The Madness

The Madness by Alison Rattle Read Free Book Online

Book: The Madness by Alison Rattle Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alison Rattle
That’s where the men bathe.’
    ‘Ah, yes. Of course,’ said the boy.
    Marnie was pleased to see a pink blush spread across his cheeks. ‘But I’m sure I wouldn’t bother if I were you,’ she said. ‘The men at Byron’s Bay are mostly hardy types who bathe for pleasure, and without attendants. Maybe paddling the shallows would suit you more?’ Marnie knew she was being rude and disrespectful, but she couldn’t help herself. It warmed her insides to see the flutter of shock cross the boy’s face. He had most likely never been spoken to so bluntly before. He would chastise her now, or complain to Smoaker, she was sure. But at least he would leave her alone, which was all she wanted right now.
    To her surprise, the boy began to laugh. ‘You are probably right,’ he said. ‘I would be no match for hardy men and strong waves. But maybe, when you are not so busy, you would consider teaching me the ways of the sea? Or at least introduce me to the pleasures of paddling?’ He tossed Marnie a smile so full of easiness that she was too stunned to reply.
    Then he whistled to his hound and the both of them were gone, out of the door. Marnie looked down at the pile of towels in front of her and realised she had folded and unfolded the same one at least a dozen times.

    The Journal of Noah de Clevedon
    Clevedon. JULY 21st 1868, Tuesday
    I stayed for a long while at breakfast this morning and ate three boiled eggs for want of anything else to do. Mother has ordered in The Times newspaper (although she never reads it herself) and I felt quite the gentleman as I breakfasted alone while flicking through its pages. The only item worth noting was the weather report. This July is one of the hottest ever recorded. It has not gone unnoticed. Everyone and everything is wilting! It is too hot even for Mother to take the sea-cure. The strength of the sun is too much for her to bear.
    Despite the heat, I felt in need of some life outside these stone walls, so I took Prince for a walk into the village and along the esplanade. I have never seen so many people crowd the shore.
    I saw the girl, Marnie, walking back and forth from the bathing machines with armfuls of towels. I could not help but go and speak with her. She is certainly fierce! She seems not to care at all that I am the son of Sir John de Clevedon. For some reason I like that about her. She intrigues me. I will try to persuade her to teach me to swim. It will give me something to do, at least.
    Dined with Clarissa again tonight. At least the food was agreeable (pork cutlets and baked pears). Clarissa says Mother is refusing to take even a little broth. I wish she would just have something. I will take a tray up to her in the morning. Maybe she will eat for me.
    I must write to Father now and ask him to send me more books.

    A Scrap of Scarlet Ribbon
    After supper that evening, as Marnie sat in the shadow of the old stone wall in the backyard at Ratcatcher’s Row, she remembered the boy’s name. She wasn’t even thinking about him when, suddenly, the name Noah announced itself. She shook her head, trying to get rid of it. She didn’t want to think about him.
    She was looking at the treasures she’d collected over the years that were hidden under the old firebrick. Things that had been left behind in the bathing machines: lost objects, broken objects, things that might not ever be missed. Did a young lady from London ever notice she’d lost a carved-bone comb? Did a starchy old matron from Bristol ever miss a mother-of-pearl button? Did a frail governess from Wales mean to leave a scrap of scarlet ribbon behind? Marnie was thinking all these things as she tried to cool her skin in the shade of the old wall. The heat of the day seemed to have sucked all sound from the world and Marnie thought she might be the only person left breathing. She felt small and lonely. In a strange way she even missed Ambrose and his mocking sneer. She’d known what to expect from him, at

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