Anyone else would probably scream – woken in the night like that, with a hand clamped over the mouth in the pitch black. But not Sadie, she knew it was Ella, even though she heard not a single word, for the smell of her sister’s skin was as familiar to her as her own.
A blast of cold air buffeted her through her thin shift as the covers were wrenched back over her feet. Sadie scrambled out of bed. Silently she felt the floorboards for her clothes, shivering as she slipped her arms awkwardly into her bodice and tied on her skirt, with fingers fumbling in half-sleep. She tripped as she put on her clogs and one of them clattered down.
‘Sshh,’ said Ella. They listened in breathless silence for a sound from below. Sadie could hear nothing, except her own heart beating.
A cuff round the ear. ‘Carry them, mutton-head.’
Sadie felt a strong grip steering her shoulder and Ella’s voice hissed in her ear. ‘If you waken him, I’ll do for you.’
Ella half pushed her down the stairs and out of the front door into the wet, before she had time to catch her breath. In the white chalk of the lane Ella was silhouetted in the darkness; Sadie could just make out her dark eyes in the pale oval of her face and the outline of her hair, which had escaped from her cap and sprung into curls from the damp.
‘Is it time?’ whispered Sadie. ‘Have you come for me already? What shall I fetch over?’
‘Nothing,’ said Ella shortly, almost dragging her along the road. ‘Hurry, can’t you.’
Sadie hopped along, trying to fit her clogs on her feet as she went. This was not what she had imagined at all. When Ella had left home to be the Ibbetsons’ lady’s maid she had promised Sadie she would come back for her, as soon as she could find her a position in the household. But surely they wouldn’t be asking for her in the middle of the night.
‘Why are we in such a fret? What’s the matter?’
‘Muzzle it. Or I’ll leave you behind.’ She set off at a run, with Sadie hanging onto her sleeve, haring down the road through the sleeping village, under the shadowy dripping trees. Though at fifteen she was three years younger than Ella, Sadie was almost as tall, but she was not used to running and soon had to let go of her
Ella did not slow – her skirts were hoisted up over her knees, her feet kicked up gobs of dirt as she ran. Sadie dropped behind,clutching a stitch in her side, but when she saw the flash of her sister’s white calves getting smaller she forced herself to sprint on behind her, pounding through the puddles, her eyes screwed up against the sting of the rain.
The big house loomed up ahead of them. The windows were blacked-out holes, no smoke came from the chimneys. They stopped on the front step, both of them doubled over and panting.Ella produced a key to open up and thrust Sadie into the hall.
Sadie tried to calm her breathing, expecting to see a housekeeper,a footman or other staff. From long-standing habit she pulled her hair forward over the left side of her face to hide the wine stain on her cheek. Strangers often feared this birthmark as a sign of bad luck. But she need not have worried – there was nobody there.She rubbed her eyes and wiped the drizzle from her face with her sleeve, letting her dark hair fall back. It was the first time she had been inside the Ibbetsons’ house. She peered around eagerly.
Ella took out a tinderbox from the drawer and lit a candle on the side table. Sadie gasped as it illuminated a sudden sheen of polished wood panelling. Ella turned around to face her, holding the candle. She was breathless, her face grim. In the flickering light her eyes were like swimming fish, darting from side to side.
A dread settled on Sadie’s shoulders like a cloak. Something was wrong.
ENJOY THE TRAILER!
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