Dorothy was perched atop the veranda, her legs dangling aimlessly. The party was starting to wind down after an afternoon of cocktails and gossip. Twilight was approaching and there was a chilly nip in the air. Laughter floated up from the garden below, but Dorothy didn’t even turn her head. She knew that particular laugh—her mother’s special laugh. Once upon a time, her mother had kept those special little laughs hidden away, and would only take them out for special occasions, or for Papa, of course. But these past few months she’d spent them generously, usually when Messrs. Pilbeam and Fry were nosing around. Dorothy didn’t like it, didn’t like them, but she bite her tongue. Silence was golden. Children should be seen not heard. She curtsied prettily and nodded attentively, but she wouldn’t smile. She never smiled.
They were coming up the stairs arm in arm in arm, smiling and laughing with frivolous abandon. The girl watched them, resisting the urge to kick the pillar petulantly. It wouldn’t have been ladylike.
“Hallo!” called Mr. Pilbeam. “Enjoying the party are we?” He grinned down at her ingratiatingly.
Catching the warning glint in her mother’s eyes, Dorothy nodded. “Yes, Mr. Pilbeam,” she replied with just enough civility to pass muster.
Not to be outdone, Mr. Fry took this opportunity to teasingly suggest that what Dorothy had enjoyed most about the party was the youngest son of one of the guests. Messrs. Pilbeam and Fry laughed boisterously, and even her mother joined in with her special laugh. Dorothy blushed prettily like a good girl, but didn’t smile. The others didn’t notice, too busy giggling. They never noticed. Children should be seen and not heard. Papa had listened sometimes, but more often than not even he would forget. Forget that even when silent, children could still see, still hear, and Dorothy saw and heard more than most.
Trailing behind, she wondered if Pilbeam and Fry would be laughing quite so loudly if they knew what stolen moments and passing remarks she had seen and heard behind the mulberry bush. She wondered if her mother would ever laugh her special laugh again. Dorothy was a good little girl, though. She would keep her secrets; never breathe a word. But she would always be watching and listening, and she would never ever smile.