Come back Miranda 1/c

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CHAPTER ONE

Seguito da Come back Miranda 1/b:

Not only was it Freddy, sailing in the same ship, but he was coming to Lisbon. Of all wretched coincidences! There could be no avoiding each other; Charles liked him and would naturally want to see something of him, and they would inevitably meet at the Willison’s hospitable house. Well, there was no help for it and Miranda could take it, but she had hoped never to set eyes on Freddy Clayton again.

She had first seen him at a fashionable charity ball to which Charles had taken her. It was her nineteenth birthday; she wore a frock of floating white tulle over a crinoline petticoat and had pinned the gardenias her brother had gallantly given her to the waves of her soft dark hair. During an interval in the dancing Sir Frederick Clayton had been standing not far from the sister and brother, inwardly debating as to whether he could unobtrusively slip away. He had come to the ball because a favorite cousin was making her debut tonight and now, his duty done, felt he had had enough of the youthful affair. Suddenly, with that sense of compulsion everyone experiences at one time or another, he turned his head and looked straight at Miranda.

“Good lord,” he murmured inaudibly.

Something went click within him, as if a voice said ‘This is it.’ There was no accounting for it; she was by no means the most beautiful girl in the room but to him, in her ethereal frock, with the white flowers in her hair and her grey eyes shining like star sapphires between the wistful black lashes, she was irresistible. He saw that she was with a man he knew, Charles Rendle, and at once approached them, was introduced to Miranda and asked her for a dance.

He no longer contemplated leaving; they danced, and danced again. Miranda, for her part, went home walking on air, bewitched by a pair of laughing dark eyes in a brown, attractive face.

In the period that ensued they saw each other with increasing frequency. They did not meet at any more debutante parties for he moved in an older, more sophisticated set, but Miranda was allowed considerable freedom and Aunt Molly made no objection to Sir Frederick’s taking her niece to a theatre, or to dine and dance. Miranda had other escorts, other suitors, but they paled in comparison with Freddy. They were boys, he was a man. A man of twenty eight. It was not long before she was head over heels in love with him.

As for Sir Frederick, he had never cared very much for what he termed callow young girls nor did he, at that time, intend to involve himself with a girl of any age. He valued his freedom and found life as he lived it entirely satisfactory. But Miranda defeated him and he found himself becoming more and more involved.

Her contradictory face, with its appealing eyes and adorable tip-tilted nose, her gay spirits, tempered by the careful convent manners, the clear young voice with its piquant echo of her American mother’s accent, enchanted him. He delighted in the way she moved, so quickly and so lightly in the ballet sandals she loved to wear; there was none of the gauche bearing and loping stride he deplored in his games-mad young cousins and their girlfriends. Miranda was unique, a fairy child, a little angel drifted down from heaven. So he saw her, and during this period he found no occasion to modify his conception of her.

On a certain day he drove her into Gloucestershire to see his farm and charming old house. She was entranced with the house, entranced with everything. And Freddy had taken her hands, bending to look into her eyes and asked her if she could be happy here with him. She answered that she could, and he gathered her into his arms, holding her fast, then tipping up her face to meet his kiss.

Presently there had come a summons from the housekeeper; Sir Frederick was wanted on the telephone.

“Damn,” he said. “How have they run me to earth?” And went in to answer the unwelcome call.

He returned to say that he had hoped to take Miranda to dinner this evening but something had cropped up to prevent it. She was sweetly amenable and he drove her home and left her at the door of her uncle’s house.

“See you tomorrow, darling.” “Tomorrow, Freddy.”

She went indoors in a state of almost unbearable happiness. Freddy loved her—he had asked her to marry him. She would say nothing about it, tonight, it was too precious a thing to be spoken of as yet.

Next morning—the very next morning at breakfast—her uncle had looked up from his newspapers and said :

“Frederick Clayton. Isn’t he one of your young men, Miranda?”

“Yes, Uncle Arthur.”

“Well, you’d better drop him. There’s too much of this sort of thing; decent people should take a stand and show these young blackguards what they think of them. Absolute menace; he’ll be lucky if he isn’t up on a charge of manslaughter.”

“What has he done?” Miranda’s voice quivered with apprehension and indignation. An accident, of course, but anyone could have an accident—Uncle Arthur had no right to speak like that.

They were alone in the dining-room; Charles had gone back to his job with the engineering firm in Portugal and Aunt Molly was spending a few days with friends in the country.

Uncle Arthur, who had finished his meal, rose and handed his niece the paper.

“Read it for yourself,” he said and tramped out of the room.

Miranda looked at the folded sheet and a headline sprang out at her.

Wealthy playboy involved in crash after party at night club. Sir Frederick Clayton, well-known. Miranda’s heart plunged, stopped, beat again with heavy hammer strokes. Party—Freddy—last night.

At length she read the account, which was reported with considerable relish. An unsavory affair; Sir Frederick Clayton, accompanied by an Oxford undergraduate and two girls, dancers at one of the more risqué revues, had with criminal recklessness caused an oncoming car to crash into a lamp standard and overturn. Three people had been badly hurt. The report did not state it in words, but the implication was clear—that Sir Frederick and his companions had all been more or less under the influence of alcohol.

For a space Miranda sat frozen; then anger, like red-hot lava boiled within her. She possessed, as Mr. Willison had deduced, an impulsive temper, a flame that rose and swiftly subsided and which, to do her justice, she seldom showed. But never before had she felt anything like this.

It wasn’t the reckless driving, or the implied cause for it— that, she could have forgiven. It was the girls. The important thing that had cropped up, preventing his taking Miranda to dinner, had been a party with these two girls.

So this was Freddy, the real Freddy. He had done this; gone straight from her, from holding her in his arms and kissing her, telling her he loved her, to pick up his Oxford friend and the two ‘lovelies’.

“How could he? How could he? But he did. Freddy did that.”

She was suffering from severe shock and, although she did not realize it, from acute jealousy. She would have scorned to admit jealousy but the scarifying emotion was there, and a passionate sense of insult.

While she still sat at the table, seething, tormented, the telephone bell rang. Automatically she ran to answer it and heard Freddy’s voice.

“Miranda? I suppose you have seen the papers?”

“Yes, I have seen them.”

“I’m frightfully sorry—it isn’t as bad as it reads—may I come round now and explain?”

“There’s no explanation so far as I am concerned and I don’t want to see you, ever again.”

“Miranda! Darling. I know you’re upset but don’t be ridiculous.”

“I am not being ridiculous. I mean it, Freddy. I have finished with you.”

“The devil you have. Look, angel. I’m coming. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

“You can save yourself the trouble. I won’t see you.”

“You refuse to give me a hearing?”

“I do. I have told you. I’m finished with you.”

At the other end of the line, Sir Frederick’s face went pale; he had a temper of his own. His voice, hitherto affectionate and a little rallying, crisped.

“Are you serious, Miranda?”

“I couldn’t be more so.”

“I thought you—cared for me.”

“I thought I did, but I didn’t know you then. Now I know what you really are.” “And what am I?”

“A man who asks a girl to marry him and the very same night goes off on a party with—with”

“That is just what I want to explain to you.” “You can’t explain. You did it.”

“All right.” Freddy’s patience snapped. She was hopelessly unreasonable and if she thought she could dictate his behavior —

“All right,” he repeated. “I did it. Now listen, Miranda. Once more, and for the last time, may I come? I won’t ask you again, believe me. Will you see me?”

“No.”

“You mean—this is the end?”

“I mean it. And I am only thankful I found out, in time, before I—I”

“Very well,” he interposed. “I, too, am glad to have found out, in time, that the girl I hoped to marry is such a stupid little termagant. Goodbye, Miranda. We’ll call it a day.”

He made no further demarche in her direction. If she had been shocked, so was he, and wholly disillusioned. His fairy child, revealed as a stupid, vindictive little shrew. It took a bit of getting over for he had been very much in love with Miranda, but the affair, after all, had been of the briefest, a sweet and foolish interlude, an aberration on his part. She had proved, in the end, a mere figment of his imagination and he was well rid of her. If she were like this now, what would she be in ten, in twenty years’ time ?”

He revived from his disappointment, put her out of his mind and went his usual way. Their paths in London never crossed and he saw no more of her.

As for Miranda, when the first stunning effects of her hurt and rage had worn off she began to regret her hasty action. She was still outraged by what he had done but she found herself watching for some letter from him, listening for his ring on the telephone. As day followed day and he neither wrote nor telephoned, she was forced to acknowledge the fact that Freddy had accepted dismissal and bowed himself out. Pride came to the rescue then. She would make no move on her own part. He had been the one in fault and her anger fully justified. She would cease to think of him, she would forget that such a person as Freddy ever existed.

She didn’t quite forget but time worked its normal cure. Since she never saw him and he had not been a member of her particular set there was little to remind her of him. Charles, who knew him only slightly, on one of his Christmas leaves mentioned having fallen in with Freddy and their lunching together, and the name of Sir Frederick Clayton appeared now and then in the society gossip columns. He had been seen here or there, escorting this or that fair lady— Miranda read the silly items with scornful eyes. Playboy was the word. By the time six months or so had passed she had, or would have sworn she had, completely recovered from what she now called a childish infatuation. But the episode had left its mark upon her; she did not fall in love with anyone else.

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