She loved him, I could tell from the moment I saw her. I was jealous of their relationship. She made him happy, and that’s what mattered most to her. It mattered most to me too, which is why I had to let go of him. Until of course that fateful day when she never came home again.
Humans are odd creatures, I can’t understand them. How could Lucy love him one day and leave him the next? He was inconsolable, locking himself away in his room for months.
I guess those days were my favourite. He diverted all his loving attention to me. I became his favourite again.
In 1923 I was adopted, and unbeknownst to the public eye, so was 10-year-old Edgar. We became the new incumbents to a childless couple, and I loved him very much from the day we met at Grosvenor Square. He played with me, fed me, let me sleep at the foot of his bed even when Ginny would raise her voice at him. Her constant screeching terrified us both. Even after scuttering off with my tail between my legs her high-pitch echoed down the corridor following me like a ghost.
We grew up together, moved to Eltham Palace together in 1936 with Ginny and Stephen, and I thought we would always remain together. I became attached to Edgar, I always wanted to protect him. And I still do.
Which is why I’m doing this. I simply must keep my promise to Lucy, you see, she came to me 3 nights ago.I couldn’t touch her, but she was there. Her ghost revealed an important message.
I forgive Lucy now I know she didn’t leave Edgar. All those months locked in his bedroom, Edgar was grieving for her, I am happy that I could help him through it. She thanked me for that. And now she needs me to help him again.
I’m sitting out here freezing my tail off knocking at the window. Surely she heard me.
If Ginny comes looking for me I have to run to her side, and fast. She expects everything impatiently. She makes Edgar squirm every time she clicks her fingers thrice and says ‘Quick Quick!’. In fact everybody in the household jumps to attention. Stephen is the only one who puts her in her place, ‘Ginny, do pipe down!’. He says that a lot, with the same firm voice he uses to tell me to ‘sit!’, and when I do, I get a yummy treat.
I knock at the cold windowpane again.
I can not fathom why Lucy likes this new woman. She is to take her place, to be Edgar’s favourite. If I am honest, I am the jealous one. After all, I lived a few blissful months caring for Edgar, when Lucy had gone and I miss being his favourite. Until I found my new favourite too.
One evening, he unlocked his bedroom door, case in hand, and never came back home to me. Ever since, Ginny has shown me another side of herself. I could not fathom kindness from that woman, after all, for countless years she used me like an accessory, posing in portraits, or in photographs sitting in that silly deckchair on the ‘Virginia’ family yacht, or playing the puppet entertaining her countless guests at boring parties. Now she shows me such tenderness, stroking my black and white ringed tail. She has even placed homely comforts in my cage with heat coming from a contraption and a ladder taking me straight to the kitchen where she offers me endless treats to my heart’s content. I don’t know what gave her a change of heart, and I don’t care. She is my new number one now.
I knock one last time.
Finally, Lizzy approaches the window. I heard Edgar call her that, 3 days ago when they arrived at Eltham palace holding her in his arms. Lovingly, like he used to hold me.
‘Gracious! What are you doing, little lemur?’
I extend my paw and she takes it. As she tries to pull me into the warmth, I resist, ‘You’ll freeze!’, I keep holding back, wailing and pointing up the hill. I persist until Lizzy climbs out of the window. I retreat down the red-bricked wall and she clumsily shuffles down behind me, following me up the hill as I chirp and point.
We reach the top, to see the glasshouse. Remembering where Edgar places the key to his secret garden, I retrieve it from the hanging basket perched above the doorway, and shake it at Lizzy. She timidly unlocks the door, stepping foot inside. A woft fills the air, almost intoxicating. The stargazer lilies tower over us both like giants.
Lizzy inhales the scent, ‘How glorious!’.
She touches the giant lilies delicately, like they are made of glass too. ‘A glasshouse filled only with giant lilies. How curious’, she touches another lily, and spreads her delicate fingers measuring her palm against it, ‘they’re double the size of my hand!’. Grabbing a pair of shears she cuts a bunch. About a dozen.
‘Jongy!’, it’s Ginny. Just like clockwork for treat time. I scarper leaving Lizzy behind.
As I prepare for my afternoon nap I sense a presence. I head downstairs and find Lucy’s ghost peering through the dining room door. She puts finger to mouth, shushing me, gives me a come-hither gesture, and points at the crack through the door. I sit by her as she eavesdrops at the goings-on inside.
‘Verity, please put these in a vase and place them on the sideboard near the window?’, Lizzy exclaims with sheer delight.
‘At once madam!’, Verity vanishes through the third door.
The double doors swing open as Ginny makes a grand entrance wearing her scarlet dress, a string of pearls, and that ugly brown fur. I hate that gory thing, to think she would wear an animal. It disgusts me. She wore those same clothes for a family portrait at Grosvenor Square. I say ‘family’, in actual fact Edgar was purposefully excluded. He made a lucky escape, it was a ghastly affair anyway, as I was forced for an age to sit uncomfortably at the arm of Ginny’s chair with that dreadful fur hanging off her left shoulder.
‘There you are Elizabeth. Chop chop, the guests will arrive. We can’t have you looking like that!’
‘Edgar bought me this dress, he loves it’, Lizzie holds up her flapper dress made of skin-colour jersey, as the sun peeks through showing off her slender legs.
‘I am sure he does’, says Ginny with an air of contempt, ‘though Edgar would want a lady of our… class’, she pauses intentionally ‘to dress the part’.
‘I shall be absolutely fine thank you Mrs Courthauld’, one thing I like about Lizzy is that she stands up to Ginny.
Verity enters placing the Stargazer Lilies by the window as she was told.
‘Don’t they smell delicious?’
‘They smell like death! Don’t you know those are only for funerals?! Though I can’t imagine a girl like you would know that’, Ginny sticks her nose up placing her finger against her nostrils.
‘I…’, Lizzy doesn’t get a word in.
‘As the Lady of the house I usually put our finest Waterford vase central position to the dining table’
Lizzy smiles, ‘I don’t want the vase to block my view to Edgar, as hosts sitting at the heads of the table and I want to be able to see my husband’
Ginny sniggers, ‘Though I am a connoisseur of hosting I don’t suppose you two want my advice. As a Lady, I should point out, since you wouldn’t have a clue about etiquette or decorum, that our stately rose gardens received the Award of Garden Merit by the RHS, which would befit central position in a stately dining room, instead of those’, she points accusingly at the vase, ‘dreadful lilies bought no doubt by a no name flower shop, cut from a second rate mass harvested field’.
‘They’re majestic! Just look at them, I cut them from your very own glasshouse!’
Ginny goes a ghostly shade of pale, ‘what glasshouse?’
‘Just over the hill’, Lizzy points out the window then takes hold of Ginny’s cold-to-the-touch hand and leads her to the glasshouse, much like I did the night before. Lucy and I follow from a distance.
Lucy whispers to me, ‘the time has come, go fetch Edgar’.
Sure enough as I scurry back to the house, Edgar enters through the grand door upon his return from his weekend work trip. I screech and wail at him to hurry along with me.
By the time we reach the glasshouse it is lit up like a fiery inferno, the lilies burning to ash.
Lizzy is screaming frantically as Ginny turns to Edgar, ‘get that woman out of my sight!’
‘With pleasure’, Edgar mumbles under his breath. He grabs hold of Lizzy and looks her in the eyes knowingly, ‘Listen to me Lizzy, come along, I will explain everything. I promise. Do you trust me?’
As calm as a millpond she answers, ‘Yes, I do’, and with fleeting footsteps they reach the courtyard, clambering into the car.
Just before they drive off into the horizon, leaving me behind forever, Edgar utters his last words as Lucy stands beside me smiling with content.
‘Elizebeth, aunt Virginia and uncle Stephen Courthauld adopted me in an effort to hide my illegitimacy from my father Samuel. They believed it would break his wife’s heart and would stifle his success as a renowned businessman. In 1931 his wife died and I hoped to be reunited with him, however, a year later he founded the Courthauld Institute of Art, and they could not allow my existence to jeopardise this momentous occasion. So I remained hidden. I lived an unwanted childhood. Though a childless couple, they never had a parental streak. They loved Mah Jong more than they ever loved me. You know I am a widowed-man. I never told you about Lucy, she died in a tragic car accident. We made plans to elope, to build a new life, never to remain hidden again. When she died I was devastated. Being in hiding suddenly suited me, I didn’t want to leave my room for months. Our plans died along with Lucy. One night, she came into my dreams, she told to take nothing but a suitcase and travel the world with the money we saved together. That’s how I met you, on my travels to Greece. I lied to them, about being a successful silk-trader, giving me a reason to be away for so long. When I met you, it ignited my passion to fulfill that dream, to take us away from here’
‘But Edgar, why would you return here?’
‘This weekend I was on a business trip to London. I used the Courthauld family legacy in the textile trade to make contact with Mr Selfridge and show him this’, Edgar pulls a vial from his chest pocket, ‘the remaining essence from the stargazer lilies I was growing in the glasshouse with Lucy when she was alive. Upon my return from my travels, to my astonishment not one lily died… not one. It was a miracle. It was Lucy. This, my dear Elizabeth, is our destiny. Mr Selfridge has agreed to sponsor me with the Luce family of Jersey. They want me to replicate the essence to be sold at the counters of Selfridge in London. Lizzie, we are going to live a rich, happy life, wanting for nothing away from this place!’
“A word after a word after a word is power.”