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.Mr.Keene inclined his head so as to show her the bald spot again.“In these cases, we generally don’t proceed until the widow assures us there is no possibility of a son.”Well, there wasn’t.Her body had resolved that some three days since, and brought her the news in its usual fashion.For all of Mr.Russell’s most vigorous efforts, on her and presumably on his first wife, no child had ever resulted.Now no child ever would.Was she expected to say so on the spot? Mutiny stilled her tongue.If she left the matter in some doubt, she could get a few more weeks here.Maybe as much as a month.Of course if she were truly mutinous… well, one heard tales of what desperate childless widows occasionally did.Lurid tales, difficult to credit.What woman could ever be so desperate? Probably it was all some myth got up and passed about by wishful men.She lifted her chin.“I will send you word when I know that question to be resolved.” She could see to the servants, at least.Mr.and Mrs.James Russell would bring servants of their own, making some of the Seton Park staff redundant.She would take what time she needed to get them placed out.Andrew fidgeted silently for the several minutes Mr.Keene took to gather up his papers and make polite remarks, and when the solicitor was finally shown out, her brother quitted his chair with vehemence.“For the love of God, sister, will you never speak up for yourself?” He strode away to the table’s other end.“It’s not right, how you’ve been served in all this.Why must I be the only one with the fortitude to say so?”A familiar coolness blossomed in the middle of her chest and seeped outward.“I see no question of fortitude.” She measured out her syllables, and folded her hands atop the table again.“I could speak of injustice, I suppose, and indulge myself with some show of outrage, but none of that would change the facts of my current situation, would it?” Her voice grew flatter and flatter, like pastry dough under a most adamant rolling pin.“Not now, it wouldn’t.” He flung out his hand in an impatient gesture.“But this whole thing might have been averted.For the life of me I’ll never understand why you married the man.Why any young girl would marry a widower twice her age when she—”“He was nine and thirty.Hardly in his dotage.And no, you’re not likely ever to understand.” What eldest son could? He would never be faced with the prospect of a parasitic existence.He would never come to make those reckonings in which girlish fancy had no place.He would only pity her, provokingly, and wonder at her wrongheaded choice.As though a love match were the only viable kind of marriage! As though humanity had not prospered for countless generations through unions of other kinds; through respectable alliances between people who happened to prize other things above unbridled feeling!Her hands had come unfolded and two fingers were tracing over and over a bit of openwork in the tablecloth.She stilled them.Laced the fingers firmly again.Sat silent.Abruptly her brother heaved a sigh.“I’m sorry, Martha.” She could hear the change in his voice, though she kept her eyes on the tablecloth.He came round to stand behind her chair.One hand settled on her shoulder.She lifted her chin and looked hard at the wall, where peonies marched in a cheerful red-and-white pattern.“I’m sorry if I offend you.” He was all uncertainty now, casting about for the right way to comfort so perverse a little sister.“Sorry you’ve had this misfortune, and sorry I wasn’t more help to you.But I’ll help you now, if you’ll let me.You’ll have a good home with me and Lucy.”The wallpaper’s peonies shimmered for a moment, and threatened to swim.She might have been seven again, and he eighteen, that same hand on her shoulder as awkward as a turkey on a pigeon-perch.They’d done this before, though that day they’d sat side by side on the stone wall where he’d finally found her, and the halting words of consolation had all to do with Heaven, and their mother’s soul.I’m sorry, too.I wish I could want what you offer.I don’t know why I can’t.She swallowed, and kept the words down.“You were so kind to come,” she said.“You’ve been a great help indeed.These past few days should have been much more difficult had you not been here.I’ll write to you when I… I’ll write to you.” That was her one toe dipped in the wallows of sentiment, and quickly drawn out again.He left for London.When she’d waved at his carriage all the way to where it turned from the drive onto the road, she dropped her hand and began to walk.Away from the house she went, south toward the swelling hills.The August sun showed no mercy to a woman in full mourning, particularly one who covered ground at her pace.So be it.She walked faster [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]