"Invisible, Like Lightning"
His lips had struck hers and the shock had traveled up and down her spine to rest pleasantly between her thighs and unpleasantly in her brain.
He's a murderer.
That's what the electrical impulse said.
When he pulled away, the taste of tobacco and mint remained on her palate. His dark eyes looked like the rain could burst forth at any minute.
A queer thing, really.
What he remembered most about that night was not plunging that carving knife into his father's fat belly. It was not the silver blade, like an extension of his arm, piercing knighted skin to spill the blood they shared.
But there was no blood.
And he hadn't realised.
He hadn't cared.
Until he'd kissed her. Hadn't been that night, actually. The next morning. Robert had enjoyed a mere one night of pure rest, sleeping deeply on the rocky servant's mattress, not noticing the springs attacking his spine. No dreams that night. When he awoke, a smile kept playing at his lips.
The bastard was dead.
Lady Trentham's maid, in her black apron and innocent black eyes, hurrying about with cut cucumbers for her mistresses pruned old bags, seemed to him like the promised rainbow after the storm. He couldn't say why. She had a run in her stocking. No arse to speak of. No breasts, either.
But in what should have been the most memorable day of his life, the day he had planned since switching from a vague hope for a fatherly-shape screaming "well-done" when he scored in football to wanting to blow the top of that shadow's head off, it was not the blood that struck at his mind.
What he remembered most was that kiss.
Two years passed, and although she had not forgotten the events of Gosford Park, she had relegated the memories to the back bedroom of her mind, just as her ladyship did literally on her more moody days. Mary took her week holiday home to Dundee to visit her mother.
The very next morning, the elder Maceachran had fixed toast and tea for them both and led her only daughter to the dilapidated porch in order to pounce on her personal life.
'You haven't met anyone a'tall?'
'When would I, Mam? You know her ladyship occupies my whole day.'
'Sure as you wouldn't be the first servant to catch some handsome lord's eye."
Her mother tightened her shawl a bit more about the shoulder, though the weather was fair. 'I only wish to see you're taken care of, love.'
She became interested in taking some jam on her toast so she wouldn't have to answer. Her mind could easily picture Robert Parks in Savile Row tweeds instead of valeting togs, smoking expensive Turkish gold instead of cheap East End dirt. He would still have the uneasy grin. But what she couldn't see was herself beside him. Not in what should have been his proper place nor in what reality dictated.
An invitation arrived on Mr. Burkett's silver tray. Lady Trentham a little moan of annoyance and tossed it aside in favour of the little plate of chocolate biscuits Mary offered her. 'Dear, oh dear, what can Sylvia be thinking of?'
Over her shoulder, the young maid read"
You are cordially invited to the wedding of Miss Isobel Elizabeth Francine McCordle and Lord Rupert Randolph Adrian Standish-
Her ladyship waved the sweet in front of the little gilded paper and she could not finish the rest. She swallowed heavily. 'How—um, how thrilled Lady Sylvia must be.' She knew it was a foolish statement to make but felt compelled to say something.
'Hm! It's a title that girl's after. Why, what else could it be? Those Standishes are nearly penniless.' She "hmmed" and "hmphed" some more while Mary cleared away the tea service. Her hand twitched a little and she had to settle the tray before she could move. 'Well, I must say, were William alive he would never have stood for this! Whatever else he may have been…'
The milk pitcher rattled, spilling her reflection on the perfectly polished tray. 'Will you be attending, milady?'
'Oh, of course I shall attend! No doubt this will be the entertainment event of the season.'
That evening, Mary could only pick at her Cullen Skink supper, normally a favourite as it reminded her of home. While her ladyship bathed, she looked at the poor state of the garments in her bureau. Then she felt a blighter for thinking something like that should matter to a maid such as she was.
She turned down her ladyship's bed that evening, watching out of the corner of her eye her employer, who sat stone-faced and cucumber-eyed, warming under her fox stoll. She looked less fierce covered as she was, like an adorned sack of potatoes.
'Do you think, milady?'
'Hm? What is it?'
'Will Lord and Lady Stockbridge be at Miss Isobel's wedding, ma'am?'
'Louisa and Raymond? I should think so. Why do you ask?'
'Erm…no reason, milady. Just curiosity.'
The countess pealed the vegetable from her face and yawned loudly. 'I suppose I must entertain Lord Philby and his shrewish little wife at supper tomorrow. The man is such a bore, going on and on about his seat in Parliament. Perhaps I should cancel—oh, Mary, will you tell cook I want poached eggs for breakfast tomorrow? And not too runny.'
Mary patted the thick down pillows. 'Certainly, milady.' She was glad the question was forgotten.
As usual, the weather was dreadful when they arrived at Gosford Park. 'Bloody Rain,' thought Robert, as he slung the sodden luggage onto the lift. 'If there's a God, he likes to have a piss down on fuckin' Billy McCordle's old digs.' He scowled then, at wasting another thought on the man.
Everyone, upstairs and down, was distracted by both the downpour and Miss Isobel's allegedly hideous peach-chiffon wedding gown, so that Robert was easily able to slip away into the room he was sharing with some valet called Deeks. Mrs. Wilson had jumped when he'd approached her to find where he'd be at. She'd nearly dropped her clipboard. He alone had some bizarre influence on the old battleaxe he neither comprehended nor particularly wished to.
He took to brushing his lordship's dinner jacket. He was not thinking of her. Her, probably straightening the old lady's garments or laying out her jewels. She was only one wing away. One wing and an entire world.
In order to avoid the eager, pie-faced fellow who was washing in all over the place, smiling and chatting like a fool, he took his lordship's boots and shoes down to the ironing room to polish. This was just one of his normal tasks. Had nothing to do with looking for her.
No one paid him any mind when he barged in. One of the footman, the queer one, wasn't it Arthur or something?...said hello, Stockbridge, to which he gave an indifferent grunt.
The whole of the downstairs was prattling on about the cattle upstairs. No one gave a fiddler's fart about their own lives (if they could be called such) so long as the blue-bloods were about.
'Why'd she decide to keep this whole lot anyway? That's what I want to know.'
'Hear she's involved '-
'What! After only a year!'
'Been closer to two, really.'
'An American, too. Made a fortune in copper—or was it silver? Can't recollect.'
'Oy! They never did find who'd done him in, did they?'
That was some visiting footman.
'What American? I can't believe her ladyship'-
'I thought that valet done it.'
Robert stopped rubbing. He clenched at the rag.
'Oh, his valet, I expect. Colbert or some such name. He left days after it happened.'
'No, Probert. And a'course he left right! What's he gonna do? His master's dead!'
He went back to polishing his reflection into the fine British leather. They ignored him and he they. The best way, that.
Robert didn't hear her come in. But he felt as though his heart had been penetrated when the familiar Scottish brogue spoke his name.
He spun around, scared her, and she dropped the threaded needle she held in one hand. A lilac-coloured frock, nouveau-cheap, was in the other. 'Sorry,' he said.
'How have you been?'
She flinched as if unsure whether he was serious or not. 'Then I'm sorry.'
'Don't be. You know I'd not change anything.'
Then nothing. A slight blushing.
He stared, although not at anything in particular. Mr. Jennings had appeared ('we have no time for idle gossiping—I hardly think a footman has any business conversing about her ladyship's private affairs') and Robert and Mary watched him chase those under him to go and prepare the tables for dinner. The maids left, still whispering like schoolgirls into each others ears. Now only Dorothy, the head maid, was left. She looked nervously at Jennings' retreating form as if she were a skittish colt left alone in a thunderstorm.
Robert sighed heavily. 'Damn.'
'What?' Mary moved a step closer.
'They haven't changed. I'd hoped they had.'
'My feelings for you.' His mouth contorted into a painful sort of grin. Picking up his master's shoes, careful of fingermarks, and left her there.