‘No’-she shook her head mournfully-‘I’m not like that.’
‘Are you sure?’ She nodded.
‘You don’t understand.’
‘Suppose you try and tell me-that is, if you want to.’
She nodded again. It was always easy to tell Adrian. He didn’t push, and he didn’t fuss, and he didn’t try to make you say what you didn’t mean. A momentary colour came into her face. Her eyes fell.
‘I don’t like being touched-’
‘My dear child!’
He was too deeply disturbed and concerned to keep the sound of it out of his voice.
She took his hand in both of hers and held it with a kind of quivering intensity.
‘I can’t bear it-with almost anyone. Even with Bill I didn’t like it when he really kissed me-and I’m fond of Bill-I really am.’
She nodded. Her eyes were brimming over.
‘Aunt Sybil said we weren’t engaged. It wasn’t given out- because he was going to America. And she said, “Wait till he comes back.” Only he didn’t write. Ray says he was in hospital -he’d had an accident. And she wanted me to meet his train- but I couldn’t, could I? Only afterwards I thought if I had, perhaps I wouldn’t have had to marry Herbert.’
‘Don’t you want to marry him?’
Her clasp became agonized. Her ‘Oh, no-’ came on a long sighing breath.
‘But, my poor child, why did you ever say you would?’
‘She made me-Aunt Sybil.’
‘She can make you do anything. It’s not only me. She pushes and pushes until you just can’t go on saying no.’ She looked up at him very piteously. ‘Why does she want me to marry him?’
‘I don’t know, Lila. But no one can make you do it if you don’t want to.’
She let go of his hand as suddenly as she had caught at it.
‘You don’t understand.’
The tired, hopeless tone wrung his heart. He had to wait a moment before he said,
‘Lila-listen! Tell Lady Dryden, and tell Whitall, that you want a little more time. It isn’t usual for an engagement and a wedding to be run together in a few weeks. I don’t think they would like any talk about it, and if you said you felt you were being rushed, I don’t see how they could refuse to give you more time.’
She made a slight helpless movement.
‘It’s no good. I’ve tried-last night. She wouldn’t listen. The invitations are out.’
‘She could say you had measles or something. My cousin Elizabeth Baillie did that.’
‘Aunt Sybil wouldn’t.’
It was possible to make himself believe that she would. Feeling like that about it, there really wasn’t much chance of convincing Lila. His thoughts recurred to Bill Waring. There had been something about meeting a train. If it was a case of meeting trains, Bill must be back. He gazed at her in an unhappy way and put the question.
‘Is Bill Waring back?’
‘Yes, he is.’
‘Have you seen him?’
An unaccustomed frown drew his brows together.
‘You said something about meeting a train. When did he get back?’
She caught her breath.
‘It was yesterday. Ray wanted me to go and meet him. Adrian, I couldn’t-could I?’
Instead of saying, ‘Not if you didn’t want to,’ which was what she expected, he took her by surprise.
‘Why couldn’t you?’
A faint flush tinged her cheeks. Her eyes widened.
‘The invitations-Aunt Sybil-’
‘That wouldn’t have stopped you if you had really wanted to go.’ He waited a moment, and then said, ‘Would it?’
She looked at him like a pleading child.
‘He didn’t write. Aunt Sybil said he’d forgotten all about me. I didn’t know he’d had an accident.‘
‘Did he have an accident?’
‘Ray said he did. She said he was in hospital and he didn’t even know who he was. So he couldn’t write, could he? But he’s all right now-she met Mr. Rumbold, and he told her!’
‘And you still didn’t want to go and meet him?’
She hung her head.
‘I thought he’d be angry-about my marrying Herbert.’
‘My dear child! You wouldn’t expect him to be pleased- would you?’
Her hand came out and slipped into his.
‘I can’t bear it when people are angry. Bill gets dreadfully angry.’
She said in a doubtful voice,
‘No-not really. But if he did, I couldn’t bear it. There was a man throwing stones at a dog-it’s leg was broken-I thought Bill was going to kill him. He frightened me dreadfully.’
If Adrian felt an inclination to smile, he subdued it. He could imagine Bill Waring dealing out summary justice. With a genuine desire for knowledge, he inquired,
‘What did he do?’
‘He knocked him down, and when he got up he knocked him down again. The poor man’s nose was bleeding dreadfully. And he looked as if he liked it-’
This time there was no doubt about the smile. Lila gazed reproachfully.
‘No-Bill. And he did the dog’s leg up in a splint and took it to the vet. So you see I do know what he’s like when he’s angry. And it’s no use Ray saying go and meet the train, because I couldn’t. And anyhow it was yesterday.’
There was relief in the conclusion, but in a moment it gave way to fear.
‘ Adrian, it’s dreadful-Ray says he’s coming down. That’s why I had to find you.’
‘Bill is coming down here?’
‘Oh, yes. And he mustn’t. She says he wants to see me. And it isn’t any good, Adrian, is it? She rang me up and told me-just now, while Aunt Sybil and Herbert were talking. She said he had to stay in town today and see Mr. Rumbold, and then he was coming down. And I said it wasn’t any good, and please not to let him come, and she said, “You can’t put a cyclone in your pocket.” Ray says things like that. And I didn’t know what she meant, but I thought it sounded as if he might be quite dreadfully angry. Don’t you think so?’
He said very moderately,
‘If he loves you, you couldn’t expect him not to be angry when he heard you were going to marry someone else-especially if he thought you and he were still engaged.’
She said, ‘Oh-’ Then, in a wavering voice, ‘It wasn’t given out.’
‘I don’t think he would feel that made any difference.’
She pulled her hand away.
‘But he mustn’t come. You won’t let him, will you? Aunt Sybil would be quite dreadfully angry-and-and Herbert. You’ll stop him, won’t you?’
Adrian Grey had been blessed, or cursed, with a good deal of imagination. It provided him with a vivid picture of Bill Waring determined on an interview with Lila and quite unlikely to stick at trifles in order to get what he wanted. With Lady Dryden and Herbert Whitall participating, there were all the ingredients of a really first-class row. What he could not see was what he could possibly do to prevent it. He had never felt any urge to ride the whirlwind and control the storm. At the best he could only hope to hold a humble umbrella over Lila’s cherished head.
She said, ‘You won’t let him come!’ And all he could say was, ‘I’ll do what I can.’
They seemed to have reached an impasse. What he wanted to do was to pick her up and take her away. He had a car in the garage, and enough petrol to take her to Marian. She was of age, and nobody could stop them. It was a perfectly possible thing to do, and he could no more have done it than he could have done any of the other things which were against his code. Afterwards he was to reproach himself very bitterly. At the time he could only look at her.