Watching the inner door, they could feel the minutes drag into the half hour. "Sarah" found herself wishing it would open, then dreading that it would. They'd been here a very long time--why had no one come out to speak to them? They had been expected at two sharp--
If only the crying would stop--
Suddenly the older woman stood up. "No, I can't do it!" Her voice was thick, unnaturally loud to her own ears.
"You must! He'll kill you if you don't!"
"I'd rather kill myself. Oh, God, I can't carry the memory of this place around with me for the rest of my life, I can't--! It was a mistake, I want to go home! Sarah--take me home, for the love of heaven, take me home!"
Her friend, compassion in her eyes, said, "You're sure? It's not to be done again? I can't borrow the carriage again without questions being asked."
"No, just take me home!" She was shaking in earnest, cold with dread, cold with fear, cold with the decision she knew she dared not make. Her friend put an arm around her shoulders, and in the hallway, she was sick, leaning there for several minutes in such pain that she seemed to collapse in on herself, frail and helpless. Weak to the point of fainting, her breath a sob, she pressed her forehead against the drab, dirty paint, grateful for its coolness.
They could hear voices behind the other doors, barely muffled--children crying, a man swearing, a woman singing something mournful and off-key. A cat meowing impatiently, pans banging, and thumps, as if somewhere someone were beating a carpet. But mercifully no one came out into the hall. Still--they might--at any moment--
"Can you walk as far as the carriage?" her companion asked softly.
"I must try--" The older woman straightened herself with an effort and pressed a handkerchief to her lips. "I wish I'd never come here--I wish I'd never heard of this place, much less seen it! If I died, how would I have faced him, with this place on my soul!"
"He would understand. He would. It's what made him special, poor man."
"Yes." They linked arms for comfort and walked unsteadily back to the outside door. It swung open as they reached it, and a man smelling strongly of sweat and too much beer grinned knowingly at them for an instant, eyes raking both of them. The tenants here must be aware of what went on in Number Three. "Sarah" felt herself flush with embarrassment. But the man held the door wide and let them pass unmolested.
It was all the older woman could do to climb back into the carriage. Once there, she slumped to the side, clinging to one of the braces that held the top in place. Her companion gently wrapped the damp blanket around her and looked pityingly at her.
What were they to do? What were they to do?
Excerpted from Legacy of the Dead by Charles Todd Copyright© 2000 by Charles Todd. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, 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.
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