I could hear a constant jingling of harness bells in the avenue and the voices of girls calling gaily to each other as they arrived in their sleighs and carriages at the big blue house next door. the neighbor girl, Ivy Victoria Blackmore Vandermeer, was having a costume party, but I wasn't going. I couldn't go. I hadn't been invited.
there was a good reason for that: I had threatened to scalp Ivy Victoria with an ax after she'd told me that my grandfather had been murdered. murdered, she said, and planted in the vegetable garden by Grandmother and Buzzard rose, the cook. that's what her mother had told her, she said, and I believed it to be a true fact, because Grandfather had been a big mystery back when I first came here to live.
Nobody had ever wanted to talk about Grandfather. Not before, when my mother was alive in our little cabin over the mountains. Not here, after my pa brought me to live temporarily with Grandmother in her fancy gingerbread house. I believed Grandfather had been murdered until Grandmother took me to see him in the Utica Insane Asylum, where he'd been since before I was born and since he'd lost most of Grandmother's fortune and heard voices talking to him in the walls.
then in December, he up and died. the telegram came right after christmas, and Grandmother, who always wore pale lavender, put on black and a sorrowful face. everyone knew the truth about Grandfather now. Ivy's father had even come to pay his respects to Grandmother. But he was the only one who had.
After that, Ivy often watched me from her bedroom window. Did that mean that she wanted to be friends? maybe. But maybe not enough to invite me to her party. I was pretty sure that her mother would not allow it. mrs. Vandermeer wasn't the kind, forgiving sort.
I sighed and pretended not to notice all the happy party hullabaloo. It wasn't easy, though, especially since mr. Horace Bottle, my tutor, was agog over the event.
Horace now let the drapery fall over the dining-room window for about the eighty-seventh time. "the cakes, the confections, the lovely costumes," he said wistfully. Being left out was much harder for Horace than for the rest of us. He loved tables weighted down with cakes and confections. He loved watching people, and he loved the ladies and the girls in their colorful gowns with tiers of Swiss lace, their pink arms, their graceful necks, their baubles. "It's a costume ball," he said in a loud whisper, "spring flowers peeking out of dark winter capes. Do come and look, Hattie." He pulled back the drapery even more. "most delightful to see bright blossoms on a winter's day when clouds do nothing but drag their bellies over us like fat, squashing gods."
reluctantly I went over to watch with Horace. Girls in costumes and flowered bonnets paraded up the walk - a pansy, a daisy, a tiger lily, a daffodil. A bright-faced Ivy Victoria stood at the door, blue flowers sewn to her gown, a garland of ivy sprinkled with blue paper flowers on her head, her yellow hair arranged in soft waves, her fat sausage curls gone. She handed each flower-topped girl a slip of paper as she passed through the door.
"conundrums. I do love the challenge of a good mind puzzler," Horace said with a delighted hush just as Grandmother popped her head around the corner, her face anxious-looking.
"teatime," she said. "cinnamon and nutmeg, nuts in the warm sweet buns." Grandmother was a pale, twittery songbird, and when things took a bad turn (or just an unexpected one), she usually worried the lace on her cuffs and collar or the folds of her skirt, or fingered the cameo brooch pinned at her throat, or knitted her fingers together over and over. today, though, her fingers were quiet. Since the telegram of Grandfather's death, her hands had been still, sad as birds at night, waiting for the sun to come up again.
"Warm sweet buns? cinnamon? Scrumptious . . . sublime," Horace said. Inhaling deeply, he turned away from the window and the festivities next door. Dropping the drapery, he sprinted off.
I stood there a moment longer, peeking through the panels of heavy fabric. Suddenly Ivy looked over at Grandmother's house, stared as if she knew someone was watching-and why wouldn't she? Horace had pretty near pressed his nose to the windowpane ever since the deliveries had begun this morning. I held my breath, motionless, clenching the dark drapery, hoping she wouldn't see me. Her smile faded. She bent her head, twisted away, and went inside.
"Hattie, dear?" Grandmother had come back and was standing right behind me. She touched my arm.
"It's snowing," I said. cold white flakes were flying against the windowpane and sticking.
She rested a hand on my shoulder now. "I wish you could go to parties as I did, and your mother. I wish . . . oh, once upon a time, things were so different." Her voice dipped to a forlorn whisper, ending with a sad, fluttery sigh. All her thoughts had taken flight to once-upon-a-time. "Do you mind very much?" she said gently.
"Not very much, Grandmother," I said, letting the drapery panel fall back against the window. "I just wanted to see." But I did mind. Very much. I wanted to be one of those flowers bobbing up the walk - not a pale lily, but a tiger lily. I wanted to play games and conundrums, laugh and share secrets. A savage pang of longing snarled in my chest. I was desperate for a friend, someone my own age, a girl, any girl at all. It was my secret, something I didn't want the others to know. It would make Grandmother sad. She would worry that she had failed me, and I didn't want Grandmother to be sad or worry any more than she had to.
Grandmother smiled faintly. "Let's have our tea then, shall we?"
"I'll be right there, Grandmother," I said. When she...
Excerpted from Secrets of Greymoor by Clara Gillow Clark. Copyright © 2009 by Clara Gillow Clark. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.