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Chapter Thirty

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« on: September 30, 2023, 07:02:32 am »

WHILST THIS conversation was going on Miss Sophy had slipped into a gentle refreshing sleep in the drawing-room. Though she never admitted to an afternoon nap, and would not on any account have put up her feet, she had no objection to supporting them on a footstool, or to leaning back against a number of comfortably piled cushions and closing her eyes. Garth Albany on one side of her and Janice upon the other became aware that they no longer had her attention. Her white woolly curls rested becomingly against a blue silk cushion, her breath came evenly and without sound from the slightly parted lips, her plump hands were folded in a purple lap. To all intents and purposes they were alone.

If Janice could have been anywhere else she would have been glad. Or would she? She didn't know. Ever since that walk on Sunday she didn't know what she wanted. Down deep in a hidden corner something wept and refused to be comforted. Because Garth had been going to make love to her and she had stopped him, and now she wouldn't have anything to remember. He would go away, and it might be years before he came back again. He might go abroad, he might be killed, and she would have nothing, nothing to remember. He might have said, "I love you," he would certainly have kissed her. Even if it had meant nothing to him, it would have been something to treasure up and remember when he was gone. But she had chosen her pride instead. She was finding it icy comfort.

She looked at him across Miss Sophy's plump bolster of a shoulder, tightly upholstered in plum-coloured cashmere, and found him unbearably dear. The way his hair grew, the line of cheek and jaw, and the way his eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled----

They crinkled now. He said in a laughing voice, "Stock situation from a farce! The chaperone is asleep. What do we do about it?"

Her heart gave a little jerk. Her lips trembled into a smile. She said, "Ssh!"

Garth laughed again.

"Oh, no---I don't think so. My stage direction says, 'Crosses R.'" Getting up as he spoke, he came round the sofa and sat down on the arm of her chair. "You needn't worry, you know---she won't wake. Family trait---once I'm off, I'm off---it takes a bomb to wake me."

"But you're not any relation--she's a step. You can't inherit something from your grandfather's step-daughter."

His arm stretched lazily across the back of the chair behind her shoulders.

"I didn't say it was inherited. There are such things as acquired characteristics. Anyhow the point is, she's good for at least half an hour, and---wilful waste makes woeful want. I suppose you wouldn't like to be kissed?"

He saw the colour leap like a flame in either cheek and flicker out.

"What's the matter?"

"Nothing."

He gave her a little shake.

"My child, this was a farce. You're playing tragedy--'Unhand me villain--I have taken poison'. What's the matter?"

"I'm not very good at farce."

He looked at her with laughing eyes.

"I'm not at all set on it myself. Let's make it drawing-room comedy.

Her lips were stiff. She forced them to a smile.

"I don't know my part, Garth."

His hand came up on the far side, taking her by the elbow, turning her a little.

"There's always the prompter. If it's a very modern play, you say casually, 'All right, I don't mind if I do.' But if it's one of those romantic period pieces, it would be, 'Oh, Garth---this is so sudden!'"

She managed to go on smiling.

It was at this moment that Miss Sophy opened a round blue eye. It rested hazily upon the agreeable spectacle of two young people embracing one another, and closed again. Miss Sophy was no spoil-sport. It was only when the subsequent soft murmurings became so articulate as to make her feel she was eavesdropping that she most regretfully stirred, rustled her cushions, yawned with emphasis, and sat up. The embrace, alas, was over. Dear Janice had a very becoming colour. Dear Garth was also somewhat flushed. She beamed upon them.

"My dears---how nice!"

Garth had the hardihood to enquire, "What, Aunt Sophy?"

Miss Sophy patted her curls.

"I believe I have had quite a nap," she said, and beamed again. "Very pleasant---very pleasant indeed. I had a most agreeable dream---if it was a dream."

Before she could receive any reply the door was opened. Chief Detective Inspector Lamb appeared---a solid presence, but with an air of haste.

"Beg pardon, Miss Fell." He came in and shut the door behind him. "I suppose, between you, there isn't much you don't know about this village. Can you tell me who keeps brandy in the house?"

"Brandy?" said Miss Sophy in a surprised voice. "I think we have some."

Lamb looked past her.

Janice said quickly, "Mrs. Bush--her aunt has spasms. She lives with them---she's bed-ridden. They always have brandy in case----"

"Is anyone ill?" said Miss Sophy in a bewildered voice.

Lamb gave a kind of snort. He had an exasperated air. He said testily, "He isn't ill, he's dead!" and went out of the room and shut the door. You couldn't say that he banged it, but he certainly shut it a little more loudly than he need have done.

Miss Sophy opened her eyes as far as they would go. "Why did he want the brandy?" she enquired.
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