Privileged Children

Free Privileged Children by Frances Vernon

Book: Privileged Children by Frances Vernon Read Free Book Online
Authors: Frances Vernon
and empty from a long night with Anatole in which they had made love six times, and suddenly felt that she wanted to see the house.
    She shivered a little as she passed through the narrow street which joined the square to Southampton Row, and looked round. There was the house: at the other end of the square. It had not been demolished. She walked towards it, hastening her step as she neared it. She looked up at it.
    It seemed so small. She had remembered it as an imposing, if dilapidated, large building, although she had been scarcely an inch shorter when she left for Melton Balbridge than she was now. It had been repainted a gleaming white. There was a brass plate on the door, which read: J.N. Kettering , M.D. There were window boxes along the ground-floor window sills. A lace curtain in the window which had once belonged to Diana’s library prevented Alice from seeing to what use the room had been put. The area was neatly kept. The railings had been repainted. As a child, Alice had picked her way along these railings: she would have recognised any chip in the paint, and remembered its individual flavour, the problem of picking it, whether or not Tilly had caught her at it, if the chips had not been painted over. On looking more closely, however, Alice saw that only a thin coat of black had been applied. Most of the chips had disappeared, but farthest away from the kitchen window the proudest picking of allshowed through. She could still discern A.M.M. 1907. It had taken Alice days to inscribe that.
    Augustus had recently introduced Alice to a publisher friend of his who wanted someone to illustrate a children’s book which he was bringing out. He could not afford a famous illustrator and, on seeing some of Alice’s work, had agreed to commission her. He had specified closely what he wanted. Alice was finding the illustrations very hard work, and the limitations placed on her efforts by the specifications very frustrating. She had no time to paint what she liked at the moment. There were times when she felt that this commission had sapped her of her talent and her energy.
    ‘Perhaps that’ll be my only memorial,’ she said, looking at her clouded initials. Later on in the war, the railings were to be taken down and melted, to be made into armaments.
    ‘Hello,’ said someone. Alice jumped. It was James Bellinger, whom she had not seen since leaving London two years ago. He was in uniform. ‘I saw you in Southampton Row,’ he said. He sucked in his lips as he tried to smile.
    Alice had changed. She had colour in her cheeks, and her narrow eyes were bright. Her eyebrows seemed darker and thicker, her mouth more red, her neck longer and more graceful. She was dressed more tidily than she used to be: she wore a tam’o’shanter, a long buttoned jersey, a straight skirt and cloth-topped boots. A long striped scarf was thrown round her neck. Clementina had bought the clothes for her, because Alice had arrived from Melton Balbridge in the black dress which she had worn at Diana’s funeral, and had brought nothing else with her. She looked older and happier and slightly more conventional: she could have been any girl undergraduate, James thought, if she hadn’t been Alice.
    ‘Hello‚’ said Alice, biting her thumb. ‘So you’ve volunteered.’
    ‘Yes, I’ve just finished my training.’
    ‘An officer, too, I see. You don’t do anything by halves, do you?’ said Alice coldly.
    ‘I’m not a pacifist,’ he said. ‘I never was, if you remember.’
    ‘I remember.’ There was a pause. ‘You look handsome in that uniform. Quite the gallant young subaltern.’
    ‘You look very pretty. Where are you going?’
    ‘Just for a bit of a walk.’
    ‘Do you mind if I come with you?’
    ‘Not at all.’
    ‘Were you — remembering the old days, Alice?’ he said as they walked along.
    ‘Of course I was. I haven’t seen the house since I left.’
    ‘Clementina didn’t tell me you were back. Why are you back?

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