It was not by chance that Mouse found herself standing between the columns.

It was not by chance that Mouse found herself standing between the columns while she waited. There was no mistletoe hanging there now; there were no dancers behind her, but it was the same room, and she was in the same spot. It was very easy to remember.

She had gone many times to stand on the tower at her sister’s house, but at that height she felt more exposed and alone than ever. Here in the Duke’s hall—as stuffy now from the July heat as it had been then from the fire and the warmth of bodies—here, she could remember. If she closed her eyes, she could not be certain he was not before her.

If she closed her eyes, she could not be certain he was not before her.

But perhaps he would be! That was her fondest, wildest hope—that he had asked the Duchess to invite her so that he could speak to her away from her family. Perhaps he had begun to suspect her reason for refusing him. Perhaps he would tell her that he could wait… wait rather than give her up entirely…

She thought it unlikely, but she was hopeful all the same. She thought it more likely the sensitive Duchess had guessed some part of the story and wished to interfere again in her gentle way, and smooth everything over, and make everything right.

And even if she only wanted to sit and chat with her about the weather or her baby, Mouse thought that she could manage to sneak in a hint or two.

She knew that it would only take a chance meeting: if she could only look him in the eyes, she could make him understand. However, since a chance meeting was so unlikely, she knew the Duchess could help. She and Ethelwyn were friends.

She had not realized she would feel so disappointed.

The door opened, and it was not Ethelwyn. She had not realized she would feel so disappointed, despite telling herself that it was not likely to be he.

In her disappointment, she did not remember that she should have gone forth to meet the Duchess rather than stand and wait to be greeted like a queen. She was fortunate to have remembered to curtsey in time.

“Good afternoon, Your Grace.”

The Duchess did not smile.

The Duchess did not smile. “Call me Hetty today, please, dear.”

She patted Mouse’s arm with her little hand. Her eyes and the fine skin beneath them were pink. She had been crying.

“Yes, Hetty…”

“Come here with me, please.”

'Come here with me, please.'

Hetty took her arm and led her into the little sitting room off the hall. Here she and he had stood before the fire and “made friends,” as she would recall it.

“Mouse…” Hetty said, and then she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, as if she meant to begin again. “My dear Mouse, I hope I am not doing the wrong thing by speaking to you today. My husband has told me not to meddle, and so I have not. It is such an ugly word that I do not care to do it, anyway, though I would have called it ‘helping my friends.’”

Mouse nodded encouragement.

Mouse nodded encouragement. The Duchess did not wish to speak about the weather or her baby. This was looking promising.

“However, I think you need to know, and when I asked him whether it would be wrong to tell you, he said he did not know.”

'He said he did not know.'

Hetty spoke English very well, very neatly, very slowly. It was exasperating, though nobody could have spoken fast enough to please Mouse at that moment. She had been waiting for this for months.

“So I shall do what I think is right. Mouse…” She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, starting over yet again. “Mouse, my friend Ethelwyn told me that you refused him some time ago, and I did not ask him why, and I shall not ask you why. However, I believe I may tell you now that he still cared for you.”

Mouse thought it fortunate that her fingernails were not elegantly long like the Duchess's.

Mouse thought it fortunate that her fingernails were not elegantly long like the Duchess’s, for they would have done serious damage to her palms just then.

“It is important now,” Hetty continued with her slow precision, “because it seems that the dog who bit him last month was mad, and he is—” Hetty’s eyes went wide as if she were only just learning the news herself. She choked and whimpered, “Dying…”


Mouse could not breathe. She was gasping, and air came into her lungs, but it was not breathing. She was suffocating. She was dying.

“Oh, Mouse!” Hetty wailed. “You care for him too! I knew it! I was so afraid! And I dared not meddle.” Hetty was crying again, and her careful English was being replaced by polyglot hysteria. “Wie schade! I knew it! Oh, Mouse, it might not have changed anything—dennoch might he have been bit. But his last months might have been happy!”

Her eyes were open, but she was blind.

Mouse could not see, either. She could feel tears on her cheeks, so she knew her eyes were still there. Her eyes were open, but she was blind. She was dying.

“And, Mouse… we are all about to leave, baby David, Alred, and I. To see him. And I thought vielleicht you want to come? I fear he will not know you,” she whimpered, “aber… so.” Hetty fumbled around until she had captured both of Mouse’s hands in her own. “Alred said yesterday he was trying to guess your name. He thought… he thought, like Rumplestiltskin, na? He thought if he guessed your true name, you would appear. Do you hear?”

Mouse could still hear.

Mouse could still hear.

“Did you not even tell him your name, dear?” Hetty whispered.

Mouse could not speak, but even if she could have, it would not have helped to explain to Hetty that this name-​guessing was only a game they had played. How they had laughed over some of the atrocities he had dreamt up! But he had never guessed her true name.

Mouse thought that Hetty was wrong. If she had told him even that much, it would have changed everything. But it was too late.

But it was too late.

She had spent the last months moping and sighing up on her hill, telling herself that it was too late, telling herself that she had lost her one chance at happiness. She realized now that she had never truly believed it. She had always thought that she would be given another chance. The moping and the sighing had only been a game she had played. She had played and lost. Only now was it too late.

“No!” she moaned. She could speak after all, or almost. She moaned, “No! No! No!” over and over again, until Hetty began shrieking, “Alred! Alred! Alred!”

A guard and a few servants came in, and then the Duke himself.

“Alred!” Hetty sobbed. “Next time you tell me do not meddle, I tell you—to do nothing, it is to meddle, too!”

'Next time you tell me do not meddle, I tell you--to do nothing, it is to meddle, too!'