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Nightfall   By:

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E text prepared by Harry Graham Liston





"Tea is ready, Bernard," said Laura Clowes, coming in from the garden.

It was five o'clock on a June afternoon, but the hall was so dark that she had to grope her way. Wanhope was a large, old fashioned manor house, a plain brick front unbroken except in the middle, where its corniced roof was carried down by steps to an immense gateway of weathered stone, carved with the escutcheon of the family and their Motto: FORTIS ET FIDELIS. Wistarias rambled over both sides, wreathing the stone window frames in their grape like clusters of lilac bloom, and flagstones running from end to end, shallow, and so worn that a delicate growth of stonecrop fringed them, shelved down to a lawn.

Indoors in the great hall it was dark because floor and staircase and wall and ceiling were all lined with Spanish chestnut wood, while the windows were full of Flemish glass in purple and sepia and blue. There was nothing to reflect a glint of light except a collection of weapons of all ages which occupied the wall behind a bare stone hearth; suits of inlaid armour, coats of chainmail as flexible as silk, assegais and blowpipes, Bornean parangs and Gurkha kukris, Abyssinian shotels with their double blades, Mexican knives in chert and chalcedony, damascened swords and automatic pistols, a Chinese bronze drum, a Persian mace of the date of Rustum, and an Austrian cavalry helmet marked with a bullet hole and a stain.

Gradually, as her eyes grew used to the gloom Laura found her way to her husband's couch. She would have liked to kiss him, but dared not: the narrow mocking smile, habitual on his lips, showed no disposition to respond to advances. Dressed in an ordinary suit of Irish tweed, Bernard Clowes lay at full length in an easy attitude, his hands in his pockets and his legs decently extended as Barry, his male nurse, had left them twenty minutes ago: a big, powerful man, well over six feet in height, permanently bronze and darkly handsome, his immense shoulders still held back so flat that his coat fitted without a wrinkle but a cripple since the war.

Laura Clowes too was tall and slightly sunburnt, but thin for her height, and rather plain except for her sweet eyes, her silky brown hair, and rarer gift! the vague elegance which was a prerogative of Selincourt women. She rarely wore expensive clothes, her maid Catherine made most of her indoor dresses, and yet she could still hold her own, as in old days, among women who shopped in the Rue de la Paix. This afternoon, in her silk muslin of the same shade as the trail of wistaria tucked in where the frills crossed over her breast, she might have gone astray out of the seventeenth century.

"Tea is in the parlour," said Mrs. Clowes. "Shall I wheel you round through the garden? It's a lovely day and the roses are in their perfection, I counted eighty blooms on the old Frau Karl. I should like you to see her."

"I shouldn't. But you can drag me into the parlour if you like," said Bernard Clowes a grudging concession: more often than not he ate his food in the hall. His wife pushed his couch, which ran on cycle wheels and so lightly that a child could propel it, into her sitting room and as near as she dared to the French windows that opened without step or ledge on the terrace flagstones and the verdure of the lawn. Out of doors, for some obscure reason, he refused to go, though the garden was sweet with the scent of clover and the gold sunlight was screened by the milky branches of a great acacia. Still he was in the fresh air, and Laura hastily busied herself with her flowered Dresden teacups, pretending unconsciousness because if she had shown the slightest satisfaction he would probably have demanded to be taken back. Her mild duplicity was of course mere make believe: the two understood each other only too well: but it was wiser to keep a veil drawn in case Bernard Clowes should suddenly return to his senses... Continue reading book >>

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