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CHAPTER I   52

There was still time to run away.

He had his back to her now as he made his way slowly through the crowd by the booking office. If she made up her mind nowthis moment

'Mind your backs, please! Mind your backs in here, please!'

Marigold realised suddenly that the bellow of irritated entreaty was addressed to herself, and hastily moved out of the way of a porter who was pushing a luggage-laden truck before him.

She shivered as a queer little chill of something between guilt and dread seemed to slide down her spine, and mechanically she moved to allow another stream of people to pass. What would they think if they knew about this stolen weekend with Lindley, with a married man?

There was still time to run awayif she wanted to.

She glanced once more across the crowded space of the station. Lindley had reached the ticket office now. She could see him in profile, laughing at something the clerk was saying.

That was how he had looked when she first fell in love with him.

And, at that thought, suddenly everything was all right again. She didn't even know why she had shivered a moment ago. At any rate it could have had nothing to do with doubts because all those had been met and dealt with long ago. Her mind was made up.

As he came back to her through the crowd she smiled irrepressibly at him. He was so tall, so fantastically handsome, sooh, radiant and vital. Different from everyone and everything else that had made up the rather drab sum of life during the last two years.

And he was hers. He belonged to her, as he could never have belonged to that other woman the pale shadow in the background of his life the woman he had married.

He was beside her now, laughing down at her.

'Did you think I wasn't coming back? I thought you might have run away.'

And when he said it, the idea was just an absurd joke, and she laughed too, with something like relief.

'Come along.'

Even through her coat-sleeve she could feel the firm pressure of his hand round her arm, and her heart seemed to leap in an eager, almost frightening response. She remembered she had heard once that the appeal of touch was the most primitive in the world. One didn't think of anything primitive in connection with someone as polished and sophisticated as Lindley, and yet she knew instinctively the truth of that assertion. When he held her arm like that, lightly but firmly, she hardly knew whether she wanted to cry or to cling to him and kiss him.

It was impossible to find even a first-class compartment which was not at least half full, but in a queer way that was almost a relief. Prolonging the anticipation was so much better than coming to grips with the reality of the situationhowever wonderful.

The next moment she guiltily corrected that thought in her own mind. She was startled even to find that she had put it like that to herself. The most wonderful thing was that she and Lindley were together at last. Only a coward would want to consider any other aspect of the case now.

Even as she thought that, the whistle blew shrilly. The train began to move slowly, people on the platform stepped back, waving energetically and shouting last-minute messages.

They were gathering speed now, the noise and bustle of the station was behind them and the warehouses and offices flicking past the window had no familiarity or identity.

There was no longer time to run away.

She glanced across the compartment at Lindley and found his smiling eyes on her. She smiled quickly, a little timidly, in return, and then looked back again out of the window.

The dullness of the November afternoon had changed rapidly into the almost complete darkness of an overhead fog. Presently all that was really visible was the reflection of her own face in the darkened glass.

Marigold studied it critically. Funny to think that those wide grey eyes and that slightly pointed chin had actually awakened such passionate adoration in anyone so wonderful as Lindley. It was quite an attractive, heart-shaped little face, Marigold supposed objectively, and her hair was unusually soft and fine and fair. But none of that seemed to justify the fact that Lindley had found her lovely from the first moment, three months ago, when he had come into the publisher's office where she worked.

It was the first exciting thing that had happened in that office since Marigold had come there two years beforewretched, bewildered and heartbroken after her parents had been killed in a car crash which left her miraculously uninjured, at any rate physically.

By the time she had recovered from the shock in the medical sense of that phraseher parents had been buried some days, and her father's legal adviser had the disagreeable task of explaining to her that, like many pleasant, easygoing and not very deep-thinking people, her parents had not been very provident for the future. The question of Marigold's earning her own living had assumed an urgency which was terrifying.

Through the good offices of the lawyer, she had found a tiny flat and a job in a well-known publishing firm. The anxiety about day-to-day expenses became less, and so, in a way, did the sharpness of her grief for her lost parents. But as for the lonelinesssomehow that had only grown worse as the months went by.

And then Lindley had walked into the office and into her life.

His big, picturesque grace had dazzled her from the first. She had hardly noticed that first time that his thick dark hair had a touch of grey in it. She had been too much fascinated by the peculiar lightness of his hazel eyes in the dark tan of his face, and by the essential youthfulness of his brilliant smile.

It was not usually her business to interview her employer's clientscertainly not such an important one as Lindley Marfle, whose books of travel and personal reminiscences were admitted, even by the critics, to be 'unique.' But some blessed mischancea breakdown on the Tube or something of the sorthad delayed both her employer and his eminently capable secretary. So that it fell to Marigold's rather trembling lot to entertain Lindley Marne for something more than half an hour.

If she had had time to think about it or anticipate the interview, she would have been scared. As it was, before she knew what was happening, he was sitting carelessly on the side of her desk, dazzling her with his smile, warming her with his obvious admiration, making her realise that, after all, life was a gay and gorgeous adventure.

By the time her employer arrived, she and Lindley Marne were talking like old friends.

Of course, she had realised immediately that this was now the end. He had been charming to the office typist only because there was half an hour to fill inand it was beyond him to be anything else but charming.

Then the next dayquite incrediblyhe had rung her up. And the next day too. By the end of the week she had agreed to go to dinner and a theatre with him. And after that life became one long enchantment.

She found that he was engaged on some form of propaganda for the Governmentwork which had already taken him once to America and would probably do so again. And the thought that there might be a limit set to their delightful association only added value and significance to the passing days.

Almost from the beginning he had told her he was married, and although the discovery was a shock for her, she admired him for his absolute frankness. There was never the slightest hint of 'misunderstood husband' about himnever the least appeal for any sort of sympathy, but she realised that his marriage had in some way been a tragic failure.

Gradually she gathered a very clear impression of the cold, beautiful, critically conventional woman who evidently had no interest in her husband's work or personality or gaily romantic view of life. She preferred to live in the country, it seemed, and had always refused to accompany him on the travels which were the breath of life to him.

They must have been married some years, Marigold thought, because once he had said with passionate intensity:

'I wish I'd known you long before.' And then added with an unhappy little laugh: 'Oh, but you'd have been a baby then.'

'I'm twenty-two,' Marigold had explained quickly. Whereat he had laughed and said twenty-two was not much of an age either.

During the three months of their growing love for each other, Marigold had not been without some acute qualms of conscience, but always with a sort of surprised wonder that anything could interrupt the beautiful, inevitable progress of their love story.

And then what she had dreaded had happened. Lindley had been ordered abroad again.

'It may not be for very long,' he told her. But neither he nor she really believed that, she knew. Besides, the fact was thatlong or shortseparation would mean the end of everything that now mattered. If she had been his wife----------------

He had been wretched too, she knew. And then two days ago had come the sudden breaking of the last barriers.

'It's no good, Mari.

We can't go on like this,' he had pleaded. 'It's empty and futile, this meeting and parting, and never knowing when we're going to see each other again. You must come away with me, darling. It isn't as though there's anyone who could be hurt by it. Come away with me next weekend. We'll go somewhere on the South Coast, where there's still a chance of sunshine and happinessand a chance to talk over one's future.'

It was that last phrase which made her say, 'Yes.' She was ashamed and a little frightened to remember just how easily she had said, 'Yes.' But 'a chance to talk over one's future' could mean only one thing. He meant to arrange for his wife to divorce him and then some dayin the not too distant futurehe would marry her, and that would mean no more separations, even if his work took him to America a third time. She must show him that she had the courage and resolution to go the whole way with him.

Besideswhat was the good of pretending or being ashamed?she wanted to go away with Lindley.

 

The train was slackening speed now, and the other people in the carriage were preparing to get out. She glanced at her watch and realised with surprise that they were more than halfway to their destination.

They were lucky and no one else got in at this station, and the moment the train had started again Lindley came over to her side.

'How confoundedly long that part of the journey seemed,' he exclaimed, and took her in his arms.

'Did it?' she smiled up at him.

He kissed her lightly, but she knew how much that apparently careless caress meant.

'Well, what do you suppose it's like, sitting opposite to you and pretending you don't matter?'

She laughed and leaned her head against him with a contented little sigh. And at that he seemed to recollect something and thrust his hand into an inner pocket.

'Oh, I have something here for you, Mari. I think you'd better wear it, darling.'

'But' Speechless with surprise and dismay, she stared at the thin gold ring in the palm of his hand. 'But it's a wedding ring,' she said, finding her voice again at last. 'I can't wear thatyet.'

She wondered if she only imagined that she felt him stiffen' slightly. But surely he must understand her revulsion of feeling!

'It makes so many things simpler,' he said. 'Icouldn't.' Her voice was oddly breathless and she didn't stop to pick her words. 'Besides, Iwe'

Did you mean to pass me off as your wife?'

'Well, what else, my dear?' He sounded almost amused for a moment. 'Did you suppose we were to be remote acquaintances staying at opposite ends of the hotel?'

'No. No, of course not.' For a moment she tried to decide exactly what she had thought.

'Only I'd rather be honest about it. Rather'

'Honest, darling?' He really did laugh then. 'Why, where is the dishonesty? Does it really worry you if the reception clerk hasn't got things quite straight, poor fellow?'

'It's not that.' She wished she could explain just what 'it' was. But he was already laughing away further protests.

'I should think not, indeed. It's just that you're sweet and absurd and very artless. But you leave this to me. We are Mr. and Mrs. Marne, snatching a free weekend from a busy life in Town. And so ' He slipped the ring on her finger without completing the sentence.

There was nothing else to say, but the ring felt like a circle of fire.

At the intense seriousness of her expression, he raised his eyebrows and smiled in affectionate protest.

'You mustn't torment your conscience about such a formality, darling. It's always best to wear a ring. It stops awkward questions before people think of asking them.'

Still she said nothing, but the reason for her silence was different now. One sentence had hit her like a blow between the eyes.

'It's always best to wear a ring.'

Just what did that 'always' mean? Something deep down in her stirred with an instinctive sense of danger. In another moment she would have voiced the angry, frightened question. But just then the door into the corridor was unceremoniously pushed back, the guard called over his shoulder to someone who was still invisible, 'Here y'are, lady. Lots of room in here,' and a moment later a large and perspiring woman, laden with parcels, pushed into the compartment and sank thankfully down on the seat opposite.

The interruption could hardly have been more untimely, yet Lindley, with unquenchable good humour, jumped to his feet and began to put luggage into the rack for the pantingly grateful newcomer.

For a cynical moment Marigold wondered whether natural good nature or relief at the interruption accounted for Lindley's behaviour. Then she told herself that she was being nervy and unreasonable, that she was looking for trouble where none was to be found, and that if one started with a ridiculous lack of faith in the man one loved, how was one to steer through the difficult course ahead?

What was one word, after all? One word uttered in an unthinking moment. She told herself that her vague suspicions were absurd. And by the time they reached their destination she had almost convinced herself that they were.

It was a trying moment when she entered the lounge of the big hotel where they were to stay, and she felt that everyone must know about that ring which she had no right to wear.

She felt guilty and ashamed all the way up in the mirror-lined lift, and into the beautiful rose- carpeted bedroom, where thick, soft curtains shut out the sightand almost the soundof the sea.

By then she could not have said which of the many conflicting emotions was making her heart thud so unnaturally. She only knew that, as the door closed behind the page, and Lindley snatched her into his arms, for the first time she winced as his mouth touched hers.

Perhaps he sensed that she was overwrought, because he said almost immediately:

'I expect you want to unpack a few things. I'll go down and order drinks. You'll find me in the lounge in about ten minutes.'

When he had gone she didn't unpack. She walked up and down the room in agitation. It was all right, she kept on telling herself, it was all right. She had known all along she was to share a room with him.

But what had he meant by, 'It's always best to wear a ring'?

There was no answer to that in her frightened thoughts. And presently she went downstairs.

He was sitting in the lounge, but obviously waiting for her coming, because he got up the moment she appeared in the doorway and came across to meet her. Upstairs she had imagined that she would be able to speak to him frankly to put even the hateful question which was causing her so much misery.

But, now she was with him, such a thought was preposterous.

While she drank her sherry she knew there was no way she could frame her enquiry without making it sound like an accusation that he was a philanderer and a cad.

Over dinner he was his entertaining and amusing self. If he sensed the slightest restraint on her part, at least he knew how to ignore it tactfully, and certainly he was not suffering from any himself. And gradually she too felt her heart lighten and her fears and doubts dissolve. It was impossible to be with Lindley and not find his charm both reassuring and irresistible.

Afterwards they found a quiet corner of the big, softly-lighted lounge, and were able to talk there in an intimacy and privacy which was almost, thought Marigold wistfully, like being in a home of their own.

'We must do this often, Mari,' he said at last, his arm along the back of the settee behind her and his challenging smile full on her. 'Theatre and restaurant meetings are all very well, but they aren't much fun when what you want is to talk and be happy together.'

'Dothisoften.' She repeated his words slowly and a little breathlessly. 'But we can't. You're going to America in a week or two.'

'Oh, yes, I know. But that won't last for ever,' he declared cheerfully. 'One monthtwo months. They'll soon pass, my dear. And when I come back we'll do this again. You and I will see the dawn rise over the Alps, or moonlight flooding the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio, or we'll listen to the mountain streams chattering through Swiss villages, and, Oh, there are a hundred things I long to show you and teach you. The day will come.'

His smile was brilliant as he talked of the things he really loved, and she tried to form her stiff lips into a smile of appreciation and sympathy. But the smile was not much of a success, she knew, because her heart was hammering uncomfortably, and round and round in her mind went the question, 'But why doesn't he say anything about marriage?'

'Won't you love all that, darling?' He wanted her eager assurance, and for a moment he paused in his catalogue of the joys ahead in order to receive it.

'Yes, of course. Isis that what you meant when you said we'd have a chance to discuss our future here?'

'Did I say that?' He smiled reflectively. 'Yes, I believe I did. I suppose that was what I meant. Sometimes even when the present is enchanting one wants to plan for the future too.'

'Yes.' Marigold found her voice with difficulty. 'One wants to plan for the future too.'

Then he hadn't meant anything to do with marriage. All that was simply in her own stupid imagination. He had called her 'artless' an hour or two ago. She was more than thatshe was a fool.

And yet surely she had not been mistaken? There was something in his manner to herat least, there always had beensomething which suggested she was more to him than a passing fancy. Oh, more than suggested it! He behaved as though she were the one overwhelming love of his life. She had believed that. She would never have come away with him otherwise.

Marigold was aware suddenly that he was looking at her with unusual attention, and, for the first time, she saw that his eyes could narrow very slightly in a way she had never noticed before. Only a trick, of course, but.

'My dear, is anything wrong?'

'No. No, of course not.' At least she must not let him know what she was thinking.

'But I believe there is. Mari'

She never knew what it was he was going to say to her, because just at that moment a waiter came up and told him he was wanted on the telephone.

'Eh?' He was annoyed at the interruption. And then, evidently remembering suddenly, he got up. 'Oh, yes, of course. It's a business call from London. I shan't be long.'

She watched him as he went from her across the lounge. Just as handsome, just as tall, just as attractive as ever. Only something was different.

If only she knew what to do! If only there were something she could do! But she was marooned here, miles from London. It was late in the evening and she was committed to an unmistakable path.

Overwhelmed with the thought of her position, Marigold almost literally shrank into the corner of the high-backed settee. Two men had dropped down rather heavily into chairs which backed on to her settee, but with a shame and a self-disgust which was rapidly growing, she felt that even to be seen by strangers would be unbearable. Alone with her thoughts

And then her attention was caught by something they were saying. She heard the name, 'Lindley Marne.'

'. . . quite unmistakablesaw him just for a minute, but he seemed in a hurry. Phone call or something.'

'Phone call?' The other man laughed. 'More likely he didn't want to be recognised just then, lie's down here with one of his weekend girls, I think. At least, a very pretty little piece came in with him an hour or two ago. Very much his type'

Marigold didn't wait to hear any more.

She couldn't help it if one of those odious men looked after her and identified her. It didn't matter, anyway. Nothing mattered.

One of his weekend girls!

She had no idea where she was going. She only knew that she couldn't stay one moment longer in that placecouldn't be there when Lindley came back from his telephone callcouldn't stay in that beautiful room upstairswaiting for him.

She would have to go back just once, to fetch her things. But after that she must get away. And she must hurryshe must hurry. Suppose he came upstairs while she was repacking the few things she had unpacked! With what she hoped was a natural glance round the big vestibule, she ascertained that, wherever the telephone boxes were, they commanded no view of the hall, and a second later she gained the foot of the stairs. Better not look around for the lift, but one must run upstairsso much of the flight was in full view of the hall below.

She ran as fast as decency permitted, turned the wide sweep of the stairs, dashed on up the remainder of the flightand collided violently with someone who was pausing to light a cigarette in the passage above.

'I'm so sorry!'

'Not at all. Ridiculous place for me to stop, I'm afraidI wasn't thinking.'

The man who turned to answer her gasping apology was smiling contritely but as he took in her general appearance he said, in quite a different tone:

'Is something the matter?'

'Nno. I was in a hurry.'

'So I gathered.'

She said: 'I'm sorry. I hope I didn't hurt you.' Then she walked without undue haste to the door of the bedroom and went in.

She thought the man stood looking after her, and she was not quite sure whether he went downstairs after that or into one of the other rooms. Anyway, it didn't matter. All she had to do now was to get her things togethershe was already feverishly throwing them into her suitcaseand then somehow slip away out of the place without Lindley knowing.

Without the management knowing too, she supposed the next moment, as a nightmare scene of herself trying to explain things at the desk and being caught there by Lindleyrose before her.

She actually had to catch back a sob of sheer dismay as the difficulties of her position seemed to press in upon her. But as her one chance was in keeping calm and cool, she fiercely choked down the desire to cry, and tried to shut down her case. Something caught and prevented it closing, and with shaking fingers and fretted nerves she had to open the thing and push the contents about in further- confusion before she could press down the lid and thankfully feel the catch fasten at last.

She had everything, and was ready for her flight at last. Which was betterto find some melodramatic and unquestioned way out via a fire-escape, or something equally improbable, or to walk boldly downstairs, pause at the desk and pay her part of the bill, and count on doing all that and getting out of the hotel before Lindley could discover her?

To her shame, she found that she was actually tip-toeing along the corridoran entirely unnecessary and quite ridiculous precaution, only calculated to inspire surprise and suspicion in anyone she might chance to meet.

She stepped out boldlyand then drew back in horror. Lindley was coming up the stairs.

In a matter of seconds he must raise his head and see her. There was only one thing to be done. Opening the door beside which she was standing, she stepped into the room, shut the door quickly behind her and leant against it, panting a little, with fear rather than haste.

As she did so, the man with whom she had collided at the top of the stairs looked up from fastening his suitcase and said

'Hello! What's the matter this time?'

'It's nothing.' She spoke mechanically, almost in a whisper, because she was terrified that the sound of her voice might reach Lindley, even through the door.

'"Nothing" be damned,' was the perfectly pleasant reply. 'At least, it's unusual.'

'Imistook the door,' Marigold said desperately.

'Well, don't let me hurry you, but' His raised eyebrows completed his sentence.

But she couldn't venture out into the corridor again for a moment! Lindley might simply glance into their darkened room and come away again.

'I'm sorry. It must seem ridiculous, but please do you mind if I stay here for a moment?"

For answer he went over to a side table and poured out a glass of water.

'You'd better come and sit downand drink this. I'm sorry I've nothing stronger. I'll ring for something, if you like.'

'Oh, no!' The very thought of complicating the situation roused her to panic-stricken protest. Besides, the door must remain shut.

'All right. Come and sit down.' Then, as she mechanically obeyed him: 'What is this? A paperback thriller?'

'No, no. It's really quite simple.' And then the impossibility of supplying any simple explanation overcame her, and she thankfully took the glass of water and drank some of it.

As she did so her paralysed thoughts began to clear, and suddenly her wits were functioning againand the first thing she noticed was that this man had his heavy overcoat on and that a fastened suitcase stood on a chair nearby.

Then if he were going away there must be a train to somewhere! She had been so terribly afraid that there was nowhere to go, even if she got away from the hotel. Now there was a gleam of hope. The train might even go to London. Londonwhich now seemed all that was dear and safe and desirable.

'Are you going away tonight?' She didn't stop to choose her words or to recollect how extraordinary her question must sound.

'I am.' He looked as surprised as he was entitled to.

'I'm sorry. I wasn't meaning to be inquisitive. Only I want to get back to London tonight and I was afraid there wasn't a train.'

'I'm afraid there isn't,' he told her. 'The last one went at least half an hour ago.'

'Oh, no!' The disappointment made her bite her lip. Then, because anywhere was better than here, she added not very lucidly, 'Well, where is there a train for?'

'I don't think there are any more trains from here tonight. It's the kind of station that reckons to close its doors very finally at nine-thirty you know.'

'I was afraid so. But'she looked anxiously from him to his case'I thought you said you were going.'

'Oh, I'm going by car,' he explained.

He didn't offer to amplify that, but desperation drove her into further speech.

'Are youare you going to London?'

'Within fifteen miles of it. But London's a big place, you know.' He was evidently not pining to come gallantly to her rescue.

'II must get to London tonight,' she exclaimed pleadingly.

'Or almost anywhere else,' he reminded her dryly, and she was forced to recall her peculiar indifference to where a train might be going, so long as it was going away from here.

She stared at him in silent dismay for a moment, and he looked back at her as though trying to make up his mind about something.

'Look here, have you committed a murder or pinched someone's pearls?' he enquired conversationally, taking the half-empty glass from her hand.

'Oh no!' Quite against her will she gave a small laugh at the idea. 'It's just'

She hesitated, racking her brains for some explanation which would appear even remotely probable, while he waited politely for what she would say.

'It may sound silly, but I'm in a dreadfully awkward position '

'I'd got as far as that myself,' he assured her.

'I came down here with'her imagination suddenly took a wild leap and landed on something like firm ground'with an elderly uncle of mine. II hadn't seen him for some years, but he used to be very kind to me when I was a child. He found me working very hard at my office andand wanted to give me a nice weekend.'

'Yes?' The man seemed genuinely interested in what she was saying.

'II never thought of anything unpleasant. But, as I told you, I hadn't seen him for some years, and in between he's grown simplysimply awful. He drinks much too much and hehe got horribly silly and familiar. I can't stay down here a minute longer. I just want to get away. Please do understand and pleaseplease do help me.'

She sat there looking up at him, her hands twisted together hard in her lap.

She felt that if he advised her to go to bed and lock her door and not be silly, she would scream.

But perhaps there was something so truly frightened in the wide grey eyes which stared up at him that he was moved to believe the almost unbelievable.

'Is your uncle that extremely unpleasant old boy in the bar with a couple of chins and an outsize waistcoat?' he enquired.

'Yes,' Marigold heard herself assuring him eagerly. 'Yes, that's Uncle.'

'Then you must have been uncommonly silly to accept "a nice weekend" with him,' remarked the man as he reached for his hat. 'Come along, then. I'll take you as far as I can.'

'Oh, thank you! She nearly spoilt everything by bursting into tears, but with one more effort she controlled herself. 'II don't want to chance meeting him.'

'No, of course not. We don't want a scene in the lounge.' Marigold shuddered. 'I'll take you down the back staircase. I know this place quite well. I've often stayed here.'

'Butbut what about your bill?' Her mind clung to the minor details which had threatened such dire complications to her own departure.

'Oh, I'm not bilking,' he assured her with a dry smile, and she suddenly noticed what well- spaced, shrewd dark eyes he had. 'I paid my bill a quarter of an hour ago, and as for yourswe'll leave that to Uncle. He expects it.'

Three minutes later they were humming down the road, away from the hotel, away from Lindley, away from the weekend she had anticipated with such frightened joy.

For a while the reaction from the last hour, and the sudden release from the necessity for action, made her feel slack and tired and wordless. Apparently he realised something of her feelingsor else he was intent on the problem of night-driving. At any rate he said nothing until a long sigh from Marigold made him laugh slightly and enquire:

'Feeling better now?'

'Yes, thank you. Lots better.' It was true. Considering she had just emerged from the wreckage of all her hopes and illusions, she felt singularly free from wretchedness. But that, of course, was the relief from crushing anxiety.

'Um,' he saidrather sympathetically, she thought. 'Pretty nasty experience for you, wasn't it?'

'Yes, pretty nasty.'

'Am I taking you home to Motheror what?'

'No,' she said. 'No, my mother's dead. So is my father. They were both killed in a car crash.'

'Oh, I'm sorry.' There was a different note in his voice that time. 'I wouldn't have asked if

I '

'It's all right. It was two years ago.'

He was silent for a minute or two. Then he asked:

'Are you living on your own now?'

'Yes.'

'Where?'

'At Highgate.'

He whistled softly.

'Is that a long way out of your way?' she asked anxiously.

'Just about the other side of London,' he said cheerfully.

'I'm sorry. Perhaps if you could put me down near a Tube station '

'I hardly think the trains would be running right through by the time we get there,' he said.

'Besides, I was wondering' He paused, and after a moment she prompted him anxiously: 'Yes? What were you wondering?' 'Look here.' He seemed to make up his mind about something in rather the same way he had when he had agreed suddenly to take her with him. 'It isn't the question of distanceI don't like the idea of your going to your place all on your own after the sort of experience you've had. And I suppose there'll be nothing ready for you, and nothing much to eat tomorrow, because it's Sunday and you expected to be away. Isn't that about right?'

'Yes,' Marigold admitted. 'I suppose it is a bit like that. But I can manage,' she added hastily, trying not to feel sick with disappointment and loneliness at the sudden contrast between her hopes and realities.

'Well, I don't want you to manage,' came the firm retort out of the semi-darkness of the car. 'I'm going to take you with me. I'm going to my sister's place. I rang her earlier in the evening and told her to expect me late. I'll take you there. She'll understand and willingly put you up.'

'Butbut I'm a complete stranger. I don't even know your name. I'

'It's Paul Irving, if that makes any difference. And I'm highly respectable and my sister is even more so.'

'If you'requite sureit's all right,' she began.

'Quite sure,' he told her emphatically. 'And we haven't much further to go now.'

'It's terribly kind of you,' she said in a small voice, and she hoped there would be another occasion to express her gratitude properly, because, at the moment, there was too much of a lump in her throat for her to be able to say more.

So she sat quite still beside him in the car and tried to recollect more clearly how he looked. At the time of their meeting in the hotel, he had been nothing more than an instrument of escape and she had hardly noticed anything personal about him. Now she remembered that he was tall and rather loosely built. Not specially young, but younger than'

She sharply recalled her thoughts from Lindley.

This man was reliable-looking, rather than good-looking, and she remembered again his dark, attractively set eyes, which inspired confidence.

She really couldn't remember much more about him, and after that she let her thoughts wander until he said, 'Here we are,' and she was aware that they had turned in at a semicircular drive and come to a standstill in front of a small, compact, double-fronted house.

He helped her out and rang the bell.

Evidently their arrival had already been noticed, because the bell had hardly stopped ringing before someone opened the door and against the dim light of the hall Marigold saw a tall girl whose hair, even in that light, showed as deep, rich copper colour.

'Here, Stephanie, I've brought you a visitor/ Paul Irving's voice said from behind her. 'Be your nicest to her while I put away the car. She's had a nasty fright tonight.'

'You poor little thing! Come on in.' The girl's voice was warm and rich, like the colour of her hair, and she put her arm round Marigold as she led her through the hall to a firelit room beyond. 'You must be frightfully coldit's such a beastly night. Sit down by the fire and I'll get you something hot to eat.'

Marigold tried to find her voice to protest that she was not the least hungry and that there was no need for anyone to bother over her. But as she looked up, her voice died in her throat, and for a moment her fascinated gaze travelled from her hostess to a table standing against the wall.

Facing her and smiling at her with almost insolent charm and self-assurance was an excellent photograph of Lindley Marne.

 

 


 

 :  :CHAPTER II
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