The gentle pitter-patter of rain beat onto the glass, creating a soft rhythm that drifted into the parlor. Servants in finely tailored suits ignited several oil lamps, and silently shifted away after doing so. I acknowledged them with nods before returning to my book. The constant creaking of my rocking chair calmed my reeling mind. I released a small sigh, flipping to another page of the book that laid flat on my lap.
The subtle whining of a wheelchair overshadowed the rain’s tapping. I picked my head up and watched as Suzette brought Hugh into the parlor. The locks of her brown braided hair barely rose above her grandfather’s chair.
Sophie followed close behind while hugging one of her porcelain dolls. She hummed a little song while she carried the doll across the room and set it down on a chair. Suzette guided Hugh to the window, where he could watch the rain slide down the glass. Raindrops caught the red remnants of the sunset, splashing against the glass and gradually dripping down like paint falling from a canvas.
“It’s beautiful . . .the rain,” Hugh croaked, pausing to clear his throat.
“It is,” Suzette agreed.
“Mmm.” Sophie nodded as she turned to me, her little legs jumping in my direction. The fabrics of her white dress swelled with a phantom breeze as she toddled towards my rocking chair. The motion caused the perfectly knotted ribbons on her back to flow like a river.
“What are you reading, grandma?” Sophie clamped her hands over the armrest of the rocking chair. She glanced up at me with a twinkle in her curious green eyes. I turned to the next page of my book and said, “A romance. It’s about the lives of two people that are separated by two different worlds.”
“Different worlds?” Sophie blinked, tilting her head. “What do you mean?”
“One lives in the fantasy realm of her mind, while the other lives in reality.”
“How can someone be living inside their mind?”
“If they play make believe for too long,” I answered.
“Make believe?” Sophie questioned. “So, like playing a princess?
I chuckled. “Something like that.”
“Oooh,” Sophie cooed, “what’s gonna happen in the end?”
“I’m about to find out,” I said, “Would you like to read it when I’m done?”
“Emma dear,” Hugh spoke up from across the room. “Wouldn’t Sophie have trouble understanding your book? She may have a hard time deciphering the huge vocabulary.”
“Oh, she can handle it, Hugh.” I waved him off.
“Mmm.” Hugh frowned slightly. He slowly rolled his wheelchair over to Sophie and I. The old wheels whined quietly as they struggled to traverse the Persian carpet. Hugh raised a wrinkled hand and gently patted Sophie’s head. “Do you think you’re able to read a big book?”
“If it’s not too hard, I guess I could,” Sophie said. “But if I have trouble, I can ask you, grandma or Sue to help me.” Sophie’s cheerful voice brightened the darkening room.
“Very well then.” Hugh gave in with a soft smile before his eyes found themselves back at the window. The sun had disappeared beyond the hills, leaving behind an auburn shine the bled into the parlor. He breathed out a sigh and shut his eyes, rubbing his head as if easing away a headache.
“My poor darling,” I cooed to myself as I watched him in his discomfort. He always did have bad migraines.
“Are you alright, grandpa?” Suzette asked, coming to his side.
“Ah. . .tired is all, my dear,” Hugh responded.
“You should rest then,” Suzette suggested. “Let me take you to your room.”
Hugh laughed quietly. “Perhaps it may just be the rain that’s making me drowsy.”
“Mmm.” Suzette’s attention returned to the rain.
“We should do something so that you’re not drowsy anymore,” Sophie chimed in. “Let’s play a game!”
“A game. . .” Hugh considered, rubbing his chin. “I’d like that actually, what do you have in mind, Sophie?”
“I want you to decide,” Sophie encouraged.
“I’m not good at picking games,” Hugh confessed and turned to me. “How about you, Emma? You were always good at picking games to play.”
“Oh?” I asked, taken aback. “Why, I don’t know if I can think of a game on the spot. . . well,” I paused, considering the options. “Ah, I know. . .you girls go hide somewhere, in a place that will be hard to find. I will give you one minute to hide, and after that minute, your grandpa and I will go look for you. Whoever has the best hiding place will get a prize.”
“Ooh!” Sophie clapped her hands. “I’ll find the best hiding spot!”
“Not if I find it first,” Suzette said with a smirk.
I covered my mouth while I chuckled. “You girls have one minute, beginning. . .now!”
Sophie and Suzette skipped out of the room with their laughter bouncing off the walls. I watched them go as I continued to count down. I heard one of them rushing up the staircase, while another dashed down the hall. Their laughter died down, and soon I finished the countdown.
“I’ll start upstairs,” I said, starting towards the door, but then turned to Hugh. “Darling, you’re playing, right?”
“Certainly,” Hugh answered.
“Then we must work diligently,” I proposed. “Our granddaughters can be quite clever. They’ll find the perfect hiding spots.”
“Indeed,” Hugh agreed, followed by a small laugh, but it gave way to a dreadful cough. He patted his chest and cleared his throat. I rushed over to Hugh and rested a hand over his. I attempted to rub some warmth into his wrinkled digits as I regretfully wondered how much time we would have left together.
“Are you alright, Hugh? You sure you don’t want to lie down? I can call a servant.”
“No, no.” Protesting, Hugh shook his head, he cleared his throat once more. “I want to spend some time with our grandchildren. . .we don’t see them that much, and I don’t want this time to go to waste.”
“You’re right.” I mumbled, I took his cold hand and left a small kiss. It seemed our thoughts were more aligned than I had originally anticipated.
“I’ll go search upstairs.”
Hugh agreed quietly with a nod and I left the room. I headed up the stairs and wandered down one of the many corridors, moving though several rooms until I came across one of the guest bedrooms.
“Sophie, are you in here? Suzette?” I asked calmly, surprised that the steady shower of rain did little to drown out my call. “Hmmm,” I mused. I opened the door to leave, but then stopped when I glanced back to the bottom of the bed. “Oh, I see a little ribbon.” I crouched down and peeked under the bed to find Suzette laying on her stomach. “There you are, my sweet.”
“Aww, you found me. . .” Suzette pouted and crawled out of the bed.
“That’s a good hiding place, I’m surprised you got yourself in there,” I said. “Now, let’s find your sister.”
“Do I still win anything?” Suzette asked, hopefulness drawn out in her voice.
“Absolutely,” I said and kissed her forehead.
Suzette and I returned downstairs to see a servant guiding Hugh around as he searched high and low--as high and low as he could manage in the chair--for our youngest granddaughter.
“Sophie vanished like a ghost,” Hugh noted. “Could she be upstairs?”
“I already checked,” I said. “But I’ll look again.”
“I’ll help you find her down here, grandpa,” Suzette declared, giving us a determined smile. “It’s likely that she’s in the piano room.”
“We’ll look there then,” Hugh agreed.
While Suzette and Hugh went in search for Sophie, Ms. Plumlee appeared at the archway and said: “My Lady,” she took a short bow, “Lord Peter and Lady Lydia Montgomery are here to collect your grandchildren.”
“Oh, already?” I asked, surprised. I wasn’t expecting them to come back until another hour. Or perhaps I lost track of time. Ms. Plumlee led me to the foyer where I came face to face with Peter and Lydia.
“Good evening, mother,” Peter said, tipping his top hat with courtesy. He had grown into a tall, handsome gentleman with a handlebar mustache and bright green eyes that his daughters shared. Suzette and Sophie also closely resembled their mother, who had glowing auburn hair that tumbled around slender shoulders as she walked. The only difference was that Lydia usually had her hair pushed back with the support of an expensive hairpin.
“Good evening, my dears, was the opera to your liking?” I asked.
“Splendid as always,” Peter answered.
“You and Lord Montgomery will surly love it,” Lydia said. “We thought about bringing Suzette and Sophie along, but we figured they would’ve fallen asleep out of boredom. Oh, where are my little darlings?” She looked around while clutching her gloved hands together.
“We are in the midst of a game right now,” I said. “Sophie is hiding, and we’re looking for her.”
“Hiding?” Lydia echoed. “Hiding where?”
“We’re not sure, but she’s here somewhere. She shouldn’t be hard to find.”
“How long has she been hiding?” Lydia demanded, concern laced in her soft-spoken voice.
“Ah. . .” I eyed the baroque grandfather clock nearby. “It’s almost been twenty minutes I believe. . .”
Lydia frowned. “That’s an awful long time.”
“She’s simply hiding, Lydia,” I said, “I’m actually surprised she has stayed hidden for this long, it’s quite impressive.”
Peter rubbed a temple. “Mother, we don’t have the time for this. There’s going to be a storm, and I want us all to get back home before it arrives.”
“You all can stay the night,” I suggested. “We have so many guestrooms.”
“That won’t be necessary, mother,” Peter said. “Now, where is Sophie? We need to go.”
I frowned and shook my head. “Suzette and your father are finding her right now, it shouldn’t be long.”
Suzette rushed down the hall, fear washing away the rouge on her cheeks. “I can’t find Sophie! She’s not in the piano room, the parlor, the closet, anywhere!”
“Calm down, dear,” I said, patting her shoulder. “I’m sure there are some places you missed. How about the dining hall? Or the billiard?”
“Grandpa and I looked in those too,” Suzette pouted and she turned to see her parents.
“Oh, mother, father. . .how are you doing?”
“Fairly well,” Lydia answered, although the worry in her voice didn’t cease.
“I’m still looking for Sophie, give me a few more minutes, please,” Suzette said before dashing off.
“This is getting absurd,” Peter grumbled, crossing his arms in vexation.
“Oh, just let the dearies have their fun,” I insisted. “As I recalled from Suzette, you two don’t allow them to partake in pleasurable activities.”
“It’s more important for them to be occupied in their studies,” Peter remarked sternly. “Playing is a distraction; the girls have to be educated well in order to grow up and become proper ladies.”
“They’re still children, Peter,” I said. “Allow them to have a healthy childhood. If you push them with too much work, it’ll stress them out.”
“They appear to be fine,” Peter said. “Sophie is a genius at the piano, and Suzette is always engrossed in her readings. They’re smart girls and I trusted you that you would keep them occupied with their studies since you promised that they would do work.”
“My dear Peter, they certainly did do work, but they both became bored and wanted to engage in other activities,” I exclaimed. “Then there’s the fact that they don’t see their grandparents that often, so of course they wanted to spend time with us. Right now we’re playing a game, and soon we’ll be done.”
Peter shut his eyes and inhaled sharply, ready to protest once more. Finally, he heaved out a sigh and pinched the edge of his nose. “Mother--”
“Sophie! Where are you?” Suzette’s cry cut her father off. “Please come out, mother and father are here to take us home!” Suzette rushed back to the foyer, her hands were shaking and she looked about, frightened. “I don’t know where she could be. Grandpa doesn’t know either.”
As his patience dwindled, Peter stomped his foot to the floor and shouted: “Sophie!” His voice boomed throughout the foyer and proceeded down the long corridor. Suzette cringed at the sound and she turned to the hall, waiting for her sister to appear. In a minute, Sophie approached from the left side of the hall and the thick atmosphere eased up.
“I’m sorry,” Sophie said, addressing her parents, “I didn’t know you were here.”
“We had just arrived,” Peter strained, his voice getting lighter as he calmed at the sight of his youngest child. “Now, let’s get your coat and get going.”
“Please let us say goodbye to grandma and grandpa first,” Sophie said.
“Certainly,” Peter said.
Lydia took Sophie’s shoulder. “Just where were you hiding, dear?”
Sophie pursed her lips and whispered, “I don’t want to say.”
“Why not?” Lydia asked, taken aback.
“The next time we play; I want to use that hiding spot again. It was a good place to hide in since no one could find me, and so I don’t want to tell my secret.” Sophie held a finger to her lips and smiled.
Lydia sighed and shook her head. “You silly child, you had me worried.”
“I didn’t mean to worry you, mama,” Sophie said, “I was just having fun. Did you have fun, Sue?”
“Yes indeed,” Suzette agreed. “I’d like to play again, but next time I need to pick a better hiding spot. Are you sure you don’t want to tell me where you were?”
Sophie laughed. “I’m sorry, but I don’t want you to take my hiding spot, Sue.”
“Aw,” Suzette joined in the laugh. “Well, eventually I’ll figure it out.”
Sophie’s smile grew and exclaimed: “Surely you will!”