Friendly Young Ladies

Friendly Young Ladies by Mary Renault Read Free Book Online

Book: Friendly Young Ladies by Mary Renault Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mary Renault
stimulating encounters with more rigid and less enlightened minds. To Elsie, this transient vista of a splendid loneliness was almost too much for her heart to hold. She could not speak. It was not, in any case, required of her. Peter returned to earth, and propped himself more comfortably on his elbow against the sea-pinks and the rough grass. “It’s too bad,” he said, looking at her thoughtfully, “that you’re an only child.”
    Elsie dug her fingers into the flake of lichen, with such force that it came away in her fingers.
    “I’m glad you said that.” She felt so breathless that it seemed strange to hear the words coming, while her lungs were empty. “It’s what I was going to tell you. It’s the other thing that I said there was. You see. …” He reached out his hand and put it over hers. With a little rushing gasp she finished, “You see—I’m not.”
    “What aren’t you?” He moved his fingers gently over the back of her hand.
    “An only child. I had an elder sister, you see.”
    “Poor little Elsie.” He turned her hand palm upwards, and stroked it again. “How long has she been dead?”
    “She isn’t dead. She—went away. No one talks about her.”
    “Don’t they?” said Peter softly. “Don’t they, indeed? Well, it seems about time you and I did, doesn’t it?”
    “I wanted to. I thought it would seem—less awful, if we did.”
    “I think so too.” He smiled at her; but she was looking down at his hand covering hers. This was already miracle enough. “And they never told you what it was, this awful thing that no one talks about?”
    “No. At least, not …”
    “But you think you know, don’t you?”
    Elsie looked down at the broken flake of lichen. “Yes,” she said.
    She knew that he was looking at her. She raised her eyes, quickly, ready to look away again. He held them with his own.
    “Everything has a name, my dear. And some things have several. Don’t you think, knowing your parents as you do, that perhaps the reason they don’t talk about her is that they haven’t got a word for love?”
    Elsie said nothing. She did not think of speaking; one does not answer the morning star. The word had never been spoken, until his voice clothed it. She thought that she would hear it every moment, now, for the rest of her life.
    Peter saw her face, like a face stilled by incantation. It did not much perturb him. The word transference floated, with the comfortable assurance of text-book and experiment, across his mind. Rather more briskly, since time was getting short, he said,
    “Do you remember your sister well?”
    “Yes. Quite well.” Elsie’s face stirred, as if the sound of her own voice had waked it. “I was nine when she went away. She wasn’t really—at all like that, I thought.”
    Peter smiled at her benignly. “My dear, you’re not nine now. Everyone’s like that. You are. I am.”
    Elsie’s heart stopped dead, and then raced so that it seemed to be shaking her body.
    The sun was growing warmer; an outcrop of rock sheltered them from the wind. Peter stretched himself pleasantly on the grass. It was going well, he thought.
    “There are people who refuse life, and people who accept it. That’s all. Your sister would understand what I mean. So will you when the time comes, unless you run away from it. Don’t do that; you’re much too nice a person.” His eyes, bluer from the reflection of the sky, smiled into hers.
    Elsie took a breath, trying to speak. She wanted to say that she would not run away, though terror and beauty should destroy her; but only a little breath came back again from between her lips.
    “You trust me, don’t you.” It was an encouraging statement, not a question; he did not waste time by exacting a reply. “You don’t think I’m something that ought to be shoved into the cupboard under the stairs and never mentioned? Well … I’m twenty-eight, you know: and I haven’t spent the last ten years in a monastery. And I’m not

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