In Love and War

In Love and War by Lily Baxter Read Free Book Online

Book: In Love and War by Lily Baxter Read Free Book Online
Authors: Lily Baxter
    â€˜I’m not a charity case,’ Elsie said sharply. ‘I’m sure you can find something to do that’s more amusing than helping me to arrange my mother’s funeral.’ She knew she was being unreasonable, but she felt as if the last vestige of pride had been stripped away from her. She snatched up the bucket and marched out into the yard.
    Marianne had gone when Elsie returned to the kitchen and she felt ashamed of her outburst. It had been kind of Marianne to offer financial help, but they were not friends and never could be: the social divide was too great to allow that to happen, and she did not want to feel obligated to the Winter family. A life in service was not for her. Marianne’s careless words had made her realise how foolish she had been to imagine that Henri Bellaire was interested in her as a person. He must have seen her as another opportunity to help someone less fortunate than himself, and she herself had been dazzled by his charm and good looks. ‘You’re an idiot, Elsie Mead,’ she said out loud. ‘And talking to yourself is the first sign of madness.’
    Elsie was on her way home when she heard the roar of a motor car engine and the parp-parp of its horn. She jumped aside, almost tumbling into the ditch as the car screeched to a halt at her side.
    â€˜I thought you could do with a lift?’ With the engine still running Marianne leaned across and opened the passenger door. ‘Hop in.’
    Elsie hesitated. She should refuse and keep her pride, but curiosity overcame caution and she climbed in beside her. ‘This is Henri’s car.’
    â€˜It’s mine for the time being. He decided to travel by train and left it in my safe keeping until he returns at the weekend.’ Marianne accelerated and the vehicle leapt forward in a series of bunny hops. ‘I haven’t quite got the hang of the thing yet,’ she said, laughing. She shot a sideways glance at Elsie. ‘Do relax; I’m perfectly capable behind the wheel. I had a few lessons in Switzerland from a divine man who was the brother of one of my best friends. Unfortunately he turned out to have a wife and child in Hampstead, but I didn’t find that out for quite a while, and I didn’t let on for a long time after that.’ She chortled with laughter. ‘Are you shocked, Elsie?’
    â€˜No, I don’t think so.’ Elsie held on to her straw hat.
    â€˜You’re full of surprises. I had you down as being an innocent and maybe a bit of a prude.’
    â€˜I grew up in Sutton Darcy. You’d be shocked if you knew half of what goes on.’
    â€˜You must enlighten me some time, but first things first. Where would you like me to drop you?’
    â€˜I was on my way to the vicarage.’
    â€˜I thought as much. I’m sorry I upset you earlier. I’m not noted for my tact, Elsie. Am I forgiven?’
    â€˜Actually I’m the one who should apologise,’ Elsie said with a reluctant smile. ‘You were trying to help, but you must understand why I couldn’t accept such a generous offer.’
    â€˜Apology accepted. I did think you were a bit hard on me, although I still don’t see why you won’t allow me to pay for the funeral.’ Marianne swerved in order to avoid a pothole. ‘Your mother was kind to me when I was a child. I used to sneak down to the kitchen when the servants had their afternoon break. Monique was always there, mopping the floor or scrubbing that huge pine table, and she used to look the other way when I raided the pantry for jam tarts or biscuits. She always had time for me and we had long conversations in French, which helped no end when I spent my summers in Provence with Henri’s family.’
    â€˜I didn’t know that, but it’s typical of Ma. She was the nicest, kindest person I’ve ever known.’
    â€˜So you understand why I want to make sure she has a

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