Vivien peered into the grand salon, sometimes called the saloon, at Northam Park. The riotous interior that was a masterpiece of Rococco decoration was clearly at odds with its lone occupant. The Countess of Northam stood pale and solitary, her tall figure slim as ever, outlined in sharp relief against a soaring Palladian window. She sifted rapidly, as though unseeing, through a trove of invitations to attend various country pursuits afternoon teas, shooting lunches and hunting balls.
Diana was grieving.
Vivien knew this because they had been bosom bows for over twenty years. In that time she had come to recognize the signs of emotional turmoil in her beloved friend. Signs that included a brittle laugh, sparkling green eyes, fluid, quicksilver movements.
Yet the mistress of Northam Park exhibited none of these now. The only thing that betrayed her grief was the manner in which her long, elegant fingers rapidly sorted through the embossed cards, as if each one represented an irritation.
Diana looked up. “Oh, my dear. How good of you to come and relieve the tedium of my company.”
“I’ve come to give you a gift.”
“Good God. I’ve been saving mine to give to you on Twelfth Night. ‘Tis only New Year’s.”
“You’re forgetting I’m Welsh.” Vivien joined her at the window and offered a polished wooden box. “This is your Calennig, my dear.”
Diana put the cards down. She took the box, her long, elegant fingers moving over the gift before opening it.
Inside was a highly polished, copper bit.
Diana snapped the box shut, a violent, angry motion.
“You’ve grieved long enough,” Vivien said, her own voice unexpectedly angry. “Garnet has been gone for months.”
Diana met her eyes and looked away quickly, her mouth lifted up in one corner as if self-revulsion. Vivien knew she despised showing any sign of weakness.
“How was the Boxing Day hunt?” she asked, her voice derisive. “Did your new nag refuse any of the fences?”
“It would never occur to Bandula that she might ever refuse a fence,” Vivien replied. “She’s as close to being my dear Thor reincarnated as I should ever like to see. Even down to her grey coat.”
Diana set the box down on the window’s marble sill. She crossed her arms over her chest, her long fingers clenching against the expensive silk that made up her sleeves. “Do not bother to cozen me, Vivien. I’m blue-devilled and shall be miserable company for anyone. For a long time.”
“It’s the New Year. What better time to look about for a new horse?” Vivien insisted.
“Aye, you hardly gave a thought to poor old Thor, so fast did you seize upon your new pet. ”
It was a wounding thing to say, but Vivien did not mind. She knew that it must come from a pain so terrible that it was positively eating Diana alive. And so she leaned against her friend, even though her own head scarcely reached Diana’s shoulder.
“Oh, Vivien,” Diana groaned, her words wracked by the suspicion of a sniff, “I can’t seem to right myself. Garnet must have been the most wretched mare alive. I think she must have thrown me a dozen times or more. Griffin never liked her, although I used to catch him giving her scraps from the kitchen. Good God, she would eat anything, even roast beef if you offered it to her. And do you remember the time, Vivien, when we first met and Thor put her in her place with that well-bred glance of his?”
Their glances locked, each remembering their horses now gone. Predictably, Vivien felt her face crumple in a sob and it was Diana who was holding her close for comfort.
“I think I needed to see you grieve, Vivien, in order for me to get over mine.”
“You wretched creature,” Vivien replied, hugging her friend even closer.
The Calennig is the Welsh New Year’s gift. Vivien, a marchioness, chose to give the Countess of Northam something rather more meaningful than jewels or fabric to demonstrate her love for her old friend. A copper bit, brand new, was a gentle reminder we must all move on from the pain of the past year.
Vivien’s mother was born in Wales and converted to Methodism. She had always schooled her daughter with a tenet remembered from a long remembered preacher. “You must forgive the past year to live in the new.”