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Authors: Mary Williams

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #Historical Fiction, #Historical Romance

The Velvet Glove (16 page)

BOOK: The Velvet Glove
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Why?
Why
? Why? Pondering the pillow Kate told herself with a renewed burst of emotion that somehow she’d make Rick see sense and believe her. He was unbalanced at the moment, shocked beyond all reason by a calculated evil lie. But tonight perhaps he’d have things more in perspective.

He
’d said he’d be back later to talk – make plans or something. Plans for what? An icy wave of fear shivered down her spine. Did he mean to leave her? But he wouldn’t. There were the children and the one to come, and he had no legitimate cause for a separation. If he suggested it she’d throw that horrible Mrs Linda Wade in his face -publicize how they still met in London sometimes – she knew that was true, he hadn’t denied it – and all the district would be on her side. Anyway, harming each other wouldn’t help either, she decided miserably. Her only real weapon was herself – to make herself so beautiful and desirable he couldn’t resist her and would believe intuitively in her innocence.

Her mind darted here and there. What time would he be back? And what would she wear? After a short period of pondering she swung herself out of bed, went to the wardrobe and pulled out a number of hangers displaying a variety of housecoats and negligees. Her tears had temporarily dried now, and she looked absurdly young with her hair loose and curling over her wet forehead. She held the first one up before her
surveying her reflection through the mirror, then another, and another, followed by a fourth. She chose the last – pale lilac see-through chiffon that she’d worn on her honeymoon. It was very full, sufficiently so to disguise her developing waistline, yet still enhance the blossoming curves of her lovely body. A tentative little smile touched her lips. Everything would be all right, she told herself optimistically. She’d have a lovely scented bath in the meantime, using the favourite very expensive perfume he’d last given her. And when he came through the bedroom door she’d be waiting for the sweet and heady reconciliation which had always followed their slightest misunderstanding.

Only it didn
’t quite happen that way.

It was eight o
’clock before Rick returned, and during the whole afternoon and evening Kate had eaten nothing but an apple, and nibbled a few biscuits. She had stayed upstairs, and refused lunch and dinner on the pretext of being unwell. Therefore when Ferris
did
appear, looking jaded and still grim, her nerves were taut beneath her glamorous exterior, and her practised ‘innocent’ smile of welcome didn’t quite register in the way she’d intended.

He sniffed the air and waved a hand.
‘Is this for my benefit?’

She flushed.
‘It’s the perfume we chose together. That expensive one. Oh, Rick—’ She moved towards him tentatively, hands slightly raised. ‘I’ve been so miserable.’ He looked resolutely away from the limpid pleading of her lovely eyes. ‘
Please
let us be friends.’


For heaven’s sake, Kate, I’m tired and in no mood for dramatics.’ There was a pause. ‘I’ve thought everything out, and in my mind it’s settled.’


What is? What’s settled?’


Our mutual existence, my dear. Our – cohabitation, if you like; only it won’t exactly be that.’


What do you mean?’

All colour left her face. She rushed forward and caught the lapels of his coat, gripping and pulling them until he managed to free himself. Then, adjusting his tie and rubbing a hand wearily over his forehead, he said,
‘Sit down, Kate. Keep a little dignity whatever else you’ve lost.’

All energy suddenly drained from her. She perched rigidly on the side of the bed and asked again,
‘What do you mean?
Lost
? I’ve a right to know.’


A faithless wife has no right.’

In spite of her distress her temper rose.
‘No. That’s just it. Because you think or
want
to think that Jon and I had an affair in your absence,
I’m
in the wrong and the one to blame; just because I’m a woman. Because you’re a man you can do anything you like and get away with it. It’s not fair. But one day it will be different. You see! And what about the Wade woman—?’ She broke off breathlessly.


What about her?’ His voice was icy.

She started to sob again.
‘Oh, go away. Leave me alone.’


I’ll do that soon enough when I’ve told you what I’ve decided to do.’

The tears stopped. She stiffened and looked at him sharply, rigid-backed.

You
! Always you.’


Yes. As you say. This is my home, my estate, and the two children are also mine–’


Ours.’


Naturally, as their mother.’


And of the one to come,’ she couldn’t help adding.


And its father? What about its father?’

It was a moment before the intended insult sank in, then she said bitterly,
‘How
could
you? Do you realize how perfectly beastly you’re being?’

He shrugged.
‘Yes. But it’s true, isn’t it? How do we know?’


I see.
That’s
what’s been festering in your mind. That Jon and I – that—’


It’s quite a natural possibility – under the circumstances.’ For the first time the coldness of his face changed to sadness. ‘I didn’t want things this way,’ he told her more quietly. ‘I loved you, Kate – I could still love you, as much – more perhaps –than any man ever loved – if this whole business could be wiped out. But after I left you this morning I went to see Jon intending to kick his guts out. Instead I listened. He was – different. He looked half dead. Gaunt. I couldn’t half kill an ill man. But his story was the same. I believed him.’


And so?’ she managed to say.


You and I will behave like civilized human beings,’ he told her emotionlessly, ‘to the outside world. But as individuals apart. No one need know the real state of affairs. You will appear socially as my wife, and act as hostess to any guests I have here. I shall be away a good deal, and frequently spend nights at my club. Luckily we already have the large adjoining dressing-room and bedroom. So there will be no sleeping problems.’


I see.’


I hope you do, and will act with propriety befitting your position. Not only for our mutual sakes, but for the children’s – especially the little stranger on the way.’

He waited for her reaction, watching her shrewdly.

She lifted her head inches higher and remarked, ‘So now you’re threatening me over the child.’


No. I’m
reminding
you of its position. In every practical way it will be treated as mine—’


It
will
be yours,’ she interrupted.


But we don’t know, do we?’


Oh!’ Suddenly all life seemed to drain out of her. She flung herself into an arm chair and lay back with her head on its silk cushion. Then surprisingly she heard him say in perfectly ordinary tones, ‘You must be tired. Can I get you anything?’

She shook her head dumbly and closed her eyes. A moment later she heard his footsteps cross the floor to the door. He paused a moment and said,
‘I’ll be careful not to disturb you when I return. It may be late. I shall use the other key.’ Then he was gone.

 

 

 

8

 

As high summer gradually turned to autumn the weather became grey and cloudy with morning and evening mists frequently thickening to thin fog. The new domestic routine at Woodgate took shape according to Rick’s plan. Kate, who felt more tired during this pregnancy than when she’d had the twins, would not have objected to the separate sleeping arrangements for herself and Ferris under more agreeable circumstances – indeed some-times she could have welcomed it but the cause of the sterile relationship between herself and her husband depressed her and increased her feeling of being deprived and unwanted. The household staff, although sensing a strain in the atmosphere were forced to accept the marital arrangement as probably correct and sensible. There was a certain obvious air of tension about their mistress – a lack of joy – that suggested she was over-tired.


It’s more than tiredness, if you ask me,’ Cook confided to the housemaid. ‘Either she’s ill, or there’s something wrong between them two. She doesn’t seem to notice anything properly any more. Oh, I’m not saying she doesn’t fuss about the house. More than she used to, I’ll grant you that – the mistress never was one before to bother about a bit of dust, or having things in the right place. But now she’s forever up and down – moving this here, that there, with a kind of fussed, tight look on her face as though she was fretting over something but couldn’t make out what it was. And the children; mostly she doesn’t seem to bother about them one bit, although—’ there was a significant pause before the oration continued – ‘the other day when I went into the garden to hurry Jake with the greens I passed her – the mistress – on the back drive – she’d been talking to the nursemaid who’d got the little one in that pram, and there were tears in her eyes. I wasn’t mistaken – actually
tears
. What do you make of that?’

Annie, the housemaid, shrugged.
‘Women go funny sometimes when they’re expecting,’ the girl commented. ‘Moods. It’s like eatin’, they fancy funny things. My aunt Mary—’


Oh, don’t go through all that again. How your Aunt Mary had a passion for frogs’ legs when she was in the family way just because she’d been on a holiday trip to France once where her cousin was training to be a chef. Enough of it, young Annie. This isn’t the time for old tales and gossip. We’ve both got things to do.’

In this way speculation continued from time to time. Whisperings and conjectures went on in an undertone, but the social life of Woodgate was superficially normal. Kate entertained Rick
’s friends and business acquaintances whenever necessary with polite, if somewhat stony, competence and a veneer of dignity betraying no suspicion of anything disruptive in the household. But beneath her cold armour, there was a wild and restless anger at the unfairness, and Jon’s treachery.

One day in early September when Rick
was away for the week in London, she made a point of driving herself in the dog-cart to a spot bordering Charnbrook at a time she knew Jon generally passed by during his round of the estate. She was lucky in her reckoning. She was turning a corner of a lane edging a field, when he appeared, luckily on foot. He was presumably on his way to a nearby small tenant farm.

He gave her a brief sidelong glance and would have passed on, but she reined and stopped the cart with a jerk, calling,
‘I want a word with you, Jon.’ Her heart was pounding; from the shrill note in her voice he knew she intended a confrontation.

He stepped aside.
‘Certainly. Can I assist you down, Mrs Ferris.’

She flushed, knowing the remark held an inference to her size.

‘No. You know what I want,’ she said, when she’d extricated herself from the dog-cart. ‘The truth.’

His eyes
narrowed. They held an expression she couldn’t fathom – triumph, or was it a kind of suppressed wary rage. Certainly there was no pity or warmth.


About what?’

In spite of her determination to appear calm even co
nciliatory, in the hope he’d cooperate and somehow admit the truth to Rick, or in writing, her blood boiled with renewed indignity.


Don’t pretend,’ she said, as the rosy colour deepened in her cheeks. ‘That lie – that dreadful thing you told Rick about – about the day Cass found us in the Tree Studio when he was in America – that we’d been making love. You
know
it isn’t true. Then
why
? Oh, Jon.’ Her voice softened. ‘
Please
put it right. I know you were upset about – about losing Cass – that was why I was trying to—’


Seduce me?’ His voice cut the air like a knife.

Her mouth opened.
‘How
dare
you?’ she gasped.

Jon gave a short laugh of derision.
‘Oh, stop the dramatics, Kate. Don’t try the innocent on me. You
wanted
me then. You always have, haven’t you? From the very first chance you had of fluttering your eyes at me. Do you imagine others didn’t know it? Your parents? Ferris himself? And when the chance came of getting me alone at the Tree Studio you jumped at it. You’d been watching that day, hadn’t you? Because you’d somehow found out Cass wasn’t going to be there and you’d have me alone, but she changed her mind. I was in a state, I admit. But not too far gone not to know what you were up to. Oh, yes! You have very soft lips, Kate,
hungry
lips. It was
sex
, Kate, wasn’t it?
Sex
. And Cass!’ For a moment his face slackened and quivered. ‘She
knew
, she
saw
. And it
killed
her. So don’t talk about love, and comfort, because you don’t know the first thing about either.’


You have a foul rotten mind,’ Kate cried, suddenly throwing any sense of discretion to the winds. ‘If Rick was here, he’d—’


He’d what? Presumably he thinks as I do. Too bad. For you. But don’t imagine I’ll lift a finger to put things right for you. You
killed
Cass, and may accept the consequences. I’ll never forgive you.
Never
.’

She half-lifted her whip to strike him, then let her arm drop, shocked by the renewed blaze of hatred on his face, and the realization that he really meant it. He really believed she was responsible for her cousin
’s death and was wanting revenge for that dreadful day.

Numbly she watched him turn and stride away, cutting down a narrow path between high hedges to the little farm. Hopelessness engulfed her. She could see no way now of persuading Rick to accept the truth. Jon was obviously beyond reason over the matter of Cass, and there was no one else to help her.

She didn’t know how she was going to bear life without her husband’s love.

Even the thought of the coming child was a torment and she wished at this juncture it had never been conceived.

*

When Rick returned from London he informed her that some wealthy Americans had
arrived at Charnbrook on his instructions, with the intention of looking over the Dower House, being interested in purchasing the property for holiday and business.


We shall be expected at the Wentworths’ for dinner the following Monday,’ he said with a quick probing glance at his wife, ‘and I hope you’ll put on as good a show of conviviality as possible. The name of the American is Carcodale. Hiram Carcodale. He’s already an important personality in the USA moving-picture project, and is anxious to make the acquaintance of certain theatrical personalities over here for our mutually planned magazine. They’re a Boston family with one daughter, I believe, and contact with the Wentworths, an example of the English aristocracy, will mean a good deal to them.’

Kate
’s temper exploded.


You mean after what happened – after the scene with Jon and – and allowing him to get away with such rotten lies, you expect
me
to go to Charnbrook as a guest and pretend to be a friend of theirs – well!’ She turned and faced him fiercely, with a rustle of skirts – they were standing in the conservatory. ‘I won’t do it. It’s asking too much. Go if you must – if your – your loyalty to the Wentworths and your American moving-picture friends is stronger for them than for your wife. But of course’ – her lip curled, though the threat of tears choked in her throat – ‘it obviously does, or we shouldn’t be leading this sterile life—’ She broke off breathlessly staring.


If you’ve quite finished,’ he said, ‘we can perhaps talk sanely for a change?’ His face was as expressionless as a block of wood, although behind the façade his emotions churned with a wild desire to treat her as one might treat a rebellious child, followed by the pleasure of making-up, of sweeping the bundle of sweet sensuality into his arms in a flood of desire. She was wearing green, shining leaf-green that, against her cream skin and gleaming dark hair, imbued her with the quality of some rare exotic flower. He wanted her. Following the first week of their rift he’d never been free of a repressed need and longing for her supine satin-smooth limbs entwined with his – for the feel of his lips pressed against her skin, during the intimacy of deepest human experiences, of man’s love for woman. But forgiveness evaded him. Love, he decided, the gentle sentimental love expressed romantically in novels through the ages, was seemingly not in his nature. He had been soured beyond endurance by his conviction that another man had trespassed on his most private and precious of preserves. She was tainted – no longer the perfect pearl of his existence. But she still belonged; and whenever necessary he meant to see she recognized it.

When she remained silent he said with an effort,
‘I hope you understand. There must be no sign of disruption between us.’


I said I would not go.’


But you will, won’t you? You’re not ill; you’ll probably enjoy meeting the Carcodales. And’ – his glance became a little kinder – ‘for your benefit it’s hardly likely you’ll see much of Jon. He’ll be otherwise engrossed, discussing a certain business matter with Hiram that will take him back with them to the USA. I shall be thankful myself to be rid of the sight of him, and I’ve a shrewd idea the Wentworths will jump at the idea. It concerns photography – quite Jon’s line. I’ve already a new bailiff lined up part-time for Sir William and his lady wife’s worries over their neurotic son will be put at rest. So, for God’s sake, Kate, take that look off your face and make the best of things—’


If you had a shred of love for me left, you—’


If
is a very useful word,’ he interrupted, ‘but hardly at this point,’ and he turned away without another glance at her.

BOOK: The Velvet Glove
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