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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lion's Share - Chapter 6. The Young Widow
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The Lion's Share - Chapter 6. The Young Widow Post by :The_Murph Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2462

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The Lion's Share - Chapter 6. The Young Widow


It was early October. Audrey stood at the garden door of Flank Hall.

The estuary, in all the colours of unsettled, mild, bright weather, lay at her feet beneath a high arch of changing blue and white. The capricious wind moved in her hair, moved in the rich grasses of the sea-wall, bent at a curtseying angle the red-sailed barges, put caps on the waves in the middle distance, and drew out into long horizontal scarves the smoke of faint steamers in the offing.

Audrey was dressed in black, but her raiment had obviously not been fashioned in the village, nor even at Colchester, nor yet at Ipswich, that great and stylish city. She looked older; she certainly had acquired something of an air of knowledge, assurance, domination, sauciness and challenge, which qualities were all partly illustrated in her large, audacious hat. The spirit which the late Mr. Moze had so successfully suppressed was at length coming to the surface for all beholders to see, and the process of evolution begun at the moment when Audrey had bounced up and prevented an authoritative solicitor from leaving the study was already advanced. Nevertheless, at frequent intervals Audrey's eyes changed, and she seemed for an instant to be a very naive, very ingenuous and wistful little thing--and this though she had reached the age of twenty. Perhaps she was feeling sorry for the girl she used to be.

And no doubt she was also thinking of her mother, who had died within eight hours of their nocturnal interview. The death of Mrs. Moze surprised everyone, except possibly Mrs. Moze. As an unsuspected result of the operation upon her, an embolism had been wandering in her veins; it reached the brain, and she expired, to the great loss of the National Reformation Society. Such was the brief and simple history. When Audrey stood by the body, she had felt that if it could have saved her mother she would have enriched the National Reformation Society with all she possessed.

Gradually the sense of freedom had grown paramount in her, and she had undertaken the enterprise of completely subduing Mr. Foulger to her own ends.

The back hall was carpetless and pictureless, and the furniture in it was draped in grey-white. Every room in the abode was in the same state, and, since all the windows were shuttered, every room lay moribund in a ghostly twilight. Only the clocks remained alive, probably thinking themselves immortal. The breakfast things were washed up and stored away. The last two servants had already gone. Behind Audrey, forming a hilly background, were trunks and boxes, a large bunch of flowers encased in paper, and a case of umbrellas and parasols; the whole strikingly new, and every single item except the flowers labelled "Paris via Charing Cross and Calais."

Audrey opened her black Russian satchel, and the purse within it. Therein were a little compartment full of English gold, another full of French gold, another full of multicoloured French bank-notes; and loose in the satchel was a blue book of credit-notes, each for five hundred francs, or twenty pounds--a thick book! And she would not have minded much if she had lost the whole satchel--it would be so easy to replace the satchel with all its contents.

Then a small brougham came very deliberately up the drive. It was the vehicle in which Miss Ingate went her ways; in accordance with Miss Ingate's immemorial command, it travelled at a walking pace up all the hills to save the horse, and at a walking pace down all hills lest the horse should stumble and Miss Ingate be destroyed. It was now followed by a luggage-cart on which was a large trunk.

At the same moment Aguilar, the gardener, appeared from somewhere--he who had been robbed of a legacy of ten pounds, but who by his ruthless and incontestable integrity had secured the job of caretaker of Flank Hall.

The drivers touched their hats to Audrey and jumped down, and Miss Ingate, with a blue veil tied like a handkerchief round her bonnet and chin--sign that she was a traveller--emerged from the brougham, sardonically smiling at her own and everybody's expense, and too excited to be able to give greetings. The three men started to move the trunks, and the two women whispered together in the back-hall.

"Audrey," demanded Miss Ingate, with a start, "what are those rings on your finger?"

Audrey replied:

"One's a wedding ring and the other's a mourning ring. I bought them yesterday at Colchester.... Hsh!" She stilled further exclamations from Miss Ingate until the men were out of the hall.

"Look here! Quick!" she whispered, hastily unlocking a large hat-case that was left. And Miss Ingate looked and saw a block toque, entirely unsuitable for a young girl, and a widow's veil.

"I look bewitching in them," said Audrey, relocking the case.

"But, my child, what does it mean?"

"It means that I'm not silly enough to go to Paris as a girl. I've had more than enough of being a girl. I'm determined to arrive in Paris as a young widow. It will be much better in every way, and far easier for you. In fact, you'll have no chaperoning to do at all. I shall be the chaperon. Now don't say you won't go, because you will."

"You ought to have told me before."

"No, I oughtn't. Nothing could have been more foolish."

"But who are you the widow of?"

"Hurrah!" cried Audrey. "You are a sport, Winnie! I'll tell you all the interesting details in the train."

In another minute Aguilar, gloomy and unbending, had received the keys of Flank Hall, and the procession crunched down the drive on its way to the station.

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