Anna, resolutely maintaining silence, had reached the sanctuary of the sideboard, put down her tureen. Rupert was mad, he no longer loved her but he was here and there was nothing she could do to still the pounding of her heart.
“Rupert, you really must not speak to the maids like that.- said the dowager, looking suddenly extremely happy.
“1 asked you a question. Anna.-
She had reached Lady Byrne on Rupert’s left. “I am not permitted to address the guests.” she said under her breath.
Rupert’s hand came up and fastened round her wrist. “This guest, however. you will address. Please answer my question. When are you getting married? Where is your fiancé, the Prince Chirkovsky?-
But Anna now had had enough. Disengaging her wrist.
T. with both hands onto her basket, she drew breath.
y well. You have, of course, ruined this dinner party in which I wished to wait perfectly at table so as to help with the giving of more responsibility to women. So I will. tell
nrst that I think you are mad. and second that I am not going to marry Sergei because that is not how I love him. And last, if I had not been assured,” she said, glaring at Sid and James, “that you were already in the Kush where you absolutely belong because it is full of stones and ice, I would never have come back.” Her speech now over, she burst into a flood of tears.
“Don’t, Anna! Ah, don’t, my darling,” said Rupert. He pushed back his chair, removed, with ineffable tenderness, her basket of rolls and, quite impervious to the assembled company, gathered her into his arms. “Only, you see, I saw you in the garden with Prince Chirkovsky. You were hanging from his arms like . . .” He broke off, even now racked by the memory. “A dishcloth?” suggested Anna.
Anna, her career abandoned, was now ready to converse. “In La Fille Mal Gardie, which is a most beautiful ballet, she hangs exactly in this way from the shoulder of the hero, very soft and . . limp, you know, like a cloth and at the same time she does little battements with her feet. It is in act three and very moving; you will like it very much.”
“Shall I, my love,” said Rupert, dabbing gently at her eyes and nose.
The door opened. Proom stood on the threshold.
“Ah, Proom,” said the Earl. “Just the man ! We want some champagne. The Veuve Cliquot ’83 that you’ve been guarding with your life.”
“I have it here, my lord,” said Proom, advancing. “Thinking you might be requiring it, I took the liberty of putting it on ice earlier in the day. I think you will find it satisfactory.”
THE wedding of Anna and Rupert the following June was not a quiet wedding. For one thing, everybody cried. Miss Frensham, preparing to thump her way lustily through Lohengrin, cried; the Ballet Russe cried; the dowager soaked three handkerchiefs before the bride even set foot in the church; Kira, who had come from Paris with her banker fiancé, wept elegantly into her muff. Susie Byrne did not actually cry but she seemed to find it necessary to polish her spectacles a great many times and Hannah Rabinovich, sitting beside her daughter, was quite simply awash.
Nor were the servants at the back of the church any more restrained. Mrs Park, next to her devoted Win, was already blotched and swollen; Peggy and Pearl, Louise and Florence and the two pretty housemaids, engaged with an eye on Uncle Sebastien, had completely ruined, with their sniffs and gulps, the effect of their morning ablutions in the new attic bathrooms.
But now the bridal car drew up, and on the arm of Petya, almost as tall now as she was
herself, Anna walked towards the porch. Her dress was simple and unadorned, she carried only a bouquet of the roses that Mr Cameron had named for her, but the Countess Grazinsky, waiting to adjust her daughter’s veil, had to turn her head away, so overcome was she by what she saw in Anna’s face.
“Here are your gloves, dear.” said Pinny, trying—and failing—to achieve some kind of briskness. And then : “It’s time . . .” But as Anna stepped inside the church, saw the sea of faces, heard the pounding music, she faltered and stopped. It was too much the gods would not permit such joy.
“I’m afraid,” she whispered. A small voice, brisk and marvellously motherly, came from behind her.
“That’s silly, Anna,” said the Honourable Olive. “Being afraid is silly, you know it is.”
Anna turned and met the shining blue eyes of her chief and only bridesmaid. The Honourable Olive’s dress, like Anna’s, had been made by Mrs Bun-ford. The child had been given free rein but she was all of nine years old now, her natural taste beginning to form, and the white wreath and muslin dress were as simple as Anna’s own. But if ever there was a bridesmaid suffused with the sheer joy of living, that bridesmaid was Byrne.
And Anna smiled and laid her hand lightly on the bright curls, and turned to walk steadily to where Rupert waited : a man who had passed beyond all doubt and uncertainty—a man who had come home.