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.She could not change now.But this was unendurable.She would rather be dead.Mabel came to her room and removed the dinner tray, the food half eaten.She said nothing.But then she could not.She had served the old lady for twenty years.They knew all kinds of intimate things about each other, physical things, habits, footsteps, a cough, the texture of skin and hair.And yet at heart they were also strangers.The old lady had never asked what Mabel thought or hoped for in life, what kept her awake at night, and Mabel had no idea now what dread clutched inside her mistress like a cold hand.She could not go on like this.She must do something, now, before it was too late.Caroline must never know.She was left with no choice.All the old panic and despair were back, the familiar darkness inside her, eating away at her heart, closing her in, unutterably alone.Damn Samuel Ellison for coming from America, where he was safely out of her life.Damn Alys for being beautiful and brave and in control of everything.She had gone—just left.But there was nowhere for Mariah to go.She was not young and healthy with a lovely face.She was old, stiff, bone-weary, and terrified.What would so-lovely, so-clever Alys do if she were here now?She would do something! She would not sit waiting for the ax to fall like some helpless rabbit.Then not only would the old lady be despised for what was known, she would despise herself for letting it happen.That was the worst of it, the self-loathing.But how could she stop it?It took all the resolve she possessed to go down to the breakfast table.But she could not spend the rest of her life in her bedroom.She had to appear sometime.Joshua would be present at this hour of the day, and that would prevent Caroline from chattering on and on endlessly about Samuel Ellison, and somehow she would contrive to speak to him alone.She must.She dare not leave it any longer.The usual greeting and enquiries dealt with, she forced herself to take tea and toast.“Have you heard from Thomas lately?” Joshua said, turning to Caroline.“Not for over a week,” she replied.“I imagine he is very busy with the death of that man found at Horseferry Stairs.It was mentioned in the newspapers again.It seems he was a very famous society photographer.”“Delbert Cathcart,” he said, taking more toast and reaching for the apricot preserves.“He was brilliant.”“One wonders why anyone should wish to kill him,” Caroline continued, pushing the butter dish across the table for Joshua.“Envy? Perhaps jealousy over some private matter?”“Do you mean a lover?” he asked with a smile.“Why are you being so delicate?”She flushed very slightly.“That sort of thing,” she conceded.It was an opening.The old lady did not hesitate.“When people practice immorality it very often ends in disaster,” she said distinctly.“If people would remember that, we should be able to get rid of half the misery in the world!” She was startled to hear the bitterness in her own voice.She had meant it for Caroline, but waves of loathing were thick in it as well, carrying a passion she would rather not have revealed.Joshua was staring at her.He had heard it and was puzzled.She looked away.“It may simply have been robbery,” Caroline said calmly.“The poor man was out late, and what was intended merely to take his watch or money became more violent than expected.Perhaps he fought.”“Are you suggesting he brought it upon himself ?” Mariah demanded.“He fought, so he deserved to be murdered?” She did not want this line of thought.“Sometimes your ideas of right and wrong confuse me.” She aimed that remark at Caroline.“I am not talking about right or wrong,” Caroline said impatiently.“Only about probability.”“That should not surprise me,” the old lady retorted.She did not explain what she meant.Their looks of confusion satisfied her.The meal continued for some time in silence.“Warriner has withdrawn his bill,” Joshua said finally.Mariah had no idea what he was talking about, but from his expression she deduced that it displeased him intensely.She did not ask.“I’m sorry,” Caroline said quietly.“I suppose it was to be expected.”Joshua grimaced.“Part of me says it is providence.They should wait for a better time.The other part says it is cowardice and we should make our own time.We could wait forever.”Mariah’s curiosity was piqued.On a different occasion she would have asked what they were taking about.Now other matters were crowding far too urgently in her mind.She must contrive to speak to Joshua alone.One thing he had said was true—one must make one’s own time.One might wait for other people to offer it forever, and still fail.Her mind raced.What excuse could she make for speaking with Joshua alone? She could hardly ask him for financial advice.She obtained that from Jack.A family matter she would have spoken about to Caroline, a loss or a threat of any sort she would have called Pitt for.A chore she would have called a servant to do.She barely knew Joshua.She had never hidden her disapproval of him personally and of the marriage in general.What reason could she use?Maybe she could get Caroline to leave? A domestic duty.But what? Anything usual she would leave until Joshua was gone.She must go herself, and then catch Joshua in the hall.Not very satisfactory, but she could not wait for something better.She stood up, placing her napkin across her plate.She was leaving half her tea, but that could not be helped.“Excuse me,” she said, her voice a little high-pitched.It was ridiculous.She must control her nerves.“I have a small errand to do.” And without struggling for further explanation, she went.No one commented.They were not curious as to what she was doing in such a hurry.This realization made her feel bitterly alone.She must govern her thoughts.This was a time for action.Soon Joshua would leave and she must take the opportunity to catch him alone.If Caroline came into the hall to wish him good-bye, she would have no opportunity, unless she actually went outside altogether.It would appear excessive.There would be no way in which she could claim it was an accidental encounter.But she could not afford to wait another day.Samuel Ellison must not come back to the house! Once he spoke it would be too late forever.It could never be withdrawn.One cannot undo knowledge.She went to the front door and opened it.The air was brisk, the sun warm, smelling of dust and horses.In the park a hundred yards away the leaves were beginning to turn.The grass was still damp.An errand boy was whistling.There was a woman on a bicycle, wearing most unsuitable clothes, traveling far too quickly.Mariah envied her.She looked so completely free, and happy.She turned her attention back to her task.How long would he be? She had not actually made certain that he was going out at all this morning, but he usually did, not early like most men, because he had been late the previous evening.The whole household rose late.She paced back and forth on the pavement, feeling more and more conspicuous [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]