"You, miss!" exclaimed Agnes. " Carrying trays! I'd like to see you, going up them steep steps with your hands full! Why, you'd drop the tray and ruin your dress and tumble downstairs!"
"I shouldn't mind if I did," Clara said recklessly. "I shouldn' t not one bit if I could have tea with the children. Oh, Agnes, please help me!" She caught the maidservant's hands in hers. "It's the thing I want most in all the world! And it's my birthday!"
Agnes pulled her hands free.
"Now, that's enough, Miss Clara. I suppose I can manage a tray around quarter after two only it'll be for you, mind you, not for them. If you choose to share your tea with 'em, that's none of my business and you're not to say more than you have to, if anybody should ask." She put her hands on Clara's shoulders, checking Clara's embrace. "I said, that's enough. You know your mother wouldn't like you hugging and kissing the servants."
Clara didn't answer. Her ears had caught the sound of footsteps on the front stairs. The nursery door opened. "Clara, dearest!"
Clara went to her mother. Mrs. Wintermute was tall, shapely, and dressed in black. Her face was youthful, though her lightbrown hair was turning white. Clara embraced her tenderly, careful not to crush her mother's dress.
" Clara, dear, aren't you dressed yet?"
"No, Mamma. It's my fault, Mamma. Agnes told me to hold still so she could arrange my hair, but I wouldn't."
Mrs. Wintermute smiled forgivingly. "I expect you're excited."
A faint crease appeared on her brow. "You're rather flushed, dear."
She placed the backs of her fingers against Clara's cheek and then her forehead.
"I'm very well, Mamma."
"It's the excitement, madam," added Agnes.
Mrs. Wintermute relaxed. "Of course. Clara, dear, your papa was called out this morning, but he hopes to be home in time for the party. I hope you're not disappointed. We planned to give you your special present at breakfast."
"I don't mind waiting, Mamma," Clara said earnestly.
Mrs. Wintermute held up her right hand. In it was a velvet box. "Papa said we needn't wait that I might give it to you now. We thought you might want to wear it to the party."
Clara raised her eyes to her mother's face, received a nod of permission, and took the box into her hands. It was round and soft, a desirable object in its own right. Carefully she slid her fingernails under the lid and opened it. "Oh!"
Inside was a locket: a golden oval with a band of deep- blue enamel, a circle of seed pearls, and a sapphire in the center. Clara gasped with wonder. She tilted the locket and watched the sapphire flash; it was a deep, mysterious blue, almost black.
Mrs. Wintermute smiled with her eyes full of tears. "Open it."
Lizzie Rose was hungry. As she pushed the puppet stage through the street, her nostrils drew in savory odors from the street vendors: roasted chestnuts, baked potatoes, and coffee. Her stomach growled, complaining that she had eaten nothing since breakfast. At noontime, Grisini had bought his usual sausage roll she could smell the garlic on his breath but he hadn't brought anything home. That was Grisini. Some days he came home with sausage rolls or meat pies and announced a feast, kissing his fingertips in praise of his own generosity. Other days, he crept off like a cat and slunk back satisfied, never bothering as to whether Parsefall or Lizzie Rose had anything to eat.
Lizzie Rose sniffed. Parsefall had eaten, too. Underneath his dirty-little-boy smell, she caught a whiff of cabbage and fat bacon, spoils from their landlady's kitchen. He must have cadged something to eat from Mrs. Pinchbeck. Lizzie Rose was glad for him it worried her that Parsefall was so thin but she couldn't help thinking that he was as bad as Grisini. He didn't share. If she had begged food from Mrs. Pinchbeck, she would have given some to him.
Excerpted from Splendors and Glooms by Laura A Schlitz. Copyright © 2012 by Laura A Schlitz. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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