in a nice part of town, with Mrs. Wilson to look after meand Gyp, too, to keep me company. Gyp barks as if he acknowledges the memory. He is old and fat, as I am, but still affectionate. I laugh and tickle his nose.
Kitty wont have it. He gives you a wretched apartment in a wretched area of town. With one servant, and no carriageand a dog with a foul temper. A fine arrangement! She springs up from the little stool, but she forgets the weight of the train she is wearing and staggers a little against the fireguard, making the fire irons crash into the grate.
Excerpted from Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold Copyright © 2009 by Gaynor Arnold. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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