Chapter 13 : The Secret Love of Marvolo Gaunt
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This chapter should hopefully answer a lot of questions for you :) As always, I'd be grateful for any constructive criticism you may have. Thank you all very, very much for reading.
"There is a smile of love, and there is a smile of deceit
And there is a smile of smiles in which these two smiles meet."
- William Blake
"You're very quiet today, sweetheart," Tom remarked, putting his arm around Merope's shoulders. "Anything wrong?"
She shook her head and smiled. "Just admiring the scenery," she answered, gesturing out the carriage window. "The cliffs are so beautiful."
He gave her an affectionate squeeze. "Wait until you see the cottage. I'm sure you'll love it."
Merope turned her attention back to the window and tried to focus on the landscape. It was so wild and green despite the fact that it was midwinter, and the coast stretched out beneath them like a sandy ribbon. Huge waves created by the chilly February wind crashed onto the rocks, sending a fine mist into the air. The road was rough and the carriage kept jostling to and fro. Merope felt a bit sick, but she thought that it might have less to do with the turbulent journey and more to do with her lack of sleep. Since her experiment with the love potion almost a month ago, she had been plagued by nightmares from which she awoke restless and exhausted. She could never remember what she had seen, but several times she found herself turning touching Tom's warm skin and listening to him breathe as though reassuring herself that he was still there.
She turned away from the window and settled against his shoulder, feeling him rest his chin on top of her head. "I love you," she said softly.
"I love you," he returned, kissing her forehead. "You must be tired, poor thing. You can rest as soon as we get there. We'll go exploring tomorrow."
"I'm all right. Let's go today," Merope said.
Tom beamed at her. "I want to show you everything. The rocks where I used to play, the little cave I found when I was thirteen, and of course the ruins."
"Our cottage is right by the base of a cliff," her husband explained. "On top of the cliff are the ruins of a stone castle that stood there, probably hundreds - maybe thousands - of years ago. You can still see the pillars and foundations. My tutor knew a great deal about history and thought it might have been owned by a nobleman."
Merope watched his face lovingly, smiling at his animated expression. "Not a prince?"
Tom shook his head. "It's too small for a prince. Giles guessed that it was a lord who owned these lands on the coast." Suddenly he turned to look out the window. "We're here!"
The carriage stopped between the road and the shore and when Tom helped her out of the carriage, Merope gaped at the beautiful scene in front of her. The house had been situated a good distance from the road for privacy. What Tom called a "cottage" was actually a rather large, charming two-story building, white with green shutters and a little chimney. A small white fence surrounded the entire property, completing its appearance as a peaceful haven amidst the wild crashing of the sea.
Tom was watching her face. "Do you like it?" he asked anxiously.
A second carriage stopped behind theirs and Gretchen and Henry clambered out, untying packages and luggage.
Merope watched them march towards the cottage with their arms full, her eyes roaming over the pretty thatched roof and the two gabled windows over the door. "I love it," she said sincerely. She slipped an arm around his waist and he put his over her shoulder, and together they walked down the path to their home. At the front door, Tom scooped her up playfully in his arms and carried her over the threshold. Her laughter turned into awe when he set her down and she got a good look at the interior. "Oh, Tom," she breathed, her shoes echoing on the shining wood floor. "It's enormous!"
"Not really," said Tom with a grin, "but it's a spacious enough cottage. Mother used to complain that she didn't even have room to think in here." He ran his hand along the walls, which had been papered in a soft butter yellow pattern. "Father was going to have them extend the house - build another bedroom or two - but never got around to doing it."
The first floor had a living room, dining room, and library, with two small bedrooms off the kitchen for servants. Tom took her by the hand and led her up the stairs, where they found a study and three bedrooms. Every surface in the largest bedroom was covered in burgundy, making it look stern and grand like the rooms at Riddle Manor. "This was my parents' room," explained Tom, before leading her down the hall to another door. "And this was mine."
"I like yours better," Merope remarked, looking around at the simple green and gold furnishings with approval. There was a large window that covered almost an entire wall, looking west towards the sea. "Oh Tom, let's stay here!"
"Whatever you like." He squeezed her hand. "Still sure you don't want to rest up a bit?"
Merope nodded. "Show me the ruins," she suggested. "I want to see everything."
They walked out together and continued alongside the back of the house. Almost directly against the cottage's southern wall was the cliff, a sheer, stern face of rock that extended hundreds and hundreds of feet into the sky. Some shallow steps had been carved into the stone, curving upward to the peak. "You go first, Merope," Tom instructed, helping her onto the first step. "I'll be right behind you."
"I won't fall," she protested, but went first anyway. It was a long way up and she felt her legs getting tired, but finally she reached the top and gasped at its beauty. As Tom had promised, there were foundations of granite laid out on the vast peak with cracked marble columns and broken pillars scattered here and there. In several places, half of a wall remained standing and an empty window or two had been preserved. There was even a handful of statues of stern bearded men in knights' armor. "This is incredible. It's like a fairy tale," Merope whispered, shivering.
Tom nodded. "I used to play here often," he said. "This statue was my favorite, this knight with the carved sword. And I always thought that room over there was once a chapel; you can see pieces of stained glass."
"It's wonderful," said Merope, "and strange, too. Who owns this now?" The ruins gave her an odd feeling, a coldness that she couldn't quite understand. It almost felt as though she knew this place, but she had never even been in Ireland.
He shrugged. "I don't know. The nobleman's descendants, I suppose, although they've never had much interest in it. I can't blame them, what with all the stories about this place, but I would at least sell it." He knocked on a nearby pillar. "The land would fetch a good sum."
Merope stepped over a fallen piece of wall, looking around thoughtfully. "What kind of stories?"
"Old wives' tales," Tom said, waving a careless hand. "The man who built this castle was supposedly a disciple of Merlin, the Arthurian sorcerer - things like that. They're all bedtime stories." He grinned and began picking his way through the rubble, examining statues here and there.
There was a cracked fountain that caught Merope's eye and she walked over to it, admiring the moss-covered marble that must have been beautiful centuries ago. There was a carving of a man in the center, surrounded by marble roses and what looked like a curved gate, from which the water would flow. She leaned down to take a closer look and realized that the gate was actually dozens of cunningly carved, intertwining serpents. She shivered again, strongly reminded of her brother's affection for snakes. As she was straightening up, she caught sight of a movement in the corner of her eye and turned quickly towards the chapel.
"Hello?" she called out, walking over, but there was no one there. Merope frowned, feeling certain that she had seen someone. A folded piece of paper confirmed her suspicions and she picked it up carefully, examining the fresh ink. Mrs. Riddle, it said, in curving calligraphy. She opened it and caught a glimpse of the signature - Ralph Elliott.
Tom was calling her from the opposite side of the ruins. "Did you say something, Merope?"
"No, I'm fine!" She waved and smiled and when he looked away, she returned to the note.
I had the privilege of making your acquaintance in Paris at Christmas. I promised that we would have another chance to talk and I hope you will kindly meet me here tomorrow midnight. I have much that I wish to relate to you.
Merope read the letter over a second time, her eyes resting uneasily on the words "tomorrow midnight." She hardly relished the idea of climbing up again, sitting in the cold night air with someone she didn't know. Who was this Ralph Elliott? What did he have to do with her? What did he have to say that was so important that he had followed her across Europe?
"Darling, are you unwell?"
She stuffed the letter into her pocket hastily, turning to face her husband.
Tom frowned. "Are you feeling all right?"
"I guess I am tired after all, Tom," she answered, taking his arm. "I think I should go rest now."
He led her to the stairs immediately, insisting on going in front of her should she fall. "Did you like the ruins?" he inquired.
"Yes, but they make me a little uneasy," said Merope, reaching out for the comforting broad shape of his back. "There are ghosts everywhere."
The night that Marvolo Gaunt returned to Little Hangleton was a night that the villagers would never forget. They saw him walking - limping, actually - through the town, dressed in rags and looking like he had lost eight stone since September. His eyes were not bloodshot, however - as one gentleman in the Hanged Man put it, "He looked like he was ready to eat an entire cow by himself." No doubt he was hurrying home for a nice hot meal cooked by his daughter, his stomach rumbling at the thought of her food after having survived on prison rations for six months.
And then it struck the villagers: Marvolo Gaunt had no idea that his daughter wasn't there. He was rushing home to be waited upon hand and foot, completely unaware that she had run away!
In the words of old Timothy Tupman, the village carpenter: "This is going to be good!"
At half past eight on that Sunday evening in March, Gaunt could be seen struggling through the village under the scrutiny of every red-blooded citizen in town. At a quarter to nine, he had made it to the hill on which his cottage rested and was slowly making his ascension. At nine on the dot, as predicted by the respectable Mr. Tupman, there was a screech that resounded from that same hill, sending disgruntled birds from their nests and rousing a few cranky village children from their beds.
Marvolo Gaunt had found his daughter's farewell note, and he was not taking kindly to the news.
It was very difficult to leave her husband's side the following night. Merope slipped out from beneath the blankets, shivering as her feet touched the bare floorboards. She put on her warmest things, wrapping a woolen scarf around her head and neck, watching Tom all the while. He looked so peaceful. He lay on his back with one hand flung up over his head, palm facing upward, his long legs stretched carelessly across the bed. She smiled involuntarily and tucked the covers around him, listening to his soft, even breathing. The thoughts that now troubled her mind so often came once more. How many more nights will I be able to do this? How many nights before I sleep in an empty bed?
She tried to push the thoughts away and did so successfully, but the melancholy lingered like a bitter aftertaste. She tried to concentrate on getting out of the house as quietly as possible. The servants had gone to bed immediately after supper and had most likely been sleeping for hours now. The cottage was silent as Merope shut the front door behind her, pocketing the key and making her way to the rocky wall. The climb seemed to take even longer this time without Tom's reassuring presence behind her, his cheerful conversation making the effort so much easier. By the time she reached the peak, the night wind didn't seem so cold anymore and she had to loosen her head scarf.
She peered around in the dark. At night with the sound of the sea crashing against the rocks below, the ruins seemed even more ominous. Again she caught that strange sensation of familiarity, a strange spark that sent a chill up her spine. The pillars and statues cast pools of shadow everywhere and she found herself hating the place. Why hadn't anyone come to destroy it? Why had it been left standing here, abandoned for years - maybe centuries?
A man was standing by the fountain she had examined the day before, his hands joined behind his back as he looked out to sea. He turned when he heard her approaching and she looked at him uncertainly. The last time they had met, his face had been hidden behind a mask; if not for the bright hair, she wouldn't have known him at all. He had a strong sort of face - not handsome, but striking with arched eyebrows and intelligent eyes. He inclined his head politely and offered her a hand. "Mrs. Riddle," he greeted her, "thank you for joining me."
"Mr. Elliott," she murmured, taking his hand briefly.
"Please, call me Ralph." He extended a hand towards a cracked marble bench. "Shall we sit?"
Merope obliged, gazing at him with mingled exasperation and curiosity. "Please tell me who you are and how you know me, Ralph," she urged. "Why have you been following me for so long?"
"I'll come straight to the point," he said. "The reason I have been following you is because I have reason to believe - that is, I know - that you are my half-sister."
She stared at him, shocked. Of all the explanations! "What?" she whispered. "But -"
He held up a hand. "Please let me continue; I will explain everything. My parents were very young and very much in love when they married, Mrs. Riddle. They had just graduated from Hogwarts and moved into a little flat in London. I was born soon afterward." He looked out to sea, speaking very softly. "When I was almost a year old, my mother met a man who was working in a curiosity shop nearby. She wanted a certain violin that he sold, being of musical inclination. When she admired it, he told her that she could take it freely. He would charge her later on, he said. Well, Mrs. Riddle, he charged her all right." His lips tightened grimly. "Somehow he convinced her to pay for the violin by leaving her husband and child and marrying him instead."
"She wouldn't do that so easily, would she?" asked Merope, appalled.
"Not unless she were coerced against her will," Ralph responded soberly. "The man grew obsessed with her beauty and mistook his own lust for love. Mrs. Riddle, he modified her memory. He fed her a number of potions that muddled her mind and enabled her to forget all about her family. Yet another potion convinced her that she was really in love with him. You might call it..."
"... a love potion," Merope finished, gripping the bench with one hand.
The young man nodded. "Exactly. The worst kind of trickery there is, Mrs. Riddle," he said bitterly, "the sort of demon witchcraft that can convince an innocent person to leave the ones they love, to leave everything behind for someone who covets them."
Merope got up from the bench, shaking. "Go on," she said, in a voice not like her own. "I'm listening."
"She left us. She left me," he said quietly. "I grew up with no mother, just a heartbroken father. I believe he must have traced her after her disappearance; he must have gone to great lengths to win her back. He didn't know that she had been subjected to deceit, you see - the potions had been administered so gradually that bit by bit, she had become more distant. He began to truly believe that she had stopped loving him. Their marriage ended and she was free to wed her deceiver. They moved to a small town just west of Yorkshire. You know it ..." She felt his eyes on her back. "You know it as Little Hangleton."
She turned slowly to face him. "Little Hangleton," she repeated.
Ralph gave a curt nod. "They lived there for seven or eight years, and in that period of time they had two children. A boy and a girl, two innocent children who witnessed the end of their parents' marriage - an inevitable event as the man had grown tired of his wife. I think that the novelty wore off for him after a time, as did her beauty. In any case, he stopped administering the potions."
A vivid memory of the night she had stopped giving Tom the potion flashed into her mind. "What happened?" she murmured, though she almost didn't want to know. She took a seat again, not trusting herself to remain standing because her knees were shaking so badly.
"He had given her a large combination of potions without thinking of the consequences," Ralph said flatly. "Those long years of exposure to many different herbal and magical compounds took a toll on her brain. She became constantly confused: coherent one moment and lost the next. It frustrated her and everyone around her. She left this man and returned to me when I was a boy of nine or ten. By that time, my poor father had died and my aunt was raising me." He hung his head. "She took my mother in too, but the poor woman was a handful and we ended up having to place her in St. Mungo's, the wizarding hospital in London."
"What happened to the second husband? And his children?" Merope whispered, although she already knew.
Ralph's face tightened. "The husband got off without so much as a warning. My mother couldn't remember his name or where he lived or anything. She had left almost everything behind her and there was no clue as to where she had gone. Only my father had known, and he was dead. I never heard anything of that other family ... until now, of course."
"How do you know all of this?" asked Merope. "How did you find me?"
"You can imagine how angry I was when my mother returned to me in her condition. I did not know the entire story; what I learned, I overheard from my aunt and uncle when they thought I wasn't listening. I knew that a man had destroyed my parents' marriage because he wanted my mother, and that he alone was responsible for her present condition. I swore that I would get revenge, but I didn't even know the man's name. That, along with all the memories of the marriage, would have to be extracted directly from my mother's brain."
"Would that hurt her?"
"There was a very great risk of damaging her mind forever," the young man replied. "The Healers were reluctant to seek justice, choosing to maintain what little sanity she had left. It did not satisfy me. I was a very stubborn boy, Mrs. Riddle, and very determined. I studied hard at Hogwarts, sacrificing everything to graduate at the top of my class and secure a position at the Ministry of Magic in London. My dream was to work for a certain department that deals in research of the unknown." He glanced sideways at Merope. "I can't tell you much more due to the nature of my work, but suffice it to say that I have learned a great deal about the nature of human memory."
"And this was how you learned about everything?" Merope asked. "You managed to extract your mother's memories after all?"
He nodded. "She was on her deathbed when I finally made the attempt. They were just bits and pieces of her life, but they were enough to convince me of what had happened." He reached down and opened a black bag that Merope hadn't noticed before, pulling out a few small glass vials that looked empty. "These are a few that I managed to collect."
Merope took one from him and peered inside. What she had taken to be empty space was actually occupied by a single silvery thread, glistening in the dimness. "How do you -?"
Ralph lifted a wide, flat box from the bag and opened it. "You view it using this," he explained. "The Pensieve. These are extremely rare and expensive, and I was lucky enough to borrow it from a kind professor who had been my friend." He showed her the shallow basin filled with a strange, glimmering liquid. "I brought this along because I knew it would be difficult for you to believe me."
"I believe you," Merope said slowly, "but I'd like to - to hear the memory, all the same."
The man - her half-brother - smiled. "You'll see the memory with your own eyes." He opened one vial and tipped its contents into the basin, where it swirled seamlessly with the liquid. "Take my hand and don't be frightened," he instructed, leaning into the basin.
She did as he told her, watching in confused fascination as he dipped his face into the swirling liquid. Quite suddenly, she felt as though she were falling through darkness. The bench had disappeared from beneath her, and the cliff and the sea. A bright light blinded her and she closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she and Ralph were standing in the middle of a crowded street in broad daylight, surrounded by shops on either side. People bustled past them, not paying attention as they went about their daily business.
"They can't see us," Ralph told her. "This is just my mother's memory of London. There she is now!" He pointed to a woman in forest green robes, her shining dark hair swept up into a knot. "Follow me and listen closely."
The two of them trailed after the woman in green, watching as she made her way leisurely down the street. Merope noticed that almost everyone had a wand and supposed that this was an entire part of London devoted to wizards. The shops were getting dustier and more unkempt as they continued down a certain street, still following the woman who appeared to know exactly where she was going. Finally, she pushed open the door of a store on her right. Ralph and Merope followed her into a shop that sold all kinds of knick-knacks and antiques, filled with haphazard shelves and cabinets.
"Hello?" the woman called. "Is anyone here? I've come back about the violin ... I - I don't think I'll take it after all."
"What a shame," a man replied from behind a curtain in the back of the shop. "I had high hopes for you, Annabelle. I told you that it was yours, did I not?"
Annabelle hesitated. "I don't think I can afford it."
The curtain swept aside and the man stepped out, teeth gleaming. "I told you, beauty, it's yours to take," he said.
Merope felt faint as she stared at the man. He was Marvolo Gaunt, a younger and handsomer version, and he was looking at the woman with keen intent. She felt even fainter when the woman turned away, revealing her face to the unseen observers. It was a lovely face Merope hadn't seen for almost fifteen years; it was the face of her mother.
"Come, my dear. Won't you look at it again?" Marvolo was coaxing her. He lifted a dark case from the shelf behind him and laid it upon the counter. "I'll even initial the case for you, if you like," he added, taking the shining instrument from its bed of velvet.
Annabelle had turned back and was looking at the violin longingly, her expression mirroring Marvolo's. "It is lovely," she murmured.
Marvolo brought the flat of his hand onto the counter decisively. "Then it's done!" he crowed. "It's yours. Now, shall we have a celebratory drink?" He lifted a bottle of brandy from a nearby table and poured some into two dirty glasses. "Please take it, Annabelle. Go on."
"I don't drink," she said softly, taking her glass reluctantly.
"Just a sip, my beauty," Marvolo urged her gently, his burning eyes never leaving her lovely face, "just one sip..." The evil in his voice was unmistakable. The look in his eyes was so terrifyingly familiar, the lust, the obsession -
A chill ran down Merope's spine. "No!" she cried, forgetting that neither of them could hear her.
Annabelle tipped the glass and drank, and then the room went blurry. As suddenly as they had appeared on that crowded London street, Ralph and Merope had returned to the dark ruins by the sea.
"Are you all right?" Ralph asked quietly.
Merope felt sick to her stomach. She had always feared and hated her father, but she could not have imagined that this was the way he had met her mother. She could not have dreamed that this was how she came to be born, the child of a lustful man and a deceived woman. It destroyed all of the pleasant memories she had had of her parents' former happiness; it disgusted her. This isn't real, none of it! she remembered her mother screaming. It's all just a sham, a hideous farce! "My mother abandoned me too," she said finally. "She abandoned me because she had discovered what my father had done. Did she never talk about me?"
"It wasn't her fault, Mrs. Riddle," he answered. "I'm sure she loved you as much as she loved me, but her memory -"
"Did she never mention me?" persisted Merope.
Ralph sighed. "She was in no condition to remember much of anything. That memory I showed you and one other are the only intact ones I could get. Most of them are frayed, blurry; the potions muddled them up a great deal, but somehow these two were only buried deep inside her mind." He looked sideways at her. "The other memory is about you, if that makes you feel any better. It was how I learned about my mother's other family."
"Please, Ralph, let me see it," she pleaded, looking at the bag on the ground. "I want to understand. I want to know more."
He noted the damp pallor of her skin disapprovingly. "I don't know if you are well enough, Mrs. Riddle."
"Please! You've come so far and gone through so much just to speak to me," Merope begged.
"Very well. Just one more," conceded Ralph, choosing another vial from the bag. As he had done with the other, he dumped its contents into the Pensieve and watched it dissolve in the viscous liquid. He took her hand and once again bent his face towards the basin.
This time, Merope knew exactly where they ended up before Ralph had to explain. They were standing on a smooth dirt road lined with trees, the leaves of which had turned red and gold. "Little Hangleton," she said softly, recognizing the winding path.
Ralph nodded and gestured to a woman walking in front of them, carrying a heavy basket. It took Merope several seconds to recognize Annabelle; she looked so much older, so frail and tired. Her beautiful face was careworn and there were streaks of gray shooting through her dark hair. "How long has it been?" asked Merope, shocked. "Twenty years?"
Ralph gave a short, mirthless laugh. "Seven or eight. This is yet another effect of the potions she has been subjected to."
They followed the woman to the Gaunt cottage, which looked a great deal cleaner and more well-kept than Merope had ever seen it. She let herself in and was immediately accosted by two children. "Mother! Mother!" they cried, but it was not from joy - their small faces were worried.
Annabelle saw it too. "What's wrong?" she cried, before stopping short at what she saw in the living room.
Merope peered into the room and saw a familiar sight: Marvolo Gaunt lying flat on the floor, two or three empty bottles of firewhiskey beside him. He was snoring loudly, completely oblivious to the stench of a puddle of liquid beneath his face.
"Not again," Annabelle murmured. She hugged the children to her and urged them to run and play in the attic. They obeyed, scampering up the ladder, the young Merope throwing a nervous backward glance at her father. "Marvolo!" Annabelle called firmly. "Marvolo!"
The man sputtered and his eyes flickered blearily open. He looked up at his wife. "Eh? Home already? About bloody time," he mumbled drunkenly.
"I told you to give Morfin and Merope a bath," Annabelle said severely. "You promised to do so and to help tidy up the house while I was at market!"
Marvolo muttered something unintelligible, but it sounded like "Damn bloody waste of time."
His wife sat heavily down on an armchair, staring down at him helplessly. "I don't know what to do anymore, Marvolo. I can't do everything by myself," she said softly. "I clean the house, I care for the children, I cook and go to market - all on top of my hours at the seamstress. I simply can't make enough money on my own."
"And what do you expect me to do about it?" demanded Marvolo, closing his eyes again.
"I expect you," said Annabelle, her voice rising, "to keep from spending money if you cannot - or will not - earn it! I expect you, as my husband and the father of my children, to help with the household instead of drinking all day!" She stared down at him balefully. "Charles would never do this to me..."
Marvolo's head jerked up. "What did you say?" He stared back at her. "Did you say Charles?"
Annabelle looked unnerved. "I - I don't know... did I?" She leaned back in her chair tiredly. "I don't know what I'm saying anymore..."
"Too right you don't!" her husband said nastily. "Damn crazy woman. Go away and leave me be!"
Again, the room went blurry as the memory ended. Merope found herself back on the bench with Ralph, the pitch black sky above them and the crashing sea below. She buried her face in her hands, breathing deeply. "I don't remember that at all," she whispered. "But I have now seen my father drunk so many times that perhaps they all blended together -"
"It was a difficult scene for me to watch as well," Ralph responded.
Merope lifted her head and looked at him. "She mentioned Charles - her first husband - your father," she remarked. "Does that mean -?"
"The potions were wearing off slowly," the young man said grimly. "Marvolo Gaunt was in no condition to consistently feed her the potions, as you saw. He was diligent at first but as I said before, the novelty began to wear off. To put it simply, he got bored."
"And then he stopped giving them to her at all," continued Merope, "and one day she realized what she had been through."
"She collected herself enough to realize, when she discovered the potion bottles, exactly what the cost of that violin had been," agreed Ralph. "She collected herself enough to leave angrily and then forget to return. She forgot you and your brother." He carefully replaced the memories into their vials with his wand.
"Two families destroyed," Merope murmured.
"You see what I have to do, Mrs. Riddle. You see that I cannot let him live." He rose from his seat and looked down at her. "He tricked an innocent woman into a horrible marriage, hurried her husband into his grave, and took a good mother away from three children with his hellish love potion. Do you think such a person deserves to live? He thought he was stealing only love - not so, Mrs. Riddle, not so." Ralph's features hardened. "He was stealing a life."
Merope looked up at him in dazed silence.
"You have heard the Muggle saying, I presume? What comes around, goes around," he said. "When one meddles with fate, fate will come back to seek justice in the end."
"Are you asking my permission to kill him?" Merope asked. The words sounded so ludicrous to her and she laughed. She sat on the bench and laughed uncontrollably until tears ran down her cheeks. The last thing she remembered was falling onto the ground and seeing Ralph's anxious face bent over her.
"Mrs. Riddle..." he called. He sounded so far away. "Mrs. Riddle..."
And then the world went black and she knew no more.
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