The Innocents

The Innocents by Francesca Segal Read Free Book Online

Book: The Innocents by Francesca Segal Read Free Book Online
Authors: Francesca Segal
flatmate, Tanya Pearl. Rachel waved to Natalie Cordova, the young rabbi’s wife, who still looked alarmingly pregnant for a woman who’d given birth two months ago. She waved back and gestured that she would save them seats. Adam knew her from nursery school and had fond memories of her family poodle, Morris; Rachel had been in the same Brownie pack as Natalie and also remembered Morris, though he had by then been an elderly dog. Two years ago Natalie had married Rabbi Cordova, whom they both knew from Israel Tour, when he’d just been known as Ginger Josh.
    The music room evoked the same awestruck reaction from Rachel as the fireplace. The ceiling was lower here and the lemon walls, glowing in the light of Louis XVI candle sconces, managed to evoke both grandeur and coziness. The only electric bulbs in the room cast small, neat spotlights on the music stands; the flames of a hundred tapers were left to do the rest. The musicians sat poised, glancing at the Brahms on the pages before them and overseen, in turn, by the oil-painted eyes of Rupert Sabah’s ancestors, framed and sightless behind them.
    Ellie arrived at the beginning of the fourth movement, and the mounting agitation of the violin stirred the audience into even greater disapproval of her lateness. The doors were not at the back of the room but at the side and her slipping in was visible to absolutely everyone, except perhaps the far back corner. Tonight she had had the decency to cover herself up at least, but her tight jeans and brown leather jacket, aged and cracking at the elbows, made her even more incongruous amid this sea of sequins and velvet than her usual overexposure would have done. She had witnessed Rachel’s own anxiety about what to wear this evening, Adam thought in irritation, so the dress code could not have escaped her attention. Sitting between his fiancée and his mother, he heard them inhale in shamed stereo. Ellie looked at no one, merely took the empty seat on the end of the second row and leaned forward slightly to listen. When the music and applause ended she slipped from her chair and crossed the room to the window, and as the audience gathered their coats he watched as she unlatched the French doors and let herself out into the garden. He turned to see Rachel and his mother disappearing into the hallway together deep in conversation and so stayed where he was between the rows of plush chairs, observing Ellie through the departing throng.
    Open, the doors framed her, a cigarette between her lips, one hand shaking a gold lighter to encourage its disobedient flame. She stood in a circle of warm yellow light that spilled into the courtyard from the music room, but an icy November wind blew in around her, and her hair whipped forward. A gust of disapproval blew through the chamber with the cold air, and the candle flames guttered. Adam smiled in empathy at those murmuring their objections and crossed to greet her, and to tell her to close the doors.
    “Having a fag?” he asked, needlessly.
    “To Americans a fag is something else.”
    “Aren’t you an American?”
    “Unclear. Americans would say I’m English.” She hugged her jacket closed and shivered.
    Behind her rolled the Sabahs’ garden in which lights were hidden beneath rows of heavy yews, the lawn disappearing like a vast parkland into blackness. To the right, the courtyard was lined with topiaried orange trees in pots, and closed except for a small passage that led round to the front of the house. Between these embodiments of opulent tradition and of nature mastered and manicured stood Ellie, belonging to neither.
    “Well, you’re definitely not English.”
    She raised an eyebrow. “So we have a dilemma.”
    “We do.”
    “So.” She accepted the blazer that Adam had removed and handed to her. “What did I miss?”
    “You mean, apart from the first, second, and third movements? Not much. Rupert Sabah thanking us all for coming. A couple of rounds of tequila shots.

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