The children began to set up the theatre. The front of the caravan pulled down, covering the wheels, and the sides unfolded like shutters, adding width to the miniature stage. Lizzie Rose unrolled the canvas that hid the puppet workers from the audience. Parsefall set up the puppet rack and hung the puppets on it. Lizzie Rose unpacked the contents of the canvas sack: a set of glass chimes, a tambourine, a tin sheet for making thunder, and a small violin called a kit.
Parsefall eyed the clock on the mantel. There was plenty of time before the show. He would be able to set up perfectly Parsefall was finicky about setting up and still have time to steal something. He cast a furtive glance at Lizzie Rose. She had no idea what a skillful thief he was. Grisini wanted her kept in the dark.
The door opened, and a little girl came into the room. She stood aside as a maidservant in a black uniform entered with a tea tray. "Thank you, Agnes," said the girl, and the maidservant set the tray on the table and left the room.
Parsefall stared at the little girl. He didn't bother much about girls it was well known that they weren't as good as boys but this was the prettiest girl he had ever seen. She looked like a puppet of the very finest quality. Her eyes shone like blue glass, matching the color of her sash. Her ringlets were as neat as quills of black paper, and her skin was as smooth as wax. And her dress! To Parsefall, who lived in perpetual dinginess, it was blindingly, impossibly white: a frothy confection that showed plump shoulders at one end and embroidered stockings at the other. But though Miss Wintermute was beautiful, she was not graceful.
She held herself stiffly and moved as if by clockwork.
She made a slight, imperious gesture toward the tea tray.
"Good afternoon. How do you do?"
Parsefall jammed his hands in his pockets. Lizzie Rose spoke for them both. "We're very well, miss. Thank you, miss." The little girl clasped her hands behind her back. "I'm very glad to see you. I hoped you might have tea with me." She sounded suddenly shy. "We met in Hyde Park three weeks ago I don't suppose you remember?" She paused as if she hoped they would answer. "My name is Clara Wintermute."
"I think I remember you," Lizzie Rose said unconvincingly. Lizzie Rose was a poor liar. She didn't get much practice. Parsefall looked impatiently at the tea tray. There were three cups and a dish with a folded napkin in it. He wondered what was inside the napkin. Something buttery, he hoped: crumpets or muffins.
"Do you?" fluttered Clara. "I'm very glad. I admire you both so much I wanted you to come for my birthday." She gestured toward the table again. "Do sit down. There's hot buttered toast in the dish and strawberry jam."
"We'd love tea, thank you," Lizzie Rose said happily. "Wouldn't we, Parsefall?"
Parsefall pulled out a chair and slumped into it. The two girls became irritatingly ladylike, murmuring courtesies about sugar and milk. Parsefall rested his elbows on the table and gnawed his toast. He knew better Lizzie Rose was attempting to teach him table manners but something about little Miss Wintermute made him want to be rude on a larger scale than usual. He slathered his toast with jam and sucked his fingers.
"This is ever so kind, miss." Lizzie Rose set her teacup in the saucer. "A cup of tea is always a treat, especially on a cold day."
Clara spoke impetuously. "Oh, please ! Won't you call me Clara? I know I seem " She waved a hand, indicating the ornate room around them. Her cheeks reddened.
Lizzie Rose helped her out. "My name is Elizabeth Rose Fawr. This is my brother, Parsefall."
" 'M'not her bruvver," Parsefall corrected her around a mouthful of toast. "Me last name's Hooke."
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.
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