The following day. We didn’t really think that Hyacinth would give up, did we?
Late afternoon found Hyacinth back at her second favorite pastime. Although favorite didn’t seem quite the right adjective, nor was pastime the correct noun. Compulsion probably fit the description better, as did miserable, or perhaps unrelenting. Wretched?
She sighed. Definitely inevitable. An inevitable compulsion.
How long had she lived in this house? Fifteen years?
Fifteen years. Fifteen years and a few months atop that, and she was still searching for those bloody jewels.
One would think she’d have given up by now. Certainly, anyone else would have given up by now. She was, she had to admit, the most ridiculously stubborn person of her own acquaintance.
Except, perhaps, her own daughter. Hyacinth had never told Isabella about the jewels, if only because she knew that Isabella would join in the search with an unhealthy fervor to rival her own. She hadn’t told her son, George, either, because he would tell Isabella. And Hyacinth would never get that girl married off if she thought there was a fortune in jewels to be found in her home.
Not that Isabella would want the jewels for fortune’s sake. Hyacinth knew her daughter well enough to realize that in some matters—possibly most—Isabella was exactly like her. And Hyacinth’s search for the jewels had never been about the money they might bring. Oh, she freely admitted that she and Gareth could use the money (and could have done with it even more so a few years back). But it wasn’t about that. It was the principle. It was the glory.
It was the desperate need to finally clutch those bloody rocks in her hand and shake them before her husband’s face and say, “See? See? I haven’t been mad all these years!”
Gareth had long since given up on the jewels. They probably didn’t even exist, he told her. Someone had surely found them years earlier. They’d lived in Clair House for fifteen years, for heaven’s sake. If Hyacinth was going to find them, she’d have located them by now, so why did she continue to torture herself ?
An excellent question.
Hyacinth gritted her teeth together as she crawled across the washroom floor for what was surely the eight hundredth time in her life. She knew all that. Lord help her, she knew it, but she couldn’t give up now. If she gave up now, what did that say about the past fifteen years? Wasted time? All of it, wasted time?
She couldn’t bear the thought.
Plus, she really wasn’t the sort to give up, was she? If she did, it would be so completely at odds with everything she knew about herself. Would that mean she was getting old?
She wasn’t ready to get old. Perhaps that was the curse of being the youngest of eight children. One was never quite ready to be old.
She leaned down even lower, planting her cheek against the cool tile of the floor so that she could peer under the tub. No old lady would do this, would she? No old lady would—
“Ah, there you are, Hyacinth.”
It was Gareth, poking his head in. He did not look the least bit surprised to find his wife in such an odd position. But he did say, “It’s been several months since your last search, hasn’t it?”
She looked up. “I thought of something.”
“Something you hadn’t already thought of ?”
“Yes,” she ground out, lying through her teeth.
“Checking behind the tile?” he queried politely.
“Under the tub,” she said reluctantly, moving herself into a seated position.
He blinked, shifting his gaze to the large claw-footed tub. “Did you move that?” he asked, his voice incredulous.
She nodded. It was amazing the sort of strength one could summon when properly motivated.
He looked at her, then at the tub, then back again. “No,” he said. “It’s not possible. You didn’t—”
“I could,” she said, beginning to enjoy herself. She didn’t get to surprise him these days nearly as often as she would have liked. “Just a few inches,” she admitted.
He looked back over at the tub.
“Maybe just one,” she allowed.
For a moment she thought he would simply shrug his shoulders and leave her to her endeavors, but then he surprised her by saying, “Would you like some help?”
It took her a few seconds to ascertain his meaning. “With the tub?” she asked.
He nodded, crossing the short distance to the edge of its basin. “If you can move it an inch by yourself,” he said, “surely the two of us can triple that. Or more.”
Hyacinth rose to her feet. “I thought you didn’t believe that the jewels are still here.”
“I don’t.” He planted his hands on his hips as he surveyed the tub, looking for the best grip. “But you do, and surely this must fall within the realm of husbandly duties.”
“Oh.” Hyacinth swallowed, feeling a little guilty for thinking him so unsupportive. “Thank you.”
He motioned for her to grab a spot on the opposite side. “Did you lift?” he asked. “Or shove?”
“Shove. With my shoulder, actually.” She pointed to a narrow spot between the tub and the wall. “I wedged myself in there, then hooked my shoulder right under the lip, and—”
But Gareth was already holding his hand up to stop her. “No more,” he said. “Don’t tell me. I beg of you.”
He looked at her for a long moment before answering, “I don’t really know. But I don’t want the details.”
“Very well.” She went to the spot he’d indicated and grabbed the lip. “Thank you, anyway.”
“It’s my—” He paused. “Well, it’s not my pleasure. But it’s something.”
She smiled to herself. He really was the best of husbands.
Three attempts later, however, it became apparent that they were not going to budge the tub in that manner. “We’re going to have to use the wedge and shove method,” Hyacinth announced. “It’s the only way.”
Gareth gave her a resigned nod, and together they squeezed into the narrow space between the tub and the wall.
“I have to say,” he said, bending his knees and planting the soles of his boots against the wall, “this is all very undignified.”
Hyacinth had nothing to say to that, so she just grunted. He could interpret the noise any way he wished.
“This should really count for something,” he murmured.
“I beg your pardon?”
“This.” He motioned with his hand, which could have meant just about anything, as she wasn’t quite certain whether he was referring to the wall, the floor, the tub, or some particle of dust floating through the air.
“As gestures go,” he continued, “it’s not too terribly grand, but I would think, should I ever forget your birthday, for example, that this ought to go some distance in restoring myself to your good graces.”
Hyacinth lifted a brow. “You couldn’t do this out of the goodness of your heart?”
He gave her a regal nod. “I could. And in fact, I am. But one never knows when one—”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Hyacinth muttered. “You do live to torture me, don’t you?”
“It keeps the mind sharp,” he said affably. “Very well. Shall we have at it?”
“On my count,” he said, bracing his shoulders. “One, two . . . three.”
With a heave and a groan, they both put all of their weight into the task, and the tub slid recalcitrantly across the floor. The noise was horrible, all scraping and squeaking, and when Hyacinth looked down she saw unattractive white marks arcing across the tile. “Oh, dear,” she murmured.
Gareth twisted around, his face creasing into a peeved expression when he saw that they’d moved the tub a mere four inches. “I would have thought we’d have made a bit more progress than that,” he said.
“It’s heavy,” she said, rather unnecessarily.
For a moment he did nothing but blink at the small sliver of floor they’d uncovered. “What do you plan to do now?” he asked.
Her mouth twisted slightly in a somewhat stumped expression. “I’m not sure,” she admitted. “Check the floor, I imagine.”
“You haven’t done so already?” And then, when she didn’t answer in, oh, half a second, he added, “In the fifteen years since you moved here?”
“I’ve felt along the floor, of course,” she said quickly, since it was quite obvious that her arm fit under the tub. “But it’s just not the same as a visual inspection, and—”
“Good luck,” he cut in, rising to his feet.