Dazed by the silence

Suzanne Slayton on January 2, 2013 in Uncategorized
They drew apart and for a moment Anna stood looking up at him, dazed by the silence.
Then, for the last time, she curtsied.
If it hadn’t been for that curtsy, Rupert would have left her then and there. But what she made of that gesture, combining her former respect and humility with the elegance, the lightness of the ballroom—yet all of it, somehow, heartbreakingly on a dying fall—was more than he could bear.
“Come outside for a moment.” She shook her head. “No, Rupert.”
He did not hear the denial, only that she had used his Christian name—and followed by every pair of eyes in the room he led her out, still pro­testing, through the French windows, and onto the terrace. Nor did he stop there but, as familiar with Heslop as with Mersham, led her down a flight of shallow stone steps to an arbour wíth a lily pond and a stone bench, protected by a high, yew hedge.
“Anna,” he said, guiding her to the seat, “I shall do what is right. I shall not jilt Muriel. The mistake is my mistake and I will live by it. But if you have any merey tell me just once that you feel as I do. That if things had been different . . .” He drew breath, tried again. “That you love me, Anna?”
She was silent, and suddenly he was more frightened than he had ever been. Then she turned towards him and gave him both her hands to hold and said very quietly : “I have no right to tell you, you belong to someone elle. But I will tell you. Only I will tell you in my own language so that you will not understand.”
And Anna spoke. In the wonderful, damnable language that separated yet joined them, with its caressing rhythm, its wildness and searing tenderness. He was never to know what she said but it seemed to him one of the great love speeches of the world.

“Have you understood?” she asked when she had finished.
“I have understood,” said Rupert when he could trust him­self to speak.
Then he bent to kiss her once very lightly on the lips and went back to find his bride.
TOM had been assiduous in performing his duties. He detested dressing up but he was wearing the navy sweater and bell-bottoms of a sailor in His Majesty’s Navy. He was indifferent to dancing but he had waltzed with the detestable Lady Lavinia and snatched Muriel Hardwicke from Dr Lightbody’s arms when the music ceased so as to give Rupert a few last minutes of happiness.

Now, however, he felt entitled to some solace and this for Tom meant the company of the plump and bespectacled Susie Ra binovich.

He found her with her mother, making easier by her uncomplicated presence the first emotional meeting between Hannah and the dowager since the day at Maidens Over.

“I should have known,” Hannah was saying. “I should have known that Miss Hard­wicke’s note had nothing to do with you. It was so foolish—but Chis particular thing . . . we make jokes about it but for us it is like a deep, black hole, always there.”

“Oh, my dear.” The dowager was deeply shaken by what she had just learnt about her son’s fiancée. “What a wretched tangle it all is—” She broke off. “Ah. here comes Tom! Have you come to claim Susie for a dance?”

“To claim her at all events. I thought she might like some lemonade.”
Susie smiled and followed him. But she was destined to get no lemonade that night. Tom led her out of the ballroom, through the Great Hall, and finto an anteroom.
“Susie,” said Tom, and she saw that he was in an unusually grim and serious mood. “How many times have I asked you to marry me?”

“I think seventeen,” said Susie in her quiet, pedantic voice, looking up at him and wishing yet again that he wasn’t quite so handsome. “But it may only be sixteen; I’m not com­pletely sure.”
“Susie, are you really going to ruin our happiness because of your parents’ wretched religious prejudices? Even though I’ve told you a hundred times that you can bring up our children in any way you like?”

Susie hesitated. “It’s not that. My parents aren’t so orthodox any more. They’d moan a little but there’s no question of them disowning me or saying a kad­dish over me. They’re far too concerned for my happiness.” Tom stared at her, amazed. “But why, then, Susie? Why do you keep on saying no?”

Susie studied him carefully. “Tom, have you ever looked at me? At me? Not someone you’ve imagined?”

She stepped forward so that the overhead light shone full on her face. The gypsy dress, as she well knew, was extremely un­becoming to her and she was flushed from the hect.
“I’m plump now,” she con­tinued in her leve!. unemotional voice. “In ten years be fat however much 1 diet. 1 have a hooked nose; most of the time 1 need glasses. My hair is frizzy and my ears—”