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The Sacred Lake

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She exclaimed, “The Sacred Lake!”

“Why do you call it that?”

“I can’t remember why. (…) Freddy used to bathe there. He is very fond of it.”

“And you?”

He meant, “Are you fond of it?” But she answered dreamily, “I bathed here, too, till I was found out. Then there was a row.”

***

She was ten when it had happened. Lucy had always been, at heart, a good child. She loved Mother very dearly and was tremendously upset whenever her deeds made Mother angry or sad. After Father’s death, all of Mother’s life and hopes were centred on her children, Lucy knew it, and being the eldest and a girl she had to fulfil them all. But she was a clever, sensitive, imaginative child, she had a big heart and an adventurous nature, and none of those things was even remotely compatible with what was expected of a well-behaved little girl. Given all this she was frequently in trouble. She couldn’t help it, no matter how hard she desired to…

She had been in trouble for climbing the big oak tree the year before, tearing her Sunday dress to tatters in the process, because she wanted to look at the wood from above. She had climbed very high indeed, but the view wasn’t at all what she had expected: she could see very little for the leaves and thinner branches blocked most of it. And it was nothing but green treetops, anyway.

She had been in trouble again some two weeks after that, for having filled her pinafore’s pocket with pea bugs whose unexpected apparition, as they were crawling out, had driven her former piano teacher into a screaming frenzy.

Then, there had been that time, not very long ago, when she had assisted Freddy in opening a dead mouse to see how its insides looked like, and the gigantic trouble they’d both been in when Cook found out they had used the kitchen knives and the meat cutting board to do it. Or that other time when she had painstakingly carved a beautiful L on the underside of the dinning table, using Father’s old paper knife, and what had followed once Mother found it! If only she had remembered to sweep away the wood shavings…!

There was no end to such a list. Being found out by Cousin Charlotte as she was splashing around in the Sacred Lake stark naked had been but the last drop. It was a hot summer afternoon, and there was nobody around. As Lucy had carefully folded her clothes, placed them on a dry spot, and they weren’t new or fancy, and she had even brought a towel from the linen cupboard to dry herself afterwards, she couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. But at the end of that summer she had found out she was to be sent to boarding school one year earlier than expected. It had been the day she had discovered how life gets increasingly less wonderful as one grows older. Older people don’t fill their pockets with pea bugs…

***

Staring at the mirror, Lucy pinned her headpiece to the mass of her amber golden hair with a gold pin. What could have brought those memories back to her mind, she wondered. How had she remembered that walk with Cecil, and the Sacred Lake?  This slightly impersonal but otherwise very nice room in Mrs Vyse well-appointed London house couldn’t be more distant from the wild green surroundings of the Sacred Lake.

She was to marry Cecil next January. She wasn’t certain that what she felt for Cecil was actually love. She was almost certain it wasn't. Her heart didn’t leap at the sight of him, his agreeable voice didn’t make her blood run faster, she felt no particular physical response to his presence, but he was nice, he was good-looking, and he definitely was very fond of her. She had learned never to let her certainties come in the way of her decisions. Whenever she had been certain of something and decided accordingly, it had always landed her into some misfortune or other, driven Mother to tears and sobs, or both at once.

George Emerson, on the other hand, had caused her heart to beat like a drum, her blood to rush so fast she could hear it, her head to go dizzy, and the mere thought of him made her imagination run away with her and hint all kinds of unspeakable thoughts. She was certain that she loved him. It had to mean trouble, and Lucy had to stay away from trouble. Mother trusted her. Charlotte trusted her.

She looked back at her reflection and found out she was rosy cheeked and bright eyed, all from the memories of the Sacred Lake and of George. And she was getting late too! She powdered her cheeks once more to smoothen the blushing, and deliberately pulled one curl from her well-groomed hair to let it dangle lose in front of her ear. Her hair, curly and strong, was to her mind the indomitable part of both her body and her soul. She’d have to smother her impulsive nature, for Mother’s sake, for her own sake too, but her hair would never be tamed.

She turned a little pirouette in front of the big wardrobe mirror, to appreciate her new gown, of cream coloured silk crêpe de Chine and lace, with green details scattered around the neckline, like semi dried leaves. As she stood up and shook her skirt to be sure it wasn’t crumpled, she reached for the pocket. She herself had sewn it in after the dress came from the dressmaker’s, unpicking the seam on the left side and sewing in a little white silk bag with invisible stitches. Inside she had put an acorn from the great oak by the Sacred Lake, like a talisman to protect her. Against what was something she couldn’t really tell, but she felt safer when she touched it. She had grown older and wiser, but inside her mind, a part of her was still ten and longed to splash naked in the Sacred Lake.

Lucy heard the doorbell sound. Mrs. Vyse dinner guests were arriving.  She took a last look at the mirror. She was perfect and nobody could tell what she was or had been thinking. She left the room, closed the door behind her and walked down the stairs to meet the others.