فصل 12

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فصل 12

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CHAPTER TWELVE

All Fools’ Day

As my birthday came nearer, I became more and more excited.

Rachel laughed at me. ‘You are like a child!’ she said. ‘What plans are you making for the day?’

But I had made no plans. All I wanted was that Rachel should know about the document. And one more thing - Rachel should have all the family jewels. I went to the bank myself. I brought them back to the house and hid them in my room.

On the last day of March, I rode over to Nick Kendall. First, I handed him a copy of Ambrose’s will. My godfather looked at it carefully.

‘I don’t understand why Ambrose didn’t sign it,’ he said. ‘But we have done all we can for Mrs Ashley.’

‘I don’t agree,’ I said. ‘I want to make everything right.’ And I handed him a copy of the document the lawyer had prepared.

‘Read this,’ I said. ‘And remember that my cousin Rachel knows nothing about it.’

‘I wish Signor Rainaldi had seen this,’ Nick Kendall said slowly. ‘He told me how careless Mrs Ashley is with money. This document of yours gives her great power over the property. I have to ask you one question, Philip. Are you in love with Mrs Ashley?’

My face went red.

‘I am only doing what Ambrose wanted,’ I said.

‘Perhaps,’ Nick Kendall answered. ‘But people are talking. Mrs Ashley should leave, get married again. She might marry you if you asked her.’

‘I am sure she would not,’ I said.

Nick Kendall watched me sadly as I signed my name on the document.

‘There are some women who bring sadness to all those who love them,’ he said. ‘They cannot help it. I think Mrs Ashley is one of those women.’

The sun was setting as I rode home. I bathed, changed my clothes and went into the dining-room. Rachel wanted to know where I had been. But I laughed and told her nothing.

After dinner, I was too excited to sit still. I walked down to the sea. There was a moon and the night was warm. I took off my clothes and for a few minutes I swam in the ice-cold water.

When I got back to the house, it was five minutes to twelve. I could not wait any longer. I stood under Rachel’s window and called her name. When she looked out, I said, ‘I have something for you, Rachel.’

Then I ran to my room for the jewels.

‘I want you to have these now,’ I said. ‘Listen, the clock is striking twelve and it is the first of April. I am twenty-five and I can do what I like.’

I put the document on her table and began to open the boxes of jewels. Rachel’s eyes opened wide in surprise and suddenly we were laughing together. I put the pearl collar round her neck. As I looked at her, I remembered the other Ashley women who had worn it.

‘You have given me so much,’ Rachel said at last. ‘I have only a small present for you. What else can I give you? Tell me.’

‘There is one thing,’ I said. I looked into her dark eyes. They shone very brightly in the candle-light. She laughed softly and blew out the candle. We were alone in the darkness.

I did not leave her room until sunrise. Happiness had come to me at last. Rachel accepted me and my love. She was the first woman I ever loved - and she was the last.

I remember walking alone in the garden as the birds began to sing. Rachel and I would be always together now - day after day, night after night, for all our lives.

I went back to my room and slept. After breakfast, I went into the garden again. I picked the most beautiful flowers I could find.

Rachel was in bed, eating her breakfast. I threw the flowers on the bed in front of her.

‘Good morning, again,’ I said. ‘I have come to say one thing- I love you.’

Rachel looked up at me without smiling. ‘You should not come into my room so early,’ she said. ‘The servants will talk.’

I smiled, but said nothing. I went downstairs. I wanted to tell the servants that Rachel and I were going to be married. Then I decided that we would tell them together, later.

I walked in the gardens until it was time for Rachel to leave her room. The day was fine and I decided we should go out riding. But when I got back to the house, Rachel had already left. I waited for a long time, but she did not return. At last, I walked along the road, hoping to meet her.

When I saw the carriage, I stopped it. I got in and sat down beside Rachel. She was wearing a veil and I could not see her face.

‘Where have you been?’ I asked her.

‘To see your godfather.’

‘You cannot change anything,’ I told her. ‘I am twenty-five. Everything I have is yours.’

‘Yes, I understand that now,’ Rachel said. ‘But I wanted to be sure.’

Her voice was quiet. I did not think she was smiling.

‘Let me look at your face,’ I said.

She lifted her veil. There was no love in her eyes now.

‘I think Louise was a little more friendly today,’ Rachel said. ‘She will make you a good wife. We made plans to meet in London together.’

I looked at her in surprise. It was unkind of her to make jokes about Louise. And why was Rachel talking about London? We had made no plans to go there.

‘Come into the woods, Rachel,’ I whispered. ‘I want to kiss you so much.’

She did not answer, but took something out of her bag. ‘Here is your present,’ she said, and she gave me a small, gold pin for my tie. ‘If I had known about the money, I would have bought something larger.’

As I dressed for dinner, I could think of only one thing. Money is the one way to please her… the one way to please her…

When we sat down together for my birthday dinner, Rachel was wearing the pearl collar. We both drank wine and I started to feel happier. Time would soon pass. When the mourning time was over, Rachel would be my wife…

While we were sitting at the table, the Kendalls came into the room. When they had wished me a happy birthday, I stood up, my glass in my hand.

‘From this morning, I have been the happiest of men,’ I said. ‘I want you to be the first to know. Rachel has promised to be my wife.’

I smiled at them all. But Rachel’s face was hard and cold.

‘Have you gone mad, Philip?’ she said. She looked at the Kendalls. ‘You must forgive him, he has drunk too much wine. I’m sure he will apologize.’

Rachel got up and the others followed her out of the room. I stood without moving until I heard them leave the house. When Rachel came back, we stared at each other without speaking.

Then Rachel said, ‘You had better go to bed, Philip, before you say any more foolish things.’

‘Foolish?’ I repeated. ‘But last night… Surely you love me, Rachel? Last night you proved that you loved me. It was a promise of marriage…’

‘No, Philip, I had no thought of marriage. I was thanking you for the jewels, that was all. There was no love.’

I looked at her hard, cold face. I began to understand what Ambrose had suffered. She had everything. What else could I do? Suddenly I wanted to frighten her, to show her my strength. I put my hands round her neck and looked into her eyes.

‘Will you marry me now?’ I whispered.

Her dark eyes were full of fear, but she did not speak. I loosened my fingers. There were red marks on her white skin.

Rachel turned and went upstairs. I followed her, but she was too quick for me. She closed her door and locked it.

As she stood there, I saw myself in a mirror on the wall. There I stood, tall, awkward, white faced. But was it myself or Ambrose standing there?

As I lay in bed, I heard the clock strike midnight. All Fools’ Day was over.

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