hanging onto his grandmother’s skirt, Grandmama saying nothing, and Mary Ann making occasional squawking protests.
‘Aha!’ called one of the soldiers with a rude laugh, his thick red spade of a hand down the side of a fireside chair. ‘And what is this?’ He wrenched a small handgun out of the upholstery and swung it over his head. Then with a swooping movement he flung it across the room. ‘And how do you account for this?’ he cried with a leer.
Grandmama paled. Mary Ann looked ready to faint again. Sensing the tension, Edmund at last looked up, and with a cry he raced across the room and flung himself at the soldier.
‘Don’t you touch that, don’t you touch that, don’t you touch it!’ he yelled hysterically, clawing at the man and stamping both feet in a most unEdmundlike rage,jumping up and down in anger and distress. Then he sat down on the floor with a bump, flung himself back, wriggled around onto his stomach, and worked his way like a snake across the floor to where the gun lay. He reached out a trembling hand for it, but as he did so, a big ugly boot clamped down on it, and Edmund had to withdraw his hand at lightning speed to avoid having his fingers crushed. ‘Don’t, don’t,’ he cried, sobbing and shaking. He rolled onto his back again and shut his eyes tightly, but still the tears squeezed out and rolled down the side of his face and plopped onto the rug.
The soldier stooped and picked up the gun. He weighed it in his hand, and then he burst out laughing.
‘It’s only a toy. Sure it’s as light as a feather. It’s only made of tin!’
And the other two soldiers laughed again. The soldier nearest Edmund prodded his ribs gently with his boot, until Edmund opened his eyes and squinted up at him. The soldier sank onto his hunkers and pressed the gun into Edmund ’s hand, closing the boy’s fingers over it. ‘Sorry, laddie ,’ he said in a surprisingly quiet voice. ‘Sorry.’ Edmund sniffed and gripped the gun and said nothing.
With that, the three soldiers brushed themselves down and got ready to leave. The senior man held his cap over his breast in a fine gesture and said to the grandmother: ‘Sorry to disturb you, Ma’am. You can tell the man of the house that there will be compensation for any damage. Good day.’
And the three of them marched out of the room without another word, threw the front door open, and slung it shut again, and stomped off down the short path to the gate.
Mary Annâs Notice
A melia was the first to get home, swinging her satchel in the spring sunshine. She knocked on the door and as she waited she admired the irises that were lined up prettily under the drawing-room window, so intensely blue that they were almost purple, and with a searing gash of deepest yellow drawn through the heart of every one. She admired them with special tenderness, because Frederick had remarked on these very flowers, only a few days previously, on the last occasion when she had spoken to him, on this very doorstep. She bent down on an impulse and broke a flower-head off, and stuck it in her buttonhole.
Why did nobody come? She rat-tat-tatted cheerfully on the knocker again and then playfully slung her satchel at the door with a thudding sound and shouted âOpen upâ through the letter box, little realising that she was echoing the horrible happenings of barely an hourago. She was just starting to rap out another tattoo, when Mary Ann flung the door open and said in an angry voice: âStoppit! Will you stoppit!â Then she swung on her heel and disappeared up the stairs, before Amelia could apologise or ask what the trouble was.
The hall looked like something a baby hurricane in a hurry had whirled through. There was a tangle of boots and umbrellas and scarves outside the kitchen door, and if Amelia wasnât mistaken, it looked as if the coalmen had lumbered through the house instead of going around through the little latch-door at the