Just then a soft banging sound came from above. Muttering followed, and she scurried past the front door and around the display table, flipping back the long tablecloth and crawling underneath.
Her eyes strained in the near dark under the table. Everything was hazy here; the cloth that draped almost to the floor was surprisingly hard to see through for something so lacy, and it distorted everything. Only the front door was clearly visible. She squinted and could just barely make out the parlor door in the gloom.
It was also unexpectedly dusty under the table. Sophia stifled a sneeze and tried to focus on something else.
Three deep, ragged breaths later, she started inching down the stairs. Mama and Uncle Peter’s voices were muffled now, and she thought it likely they had stepped out onto the terrace that led into the rose garden. If so, she could cross the hall in relative safety and cut through the dining room to the kitchen and take the back stairs to get back to the boys.
Maybe she’d sneak a few honeycakes while she was there. Maybe.
As she stepped off the bottom stair, Sophia risked a glance through the open parlor door. She decided if caught she’d say she had a nightmare, but quickly realised it was unnecessary. Mama and Uncle Peter were nowhere to be seen.
“Yes,” said Mama. “Much as I dislike the idea, yes, to both.”
The creak of a door cut off whatever Uncle Peter said. Sophia’s eyes flew wide and she scooted forward around the corner without thought, staying close to the wall. One of the Great Aunties was coming down the hall!
She sat petrified at the top of the stairwell, staring down at the parlor door where Mama and Uncle Peter were talking. Despite being closer she heard very little of what was said, too busy straining to listen to the sounds behind her, waiting to see what the Great Auntie would do.
Shuffling footsteps passed the head of the stairs and continued down the hall. A soft, barely audible squeak echoed loudly in Sophia’s ears and she forced herself to breathe after the bathroom door shut. The Great Auntie hadn’t seen her. Unfortunately, while she was out of sight on the way to the bathroom Sophia knew there was a chance she’d be visible on the way back.
When Mary Mae was cleaning them up later she said he was furious, whatever that meant, and they got put to bed with no supper.
Of course, she sneaked downstairs after everyone was asleep and found some bread and apples to take to Al and Zek. They got water from the bathroom. They were just playing, after all, and didn’t actually dig up Uncle Willy.
They wanted to, though. Just to see.
“ … agreed, then?” Uncle Peter’s voice broke through her reverie.
Sophia started and almost banged her elbow on the wall when her arm jerked, such was her surprise. Oooh, they were talking again and she missed part of it!
As am I. Your point is well made and I see no reason to deny your conclusions, especially since I’ve come to them myself. But … ”
The sound of glass clinking came again. “You’ll forgive me, brother, if I’m a bit maudlin tonight.”
The silence returned. Sophia hugged her knees to her chest. Uncle Peter must have nodded, or wrapped his arms around Mama because neither were saying anything. She wondered, yet again, what Aunt Margaret did to make them so angry. Even she and the boys had never made Mama and Uncle Peter so angry, not even the time they played at grave-robbers and tried to dig up great-great-great-uncle Willy.
And that made Uncle Peter mad. They actually got whipped for that.