Early February, 1920
It was a bitterly cold night of frost, the stars sharp and piercingly bright overhead.
He pulled the motorcar to the verge and settled to watch the house that lay directly across the black expanse of water. It stood out against the sky, amazingly clear. Even from here he could tell there were lamps burning in three of the rooms. He could picture them in his mind: at the rear of the housethe sitting room, very likely. In the entry, where the pattern of the fanlight over the front door shone starkly against the deep shadows therebehind it the staircase, of course. And one on the first floor, under the eaves.
Their bedroom, surely.
The sitting room lamp went out after half an hour. He could see, for an instant, the grotesque silhouette cast for a moment or two against the drawn shades as someone reached out to turn down the flame. And then the silhouette reappeared briefly in the fanlight just as the second lamp was extinguished.
He leaned forward, his concentration intense, then swore as the windscreen clouded with his breath.
Were there two people in the bedroom now?
He couldn't bear to think about it. He couldn't bear to picture her in another man's arms, wrapped in the warmth of the bedclothes, whispering softly, her hair falling over his shoulder and across his chest. . . .
His fists pounded angrily on the steering wheel as he tried to force the images out of his mind.
And then the last lamp went out, leaving the house in darkness. Shutting them in. While he sat there, like a fool, in the windless night, cold and wretched.
It was the fourth time he'd driven into Hampton Regis. He had promised the doctor he'd do no such thing. But the temptation was too strong, overwhelming his better judgment. Haunted by the need to know, he had told himself that once would do no harm. But once had become twice. And now here he was again.
Dr. Beatie had said, "Stephenyou aren't healed yet. Do you understand? Emotional distress could put you back here, in a worse state than before!"
Both of them knew it was a lie. There could be no worse state than the one he'd somehow, miraculously, survived. He had had to kill the Captain before Dr. Beatie could set him free. He wished now it had been Matthew Hamilton who had died.
He caught himself, knowing it was wrong to wish such a thing. But God, he was tired, and alone, and sometimes afraid. He wanted things the way they had been in 1914. Before the warthe trenchesthe nightmares. Before Matthew Hamilton had walked into the clinic waiting room to comfort Felicity and told herwhat? Lies? Or the sordid truth? That her fiancé was a coward.
After a time Stephen got out to crank the motorcar, the sound of the powerful engine roaring into life and filling the cold silence. He would freeze to death if he sat here, uselessly mourning.
Setting his teeth, he turned the motorcar and without looking again at the darkened house behind him, drove back the way he'd come.
He couldn't see behind the silken white curtains that covered the window under the eaves a pale face staring out into the night, watching the puff of exhaust whip across the rear light, a wraith shielding its brightness until it was out of sight.
Matthew Hamilton rose early, quietly throwing back the bedclothes and the counterpane that covered him, then tucking the ends around his wife's bare shoulder. Looking down at her, he marveled again at his luck. Then reminded himself that it wasn't his luck at all, but someone else's misfortune, that he had married this lovely, loving woman in his bed.
Wryly turning away, he dressed quickly and then set about making up the fire so that the room would be warm for her. When it was drawing well, he went down to the kitchen and blew the fire there into life for the kettle. While he waited for it to boil, he raised the shades and looked out at the clear, cold morning. The sun was not yet up, but a pale rose had begun to streak the winter-brown lawns spreading to the cliff face overlooking the sea. The water beyond was still, waiting for the sun, and farther out there was a soft mist blanketing it.
The foregoing is excerpted from A False Mirror by Charles Todd. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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