“can you be quiet, please?” the queen of spades glared at esther.
esther looked up from her book, which she had been reading by the light of the fireplace.
“but i did not speak, aunt. i have not spoken since i sat down - “
“silence! are you contradicting me?”
“no, aunt -“ esther responded timidly.
“you are turning the pages of your wretched book, are you not?”
“that makes noise, does it not?”
“but, surely -“ esther faltered. she glanced down at the book in her hands, her well-thumbed copy of volume two of the reverend kilvert’s diary.
“surely it does,” the queen of spades continued, glowering at esther. “add to it your infernal rocking and the noise is well-nigh insupportable.”
esther glanced down guiltily at the rockers of the little chair she was sitting in. the rug beneath the chair was well-worn, but so well worn that they did not cushion the movement of the rockers and she had not noticed any squeaking.
esther felt her face flush as the old woman’s pitiless gaze bored into her.
esther had been the queen of hearts in a previous life, but in this one she was only a mousy little country cousin poor relation.
what was she to do? she did not want to leave her place by the fire - the only warm spot in the large, drafty, ice cold old house.
it was the dead of winter, and well below freezing, although the wind had not been blowing outside.
esther got up from the rocking chair, trying not to let the chair make the slightest movement.
“i will sit on the sofa,” esther announced, “and i will not read my book.”
there was an old horsehair sofa deep in the shadows in front of the large cracked window, away from the fire but at least in the same room with it.
“mind you do not breathe too loudly,” the old woman retorted. “i wish to enjoy the quiet.”
“i will do my best, aunt,” esther stammered.
suddenly jepson, the butler, appeared. he had been the jack of clubs in previous lives.
“ere!” he cried. “you miserable old witch! why torture the poor child? ain’t the cold torture enough, eh?”
the queen sat up straight in her chair. “how dare you! how dare you speak to me that way? jack’s as good as his mistress now, is he?”
“i’m as good as i mean to be, madam - as good as i mean to be! you want quiet, do yer?” laughing maniacally, the butler went over to the largest window and threw it open.
“listen!” he cried. “listen! not a sound for miles around! nobody out there to hear a sound, is there? that’s quiet for you!”
“close that window immediately!”
“ah! how’s about if i close your window, madam?” jepson advanced on the old woman, who was struggling to raise her withered limbs from her chair. “you think i don’t remember the way you treated me back in the day, in the old kingdom -“
jepson picked the queen out of her chair like a doll and hurled her into the fire.
esther heard the old woman’s neck snap. she settled into the embers in the fireplace without a sound.