She crosses the style every day when she finishes work in the kitchens. It’s the best place to catch a glimpse of her ankles. I’ve watched her as she goes with a smile and a twitch of her hips for my brother and not a look for me. She knows who will inherit. They all do.
She’ll notice me today.
I pull the mirror out of my fob and check the bootblack on my face. I’ve had to wait a week for a rainless day but now I’m wrapped in black and the springs are tight to my boots.
One click is all it takes and I come flying out from behind the tree, screeching like a banshee. I’ve practiced that scream for a week. I’ve practiced the cackle for the moment I land in front of her and advance with my teeth bared in my blackened face.
I should have practiced the leap. If I had, the cackle wouldn’t have turned into a yelp as the muddy slope sends my legs in different directions and my face into a puddle.
“Why Master William,” she says. “What on earth are you doing? Are you hurt?”
I’m still game. I leap to my feet, squawking through a mouthful of mud. That’s when I realise I’ve sprained my ankle and lurch down to one knee.
“Master William, I think I’d better call your father for help.”
The word jerks out of me before I realise I’ve admitted I am not, in fact, the dreaded Spring-Heeled Jack.
I get to my feet, mustering as much dignity as I can with mud and bootblack running down my face.
“I shall walk.”
That’s when she turns, and we both see the spectre over her shoulder. He is dressed as a gentleman, but his coat and top hat are the same flour-white as his face.
I see the opportunity to reclaim a little dignity.
“You see,” I say, “my brother’s sense of humour is in no way superior to mine.”