It was like probing a wound; you were afraid to strike the nerves, and yet knew you must find the bullet. She had done it too many times on the battlefield and in military hospitals. She could smell blood and fear in her imagination as the simile came to her mind. Only months ago she and Monk had been in America and had seen the first pitched battle of the Civil War.

“Do you really have no idea what is causing it, Charles?” she asked.

He looked up wretchedly. “I think she may be having an affair with someone,” he answered hoarsely. “But I’ve no idea who . . . or why.”

Hester could have thought of a dozen reasons why. She pictured Imogen’s lovely face with its soft features, wide dark eyes, the hunger and emotion in her. How much had she changed in the sixteen years since she had been so excited to marry a gentle and respectable young man with a promising future? She had been so full of optimism, thrilled not to be one of those still desperately seeking a husband, and perhaps paired off by an ambitious mother with someone she would find it difficult even to like, let alone to love.

Now she was in her mid-thirties, childless, and perhaps wondering with even more desperation what life offered beyond mere safety. She had never been cold or hungry or outcast from society. Maybe she did not value her good fortune very much. To be loved, provided for and protected was not always enough. Sometimes to be needed counted more. Could that be what had happened to Imogen? Had she found someone who offered her the intoxication of telling her she was necessary to him in a way Charles would never say, no matter how much it might actually be true?

Would she do more than flirt? She had so much to lose; surely she could not be so infatuated as to forget that? Society did not frown on adultery if it was conducted with such discretion that no one was forced to know about it, but even a married woman could lose her reputation if she was indiscreet. And, of course, a divorced woman, whatever the reason for the divorce, simply ceased to exist. A woman put away for adultery could very easily find herself penniless and on the streets. Someone like Imogen, who had never fended for herself, might not survive.

Charles would not divorce her unless her behavior became so outrageous that he had no choice, if he was to preserve his own reputation. He would simply live side by side with her, but separated by a gulf of pain.

Hester wanted to touch him, but the distance of time and intimacy between them was too great. It would be artificial, even intrusive. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I hope that isn’t true. Perhaps it’s only a momentary thing and it may die long before it becomes any more.” How false that sounded. She winced at herself even as she heard her own words.

He looked up at her. “I can’t just sit by and hope, Hester! I need to know . . . and do something. Doesn’t she realize what will happen to her . . . to all of us . . . if she’s found out? Please . . . help me.”

Hester was bewildered. What could she do that Charles had not already done? There was no easy cure for unhappiness that she could produce and persuade Imogen to take.

Charles was waiting. Her silence was making him realize more acutely just what he had asked of her, and already embarrassment was overtaking hope.

“Yes, of course,” she said quickly.

“If I just knew for certain,” he started to rationalize, filling in the silence with too many words. “Then perhaps I would understand.” He was watching her intently, in spite of himself, part of him still clinging to the belief that she could help. “I don’t know the right questions to ask her. She might be able to explain to you, then . . .” He tailed off, not knowing what else to say.

If only understanding were the answer! She was afraid it would increase the hurt, because he would see that there was no way to escape the fact that Imogen did not love him the way he had assumed, and needed.

But then perhaps he did not love her with the passion or the urgency that she wanted?

He was waiting for Hester to say something. He seemed to think that because she was a woman she would understand Imogen and be able to reach her emotions in a way he could not. Maybe she could, but that did not mean she could change them. Even if the truth would not help, however, it was a certainty that nothing else would.

“I’ll go to see her,” she said aloud. “Do you know if she will be in tomorrow afternoon?”

Relief ironed out his face. “Yes, I should imagine so,” he said eagerly. “If you go early enough. She may go calling herself, at about four o’clock.” He stood up. “Thank you, Hester. It’s very good of you. Rather better than I deserve.” He looked acutely uncomfortable. “I’m afraid I haven’t been very . . . considerate lately. I . . . am sorry.”

“No, you have almost ignored me,” she said with a smile, trying to make light of it without contradicting him. “But then, I am equally guilty. I could easily have called upon you, or at least written, and I didn’t.”

“I suppose your life is too exciting.” There was a shadow of disapproval in his voice. He might not have intended it this moment, but it was too deeply ingrained in his habit of thought to get rid of it in an instant.

“Yes,” she agreed with a lift of her chin. It was the truth, but even if it had not been, she would have defended Monk and the life they shared to anyone. “America was extraordinary.”

“About the worst time you could choose to go,” he observed.

With an effort of will, she smiled at him. “We didn’t choose. We went in order to help someone in very desperate trouble. I am sure you can understand that.”

His face softened, and he blinked a little. “Yes, of course I can.” He colored with embarrassment. “Do you have the fare for a hansom for tomorrow?”

With a considerable effort, she resisted snapping. After all, it was possible she might not have. There had certainly been those times. “Yes, thank you.”

“Oh . . . good. Then I’ll . . . er . . .”

“I’ll come and see you when I have anything to say,” she promised.

“Oh . . . of course.” And still uncertain exactly how to conduct himself, he gave her a light kiss on the cheek and went to the door.

When Monk returned home in the evening, Hester said nothing of Charles’s visit. Monk had solved a small case

Вы читаете A Funeral In Blue
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату