'Read,' he said, 'so that you will know what your children might have been.'
-Dorothy Dunnett, Checkmate
Sir Geoffrey had been right. Randal was making it all into a ballad, and after a while nobody would believe it was ever anything more than a tale.
-Elizabeth Marie Pope, The Perilous Gard
At the round earth's imagin'd corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattred bodies go.
-John Donne, Holy Sonnets No. 7, lines 1-4
Katie Crawford sat on the stairs, staring at the likenesses of two of her namesakes. In truth, the Crawford family was filled with past Katherines, but these were two of her favourites.
The pen and ink sketch of Kate Somerville (later Blacklock) showed a small, untidy woman with disordered hair and huge eyes. "A true Somerville," Father had said, ruffling Katie's wild brown hair into a similar mess. "Look, Kitten-you have her eyes.
Mother-in typical Drummond fashion-had gently protested that any resemblance between a sixteenth century lady and a modern little girl was just incidental. Katie disagreed. She understood Kate Blacklock's constant untidiness, for it mirrored her own.
She shifted her attention to a large oil painting, also by Kate Blacklock's artist husband: four children in Elizabethan clothing posed informally in the Flaw Valley garden. She skipped over the two boys-one in his late teens, the other considerably younger-ignored the seated brown-haired girl, and focused on the youngest. Katherine Crawford stood alone, her golden hair neatly brushed, her blue eyes surprisingly keen. This Katherine had almost been betrothed to James VI, yet despite that disappointment had still married a Scottish nobleman and served competently at Court.
Heavy footsteps sounded behind her, and Katie turned to see her brother flopping down two stairs above her. "Mooning over you namesakes?"
"At least I have some," she replied.
Tom wrinkled his freckled face and tugged on his orange hair. "You slay me, Kitten." He leaned back against the railing and studied the oil painting. "I like that one. Reminds me of a Vermeer."
"It's just a hundred years! You know I'm right. It's something about the colours, and the light."
Katie looked at it more closely. "And the peace. They seem very serene."
"That's Flaw Valleys for you," Tom said. "The most serene place on earth."
They sat in silence for a few moments, enjoying the serenity. Then the telephone began to ring.
Thanks to her lower position on the stairs, Katie almost reached the study first, but Tom's long legs won out in the end. He shot past her, picked up the receiver, and coughed roughly. "Flaw Valleys," he said in his deepest, most adult-sounding voice.
Katie jammed her ear next to his and strained to hear.
"Long distance call from London," the operator said. "Do you accept?"
They exchanged a look. Technically, long distance calls required parental approval before accepting. But Father was presently dashing all over Europe for the Foreign Office, Mother had left on the train yesterday to visit an old school friend, and their older sister Philippa-in loco parentis-was stationed in a field hospital somewhere.
"Yes," Tom rumbled.
Katie listened absently to the clicks and buzz while the operator connected their call. Was it Father, back from another diplomatic mission? Or Aunt Louisa, whose globetrotting adventures seemed barely affected by the war? Or-
"Grazie, Tommaso," a light voice said, laughing.
"At first I thought, 'who is this strange man accepting my call?' And then I realized it might be my favorite redheaded brother."
"But I'm your only redheaded brother," Tom stammered, his face beet-red.
"Quite so." Pippa paused. "Is Kitten there?"
"Yes!" Katie squealed, angling her mouth towards the receiver. "Are you coming for a visit?"
"I've been considering it. Some of the girls wanted to go up to Scarborough, but I'd rather come home to Hexham." She paused again. "Where's Mother?"
"Visiting a friend." Tom attempted to snatch back control of the receiver, but Katie held firm. "Do you remember Betsy Blake?"
"Mythical companion from Mother's schooldays?" Pippa sounded thoughtful. "Yes, I suppose."
"Well, Mother ran into her in London when we were all coming back from school, and she's five and a half kids now-"
"One's a sprout," Tom explained.
"-And her husband's estate in the fens isn't really livable right now-"
"Drainage problems," Tom added.
"-So Mother invited them all to stay at Flaw Valleys with us. They should be here soon," Katie finished.
"Well," Pippa said. Then-"Who did Betsy Blake marry?"
"A Mr. Heron."
Katie nodded-a particularly useless response in a telephone conversation. Tom wrestled the phone back.
"Please say you'll come! I can't stand Lizzie Heron. She's an utter prat."
"How many times have you met her, Tom?"
Pippa laughed again. "I'll hop on the next northbound train I see, then. Je vous aime!"
"Et nous aussi!" Tom and Katie chanted in unison. Tom hung up the receiver, then grinned.
"This summer is going to be absolutely brilliant!"
For once, Katie agreed.
Two days later, Katie sat on the same step, watching as swarms-or so it seemed-of fair-haired Herons ran wildly in the foyer below. Large, blonde, noticeably pregnant Betsy Heron (née Blake) stood in the middle, attempting to restore some semblance of order to the scene.
"Roger, stop hitting your brother! Elizabeth, could you please put down your magazine just once and help me? Rinny, I really don't think you should try to carry that...George! GEORGE! I said don't touch!"
Tom clambered down the stairs and joined Katie on her step, just as the two youngest Herons collided and burst into noisy sobs.
Amidst all the chaos, only the two Crawfords noticed the front door open and another figure enter the scene. Taller than average and willowy, the new arrival wore a smart blue frock and a very cunning hat, perched atop waved masses of quite distinctively coloured hair-a vivid, burnished, living gold.
Pippa Crawford looked around in some dismay, her blue eyes narrowed in thought. Then she tilted her head up to look at Tom and Katie.
"Where's Mother?" she mouthed.
"Dunno," Tom mouthed back.
Pippa marched into the fray. "Have you all been shown your rooms yet?" she asked, her voice pitched over all the noise.
The Herons froze. Roger and George swallowed back sobs. Elizabeth actually put her magazine down. Rinny released her precarious grip on two suitcases and a hatbox and let them tumble to the ground. Betsy Heron regarded the sudden cessation of movement with visible relief.
And Mother entered from the kitchen, Mrs. Higgins the housekeeper hiding behind her. "Lovely to see you made it, Pip," she said, hugging her. "Right. Elizabeth and Rinny, I'm afraid you're sharing with Pippa and Katie respectively. The boys get the old nursery. Betsy, I'll show you to your room now."
The two women pushed past Katie and Tom on their way upstairs, the little boys close behind. The remaining children (Pippa only vaguely fitting that description) turned to face each other.
"That's a nice frock," Elizabeth said to Pippa grudgingly. "Is it new?"
Katie looked at Pippa's outfit more closely. "I think I've seen that fabric somewhere before."
Pippa laughed-Pippa was always laughing, Katie thought. She motioned the two Heron girls nearer. "Promise you won't tell a soul?"
Rinny nodded solemnly. Elizabeth tried to look uninterested.
"My Aunt Louisa has been in South America since the war started," Pippa continued. "And she asked me to keep an eye on her London flat. Last winter, I had a few weeks leave. So I decided to clean the place up, and pack up many of her valuables. Her linen closet, in particular, was a huge mess."
Katie studied the frock-well-worn velvet, with a fleur-de-lis design embossed within the grain. Just like...she gasped. "That's her dining room tablecloth!"
"Exactly," Pippa said. "I made myself a new dress à la Scarlett O'Hara-or rather, unlike, because I wrote and asked Aunt Louisa's permission first. The moths had gotten to one end of it, but I was able to salvage quite a lot of fabric."
"A tablecloth," Elizabeth said flatly.
"Yes." Pippa shrugged her shoulders in a very Gallic gesture. "But enough about me. Shall we make our introductions?"
Katie and Tom moved down the rest of the stairs to join the group. "Tom's full name is Thomas Drummond Crawford, but he thinks that sounds awfully pompous," Pippa said. "I agree. And my first name is actually Philippa, but do call me Pippa. Katie is really Katherine, but sometimes we call her Kitten instead."
Elizabeth gestured up the stairs. "You've seen George and Roger. George is the smaller one. Don't ever call me Lizzie. And Rinny is a Katherine as well."
Rinny smiled at Katie apologetically. "It's a family name," they both said simultaneously. And then they both laughed.
An hour before supper, the two Katherines sat on the stairs together, staring at all the paintings of past Crawfords.
"I think it's marvelous, being part of such an old family," Rinny said.
"The Herons sound fairly old too."
"Ye-es," Rinny admitted. "At least, there's some rubbish story about my namesake saving a Heron from the fairy's tithe to Hell."
Katie found this most intriguing. "Fairies in Norfolk?"
"No. Up north at some place called the Perilous Gard." Rinny scowled. "It's not true. Someone just tried to shove past Herons into Tam Lin, I think." She glanced over the paintings, then pointed to one towards the front door. "Who's that?"
Katie peered at a blonde Crawford in a Restoration gown. "Isabelle Crawford. Or maybe Mirabelle? Definitely a Belle, though. She married a Drummond."
"Your mum's people?" Rinny looked amused-and horrified-but mostly amused.
"Crawfords are related to practically everyone in Scotland," Katie said proudly. "Although-"
"They married each other a lot. Especially in the Georgian period."
Now Rinny looked truly disturbed. "Like-like Oedipus?"
"No!" Katie laughed at the visible waves of disgust rolling off Rinny's face. "Like-like Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram, in Mansfield Park. Cousin marriages. Mostly second or third ones, too."
"Oh," Rinny said, relieved. "That's fine, then." She looked over the other paintings appreciatively. "You've got ever so many more portraits than we do. I don't think any of the Herons wanted to be preserved for posterity."
"You haven't seen the half of it! The house at Lymond, where my Uncle Richard lives, has this huge portrait gallery. All the important Crawfords are there, like-"
"The harem girl," Tom said, hanging over the bannister above them.
Elizabeth appeared from a second floor doorway, a magazine-now forgotten-dangling from her fingertips. "Truly?"
"Philippa Somerville lived in the sultan's harem for a year, yes," Katie said primly. "But she didn't do anything...untoward. And she wasn't a harem girl."
Katie turned back to face Rinny. "Uncle Richard has Philippa Somerville's diary in his library. But my grandfather made some copies of it years back, so that it'd be 'preserved for posterity,' like you said."
Elizabeth joined Tom and leaned over the railing. "Could we read it?"
"I suppose." Katie paused for a minute to think. "Let's ask Pippa."
"So you're interested in the Crawfords' deep dark secret, aye?" Pippa laughed at Katie's dirty look, then continued. "Joking. I'm sure if there are any Crawford secrets, they're much better hidden than the harem girl."
"Is she in any history books?" Rinny asked.
"No, not really. But her situation was mentioned by some of her contemporaries. Apparently, the harem girl and the first Crawford of Lymond got married in Istanbul, then later tried to get it annulled."
Everyone turned to look at the portrait of the Elizabethan children. "Then how-" Elizabeth began.
"Obviously, they reconciled somehow."