The Echoing Stones

The Echoing Stones by Celia Fremlin

Book: The Echoing Stones by Celia Fremlin Read Free Book Online
Authors: Celia Fremlin
don’t you …”
    “I didn’t say he was Irish. I said it sounded vaguely Irish. You know – ‘Belfast’ and things. Don’t you think it sounds a bit …”
    “No, not a bit. But I’ll tell you what it does sound like. It sounds phoney. The sort of name you’d make up on the spur of the moment.”
    “ I wouldn’t,” declared Mildred stoutly. “If I was making up a name on the spur of the moment, I’d make up ‘Smith’, or ‘Johnson’. Something easy.”
    Val laughed, not altogether pleasantly.
    “I really believe you would, too! Typical! If I hadn’t known you all these years, Mills, I’d think you’d been born yesterday! Smith, indeed! Is that what you did tell him, incidentally? And did you give him a wrong address as well? Is that why he’s meeting you at the tube station, instead of calling for you here, like a gentleman?”
    No, that’s not why. He’s picking me up at the tube station because I asked him to, and I asked him to becauseI didn’t want you peering out of the window at us and noticing that he’s going bald, and that he doesn’t get out and open the car door for me, if he doesn’t; and any other flaws and failings you can manage to spot in one minute flat. I know you’ve decided to dislike him, and I can’t stop you, but I don’t have to make it easy for you, do I?
    Of course, she didn’t say any of this aloud, there was no need. Mildred, like most naturally docile women, had had plenty of practice at keeping her nastier thoughts to herself, and had learned to get almost as much satisfaction from them in this silent form as she would have had from their overt expression, and at much less cost.
    The rest of the evening passed pleasantly enough, with Val going to bed in high good humour. Mildred had been hoping for an early night herself, in preparation for tomorrow’s adventure, but unfortunately she had to stay up until Val was safely asleep before she could wash her hair and set it in rollers. She didn’t want to be told she was angling for male approval, though she was; nor that she was damaging her roots by drying her hair in front of the electric fire, though she might be. Who could tell? One is drowned in advice from every quarter, some of it wise, some of it not, and no way of judging.

    The drive through the late summer countryside was delightful; the trees heavy with foliage, the bracken just beginning to turn golden. Gordon proved to be an even more agreeable companion than she’d remembered from their original encounter, and she was able to sit back in the passenger seat and enjoy his voice as he told her all about the villages they passed through, and about the little grey churches, which were Norman or Gothic or whatever. This was Mildred’s idea of the perfect travelling companion – someone who would do all the talking, seeming to enjoy the sound of his own voice, so that she didn’t have to be amusing, or to rack her brains for something intelligent to say about whatever it was.
    Lunch was delightful, too, at a country pub where he knew exactly which door to go in at, what to order, and even the name of the little river that flowed past the lawn on which they sat, at a white-painted table, eating salad and crisp rolls and a particularly delicious kind of quiche. Even the beer was nice, though Mildred wasn’t usually much of a one for beer.
    And the sun shone and there was no hurry, and she could feel that her striped sun-dress was exactly right for strolling down to the river bank and being told why it was that the swans didn’t nest here any more.
    He knew everything , it was incredibly restful, and by the time they drew up in the Visitors’ car park at Emmerton Hall, she had all but forgotten the hideous feelings ofembarrassment that had assailed her when she’d first contemplated this expedition.
    But now, on the brink of the ordeal, something of this embarrassment returned. What to say to Arnold when, as surely must happen, she

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