‘So,’ he said quietly, ‘you do remember, after all.’ It was a statement, uttered with more regret than satisfaction.
Of course I remembered – how could I forget? – but he had changed so much, and for several seconds my mind refused to accept the truth. I peered up at him more closely, trying to reconcile the man before me with the younger image in my mind. Beneath the broad-brimmed hat his hair was grey, and his beard, less pepper than salt, was styled like the King’s; but he was much heavier than I remembered, and it seemed to me his girth spoke of too many years of soft living, in which a powerful physique had been allowed to turn to fat. I found the change disconcerting, but it was the greyness which upset me most. In his prime he had been strikingly attractive, with strong, regular features and thick brown hair. By contrast, his beard in those days was a bright, coppery red, almost the same colour as my own wild curls. When we met, his beard had been the first thing I noticed.
But if the change in him was unsettling, his presence was a shock. And most unwelcome. I turned away to hide my emotions. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said, trying to sound dismissive and in control of the situation, ‘I don’t know you at all – and if you persist in bothering me, sir, I shall be forced to summon the police.’
He had the nerve to chuckle. ‘Come now, you don’t mean that.’
‘Oh, but I do.’ The words were ground out as I fought to control my trembling. I wanted to march away but was afraid my legs would not carry me far enough. ‘Please leave me alone.’
‘But I mean you no harm,’ he protested mildly, and with a typically expansive gesture indicated the walking stick and his apparent infirmity. ‘Unless you were to measure your step to mine, I couldn’t even keep up with you.’
He made my urge to run seem ridiculous. Nevertheless, I forced my reluctant limbs into motion – one or two people around us were beginning to find our conversation more interesting than that cascade of snow. ‘What do you want?’
‘Should I want anything?’ he asked reproachfully as we turned together and walked slowly down the platform. ‘Isn’t it enough that I should see you and recognise you, and be overjoyed that you’ve changed so little in the years between?’
‘You think I haven’t changed?’ I demanded, more affronted than otherwise, but unable to restrain a mocking burst of laughter.
‘Oh, Damaris,’ he said, annoying me further by his use of that old name, ‘we’ve both changed – how could we not? – and even more, no doubt, than appears to the eye. I was young and fit in those days, and you – you were just a girl, scrambling up and down cliffs and striking a pose for every photographer in sight. Even so,’ he added slyly, with a nod at my headgear, ‘I thought I recognised you on the train, in spite of your fine feathers. I wasn’t sure at first, until I saw you striding forth along the platform, your whole body bent against the wind . . .’
I was uncertain just how much of a compliment that was, the implication being that fine ladies strolled, never strode forth. I saw an edge, too, in the mention of photographers, which made my jaw tighten. Struggling for a suitably sarcastic response, I said: ‘You flatter me,’ while wondering what to do.
It struck me that I was being teased out of further denials, and that he was determined to keep my company for the duration. I could have denied him that by walking away or making a fuss, or as a last resort by reporting him as a nuisance to the station-master; but that was never a serious consideration. The logical side of my mind – which was rapidly recovering from its shock – was aware that this journey of mine was in part an attempt to settle old scores. On that level, my present companion was certainly worthy of adding to the list. Unlooked for and unexpected, but if I had ever longed for a chance to make him suffer – and I had – then this was my opportunity to do so.
With that thought, I felt better. Stronger, more able to handle the situation. I set the shock aside and donned the mildly flirtatious, woman-of-the-world mask that had served me so well in business. As we reached the barrier I gave him a sidelong glance and, as I caught his eye, a conspiratorial smile to go with it. ‘Well, now, since you’ve penetrated my disguise, won’t you join me for dinner? Be my guest and allow me – for old times’ sake – to repay your hospitality?’
As he appeared to hesitate, I said: ‘But let us be clear about something. My name’s no longer Damaris, it’s Marie – Marie Lindsey. Mrs Lindsey, as a matter of fact.’
He smiled and gave a mocking little bow. ‘Thank you, Mrs Lindsey – although there’s no need, I – ’
‘But my dear sir, there’s every need,’ I assured him. ‘In fact, I insist.’
The third excerpt from Moon Rising will be posted 14th October 2015. The full ebook will be available on 31st October 2015