فصل 09

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فصل 09

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Chapter nine

On the way back from lunch with the Farradays at Fairfield, Iris turned to George. ‘Do you mind if I go for a walk? I’ve got an awful headache.’

‘My poor child, of course. I won’t come with you, though. I have a friend coming to visit me this afternoon.’

‘Right, then. Goodbye till tea-time.’

Iris walked away through a wood and up a nearby hill. When she reached the top, she stopped and sat down on a fallen tree. The October afternoon was damp, and grey clouds promised more rain. She was looking down into the valley, when she heard a slight rustle in the trees behind her. Looking round, she saw Anthony Browne walking towards her. ‘Tony!’ she cried. ‘How did you know where I was?’

He sat down and took out his cigarette case. ‘I have an excellent pair of binoculars. I knew you were having lunch with the Farradays, so I spied on you from the hillside and followed you when you left.’ He smiled and lit his cigarette.

‘Why didn’t you come to the house like an ordinary person?’

‘I’m not an ordinary person,’ said Anthony in a shocked tone. ‘I’m very extraordinary.’

‘I think you are.’

He looked at her quickly. Then he said, ‘Is anything the matter?’

‘No. At least…’ She drew a deep breath. ‘I hate being down here. I want to go back to London.’

‘You’re going soon, aren’t you?’

‘Next week.’

‘So this was a farewell party at the Farradays?’

‘It wasn’t a party. Just lunch.’

‘Do you like the Farradays?’

‘Not very much - although they’ve been very nice to us. Stephen always seems to me rather arrogant and stupid.’

‘He’s not stupid. He’s just one of the usual unhappy successes.’

‘Unhappy?’

‘Most successes are unhappy. That’s why they are successes - they have to reassure themselves about who they are by achieving something that the world will notice. The happy people are failures because they are so content in themselves that they don’t care what other people think. Like me. They are also usually very pleasant company - again, like me.’

‘You have a very good opinion of yourself.’

‘I’m just drawing attention to my good points in case you haven’t noticed them.’

Iris laughed, suddenly feeling much happier. She glanced at her watch. ‘Come and have tea, and give a few more people the benefit of your pleasant company.’

Anthony shook his head. ‘I can’t stay long.’

‘Why will you never come to the house?’ she demanded. ‘There must be a reason.’

Anthony shrugged his shoulders. ‘George doesn’t like me.’

‘Why are you here then? Do you have business in this part of the world?’

‘Very important business - with you. I came to ask you a question, Iris.’ His eyes were very serious. ‘Do you trust me? It’s the most important question in the world to me. Do you trust me?’

After a brief moment she answered, ‘Yes.’

‘Then will you come up to London now and marry me, without telling anybody?’

She stared at him. ‘I couldn’t!’

‘You do love me, don’t you?’

‘Yes, Anthony,’ she heard herself say.

‘But you won’t come and marry me by special licence at the Church of Saint Elfrida, in Bloomsbury?’

‘I can’t! George would be so hurt and Aunt Lucilla would never forgive me. And I’m not old enough anyway. I’m only eighteen. I can’t marry without legal consent until I’m twenty-one.’ ‘You’d have to lie about your age.’

‘But why? What’s the point of it?’

‘You have to trust my reasons. Let’s say that it is the simplest way. But never mind.’

Iris said fearfully, ‘If George only knew you a little better… Come back with me now. It will only be him and Aunt Lucilla.’

‘Are you sure? I thought I saw a man going up your drive. And I believe I recognized him as someone I - had met.’

‘Oh, yes, I forgot. George was expecting someone.’

‘The man I thought I saw was a man called Colonel Race.’

‘It’s very likely,’ Iris agreed. ‘George does know a Colonel Race. He was coming to dinner on that night when Rosemary…’ She broke off, and drew a deep breath. ‘Anthony, did you ever think that Rosemary might not have committed suicide? That she might have been murdered? ‘ ‘Good heavens, Iris - certainly not! What put such a thought into your head? ‘

She wanted to tell him the incredible story of George’s anonymous letters, but instead she said slowly, ‘It was just an idea.’

‘Well, forget it, my darling.’ He pulled her to her feet and kissed her lightly on the cheek.

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