Fearful Symmetry

Chapter 2: Mannequin

You might think after being static for so long, you wouldn't need to sleep for another century. Lilly proved to be an exception. The cab had taken her and the twins back to their townhouse, looking nothing like any house in Ripley: she, with the vague idea that someone had taken London in their hand, and squeezed their fingers closed, hard, and all the buildings—and the people too—had all been squashed and crushed together. Then, a trip up through the dark house, stumbling on a step, and as she hit the mattress it was like someone snuffed out a candle; she flickered out like a light.

Now, she begins to shift. The rustle of the sheets. And she turns on her side and reaches her hand out to her bedroom wall, to find, a disorientating—


Lilly sits up, with the thought like a yawn; Ah. Of course.

A little smile of optimism blooms like the first tentative glow of sunrise outside. How wonderful it was of Jude and Judith to let her stay with them. They even agreed to help her find her Aunt Cecile, who lived with her friend, Mary- she'll have to think of a way to thank them. That is, once they've found Cecile.

She slides her feet onto the floor. It's not stone like at home, but a plush thick rug, and her feet sink straight into it. She wriggles her toes; it feels delightful.

On the chair by the gilt dresser, someone has even hung a dress. There's a note: Wear me. She holds it up, all forefingers and thumbs, afraid to even touch it. It's crisp tumbling silk, ribbons strung through silver eyelets, the sheen of a satin sash.


She whirls round, excited to try it on, but at that moment, catches sight of a ghost. There's a girl standing against the wall, white as plaster, hair thick and white as lamb's wool—and her eyes! Milky, awful rice pudding eyes, quivering like dew drops.

How ugly.

It is of course, her. The mirror in the room is the biggest she's ever seen, big enough to fit a whole person inside. But the person in the mirror doesn't match. A ghost of a girl, and a beautiful dress. She lets her eyes drop.

When Lilly lets herself out onto the landing, she's feeling shy again, fussing with the hem of her skirt, and just the approach of the maid, a skivvy still in short skirts, no more than thirteen, almost sends her shooting out of her skin.

"Mornin' Miss Lidell," she says, weighed down by a bucket and mop like a set of scales. She stares of course; they all stare, but she, thankfully, not for long. She swings around, and trumps off, calling over her shoulder, "Mistress says I'm to show you to the dining room."

"Oh. Okay. Thank you," mutters Lilly, and hurries after the girl's bobbing head down the stairs. She seems much too small for such weight. Timidly she asks, "Do you need a hand with that? It looks heavy."

The girl just laughs, shaking her bobbing head. "Thank you kindly Madam, but you'd be doing me out of a job!"

Madam? Lilly thinks. Whoever is that? At home, the only Madam was the mythical Madam West, whose husband owned West Hall.

"Call me Lilly. Everybody else does," she laughs.

"Oh no Madam—it wouldn't do."

"What's your name then?" Lilly asks.

"Katherine, Miss. Katherine Barnes. But only my ma calls me that; everyone else calls me Kitty."

"And what if I starting calling you Madam? " she says, stubbornly.

Kitty turns round, perplexed. "Why, Miss, what a thing to suggest!"

Lilly doesn't understand London. Or this house. Or the people in it. She's glad when Kitty delivers her to the dining room, because at least she knows Jude and Judith, a little, but even they seem different now. She sits beside Jude, though there's little of the man to be seen, hidden behind his broadsheet. She knows from home; men don't like to be disturbed when they do this, but as she sits he lowers the paper, taking a long sweeping look at her that seems to suck the breath from her lungs.

"Beautiful. Just gorgeous," he says, before yanking the paper back up, and vanishing behind it. Lilly stares at the words BRITAIN SINKS UNDER DEBT, too surprised even to be embarrassed.

And Judith—Judith is the thing that confuses her the most. As another girl lays the table, she sits straight and elegantly, hands folded like doves on her lap. "Thank you Maggie. That will be all. Kitty, you may return to your duties as well."

The two girls curtsey. "Ma'am," they say, and they leave without a word.

Jude bursts into a raucous fit of laughter. Judith's eyebrow arcs in an apostrophe of surprise.

"Mr Darling?" Lilly asks, hesitantly.

Jude replies by slapping down the paper on the table, his eyes streaming with tears.

"Oh really Jude—how old are you?" Judith says, but her mouth is twitched in wry amusement now too.

Behind his broadsheet he's been reading an adolescent's penny dreadful, or Spring Heeled Jack. The Terror Of London!

All of a sudden he's up, a flurry of activity. Swiping up his coat, his hat, his penny dreadful, rolling it under his arm.

"An idea?" Judith says.

"Perhaps," he replies. "Farewell Miss Lidell, sister. Must dash." He kisses her carelessly on the cheek, and is gone.

Lilly says, "An idea?"

Her eyes twinkle. "Why don't I show you?"

Judith takes Lilly to the backroom; on the way, Lilly instinctively pauses at a heavy oak door, and a knoorknob twisted in the shape of a tiger.

"Oh, not in there!" Judith laughs, as Lilly runs her finger down the cold snout of the tiger. "That's just the basement. It's where all the clutter goes; Lord knows we have enough of it."

She bustles on, and Lilly reluctantly tears away from the door. It seemed to her that the tiger's eyes, black stones set deep, were staring at her.

The house old, and dark, and even she has to duck under the low roof beams as she steps through the threshold into the backroom. The light through the little windows seems to struggle; that which reaches falls as a limpid puddle on the floor.

The room is full of strange shadows. Judith lights a lamp. It flares, and a soft yellow ambiance falls across the room. Shadows are cast against the walls. The shadows of people. Half a dozen people.

Lilly is so shocked she stumbles back. She almost falls, but then Judith's hand is there, supporting her. Lilly looks at her askance, but Judith's smile only widens.

The people do not move. They stare at her. There's something amiss, but...

With a sharp bark of a laugh, Judith strides forward and raps a woman on the head with her knuckles. The noise is hollow.

"You mustn't think badly of Gertrude for not saying hello. She doesn't mean to be rude. It's just that she doesn't have a mouth."

Mannequins! Dressmaker's mannequins.

Lilly's hand flies to her throat. "They frightened the life out of me!"

"They tend to do that, for some reason," Judith says wryly.

Lilly approaches the mannequin, taps it on the nose. It's made of wood. "She has a name?" she says.

"Sure," Judith says, and she strides across to a mannequin in a lace dress. "And this here is Trudy. This is Sour; we call her that because that's how she looks. Over here is Thomas, and this is Mr Smith." She moves to a man in top and tails, and puts her arm over his shoulder amiably. "He's the best dancer," she whispers.

"So your brother is a dress-maker?"

"The theatre is his thing. He makes costumes. Lately, it's been for pantomime." Which explains why Sour is wearing a garish dress, with a towering dame's wig. "We thought it suited her best," Judith says. "It's Jude's latest little hobby. He gets caught up in these things, and we all get caught up in them with him. Last year it was livery, the year before that he was into the stocks. Now, he's into clothes. He designed the one you're wearing now, by the way."

It bursts out of her in relief: "So that was what he meant!"

Judith raises an eyebrow.

"When Mr Darling, I mean, your brother said... I mean..." She feels embarrassed for misconstruing what Jude obviously meant. How stupid! She says instead, "I mean, who sows all of these?"

Gracefully, Judith lets the subject drop. She sits by a work table, where a half-finished dress is laid out. She picks up a needle, leans down to inspect the stitching and says instead, "At first, it was just me and Jude. Now we've got a couple of girls who come in and do some work for us."

And then Lilly blurts it: "Could I help you?"

Judith puts down her needle, looks up.

"Until we find my aunt, I mean. I know how to sew. And I can't sit around doing nothing. And I don't want to burden you."

This is Lilly's greatest fear- or at least, the one she consciously knows. The fear of being a burden.

In their younger years, Cecile and Mary were song and dance girls. Bred in the variety halls, met, one fateful day, at the Arcadiam. Sung before they spoke a single word, danced before they walked a single step, or so they liked to boast. Since then, they'd reached the age where it is was no longer sensible to lift a leg over your head, but their home still remembered those years. It still had the look of a dressing room; stockings flung over the mantelpiece, long pale slithering things like snakeskins. Caches of makeup, because, as Cecile liked to say, just cuz a gal is getting on in years doesn't mean she can't look good. Their friends, Pippa, Elizabeth "Silver Shoes" and Fair Beth had long married off, respectively, to a trombone player, playwright and theatre director. But Cecile and Mary weren't having any of that, oh no. A mug's game, marriage, as any – honest—woman would tell you. Not that they hadn't dipped their feet in the pond to test the waters, so to speak. But the fellahs came and went and they were still together. Devoted, like. They had their own rows, good as any husband and wife could (the neighbours said: better) and they made up, too, just as well (they said: better.) If anyone thought them odd, what of it? Cecile had always been afraid that age stripped something back, left you bare. Turned out age was an onion and the year, layers. Now, she and Mary wore them layers like armadillo shells, and let the criticism bounce off 'em. They had their garden, their stainless steel kettle, their eel and pie from the mash shop every Friday. What more did they want?

"Oh, they were queer, them two," confides Mrs Barry, of 17, Ashdown Lane, in a low whisper. "Odd, even. Neither of 'em married, and walking around made up like peacocks—and at their age, too."

"Wonderful, Mrs Barry," says the bobby, "but I wanted to know if you knew anything about Miss White and Miss Stevens' murders yesterday."

"Oh no, dear. Yesterday was washing day. Didn't hear a peep."

When their landlord Mr Brewer hadn't heard Cecile switch on the wireless for the midday music show, he knew something had to be wrong. He found the pair of them on the floor of the sitting room, embers still hot in the fire. A letter from her younger brother in her hand, the one who'd died recently, and whose daughter was coming to stay—the dear little neice she'd said so much about. There was no wound on either of them, no signs of a struggle, and yet Mary and Cecile were utterly, and inexplicably dead.