Hat Box

Newton Branch took a sip of his tea and place the cup carefully back on the table. He was alone in the parlour, and had been ever since his arrival twenty minutes earlier, though some unseen hand directed a tea tray be brought to him. The girl who brought it was new, held upright by the crispness of her uniform, her neck shrinking away from the stiff collar, and when she set down the cup and saucer there was a noticeable rattle. Newton had smiled at her to say thank you, but he had forgotten he was in England, and the terrified girl had simply lowered her head even further.

He was chasing a hat box all over London, and he had come to a standstill. Perhaps the hat box knew it was being chased and was deliberately hiding. He drummed his long fingers on his thigh, and considered getting out his book, but uncertainty of the reaction of the host kept his hand away from his jacket pocket. Laurie wouldn’t worry, of course. He’d just do it and fling the darn thing over his shoulder when the hat box finally showed itself.

Newton tried to remind himself that the person and the hat box were separate things.

His thoughts tripped back to Laurie, and to the ever following Philip. They had what his Grandmama would call swagger. They behaved as if they owned every room they walked into, though perhaps that was true often enough to warrant it. Newton shrank into the walls of any room that tried to hold him, his efforts at joining the conversation always too quiet or too loud. It was incredible that they were at all related. Not for the first time, Newton considered the possibility of being a changeling, swapped in a moment of hospital madness by a Nurse out of her head on laudanum.

As his confidence in himself once more plummeted, the door opened and the hat box came in.

“Maude,” he said, standing up, feeling a moment’s relief that he did so without tangling his limbs.

“Oh sit down, dear Newton. Liv will be down to see you in a minute. I just delivered her new hat and she’s preening. Is that tea?”

Newton’s mouth flapped. They always assumed he was here for his cousin, trying to preserve the familial bond in his fathers stead.

Maude sat down in the chair opposite his, and rattled the tea pot lid. “Yes, I do believe it’s tea, and hot too.” She smiled up at him. “Well, come, sit down, and tell me all about the museum.”

Newton obeyed, unable to stop himself.

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