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Authors: Agatha writing as Mary Westmacott Christie

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BOOK: Absent in the Spring
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She thought it was very nice of Rodney to be so interested in old Hoddesdon at Lower Mead farm. Poor old man, everyone knew he was going down the hill. But she did wish Rodney would be a little quicker at listening to what was said to him. Because, after all, people expected a lawyer to be sharp and alert, and if Rodney was to look at clients in that vague way it might create quite a bad impression.

So she had said with quick, affectionate impatience:

‘Don't
wool-gather,
Rodney. It's the
boiler
I'm talking about for the
central heating
.' And Rodney had said certainly have a second estimate but that costs were bound to be higher and they must just make up their minds to it. And then he had glanced at the papers piled up on his desk and she had said that she mustn't keep him – it looked as though he had a lot of work to do.

Rodney smiled and said that as a matter of fact he had got a lot of work piled up – and he'd been wasting time already watching the market. ‘That's why I like this room,' he said. ‘I look forward to Fridays. Listen to 'em now.'

And he had held up his hand, and she had listened and heard a good deal of mooing and lowing – really a very confused and rather ugly noise of cattle and sheep – but Rodney, funnily enough, seemed to like it. He stood there, his head a little on one side, smiling …

Oh well, it would not be market day today. Rodney would be at his desk with no distractions. And her fears about clients thinking Rodney vague had been quite unfounded. He was by far the most popular member of the firm. Everyone liked him which was half the battle in a country solicitor's practice.

And but for me, thought Joan proudly, he'd have turned the whole thing down!

Her thoughts went to that day when Rodney had told her about his uncle's offer.

It was an old-fashioned flourishing family business and it had always been understood that Rodney should go into it after he had passed his law exams. But Uncle Harry's offer of a partnership and on such excellent terms was an unexpectedly happy occurrence.

Joan had expressed her own delight and surprise and had congratulated Rodney warmly before she noticed that Rodney didn't seem to be sharing in her sentiments. He had actually uttered the incredible words, ‘If I accept –'

She had exclaimed dismayed, ‘But Rodney!'

Clearly she remembered the white set face he had turned to her. She hadn't realized before what a nervous person Rodney was. His hands picking up blades of turf were trembling. There was a curious pleading look in his dark eyes. He said:

‘I hate office life. I hate it.'

Joan was quick to sympathize.

‘Oh I know, darling. It's been awfully stuffy and hard work and just sheer grind – not even interesting. But a partnership is different – I mean you'll have an interest in the whole thing.'

‘In contracts, leases, messuages, covenants, whereas, insomuch as heretofore –'

Some absurd legal rigmarole he had trotted out, his mouth laughing, his eyes sad and pleading – pleading so hard with her. And she loved Rodney so much!

‘But it's always been understood that you'd go into the firm.'

‘Oh I know, I know. But how was I to guess I'd hate it so?'

‘But – I mean – what else – what do you want to do?'

And he had said, very quickly and eagerly, the words pouring out in a rush:

‘I want to farm. There's Little Mead coming into the market. It's in a bad state – Horley's neglected it – but that's why one could get it cheap – and it's good land, mark you …'

And he had hurried on, outlining plans, talking in such technical terms that she had felt quite bewildered for she herself knew nothing of wheat or barley or the rotation of crops, or of pedigreed stocks or dairy herds.

She could only say in a dismayed voice:

‘Little Mead – but that's right out under Asheldown –
miles
from anywhere.'

‘It's good land, Joan – and a good position …'

He was off again. She'd had no idea that Rodney could be so enthusiastic, could talk so much and with such eagerness.

She said doubtfully, ‘But darling, would you ever make a living out of it?'

‘A living? Oh yes – a bare living anyway.'

‘That's what I mean. People always say there's no money in farming.'

‘Oh, there isn't. Not unless you're damned lucky – or unless you've got a lot of capital.'

‘Well, you see – I mean, it isn't
practical
.'

‘Oh, but it is, Joan. I've got a little money of my own, remember, and with the farm paying its way and making a bit over we'd be all right. And think of the wonderful life we'd have! It's grand, living on a farm!'

‘I don't believe you know anything about it.'

‘Oh yes, I do. Didn't you know my mother's father was a big farmer in Devonshire? We spent our holidays there as children. I've never enjoyed myself so much.'

It's true what they say, she had thought, men are just like children …

She said gently, ‘I daresay – but life isn't holidays. We've got the future to think of, Rodney. There's Tony.'

For Tony had been a baby of eleven months then.

She added, ‘And there may be – others.'

He looked a quick question at her, and she smiled and nodded.

‘But don't you see, Joan, that makes it all the better? It's a good place for children, a farm. It's a healthy place. They have fresh eggs and milk, and run wild and learn how to look after animals.'

‘Oh but, Rodney, there are lots of other things to consider. There's their schooling. They must go to good schools. And that's expensive. And boots and clothes and teeth and doctors. And making nice friends for them. You can't just do what
you
want to do. You've got to consider children if you bring them into the world. After all, you've got a duty to them.'

Rodney said obstinately, but there was a question in his voice this time, ‘They'd be happy …'

‘It's not practical, Rodney, really it isn't. Why, if you go into the firm you may be making as much as two thousand pounds a year some day.'

‘Easily, I should think. Uncle Harry makes more than that.'

‘There! You see! You can't turn a thing like that down. It would be madness!'

She had spoken very decidedly, very positively. She had got, she saw, to be firm about this. She must be wise for the two of them. If Rodney was blind to what was best for him, she must assume the responsibility. It was so dear and silly and ridiculous, this farming idea. He was like a little boy. She felt strong and confident and maternal.

‘Don't think I don't understand and sympathize, Rodney,' she said. ‘I do. But it's just one of those things that isn't real.'

He had interrupted to say that farming was real enough.

‘Yes, but it's just not in the picture.
Our
picture. Here you've got a wonderful family business with a first-class opening in it for you – and a really quite amazingly generous proposition from your uncle –'

‘Oh, I know. It's far better than I ever expected.'

‘And you can't – you simply
can't
turn it down! You'd regret it all your life if you did. You'd feel horribly guilty.'

He muttered, ‘That bloody office!'

‘Oh, Rodney, you don't really hate it as much as you think you do.'

‘Yes, I do. I've been in it five years, remember. I ought to know what I feel.'

‘You'll get used to it. And it will be different now. Quite different. Being a partner, I mean. And you'll end by getting quite interested in the work – and in the people you come across. You'll see, Rodney – you'll end by being perfectly happy.'

He had looked at her then – a long sad look. There had been love in it, and despair and something else, something that had been, perhaps, a last faint flicker of hope …

‘How do you know,' he had asked, ‘that I shall be happy?'

And she had answered briskly and gaily, ‘I'm quite sure you will. You'll see.'

And she had nodded brightly and with authority.

He had sighed and said abruptly: ‘All right then. Have it your own way.'

Yes, Joan thought, that was really a very narrow shave. How lucky for Rodney that she had held firm and not allowed him to throw away his career for a mere passing craze! Men, she thought, would make sad messes of their lives if it weren't for women. Women had stability, a sense of reality …

Yes, it was lucky for Rodney he'd had her.

She glanced down at her wrist watch. Half past ten. No point in walking too far – especially (she smiled) as there was nowhere to walk to.

She looked over her shoulder. Extraordinary, the rest house was nearly out of sight. It had settled down into the landscape so that you hardly saw it. She thought, I must be careful not to walk too far. I might get lost.

A ridiculous idea – no – perhaps not so ridiculous after all. Those hills in the distance, you could hardly see them now – they were indistinguishable from cloud. The station didn't exist.

Joan looked round her with appreciation. Nothing. No one.

She dropped gracefully to the ground. Opening her bag she took out her writing pad and her fountain pen. She'd write a few letters. It would be amusing to pass on her sensations.

Who should she write to? Lionel West? Janet Annesmore? Dorothea? On the whole, perhaps, Janet.

She unscrewed the cap of her fountain pen. In her easy flowing handwriting she began to write:

Dearest Janet: You'll never guess where I'm writing this letter! In the middle of the desert. I'm marooned here between trains – they only go three times a week.

There's a rest house with an Indian in charge of it and a lot of hens and some peculiar looking Arabs and me. There's no one to talk to and nothing to do. I can't tell you how I am enjoying it.

The desert air is wonderful – so incredibly fresh. And the stillness, you'd have to feel it to understand. It's as though for the first time for years I could hear myself think! One leads such a dreadfully busy life, always rushing from one thing to the other. It can't be helped, I suppose, but one ought really to make time for intervals of thought and recuperation.

I've only been here half a day but I feel miles better already. No people. I never realized how much I wanted to get away from people. It's soothing to the nerves to know that all round you for hundreds of miles there's nothing but sand and sun …

Joan's pen flowed on, evenly, over the paper.

Chapter Three

Joan stopped writing and glanced at her watch.

A quarter past twelve.

She had written three letters and her pen had now run out of ink. She noted, too, that she had nearly finished her writing pad. Rather annoying, that. There were several more people she could have written to.

Although, she mused, there was a certain sameness in writing after a while … The sun and the sand and how lovely it was to have time to rest and think! All quite true – but one got tired of trying to phrase the same facts slightly differently each time …

She yawned. The sun had really made her feel quite sleepy. After lunch she would lie on her bed and have a sleep.

She got up and strolled slowly back towards the rest house.

She wondered what Blanche was doing now. She must have reached Baghdad – she had joined her husband. The husband sounded rather a dreadful kind of man. Poor Blanche – dreadful to come down in the world like that. If it hadn't been for that very good-looking young vet, Harry Marston – if Blanche had met some nice man like Rodney. Blanche herself had said how charming Rodney was.

Yes, and Blanche had said something else. What was it? Something about Rodney's having a roving eye. Such a common expression – and quite untrue!
Quite
untrue! Rodney had never – never once –

The same thought as before, but not so snakelike in its rapidity, passed across the surface of Joan's mind.

The Randolph girl …

Really, thought Joan indignantly, walking suddenly just a little faster as though to outpace some unwelcome thought, I can't imagine why I keep thinking of the Randolph girl. It's not as though Rodney …

I mean, there's nothing in it …

Nothing at all …

It was simply that Myrna Randolph was that kind of a girl. A big, dark, luscious-looking girl. A girl who, if she took a fancy to a man, didn't seem to have any reticence about advertising the fact.

To speak plainly, she'd made a dead set at Rodney. Kept saying how wonderful he was. Always wanted him for a partner at tennis. Had even got a habit of sitting at parties devouring him with her eyes.

Naturally Rodney had been a little flattered. Any man would have been. In fact, it would have been quite ridiculous if Rodney hadn't been flattered and pleased by the attentions of a girl years younger than he was and one of the best-looking girls in the town.

Joan thought to herself, if I hadn't been clever and tactful about the whole thing …

She reviewed her conduct with a gentle glow of self-approbation. She had handled the situation very well – very well indeed. The light touch.

‘Your girl friend's waiting for you, Rodney. Don't keep her waiting … Myrna Randolph of course … Oh yes, she is, darling … Really she makes herself quite ridiculous sometimes.'

Rodney had grumbled.

‘I don't want to play tennis with the girl. Put her in that other set.'

‘Now don't be ungracious, Rodney. You must play with her.'

That was the right way to handle things – lightly – playfully. Showing quite well that she knew that there couldn't be anything serious in it …

It must have been rather nice for Rodney – for all that he growled and pretended to be annoyed. Myrna Randolph was the kind of girl that practically every man found attractive. She was capricious and treated her admirers with deep contempt, saying rude things to them and then beckoning them back to her with a sideways glance of the eyes.

BOOK: Absent in the Spring
13.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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