Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire

Author:Gregory Maguire
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780061762598
Publisher: HarperCollins


Wind and Tide

“The imp again!” says Iris—she can’t help herself. But in the commotion no one hears her, and she bites back the urge to repeat it, in case a stoat-toothed devilkin is crouching beneath the hutch or worming through the embers, listening. The fury in Margarethe’s face is interior storm, and over the roof and against the windows, the wind has come up. The house is besieged.

Margarethe rocks Ruth aside and takes a closer look at Rebekka. “Go for the doctor, Caspar,” she barks. “And you girls, back, out of here. All of you.”

Caspar is at the door, winding his cloak up against his chin, when there is a sharp rap. He starts, and so do Iris and Ruth, who stand with him in the shadows of the hallway, gossiping and worrying about Rebekka. Caspar moves to open the door slowly, to peer around it and see who might be approaching at this hour. But the wind strikes a blow as he unlatches the hasp, and the door is thrown to with a crash.

“High wind, it’s all,” gasps Caspar to Ruth, who cowers against the wall as if more spirits are abroad in the dark and galloping their spectral steeds in the noisy air. Branches crack, and out in the nursery it sounds as if a table suddenly turns on its face, or is that more mischief afoot?—and there, at the door, a stocky man in a heavy green cape, one hand raised to pound again.

“Do you bring this wind with you, sir?” cries Caspar in what even Iris can see is a voice of false courage. But it’s a kindly gesture meant to console Ruth, whose eyes are by now leaking down along her chin, which she holds in her clenched fists.

“Don’t make small words with me,” growls the stranger. His voice is rough and cracked, as if he’s been shouting himself hoarse in the wind. “Let the scoundrel van den Meer come to hear the news himself, I want to see his face.”

“This is not the hour,” says Caspar, drawing himself up, offended at the stranger’s tone. “He is taken up with a household crisis.”

“Get the man or I’ll push you over and call him myself,” says the stranger. Without thinking, Iris puts her hand on Caspar’s shoulder, a quiet apology for the man’s rudeness, and she feels the apprentice shudder.

That she can make a young man tremble!

But the young man—her young man—Caspar—is no match for the visitor, who uses his broad chest to heave Caspar to the side as a bull will tumble a pesky hound. “Van den Meer,” caws the visitor, “there’s news from the dunes, and on the street; come and hear it from me before you hear it elsewhere!”

It’s Clara who appears first—not to meet a stranger—she has been hurrying up the stairs away from the kitchen. At the sound of the stranger’s voice she pauses at the doorway. The man looks at her with interest. Suddenly Iris recognizes him: the kind stranger at the churchyard who chucked Clara’s chin in his hand.



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