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Chapter Seventeen

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« on: August 26, 2023, 04:25:49 am »

MISS Silver continued on her way. Her pleasure in the anticipation of an agreeable tea-party was very slightly tinged by something to which she could hardly have given a name. Miss Nellie Collins had interested her---she had interested her very much. She would have liked to witness her meeting with Lady Jocelyn. That was the worst of not being tall---one’s outlook in a crowd was limited, sadly limited. To no one but herself would Miss Silver have admitted that her lack of inches might be a handicap. In point of fact, a crowd was the only place in which she had ever felt it to be one. In all other circumstances she stood firmly on her dignity and found it a perfectly adequate support.

She entered a room in which three or four people were talking, and was very warmly received by her hostess, Janice Albany, who had not so very long ago been Janice Meade.

“Garth is hopeless for tea, but he asked to be remembered, and he is so sorry to miss you. . . . Mr. and Mrs. Murgatroyd. . . . And this is Lyndall Armitage---she’s a sort of cousin.”

The Murgatroyds were both immense. Mr. Murgatroyd was jovial. He laughed and said, “What sort of cousin, Mrs. Albany?”

Janice laughed too. Her hair with its close crop of curls caught the light. Her eyes matched the curls exactly.

“The sort you say is a very near relation, if you like them. Lyn is a very near relation.”

Miss Silver shook hands, and began to make polite enquiries about Colonel Albany, about the six-months-old baby who had been christened Michael after the inventor of harschite, and about Colonel Albany’s aunt, Miss Sophy Fell. It appeared that Garth was well, and very busy at the War Office---“Of course he doesn’t get home till all hours”---and that Michael was down at Bourne with Miss Sophy. “Better for him than being in London. And I go up and down. I’ve been lucky enough to get my own old Nanny, so I do a part-time job up here and keep an eye on Garth.”

Two or three more people dropped in. Miss Silver found herself sitting next to Lyndall, and in the most natural way in the world was very soon in possession of the facts that Miss Armitage was in the Wrens, that she had been ill and was at present on sick leave---“but I do so want to get back to work.”

Miss Silver had a penchant for girls. She looked kindly at Lyndall and said, “But you must make the most of your leave. Time which is being spent pleasantly passes surprisingly fast, does it not?”

“Oh, yes.”

Miss Silver became aware that time was passing neither pleasantly nor quickly for Lyndall Armitage. She was pale, there were shadows under her eyes. Of course she had been ill, but no passing illness gives a young girl’s eyes that patient look. Miss Silver was sorry to see it there. She said, “You are staying with friends?”

“With a cousin. At least I suppose she isn’t really my cousin, but the aunt who brought me up is her aunt too, because Lilla married her nephew, Perry Jocelyn.” When she had got as far as that she broke off, smiled a little shyly, and said, “It sounds dreadfully complicated, doesn’t it?”

Miss Silver said in a bright voice, “Family relationships are always difficult to explain to a stranger. Did you say that your cousin’s name was Jocelyn?”

“Yes.”

“Dear me! Do you know that is quite a coincidence. I happened to travel back to town today with a Miss Collins who was going up to meet Lady Jocelyn.”

Lyndall undoubtedly looked surprised and just a little startled.

Lady Jocelyn?

Miss Silver gave her slight deprecating cough.

“Is she, perhaps, a relative also?”

“Yes---she is my cousin Philip’s wife.”

It was said with the extreme of simplicity, and not until the words were there floating in the air between her and Miss Silver did it occur to Lyndall that they were not true. Philip was no more her cousin than Perry was, but whereas it was quite simple to explain Perry, she found it impossible to explain Philip. There was no cousinship between them, but take that tie away, and it left too many others. She could not speak his name without feeling them pull at her heart.

Miss Silver, watching her with attention, was aware of something that was hurt and winced away. No one less experienced in observation, less sensitive to atmosphere, would have noticed it at all. It was the slightest, the most momentary thing---not, she thought, because it was evanescent in character, but because there was a strong habit of control.

Almost without any pause at all Lyndall was saying, “But Anne wouldn’t be meeting anyone today---at least I don’t see how she could. They are just moving into a flat in Tenterden Gardens. She was only coming up from Jocelyn’s Holt this afternoon, after seeing things off from there. Lilla Jocelyn, the cousin I’m staying with, has gone round to help her unpack. I don’t see how she can have been meeting Miss Collins.”

“Miss Collins was certainly expecting to meet Lady Jocelyn----” Miss Silver paused and added, “under the clock at Waterloo.”

Lyndall looked at her rather blankly. She was feeling as if she had missed a step in the dark. Jarred, surprised, not quite knowing where she was---it was just like that. In her mind she was looking at a thin line of light along the edge of a door. The door wasn’t quite shut. The light ran along the edge of it like a fine gold wire. She heard a voice say, “You might just as well let me write to Nellie Collins.” It might have been Anne’s voice, but she wasn’t sure---she couldn’t get nearer to it than that. And a man said, “That is not for you to say.” The inexplicable feeling of fear and shame which had come on her in the passage behind the hairdresser’s shop touched her again. She gave a little quick shiver and said, “Won’t you have some more tea? Please let me take your cup.”

After that someone else came in. She didn’t have to sit down by Miss Silver again. Mrs. Murgatroyd caught hold of her as she passed. And all Mrs. Murgatroyd ever wanted was someone who would listen whilst she talked about her daughter Edith, and Edith’s truly remarkable baby.

It was to be supposed that Edith also had a husband somewhere, but he never emerged. The endless theme was Edith, and Edith’s complexion, her features, talents, and activities---her marvellous baby, and his features, talents, and activities---what Sir Ponsonby Canning had said about Edith at her first ball---what Captain Wilmot had said when he proposed to her within half an hour of being introduced---what Amory had said when he asked if he might paint her portrait. It went on, and on, and on in a gentle unending flow, and all you had to do was to look appreciative and say “How marvellous!” every now and then. Lyndall had had plenty of practice. She couldn’t, in fact, remember a time when she hadn’t known the Murgatroyds, and Mrs. Murgatroyd had always talked about Edith. The only difference was that as Mr. and Mrs. Murgatroyd became steadily fatter year by year even in war-time, so did Edith’s perfections continually increase.

Lyndall sat with her eyes fixed attentively upon Mrs. Murgatroyd’s face, which was large and round and pale, and sometimes reminded her too much of a crumpet.

Mrs. Murgatroyd thought her a very good listener. She felt affectionately towards Lyndall, and patted her hand in the kindest manner when Pelham Trent presently appeared to take her on to see The Dancing Years.

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