Diana was agitated and confused. Her plans for teaching had been abandoned. Coming home from India, she had returned empty handed as it was described for those of the fishing fleet looking for husbands. She had spent a few months in dull company, in hill stations with ruddy faced planters with grabbing hands. Some had tried to make love to her, fumbled and awkward moments after club dances. Her family in Yorkshire had tried hard to marry her off so had sent her away. It was not that she was not pretty but at thirty the chance of such a notion seemed to be slipping away.
She glanced around her room in the lodgings that she shared with the station master’s daughter. It was small with two beds each with a coverlet in pink and green trim. The wall paper was floral and light brown, and a single bulb illuminated the gloom. On the side table all her books were ready for the school, tied in string and yet she knew that they would remain that way. She started to undress and standing by the mirror looked at her body that shimmered beneath a thin slip. She was tall but had curves that emphasised her small breasts. Putting on an old-maid styled dressing gown that would never do for the Hall, idling and letting her imagination stray she lent out of the window.
It was a light evening and her cigarette smoke drifted away in the evening air. It was getting warmer in the day but the dusk brought the evening chill. She shivered. A late blackbird chased away intruders to its territory with angry chirps. A dog fox in the woods nearby barked, the world was settling for the night and with a flick the last of the ash floated away, she closed the pane and prepared for bed.
She wound her clock as usual, always kept on Indian time and slipped between the damp sheets and remembered Henry’s touch on her shoulder, it had been electric and strangely welcoming. Her toes explored the bed, stretching to get warm. She started to drift off, her thoughts on Henry, she could not call him Silas. She wondered if he was thinking of her.
In the Hall the cold had been broken by Aga Jhan laying a fire. Henry always liked this part of the evening, standing by the spitting logs and putting his mind at rest with a peg of whiskey, dashed with soda. His supper was always taken in his chair by the grate, sometimes cheese and biscuits or a soup, he never ate at night. He took the folded newspaper and opened it at the sporting news. He was looking forward to the Australians coming over for the ‘48 test especially as Bradman was in the team as Captain. He creased the back page and settled to the previews of the matches, June was not far off. After a while he rose, kicked a log back to life and rang the bell for Aga Jhan. He was feeling unsettled and wanted to fix that.
‘Sir?’, Aga Jhan was like a shadow arriving, gliding into the room, always silently.
‘Yes, thank you for the supper, fix me another peg too and then that will be it, good night.’
Henry took the glass over to the desk and took out a sheaf of writing paper.
‘Dear Diana,’ he wrote, ‘It has been months since you have been here and this evening I may have said too much about not being able to do without you. I meant that you know and I want to settle a few matters.’
He lit a cigarette and took a sip of the whiskey, and continued to write.
‘I would like you to move here, you can have your own rooms, goodness knows there are too many for me. Then you should have an allowance, you must know about my finances by now. There is much to be done including the party, your idea and I do so enjoy your company. I assure you that my intentions are for the best.’
He read the letter before adding a postscript ‘and yes, I can’t do this without your help.’
He licked the envelope and left it on the dark polished hall table. He made sure it would be found immediately when Diana arrived and took himself upstairs to his room. He enjoyed the ritual of washing and saying a small prayer and putting on his flannel pyjamas, snapped the side light off. He always slept well with the window open and the curtains drawn. He looked out at the clouds chasing over a sliver of a moon and soon his eyes closed.