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Authors: Sara Seale

Then She Fled Me

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THEN SHE FLED ME

Sara Seale

 

Sarah Riordan had one passionate aim in life: to keep the house and lands of Dun Rury in the family—an unusual ambition for a young girl and not an easy task. It was a hard struggle for an inexperienced girl to cope with lack of money and a feckless family.

Adrian Flint, who came to Dun Rury as a paying guest, had also one aim: to escape from
his broken career, his frustrated ambitions and, his bitter disappointment.

Perhaps, therefore, it was inevitable that these two people, so different in character but so alike in singleness of mind, should begin to interest each other.

 

CHAPTER ONE

It
was the hour of day that Kathy liked best, when the lamps were still unlighted and the soft melancholy of twilight settled on the hills and Slieve Rury

s tapering summit was lost in mist. When it was too dark in the house to read any more, she would sit at the window, watching the light fade from the lough, thinking sometimes of the poetry she had been reading, sometimes of Joe leaving his office in the grey little town of Knockferry, fifteen miles away. A light would spring up on the other shore, Casey

s lonely general shop proclaiming to the countryside that it was also a saloon, Da
nn
y

s bicycle would carry him up the rough drive from the village school, and Sarah, whistling like any boy as she came back from the fields, would jump the ha-ha and run across the lawn to the house.

In those brief moments she would feel both sheltered and expectant
.
The family was uniting again. Presently Nonie would bring the lamps, and Aunt Em would make one of her vague appearances, setting a seal on the domestic circle. She would turn to them gratefully, warm in their fondness for her, happy in their inn
o
cent admiration. The house might be Sarah

s, but she was still Miss Riordan of Dun Rury.

This evening the half-light seemed to linger, as if with this late summer even the
days were reluctant to fade. Kathy, her face turned across the lough, did not hear her sister enter the house, but she did not need to turn her head to know who had come into the room. Sarah

s step was peculiarly her own, buoyant, sometimes almost dancing; even when she had little control over her long, coltish limbs, her feet were never clumsy.


You look like an imprisoned princess watching vainly from her turret,

she said.

Kathy smiled. She frequently thought of herself as an imprisoned princess; it was a pleasing picture for a short spell.


You

re late tonight,

she said.

Is Nolan still sick?


Nolan

s more lazy than sick, and that greyhound litter

s no good. Tom Blake says they

re rickety.

Sarah
s
ounded depressed. She came and flung herself
on
the window seat beside her sister and pressed her forehead against the glass.

Kathy made a little hurt gesture.


Oh, Sarah, will that mean
—?


I

ll have to. It

s no good keeping a bunch of weaklings I can

t sell.

Kathy

s fingers twisted together.


Sometimes you sound so hard,

she said.

Poor little unwanted pups not even given a chance.

She saw Sarah stiffen, and the skin tighten over-her high, cheekbones.


I

m not hard,

she said defensively.

I mind as much
as you do—more, for I reared them.

Kathy was silent, and Sarah said a little bleakly:


We can

t afford luxuries.

 

Kathy sighed. Things, she could see, were working up for another financial crisis. Sarah had lost her air of inconsequence, and that meant that every one would be made extremely uncomfortable until she found it again.


Where

s Aunt Em?

Sarah asked, watching the light in Casey

s saloon and wishing she was a man with a man

s capacity for strong drin
k.


Oh, I forgot,

Kathy said guiltily.

She went to a sale.

For a moment she could almost feel the rage mounting in her sister, then Sarah suddenly flung back her head and laughed, a young, bubbling sound of childish amusement.

Oh, Kathy,

she giggled,

couldn

t you have controlled her? She

ll probably come back this time with a suit o
f
armor.


Not a suit of armor, dear,

Aunt Em

s voice said fro
m
the doorway.

A vacuum cleaner—really very useful, and so
cheap.
There were hardly any bids, you see, because s
o
few people round here have electricity.


Neither,

said Sarah,

have we.


Oh!

Aunt Em stood blinking in the light of the lamps which Nonie carried into the room, and her mouth was a round O of surprise.


So we haven

t,

she said.

Still, it was a great bargain all the same.

Sarah, from the shadows, watched her with rueful
affection.


Darling, you

re hopeless,

she said.

We already have six electric fires, five toasters, and an obsolete radiogram, none of which we can use. Your bargains become expensive after a time.


Sure, the gram
o
phone is a fine piece of furniture and a pleasure to look at,

Nonie said, setting one lamp on the round table in the middle of the room, and one on a marble pedestal, another of Aunt Em

s bargains.

As the old woman turned up the wicks the room sprang slowly to light, familia
r
and overcrowded with the rejections from other rooms and the varied fruits of Aunt Em

s visits to sales. There were fine rooms at Dun Rury, but so much of the furniture had been sold that they seemed bare and chilly and were seldom used. Even meals were taken in the small room next to the kitchen which had once been the servants

hall
.

How oddly we live, Aunt Em thought in a rare moment of perception. So much better to take the lawyer

s advice and sell the place for what it would fetch, and find something s
m
all and modem. Then she looked at Sarah, at the shadows giving her thin young face a momentary brooding austerity, as she tilted her black head against the window-pane, not watching her any more. Sarah would never sell, and Dun Rury belonged to her.


Will I kindle the turfs, Miss Emma?

Nonie asked.

The heat of the day has left a chill.


Yes
...
yes
...”
Aunt Em answered absently. She was taking off her hat, fluffing out her old-fashioned curled fringe, reassuring herself that the catch of her brooch was still firm, the small routine things with which she was familiar, but her mind had gone back two years to the death of her brother-in-law and Sarah, barely sixteen, looking much as she did now, saying clearly:

I will not sell. I will not sell Dun Rury. Aunt Em—dear Aunt Em—you will come and live with us and lend us an air of authority, won

t you?

She had come gladly, because she had lived in cheap boarding houses for years, and because Kathy

s unexpected and disarming beauty had reminded her so poignantly of her dead sister. She had grown very fond of them all; Danny, solemn and self-contained, plodding daily to the village
school, Sarah with her odd reticences, her passionate enthusiasms; but to Kathy she had given her heart, a
n
d she watched her now moving into the circle of light a
nd knew
that familiar little catch of the breath. How like her mother the girl was. At twenty, Kathleen had had just that
look
of the awakened dreamer, her blue eyes, heavy-lashed, clouded and a little lost, the delicate flush, and the feather black hair framing the soft, rounded face. She turned her head, revealing the exquisite profile, and that too was
the same, the little nose, imperceptibly tilted, and the
c
hin
imperceptibly receding, like those o
l
d portraits of Regency beauties. To Kathy, as it had to Kathleen, life must surely always be indulgent.

Danny entered the room, announcing gloomily that he had broken his glasses again, and the moment passed. They gathered round the newly lit fire and Sarah said she w
o
uld help Nonie with the tea.


Tay
is it!

the old woman grumbled.

It

s nigh on supper time.

But she followed Sarah out of the room, muttering that there was a slice of gingerbread still left.


Is Sarah upset about anything?

Aunt Em asked.

Kathy nodded.


She

s brewing for a family crisis. It

s a pity you had to buy that vacuum cleaner. How much did you pay fo
r
it?

Her aunt held up two fingers, dumbly.


Two pounds? I suppose it came out of the housekeeping?


I

m afraid so, dear. But I saved on the butcher t
his
week—we

ve had nothing but rabbit for days. I wish dear Sarah was not quite so enthusiastic with her ferrets.


I wonder what ferret would taste like?

remarked Danny speculatively.


I forgot to pay for the cow-cake when I was in Knock
f
erry,

Aunt Em said, and added with unusual thought:

Do you think I

m a failure as an aunt, Kathy?


Why, lamb? Because you forgot the cow-cake?

Aunt Em looked suddenly humble.


Well, I never seem to remember anything. A
n
d the children aren

t having a chance. Danny ought to be at a decent school, and Sarah—well, Sarah

s not much more than a child.


Sarah!

Kathy laughed.

Why, Sarah

s more grown-up than you are!


That

s not really what I meant. She

s only eighteen
.
One forgets.


And I,

said Kathy with surprise,

am twenty. Two years older than Sarah. I suppose I should do more.

Her aunt looked at her fondly.


What more can you do?

she said.

You have your piano lessons—that is a little help each week—whereas I am just a burden on the estate.


Who

s a burden on the estate?

demanded Sarah, entering the room with a huge kitchen tray.

Here

s the tea. Kathy, pet, there

s one chocolate bun left for you.


What about me?

asked Danny mildly.

I

m a growing boy.

Sarah grinned at him affectionately.


You can have three helpings of pudding for supper. It

s Paddy

s Hat. Now, everybody, fortify yourselves, because after tea I

m going to do accounts, and after that we

ll have to decide on something.


What?

asked Danny with interest.

Sarah wrinkled her nose.


I don

t know, but
something
,

she said.

When the tea things were piled in an untidy heap on the table, they settled down in silence. Aunt Em darned socks on one side of the fire while Kathy, on the other side, returned to her book of the afternoon. Danny played some mysterious game of his own invention with dominoes and Sarah lay on her stomach
on the floor and-tried to wrestle with accounts.

The accounts were really done on Friday night but last week they seemed to have got left over with the result that, struggle as she would, Sarah could not remember small details.


It

s no good,

she said after nearly an hour of scribbling figures on the backs of envelopes and counting on her fingers,

I

m still thirty shillings out, and I simply
can

t
account for it.


Never mind, lamb,

said Kathy without looking up from her book.

It

s spent, anyway, so it doesn

t much matter.


But it does matter,

said Sarah, frowning.

It

s s
o
unsatisfactory having thirty shillings disappear into thin air and not know where it

s gone. Aunt Em, how much have you left in the housekeeping till the end of the week?

Her aunt had been watching her absently. Seen in profile, like that, she had been surprised to find that there was more likeness to Kathy in Sarah than she had ever supposed. The same delicate nose and chin, the same smudged sweep of lashes, but as she turned to look up at her aunt the impression was lost. Sarah

s face was thin and pointed, her eyes were long and as green as any cat

s in the lamplight, and there was no color at all in the high cheekbones.


I

m afraid
—”
Aunt Em said apologetically.

Well,
nothing, dear.


Nothing? But you must have.

Sarah frowned, drawing down her black eyebrows which, like her eyes, tilted at the
corner
s.

I gave you six pounds only on Saturday.


I know, dear.

Her aunt darned placidly.

But two of those went to Casey, and then there were Nonie

s wage
s,
and the daily girl, and I—I don

t remember what happened to the rest.

Sarah pushed the fine straight fringe off her forehead.

The vacuum cleaner,

she said accusingly
.


Yes, dear, I

m afraid so,

her aunt replied tranquilly.

Of course, if I

d only remembered that Dun Rury had no electricity, I would never have bought it. And, Sarah, I

m afraid I forgot about the cow
-
cake.


Oh, Aunt Em, really!

Sarah sounded exaspe
ra
ted.

You know they won

t send any more till something

s paid, on account, and we need it. I

d allowed for that in my farm accounts, and now I

m three pounds ten out instead of, thirty shillings.

S
he chewed the top of her pencil fiercely, uncertain, whether to laugh or cry at her family, but it was difficult to
be cross with Aunt Em who had had such little fun in her lonely spinster existence in boarding houses. Aunt Em h
a
d been happy since she had come to Dun Rury, and although
in theory she was supposed to contribute a little to the running, of the house, in practice it seldom worked out that way
.
She spent most of her small annuity on presents for Kathy.


I must think of something,

she said.

There must be
,
some way of making money.


Joe says,

said Kathy in her gentle voice,

that the only
sensible thing to do is to sell.


Joe just echoes his father,

Sarah replied without heat.

It

s Uncle B

s duty to advise selling, since he

s our solicitor, but he doesn

t expect me to take him seriously. No, what

s wanted here is something steady coming in.


How could something steady come into this house?

enquired Danny with interest.


I don

t know,

said Sarah.

I

ll go out and think.


Must you, dear child? It

s much more comfortable in here,

said Aunt Em, but she protested only from habit. Sarah had always had to do her thinking out of doors.

She walked across the rough lawn, the grass, already wet with dew, cool on her bare ankles; along the boundary line of the ha-ha which divided lawns from fields, and so to what had once been the home farm, to make her nightly rounds. It consisted now of little more than a few cow-byres and the old stables. Nolan

s cottage was dark and shuttered. He might still be sick, but more likely he was across the lough drinking in Casey

s saloon. She made sure all was well for the night, for
Nolan could not be trusted with small details, and saw that he had not repaired the roof in one of the stalls. Tomorrow she must do it herself. She paused to look at the litter of condemned puppies which in the morning Tom Blake, the veterinary surgeon, was coming to destroy, and at the sound of their scufflings in the straw, as, eagerly whimpering, they had tried to reach her, outrage rose within her.


He

ll not do it,

she cried aloud.

He

ll
not take life where there is no suffering! I

ll find you homes, my doties, every one of you!

And, weeping, she ran to the fields and lay in the wet grass, blinking up at the stars.

Supper was nearly over when she returned. She flung open the door with a
shout and they all stopped eating to look at her.


I

ve got it!

she cried.

The answer to everything. I can

t think why we never thought of it before. Something steady coming in—by the week.


What?

said Kathy and Danny together.


Lodgers.


Lodgers?

They looked blank.


Paying guests, if you like it better. Aunt Em—Kathy—don

t you see? All those empty rooms, and the English simply
pouring
over here to fill their stomachs. Why, h
alf of
the impoverished fami
li
es in Ireland are doing it, for the hotels are full and good money being
turned
away.

BOOK: Then She Fled Me
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