Come back Miranda (2a)

FronteCHAPTER TWO

Seguito da Come back Miranda 1/c:

The ship stirred, a barely perceptible movement, and the walls of the cabin creaked faintly in response. Miranda sprang up from her berth; they were off, moving downstream, and the first stop would be Portugal, the country she was ‘crazy to see’. If only—but she wasn’t going to let this maddening coincidence of Freddy Clayton spoil things. With a little grimace she said to herself: ‘It’s as maddening for him as it is for me and there’s a funny side to it.’

When she went in to dinner she found herself placed at the First Officer’s table where Mr. Willison and Mrs. Sangster were also seated. She cast a quick glance about the saloon and saw, some distance away, a pair of shoulders and a russet-brown head that she had recognized. He sat with his back towards her and his companions were the interesting-looking people who had hurried aboard at the last moment. Later, in the big lounge where she was drinking coffee with Mr. Willison and the English lady she saw him come in with the exotic group. They sat down in an opposite corner; Freddy signaled a steward.

“It hasn’t taken him long,” Mr. Willison chuckled. “Trust Freddy.”

The young man looked idly in their direction, nodded smilingly to his old friend, then his face changed. He stared with an expression of rueful astonishment. A moment later, with a word of excuse to his companions he rose and crossed the room.

“Well, Miranda,” he said, “it is Miranda, isn’t it? You girls grow up so suddenly without fair warning”

“Hallo, Freddy. Yes, it is me. You know Mr. Willison? Mrs. Sangster, this is Sir Frederick Clayton.”

He bowed to the elder lady.

“Are you on a visit to your brother?” he continued. “I am also on my way to Lisbon.”

“Yes, I am going to stay with Charles and his wife.”

“Married, is he? I hadn’t heard”

“He got married last year.” “Good show.”

“Who are your new friends, Freddy?” Mr. Willison inquired. “They look remarkably like Hungarian émigrés to me.

“They are. A Count Radizlo and his wife. The fair haired one is Princess Tamara something-or-other; all her people killed, apparently, and the Radizlos are bringing her out with them. Picked her up somewhere en route. They had thought of settling in England but it didn’t work, so now they are joining a colony of compatriots in Portugal.”

“Travelling first class,” Mrs. Sangster said, shaking her head. “Typical. Sold a few more jewels, no doubt, and squandering the money this way.”

“As to that,” Freddy rejoined, “I wouldn’t know. They may have money invested abroad. They don’t strike one as worried about it.”

“They never do worry, that class. Utterly irresponsible, living for the day”

“Mrs. Sangster takes a great interest in all refugees,” Mr. Willison said. “Helps them in no end of ways—badgers”

he twinkled at her—”badgers the consular authorities about granting them visas for the Americas, always their ultimate goal, their Shangri-La”

“How good of Mrs. Sangster.” Sir Frederick’s eyes rested for a moment on the English lady’s face with its freckled skin,

prominent blue eyes and large, flexible, pale-lipped mouth. “Well, I must get back. Nice to see you again, Miranda.”

She smiled, with a flicker of her black lashes.

“So nice to see you, Freddy, after all this time.”

Each meant exactly the reverse as their glances, crossing for an instant, informed one another. But they had preserved appearances and carried off the unfortunate situation with mutual aplomb.

As he returned to his table Sir Frederick reflected that Miranda had, in truth, grown up during the last two years. The dewy freshness and starry-eyed quality were gone, nor was she any the worse for that. Her pretty face had taken on a more definite outline, the convent manners which had aroused in him a tender amusement were crystallized into a natural poise. She even showed signs of having developed a sense of humor; she had possessed none at the age of nineteen. Grimly, he wondered whether her temper were now under better control; for the sake of Charles and his wife it was devoutly to be hoped so.

As Sir Frederick departed, Miranda drew a breath of relief. She had been nervously dreading their first encounter but it had taken place with far less discomfort than she feared. He had done the correct thing—she had to grant him that—making it very easy for her and setting the casual note of their future meetings. She might have spared herself the worry; Freddy had always known what to do.

‘He hasn’t changed,’ she thought with an involuntary little pang, not for Freddy but for the memory of a lost first-love, for something she had innocently and ardently believed in and found to be dust and ashes.

She went early to her cabin, sleepy from the effects of the sea air. Snuggled into her berth, she listened drowsily to the familiar—but all new to her—sounds of a passenger ship; people walking along the corridor, exchanging goodnights; bells ringing for stewards and stewardesses, the clink of curtain rings, baggage being opened or snapped shut; the rhythmic faint creak of woodwork and the throb of engines like a rumbling bass.

‘I adore it,’ she thought. ‘I am so glad I came by sea.’ Child of an air-minded age, although she had been several times to France, and to Ireland, this was the first time in her life that Miranda had been on a ship. She became conscious of more movement; the berth was rising and falling, she was being rocked, and was presently rocked to sleep.

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