A short chapter but the last. I'm afraid anything I added felt too much like clutter. here finally is the end, and to those of you who have born with it all these months, and reviewed and sent me feedback, followed and favourited this story, thank you. It is always for you that I write.
'And you are sure,' said Di to Colette as they stood at the window, watching for the car that would come from the station to fetch Annunciata away, 'that you will be all right?'
Colette drummed her fingers against the crossbar of the windowpane, and shook her head.
'It is all crosses and losses at the moment,' she said, 'and it is not me you need to worry about.' She was looking out into the garden to where Paul was swinging from the aspen branches and St. Christopher stalked the hem of Laura Lee's dress.
'It is not, after all, the first time I will have lived like this. I had almost made a habit of loving impossibly, and ej souveins -I have not forgotten how.'
'Yes, I know,' said Di, 'but if you wanted –you needn't live it over again, that's all I meant.'
Colette shook her head; she had lived once before with love wrapped round her like a shawl, she would do it again. It was not quite the same, for the warmth of the garment as she had come to know it had gone and it was again the beautiful and impractical thing that had enveloped her first days at Hillside, a thing never intended to ward off cold or the uncertainties of living, but to be enjoyed for itself alone, poured over and looked at in private. On the window-frame her fingers stilled and then strayed to the amber beads over her heart. Ej vous salue...but it was a short-lived prayer. Paul leapt out of the aspens and a car could be heard ascending the hill.
'I will be all right,' said Colette as Peter came round the house and caught Paul up in his arms.
'You will see. It has not yet occurred to him that I have forgiven him for the morning Mimi died -it will never occur to him I still care -love him as before,' and then, before Di could answer, 'vein,' we must tell Annunciata goodbye, n'est-ce pas? I know she means never to be in touch but we shall never hear the end of it if there is not a ceremony to see her off.'
That was how they came to be all of them standing on the steps when Annunciata left. The sun was low in the sky, a fiery orange clementine that softened and crimsoned the edges of everything it touched. On the porch properly, and far to the back was Peter. Di and Colette were just below him, the children pressed close. Richard had Colette's hand tucked into his own, her other rested on Caro's shoulder. At her feet was Ruthie, who tried to stand tentatively on her little feet and who succeeded only because Caro had both her sister's hands in hers, quite oblivious to the half-moons the baby's nails were scoring onto her palms. Laura Lee held Robbie in her arms and might have looked grown up if she had stood upright. As it was, she leaned against Di, her eyes turned upwards, and her head pressed against Di's side, seeking the veracity of the scene unfolding around her and looking more vulnerable than Di had ever seen her. With the hand that was not anchoring Paul to the ground, Di smoothed the creases out of Laura Lee's forehead. It was so like what Mimi had used to do that for a moment Laura Lee's memory lapsed and the car they were watching for was not taking Annunciata away but bringing Di to them. Then Paul leapt up and cried, 'she's gone, she's really gone,' and truth came rushing back like an ice-storm, but it didn't matter because it was Paul and he had made her laugh.
Later, when the sun had ebbed away utterly, Grace Cordiner, coming to lock the door, heard music coming across the way from Hillside and stopped to listen. It had been a long time since there had been music –music with words –in that house, and now across the yard came the sound of a song with a rhythm like a canoe in motion,
A la claire fontaine m'en allant promener,
J'ai trouvé l'eau si belle que je m'y suis baigné,
Depuis l'aurore du jour, je l'attends,
Celle que j'aime, que mon cœur aime.
Depuis l'aurore du jour je l'attends,
Celle que mon cœur aime tant.
For a moment it seemed not only Grace Cordiner but all the world stilled on it's axis, rocked to restfulness by the lapping of the music against the edges of the atmosphere. St. Christopher heard the sound of it and paused in his stalking of a lapwing. It was achingly unhappy that song, but he need not worry for the inhabitants of the house so long as it was being sung by the untaught treble that drifted out of the nursery window and came to earth low down among the aspens. Richard heard it and was carried off to sleep, and Caro with him. Di came away from settling Paul to catch the end of what that child had once called 'the song about the fountain with the lovely water,' and found that Peter too had come in for the sake of listening to rather than providing music, and was even then leaning against the wall outside the nursery the better to listen. Colette never registered their presence; she was bent low over the babies in their cot, and so sang on until Ruthie and Robbie were lulled to sleep, their hands interlaced, their heads inclined towards each other. Di looked at them, and thought of home and of Ingleside, and found herself saying as her father had said once before, 'what a family they are.'