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Chapter Twenty-Two

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« on: August 26, 2023, 08:20:36 am »

IT was next day that Lyndall went around to see Anne Jocelyn. Impossible to stay away. Impossible to remain aloof when Lilla, who hadn’t even known Anne before, had spent hours helping her to unpack and get things straight. Even if there wasn’t anything left to do, she who had been Anne’s bridesmaid must at least go round and see her. Her feet carried her reluctantly. If it hadn’t been that she was expected, she might even then have been tempted to turn back. No, that was nonsense. She wouldn’t listen to thoughts like that, she certainly wouldn’t let them influence her. But her feet dragged, and her heart dragged too.

It was very cold in the street. Low clouds looked as if they might come down in snow at any moment. A freakish wind lay in wait at every corner, stinging her face, her knees, her legs in their thin silk stockings, trying to twist the hat from her head. She had no distance to go, but she was tired before she reached Tenterden Gardens.

It ought to have been pleasant to pass into the warmth and golden light of Anne’s drawing-room, but something in her looked back to the icy street. Anne came to meet her, smiling, and they kissed. That is, Anne offered a cool cheek, and Lyndall touched it with cold lips. As she did so, an aching shudder went through her. Up to that moment her love for Anne had been in her heart as something real and treasured, even if there were pain there too. Now quite suddenly, with that faint touch of her lips, the place was empty, there was nothing there anymore. She did not know how pale she was as she drew back, or how wide and startled a look met Anne’s enquiring one.

“What’s the matter, Lyn? You look frozen. Come to the fire and get warm. Tea is all ready. I’ll just get the kettle.”

When she came back, Lyndall had taken off her gloves. She was bending over the fire, her hands held to the blaze. An extraordinary feeling of unreality filled her consciousness. The pleasant room, the warmth, the flowers in their Lalique bowl, the familiar tea-things---Queen Anne silver and bright flowered cups bordered with gold and apple-green---Anne in her blue dress and her pearls with Philip’s sapphire on her hand---all were apart from her in some bright vacuum. Nothing came to her from them, nothing passed to them from her.

She turned round slowly from the fire, drank the tea which Anne gave her, and crumbled a piece of cake. And then quite suddenly the feeling passed. She was warm again, and she was right here in the room, with the firelight reaching her and Anne pouring her out a second cup of tea. It was like waking up out of a nightmare, but she could hardly trust her own relief. She sipped the tea and listened to Anne telling her how quickly they had settled down.

Presently she said what she had come to say. She hadn’t been sure that she would be able to say it, but she knew that it must be said. Because if it wasn’t, she would never be able to get it out of her mind again, and that sort of thing poisoned you if you kept it shut up amongst your thoughts---it poisoned everything.

She put down her cup on the edge of the silver tray and said simply and directly, “Where do you have your hair done, Anne?”

Anne Jocelyn looked just a little surprised.

“I had a permanent wave at Westhaven after I landed. I thought I told you. They didn’t do it at all badly. Of course I really ought not to have it waved, because it spoils the natural curl, and my hair used to curl naturally, but it’s been terribly neglected, and I don’t see going about looking a complete mess whilst I’m waiting for it to come back.”

Lyndall had let go of her cup, but she kept her hand on the edge of the silver tray. A finger moved there, tracing the pattern.

“But where do you go in town?”

“Why? Have you got someone to recommend?”

“No---I just wondered. Do you know a shop called Félise?”

There---she had got it said! Nothing is so difficult as the first step. When you have taken that the others follow. But she couldn’t look at Anne. She looked down at the edge of the silver tray. A drop of tea had fallen there and dried. There had been time for it to fall, and time for it to dry. It wasn’t true that everything was standing still. The drop of tea had dried. It made a small brown stain on the bright surface of the silver.

Anne said, “I don’t know---I seem to have seen the name. Why?”

“I happened to pass it. I thought I saw you go in. It was the Wednesday of last week.”

“Well, I may have done---I don’t know. I go into all those shops. I haven’t got a powder I like yet, or the right lipstick or anything. It’s all so difficult---isn’t it?”

Lyndall lifted her eyes. They didn’t really see very much, because there was a mist in front of them, but to Anne Jocelyn their grieving look accused her.

“Anne, I must tell you---I think I must----”

Anne’s delicately arched eyebrows rose. She said sweetly, “What is all this about, darling?”

The sweetness was like saccharine, it cloyed and left a bitter taste. Anne was angry. But Lyndall couldn’t look away, and she couldn’t stop now. Something drove her on. She said, “I thought I saw you go into the shop, and I went in after you. I didn’t want you to think I had seen you and just gone on, so I came into the shop----”

Anne looked at her with the bright eyes of anger.

“And I suppose we met and had a long conversation---in this dream of yours!”

“No---you weren’t there.”

“How very surprising!”

“I went right through the shop. There were two women there. The assistant was looking for something on a shelf behind the counter. No one took any notice of me. I thought you might be in one of the cubicles, so I went through. There was another door at the end. I opened it, I don’t know why. There was a bit of dark passage with a stair going up, and more doors. One of them had a little light at the edge---it wasn’t quite shut. I heard you say, ‘You might as well let me write to Nellie Collins. She’s quite harmless.’ And a man said, ‘That isn’t for you to say.’ And I turned round and ran back through the shop.”

Anne’s face was bleak. Lyndall would have liked to look away, but she couldn’t. Anne’s eyes held hers---scornful, rejecting not only what she had said, but herself---putting her amongst foolish, negligible things.

“Really, Lyn! What a story! Do you expect me to believe it?”

Lyndall said nothing. Her eyes were steadfast as well as grieving.

Anne laughed and said, “Go on! I’m sure there must be something more---another thrilling instalment in our next! What happened after that?”

“I went home.”

“Rather an anti-climax.”

“I wasn’t sure about its being you. I hadn’t ever heard about Nellie Collins---then.”

“Nellie Collins?”

“Yes. I didn’t know the name when I heard it in the shop, but it’s in the paper today, because she is dead. Did you know that she was dead?”

“Lyndall---what do you mean?”

“It says in the paper that she was coming up to meet someone under the clock at Waterloo Station at a quarter to four on Monday. They give a description, and they say the police would like to hear from anyone who saw her or noticed who she met. She was found dead in a lane near Ruislip early next morning, and they want to know how she got there, because it was right out of her way. She had come up from Blackheath. She was expecting to meet you---wasn’t she?”

Anne’s face was as tight and hard as a bolted door. She said, “You made that up---it wasn’t in the paper. How could I have met her? I was here with Lilla.”

“Yes, you were here with Lilla. But she was expecting to meet you. You see, I met someone who travelled up in the train with her. She talked to her, and told her she was going to meet you. It was a friend of Janice Albany. I met her there at tea that afternoon. She asked me where I was staying, and as soon as I mentioned Lilla’s name she said that was curious, because she had just come up from Blackheath in the train with a Miss Collins who was meeting Lady Jocelyn, and would she be any relation? So I said yes, but I thought there must be some mistake, because you were moving into your flat and Lilla was helping you, so I didn’t see how you could be meeting anyone at Waterloo. And she said, ‘Miss Collins was certainly expecting to meet Lady Jocelyn---under the clock at Waterloo, at a quarter to four.’ ”

Anne’s face remained locked, but the lips smiled. They were bright with lipstick that might have been the very colour of anger. They made Lyndall feel herself despised. They said, “What a rigmarole! What is it all supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know.”

She had said what she had come to say. It horrified her. Things were worse when you had said them---they took shape. She had thought she would be able to get rid of them. No, not thought---that was too definite. She had had a frightened, clinging hope that Anne would say or do something that would make everything all right again. She did not know what Anne was to say or do. The little trembling hope let go and faded out.

Anne pushed back her chair and got up. She went quietly over to the fire and kneeled down in front of it, putting on one or two pieces of coal in a careful, deliberate way. Then without getting up she turned and spoke to Lyndall.

“You say you don’t know what you mean. I am sure I don’t. So it’s rather difficult---isn’t it? I don’t quite know what to say about it. We have had a good deal of publicity lately---I shouldn’t have thought you’d have wanted to bring any more of it down on us. You used to say that you were fond of me, and----” she gave a little laugh---“anyone can see you are fond of Philip. May I ask you why you want to spread a damaging story about us? I should really like to know.”

Lyndall had turned too. The fire leapt brightly behind Anne’s shoulder. Something in Anne’s eyes burned like the fire, bright, and hot, and hurting. Lyndall said, “I haven’t spread any story. I haven’t spoken of it to anyone but you.”

“Well, that’s something. Because, you see, you really might do a great deal of harm---to Philip. To put it frankly, we can’t afford to be in the papers any more at present. Philip is ambitious---I expect you know that. He’s got the sort of job they only give to a rising man, and the wrong sort of publicity would be very damaging for him. Now I’m going to tell you all there is to tell, and trust to your friendship and common sense not to go on making mountains out of molehills. Nellie Collins knew the Joyces---I believe they lodged with her. About a week or ten days ago I had a letter from her. She had been reading all the stuff in the papers, and she said now that she realized Annie was dead, could she come up and see me, because she would like to hear all about her last moments. I thought it was all very tiresome and morbid, and I had my hands full with the move, so I didn’t answer the letter. I don’t even know what happened to it. The police wanted to see it, but I couldn’t find it for them.”

“The police----”

The anger was gone from Anne. She looked frankly at Lyndall.

“Yes. Miss Collins seems to have talked about coming up to see me. Wishful thinking, I should say. I certainly never invited her. But she seems to have talked, and there it is. Why she went to Ruislip, and how she got herself run over, I’ve naturally no idea. As for your story of overhearing a conversation about her in a hairdresser’s shop---well really, darling, if you don’t mind my saying so, it sounds completely mad. Of course Collins is a very common name. You might have heard it anywhere---I suppose you might have heard it at your hairdresser’s. But why you should fasten this crazy conversation on to me---come, Lyn, are you prepared to swear you saw me?”

“No---I thought it was you----”

“And you thought you heard me speak. Is that a thing you would swear to---a voice through a shut door? Are you sure it was my voice, Lyn?”

Lyndall said steadily, “No, I’m not sure. I thought it was your voice.”

Anne said, “Because you thought you had seen me go in?”

“Perhaps.”

Anne laughed quite good-humouredly.

“Well, darling, there doesn’t seem to be much left of your story, does there? I think I’d keep quiet about it if I were you. If you’ll forgive my saying so, you don’t come out of it any too well. I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but there’s a sort of spying sound about it----” She put out a hand. “No, that’s horrid of me. I didn’t mean it. But---honestly, Lyn, I don’t want Philip to have any more bothers just now.”

Lyndall said nothing at all. When Anne spoke of Philip like that, the very quick of her heart was bruised. She had nothing to say in words. Her eyes spoke for her.

It appeared that Anne was answered. She got up with one of her graceful movements and stood there smiling.

“Well, we’ll leave it at that. I think we’ve been getting a little intense. It’s just that Philip and I do hate all this publicity, and it would be too tiresome to have it starting all over again just when we hoped it was dying down. So you won’t mind my asking you not to go round telling people that you thought you heard me talking about poor Miss Collins in the back of a hairdresser’s shop.”

“I haven’t told anyone but you. I think it was silly of me to tell you. I won’t tell anyone else.”

As she spoke she felt again the cold breath of fear which had sent her running away from the little dark passage behind the mirror door. She had promised never to speak about that. She must try never to remember it. She did not know that she was to break her promise, and to try with all her might to remember every detail of what had happened in Félise’s shop. She did not know what circumstances would compel her to this. But if she had known, she would hardly have been more afraid than she was.

Anne came past her and sat down behind the tray with its pale gleaming silver and its flowery cups. Her cheeks were pink, and she was smiling. She said, “Have another cup of tea, darling.”

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