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A Daughter’s a Daughter

A Daughter’s a Daughter
A Daughter’s a Daughter Agatha Christie A classic novel of desire and jealousy.Ann Prentice falls in love with Richard Cauldfield and hopes for new happiness. Her only child, Sarah, cannot contemplate the idea of her mother marrying again and wrecks any chance of her remarriage. Resentment and jealousy corrode their relationship as each seeks relief in different directions. Are mother and daughter destined to be enemies for life or will their underlying love for each other finally win through?Famous for her ingenious crime books and plays, Agatha Christie also wrote about crimes of the heart, six bittersweet and very personal novels, as compelling and memorable as the best of her work. Copyright (#ulink_b28a024a-7c88-5ba8-a387-59ab910d2be0) HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by Heinemann 1952 Copyright © 1952 Rosalind Hicks Charitable Trust. All rights reserved. www.agathachristie.com (http://www.agathachristie.com) Cover by ninataradesign.com (http://ninataradesign.com) © HarperCollins 2017 Agatha Christie asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. 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Source ISBN: 9780008131425 Ebook Edition © June 2017 ISBN: 9780007534975 Version: 2018-04-11 Contents Cover (#u866eab05-0840-5068-81b8-aad0ee94abe3) Title Page (#u5bb78e5e-aab9-5be9-aca2-43ee5cb9a79e) Copyright (#u433715de-ed23-5d24-b487-80d38bbe399b) BOOK I (#u77c54543-08bb-5bff-8f17-eeabcfa2d500) Chapter 1 (#u807f804b-e383-5c6b-802a-07424b9614c0) Chapter 2 (#ud5114e46-1809-5d69-bce0-cc27f3c22b23) Chapter 3 (#ue720ffbf-3edb-51f4-b91d-9e01e5cbfa76) Chapter 4 (#ua02cd8a8-3b2f-56cf-ba8e-5f2b9b158b3f) Chapter 5 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 6 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 7 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 8 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 9 (#litres_trial_promo) BOOK II (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 1 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 2 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 3 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 4 (#litres_trial_promo) BOOK III (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 1 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 2 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 3 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 4 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 5 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 6 (#litres_trial_promo) Also by Agatha Christie (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) BOOK I (#ulink_5e21b168-680e-5d90-8cd8-a467f0635d9e) CHAPTER 1 (#ulink_343a08fb-5259-5cee-807e-35da117d8b98) I Ann Prentice stood on the platform at Victoria, waving. The boat train drew out in a series of purposeful jerks, Sarah’s dark head disappeared, and Ann Prentice turned to walk slowly down the platform towards the exit. She experienced the strangely mixed sensations that seeing a loved one off may occasionally engender. Darling Sarah—how she would miss her … Of course it was only for three weeks … But the flat would seem so empty … Just herself and Edith—two dull middle-aged women … Sarah was so alive, so vital, so positive about everything … And yet still such a darling black-haired baby— How awful! What a way to think! How frightfully annoyed Sarah would be! The one thing that Sarah—and all the other girls of her age—seemed to insist upon was an attitude of casual indifference on the part of their parents. ‘No fuss, Mother,’ they said urgently. They accepted, of course, tribute in kind. Taking their clothes to the cleaners and fetching them and usually paying for them. Difficult telephone calls (‘If you just ring Carol up, it will be so much easier, Mother.’) Clearing up the incessant untidiness. (‘Darling, I did mean to take away my messes. But I have simply got to rush.’) ‘Now when I was young,’ reflected Ann … Her thoughts went back. Hers had been an old-fashioned home. Her mother had been a woman of over forty when she was born, her father older still, fifteen or sixteen years older than her mother. The house had been run in the way her father liked. Affection had not been taken for granted, it had been expressed on both sides. ‘There’s my dear little girl.’ ‘Father’s pet!’ ‘Is there anything I can get you, Mother darling?’ Tidying up the house, odd errands, tradesmen’s books, invitations and social notes, all these Ann had attended to as a matter of course. Daughters existed to serve their parents—not the other way about. As she passed near the bookstall, Ann asked herself suddenly, ‘Which was the best?’ Surprisingly enough, it didn’t seem an easy question to answer. Running her eyes along the publications on the bookstall (something to read this evening in front of the fire) she came to the unexpected decision that it didn’t really matter. The whole thing was a convention, nothing more. Like using slang. At one period one said things were ‘topping’, and then that they were ‘too divine’, and then that they were ‘marvellous’, and that one ‘couldn’t agree with you more’, and that you were ‘madly’ fond of this, that and the other. Children waited on parents, or parents waited on children—it made no difference to the underlying vital relationship of person to person. Between Sarah and herself there was, Ann believed, a deep and genuine love. Between her and her own mother? Looking back she thought that under the surface fondness and affection there had been, actually, that casual and kindly indifference which it was the fashion to assume nowadays. Smiling to herself, Ann bought a Penguin, a book that she remembered reading some years ago and enjoying. Perhaps it might seem a little sentimental now, but that wouldn’t matter, as Sarah was not going to be there … Ann thought: ‘I shall miss her—of course I shall miss her—but it will be rather peaceful …’ And she thought: ‘It will be a rest for Edith, too. She gets upset when plans are always being changed and meals altered.’ For Sarah and her friends were always in a flux of coming and going and ringing up and changing plans. ‘Mother darling, can we have a meal early? We want to go to a movie.’ ‘Is that you, Mother? I rang up to say I shan’t be in to lunch after all.’ To Edith, that faithful retainer of over twenty years’ service, now doing three times the work she was once expected to undertake, such interruptions to normal life were very irritating. Edith, in Sarah’s phrase, often turned sour. Not that Sarah couldn’t get round Edith any time she liked. Edith might scold and grumble, but she adored Sarah. It would be very quiet alone with Edith. Peaceful—but very quiet … A queer cold feeling made Ann give a little shiver … She thought: ‘Nothing but quietness now—’ Quietness stretching forward vaguely down the slopes of old age into death. Nothing, any more, to look forward to. ‘But what do I want?’ she asked herself. ‘I’ve had everything. Love and happiness with Patrick. A child. I’ve had all I wanted from life. Now—it’s over. Now Sarah will go on where I leave off. She will marry, have children. I shall be a grandmother.’ She smiled to herself. She would enjoy being a grandmother. She pictured handsome spirited children, Sarah’s children. Naughty little boys with Sarah’s unruly black hair, plump little girls. She would read to them—tell them stories … She smiled at the prospect—but the cold feeling was still there. If only Patrick had lived. The old rebellious sorrow rose up. It was so long ago now—when Sarah was only three—so long ago that the loss and the agony were healed. She could think of Patrick gently, without a pang. The impetuous young husband that she had loved so much. So far away now—far away in the past. But today rebellion rose up anew. If Patrick was still alive, Sarah would go from them—to Switzerland for winter sports, to a husband and a home in due course—and she and Patrick would be there together, older, quieter, but sharing life and its ups and downs together. She would not be alone … Ann Prentice came out into the crowded life of the station yard. She thought to herself: ‘How sinister all those red buses look—drawn up in line like monsters waiting to be fed.’ They seemed fantastically to have a sentient life of their own—a life that was, perhaps, inimical to their maker, Man. What a busy, noisy, crowded world it was, everyone coming and going, hurrying, rushing, talking, laughing, complaining, full of greetings and partings. And suddenly, once again, she felt that cold pang—of aloneness. She thought: ‘It’s time Sarah went away—I’m getting too dependent on her. I’m making her, perhaps, too dependent on me. I mustn’t do that. One mustn’t hold on to the young—stop them leading their own lives. That would be wicked—really wicked …’ She must efface herself, keep well in the background, encourage Sarah to make her own plans—her own friends. And then she smiled, because there was really no need to encourage Sarah at all. Sarah had quantities of friends and was always making plans, rushing about here and there with the utmost confidence and enjoyment. She adored her mother, but treated her with a kindly patronage, as one excluded from all understanding and participation, owing to her advanced years. How old to Sarah seemed the age of forty-one—whilst to Ann it was quite a struggle to call herself in her own mind middle-aged. Not that she attempted to keep time at bay. She used hardly any make-up, and her clothes still had the faintly countrified air of a young matron come to town—neat coats and skirts and a small string of real pearls. Ann sighed. ‘I can’t think why I’m so silly,’ she said to herself aloud. ‘I suppose it’s just seeing Sarah off.’ What did the French say? Partir, c’est mourir un peu … Yes, that was true … Sarah, swept away by that important puffing train, was, for the moment, dead to her mother. And ‘I to her,’ thought Ann. ‘A curious thing—distance. Separation in space …’ Sarah, living one life. She, Ann, living another … A life of her own. Some faintly pleasurable sensation replaced the inner chill of which she had previously been conscious. She could choose now when she would get up, what she should do—she could plan her day. She could go to bed early with a meal on a tray—or go out to a theatre or a cinema. Or she could take a train into the country and wander about … walking through bare woods with the blue sky showing between the intricate sharp pattern of the branches … Of course, actually she could do all these things at any time she liked. But when two people lived together, there was a tendency for one life to set the pattern. Ann had enjoyed a good deal, at second hand, Sarah’s vivid comings and goings. No doubt about it, it was great fun being a mother. It was like having your own life over again—with a great deal of the agonies of youth left out. Since you knew now how little some things mattered, you could smile indulgently over the crises that arose. ‘But really, Mother,’ Sarah would say intensely, ‘it’s frightfully serious. You mustn’t smile. Nadia feels that the whole of her future is at stake!’ But at forty-one, one had learned that one’s whole future was very seldom at stake. Life was far more elastic and resilient than one had once chosen to think. During her service with an ambulance during the war, Ann had realized for the first time how much the small things of life mattered. The small envies and jealousies, the small pleasures, the chafing of a collar, a chilblain inside a tight shoe—all these ranked as far more immediately important than the great fact that you might be killed at any moment. That should have been a solemn, an overwhelming thought, but actually one became used to it very quickly—and the small things asserted their sway—perhaps heightened in their insistence just because, in the background, was the idea of there being very little time. She had learnt something, too, of the curious inconsistencies of human nature, of how difficult it was to assess people as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as she had been inclined to do in her days of youthful dogmatism. She had seen unbelievable courage spent in rescuing a victim—and then that same individual who had risked his life would stoop to some mean petty theft from the rescued individual he had just saved. People, in fact, were not all of a piece. Standing irresolutely on the kerb, the sharp hooting of a taxi recalled Ann from abstract speculations to more practical considerations. What should she do now, at this moment? Getting Sarah off to Switzerland had been so far as her mind had looked that morning. That evening she was going out to dine with James Grant. Dear James, always so kind and thoughtful. ‘You’ll feel a bit flat with Sarah gone. Come out and have a little celebration.’ Really, it was very sweet of James. All very well for Sarah to laugh and call James ‘your pukka Sahib boy friend, darling’. James was a very dear person. Sometimes it might be a little difficult to keep one’s attention fixed when he was telling one of his very long and rambling stories, but he enjoyed telling them so much, and after all if one had known someone for twenty-five years, to listen kindly was the least one could do. Ann glanced at her watch. She might go to the Army and Navy Stores. There were some kitchen things Edith had been wanting. This decision solved her immediate problem. But all the time that she was examining saucepans and asking prices (really fantastic now!) she was conscious of that queer cold panic at the back of her mind. Finally, on an impulse, she went into a telephone box and dialled a number. ‘Can I speak to Dame Laura Whitstable, please?’ ‘Who is speaking?’ ‘Mrs Prentice.’ ‘Just a moment, Mrs Prentice.’ There was a pause and then a deep resonant voice said: ‘Ann?’ ‘Oh, Laura, I knew I oughtn’t to ring you up at this time of day, but I’ve just seen Sarah off, and I wondered if you were terribly busy today—’ The voice said with decision: ‘Better lunch with me. Rye bread and buttermilk. That suit you?’ ‘Anything will suit me. It’s angelic of you.’ ‘Be expecting you. Quarter-past one.’ II It was one minute to the quarter-past when Ann paid off her taxi in Harley Street and rang the bell. The competent Harkness opened the door, smiled a welcome, said: ‘Go straight on up, will you, Mrs Prentice? Dame Laura may be a few minutes still.’ Ann ran lightly up the stairs. The dining-room of the house was now a waiting-room and the top floor of the tall house was converted into a comfortable flat. In the sitting-room a small table was laid for a meal. The room itself was more like a man’s room than a woman’s. Large sagging comfortable chairs, a wealth of books, some of them piled on the chairs, and rich-coloured good-quality velvet curtains. Ann had not long to wait. Dame Laura, her voice preceding her up the stairs like a triumphant bassoon, entered the room and kissed her guest affectionately. Dame Laura Whitstable was a woman of sixty-four. She carried with her the atmosphere that is exuded by royalty, or well-known public characters. Everything about her was a little more than life-size, her voice, her uncompromising shelf-like bust, the piled masses of her iron-grey hair, her beak-like nose. ‘Delighted to see you, my dear child,’ she boomed. ‘You look very pretty, Ann. I see you’ve bought yourself a bunch of violets. Very discerning of you. It’s the flower you most resemble.’ ‘The shrinking violet? Really, Laura.’ ‘Autumn sweetness, well concealed by leaves.’ ‘This is most unlike you, Laura. You are usually so rude!’ ‘I find it pays, but it’s rather an effort sometimes. Let us eat immediately. Bassett, where is Bassett? Ah, there you are. There is a sole for you, Ann, you will be glad to hear. And a glass of hock.’ ‘Oh, Laura, you shouldn’t. Buttermilk and rye bread would have done quite well.’ ‘There’s only just enough buttermilk for me. Come on, sit down. So Sarah’s gone off to Switzerland? For how long?’ ‘Three weeks.’ ‘Very nice.’ The angular Bassett had left the room. Sipping her glass of buttermilk with every appearance of enjoyment, Dame Laura said shrewdly: ‘And you’re going to miss her. But you didn’t ring me up and come here to tell me that. Come on now, Ann. Tell me. We haven’t got much time. I know you’re fond of me, but when people ring up, and want my company at a moment’s notice, it’s usually my superior wisdom that’s the attraction.’ ‘I feel horribly guilty,’ said Ann apologetically. ‘Nonsense, my dear. Actually, it’s rather a compliment.’ Ann said with a rush: ‘Oh, Laura, I’m a complete fool, I know! But I got in a sort of panic. There in Victoria Station with all the buses! I felt—I felt so terribly alone.’ ‘Ye-es, I see …’ ‘It wasn’t just Sarah going away and missing her. It was more than that …’ Laura Whitstable nodded, her shrewd grey eyes watching Ann dispassionately. Ann said slowly: ‘Because, after all, one is always alone … really—’ ‘Ah, so you’ve found that out? One does, of course, sooner or later. Curiously enough, it’s usually a shock. How old are you, Ann? Forty-one? A very good age to make your discovery. Leave it until too late and it can be devastating. Discover it too young—and it takes a lot of courage to acknowledge it.’ ‘Have you ever felt really alone, Laura?’ Ann asked with curiosity. ‘Oh, yes. It came to me when I was twenty-six—actually in the middle of a family gathering of the most affectionate nature. It startled me and frightened me—but I accepted it. Never deny the truth. One must accept the fact that we have only one companion in this world, a companion who accompanies us from the cradle to the grave—our own self. Get on good terms with that companion—learn to live with yourself. That’s the answer. It’s not always easy.’ Ann sighed. ‘Life felt absolutely pointless—I’m telling you everything, Laura—just years stretching ahead with nothing to fill them. Oh, I suppose I’m just a silly useless woman …’ ‘Now, now, keep your common sense. You did a very good efficient unspectacular job in the war, you’ve brought up Sarah to have nice manners and to enjoy life, and in your quiet way you enjoy life yourself. That’s all very satisfactory. In fact, if you came to my consulting room I’d send you away without even collecting a fee—and I’m a money-grubbing old woman.’ ‘Laura dear, you are very comforting. But I suppose, really—I do care for Sarah too much.’ ‘Fiddle!’ ‘I am always so afraid of becoming one of those possessive mothers who positively eat their young.’ Laura Whitstable said dryly: ‘There’s so much talk about possessive mothers that some women are afraid to show a normal affection for their young!’ ‘But possessiveness is a bad thing!’ ‘Of course it is. I come across it every day. Mothers who keep their sons tied to their apron strings, fathers who monopolize their daughters. But it’s not always entirely their doing. I had a nest of birds in my room once, Ann. In due course the fledglings left the nest, but there was one who wouldn’t go. Wanted to stay in the nest, wanted to be fed, refused to face the ordeal of tumbling over the edge. It disturbed the mother bird very much. She showed him, flew down again and again from the edge of the nest, chirruped to him, fluttered her wings. Finally she wouldn’t feed him. Brought food in her beak, but stayed the other side of the room calling him. Well, there are human beings like that. Children who don’t want to grow up, who don’t want to face the difficulties of adult life. It isn’t their upbringing. It’s themselves.’ She paused before going on. ‘There’s the wish to be possessed as well as the wish to possess. Is it a case of maturing late? Or is it some inherent lack of the adult quality? One knows very little still of the human personality.’ ‘Anyway,’ said Ann, uninterested in generalities, ‘you don’t think I’m a possessive mother?’ ‘I’ve always thought that you and Sarah had a very satisfactory relationship. I should say there was a deep natural love between you.’ She added thoughtfully: ‘Of course Sarah’s young for her age.’ ‘I’ve always thought she was old for her age.’ ‘I shouldn’t say so. She strikes me as younger than nineteen in mentality.’ ‘But she’s very positive, very assured. And quite sophisticated. Full of her own ideas.’ ‘Full of the current ideas, you mean. It will be a very long time before she has any ideas that are really her own. And all these young creatures nowadays seem positive. They need reassurance, that’s why. We live in an uncertain age and everything is unstable and the young feel it. That’s where half the trouble starts nowadays. Lack of stability. Broken homes. Lack of moral standards. A young plant, you know, needs tying up to a good firm stake.’ She grinned suddenly. ‘Like all old women, even if I am a distinguished one, I preach.’ She drained her glass of buttermilk. ‘Do you know why I drink this?’ ‘Because it’s healthy?’ ‘Bah! I like it. Always have since I went for holidays to a farm in the country. The other reason is so as to be different. One poses. We all pose. Have to. I do it more than most. But, thank God, I know I’m doing it. But now about you, Ann. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just getting your second wind, that’s all.’ ‘What do you mean by my second wind, Laura? You don’t mean—’ She hesitated. ‘I don’t mean anything physical. I’m talking in mental terms. Women are lucky, although ninety-nine out of a hundred don’t know it. At what age did St Teresa set out to reform the monasteries? At fifty. And I could quote you a score of other cases. From twenty to forty women are biologically absorbed—and rightly so. Their concern is with children, with husbands, with lovers—with personal relations. Or they sublimate these things and fling themselves into a career in a female emotional way. But the natural second blooming is of the mind and spirit and it takes place at middle age. Women take more interest in impersonal things as they grow older. Men’s interests grow narrower, women’s grow wider. A man of sixty is usually repeating himself like a gramophone record. A woman of sixty, if she’s got any individuality at all—is an interesting person.’ Ann thought of James Grant and smiled. ‘Women stretch out to something new. Oh, they make fools of themselves too at that age. Sometimes they’re sex bound. But middle age is an age of great possibilities.’ ‘How comforting you are, Laura! Do you think I ought to take up something? Social work of some kind?’ ‘How much do you love your fellow beings?’ said Laura Whitstable gravely. ‘The deed is no good without the inner fire. Don’t do things you don’t want to do, and then pat yourself on the back for doing them! Nothing, if I may say so, produces a more odious result. If you enjoy visiting the sick old women, or taking unattractive mannerless brats to the seaside, by all means do it. Quite a lot of people do enjoy it. No, Ann, don’t force yourself into activities. Remember all ground has sometimes to lie fallow. Motherhood has been your crop up to now. I don’t see you becoming a reformer, or an artist, or an exponent of the Social Services. You’re quite an ordinary woman, Ann, but a very nice one. Wait. Just wait quietly, with faith and hope, and you’ll see. Something worth while will come to fill your life.’ She hesitated and then said: ‘You’ve never had an affair, have you?’ Ann flushed. ‘No.’ She braced herself. ‘Do you—do you think I ought to?’ Dame Laura gave a terrific snort, a vast explosive sound that shook the glasses on the table. ‘All this modern cant! In Victorian days we were afraid of sex, draped the legs of the furniture, even! Hid sex away, shoved it out of sight. All very bad. But nowadays we’ve gone to the opposite extreme. We treat sex like something you order from the chemist. It’s on a par with sulphur drugs and penicillin. Young women come and ask me, “Had I better take a lover?” “Do you think I ought to have a child?” You’d think it was a sacred duty to go to bed with a man instead of a pleasure. You’re not a passionate woman, Ann. You’re a woman with a very deep store of affection and tenderness. That can include sex, but sex doesn’t come first with you. If you ask me to prophesy, I’ll say that in due course you’ll marry again.’ ‘Oh no. I don’t believe I could ever do that.’ ‘Why did you buy a bunch of violets today and pin them in your coat? You buy flowers for your rooms but you don’t usually wear them. Those violets are a symbol, Ann. You bought them because, deep down, you feel spring—your second spring is near.’ ‘St Martin’s summer, you mean,’ said Ann ruefully. ‘Yes, if you like to call it that.’ ‘But really, Laura, I daresay it’s a very pretty idea, but I only bought these violets because the woman who was selling them looked so cold and miserable.’ ‘That’s what you think. But that’s only the superficial reason. Look down to the real motive, Ann. Learn to know yourself. That’s the most important thing in life—to try and know yourself. Heavens—it’s past two. I must fly. What are you doing this evening?’ ‘I’m going out to dinner with James Grant.’ ‘Colonel Grant? Yes, of course. A nice fellow.’ Her eyes twinkled. ‘He’s been after you for a long time, Ann.’ Ann Prentice laughed and blushed. ‘Oh, it’s just a habit.’ ‘He’s asked you to marry him several times, hasn’t he?’ ‘Yes, but it’s all nonsense really. Oh, Laura, do you think perhaps—I ought to? If we’re both lonely—’ ‘There’s no ought about marriage, Ann! And the wrong companion is worse than none. Poor Colonel Grant—not that I pity him really. A man who continually asks a woman to marry him and can’t make her change her mind, is a man who secretly enjoys devotion to lost causes. If he was at Dunkirk, he would have enjoyed it—but I daresay the Charge of the Light Brigade would have suited him far better! How fond we are in this country of our defeats and our blunders—and how ashamed we always seem to be of our victories!’ CHAPTER 2 (#ulink_07b35b6f-1cac-5f76-a52f-225a91f08e5a) I Ann arrived back at her flat to be greeted by the faithful Edith in a somewhat cold fashion. ‘A nice bit of plaice I had for your lunch,’ she said, appearing at the kitchen door. ‘And a caramel custard.’ ‘I’m so sorry. I had lunch with Dame Laura. I did telephone you in time that I shouldn’t be in, didn’t I?’ ‘I hadn’t cooked the plaice,’ admitted Edith grudgingly. She was a tall lean woman with the upright carriage of a grenadier and a pursed-up disapproving mouth. ‘It’s not like you, though, to go chopping and changing. With Miss Sarah, now, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I found those fancy gloves she was looking for after she’d gone and it was too late. Stuffed down behind the sofa they were.’ ‘What a pity.’ Ann took the gaily knitted woollen gloves. ‘She got off all right.’ ‘And happy to go, I suppose.’ ‘Yes, the whole party was very gay.’ ‘Mayn’t come back quite so gay. Back on crutches as likely as not.’ ‘Oh no, Edith, don’t say that.’ ‘Dangerous, these Swiss places. Fracture your arms or your legs and then not set proper. Goes to gangrene under the plaster and that’s the end of you. Awful smell, too.’ ‘Well, we’ll hope that won’t happen to Sarah,’ said Ann, well used to Edith’s gloomy pronouncements, which were always uttered with considerable relish. ‘Won’t seem like the same place without Miss Sarah about,’ said Edith. ‘We shan’t know ourselves, we’ll be so quiet.’ ‘It will give you a bit of a rest, Edith.’ ‘Rest?’ said Edith indignantly. ‘What would I want with a rest? Better wear out than rust out, that’s what my mother used to say to me, and it’s what I’ve always gone by. Now Miss Sarah’s away and she and her friends won’t be popping in and out every minute I can get down to a real good clean. This place needs it.’ ‘I’m sure the flat’s beautifully clean, Edith.’ ‘That’s what you think. But I know better. All the curtains want to be took down and well shook, and them lustres on the electrics could do with a wash—oh! there’s a hundred and one things need doing.’ Edith’s eyes gleamed with pleasurable anticipation. ‘Get someone in to help you.’ ‘What, me? No fear. I like things done the proper way, and it’s not many of these women you can trust to do that nowadays. You’ve got nice things here and nice things should be kept nice. What with cooking and one thing and another I can’t get down to my proper work as I should.’ ‘But you do cook beautifully, Edith. You know you do.’ A faintly gratified smile transformed Edith’s habitual expression of profound disapproval. ‘Oh, cooking,’ she said in an off-hand way. ‘There’s nothing to that. It’s not what I call proper work, not by a long way.’ Moving back into the kitchen, she asked: ‘What time will you have your tea?’ ‘Oh, not just yet. About half-past four.’ ‘If I were you I’d put your feet up and take a nap. Then you’ll be fresh for this evening. Might as well enjoy a bit of peace while you’ve got it.’ Ann laughed. She went into the sitting-room and let Edith settle her comfortably on the sofa. ‘You look after me as though I were a little girl, Edith.’ ‘Well, you weren’t much more when I first came to your ma, and you haven’t changed much. Colonel Grant rang up. Said not to forget it was the Mogador Restaurant at eight o’clock. She knows, I said to him. But that’s men all over—fuss, fuss, fuss, and military gentlemen are the worst.’ ‘It’s nice of him to think I might be lonely tonight and ask me out.’ Edith said judicially: ‘I’ve nothing against the colonel. Fussy he may be, but he’s the right kind of gentleman.’ She paused and added: ‘On the whole you might do a lot worse than Colonel Grant.’ ‘What did you say, Edith?’ Edith returned an unblinking stare. ‘I said as there were worse gentlemen … Oh well, I suppose we shan’t be seeing so much of that Mr Gerry now Miss Sarah’s gone away.’ ‘You don’t like him, do you, Edith?’ ‘Well, I do and I don’t, if you know what I mean. He’s got a way with him—that you can’t deny. But he’s not the steady sort. My sister’s Marlene married one like that. Never in a job more than six months, he isn’t. And whatever happens it’s never his fault.’ Edith went out of the room and Ann leaned her head back against the cushions and shut her eyes. The sound of the traffic came faint and muted through the closed window, a pleasant humming sound like far-off bees. On the table near her a bowl of yellow jonquils sent their sweetness into the air. She felt peaceful and happy. She was going to miss Sarah, but it was rather restful to be by herself for a short time. What a queer panic she had had this morning … She wondered what James Grant’s party would consist of this evening. II The Mogador was a small rather old-fashioned restaurant with good food and wine and an unhurried air about it. Ann was the first of the party to arrive and found Colonel Grant sitting in the reception bar opening and shutting his watch. ‘Ah, Ann.’ He sprang up to greet her. ‘Here you are.’ His eyes went with approval over the black dinner dress and the single string of pearls round her throat. ‘It’s a great thing when a pretty woman can be punctual.’ ‘I’m three minutes late, no more,’ said Ann, smiling up at him. James Grant was a tall man with a stiff soldierly bearing, close-cropped grey hair and an obstinate chin. He consulted his watch again. ‘Now why can’t these other people turn up? Our table will be ready for us at a quarter-past eight and we want some drinks first. Sherry for you? You prefer it to a cocktail, don’t you?’ ‘Yes, please. Who are the others?’ ‘The Massinghams. You know them?’ ‘Of course.’ ‘And Jennifer Graham. She’s a first cousin of mine, but I don’t know whether you ever—’ ‘I met her once with you, I think.’ ‘And the other man is Richard Cauldfield. I only ran into him the other day. Hadn’t seen him for years. He’s spent most of his life in Burma. Feels a bit out of things coming back to this country.’ ‘Yes, I suppose so.’ ‘Nice fellow. Rather a sad story. Wife died having her first child. He was devoted to her. Couldn’t get over it for a long time. Felt he had to get right away—that’s why he went out to Burma.’ ‘And the baby?’ ‘Oh, that died, too.’ ‘How sad.’ ‘Ah, here come the Massinghams.’ Mrs Massingham, always alluded to by Sarah as ‘the Mem Sahib’ bore down upon them in a grand flashing of teeth. She was a lean stringy woman, her skin bleached and dried by years in India. Her husband was a short tubby man with a staccato style of conversation. ‘How nice to see you again,’ said Mrs Massingham, shaking Ann warmly by the hand. ‘And how delightful to be coming out to dinner properly dressed. Positively I never seem to wear an evening dress. Everyone always says, “Don’t change.” I do think life is drab nowadays, and the things one has to do oneself! I seem to be always at the sink! I really don’t think we can stay in this country. We’ve been considering Kenya.’ ‘Lot of people clearing out,’ said her husband. ‘Fed up. Blinking government.’ ‘Ah, here’s Jennifer,’ said Colonel Grant, ‘and Cauldfield.’ Jennifer Graham was a tall horse-faced woman of thirty-five who whinnied when she laughed. Richard Cauldfield was a middle-aged man with a sunburned face. He sat down by Ann and she began to make conversation. Had he been in England long? What did he think of things? It took a bit of getting used to, he said. Everything was so different from what it was before the war. He’d been looking for a job—but jobs weren’t so easy to find, not for a man of his age. ‘No, I believe that’s true. It seems all wrong somehow.’ ‘Yes, after all I’m still the right side of fifty.’ He smiled a rather child-like and disarming smile. ‘I’ve got a small amount of capital. I’m wondering about buying a small place in the country. Going in for market gardening. Or chickens.’ ‘Not chickens!’ said Ann. ‘I’ve several friends who have tried chickens—and they always seem to get diseases.’ ‘No, perhaps market gardening would be better. One wouldn’t make much of a profit, perhaps, but it would be a pleasant life.’ He sighed. ‘Things are so much in the melting-pot. Perhaps if we get a change of government—’ Ann acquiesced doubtfully. It was the usual panacea. ‘It must be difficult to know what exactly to go in for,’ she said. ‘Quite worrying.’ ‘Oh, I don’t worry. I don’t believe in worry. If a man has faith in himself and proper determination, every difficulty will straighten itself out.’ It was a dogmatic assertion and Ann looked doubtful. ‘I wonder,’ she said. ‘I can assure you that it is so. I’ve no patience with people who go about always whining about their bad luck.’ ‘Oh, there I do agree,’ exclaimed Ann with such fervour that he raised his eyebrows questioningly. ‘You sound as though you had experience of something of the kind.’ ‘I have. One of my daughter’s boy friends is always coming and telling us of his latest misfortune. I used to be sympathetic, but now I’ve become callous and bored.’ Mrs Massingham said across the table: ‘Hard-luck stories are boring.’ Colonel Grant said: ‘Who are you talking of, young Gerald Lloyd? He’ll never amount to much.’ Richard Cauldfield said quietly to Ann: ‘So you have a daughter? And a daughter old enough to have a boy friend.’ ‘Oh yes. Sarah is nineteen.’ ‘And you’re very fond of her?’ ‘Of course.’ She saw a momentary expression of pain cross his face and remembered the story Colonel Grant had told her. Richard Cauldfield was, she thought, a lonely man. He said in a low voice: ‘You look too young to have a grown-up daughter …’ ‘That’s the regulation thing to say to a woman of my age,’ said Ann with a laugh. ‘Perhaps. But I meant it. Your husband is—’ he hesitated—‘dead?’ ‘Yes, a long time ago.’ ‘Why haven’t you remarried?’ It might have been an impertinent question, but the real interest in his voice saved it from any false imputation of that kind. Again Ann felt that Richard Cauldfield was a simple person. He really wanted to know. ‘Oh, because—’ She stopped. Then she spoke truthfully and with sincerity. ‘I loved my husband very much. After he died I never fell in love with anyone else. And there was Sarah, of course.’ ‘Yes,’ said Cauldfield. ‘Yes—with you that is exactly what it would be.’ Grant got up and suggested that they move into the restaurant. At the round table Ann sat next to her host with Major Massingham on her other side. She had no further opportunity of a tête-à-tête with Cauldfield, who was talking rather ponderously with Miss Graham. ‘Think they might do for each other, eh?’ murmured the colonel in her ear. ‘He needs a wife, you know.’ For some reason the suggestion displeased Ann. Jennifer Graham, indeed, with her loud hearty voice and her neighing laugh! Not at all the sort of woman for a man like Cauldfield to marry. Oysters were brought and the party settled down to food and talk. ‘Sarah gone off this morning?’ ‘Yes, James. I do hope they’ll have some good snow.’ ‘Yes, it’s a bit doubtful this time of year. Anyway, I expect she’ll enjoy herself all right. Handsome girl, Sarah. By the way, hope young Lloyd isn’t one of the party?’ ‘Oh no, he’s just gone into his uncle’s firm. He can’t go away.’ ‘Good thing. You must nip all that in the bud, Ann.’ ‘One can’t do much nipping in these days, James.’ ‘Hm, suppose not. Still, you’ve got her away for a while.’ ‘Yes. I thought it would be a good plan.’ ‘Oh, you did? You’re no fool, Ann. Let’s hope she takes up with some other young fellow out there.’ ‘Sarah’s very young still, James. I don’t think the Gerry Lloyd business was serious at all.’ ‘Perhaps not. But she seemed very concerned about him when last I saw her.’ ‘Being concerned is rather a thing of Sarah’s. She knows exactly what everyone ought to do and makes them do it. She’s very loyal to her friends.’ ‘She’s a dear child. And a very attractive one. But she’ll never be as attractive as you, Ann, she’s a harder type—what do they call it nowadays—hard-boiled.’ Ann smiled. ‘I don’t think Sarah’s very hard-boiled. It’s just the manner of her generation.’ ‘Perhaps so … But some of these girls could take a lesson in charm from their mothers.’ He was looking at her affectionately and Ann thought to herself with a sudden unusual warmth: ‘Dear James. How sweet he is to me. He really does think me perfect. Am I a fool not to accept what he offers? To be loved and cherished—’ Unfortunately at that moment Colonel Grant started telling her the story of one of his subalterns and a major’s wife in India. It was a long story and she had heard it three times before. The affectionate warmth died down. Across the table she watched Richard Cauldfield, appraising him. A little too confident of himself, too dogmatic—no, she corrected herself, not really … That was only a defensive armour he put up against a strange and possibly hostile world. It was a sad face, really. A lonely face … He had a lot of good qualities, she thought. He would be kind and honest and strictly fair. Obstinate, probably, and occasionally prejudiced. A man unused to laughing at things or being laughed at. The kind of man who would blossom out if he felt himself truly loved— ‘—and would you believe it?’ the colonel came to a triumphant end to his story ‘—the Sayce had known about it all the time!’ With a shock Ann came back to her immediate duties and laughed with all the proper appreciation. CHAPTER 3 (#ulink_c4c2dba4-fd48-5073-8f80-241117d12f16) I Ann woke on the following morning and for a moment wondered where she was. Surely, that dim outline of the window should have been on the right, not the left … The door, the wardrobe … Then she realized. She had been dreaming; dreaming that she was back, a girl, in her old home at Applestream. She had come there full of excitement, to be welcomed by her mother, by a younger Edith. She had run round the garden, exclaiming at this and that and had finally entered the house. All was as it had been, the rather dark hall, the chintz-covered drawing-room opening off it. And then, surprisingly, her mother had said: ‘We’re having tea in here today,’ and had led her through a further door into a new and unfamiliar room. An attractive room, with gay chintz covers and flowers, and sunlight; and someone was saying to her: ‘You never knew that these rooms were here, did you? We found them last year!’ There had been more new rooms and a small staircase and more rooms upstairs. It had all been very exciting and thrilling. Now that she was awake she was still partly in the dream. She was Ann the girl, a creature standing at the beginning of life. Those undiscovered rooms! Fancy never knowing about them all these years! When had they been found? Lately? Or years ago? Reality seeped slowly through the confused pleasurable dream state. All a dream, a very happy dream. Shot through now with a slight ache, the ache of nostalgia. Because one couldn’t go back. And how odd that a dream of discovering additional ordinary rooms in a house should engender such a queer ecstatic pleasure. She felt quite sad to think that these rooms had never actually existed. Ann lay in bed watching the outline of the window grow clearer. It must be quite late, nine o’clock at least. The mornings were so dark now. Sarah would be waking to sunshine and snow in Switzerland. But somehow Sarah hardly seemed real at this moment. Sarah was far away, remote, indistinct … What was real was the house in Cumberland, the chintzes, the sunlight, the flowers—her mother. And Edith, standing respectfully to attention, looking, in spite of her young smooth unlined face, definitely disapproving as usual. Ann smiled and called: ‘Edith!’ Edith entered and pulled the curtains back. ‘Well,’ she said approvingly. ‘You’ve had a nice lay in. I wasn’t going to wake you. It’s not much of a day. Fog coming on, I’d say.’ The outlook from the window was a heavy yellow. It was not an attractive prospect, but Ann’s sense of well-being was not shaken. She lay there smiling to herself. ‘Your breakfast’s all ready. I’ll fetch it in.’ Edith paused as she left the room, looking curiously at her mistress. ‘Looking pleased with yourself this morning, I must say. You must have enjoyed yourself last night.’ ‘Last night?’ Ann was vague for a moment. ‘Oh, yes, yes. I enjoyed myself very much. Edith, when I woke up I’d been dreaming I was at home again. You were there and it was summer and there were new rooms in the house that we’d never known about.’ ‘Good job we didn’t, I’d say,’ said Edith. ‘Quite enough rooms as it was. Great rambling old place. And that kitchen! When I think of what that range must have ate in coal! Lucky it was cheap then.’ ‘You were quite young again, Edith, and so was I.’ ‘Ah, we can’t put the clock back, can we? Not for all we may want to. Those times are dead and gone for ever.’ ‘Dead and gone for ever,’ repeated Ann softly. ‘Not as I’m not quite satisfied as I am. I’ve got my health and strength, though they do say it’s at middle life you’re most liable to get one of these internal growths. I’ve thought of that once or twice lately.’ ‘I’m sure you haven’t got anything of the kind, Edith.’ ‘Ah, but you don’t know yourself. Not until the moment when they cart you off to hospital and cuts you up and by then it’s usually too late.’ And Edith left the room with gloomy relish. She returned a few minutes later with Ann’s breakfast tray of coffee and toast. ‘There you are, ma’am. Sit up and I’ll tuck the pillow behind your back.’ Ann looked up at her and said impulsively: ‘How good you are to me, Edith.’ Edith flushed a fiery red with embarrassment. ‘I know the way things should be done, that’s all. And anyway, someone’s got to look after you. You’re not one of these strong-minded ladies. That Dame Laura now—the Pope of Rome himself couldn’t stand up to her.’ ‘Dame Laura is a great personality, Edith.’ ‘I know. I’ve heard her on the radio. Why, just by the look of her you’d always know she was somebody. Managed to get married too, by what I’ve heard. Was it divorce or death that parted them?’ ‘Oh, he died.’ ‘Best thing for him, I daresay. She’s not the kind any gentleman would find it comfortable to live with—although I won’t deny as there’s some men as actually prefer their wives to wear the trousers.’ Edith moved towards the door, observing as she did so: ‘Now don’t you hurry up, my dear. You just have a nice rest and lay-a-bed and think your pretty thoughts and enjoy your holiday.’ ‘Holiday,’ thought Ann, amused. ‘Is that what she calls it?’ And yet in a way it was true enough. It was an interregnum in the patterned fabric of her life. Living with a child that you loved, there was always a faint clawing anxiety at the back of your mind. ‘Is she happy?’ ‘Are A or B or C good friends for her?’ ‘Something must have gone wrong at that dance last night. I wonder what it was?’ She had never interfered or asked questions. Sarah, she realized, must feel free to be silent or to talk—must learn her own lessons from life, must choose her own friends. Yet, because you loved her, you could not banish her problems from your mind. And at any moment you might be needed. If Sarah were to turn to her mother for sympathy or for practical help, her mother must be there, ready … Sometimes Ann had said to herself: ‘I must be prepared one day to see Sarah unhappy, and even then I must not speak unless she wants me to.’ The thing that had worried her lately was that bitter and querulous young man, Gerald Lloyd, and Sarah’s increasing absorption in him. That fact lay at the back of her relief that Sarah was separated from him for at least three weeks and would be meeting plenty of other young men. Yes, with Sarah in Switzerland, she could dismiss her happily from her mind and relax. Relax here in her comfortable bed and think about what she should do today. She’d enjoyed herself very much at the party last night. Dear James—so kind—and yet such a bore, too, poor darling! Those endless stories of his! Really, men, when they got to forty-five, should make a vow not to tell any stories or anecdotes at all. Did they even imagine how their friends’ spirits sank when they began: ‘Don’t know whether I ever told you, but rather a curious thing happened once to—’ and so on. One could say, of course: ‘Yes, James, you’ve told me three times already.’ And then the poor darling would look so hurt. No, one couldn’t do that to James. That other man, Richard Cauldfield. He was much younger, of course, but probably he would take to repeating long boring stories over and over again one day … She considered … perhaps … but she didn’t think so. No, he was more likely to lay down the law, to become didactic. He would have prejudices, preconceived ideas. He would have to be teased, gently teased … He might be a little absurd sometimes, but he was a dear really—a lonely man—a very lonely man … She felt sorry for him. He was so adrift in this modern frustrated life of London. She wondered what sort of job he would get … It wasn’t so easy nowadays. He would probably buy his farm or his market garden and settle down in the country. She wondered whether she would meet him again. She would be asking James to dinner one evening soon. She might suggest he brought Richard Cauldfield with him. It would be a nice thing to do—he was clearly lonely. And she would ask another woman. They might go to a play. What a noise Edith was making. She was in the sitting-room next door and it sounded as though there were an army of removal men at work. Bangs, bumps, the occasional high whine of the vacuum cleaner. Edith must be enjoying herself. Presently Edith peeped round the door. Her head was tied up in a duster and she wore the exalted rapt look of a priestess performing a ritual orgy. ‘You wouldn’t be out to lunch, I suppose? I was wrong about the fog. It’s going to be a proper nice day. I don’t mean as I’ve forgotten that bit of plaice. I haven’t. But if it’s kept till now, it’ll keep till this evening. No denying, these fridges do keep things—but it takes the goodness out of them all the same. That’s what I say.’ Ann looked at Edith and laughed. ‘All right, all right, I’ll go out to lunch.’ ‘Please yourself, of course, I don’t mind.’ ‘Yes, Edith, but don’t kill yourself. Why not get Mrs Hopper in to help you, if you must clean the place from top to toe.’ ‘Mrs Hopper, Mrs Hopper! I’ll Hopper her! I let her clean that nice brass fender of your ma’s last time she came. Left it all smeary. Wash down the linoleum, that’s all these women are good for, and anybody can do that. Remember that cut-steel fender and grate we had at Applestream? That took a bit of keeping. I took a pride in that, I can tell you. Ah, well, you’ve some nice pieces of furniture here and they polish up something beautiful. Pity there’s so much built-in stuff.’ ‘It makes less work.’ ‘Too much like a hotel for my liking. So you’ll be going out? Good. I can get all the rugs up.’ ‘Can I come here tonight? Or would you like me to go to a hotel?’ ‘Now then, Miss Ann, none of your jokes. By the way, that double saucepan you brought home from the Stores isn’t a mite of good. It’s too big for one thing and it’s a bad shape for stirring inside. I want one like my old one.’ ‘I’m afraid they don’t make them any more, Edith.’ ‘This government,’ said Edith in disgust. ‘What about those china soufflé dishes I asked about? Miss Sarah likes a soufflé served that way.’ ‘I forgot you’d asked me to get them. I daresay I could find some of them all right.’ ‘There you are, then. That’s something for you to do.’ ‘Really, Edith,’ cried Ann, exasperated. ‘I might be a little girl you’re telling to go out and have a nice bowl of her hoop.’ ‘Miss Sarah being away makes you seem younger, I must admit. But I was only suggesting, ma’am—’ Edith drew herself up to her full height and spoke with sour primness—‘if you should happen to be in the neighbourhood of the Army and Navy Stores, or maybe John Barker’s—’ ‘All right, Edith. Go and bowl your own hoop in the sitting-room.’ ‘Well, really,’ said Edith, outraged, and withdrew. The bangs and bumps recommenced and presently another sound was added to them, the thin tuneless sound of Edith’s voice upraised in a particularly gloomy hymn tune: ‘This is a land of pain and woe No joy, no sun, no light. Oh lave, Oh lave us in Thy blood That we may mourn aright.’ Ann enjoyed herself in the china department of the Army and Navy Stores. She thought that nowadays when so many things were shoddily and badly made, it was a relief to see what good china and glass and pottery this country could turn out still. The forbidding notices ‘For Export Only’ did not spoil her appreciation of the wares displayed in their shining rows. She passed on to the tables displaying the export rejects where there were always women shoppers hovering with keen glances to pounce on some attractive piece. Today, Ann herself was fortunate. There was actually a nearly complete breakfast set, with nice wide round cups in an agreeable brown glazed and patterned pottery. The price was not unreasonable and she purchased it just in time. Another woman came along just as the address was being taken and said excitedly: ‘I’ll have that.’ ‘Sorry, madam, I’m afraid it’s sold.’ Ann said insincerely: ‘I’m so sorry,’ and walked away buoyed up with the delight of successful achievement. She had also found some very pleasant soufflé dishes of the right size, but in glass, not china, which she hoped Edith would accept without grumbling too much. From the china department she went across the street into the gardening department. The window-box outside the flat window was crumbling into disintegration and she wanted to order another. She was talking to the salesman about it when a voice behind her said: ‘Why, good morning, Mrs Prentice.’ She turned to find Richard Cauldfield. His pleasure at their meeting was so evident that Ann could not help feeling flattered. ‘Fancy meeting you here like this. It really is a wonderful coincidence. I was just thinking about you as a matter of fact. You know, last night, I wanted to ask you where you lived and if I might, perhaps, come and see you? But then I thought that perhaps you would think it was rather an impertinence on my part. You must have so many friends, and—’ Ann interrupted him. ‘Of course you must come and see me. Actually I was thinking of asking Colonel Grant to dinner and suggesting that he might bring you with him.’ ‘Were you? Were you really?’ His eagerness and pleasure were so evident that Ann felt a pang of sympathy. Poor man, he must be lonely. That happy smile of his was really quite boyish. She said: ‘I’ve been ordering myself a new window-box. That’s the nearest we can get in a flat to having a garden.’ ‘Yes, I suppose so.’ ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘I’ve been looking at incubators—’ ‘Still hankering after chickens.’ ‘In a way. I’ve been looking at all the latest poultry equipment. I understand this electrical stunt is the latest thing.’ They moved together towards the exit. Richard Cauldfield said in a sudden rush: ‘I wonder—of course perhaps you’re engaged—whether you’d care to lunch with me—that is if you’re not doing anything else.’ ‘Thank you. I’d like to very much. As a matter of fact Edith, my maid, is indulging in an orgy of spring cleaning and has told me very firmly not to come home to lunch.’ Richard Cauldfield looked rather shocked and not at all amused. ‘That’s very arbitrary, isn’t it?’ ‘Edith is privileged.’ ‘All the same, you know, it doesn’t do to spoil servants.’ He’s reproving me, thought Ann with amusement. She said gently: ‘There aren’t many servants about to spoil. And anyway Edith is more a friend than a servant. She has been with me a great many years.’ ‘Oh, I see.’ He felt he had been gently rebuked, yet his impression remained. This gentle pretty woman was being bullied by some tyrannical domestic. She wasn’t the kind of woman who could stand up for herself. Too sweet and yielding a nature. He said vaguely: ‘Spring cleaning? Is this the time of year one does it?’ ‘Not really. It should be done in March. But my daughter is away for some weeks in Switzerland, so it makes an opportunity. When she’s at home there is too much going on.’ ‘You miss her, I expect?’ ‘Yes, I do.’ ‘Girls don’t seem to like staying at home much nowadays. I suppose they’re keen on living their own lives.’ ‘Not quite as much as they were, I think. The novelty has rather worn off.’ ‘Oh. It’s a very nice day, isn’t it? Would you like to walk across the park, or would it tire you?’ ‘No, of course it wouldn’t. I was just going to suggest it to you.’ They crossed Victoria Street and went down a narrow passage-way, coming out finally by St James’s Park station. Cauldfield looked up at the Epstein statues. ‘Can you see anything whatever in those? How can one call things like that Art?’ ‘Oh, I think one can. Very definitely so.’ ‘Surely you don’t like them?’ ‘I don’t personally, no. I’m old-fashioned and continue to like classical sculpture and the things I was brought up to like. But that doesn’t mean that my taste is right. I think one has to be educated to appreciate new forms of art. The same with music.’ ‘Music! You can’t call it music.’ ‘Mr Cauldfield, don’t you think you’re being rather narrow-minded?’ He turned his head sharply to look at her. She was flushed, a trifle nervous, but her eyes met his squarely and did not flinch. ‘Am I? Perhaps I am. Yes, I suppose when you’ve been away a long time, you tend to come home and object to everything that isn’t strictly as you remember it.’ He smiled suddenly. ‘You must take me in hand.’ Ann said quickly: ‘Oh, I’m terribly old-fashioned myself. Sarah often laughs at me. But what I do feel is that it is a terrible pity to—to—how shall I put it?—close one’s mind just as one is getting—well, getting old. For one thing, it’s going to make one so tiresome—and then, also, one may be missing something that matters.’ Richard walked in silence for some moments. Then he said: ‘It sounds so absurd to hear you talk of yourself as getting old. You’re the youngest person I’ve met for a long time. Much younger than some of these alarming girls. They really do frighten me.’ ‘Yes, they frighten me a little. But I always find them very kind.’ They had reached St James’s Park. The sun was fully out now and the day was almost warm. ‘Where shall we go?’ ‘Let’s go and look at the pelicans.’ They watched the birds with contentment, and talked about the various species of water fowl. Completely relaxed and at ease, Richard was boyish and natural, a charming companion. They chatted and laughed together and were astonishingly happy in each other’s company. Presently Richard said: ‘Shall we sit down for a while in the sun? You won’t be cold, will you?’ ‘No, I’m quite warm.’ They sat on two chairs and looked out over the water. The scene with its rarefied colouring was like a Japanese print. Ann said softly: ‘How beautiful London can be. One doesn’t always realize it.’ ‘No. It’s almost a revelation.’ They sat quietly for a minute or two, then Richard said: ‘My wife always used to say that London was the only place to be when spring came. She said the green buds and the almond trees and in time the lilacs all had more significance against a background of bricks and mortar. She said in the country it all happened confusedly and it was too big to see properly. But in a suburban garden spring came overnight.’ ‘I think she was right.’ Richard said with an effort, and not looking at Ann: ‘She died—a long time ago.’ ‘I know. Colonel Grant told me.’ Richard turned and looked at her. ‘Did he tell you how she died?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘That’s something I shall never get over. I shall always feel that I killed her.’ Ann hesitated a moment, then spoke: ‘I can understand what you feel. In your place I should feel as you do. But it isn’t true, you know.’ ‘It is true.’ ‘No. Not from her—from a woman’s point of view. The responsibility of accepting that risk is the woman’s. It’s implicit in—in her love. She wants the child, remember. Your wife did—want the child?’ ‘Oh yes. Aline was very happy about it. So was I. She was a strong healthy girl. There seemed no reason why anything should go wrong.’ There was silence again. Then Ann said: ‘I’m sorry—so very sorry.’ ‘It’s a long time ago now.’ ‘The baby died too?’ ‘Yes. In a way, you know, I’m glad of that. I should, I feel, have resented the poor little thing. I should always have remembered the price that was paid for its life.’ ‘Tell me about your wife.’ Sitting there, in the pale wintry sunlight, he told her about Aline. How pretty she had been and how gay. And the sudden quiet moods she had had when he had wondered what she was thinking about and why she had gone so far away. Once he broke off to say wonderingly: ‘I have not spoken about her to anyone for years,’ and Ann said gently: ‘Go on.’ It had all been so short—too short. A three months’ engagement, their marriage—‘the usual fuss, we didn’t really want it all, but her mother insisted’. They had spent their honeymoon motoring in France, seeing the chateaux of the Loire. He said inconsequentially: ‘She was nervous in a car, you know. She’d keep her hand on my knee. It seemed to give her confidence, I don’t know why she was nervous. She’d never been in an accident.’ He paused and then went on: ‘Sometimes, after it had all happened, I used to feel her hand sometimes when I was driving out in Burma. Imagine it, you know … It seemed incredible that she should go right away like that—right out of life …’ Yes, thought Ann, that is what it feels like—incredible. So she had felt about Patrick. He must be somewhere. He must be able to make her feel his presence. He couldn’t go out like that and leave nothing behind. That terrible gulf between the dead and the living! Richard was going on. Telling her about the little house they had found in a cul-de-sac, with a lilac bush and a pear tree. Then, when his voice, brusque and hard, came to the end of the halting phrases, he said again wonderingly: ‘I don’t know why I have told you all this …’ But he did know. When he had asked Ann rather nervously if it would be all right to lunch at his club—‘they have a kind of Ladies’ Annexe, I believe—or would you rather go to a restaurant?’—and when she had said that she would prefer the club, and they had got up and begun to walk towards Pall Mall, the knowledge was in his mind, though not willingly recognized by him. This was his farewell to Aline, here in the cold unearthly beauty of the park in winter. He would leave her here, beside the lake, with the bare branches of the trees showing their tracery against the sky. For the last time, he brought her to life in her youth and her strength and the sadness of her fate. It was a lament, a dirge, a hymn of praise—a little perhaps of all of them. But it was also a burial. He left Aline there in the park and walked out into the streets of London with Ann. CHAPTER 4 (#ulink_d919f314-1160-589d-be9f-64f29072e854) ‘Mrs Prentice in?’ asked Dame Laura Whitstable. ‘Not just at present she isn’t. But I should fancy she mayn’t be long. Would you like to come in and wait, ma’am? I know she’d want to see you.’ Edith drew aside respectfully as Dame Laura came in. The latter said: ‘I’ll wait for a quarter of an hour, anyway. It’s some time since I’ve seen anything of her.’ ‘Yes, ma’am.’ Edith ushered her into the sitting-room and knelt down to turn on the electric fire. Dame Laura looked round the room and uttered an exclamation. ‘Furniture been shifted round, I see. That desk used to be across the corner. And the sofa’s in a different place.’ ‘Mrs Prentice thought it would be nice to have a change,’ said Edith. ‘Come in one day, I did, and there she was shoving things round and hauling them about. “Oh, Edith,” she says, “don’t you think the room looks much nicer like this? It makes more space.” Well, I couldn’t see any improvement myself, but naturally I didn’t like to say so. Ladies have their fancies. All I said was: “Now don’t you go and strain yourself, ma’am. Lifting and heaving’s the worst thing for your innards and once they’ve slipped out of place they don’t go back so easy.” I should know. It happened to my own sister-in-law. Did it throwing up the window-sash, she did. On the sofa for the rest of her days, she was.’ ‘Probably quite unnecessary,’ said Dame Laura robustly. ‘Thank goodness we’ve got out of the affectation that lying on a sofa is the panacea for every ill.’ ‘Don’t even let you have your month after childbirth now,’ said Edith disapprovingly. ‘My poor young niece, now, they made her walk about on the fifth day.’ ‘We’re a much healthier race now than we’ve ever been before.’ ‘I hope so, I’m sure,’ said Edith gloomily. ‘Terribly delicate I was as a child. Never thought they’d rear me. Fainting fits I used to have, and spasms something awful. And in winter I’d go quite blue—the cold used to fly to me ’art.’ Uninterested in Edith’s past ailments, Dame Laura was surveying the rearranged room. ‘I think it’s a change for the better,’ she said. ‘Mrs Prentice is quite right. I wonder she didn’t do it before.’ ‘Nest-building,’ said Edith, with significance. ‘What?’ ‘Nest-building. I’ve seen birds at it. Running about with twigs in their mouths.’ ‘Oh.’ The two women looked at each other. Without any change of expression, some intelligence appeared to be imparted. Dame Laura asked in an off-hand way: ‘Seen much of Colonel Grant lately?’ Edith shook her head. ‘Poor gentleman,’ she said. ‘If you were to ask me, I’d say he’s had his conger. French for your nose being put out of joint,’ she added in an explanatory fashion. ‘Oh, congé—yes, I see.’ ‘He was a nice gentleman,’ said Edith, putting him in the past tense in a funereal manner and as though pronouncing an epitaph. ‘Oh, well!’ As she left the room, she said: ‘I’ll tell you one who won’t like the room being rearranged, and that’s Miss Sarah. She don’t like changes.’ Laura Whitstable raised her beetling eyebrows. Then she pulled a book from a shelf and turned its pages in a desultory manner. Presently she heard a latch-key inserted and the door of the flat opened. Two voices, Ann’s and a man’s, sounded cheerful and gay in the small vestibule. Ann’s voice said: ‘Oh, post. Ah, here’s a letter from Sarah.’ She came into the sitting-room with the letter in her hand and stopped short in momentary confusion. ‘Why, Laura, how nice to see you.’ She turned to the man who had followed her into the room. ‘Mr Cauldfield, Dame Laura Whitstable.’ Dame Laura summed him up quickly. Conventional type. Could be obstinate. Honest. Good-hearted. No humour. Probably sensitive. Very much in love with Ann. She began talking to him in her bluff fashion. Ann murmured: ‘I’ll tell Edith to bring us tea,’ and left the room. ‘Not for me, my dear,’ Dame Laura called after her. ‘It’s nearly six o’clock.’ ‘Well, Richard and I want tea, we’ve been to a concert. What will you have?’ ‘Brandy and soda.’ ‘All right.’ Dame Laura said: ‘Fond of music, Mr Cauldfield?’ ‘Yes. Particularly of Beethoven.’ ‘All English people like Beethoven. Sends me to sleep, I’m sorry to say, but then I’m not particularly musical.’ ‘Cigarette, Dame Laura?’ Cauldfield proffered his case. ‘No, thanks, I only smoke cigars.’ She added, looking shrewdly at him: ‘So you’re the type of man who prefers tea to cocktails or sherry at six o’clock?’ ‘No, I don’t think so. I’m not particularly fond of tea. But somehow it seems to suit Ann—’ He broke off. ‘That sounds absurd!’ ‘Not at all. You display perspicacity. I don’t mean that Ann doesn’t drink cocktails or sherry, she does, but she’s essentially the type of woman who looks her best sitting behind a tea-tray—a tea-tray on which is beautiful old Georgian silver and cups and saucers of fine porcelain.’ Richard was delighted. ‘How absolutely right you are!’ ‘I’ve known Ann for a great many years. I’m very fond of her.’ ‘I know. She has often spoken about you. And, of course, I know of you from other sources.’ Dame Laura gave him a cheerful grin. ‘Oh yes, I’m one of the best-known women in England. Always sitting on committees, or airing my views on the wireless, or laying down the law generally on what’s good for humanity. However, I do realize one thing and that is that whatever one accomplishes in life, it is really very little and could always quite easily have been accomplished by somebody else.’ ‘Oh, come now,’ Richard protested. ‘Surely that’s a very depressing conclusion to come to?’ ‘It shouldn’t be. Humility should always lie behind effort.’ ‘I don’t think I agree with you.’ ‘Don’t you?’ ‘No. I think that if a man (or woman, of course) is ever to accomplish anything worth doing, the first condition is that he must believe in himself.’ ‘Why should he?’ ‘Come now, Dame Laura, surely—’ ‘I’m old-fashioned. I would prefer that a man should have knowledge of himself and belief in God.’ ‘Knowledge—belief, aren’t they the same thing?’ ‘I beg your pardon, they’re not at all the same thing. One of my pet theories (quite unrealizable, of course, that’s the pleasant part about theories) is that everybody should spend one month a year in the middle of a desert. Camped by a well, of course, and plentifully supplied with dates or whatever you eat in deserts.’ ‘Might be quite pleasant,’ said Richard, smiling. ‘I’d stipulate for a few of the world’s best books, though.’ ‘Ah, but that’s just it. No books. Books are a habit-forming drug. With enough to eat and drink, and nothing—absolutely nothing—to do, you’d have, at last, a fairly good chance to make acquaintance with yourself.’ Richard smiled disbelievingly. ‘Don’t you think most of us know ourselves pretty well?’ ‘I certainly do not. One hasn’t time, in these days, to recognize anything except one’s more pleasing characteristics.’ ‘Now what are you two arguing about?’ asked Ann, coming in with a glass in her hand. ‘Here’s your brandy and soda, Laura. Edith’s just bringing tea.’ ‘I’m propounding my desert meditation theory,’ said Laura. ‘That’s one of Laura’s things,’ said Ann, laughing. ‘You sit in a desert and do nothing and find out how horrible you really are!’ ‘Must everyone be horrible?’ asked Richard dryly. ‘I know psychologists tell one so—but really—why?’ ‘Because if one only has time to know part of oneself one will, as I said just now, select the pleasantest part,’ said Dame Laura promptly. ‘It’s all very well, Laura,’ said Ann, ‘but after one has sat in one’s desert and found out how horrible one is, what good will it do? Will one be able to change oneself?’ ‘I should think that would be most unlikely—but it does at least give one a guide as to what one is likely to do in certain circumstances, and even more important, why one does it.’ ‘But isn’t one able to imagine quite well what one is likely to do in given circumstances? I mean, you’ve only got to imagine yourself there?’ ‘Oh Ann, Ann! Think of any man who rehearses in his own mind what he is going to say to his boss, to his girl, to his neighbour across the way. He’s got it all cut and dried—and then, when the moment comes, he is either tongue-tied or says something entirely different! The people who are secretly quite sure they can rise to any emergency are the ones who lose their heads completely, while those who are afraid they will be inadequate surprise themselves by taking complete grasp of a situation.’ ‘Yes, but that’s not quite fair. What you’re meaning now is that people rehearse imaginary conversations and actions as they would like them to be. They probably know quite well it wouldn’t really happen. But I think fundamentally one does know quite well what one’s reactions are and what—well, what one’s character is like.’ ‘Oh, my dear child.’ Dame Laura held up her hands. ‘So you think you know Ann Prentice—I wonder.’ Edith came in with the tea. ‘I don’t think I’m particularly nice,’ said Ann, smiling. ‘Here’s Miss Sarah’s letter, ma’am,’ said Edith. ‘You left it in your bedroom.’ ‘Oh, thank you, Edith.’ Ann laid down the still unopened letter by her plate. Dame Laura flashed a quick look at her. Richard Cauldfield drank his cup of tea rather quickly and then excused himself. ‘He’s being tactful,’ said Ann. ‘He thinks we want to talk together.’ Dame Laura looked at her friend attentively. She was quite surprised at the change in Ann. Ann’s quiet good looks had bloomed into a kind of beauty. Laura Whitstable had seen that happen before, and she knew the cause. That radiance, that happy look, could have only one meaning: Ann was in love. How unfair it was, reflected Dame Laura, that women in love looked their best and men in love looked like depressed sheep. ‘What have you been doing with yourself lately, Ann?’ she asked. ‘Oh, I don’t know. Going about. Nothing much.’ ‘Richard Cauldfield is a new friend, isn’t he?’ ‘Yes. I’ve only known him about ten days. I met him at James Grant’s dinner.’ She told Dame Laura something about Richard, ending up by asking naïvely, ‘You do like him, don’t you?’ Laura, who had not yet made up her mind whether she liked Richard Cauldfield or not, was prompt to reply: ‘Yes, very much.’ ‘I do feel, you know, that he’s had a sad life.’ Dame Laura had heard the statement made very often. She suppressed a smile and asked: ‘What news of Sarah?’ Ann’s face lit up. ‘Oh, Sarah’s been enjoying herself madly. They’ve had perfect snow, and nobody seems to have broken anything.’ Dame Laura said dryly that Edith would be disappointed. They both laughed. ‘This letter is from Sarah. Do you mind if I open it?’ ‘Of course not.’ Ann tore open the envelope and read the short letter. Then laughed affectionately and passed the letter to Dame Laura. Darling Mother, (Sarah had written) Snow’s been perfect. Everyone’s saying it’s been the best season ever. Lou took her test but didn’t pass unfortunately. Roger’s been coaching me a lot—terribly nice of him because he’s such a big pot in the skiing world. Jane says he’s got a thing about me, but I don’t really think so. I think it’s sadistic pleasure at seeing me tie myself into knots and land on my head in snow-drifts. Lady Cronsham’s here with that awful S. American man. They really are blatant. I’ve got rather a crush on one of the guides—unbelievably handsome—but unfortunately he’s used to everyone having crushes on him and I cut no ice at all. At last I’ve learned to waltz on the ice. How are you getting on, darling? I hope you’re going out a good deal with all the boy friends. Don’t go too far with the old colonel, he has quite a gay Poona sparkle in his eye sometimes! How’s the professor? Has he been telling you any nice rude marriage customs lately? See you soon, Love, Sarah. Dame Laura handed back the letter. ‘Yes, Sarah seems to be enjoying herself … I suppose the professor is that archaeological friend of yours?’ ‘Yes, Sarah always teases me about him. I really meant to ask him to lunch, but I’ve been so busy.’ ‘Yes, you do seem to have been busy.’ Ann was folding and refolding Sarah’s letter. She said with a half sigh: ‘Oh dear.’ ‘Why the Oh dear, Ann?’ ‘Oh, I suppose I might as well tell you. Anyway you’ve probably guessed. Richard Cauldfield has asked me to marry him.’ ‘When was this?’ ‘Oh, only today.’ ‘And you’re going to?’ ‘I think so … Why do I say that? Of course I am.’ Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». 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