Time of the Temptress 8
Eve leapt to meet the ball with herracket, swinging a graceful, slicing stroke that sent the ballwhizzing past her opponent’s shoulder. He laughed even as helost the game to her, and ran towards the tennis net that dividedthem, the sun agleam on his rumpled dark hair and alight in hisgrey eyes. A very attractive young man in his white shirt andslacks, who gazed across at Eve with an appreciative smile asshe spun her racket in the air and caught it, clad herself ina white tennis dress that revealed her slim tanned legs.
“Come up to the house, Larry,”she invited, “and have some tea with me.”
He joined her outside the hard courtand they strolled together across the lawn towards Lakeside, consideredone of the most gracious houses in this part of Essex. At therear of the rambling, mullioned, red-tiled house was a lake anda gazebo, and sunken gardens aflame with wall-roses at this timeof the year.
Midsummer, and one of the warmestEngland had enjoyed for many a year, so that tennis was frequentand there was usually a friend or two for Eve to play with.
They entered the lounge throughopen glass doors, a long cool room whose walls were silver-grey,the perfect background for the fine suite of Regency furnitureand the few fine paintings. Eve watched as Larry Mitchell lookedaround him, an appreciative gleam in his [147-148] eyes . . .Eve liked his eyes, and whenever she looked into them she felta vague stirring of recollection, as though he reminded her ofsomeone she had seen and forgotten.
“You live in a nice house,”he told her. “It suits you, Eve, to have gracious surroundings,and yet at the same time I suspect you have a streak of wildnessin you somewhere–it comes out when you play against a chap, orride that creamy-coated mare of yours. You seem to have two sidesto you.”
“Hasn’t everyone?” Shepressed a finger to a bell attached to the wall. “We’veall a sunny side and a shadowy one, haven’t we? You as a buddingdoctor should know about the complexes and traumas that make peoplewhat they are. Are you still enjoying it at St. Saviour’s, trainingunder Clavering? It was he who operated on my arm that time Inearly lost it.”
Larry winced when Eve said that,and half-shyly he reached out and took hold of her slim left arm,running his fingers down to the inner part of the thumb whereall that was left of that intricate operation was a white scar.
“It’s hard to believe, Eve,the way you can slam a tennis ball across the net, that you everhad blood-poisoning so bad that you almost lost your arm–suchnice arms!”
“Are you flirting with me?” She smiled a little, and found him very attractive and easy totease. Larry never lost his temper, and yet she suspected thathe, too, had a certain amount of temperament in his make-up. He had very definite views about certain things and once or twicehad fallen into arguments with her guardian about the way thecountry was being run.
“Rebellion is hard to put downonce it flares,” he had [148-149] said the other evening. “It could happen in England just as it’s happened elsewhere.”
“Nonsense.” Charles Derringtonhad lit a fat cigar and puffed smoke with that self-confidentair of his, as if, Eve thought, Victoria was still on the throneand England was still a mighty empire with nothing to fear fromanyone. “With all our faults, Mr. Mitchell, we’re a civilisednation of people and could never commit the atrocities on eachother that these–er–foreigners are committing.”
“What about Belfast?”Larry had asked, and Eve had seen a very grim look come to hisface when he mentioned that strife-torn city.
“The Irish are hot-headed,”her guardian had replied. “Always have been, always willbe.”
“I’ve a bit of Irish in me,”Larry had said, and Eve smiled to herself as she recalled thelook which her guardian had directed at the tall, dark-hairedtrainee doctor, whose eyes of light grey were so darkly fringed. Since Charles had given in reluctantly to her insistence thatshe wouldn’t be forced into marriage with James, he seemed toregard every young man who came to Lakeside as her prospectivebridegroom. He had very nearly lost her to illness eighteen monthsago and since then he had been far less demanding and autocratic. She was all he had, for Charles Derrington had never felt theurge to marry, and they had been closer to each other since thosedays and nights of restless fever and pain, culminating in a fearsomelypoisoned arm which she had very nearly lost.
She felt Larry moving his thumbagainst her skin, and very gently but firmly she drew away fromhim. She liked him and was glad they had met at the St. Saviour’sdance, where she worked as a nursing aide, but she [149-150] wasn’tin love with him . . . not yet, at least. Somehow Eve felt noinclination to fall in love, she merely wanted to be of use andto enjoy her leisure hours with genial companions.
A capped and aproned maid wheeledin a trolley, with a silver teapot and bone china tea-servicelaid out on a lace cloth. Everything in Charles Derrington’shouse was run in a very gracious and conventional manner; in Eve’seyes the old dear was hopelessly old-fashioned and one of thefew people these days who was able to command absolute old-worldloyalty from those he employed.
“That looks lovely, Hilda,”she said to the maid. There were thinly sliced cucumber sandwiches,fruit scones and strawberry tarts. “Thank you.”
The maid gave a bob and withdrew,and Larry stood there shaking his head in amazement. “Ifeel each time I come to Lakeside as if I’m transported back intothe Thirties. I believe that’s when your guardian decided tostop the clock.”
“It’s possible.” Evegave a laugh and gestured to him to take a seat. “And dohelp yourself to sandwiches.”
Larry sat down in a deep armchairand watched Eve as she poured the tea, adding the cream and sugarthey both liked. The sun through the long windows found red lightsin her hair, which was a careless cascade on her shoulders, afoxfire contrast to her smooth honey skin. When she handed himhis cup he looked into her eyes, a deep topaz, lovely and seeminglyuntroubled.
“Are you Irish on your father’sside?” she asked, leaning back with her own cup of tea, andfeeling very much at ease in his company.
“No, my mother’s.” Hesipped his tea appreciatively. “She came from County Mayoand still has a brogue, [150-151] and some of their special sortof charm with a dash of the devil mixed in. I suspect I havesome of that in me, for I enjoy locking horns with your guardian.”
Eve gave a chuckle. “He’smellowed with age, believe me. There was a time when he mighthave thrown you out on your ear for daring to oppose his conservativeideas. But I believe he rather likes you, Larry.”
“Do you like me?” Larry’seyes grew beguiling in his lean face. “I’ve never met agirl like you, Eve. It isn’t only that you’re lovely, but youhave a kind of gallantry about you–you don’t have to work atthe hospital doing and seeing things that aren’t very pleasant,yet you do it cheerfully and even seem to get a kick out of it. I believe there’s a core of steel inside that sweet cool bodyof yours.”
“Just listen to the blarney,”she mocked. “I work because it would drive me mad with boredomto sit about the house, arrange the roses and go to card-partiesin the afternoons. I need the stimulation of a job, and I oncemade myself useful at a mission run by nuns.”
“That was out in Africa, wasn’tit?” He bit into a sandwich and regarded her slim, charmingfigure with amazed eyes, as if she seemed too young to have packedinto her life that kind of experience, from which she had returneda very sick person, even yet unable to recall all the detailsof her escape from Tanga.
“Yes–Africa.” Eve frownedand felt again that elusive memory that seemed always to be frettingthe edge of her outward content. “I was with the nuns andsomehow we got away–someone got us away.”
“It must have been frighteningfor you–Eve, what made you go out there in the first place, knowingthere was trouble brewing?”
“A man,” she laughed. “I didn’t want to marry him, so [151-152] I ran away–it’slike something out of a true-hearts serial, isn’t it?”
“You mean you were expectedto marry him regardless of your feelings–a girl like you?” Larry’s eyes held a sudden blaze. “You’d have to love andbe loved–madly.”
“Love?” She nibbled ascone. “I think love is a barrel of honey and broken glass.”
“How uncomfortable you makeit sound!” Larry gave her a curious look, slightly lacedwith jealousy. “Are you speaking from experience?”
Eve stared beyond the windows towardsthe trees, for at this end of the lounge they looked on to thelake and there the tall green and gold willows were thick . .. almost jungle-thick. “I don’t know,” she said. “Ihave some odd mental blanks left from that time I was ill, andthen I ask myself if it’s possible for love to be forgotten ifwe’ve ever experienced it. What do you think?”
“If love had been painful foryou, then you might want to forget it,” he replied.
“Yes,” she nodded. “Perhapsthe man didn’t love me in return, but all the same it’s provokingnot to remember. Don’t we shut from our minds our unbearablesins and our equally unbearable sacrifices?”
“Sensitive people might.” Larry leaned forward and searched her face with his grey eyes,and Eve found herself staring into those eyes and feeling againthat odd, elusive flicker of remembrance. “I think you’reone of the most sensitive girls I’ve ever met, and possibly oneof the most passionate–curiously enough those two go hand inhand.”
“Passion and sensitivity?”she murmured.
“The ability to feel a highdegree of emotion either [152-153] way,” he said. “Thetrouble is I can’t imagine what kind of man could let you go ifhe knew you cared for him. He’d have to be–ruthless.”
“Ruthless,” she echoed,and then she gave a slight, almost cynical smile. “I thinklove is a small harbour on the borderland of dreamland, and that’sall I’m doing, I’m dreaming there was something when there wasnothing. Have a strawberry tart. They’re homemade and delicious.”
“Thanks,” he took oneand bit into it. “Are you happy, Eve?”
She considered his question, slimlegs curled beneath her on the couch. “I think I must be,Larry. I have a nice home, a guardian who no longer treats meas if I were an Edwardian box of candy to be handed to the mostsuitable suitor, and I’m interested in my hospital work. I thinkI’m reasonably content with my life. What about you, Larry?”
“I’m doing the work I’ve alwayswanted to do, and I’ve had the good luck to meet you, Eve. Youoften invite me to Lakeside and I’m wondering if one day you’llcome and meet my people? They live in London, near Regent’s Gate,and they’d be terribly pleased to meet you. I could drive youup in that little bus of mine, if you’ll agree to come.”
Eve considered his invitation andwas just slightly worried by it. She didn’t want Larry to getserious about her, yet on the other hand it would seem unkindif she refused to meet his family.
“Do say you’ll come,”he coaxed. “I have a free afternoon next Sunday and if theweather stays like this it will make a nice run into London, andmy little bus isn’t too bad. I was lucky to get it–had a rathergenerous [153-154] birthday cheque all the way from Morocco.”
“Morocco?” Eve lookedintrigued. “Have you a relative out there?”
He nodded and his eyes filled withan eagerness that was boyish. “It’s my mother’s cousin. He’s been quite a rover in his time, and now he’s settled downto produce citrus fruits on this rather tumbledown estate he tookover about nine months ago. He seems to be making it work, whichdoesn’t surprise me, for he’s that sort of man. Hard in someways, but you could trust him with your life. I–I can’t helpadmitting I’m fond of him, apart from which he helped with myeducation–sent money so that my people could let me train tobe a doctor. My dad is a train driver, you see. He loves thework, but no one pretends they earn a fortune, so the money alwayscame in handy.”
“I think I like the sound ofyour family, Larry.” Eve had suddenly made up her mind. “I’d love to meet your parents–I’ve always been fascinatedby train drivers.”
He grinned, a long line slashingitself in his left cheek, making her stare at him and think howattractive he was–youthful-looking, of course, but in a few years’time he’d be quite a man.
“I’ll pick you up about noonnext Sunday and we’ll go to lunch with Ma and Pa, if you’d likethat. Roast beef, batter pudding and baked potatoes–you can’tdo Dad out of his Sunday traditional.”
“Sounds lovely,” she saidwarmly, and leaning forward on impulse she pressed Larry’s handwith hers, moving back adroitly when he would have caught herfingers to his lips. Eve shook her head at him. “Friendsdon’t get soppy, and I want us to be friends–for now.”
“Leaving me with a little marginfor hope?” he quizzed her.
[154-155] “You’re young, Larry,and the world is full of girls. Some of those nurses at St. Saviour’sare very attractive in their uniforms, especially in that bluecape with the little chain across the throat.”
“None of them can touch you,”he rejoined, running his eyes over her hair and face. “Youhave something extra–a little air of mystery, I think.”
Eve laughed and went to the piano,where she sat down and began to play a dated but still tunefulmelody of a romantic era lost down the pages of time . . . I’llsee you again, whenever spring breaks through again . . .Eve didn’t know why it haunted her, but somehow it did. Thenwith a careless laugh, she broke into a more modern tune and saidover her shoulder to Larry:
“If you’re off duty this eveningwe could go and dance at the Beach Club. At least the band playscivilised, schmaltzy music.”
“I’d like that.” He wasstanding right behind her and she tensed. “Play that othertune again–that more sentimental one. It’s a Noël Cowardsong, isn’t it?”
“Yes, and hopelessly sentimental.”
“Rather lovely, I thought. You often play it, don’t you? Is it a favourite of your guardian’s?”
“Good lord, no!” Evelaughed at the mere idea. “Charles is an ardent fan of LeonardBernstein and he deplores my fondness for the light stuff, ashe calls it. Charles likes a full orchestra playing somethingvery deep and complicated–he considers my taste in music, booksand drama very flighty considering what he spent on my education. Dear Charles, he really should have had a daughter of his ownwho might have taken after him, as it is he’s landed with me.”
“He’s a lucky man,” Larrymurmured, and though she had warned him not to kiss her, he suddenlyleaned [155-156] down and brushed his lips across the top of herhead. “I wish I could take you dancing, Eve, but I’ve gotto get back and sign in for some emergency duty, and you knowwhat Saturday night can be like when the football crowds are intown. But it is definite about next Sunday, isn’t it? It’s afirm promise?”
She turned round on the piano benchto look at him, seeing a lock of dark hair across his foreheadand something in his face that made her study him before she replied,unaware that a little sadness shaded her mouth for a moment.
“Yes, a firm promise,”she said. “Have you got to go now?”
He glanced at his wristwatch andnodded, twisting his mouth and giving her a wistful look. “You’rea temptress, Eve, but duty calls and I’ve just twenty minutesto make it to the hospital. Noon on Sunday, and it won’t comequick enough for me!”
“Nor me,” she smiled,and saw him to the front steps, where his small low-slung carwas waiting for him. He swung in behind the wheel and she wavedhim goodbye, watching until the yellow car swung out of the gateson to the main road. It was quiet after Larry had left and Evebegan to stroll in the direction of the garden, where the brightroses were entangled in rays of sunlight, and where the leavesscarcely stirred in the warmth of the afternoon. Suddenly shefelt faintly depressed and the scent of the roses seemed to addto her feeling of . . . now what kind of a feeling was it? Shepaused and put out a hand to touch a rose, which broke and scatteredits petals the moment her fingers came in contact with its velvetyloveliness.
She watched the petals drift tothe path . . . love might be like that, she thought. One momenta glowing [156-157] thing in the sunshine, and the next a sadlittle heap of memories.
Loss . . . yes, that was what shefelt. Could it be that saying goodbye to Larry had induced thisfeeling in her? Was she growing fonder of him than she had realised,or thought wise? He was very genuine, good company and most attractivein a lean dark way, but he was younger than she, not only by ayear, but in other ways . . . emotional ways.
She wandered on towards the lake,cool and shiimmering and faintly dyed with red as the sun beganto decline in the sky above the willows. She leaned against atree and rubbed the forefinger of her left hand against the scardown the side of her thumb.
She wished it would all come backto her, what had happened to her in Africa, but all she knew fromher guardian, and it seemed he had got his information from theflight crew of the plane on which she had travelled home to England,was that a rough-looking soldier had carried her through the gunfireand the burning streets of Tanga and after seeing her safely aboardthe aircraft had vanished into the raging noise and confusionof a town under siege. He had safety-pinned a note on Eve’s shirttelling the crew her name and where she lived, but beyond thisthey knew nothing of the man, and Eve often wished she could havefound a way to thank him. When she had tried to contact SisterMercy and the other nuns she had received the shattering replythat they had been killed when a shell had landed on the missionwhere they had been working in Tanga . . . Eve had wept when shereceived such sad news about those kind, brave, self-sacrificingwomen.
Why, Eve wondered, her gaze on thedarkening lake, [157-158] did kindness and goodness have to beso cruelly rewarded? Or was it true that the pure in soul foundtheir haven high up there beyond all the clouds, all the sorrows? She hoped so, and further hoped that somewhere that rough-lookingsoldier was still alive and hadn’t perished in the fighting atTanga.
Peace was now restored there underthe new President, and Eve hoped it would last and the wild lovelinessof Africa could flourish again and the wonderful birds and beastsreturn to their old haunts, to fish and hunt and stretch tawnyin the sun.
Oh lord, she was getting hopelesslynostalgic and had better return to the house before those sillytears started up again. She had no reason to cry . . . her guardianwas good to her, and on Sunday she was driving to London withLarry to meet new people and exchange fresh ideas. Life was good,and she thrust away from her that strange shadow that sometimesseemed to haunt her . . . a memory that wouldn’t take shape muchas she tried to clothe it, to give it shape and form and words.
She shrugged and entered the house,to breathe cigar smoke and hear the sound of masculine voicesin the study, where the door was partially open. She peered inand there was Charles with a couple of his business friends, andshe was about to withdraw when he noticed her.
“Eve, there you are, child. Been playing tennis, eh? Come along in and meet Stephen Carlisle,who is over here from New York to buy up all the best paintingsat Christie’s. And you know Tyler, of course.”
“Hullo, Tyler,” she smiledat one of her guardian’s oldest friends, and held out her handto the tall American, who had one of those ugly-attractive facesin the [158-159] Abraham Lincoln tradition. As he shook handswith her, his brown eyes ran over her slim, white-clad figureand her hair that had a foxfire gleam under the lights of thestudy.
“When I say it’s a pleasureto meet you, Miss Derrington, I mean it.”
“Thank you,” she said,wriggling her fingers which he held on to. “But I’m theward of the house, not the daughter, and my surname is Tarrant.”
“I see.” He smiled, showingbig strong American teeth. “Is that Miss Tarrant?”
“It is.” She cast anappealing glance at Charles. “Do tell your friend that I’dlike my hand back so I can go and change for dinner.”
But her guardian chuckled and lookedrather pleased with himself as he drew on his cigar. Ah, thoughtEve, so the American was wealthy and Charles was match-makingagain. Well, that wouldn’t do, for Eve had already decided thatif she was going to let love into her life, then she couldn’tdo better than let her friendship with Larry Mitchell grow intosomething warmer and closer. There was something about Larry. . . the more she saw of him the more he appealed to her. Shewished of course that he was older, but they had plenty of timeto develop their relationship, and with him she’d be a companionrather than a possession.
Stephen Carlisle looked the typewho would regard a woman as he regarded the paintings he bought,something to be owned and admired, but whose opinions would bedisregarded. Eve made a determined effort and pulled free ofhis handclasp. She saw his thick eyebrows pull together and sheknew she was right about him . . . he was the arrogant, ratherhumourless type [159-160] who thought his money made him irresistible.
“I must excuse myself rightafter dinner,” she told Charles. “I have a date atthe Beach Club.”
“Surely you can break it?”he said, giving her a slight frown. “If it’s with youngLarry Mitchell, then he’ll forgive you.”
“You underestimate Larry,”she replied, uncaring that she had told a white lie in order toescape the further attentions of Stephen Carlisle; she’d driveto the club, for there was always someone there whom she knewand could dance with. “Larry is very strong-willed Charles. He’s taking me to meet his parents on Sunday.”
Her guardian clamped his teeth onhis cigar and Eve could see that he was none too pleased by herpiece of information. She knew he quite liked Larry, but forhim there was no denying that the young student doctor was poorand struggling and hardly the auspicious match that he wantedfor his ward. She saw the struggle he was having with his temper,and then he shrugged his shoulders.
“You’re a sensible wench,”he said. “You’ll do the right thing in the end, and I’mnot saying that young Mitchell isn’t a rather handsome lad, buthe’s far too young for you, Eve, and you know it. I know you,girl, don’t think I don’t. You like older men–always have.”
“Dear Guardy,” she laughed,”to hear you speak you’d think I was always chasing the localgrandfathers! Larry’s a dear–“
“He’s a cub, and you’ll ringthe Beach Club and tell him you can’t make it tonight becauseI need you to play hostess to my guests.”
“Is that a direct order?”she asked, standing there in the open frame of the door, her chintilted and her eyes [160-161] defiant. She hadn’t needed to defyhim in a long time, and that alone told her that he was bankingon Carlisle making an impression on her. Good lord, was he amillionaire?
“Yes,” Charles gave acurt inclination of his head, “you may take it as an order,Eve.”
“All right.” Tonightshe wouldn’t argue with him. “But I shan’t be letting himdown on Sunday. I’m going to lunch with his people–it’s somethingI want to do very much.”
With those words she left the threemen and walked across the hall to the curving staircase, feelingthe heat in her cheeks as she ran upstairs and hurried along toher suite. No, she wouldn’t let it start all over again, thatcoercion into a marriage she didn’t want. Life with James wouldhave been vapid and monotonous, but there was something aboutCarlisle’s mouth that warned her he was a sensualist as well asan art collector. She actually shivered when she thought of thatthick mouth with its full quota of hard white teeth descendingon hers … it reminded her … Oh God, she raked her fingersthrough her hair and tried to pull the tormenting memory out ofher reluctant mind. Something terribly, frightening, which musthave happened to her out in Africa. Had someone attacked her… had the soldier who had put her on the plane saved her fromthat attack?
Eve took a shower and all the timeshe was dressing her mind was probing for an answer to that question. It was awful to have a gap in her memory and to feel that itwas important that gap be filled in.
The mirror gave back her reflectionto her, outwardly poised and composed in a tulle dress in palest[161-162] green, with eyelet embroidery in the full sleeves. She sprayed on perfume and stared at the container. Tabu–nowwhy had she bought that the last time she had called in at thepharmacy in town? She usually bought Je Reviens, which was slightlymore discreet.
She met her own eyes in the mirroras she fastened a string of pearls, glossy as satin against herthroat and a get-well present from Charles just after she recoveredfrom her illness and came home to Lakeside from the hospital. She smoothed her hair, which fell in a glossy auburn wave downover her left profile . . . Garbo, she grinned, about to sit amongthe men and look like a femme fatale. She must rememberto tell Larry about that season of Bogart films they were puttingon at the Classic cinema . . .
“Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Eve raised her hands to her cheeksand her eyes begged . . . begged for the memory to complete itself. “Who are you?” she whispered, glancing around her bedroom. “Why do you haunt me like this? What were you to me . .. please, please, don’t hide from me!”
But all she saw was a lovely, high-ceilingedroom furnished with a Queen Anne bed, slipper chairs upholsteredin gold with hints of green, a handsome rosewood bookcase thatcurved at the sides, and an array of long windows draped in brocadereaching to a carpet woven with flowers in ivory against leaf-green.
A graceful, sedate room, where onlytwo men had ever entered, her guardian and her doctor. The ghost[162-163] that flirted with her memory had nothing whatever todo with this room, this house, or any part of Lakeside and itssurrounding country.
It was someone she had known outin Africa, and as her hand slid down her face, her neck, findingher heart, Eve knew that he was dead. Yes, she knew the feelingnow; it was an ache, a deep sense of very personal loss, whichmeant that she had cared for him. Who had he been . . . whathad he been, that unremembered man for whom, unaware, she woreTabu?
She went downstairs and sat composedlyat dinner with the three men, listening politely to their conversation,and ignoring the compliments that lay in Carlisle’s eyes eachtime he looked at her. They had fresh local lobsters stuffedwith onions, mushrooms, breadcrumbs and grated cheese, baked toa golden brown; steamed chicken with melon and shrimp, followedby iced coffee-cream. Her guardian had once served in a Governmentpost out in Barbados, and he was still fond of the food and hadit served at Lakeside at least twice a week.
“A most excellent meal, goodsir,” Carlisle leaned back in his chair and looked as sleekand replete as a well-fed wolf, Eve told herself. “If youand Tyler are going to smoke, may I ask Miss Tarrant to inviteme for a stroll on your lakeside terrace?”
“By all means, Stephen.” Charlies ignored Eve’s glance of appeal. “A cigar is thesolace of the middle-aged man, but you’re entitled to enjoy thecompany of a pretty girl. I believe there’s a midsummer moon,and our lake is a picture you won’t be able to buy with your dollars. Run along, Eve, show our American friend what an English gardencan look like in the moonlight.”
[163-164] Eve wanted to run, buteven before she reached the door Stephen Carlisle had his handbeneath her elbow, his fingers closing upon her arm so that she’dlook undignified if she tried to shake free of him. “Youwon’t need a wrap, will you?” he murmured. “The nightis warm and I’d hate you to cover up that charming dress.”
Eve knew what he really meant, thathe didn’t want her to cover up the slim figure which the dressflattered. “I really would like my cloak,” she saidin a cool voice. “Although the midsummer days are warm,the nights are quite chilly.”
“You sound rather chilly yourself.” He held her under the hall lights and forced her to look at him. “Don’t you like me — Eve? Women usually do.”
“How nice for your ego, Mr.Carlisle,” she rejoined. “But I happen to have a rathernice young man who works very hard for his living, and it wouldbe unfair to him if I allowed other men to get the idea that I’m–free.”
“Your guardian has assuredme that nothing of a definite nature exists between you and thisyoung man, and even so, Eve, I wouldn’t be put off by even a fiancéif I felt strongly enough attracted to a girl, and you’re veryattractive.” His eyes slid over her. “It really istrue, isn’t it, that English girls have an outward air of coolness,even aloofness, but they smoulder beneath it. I came to Englandnot only to buy works of art for my house in Manhattan, but Icame in search of a wife–“
“Mr. Carlisle,” Eve pulledforcibly away from him, “I am not in the marriage market,no matter what my guardian might have implied. I am not up forauction like some–some damned painting! I live my own life [164-165]and I choose who I want to care for, and you are not the typeof man I could ever imagine myself caring for!”
“How your eyes take fire whenyou get aroused,” he drawled. “Funnily enough, I likeyou better for not falling into my arms right away, for when aman is rich there are too many women ready to throw themselvesat his head. You really intrigue me, Eve. You really make itsound as if you prefer some impecunious medical student to a manof considerable means–what are you, honey, some kind of romantic?”
“Perhaps I am.” She tossedher hair and it gleamed with deep tawny lights. “I expectwe’re a dying breed in this age of meretricious love affairs.”
“More and more do I like you.” A smile curled around his heavy mouth. “Little did I realisewhen I accepted an invitation to Derrington’s house that I’d finda gem of a girl in his collection of rare stones and coins, whichwas my direct reason for coming here. Now aren’t you going toshow me the lake from the terrace?”
“I’ll fetch my cloak.” Eve walked across to the big oak closet in the hall which containedodd coats and wraps. The cloak she wanted was an old black velvetone with a cowl, and as she took it from the closet she couldfeel Stephen Carlisle staring at her and moving his gave up anddown the silken fall of hair over her left eye. She swung thecloak around her and quickly covered her hair with the cowl, andshe saw his teeth show hard and white against his tanned skinas he studied her.
“Are you hoping that outfitmakes you look like a nun?” he enquired.
Eve disdained to answer him andmoved across to the small flight of curving stairs that led tothe terrace. She opened the glass doors and stepped out intothe night, [165-166] moving to the curved parapet, built likethis long ago to accommodate the wide crinolines of the era inwhich Lakeside had been erected.
She stood tensely by the balustrade,aware of Carlisle’s tall figure behind her. Above them was themilky radiance of the midsummer sky at night, with a glitteringshell of a moon reflected in the still water of the lake. Thereeds in the shallows were softly rustling and the willow leaveswere whispering . . . it was a glorious night and Eve could feelthat ache in her heart that Larry Mitchell was possibly too youngto assuage, and this man Carlisle too self-centred to ever understand.
“Your guardian is right abouthis lake,” he murmured. “It really is a picture thatwould be hard to put upon canvas with any justice. Tell me, Eve,has he never wanted to have your portrait painted?”
“When I was eighteen,”she said, “but I didn’t like the idea. Portraits shouldonly be painted after people have really lived–and suffered.”
“So that they have character,eh, and don’t resemble birthday cards.” He stepped roundto her side and leaned an elbow on the parapet, the moonlighton the angular planes of his face. “This is how I wouldhave you painted, Eve, clad only in this cloak with the cowl thrownback on the nape of your neck, your eyes upon that glimmeringlake as if you see there what other people haven’t eyes to see. What is it, I wonder? The golden sword of some knight in shiningarmour?”
“What nonsense!” she scoffed,even as her fingers clenched the stone balustrade. “I’mnot that foolishly romantic, Mr. Carlisle.”
“Won’t you call me Stephen?”
[166-167] “What would be thepoint?” she asked coolly. “I shan’t be seeing you againafter tonight.”
“From any other girl I wouldconstrue that remark as a hook doing a little fishing.” He leaned nearer to her. “I very much want to see you againand I shall let your guardian know this quite frankly. He knowsyour worth, Eve. He won’t allow you to throw yourself away ona medical student who even when qualified will earn barely enoughto support a wife–least of all a young woman who has been accustomedto the kind of life Charles Derrington has provided for you hereat Lakeside. Could you really live in a cramped apartment, makingends meet on a few pounds a week? Could your romantic feelingssurvive on that kind of love?”
“I imagine real love couldsurvive any kind of odds,” she rejoined. “If I marriedLarry I’d go on working so that we could pool our earnings. I’dbe his partner, not his possessions [sic].”
“My dear Eve, you were madeto be a man’s possession,” he laughed, softly and sensuously. “Come, be honest with yourself. You know in your heartthat you don’t want a boy but a real man, one who has had experienceof life, who can show you the world, and bring out all the glowingwoman in you. There is such a woman in you, coolly restrainedat the moment, held in chains that need to be broken by a strongman. Then what a change in you, running madly to him with yourhair like a vixen’s in the sun.”
Eve stared at him and felt a suddenthrob of the heart. Why did his words strike her as familiar. . . a vixen in the sun he had called her, but it wasn’t thefirst time a man had said that to her.
[167-168] “That is the colourof your hair, isn’t it?” he drawled. “Vixen red?”
“I–I suppose it is. If you’veseen enough of the lake, shall we–“
“No.” His hand closedover hers, tightening those big, well-manicured fingers abouthers. “I like your company, Eve, and I don’t want to loseit. Allow me to book seats for the theatre, and afterwards wecould go on to a supper club. Allow yourself to get to know me. Some of the greatest love affairs have evolved from antagonismat first.”
“You’re very sure of yourself,aren’t you?” Eve exclaimed. “I’ve only ever known oneother man who–” There she broke off, glancing away fromhim towards the lake. She listened to those mysterious night-timesounds that the water made as it rippled around the reeds andmoved the willow tresses. She stared at the water and she didseem to imagine that someone might come moonlit out of the lake,shaking the drops off black hair, tough and primitive as someanimal of the jungle. Eve shivered, for his ghost was walkingagain, but when she peered forward across the balustrade therewere only trees at the edge of the lake and nothing tangible forher to reach for.
As she sighed, Carlisle’s fingerstightened painfully on her hand.
“Who was this man you speakof? He was important to you, eh?”
“I think he was–“
“Where is he now? Do you stillsee him?”
“You–” Eve turned herhead to look at the American, a stranger to her until tonight. “You have no right to question me about him. You have nohold on me, so don’t go assuming one!”
[168-169] “No hold, you say,eh?” Abruptly he pulled her to him and was bringing hislips down to crush hers when she swiftly turned her head and hismouth descended on the velvet cowl and she heard him curse.
“Let me go, Mr. Carlisle, orI shall let loose a scream and tell my guardian that you triedto rape me–our rape laws in England are still rather grim, especiallyif the ward of a local magistrate should be involved.”
His arms fell away from her andhe forced a smile to his face, even though his brows were meshedtogether above thwarted eyes. “You’ve quite a sharp littletongue on you, haven’t you, Eve? You’re overdue for a bit oftaming, that’s your trouble. Is that how you lost the first man,and why you’re now running around with a bit of a boy? Does itfrighten you when a man exerts his strength?”
“Any bully can show his muscles,”she said scornfully. “When a woman wants to be kissed sheenjoys that superior show of strength–“
“You mean you’ve actually enjoyedbeing kissed?” he sneered.
Eve didn’t even bother to replyto him but walked away down the steps to the hall and across tothe drawing-room where she looked in to say goodnight to Tylerand to wonder as she wished her guardian goodnight how he couldthrust her on to someone like Carlisle and assume that she’d bedazzled by his money and ignore his arrogance with regard to women.
“Where’s Stephen?” Charlesenquired and a little hard glint came into his eyes, such as sheremembered from the days when she had fought not to be throwninto marriage with James. Oh God, she thought tiredly, how mistaken you could be about those who were supposed to love you, or at least care what became of you.
[169-170] “Gone to the devilfor all I care,” she said, and there was a chill little noteof disillusion in her voice. “And you might as well know,Guardy, that he won’t be putting in a bid for me–he’s found outthat I don’t go for the branding-iron type of charm. I’m my ownperson, Charles. I earn my own living and I stay under your roofbecause I thought you wanted my company, but if we’re back tothe old system of selecting a rich man to keep me in heart-rottingidleness, then I pack my bag and leave in the morning. Goodnight!”
Eve went upstairs, feeling unhappyand nervy. She clung to the thought of Larry . . . he at leastwanted her for herself, with none of this bartering her body andsoul for the sake of a socially acceptable and financially suitablematch, regardless of whether it made her happy or miserable.
Inside her bedroom, with the doorfirmly closed, she lay stretched along the length of her bed,her face buried deep in her arms. She didn’t weep but felt wavesof grief and hopeless longing sweep over her. She wanted love. . . the love she had lost somewhere on the other side of theearth . . . somewhere on the other side of heaven. It was anactive pain deep inside her and she knew . . . knew with everyfibre of her body and heart that she loved the man and she wasnever going to see him again. And he had cared about her . .. cared as no one else ever had, and her fingers clenched thebedcover and she felt as if never again would there be anyonein her life who would love her so selflessly.
“What was your name?”she whispered. “Why can’t I remember your name or the wayyou looked when I remember with my heart that you loved me?”
She sat up, staring into the washof moonlight [170-171] through the windows where the drapes wereopen to let in the air. Her heart was beating fast and she wasseeing the flames of a burning town, hearing the gunfire, feelingthe hard clasp of arms as she was carried through the streetsto the airfield. A rough-looking soldier, they had said, whoplaced her in the care of the stewardess and then vanished backinto the flames and the fighting.
A soldier, torn, grubby, unshaven,making sure she got to safety, and then turning back to face thebedlam . . . and to be killed.
He was dead, otherwise he’d havecome to her, found her again, put those hard arms around her andmade her safe for always. The hot tears filled her eyes, andshe was crying her heart out when Charles Derrington came intoher room and switched on the light.
“Good heavens, child!” He drew her against his shoulder and stroked her tousled hair. “Are you feeling ill?”
She fought with the tears and shookher head.
“Then why are you upsettingyourself like this, talking about packing your bag and leavingme? Tyler gave me a ticking-off, d’you know that? Said I waspushing you again and you aren’t a girl to be pushed on to anyman–look, what is it, my pet? Do you want to marry that youngdoctor, is that it? Think I won’t approve? Well, if that’s whatyou want, Eve, then maybe we can see about making him some kindof an allowance so that he can–well, I don’t want you livingin rooms somewhere, going hungry, or anything like that–“
“Guardy,” she drew awayfrom him, her face tear-streaked and the tip of her nose pinkfrom weeping, “I–I don’t want to marry anyone–not yet–maybenot [171-172] ever. Don’t you understand? There was someone–someoneI loved so much that it still goes on hurting a–and I don’t–can’tput anyone in his place. He loved me and saved my life,”the hot aching tears fell again from her eyes and burned againsther lips. “He’s dead and I can’t stop my heart from achingfor him, a–and the awful part is that I can’t remember the verylast thing he said to me–the very last time he kissed me. Ijust know he loved me and I–I want him–I want him, Guardy, andhe’s dead!”
She was weeping unrestrainedly now,trembling and grieving for what she had lost. Charles soothedher as best he could, but now she had given way to the pent-upemotion she couldn’t seem to restrain it.
“Why couldn’t I die with him?”she sobbed. “Why must I go on alone?”
“Who was this man, Eve?” Her guardian made her look at him through her wet, unhappy eyes. “Why haven’t you mentioned him before?”
“I–I think my mind found partingfrom him so unbearable that it didn’t want to remember, but nowI know–it was the soldier who put me on the last plane out ofTanga, that awful day when the insurgents took over and the fightingwas so bad. He made sure I was safe, that I’d be brought to England,and then he joined in the fighting a–and got himself killed.”
“My dear child, how can yoube so sure he was killed? What was his name? We can check withthe War Office–“
“He was a mercenary and I–Ican’t recall his name. I only knew we were madly in love witheach other–“
“That rough-looking soldier?”Charles looked at her askance.
[172-173] “Wouldn’t you lookrough, Guardy, if you were fighting your way through the smokeand blood of an uprising?” Eve made a determined effortto pull herself together, wiping her face with the handkerchiefCharles gave her and taking a couple of deep breaths to calm herself. “I know in my heart he was the most gallant man I ever met. . . I shall never know another like him.”
“Eve, you’re young and youmustn’t talk like this–there’s every likelihood that if the fellowisn’t dead and you saw him again, in ordinary circumstances, you’drealise that the glamour and danger of being rescued by him madehim seem like–like some bold knight who snatched you to safety.War has that effect on people. It heightens all the emotionsand a meeting that in normal circumstances would seem fairly mundanetakes on dimensions out of the ordinary.”
“No,” Eve shook her headand in her heart was very certain of what she had felt for herunknown soldier. “He was very special to me, Guardy, andthat’s why I’m so impatient with men like Stephen Carlisle. He’sso full of his self-importance, and if danger ever threatenedhim, he’d stamp all over those who got in his way to the safetyexit. Guardy, would you really thrust me on a man like that?”
“It seems you wouldn’t letme.” Charles gave her a quizzical smile and stroked thehair from her brow. “You’ve a mind of your own, and it seems,a heart. What about young Larry Mitchell? You are aware thathe’s fond of you?”
“I like Larry enormously, butI’m not thinking in terms of marriage, Guardy. It will take himseveral years to become fully qualified, but in the meantime I[173-174] enjoy his company, and I’ve agreed to meet his parents.I’m looking forward to Sunday.”
Eve nodded. “They live nearRegent’s Gate, though his mother came originally from County Mayo. They sound very nice.”
“Then you go and enjoy yourself.” Charles pressed his lips to her forehead. “And I’ll promisenot to invite Carlisle to Lakeside any more. A pity he’s notyour type, my pet. Seems he has enormous holdings in land andproperty–“
“Oh, Guardy!” Eve hadto laugh. “You’ll always harbour the Edwardian idea thatmarriage is made in a bank and not in heaven. My dear, marriagemeans living with a man in a way more totally personal than anyother kind of living, and I couldn’t give myself if I didn’t respectand admire beyond all others the man I married. Call me hopelesslyromantic if you like, but that’s the way I’m made. Love meansmore to me than money ever could–I believe I could live in amud hut on real love.”
Charles, who loved his cigars andhis comfortable home, gave Eve a perplexed look. “That’seasily said, my child, but if you ever tried it you’d soon changeyour tune.”
“But I have tried it,”she heard herself say, but she spoke so softly that Charles didn’treally catch what she said, and was rising to his feet with ayawn.
“Get a good night’s rest,”he said. “You’ll feel more yourself in the morning–it’sonly at night when the ghosts walk, eh?”
Eve nodded, and when he had goneshe lay for some time on her bed, visualising a future that wouldnever hold again the love she had found in Africa. It was lost,but very gradually the memories were coming back to her and oneday soon she would remember everything . . . she would see againin her heart the face she had loved.
Hear again that beloved voice .. . “Here’s looking at you, kid . . .”