A proudly dressed family stood outside the house, a mother holding the hand of her young daughter with the small blonde girl dressed in a light blue dress. They’d been admiring the view when a man, dressed in a dark blue jacket approached them, tapping the mother on the shoulder and whispering something into her ear.
The girl looked up, but couldn’t hear nor understand what was being said so entertained herself by picking daisies from the ground for future important crafting purposes before her mother turned to her.
“Mummy has to go and talk with some grown-ups about boring grown-up stuff for a bit, Penny,” she said, smiling, “Why don’t you go over and play with your cousin Armand?”
She gestured over to a nearby tree where a slightly younger, red-haired boy was sat, playing with sticks, and little Penny smiled cheerfully, “Okay, mother!” and ran along over as her mother retired to the house.
The boy was sat, carving at the stick with a knife. Penny approached him and waved, “Hi Armand, can I play with you?”
He paused from his carving and looked up at his cousin, “I’m not playing, Penelope. Go away.”
“But Mother said I should play with you while she’s busy.”
Armand grumbled, “I don’t want to play, Penelope. I’m busy”
“But Mother said…”
“I don’t care what your mother said,” he said, narrowing his eyes at his younger cousin, “I’m busy.”
Penny paused for a moment, before coming out with, “Can I watch?”
Armand sighed, “Fine, sure, whatever. Sit down and just don’t be annoying.”
“Okay!” Penny beamed, and the little blonde girl popped herself down on the ground next to her cousin as he went back to carving.
There were a few moments of silence before Penny piped up again, “What are you making?”
“It’s a sword.”
“It doesn’t look like a sword.”
“That’s because I haven’t finished making it yet. Shut up.”
Penny was quiet again. For a short time, at least, before, “Mother says we’re not allowed sharp knives.”
“I don’t care, Penelope. Shut up.”
“Mother says that we shall cut ourselves if we use sharp knives.”
“Penelope…” Armand growled, “I said I don’t care. Now shut up or go away.”
“But Mother said…”
“Mother said that we mustn’t have the knives, Armand!”
“I don’t care, she’s not my mother, she’s just yours, I don’t care what she says. I’ll put this knife back when I’m done anyway and nobody will know.”
Penelope gasped, a look of shock and horror on her face, “Did you steal that knife, Armand?!” She got to her feet, “I’m telling Mother!”
Armand got to his feet as well, “Don’t you dare!”
“I’m telling! I’m telling!”
“Don’t you dare, Penelope, or I’ll…”
Penny looked down at Armand’s hand, and noticed the knife still being held by him and suddenly her eyes widened and she went deathly silent. He had no intention of doing anything with it, of course, but the sudden silence of his cousin was so enticing that Armand couldn’t help but say, “That’s right, Penelope. Don’t say a word.”
“Not a word, Penelope, or I’ll…”
He made a mock motion forward, but that was all it took: Penelope shrieked and ran away from Armand toward the nearby tree and started climbing it, still shrieking. Armand realised he was going to be in trouble, and quickly lowered the knife.
“Penelope!” the boy said, trying to calm her down, but she continued climbing, panicked.
“You’re going to stab me! You’re going to stab me!” she cried, as her hands grabbed higher branches: her small but nimble body quickly ascending the branches.
Armand ran over, “Penelope, it was only a joke!” but this only spurred her higher, until she was out of his reach, but she kept going.
“Penelope! Come down!”
“No!” she shouted, “You’ll stab me with that knife!”
“No I won’t!”
“Yes you will!”
“No I won’t!”
“Yes you will!”
She continued climbing until she was well out of reach, and eventually stopped, pausing for breath as Armand fruitlessly called her from below. Eventually he sighed, “Please come down, Penelope.”
She shook her head furiously, “I shan’t come down. Not as long as you have that knife!”
Armand sighed, looked at the knife, then back up at Penelope, and then a cruel thought crossed his mind.
“Very well, Penelope, so it shall be.”
The impasse stood, for all of thirty seconds, with the blonde-haired girl in the tree looking fearfully down at the red-haired boy who grinned up holding the knife in his hand, when suddenly there was a frantic shout from the house from one of the servants. “Master Armand! Miss Penelope! Come back to the house at once — Lord Walter is calling for you!”
Armand turned to look, and instinctively he ran away, back toward the house to answer the call, as Penelope shrieked, “Armand! I can’t get down! I CAN’T GET DOWN!!!”
He didn’t turn back, and soon he disappeared back to the house. In the tree, Penny cried and cried for help, but nobody came for her. It would be alright, she reasoned, her mother knew she was there, even if Armand wouldn’t tell anyone, eventually her mother would come for her. Nevertheless, she began crying for help again, calling for her mother shouting at the top of her voice, tears beginning to roll down her face as her cries went unanswered.
What felt like hours later, Penny finally realised: nobody was going to be coming for her. Her throat hoarse and her face streaked with tears, she finally plucked up the courage to start climbing back down. She shifted from the branch she was on, and tentatively put her weight on a lower branch. It held, and she became heartened as she started climbing down. Then the branch gave way.
Penny fell, landing with a thud in the mud and dirt of the ground. She would have cried, but she had no tears left. She picked herself up, but got a sharp pain from her ankle as she stood up. Nevertheless, she started limping back toward the house, her arms scratched and her dress torn and dirtied. She arrived back at the house, calling out weakly for someone, and she was met by her uncle with a grave look on his face that turned to anger.
“Penelope! Where have you been?! We’ve been looking all over for you, and Armand tells us you’ve been off playing with the peasant children: how many times have we told you not to go off by yourself?!”
“I don’t want to hear it! I’m glad your poor Mother won’t know it was that that kept you from her.”
“But I… what?”
“We had to make something up to tell her, you know, when she asked where you were.”
“Oh don’t just say ‘what’, it’s undignified, child. In her final moments, Penelope. She wanted you to be there and you weren’t.”
“Her final moments?”
“She was asking for you, you know, and we sent all the servants out looking for you, and then Armand tells us you were out dirtying yourself and associating with the peasants!”
“But… Mother… is she…?”
Suddenly realisation dawned on her uncle and his look of anger switched to one of horror.
“I thought Armand had told you?”
The blonde-haired girl looked up at her uncle, only to spot the red-haired boy on the balcony of the stairs and then she burst into tears, collapsing to her aching knees on the floor as she wept, and wept, and wept…
“Did you hear about that Cargan girl?”
“Of course I did! The whole city’s talking about it!”
“Tore her own cousin’s heart out: can you believe it?”
“What could have possibly been possessing her?”
“I can't even imagine.”