Authors: Emily Grayson
Alec blew out a breath. “This is damn serious business, Carson. I'm in way over my head here. Perhaps if I spoke to himâ”
Carson cut him off. “That won't do any good. If he won't listen to me, he's certainly not going to listen to you. In fact,” she went on, hesitantly, “if he knew I told you what he'd told me, I think he'd have you locked up.”
“Locked up,” Alec echoed dully. “So if I can't speak to him, what
“You mean, what can
Alec smiled crookedly, pulling her close for another kiss. Then he rested his cheek against hers.
“So,” he whispered, “what are you thinking?”
“I'm thinking,” she answered, “that it's time Mrs. Bertram and I finally got to meet.”
Before he could respond, she took Alec by the hand and led him to the bench by the greenhouse. There they sat shoulder to shoulder in the cool night air as she began to describe what they should do now.
This would be Carson's plan. Just as her uncle had orchestrated the final three days in Portugal and, in a way, the days and months that followed, so Carson now conceived the way the next week would work. As for how her plan might affect the days and months that followedâmight alter the
very lives that depended on its successâshe couldn't say. “But,” she said, “there's only one way to find out.”
If she was right, she told Alec, British intelligence knew that Alec was visiting her right now. There was no chance that they had let a suspected traitor leave England without monitoring his movements closely, and when word reached Lawrence that after Alec Breve had reached New York he'd headed straight for Connecticut, there wouldn't be any question of his destination. And who knew? she added. Lawrence might have already sent word that the local authorities should pick up the two of them at once, and police cruisers might at that moment be charging across the back roads of Connecticut toward the Weatherell house. Or maybe the authorities were waiting for daylight to make their move. The point was, Carson said, she and Alec might never get the chance to put their plan into action, and they must prepare themselves for that possibility. But then again, she said, maybe they would, and they'd better prepare for that possibility, too.
And that plan was this: The two of them would head down to New York at once, check the shipping news in the morning papers, and book passage on the first available liner sailing for Southampton. Mrs. Bertram had provided Alec with sufficient funds for his return passage, of course, and when Carson said she could stop by the bank and withdraw some money for her own ticket, Alec said that wouldn't be necessaryâthat
Mrs. Bertram had provided him with enough money to purchase a ticket for Carson, too, “just in case things worked out.” Perfect, Carson said when she'd heard this; the less documentation they left behind, the better their chances for reaching their ultimate destination. Which was, she announced to Alec, not Cambridge, where Alec would be vulnerable to all sorts of insinuations or accusations about access to sensitive information, but the neutralâand nurturingâLondon home of Mrs. Bertram.
“Brilliant,” Alec said. “And then what?”
“And then,” Carson answered, sitting straighter, somewhat surprised at this sudden flight of improvisation on her part, “I guess I'll have to think of something else.”
The dome of the British Museum glowed in the sunlight just as Alec had always promised it would, when the day eventually came that he would escort Carson along the quiet and refined streets of Bloomsbury to the white-pillared house of Mrs. Bertram. England itself seemed to be gleaming on this day, and Carson thought wistfully how magical the occasion would have seemed if this visit were taking place under happier circumstances, the kind that she and Alec had always imagined. But it wasn't, and in the new spirit of trusting herself moment by moment, step-by-step, Carson instead resolved to make the most of the visit, no matter what.
They hadn't cabled or telephoned Mrs. Bertram
in advance. Carson worried that the authorities would intercept the message, learn where they were heading, and perhaps pay Mrs. Bertram a visit firstâa frightening prospect, considering that the news that the British government suspected Alec of passing information to a foreign government was sure to come as a considerable shock. Better that she hear it from Alec himself than from some plodding Sherlock operating according to his own agenda.
So it was with even more trepidation than the situation might otherwise warrant that Carson waited while Alec first leaned on the doorbell. He cleared his throat. He tightened his grip on her arm, giving her elbow a reassuring squeeze. Carson glanced over her shoulder in both directions, as if she might be able to discern which of the many pedestrians strolling toward or away from the museum, or which of the several automobiles trolling the narrow street or parked at a discreet distance, might be the one keeping tabs on the two of them. An involuntary shudder ran up her spine, ending at the back of her neck.
“Cold?” Alec said.
“Nervous,” Carson answered.
She'd had a week to prepare herself for this moment, and it still seemed unreal. It was frustrating, to say the least, to have to wait six days to reach the other side of the ocean. Daredevil pilots in airplanes could manage the crossing in just over half a day now, and paying customers aboard zeppelins could actually make the trip in
relative comfort, as long as they were willing to begin their voyage in New Jersey and terminate it in Germany, neither of which would have been helpful to Carson and Alec. And so for the third time in as many months Carson had found herself staring out at the Atlantic and counting the days until she reached the far shore.
She had made one complete rotation since the summer began, going from loving Alec to hating him to loving him again, or at least leaving herself open to that possibility. She still had her doubts. How could she not? Her own uncle had convinced her once of Alec's duplicity, and he might yet convince her again.
What if he's still lying?
she wondered one morning, lying in bed in their stateroom, watching Alec button a shirt.
What if he's manipulating me?
Well, what if? If he was lying to her, she would find out soon enough, and she would have to absorb that blow once again. But in the meantime, she could only try to learn to trust herself, and for now, in this moment, she trusted herself to be here with him.
From time to time during that week at sea she'd thought of Harris Black, of course. On the evening of the day she'd left, Harris was supposed to be taking her out to dinner and to see the new Carole Lombard comedy at the Bijou, something about her posing as a princess on a transatlantic trip. Somehow, now, Carson didn't think that plot sounded so funny. Harris was a good man; he didn't deserve to be treated this way, and
she wondered if he would ever forgive her. By now, she supposed, he would be leaving for college, and Carson hoped for his sake that he would meet a girl at a dance, someone from Radcliffe or Smith or Wellesley who could love him in a way that she could not.
And Carson thought about her parents. She imagined her mother throwing herself into whatever work it was she wanted to do on the third floor, utterly incapable of understanding a daughter who would have the nerve in every sense of the word to flee in the middle of the night. That last night in Marlowe, Carson had shakily come back inside the dark, sleeping house long enough to pack one bag and leave a note. The words, written on a piece of scrap paper she'd found in the drawer of the front-hall telephone table, didn't come easily to her, for she knew the upsetting effect they would inevitably have in only a few hours' time:
Dear Mother and Daddy,
I have gone away for a while, with someone I need to be with; I'm really not sure how long I will be. Please please PLEASE don't worry about me. I'm not in any trouble, but there is something I simply need to do. I know this is difficult for you, but I promise that I will be in touch with you as soon as I can. I only hope that you trust me to make the decisions that are right for me. Remember, I'm not a child anymore. Please tell
Harris that I'm very, very sorry, and that I didn't mean to hurt him.
I love you both,
Then she'd added a two-word P.S.: “Trust me.” And she'd underlined the word
But mostly during that week at sea she'd thought about Alec. As she embraced Alec on the lawn that night in Marlowe, her old feelings for him had flooded back to her at once; they were important feelings, essential feelings, but they were also basic feelings, arising from a fundamental human need. Only now, on the ship, as she and Alec took advantage of the leisurely pace and the middle-of-nowhere seclusion to catch up with each other in the same all-day-together way they had at the PensÃ£o Moderna, could a more complex set of feelings emerge, those of comfort and security and, more than anything, belonging.
Those final three days in Portugal, and then even on the return voyage from Europe, Carson had tried to protect herself by steeling herself against her own emotions, by isolating them, as if her feelings for Alec somehow existed outside herself. Then, when she was safely alone in her bedroom back in Marlowe, she had allowed herself to experience those emotions fully, surrendering to them, letting her grief and anger engulf her, until she was afraid she might never resurface. But now, back in Alec's arms, she understood that
although she'd experienced those feelings fully, she hadn't experienced them
She needed someone to hear them, but not just anyone: not her worried but judgmental mother; not the sympathetic but uncomprehending Harris Black; not even her worthy aunt Jane, Carson saw now; and surely not her own untrustworthy self, going over and over recent events as she paced back and forth in her bedroom. It was Alec she needed. Only Alec. Her thoughts and fears and hopes and grief and even anger at him were only approximations of what she felt, until he'd heard them. It was like when they made love in the PensÃ£o Moderna, or now on board the ship; both of them kept their eyes open so they wouldn't miss a moment, so they would see each other's changing expressions. Did other lovers do that? She had no way of knowing. All she knew was that it was what she did with Alecâand that she wasn't complete until she saw herself in Alec's eyes.
And so one afternoon on board the ship, the ocean gently rocking them in its lullaby rhythm, the sunlight through the porthole casting rippling patterns across their naked bodies, Carson stared up into Alec's eyes, saw them burning back into hers, and she knew:
I believe you.
The massive door budged once with the effort of someone on the other side trying to tug it open. Carson and Alec exchanged glances, wondering if one of them should offer to help Mrs. Bertram open her own front door. It budged again, and
then it finally freed itself from the doorframe, swinging wide.
Perhaps because Alec had always described Mrs. Bertram as a vital person, purposeful and opinionated, Carson had been expecting a large woman, a battleship. To Carson's surprise, however, Mrs. Bertram was a tiny woman, “birdlike,” as Carson thought a novelist might write. She wore a pale blue angora sweater draped around her shoulders and a pair of pince-nez perched on the bridge of her nose. Her hair was beautiful, Carson thought, a weave of silver and auburn, tied loosely in a bun but with sprays of tendrils framing a lovely, kind face that just now, taking in the unlikely, unexpected sight awaiting her on her doorstep, expanded into a radiant smile.
“Oh, my sweet boy,” she said softly, and she came forward to embrace Alec and kiss him European style, on both cheeks. “I am so very glad to see you.” Then she turned her attention to Carson.
“This is Carson,” said Alec. “Carson Weatherell.”
“Of course,” Mrs. Bertram said. “I would know her anywhere. She is just as you described her.”
“Hello, Mrs. Bertram,” Carson said, reaching out her hand. Mrs. Bertram clasped it and smiled. She continued to hold Carson's hand, appraising her, her head tilting as if regarding a painting in a museum. Carson waited, watching, knowing somehow that this moment
Here was a woman who had been crucial in Alec's life, someone who had given him love and values and a Cambridge education. Carson wanted Mrs.
Bertram to feel that here was someone who would be just as good for Alec as she herself had been. “I've heard so much about you,” Carson offered.
“Oh, I'm sure I've heard much more about
” Mrs. Bertram replied. “I've known Alec a very long time, and believe me, I've never heard him say half this much about any other young woman. And I can see why. You dazzle the eyes, and no doubt the heart.”
“I'm so sorry we didn't call ahead,” Alec said, but Mrs. Bertram waved his apology away as if it were a minor irritant, a flying insect.
“You always have a room here,” she said. “You know that, dear. One doesn't call home simply to say one is coming home, now does one? This is a pleasant surpriseâso pleasant, in fact, it would appear I've forgotten my manners. Come in, come in.”
The interior of the house was, if possible, even grander than Carson had imagined. Though it was located in the middle of a city, with other houses on either side, Mrs. Bertram's home was really a mansion. A marble staircase lined one wall of the foyer, while doorways along the hall offered views of various rooms, each glittering with antiques. The Persian rugs were soft underfoot, the walls were the color of cream, and everything smelled of rose water and lemon polish
Mrs. Bertram led them into the parlor, and before long all three of them were sitting together drinking tea, eating ginger biscuits, and talking intensely. Carson and Alec explained the entire
story to Mrs. Bertram, who listened keenly, nodding and asking questions every once in a while. When they'd finished telling her everything, she put down her teacup and leaned her head back, eyes closed, hands clasped in her lap, as if in deep thought. Finally, she spoke.