“I bet she will. Maniacs can attack anyone.”
Lola looked suddenly thoughtful and seemed about to tell her cousin something new. But instead she sprang away and took up Briony’s hairbrush and stood in front of the mirror vigorously brushing out her hair. She had barely started when they heard Mrs. Tallis calling them down to dinner. nike air max 1 Lola was immediately petulant, and Briony assumed that these rapid changes of mood were part of her recent upset.
“It’s hopeless. I’m nowhere near ready,” she said, close to tears again. “I haven’t even started on my face.”
“I’ll go down now,” Briony soothed her. “I’ll tell them you’ll be a little while yet.” But Lola was already on her way out the room and did not seem to hear.
After Briony tidied her hair she remained in front of the mirror, studying her own face, wondering what she might do when she came to “start” on it, which she knew she must one day soon. Another demand on her time. At least she had no freckles to conceal or soften, and that surely saved labor. Long ago, at the age of ten, she decided that lipstick made her seem clownish. That notion was due for revision. But not yet, when there was so much else to consider. She stood by the desk and absently replaced the top of her fountain pen. Writing a story was a nike air max 1 red hopeless, puny enterprise when such powerful and chaotic forces were turning about her, and when all day long successive events had absorbed or transformed what had gone before. There was an old lady who swallowed a fly. She wondered whether she had made a terrible mistake by confiding in her cousin—Cecilia would hardly be pleased if excitable Lola started flaunting her knowledge of Robbie’s note. And how was it possible to go downstairs now and be at table with a maniac? If the police made an arrest, she, Briony, might be made to appear in court, and say the word aloud, in proof.
Reluctantly, she left her room and made her way along the gloomy paneled corridor to the head of the stairs where she paused to listen. The voices were still in the drawing room—she heard her mother’s and Mr. Marshall’s, and then, separately, the twins talking to each other. No Cecilia then, no maniac. Briony felt her heart rate rise as she began her unwilling descent. Her life had ceased to be simple. Only three days ago she was finishing off The Tr nike air max 1 ebay ials of Arabella and waiting for her cousins. She had wanted everything to be different, and here it was; and not only was it bad, it was about to get worse. She stopped again on the first landing to consolidate a scheme; she would keep well clear of her skittish cousin, not even catch her eye—she could not afford to be drawn into a conspiracy, nor did she wish to prompt a disastrous outburst. And Cecilia, whom s cheap nike air max 1 he ought to protect, she dared not go near. Robbie, obviously, she should avoid for safety’s sake. Her mother with her fussing would not be helpful. It would be impossible to think straight in her presence. It was the twins she should go for—they would be her refuge. She would stay close and look after them. These summer dinners always started so late—it was past ten o’clock—and the boys would be tired. And otherwise she should be sociable with Mr. Marshall and ask him about sweets—who thought them up, how they got made. It was a coward’s plan but she could think of no other. With dinner about to be served, this was hardly the moment to be summoning P.C. Vockins from the village.
She continued down the stairs. She should have advised Lola to change in order to conceal the scratch on her arm. Being asked about it might start her crying again. But then, it would probably have been impossible to talk her out of a dress that made it so difficult to walk. Attaining adulthood was all about the eager acceptance of such impediments. She herself was taking them on. It wasn’t her scratch, but she felt responsible for it, and for everything that was about to happen. When her father was home, the household settled around a fixed point. He organized nothing, he didn’t go about the house worrying on other people’s behalf, he rarely told anyone what to do—in fact, he mostly sat in the library. But his presence imposed order and allowed freedom. Burdens were lifted. When he was there, it no longer mattered that her mother retreated to her bedroom; it was enough that he was downstairs with a book on his lap. When he took his place at the dining table, calm, affable, utterly certain, a crisis in the kitchen became no more than a humorous sketch; without him, it was a drama that clutched the heart. He knew most things worth knowing, and when he didn’t know, he had a good idea which authority to consult, and would take her into the library to help him find it. If he had not been, as he described it, a slave to the Ministry, and to Eventuality Planning, if he had been at home, sending Hardman down for the wines, steering the conversation, deciding without appearing to when it was time to “go through,” she would not be crossing the hallway now with such heaviness in her step.
It was these thoughts of him that made her slow as she passed the library door which, unusually, was closed. She stopped to listen. From the kitchen, the chink of metal against porcelain, from the drawing room her mother talking softly, and closer by, one of the twins saying in a high, clear voice, “It’s got a u in it, actually,” and his brother replying, “I don’t care. Put it in the envelope.” And then, from behind the library door, a scraping noise followed by a thump and a murmur that could have been a man’s or a woman’s. In memory—and Briony later gave this matter some thought—she had no particular expectations as she placed her hand on the brass handle and turned it. But she had seen Robbie’s letter, she had cast herself as her sister’s protector, and she had been instructed by her cousin: what she saw must have been shaped in part by what she already knew, or believed she knew.
At first, when she pushed open the door and stepped in, she saw nothing at all. The only light was from a single green-glass desk lamp which illuminated little more than the tooled leather surface on which it stood. When she took another few steps she saw them, dark shapes in the furthest corner. Though they were immobile, her immediate understanding was that she had interrupted an attack, a hand-to-hand fight. The scene was so entirely a realization of her worst fears that she sensed that her overanxious imagination had projected the figures onto the packed spines of books. This illusion, or hope of one, was dispelled as her eyes adjusted to the gloom. No one moved. Briony stared past Robbie’s shoulder into the terrified eyes of her sister. He had turned to look back at the intruder, but he did not let Cecilia go. He had pushed his body against hers, pushing her dress right up above her knee and had trapped her where the shelves met at right angles. His left hand was behind her neck, gripping her hair, and with his right he held her forearm which was raised in protest, or self-defense.
He looked so huge and wild, and Cecilia with her bare shoulders and thin arms so frail that Briony had no idea what she could achieve as she started to go toward them. She wanted to shout, but she could not catch her breath, and her tongue was slow and heavy. Robbie moved in such a way that her view of her sister was complet nike air max 1 grey ely obscured. Then Cecilia was struggling free, and he was letting her go. Briony stopped and said her sister’s name. When she pushed past Briony there was no sign in Cecilia of gratitude or relief. Her face was expressionless, almost composed, and she looked right ahead to the door she was about to leave by. Then she was gone, and Briony was left alone with him. He too would not meet her eye. Instead he faced into the corner, and busied himself straightening his jacket and arranging his tie. Warily, she moved backward away from him, but he made no move to attack her, and did not even look up. So she turned and ran from the room to find Cecilia. But the hallway was empty, and it was not clear which way she had gone.
Part 1 Chapter 11
DESPITE THE late addition of chopped fresh mint to a blend of melted chocolate, egg yolk, coconut milk, rum, gin, crushed banana and icing sugar, the cocktail was not particularly re nike air max 1 black freshing. Appetites already cloyed by the night’s heat were further diminished. Nearly all the adults entering the airless dining room were nauseated by the prospect of a roast dinner, or even roast meat with salad, and would have been content with a glass of cool water. But water was available only to the children, while the rest were to revive themselves with a dessert wine at room temperature. Three bottles stood ready opened on the table—in Jack Tallis’s absence Betty usually made an inspired guess. None of the three tall windows would open because their frames had warped long ago, and an aroma of warmed dust from the Persian carpet rose to meet the diners as they entered. One comfort was that the fishmonger’s van bringing the first course of dressed crab had broken down.
The effect of suffocation was heightened by the dark-stained paneling reaching from the floor and covering the ceiling, and by the room’s only painting, a vast canvas that hung above a fireplace unlit since its construction—a fault http://sairmax1.org.uk/ in the architectural drawings had left no provision for a flue or chimney. The portrait, in the style of Gainsborough, showed an aristocratic family—parents, two teenage girls and an infant, all thin-lipped, and pale as ghouls—posed before a vaguely Tuscan landscape. No one knew who these people were, but it was likely that Harry Tallis thought they would lend a nike air max 1 sale n impression of solidity to his household.
Emily stood at the head of the table placing the diners as they came in. She put Leon on her right, and Paul Marshall on her left. To his right Leon had Briony and the twins, while Marshall had Cecilia on his left, then Robbie, then Lola. Robbie stood behind his chair, gripping it for support, amazed that no one appeared to hear his still-thudding heart. He had escaped the cocktail, but he too had no appetite. He turned slightly to face away from Cecilia, and as the others took their places noted with relief that he was seated down among the children.
Prompted by a nod from his mother, Leon muttered a short suspended grace—For what we are about to receive—to which the scrape of cheap air max 1 chairs was the amen. The silence that followed as they settled and unfolded their napkins would easily have been dispersed by Jack Tallis introducing some barely interesting topic while Betty went around with the beef. Instead, the diners watched and listened to her as she stooped murmuring at each place, scraping the serving spoon and fork across the silver platter. What else could they attend to, when the only other business in the room was their own silence? Emily Tallis had always been incapable of small talk and didn’t much care. Leon, entirely at one with himself, lolled in his chair, wine bottle in hand, studyin cheap nike air max 1 g its label. Cecilia was lost to the events of ten minutes before and could not have composed a simple sentence. Robbie was familiar with the household and would have started something off, but he too was in turmoil. It was enough that he could pretend to ignore Cecilia’s bare arm at his side—he could feel its heat—and the hostile gaze of Briony who sat diagonally across from him. And even if it had been considere nike air max 1 premium d proper for children to introduce a topic, they too would have been incapable: Briony could think only of what she had witnessed, Lola was subdued both by the shock of physical assault and an array of contradictory emotions, and the twins were absorbed in a plan.
It was Paul Marshall who broke more than three minutes of asphyxiating silence. He moved back in his chair to speak behind Cecilia’s head to Robbie.
“I say, are we still on for tennis tomorrow?”
There was a two-inch scratch, Robbie noticed, from the corner of Marshall’s eye, running parallel to his nose, drawing attention to the way his features were set high up in his face, bunched up under the eyes. Only fractions of an inch kept him from cruel good looks. Instead, his appearance was absurd—the empty tract of his chin was at the expense of a worried, overpopulat nike air max 1 leopard ed forehead. Out of politeness, Robbie too had moved back in his seat to hear the remark, but even in his state he flinched. It was inappropriate, at the beginning of the meal, for Marshall to turn away from his hostess and begin a private conversation.
Robbie said tersely, “I suppose we are,” and then, to make amends for him, added for general consideration, “Has England ever been hotter?”
Leaning away from the field of Cecilia’s body warmth, and averting his eyes from Briony’s, he found himself pitching the end of his question into the frightened gaze of Pierrot diagonally to his left. The boy gaped, and struggled, as he might in the classroom, with a test in history. Or was it geography? Or science?
Briony leaned over Jackson to touch Pierrot’s shoulder, all the while keeping her eyes on Robbie. “Please leave him alone,” air max 1 she said in a forceful whisper, and then to the little boy, softly, “You don’t have to answer.”
Emily spoke up from her end of the table. “Briony, it was a perfectly bland remark about the weather. You’ll apologize, or go now to your room.”
Whenever Mrs. Tallis exercised authority in the absence of her husband, the children felt obliged to protect her from seeming ineffectual. Briony, who in any case would not have left her sister undefended, lowered her head and said to the tablecloth, “I’m very sorry. I wish I hadn’t said it.”
The vegetables in lidded serving dishes, or on platters of faded Spode, were passed up and down, and such was the collective inattention or the polite desire to conceal a lack of appetite that most ended with roast potatoes and potato salad, Brussels sprouts and beetroot, and lettuce leaves foundering in gravy.
“The Old Man’s not going to be too plea air max 1 sale sed,” Leon said as he got to his feet. “It’s a 1921 Barsac, but it’s open now.” He filled his mother’s glass, then his sister’s and Marshall’s, and when he was standing by Robbie he said, “And a healing draft for the good doctor. I want to hear about this new plan.”
But he did not wait for a reply. On his way back to his seat he said, “I love England in a heat wave. It’s a different country. All the rules change.”
Emily Tallis picked up her knife and fork and everyone did likewise.
Paul Marshall said, “Nonsense. Name a single rule that changes.”③
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“I bet she will. Maniacs can attack anyone.”