A Banquet of Consequences(10)

By: Elizabeth George


Lily considered. She was drawn to William when he was at his best. She was drawn to his joy and enthusiasm. But there was far more to him than that, as she’d discovered.

She said, “I think it might be pointless, William. I’d never be able to support myself in Dorset and even if I could, we’d be setting ourselves up for enormous hurt.”

“Is there someone else, then?” he asked. “I wouldn’t blame you. After what I put you through . . . It was a rough patch for me. But I’m perfect now. I’ve a new medication to take care of the Wording. Not a single seizure since I’ve come home. See, it was the stress. I should have known that would happen in London. I should never have let myself get talked into giving London a try. I’m not like my brother. I can’t even remember why I shipped myself there in the first place, to tell you the truth.”

Because you wanted to get away from your mum, Lily thought. And your brother wanted the same for you. But Lily didn’t say that because he did sound good and he had done what he said he would do. And she cared about him. There would always be that.

He seemed to sense in her hesitation a movement in his direction. He said, “It’s easy as anything, Lily. There’s a station in the village. I’d have to wave down the train—dead quaint that, eh?—but if you tell me when your train’s arriving, I’ll be there to do it. And listen to this: After I show you the place, we’ll go to Seatown. There’s camping well in sight of the beach. I’ve even been on my own for a night, and it was brilliant. There’re miles of walks. A pub. A shop. A village. We can do some walking up Golden Cap. The views, Lily! And with the weather being all right . . . still a bit cold but not raining . . .”

“Camping?” she said because she knew what that meant: a tent, close proximity, the suggestion of an intimacy she wasn’t sure she wanted.

He said quickly, “We’ll do it just as friends. What I mean is that there’ll be no expectations. We won’t plan anything and we’ll have an understanding about all that in advance. No worries on that score.”

His words were tumbling out of him, which was a little troubling, but every single one of them made perfect sense. It wasn’t like when the Wording came upon him. It was normal, excited conversation.

She said to him, “All right, then. But just as friends, William. I have to be honest with you about something anyway.”

“So you do have someone.”

“No, no. I’ve dated, but there’s no one at present. What I was going to say is that I don’t want to live in Dorset. I’m a London girl. Just so you know that. And if you want to withdraw the invitation now, I’ll understand.”

“No way. You’re going to change your mind when you see Dorset. You’ve never been, have you?”

“Sheep being not my thing.”

He laughed at this, his boyish, appealing William laugh, absent during those final dreadful days in London. “Just you wait,” he told her. “You’ll change your mind.”





14 APRIL



SEATOWN

DORSET

It was more than sheep, as things turned out. Dorset was rolling chalk hills green with spring, disrupted by copses of hardwood trees coming into leaf and woodlands thick with firs and chestnuts and birches and oaks. The open land consisted of wide vistas that dipped into huge bowl-shaped valleys, of magnificent slopes occasionally broken by the intriguing undulations in land: medieval strip lynchets long ago scalloped into the hillsides for farming. It was a countryside of hedgerows sheltering paddocks and fields, of brick and stone villages where flint-banded buildings nosed directly to the edge of the roads like suckling puppies, and of churches everywhere, as if the people of Dorset knew something about the hereafter that the rest of the country was oblivious to.

As he’d promised, William met her at Yetminster Station, where he waved down the train to stop. He hugged her hard, stood back, and looked at her with his face lively with a kind of health and happiness that, admittedly, she’d seen rarely on him in town. He squired her round Yetminster—a limestone village that popped up in the middle of farmland not far from the stately beauties of Sherborne, with its castles and its distinguished school. He showed her his tiny cottage as if it were a structure in which every corner contained a jewel of architectural wonder. He took her into his garden so that she could admire—and she did admire—what he’d done to transform it with an artful potting shed on which the newly planted wisteria would someday climb, a stone path winding across lawn richly edged by herbaceous borders, a tiny two-level terrace with seating and pots in which his eye for colour and shape had led him to plants that would be showpieces as spring advanced to summer. She called it stunning, and it was.