فصل 13

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فصل 13

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Louise… and Laburnum Trees

When I went down to breakfast in the morning, there was a note for me on the table. It was not from Rachel, but from Louise.

Dear Philip,

I was sorry for you last night. If you want a friend to talk to, please let me know.

Louise.

At first, I did not want to see Louise. But I had not slept all night and I was very unhappy. Louise knew me well. I sent her a note asking her to meet me in the church that morning.

‘I have been worried about you for a long time,’ Louise told me. ‘She has deceived you from the beginning.’

‘I made a mistake,’ I said.

‘But Mrs Ashley did not,’ Louise replied. ‘She came here to get the money. She stayed until she got it. That is all.’

‘I don’t believe you!’ I cried. ‘She came on impulse. She stayed because she was happy here.’

‘No, she had a plan,’ Louise replied. ‘She has been sending money back to Italy all the winter. She waited until you were twenty-five. But then you made her a present of everything. You made things easy for her.’

‘I know you don’t like Rachel,’ I said. ‘That is why you are saying these things. But I have asked her to marry me. And I shall go on asking her.’

‘But she will never marry you,’ Louise said with a sad smile. ‘When you gave Mrs Ashley the document, she went straight to my father. She asked him if everything now belonged to her. My father told her that that was true. But he warned her that if she married again, she would lose the money. She told him she had no plans to marry again.’

‘But if she marries me, she will lose nothing,’ I said.

‘She would not be able to go back to Italy, or send money there,’ Louise said quietly.

She looked at me and said, i will go now, Philip. I have upset you deeply. I am very sorry.’

As I rode home, the rain began to fall heavily. When I got back, I was cold and wet. There was a note from Rachel in my room.

I have asked Mary Pascoe to stay here with me. After last night, I cannot be alone with you again.

Mary Pascoe, the vicar’s daughter? Mary Pascoe was a large, plain girl. Rachel and I had often laughed about her. I could not believe it.

But it was true. This was the punishment for my one moment of anger. Whenever I was with Rachel, Mary Pascoe was there too. Oh, God, what had I done.

By dinner-time, I was feeling very ill. I went upstairs to my room. I got into bed and the sheets felt very cold. I hoped that Rachel would come to me, but she did not.

In the morning, I tried to dress, but I was too weak. My neck was stiff and there was a terrible pain in my head. When I called for Seecombe took one look at me and hurried out of the room. Then my cousin Rachel was there, her face very white.

‘I will not hurt you, Rachel,’ I said. ‘Please send Mary Pascoe home.’

‘Don’t talk now, lie still,’ Rachel answered.

Then the room was dark. The doctor came. I was hot, then cold. I called for Rachel and she held my hand. ‘I am with you,’ she said. I closed my eyes.

When I awoke, the room was full of light and warmth. How long had I been asleep? Rachel was sitting near my bed. I put my hand to my face.

‘I have grown a beard!’ I said. I began to laugh. At once, Rachel was holding a glass to my lips. She made me drink the bitter liquid.

‘Have you sent Mary Pascoe away?’ I asked. Rachel looked surprised.

‘She went away five weeks ago,’ she answered. ‘You have been so ill that you nearly died. The doctors could not help you. Your strength and my medicines saved you.’

I lay there, with her hand in mine. I could not speak. Five weeks had passed and I could remember nothing! Only that Rachel and I had been married on the day before my birthday. We had kept our marriage a secret. But in two months’ time, Rachel would be out of mourning and we would be able to tell everyone.

I was very weak for a long time. But the weather was good and I was soon able to go into the garden.

The workmen had been busy for many months. They had dug out the ground to make the sunken water-garden. It was very deep, but it was not yet finished. Yellow flowers hung on the laburnum trees that Rachel had planted. I remembered the laburnum tree at the Villa Sangalletti and the green, poisonous seeds lying under it.

That evening, as Rachel and I were drinking our tisana, I said, ‘I heard something strange today. Seecombe told me you were going back to Florence. I thought you had sold the villa.’

‘No, I have enough money to keep it now. I shall probably stay there for the winter. Perhaps you could visit me in the spring.’

‘Visit you?’ I repeated. ‘But a husband should be with his wife always.’

Rachel sat very still.

‘Your wife? Oh, God, Philip,’ she whispered. ‘What do you mean? We are not married.’

‘But we are,’ I said. ‘I remember clearly…’ But as I spoke, the pain returned to my head. I suddenly knew that our marriage was a dream.

‘Why didn’t you let me die?’ I cried. ‘I cannot live here alone, I cannot.’ looked at her face.

‘Give me a few weeks, only a few weeks,’ I said. She did not reply.

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