Prisoner's Base

Prisoner's Base by Celia Fremlin

Book: Prisoner's Base by Celia Fremlin Read Free Book Online
Authors: Celia Fremlin
freshly tidied bathroom, dropping curlers all over the place, and feebly offering to help with things. While the sun broke slowly and gloriously through the mist outside, Margaret, as if in partnership with the summer day, set herself indoors to make the house shine in its fullest splendour. She rubbed up the brass ornaments and candlesticks in the dining-room; she polished the long table and the knobbly, carved backs of the chairs which had been old when she was a little girl; moving on into the hall, she washed the tiled floor, wiped down the banisters, and was just about to start on the red tiles round the front door, when the telephone rang.
    It’ll be Claudia, she thought, with a sudden sinking of the heart; it’ll be Claudia saying that Mavis will be coming home for lunch after all. My day, my lovely day, will be spoilt. I shan’t be able to sit in the basket chair by the wallflowers with my coffee and my sandwich; I shan’t be able to listen to the bees, or read my library book, or lie basking in the long sunshine between lunch and tea….
    Her relief at hearing a strange voice when she picked up the telephone was so great that it must have quite surprised her unknown caller. He sounded somewhat taken aback. “Is that Langley 2344?” he asked twice, each time more doubtfully, as if he could not really believe in her assent; and then: “Does a Mrs Claudia Wilkinson live there?”
    “She does: but I’m afraid she’s not in just now. Can I give her a message?” asked Margaret, her heart still singing withfriendliness towards her interlocutor simply because he couldn’t possibly be anything to do with Mavis coming back for lunch. “Or can I do anything myself? I’m her mother,” she added chattily, in case it might be any help to him. “I live here.”
    “Her mother. Oh.” The voice sounded young, awkward, unaccustomed to dealing with social complexities. There was quite a pause. Then: “Oh, well. Perhaps—er— Look, do you think I could come round and see her this evening? About eight thirty? Will she be in then?”
    “Why—yes—I think she will—she hasn’t said anything to me about going out,” said Margaret uncertainly. “Shall I try to get in touch with her at the office—get her to ring you back?”
    “No! Oh no!” The voice sounded quite agitated. “I—you see, I’m not really on the phone. No, I’d sooner just take a chance on it. Can I do that? Can I come at half past eight, and if she’s not there—well, I’ll just go away again? Is that all right?”
    “Well, yes, we’d be delighted, of course,” said Margaret, somewhat bewildered. “That is, if you don’t mind the risk of wasting your journey. Do you live far from here?”
    “Oh. Well.” Again he seemed a little flustered. “Not actually . No, not all that far. It’ll be O.K.”
    “Well, then, we’ll look forward to seeing you, Mr—er—” and it was only then, just as they were both about to ring off, that Margaret realised that she still did not know the young man’s name.
    “Just a moment—what was the name?” she asked apologetically ; and then, when she couldn’t hear properly what he said, she asked again. Maurice something. Or was it something Morris? She couldn’t possibly ask a third time, so saying “ Goodbye , Mr—er—” she laid down the receiver, trying to place either name among the business acquaintances of whom Claudia occasionally spoke; but without success. Oh well; she would soon know: lifting the receiver, she dialled Claudia’s office number.
    Claudia’s delight at hearing of the arrangement seemed to Margaret excessive. It made her uneasy. Who could this person be who could put such a lilt of excitement into her daughter’s usually business-like voice?
    “But who is he, Claudia?” she asked, at the risk of seeming inquisitive. “Have I heard of him before?”
    “Oh—I can’t quite tell you over the phone,” Claudia answered rapidly, her voice still full of inexplicable

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