Eve leapt to meet the ball with her
racket, swinging a graceful, slicing stroke that sent the ball
whizzing past her opponent's shoulder. He laughed even as he
lost the game to her, and ran towards the tennis net that divided
them, the sun agleam on his rumpled dark hair and alight in his
grey eyes. A very attractive young man in his white shirt and
slacks, who gazed across at Eve with an appreciative smile as
she spun her racket in the air and caught it, clad herself in
a 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 court and they strolled together across the lawn towards Lakeside, considered one of the most gracious houses in this part of Essex. At the rear of the rambling, mullioned, red-tiled house was a lake and a gazebo, and sunken gardens aflame with wall-roses at this time of the year.
Midsummer, and one of the warmest England had enjoyed for many a year, so that tennis was frequent and there was usually a friend or two for Eve to play with.
They entered the lounge through open glass doors, a long cool room whose walls were silver-grey, the perfect background for the fine suite of Regency furniture and the few fine paintings. Eve watched as Larry Mitchell looked around him, an appreciative gleam in his [147-148] eyes . . . Eve liked his eyes, and whenever she looked into them she felt a vague stirring of recollection, as though he reminded her of someone 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 wildness in you somewhere--it comes out when you play against a chap, or ride that creamy-coated mare of yours. You seem to have two sides to you."
"Hasn't everyone?" She pressed a finger to a bell attached to the wall. "We've all a sunny side and a shadowy one, haven't we? You as a budding doctor should know about the complexes and traumas that make people what they are. Are you still enjoying it at St. Saviour's, training under Clavering? It was he who operated on my arm that time I nearly 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 where all 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 ever had blood-poisoning so bad that you almost lost your arm--such nice arms!"
"Are you flirting with me?" She smiled a little, and found him very attractive and easy to tease. Larry never lost his temper, and yet she suspected that he, too, had a certain amount of temperament in his make-up. He had very definite views about certain things and once or twice had fallen into arguments with her guardian about the way the country was being run.
"Rebellion is hard to put down once it flares," he had [148-149] said the other evening. "It could happen in England just as it's happened elsewhere."
"Nonsense." Charles Derrington had lit a fat cigar and puffed smoke with that self-confident air of his, as if, Eve thought, Victoria was still on the throne and England was still a mighty empire with nothing to fear from anyone. "With all our faults, Mr. Mitchell, we're a civilised nation of people and could never commit the atrocities on each other that these--er--foreigners are committing."
"What about Belfast?" Larry had asked, and Eve had seen a very grim look come to his face when he mentioned that strife-torn city.
"The Irish are hot-headed," her guardian had replied. "Always have been, always will be."
"I've a bit of Irish in me," Larry had said, and Eve smiled to herself as she recalled the look which her guardian had directed at the tall, dark-haired trainee doctor, whose eyes of light grey were so darkly fringed. Since Charles had given in reluctantly to her insistence that she wouldn't be forced into marriage with James, he seemed to regard every young man who came to Lakeside as her prospective bridegroom. He had very nearly lost her to illness eighteen months ago and since then he had been far less demanding and autocratic. She was all he had, for Charles Derrington had never felt the urge to marry, and they had been closer to each other since those days and nights of restless fever and pain, culminating in a fearsomely poisoned arm which she had very nearly lost.
She felt Larry moving his thumb against her skin, and very gently but firmly she drew away from him. She liked him and was glad they had met at the St. Saviour's dance, where she worked as a nursing aide, but she [149-150] wasn't in love with him . . . not yet, at least. Somehow Eve felt no inclination to fall in love, she merely wanted to be of use and to enjoy her leisure hours with genial companions.
A capped and aproned maid wheeled in a trolley, with a silver teapot and bone china tea-service laid out on a lace cloth. Everything in Charles Derrington's house was run in a very gracious and conventional manner; in Eve's eyes the old dear was hopelessly old-fashioned and one of the few people these days who was able to command absolute old-world loyalty 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. "I feel each time I come to Lakeside as if I'm transported back into the Thirties. I believe that's when your guardian decided to stop the clock."
"It's possible." Eve gave a laugh and gestured to him to take a seat. "And do help yourself to sandwiches."
Larry sat down in a deep armchair and watched Eve as she poured the tea, adding the cream and sugar they both liked. The sun through the long windows found red lights in her hair, which was a careless cascade on her shoulders, a foxfire contrast to her smooth honey skin. When she handed him his cup he looked into her eyes, a deep topaz, lovely and seemingly untroubled.
"Are you Irish on your father's side?" she asked, leaning back with her own cup of tea, and feeling very much at ease in his company.
"No, my mother's." He sipped his tea appreciatively. "She came from County Mayo and still has a brogue, [150-151] and some of their special sort of charm with a dash of the devil mixed in. I suspect I have some of that in me, for I enjoy locking horns with your guardian."
Eve gave a chuckle. "He's mellowed with age, believe me. There was a time when he might have thrown you out on your ear for daring to oppose his conservative ideas. But I believe he rather likes you, Larry."
"Do you like me?" Larry's eyes grew beguiling in his lean face. "I've never met a girl like you, Eve. It isn't only that you're lovely, but you have a kind of gallantry about you--you don't have to work at the 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 body of yours."
"Just listen to the blarney," she mocked. "I work because it would drive me mad with boredom to sit about the house, arrange the roses and go to card-parties in the afternoons. I need the stimulation of a job, and I once made myself useful at a mission run by nuns."
"That was out in Africa, wasn't it?" He bit into a sandwich and regarded her slim, charming figure with amazed eyes, as if she seemed too young to have packed into her life that kind of experience, from which she had returned a very sick person, even yet unable to recall all the details of her escape from Tanga.
"Yes--Africa." Eve frowned and felt again that elusive memory that seemed always to be fretting the edge of her outward content. "I was with the nuns and somehow we got away--someone got us away."
"It must have been frightening for you--Eve, what made you go out there in the first place, knowing there was trouble brewing?"
"A man," she laughed. "I didn't want to marry him, so [151-152] I ran away--it's like something out of a true-hearts serial, isn't it?"
"You mean you were expected to marry him regardless of your feelings--a girl like you?" Larry's eyes held a sudden blaze. "You'd have to love and be loved--madly."
"Love?" She nibbled a scone. "I think love is a barrel of honey and broken glass."
"How uncomfortable you make it sound!" Larry gave her a curious look, slightly laced with jealousy. "Are you speaking from experience?"
Eve stared beyond the windows towards the trees, for at this end of the lounge they looked on to the lake and there the tall green and gold willows were thick . . . almost jungle-thick. "I don't know," she said. "I have some odd mental blanks left from that time I was ill, and then I ask myself if it's possible for love to be forgotten if we've ever experienced it. What do you think?"
"If love had been painful for you, then you might want to forget it," he replied.
"Yes," she nodded. "Perhaps the man didn't love me in return, but all the same it's provoking not to remember. Don't we shut from our minds our unbearable sins 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 again that odd, elusive flicker of remembrance. "I think you're one of the most sensitive girls I've ever met, and possibly one of the most passionate--curiously enough those two go hand in hand."
"Passion and sensitivity?" she murmured.
"The ability to feel a high degree of emotion either [152-153] way," he said. "The trouble is I can't imagine what kind of man could let you go if he knew you cared for him. He'd have to be--ruthless."
"Ruthless," she echoed, and then she gave a slight, almost cynical smile. "I think love is a small harbour on the borderland of dreamland, and that's all I'm doing, I'm dreaming there was something when there was nothing. Have a strawberry tart. They're homemade and delicious."
"Thanks," he took one and bit into it. "Are you happy, Eve?"
She considered his question, slim legs curled beneath her on the couch. "I think I must be, Larry. I have a nice home, a guardian who no longer treats me as if I were an Edwardian box of candy to be handed to the most suitable suitor, and I'm interested in my hospital work. I think I'm reasonably content with my life. What about you, Larry?"
"I'm doing the work I've always wanted to do, and I've had the good luck to meet you, Eve. You often invite me to Lakeside and I'm wondering if one day you'll come and meet my people? They live in London, near Regent's Gate, and they'd be terribly pleased to meet you. I could drive you up in that little bus of mine, if you'll agree to come."
Eve considered his invitation and was just slightly worried by it. She didn't want Larry to get serious about her, yet on the other hand it would seem unkind if she refused to meet his family.
"Do say you'll come," he coaxed. "I have a free afternoon next Sunday and if the weather stays like this it will make a nice run into London, and my little bus isn't too bad. I was lucky to get it--had a rather generous [153-154] birthday cheque all the way from Morocco."
"Morocco?" Eve looked intrigued. "Have you a relative out there?"
He nodded and his eyes filled with an eagerness that was boyish. "It's my mother's cousin. He's been quite a rover in his time, and now he's settled down to produce citrus fruits on this rather tumbledown estate he took over about nine months ago. He seems to be making it work, which doesn't surprise me, for he's that sort of man. Hard in some ways, but you could trust him with your life. I--I can't help admitting I'm fond of him, apart from which he helped with my education--sent money so that my people could let me train to be a doctor. My dad is a train driver, you see. He loves the work, but no one pretends they earn a fortune, so the money always came in handy."
"I think I like the sound of your family, Larry." Eve had suddenly made up her mind. "I'd love to meet your parents--I've always been fascinated by train drivers."
He grinned, a long line slashing itself in his left cheek, making her stare at him and think how attractive he was--youthful-looking, of course, but in a few years' time he'd be quite a man.
"I'll pick you up about noon next Sunday and we'll go to lunch with Ma and Pa, if you'd like that. Roast beef, batter pudding and baked potatoes--you can't do Dad out of his Sunday traditional."
"Sounds lovely," she said warmly, and leaning forward on impulse she pressed Larry's hand with hers, moving back adroitly when he would have caught her fingers to his lips. Eve shook her head at him. "Friends don't get soppy, and I want us to be friends--for now."
"Leaving me with a little margin for hope?" he quizzed her.
[154-155] "You're young, Larry, and the world is full of girls. Some of those nurses at St. Saviour's are very attractive in their uniforms, especially in that blue cape with the little chain across the throat."
"None of them can touch you," he rejoined, running his eyes over her hair and face. "You have 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 tuneful melody of a romantic era lost down the pages of time . . . I'll see you again, whenever spring breaks through again . . . Eve didn't know why it haunted her, but somehow it did. Then with a careless laugh, she broke into a more modern tune and said over her shoulder to Larry:
"If you're off duty this evening we could go and dance at the Beach Club. At least the band plays civilised, schmaltzy music."
"I'd like that." He was standing right behind her and she tensed. "Play that other tune again--that more sentimental one. It's a Noël Coward song, 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!" Eve laughed at the mere idea. "Charles is an ardent fan of Leonard Bernstein and he deplores my fondness for the light stuff, as he calls it. Charles likes a full orchestra playing something very deep and complicated--he considers my taste in music, books and drama very flighty considering what he spent on my education. Dear Charles, he really should have had a daughter of his own who might have taken after him, as it is he's landed with me."
"He's a lucky man," Larry murmured, and though she had warned him not to kiss her, he suddenly leaned [155-156] down and brushed his lips across the top of her head. "I wish I could take you dancing, Eve, but I've got to get back and sign in for some emergency duty, and you know what Saturday night can be like when the football crowds are in town. But it is definite about next Sunday, isn't it? It's a firm promise?"
She turned round on the piano bench to look at him, seeing a lock of dark hair across his forehead and 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 and nodded, twisting his mouth and giving her a wistful look. "You're a temptress, Eve, but duty calls and I've just twenty minutes to make it to the hospital. Noon on Sunday, and it won't come quick enough for me!"
"Nor me," she smiled, and saw him to the front steps, where his small low-slung car was waiting for him. He swung in behind the wheel and she waved him goodbye, watching until the yellow car swung out of the gates on to the main road. It was quiet after Larry had left and Eve began to stroll in the direction of the garden, where the bright roses were entangled in rays of sunlight, and where the leaves scarcely stirred in the warmth of the afternoon. Suddenly she felt faintly depressed and the scent of the roses seemed to add to her feeling of . . . now what kind of a feeling was it? She paused and put out a hand to touch a rose, which broke and scattered its petals the moment her fingers came in contact with its velvety loveliness.
She watched the petals drift to the path . . . love might be like that, she thought. One moment a glowing [156-157] thing in the sunshine, and the next a sad little heap of memories.
Loss . . . yes, that was what she felt. Could it be that saying goodbye to Larry had induced this feeling in her? Was she growing fonder of him than she had realised, or thought wise? He was very genuine, good company and most attractive in a lean dark way, but he was younger than she, not only by a year, but in other ways . . . emotional ways.
She wandered on towards the lake, cool and shiimmering and faintly dyed with red as the sun began to decline in the sky above the willows. She leaned against a tree and rubbed the forefinger of her left hand against the scar down the side of her thumb.
She wished it would all come back to her, what had happened to her in Africa, but all she knew from her guardian, and it seemed he had got his information from the flight crew of the plane on which she had travelled home to England, was that a rough-looking soldier had carried her through the gunfire and the burning streets of Tanga and after seeing her safely aboard the aircraft had vanished into the raging noise and confusion of a town under siege. He had safety-pinned a note on Eve's shirt telling the crew her name and where she lived, but beyond this they knew nothing of the man, and Eve often wished she could have found a way to thank him. When she had tried to contact Sister Mercy and the other nuns she had received the shattering reply that they had been killed when a shell had landed on the mission where they had been working in Tanga . . . Eve had wept when she received such sad news about those kind, brave, self-sacrificing women.
Why, Eve wondered, her gaze on the darkening lake, [157-158] did kindness and goodness have to be so cruelly rewarded? Or was it true that the pure in soul found their haven high up there beyond all the clouds, all the sorrows? She hoped so, and further hoped that somewhere that rough-looking soldier was still alive and hadn't perished in the fighting at Tanga.
Peace was now restored there under the new President, and Eve hoped it would last and the wild loveliness of Africa could flourish again and the wonderful birds and beasts return to their old haunts, to fish and hunt and stretch tawny in the sun.
Oh lord, she was getting hopelessly nostalgic and had better return to the house before those silly tears started up again. She had no reason to cry . . . her guardian was good to her, and on Sunday she was driving to London with Larry to meet new people and exchange fresh ideas. Life was good, and she thrust away from her that strange shadow that sometimes seemed to haunt her . . . a memory that wouldn't take shape much as 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 voices in the study, where the door was partially open. She peered in and there was Charles with a couple of his business friends, and she 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 paintings at Christie's. And you know Tyler, of course."
"Hullo, Tyler," she smiled at one of her guardian's oldest friends, and held out her hand to the tall American, who had one of those ugly-attractive faces in the [158-159] Abraham Lincoln tradition. As he shook hands with her, his brown eyes ran over her slim, white-clad figure and her hair that had a foxfire gleam under the lights of the study.
"When I say it's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Derrington, I mean it."
"Thank you," she said, wriggling her fingers which he held on to. "But I'm the ward of the house, not the daughter, and my surname is Tarrant."
"I see." He smiled, showing big strong American teeth. "Is that Miss Tarrant?"
"It is." She cast an appealing glance at Charles. "Do tell your friend that I'd like my hand back so I can go and change for dinner."
But her guardian chuckled and looked rather pleased with himself as he drew on his cigar. Ah, thought Eve, so the American was wealthy and Charles was match-making again. Well, that wouldn't do, for Eve had already decided that if she was going to let love into her life, then she couldn't do better than let her friendship with Larry Mitchell grow into something warmer and closer. There was something about Larry . . . the more she saw of him the more he appealed to her. She wished of course that he was older, but they had plenty of time to develop their relationship, and with him she'd be a companion rather than a possession.
Stephen Carlisle looked the type who would regard a woman as he regarded the paintings he bought, something to be owned and admired, but whose opinions would be disregarded. Eve made a determined effort and pulled free of his handclasp. She saw his thick eyebrows pull together and she knew she was right about him . . . he was the arrogant, rather humourless type [159-160] who thought his money made him irresistible.
"I must excuse myself right after dinner," she told Charles. "I have a date at the Beach Club."
"Surely you can break it?" he said, giving her a slight frown. "If it's with young Larry Mitchell, then he'll forgive you."
"You underestimate Larry," she replied, uncaring that she had told a white lie in order to escape the further attentions of Stephen Carlisle; she'd drive to the club, for there was always someone there whom she knew and could dance with. "Larry is very strong-willed Charles. He's taking me to meet his parents on Sunday."
Her guardian clamped his teeth on his cigar and Eve could see that he was none too pleased by her piece of information. She knew he quite liked Larry, but for him there was no denying that the young student doctor was poor and struggling and hardly the auspicious match that he wanted for 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'm not saying that young Mitchell isn't a rather handsome lad, but he'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 local grandfathers! Larry's a dear--"
"He's a cub, and you'll ring the Beach Club and tell him you can't make it tonight because I 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 chin tilted and her eyes [160-161] defiant. She hadn't needed to defy him in a long time, and that alone told her that he was banking on Carlisle making an impression on her. Good lord, was he a millionaire?
"Yes," Charles gave a curt inclination of his head, "you may take it as an order, Eve."
"All right." Tonight she wouldn't argue with him. "But I shan't be letting him down on Sunday. I'm going to lunch with his people--it's something I want to do very much."
With those words she left the three men and walked across the hall to the curving staircase, feeling the heat in her cheeks as she ran upstairs and hurried along to her suite. No, she wouldn't let it start all over again, that coercion into a marriage she didn't want. Life with James would have been vapid and monotonous, but there was something about Carlisle's mouth that warned her he was a sensualist as well as an art collector. She actually shivered when she thought of that thick mouth with its full quota of hard white teeth descending on hers ... it reminded her ... Oh God, she raked her fingers through her hair and tried to pull the tormenting memory out of her reluctant mind. Something terribly, frightening, which must have happened to her out in Africa. Had someone attacked her ... had the soldier who had put her on the plane saved her from that attack?
Eve took a shower and all the time she 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 it was important that gap be filled in.
The mirror gave back her reflection to 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--now why had she bought that the last time she had called in at the pharmacy in town? She usually bought Je Reviens, which was slightly more discreet.
She met her own eyes in the mirror as she fastened a string of pearls, glossy as satin against her throat and a get-well present from Charles just after she recovered from her illness and came home to Lakeside from the hospital. She smoothed her hair, which fell in a glossy auburn wave down over her left profile . . . Garbo, she grinned, about to sit among the men and look like a femme fatale. She must remember to tell Larry about that season of Bogart films they were putting on at the Classic cinema . . .
"Here's looking at you, kid."
Eve raised her hands to her cheeks and 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-ceilinged room furnished with a Queen Anne bed, slipper chairs upholstered in gold with hints of green, a handsome rosewood bookcase that curved at the sides, and an array of long windows draped in brocade reaching to a carpet woven with flowers in ivory against leaf-green.
A graceful, sedate room, where only two men had ever entered, her guardian and her doctor. The ghost [162-163] that flirted with her memory had nothing whatever to do with this room, this house, or any part of Lakeside and its surrounding country.
It was someone she had known out in Africa, and as her hand slid down her face, her neck, finding her heart, Eve knew that he was dead. Yes, she knew the feeling now; it was an ache, a deep sense of very personal loss, which meant that she had cared for him. Who had he been . . . what had he been, that unremembered man for whom, unaware, she wore Tabu?
She went downstairs and sat composedly at dinner with the three men, listening politely to their conversation, and ignoring the compliments that lay in Carlisle's eyes each time he looked at her. They had fresh local lobsters stuffed with onions, mushrooms, breadcrumbs and grated cheese, baked to a golden brown; steamed chicken with melon and shrimp, followed by iced coffee-cream. Her guardian had once served in a Government post out in Barbados, and he was still fond of the food and had it served at Lakeside at least twice a week.
"A most excellent meal, good sir," Carlisle leaned back in his chair and looked as sleek and replete as a well-fed wolf, Eve told herself. "If you and Tyler are going to smoke, may I ask Miss Tarrant to invite me for a stroll on your lakeside terrace?"
"By all means, Stephen." Charlies ignored Eve's glance of appeal. "A cigar is the solace of the middle-aged man, but you're entitled to enjoy the company 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 garden can look like in the moonlight."
[163-164] Eve wanted to run, but even before she reached the door Stephen Carlisle had his hand beneath her elbow, his fingers closing upon her arm so that she'd look undignified if she tried to shake free of him. "You won't need a wrap, will you?" he murmured. "The night is warm and I'd hate you to cover up that charming dress."
Eve knew what he really meant, that he didn't want her to cover up the slim figure which the dress flattered. "I really would like my cloak," she said in 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 rather nice young man who works very hard for his living, and it would be unfair to him if I allowed other men to get the idea that I'm--free."
"Your guardian has assured me that nothing of a definite nature exists between you and this young man, and even so, Eve, I wouldn't be put off by even a fiancé if I felt strongly enough attracted to a girl, and you're very attractive." His eyes slid over her. "It really is true, isn't it, that English girls have an outward air of coolness, even aloofness, but they smoulder beneath it. I came to England not only to buy works of art for my house in Manhattan, but I came in search of a wife--"
"Mr. Carlisle," Eve pulled forcibly away from him, "I am not in the marriage market, no matter what my guardian might have implied. I am not up for auction 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 type of man I could ever imagine myself caring for!"
"How your eyes take fire when you get aroused," he drawled. "Funnily enough, I like you better for not falling into my arms right away, for when a man is rich there are too many women ready to throw themselves at his head. You really intrigue me, Eve. You really make it sound as if you prefer some impecunious medical student to a man of considerable means--what are you, honey, some kind of romantic?"
"Perhaps I am." She tossed her hair and it gleamed with deep tawny lights. "I expect we'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 realise when I accepted an invitation to Derrington's house that I'd find a gem of a girl in his collection of rare stones and coins, which was my direct reason for coming here. Now aren't you going to show me the lake from the terrace?"
"I'll fetch my cloak." Eve walked across to the big oak closet in the hall which contained odd coats and wraps. The cloak she wanted was an old black velvet one with a cowl, and as she took it from the closet she could feel Stephen Carlisle staring at her and moving his gave up and down the silken fall of hair over her left eye. She swung the cloak around her and quickly covered her hair with the cowl, and she saw his teeth show hard and white against his tanned skin as he studied her.
"Are you hoping that outfit makes you look like a nun?" he enquired.
Eve disdained to answer him and moved across to the small flight of curving stairs that led to the terrace. She opened the glass doors and stepped out into the night, [165-166] moving to the curved parapet, built like this long ago to accommodate the wide crinolines of the era in which Lakeside had been erected.
She stood tensely by the balustrade, aware of Carlisle's tall figure behind her. Above them was the milky radiance of the midsummer sky at night, with a glittering shell of a moon reflected in the still water of the lake. The reeds in the shallows were softly rustling and the willow leaves were whispering . . . it was a glorious night and Eve could feel that ache in her heart that Larry Mitchell was possibly too young to assuage, and this man Carlisle too self-centred to ever understand.
"Your guardian is right about his lake," he murmured. "It really is a picture that would 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 should only be painted after people have really lived--and suffered."
"So that they have character, eh, and don't resemble birthday cards." He stepped round to her side and leaned an elbow on the parapet, the moonlight on the angular planes of his face. "This is how I would have you painted, Eve, clad only in this cloak with the cowl thrown back on the nape of your neck, your eyes upon that glimmering lake 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 shining armour?"
"What nonsense!" she scoffed, even as her fingers clenched the stone balustrade. "I'm not that foolishly romantic, Mr. Carlisle."
"Won't you call me Stephen?"
[166-167] "What would be the point?" she asked coolly. "I shan't be seeing you again after tonight."
"From any other girl I would construe that remark as a hook doing a little fishing." He leaned nearer to her. "I very much want to see you again and I shall let your guardian know this quite frankly. He knows your worth, Eve. He won't allow you to throw yourself away on a medical student who even when qualified will earn barely enough to support a wife--least of all a young woman who has been accustomed to the kind of life Charles Derrington has provided for you here at Lakeside. Could you really live in a cramped apartment, making ends meet on a few pounds a week? Could your romantic feelings survive on that kind of love?"
"I imagine real love could survive any kind of odds," she rejoined. "If I married Larry I'd go on working so that we could pool our earnings. I'd be his partner, not his possessions [sic]."
"My dear Eve, you were made to be a man's possession," he laughed, softly and sensuously. "Come, be honest with yourself. You know in your heart that you don't want a boy but a real man, one who has had experience of life, who can show you the world, and bring out all the glowing woman in you. There is such a woman in you, coolly restrained at the moment, held in chains that need to be broken by a strong man. Then what a change in you, running madly to him with your hair like a vixen's in the sun."
Eve stared at him and felt a sudden throb of the heart. Why did his words strike her as familiar . . . a vixen in the sun he had called her, but it wasn't the first time a man had said that to her.
[167-168] "That is the colour of your hair, isn't it?" he drawled. "Vixen red?"
"I--I suppose it is. If you've seen enough of the lake, shall we--"
"No." His hand closed over hers, tightening those big, well-manicured fingers about hers. "I like your company, Eve, and I don't want to lose it. Allow me to book seats for the theatre, and afterwards we could go on to a supper club. Allow yourself to get to know me. Some of the greatest love affairs have evolved from antagonism at first."
"You're very sure of yourself, aren't you?" Eve exclaimed. "I've only ever known one other man who--" There she broke off, glancing away from him towards the lake. She listened to those mysterious night-time sounds that the water made as it rippled around the reeds and moved the willow tresses. She stared at the water and she did seem to imagine that someone might come moonlit out of the lake, shaking the drops off black hair, tough and primitive as some animal of the jungle. Eve shivered, for his ghost was walking again, but when she peered forward across the balustrade there were only trees at the edge of the lake and nothing tangible for her to reach for.
As she sighed, Carlisle's fingers tightened painfully on her hand.
"Who was this man you speak of? He was important to you, eh?"
"I think he was--"
"Where is he now? Do you still see him?"
"You--" Eve turned her head to look at the American, a stranger to her until tonight. "You have no right to question me about him. You have no hold on me, so don't go assuming one!"
[168-169] "No hold, you say, eh?" Abruptly he pulled her to him and was bringing his lips down to crush hers when she swiftly turned her head and his mouth descended on the velvet cowl and she heard him curse.
"Let me go, Mr. Carlisle, or I shall let loose a scream and tell my guardian that you tried to rape me--our rape laws in England are still rather grim, especially if the ward of a local magistrate should be involved."
His arms fell away from her and he forced a smile to his face, even though his brows were meshed together above thwarted eyes. "You've quite a sharp little tongue on you, haven't you, Eve? You're overdue for a bit of taming, 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 it frighten you when a man exerts his strength?"
"Any bully can show his muscles," she said scornfully. "When a woman wants to be kissed she enjoys that superior show of strength--"
"You mean you've actually enjoyed being kissed?" he sneered.
Eve didn't even bother to reply to him but walked away down the steps to the hall and across to the drawing-room where she looked in to say goodnight to Tyler and to wonder as she wished her guardian goodnight how he could thrust her on to someone like Carlisle and assume that she'd be dazzled by his money and ignore his arrogance with regard to women.
"Where's Stephen?" Charles enquired and a little hard glint came into his eyes, such as she remembered from the days when she had fought not to be thrown into 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 devil for all I care," she said, and there was a chill little note of 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 out that I don't go for the branding-iron type of charm. I'm my own person, Charles. I earn my own living and I stay under your roof because I thought you wanted my company, but if we're back to the old system of selecting a rich man to keep me in heart-rotting idleness, then I pack my bag and leave in the morning. Goodnight!"
Eve went upstairs, feeling unhappy and nervy. She clung to the thought of Larry . . . he at least wanted her for herself, with none of this bartering her body and soul for the sake of a socially acceptable and financially suitable match, regardless of whether it made her happy or miserable.
Inside her bedroom, with the door firmly closed, she lay stretched along the length of her bed, her face buried deep in her arms. She didn't weep but felt waves of grief and hopeless longing sweep over her. She wanted love . . . the love she had lost somewhere on the other side of the earth . . . somewhere on the other side of heaven. It was an active pain deep inside her and she knew . . . knew with every fibre of her body and heart that she loved the man and she was never going to see him again. And he had cared about her . . . cared as no one else ever had, and her fingers clenched the bedcover and she felt as if never again would there be anyone in her life who would love her so selflessly.
"What was your name?" she whispered. "Why can't I remember your name or the way you looked when I remember with my heart that you loved me?"
She sat up, staring into the wash of moonlight [170-171] through the windows where the drapes were open to let in the air. Her heart was beating fast and she was seeing the flames of a burning town, hearing the gunfire, feeling the hard clasp of arms as she was carried through the streets to the airfield. A rough-looking soldier, they had said, who placed her in the care of the stewardess and then vanished back into the flames and the fighting.
A soldier, torn, grubby, unshaven, making sure she got to safety, and then turning back to face the bedlam . . . and to be killed.
He was dead, otherwise he'd have come to her, found her again, put those hard arms around her and made her safe for always. The hot tears filled her eyes, and she was crying her heart out when Charles Derrington came into her 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 shook her head.
"Then why are you upsetting yourself like this, talking about packing your bag and leaving me? Tyler gave me a ticking-off, d'you know that? Said I was pushing you again and you aren't a girl to be pushed on to any man--look, what is it, my pet? Do you want to marry that young doctor, is that it? Think I won't approve? Well, if that's what you want, Eve, then maybe we can see about making him some kind of an allowance so that he can--well, I don't want you living in rooms somewhere, going hungry, or anything like that--"
"Guardy," she drew away from him, her face tear-streaked and the tip of her nose pink from weeping, "I--I don't want to marry anyone--not yet--maybe not [171-172] ever. Don't you understand? There was someone--someone I loved so much that it still goes on hurting a--and I don't--can't put anyone in his place. He loved me and saved my life," the hot aching tears fell again from her eyes and burned against her lips. "He's dead and I can't stop my heart from aching for him, a--and the awful part is that I can't remember the very last thing he said to me--the very last time he kissed me. I just know he loved me and I--I want him--I want him, Guardy, and he's dead!"
She was weeping unrestrainedly now, trembling and grieving for what she had lost. Charles soothed her as best he could, but now she had given way to the pent-up emotion 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 parting from him so unbearable that it didn't want to remember, but now I know--it was the soldier who put me on the last plane out of Tanga, that awful day when the insurgents took over and the fighting was 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 you be so sure he was killed? What was his name? We can check with the War Office--"
"He was a mercenary and I--I can't recall his name. I only knew we were madly in love with each other--"
"That rough-looking soldier?" Charles looked at her askance.
[172-173] "Wouldn't you look rough, Guardy, if you were fighting your way through the smoke and blood of an uprising?" Eve made a determined effort to pull herself together, wiping her face with the handkerchief Charles 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 you mustn't talk like this--there's every likelihood that if the fellow isn't dead and you saw him again, in ordinary circumstances, you'd realise that the glamour and danger of being rescued by him made him seem like--like some bold knight who snatched you to safety. War has that effect on people. It heightens all the emotions and a meeting that in normal circumstances would seem fairly mundane takes on dimensions out of the ordinary."
"No," Eve shook her head and in her heart was very certain of what she had felt for her unknown soldier. "He was very special to me, Guardy, and that's why I'm so impatient with men like Stephen Carlisle. He's so full of his self-importance, and if danger ever threatened him, he'd stamp all over those who got in his way to the safety exit. Guardy, would you really thrust me on a man like that?"
"It seems you wouldn't let me." Charles gave her a quizzical smile and stroked the hair from her brow. "You've a mind of your own, and it seems, a heart. What about young Larry Mitchell? You are aware that he's fond of you?"
"I like Larry enormously, but I'm not thinking in terms of marriage, Guardy. It will take him several 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 near Regent'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 promise not to invite Carlisle to Lakeside any more. A pity he's not your type, my pet. Seems he has enormous holdings in land and property--"
"Oh, Guardy!" Eve had to laugh. "You'll always harbour the Edwardian idea that marriage is made in a bank and not in heaven. My dear, marriage means living with a man in a way more totally personal than any other kind of living, and I couldn't give myself if I didn't respect and admire beyond all others the man I married. Call me hopelessly romantic if you like, but that's the way I'm made. Love means more to me than money ever could--I believe I could live in a mud hut on real love."
Charles, who loved his cigars and his comfortable home, gave Eve a perplexed look. "That's easily said, my child, but if you ever tried it you'd soon change your tune."
"But I have tried it," she heard herself say, but she spoke so softly that Charles didn't really catch what she said, and was rising to his feet with a yawn.
"Get a good night's rest," he said. "You'll feel more yourself in the morning--it's only at night when the ghosts walk, eh?"
Eve nodded, and when he had gone she lay for some time on her bed, visualising a future that would never hold again the love she had found in Africa. It was lost, but very gradually the memories were coming back to her and one day soon she would remember everything . . . she would see again in her heart the face she had loved.
Hear again that beloved voice . . . "Here's looking at you, kid . . ."
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