"You are being wasted," Mr. Hathaway had told Kev, looking mildly troubled.
Kev had snorted at that, but Hathaway had persisted.
"We must consider your future. And before you say a word, let me state that I am aware of the Rom's preference to live in the present. But you have changed, Merripen. You have advanced too far to neglect what has taken root in you."
"Do you want me to leave?" Kev asked quietly.
"Heavens, no. Not at all. As I have told you before, you may stay with us as long as you wish. But I feel it my duty to make you aware that in staying here, you are sacrificing many opportunities for self-improvement. You should go out into the world, as Leo has. Take an apprenticeship, learn a trade, perhaps enlist in the military-"
"What would I get from that?" Kev had asked.
"To start with, the ability to earn more than the pittance I'm able to give you."
"I don't need money."
"But as things stand, you haven't the means to marry, to buy your own plot of land, to-"
"I don't want to marry. And I can't own land. No one can."
"In the eyes of the British government, Merripen, a man most certainly can own land, and a house upon it."
"The tent shall stand when the palace shall fall," Kev had replied prosaically.
Hathaway had let out an exasperated chuckle. "I would rather argue with a hundred scholars," he had told Kev, "than with one Gypsy. Very well, we will let the matter rest for now. But bear in mind, Merripen… life is more than following the impulses of primitive feeling. A man must make his mark on the world."
"Why?" Kev asked in genuine bewilderment, but Hathaway had already gone to join his wife in the rose garden.
Approximately a year after Leo had returned from Paris, tragedy struck the Hathaway family. Until then none of them had ever known true sorrow, fear, or grief. They had lived in what had seemed to be a magically protected family circle. But Mr. Hathaway complained of odd, sharp pains in his chest one evening, leading his wife to conclude that he was suffering dyspepsia after a particularly rich supper. He went to bed early, quiet and gray-faced. No more was heard from their room until daybreak, when Mrs. Hathaway came out weeping and told the stunned family that their father was dead.
And that was only the beginning of the Hathaways' misfortune. It seemed the family had fallen under a curse, in which the full measure of their former happiness had been converted to sorrow. "Trouble comes in threes" was one of the sayings Merripen remembered from his childhood, and to his bitter regret, it proved to be true.
Mrs. Hathaway was so overcome by grief that she took to her bed after her husband's funeral, and suffered such melancholy that she could scarcely be persuaded to eat or drink. None of her children's attempts to bring her back to her usual self were effective. In a startlingly short time, she had wasted away to almost nothing.
"Is it possible to die of a broken heart?" Leo asked somberly one evening, after the doctor had left with the pronouncement that he could discern no physical cause of their mother's decline.
"She should want to live for Poppy and Beatrix, at least," Amelia said, keeping her voice low. At that moment, Poppy was putting Beatrix to bed in another room. "They're still too young to be without a mother. No matter how long I had to live with a broken heart, I would force myself to do it, if only to take care of them."
"But you have a core of steel," Win said, patting her older sister's back. "You are your own source of strength. I'm afraid Mother has always drawn hers from Father." She glanced at Merripen with despairing blue eyes. "Merripen, what would the Rom prescribe for melancholy? Anything, no matter how outlandish, that might help her? How would your people view this?"
Kev shook his head, switching his gaze to the hearth. "They would leave her alone. The Rom have a fear of excessive grief."
"It tempts the dead to come back and haunt the living."
All four were silent then, listening to the hiss and snap of the small fire.
"She wants to be with Father," Win said eventually. Her tone was pensive. "Wherever he has gone. Her heart is broken. I wish it weren't. I would exchange my life, my heart, for hers, if such a trade were possible. I wish-" She broke off with a quick breath as Kev's hand closed over her arm.
He had not been aware of reaching out for her, but her words had provoked him irrationally. "Don't say that," he muttered. He was not so far removed from his Romany past that he had forgotten the power of words to tempt fate.
"Why not?" she whispered.
Because it wasn't hers to give.
Your heart is mine, he thought savagely. It belongs to me.
And though he hadn't said the words aloud, it seemed somehow that Win had heard them. Her eyes widened, darkened, and a flush born of strong emotion rose in her face. And right there, in the presence of her brother and sister, she lowered her head and pressed her cheek to the back of Kev's hand.
Kev longed to comfort her, envelop her with kisses, surround her with his strength. Instead he released her arm carefully and risked a wary glance at Amelia and Leo. The former had picked up a few pieces of kindling from the hearthside basket, and was occupying herself by feeding them to the fire. The latter was watching Win intently.
Less than six months after her husband's death, Mrs. Hathaway was laid to rest beside him. And before the siblings could begin to accept that they had been or-phaned with such cruel swiftness, the third tragedy occurred.