Women like that could be dangerous.
Oh, not in the glamorous, clichéd way she would have joked about with her underlings back at Les Arbres: whispers of the irresistible pull of a beautiful woman hinting that maybe, just maybe... and then there you'd be, making a fool of yourself in public, spending money you didn't have on drinks you didn't much care for, up all hours knowing you'd feel like death come morning, and at least half the time on a promise that finally melted away to nothing - a promise that wasn't even a promise, really, because she'd said nothing, just smiled at you with her eyes and you'd filled in the rest with your own flattered hope.
No, this was danger of an entirely different kind.
She was young - very young. Oh, Rhyll had seen enough women married and having babies at that age too, but she had her doubts about them, too - not to mention the men who married them. She tried to recall herself at twenty-one, was forced to concede she had been rather more worldly than she was currently giving credit for - but that had been different, anyway: the knowledge that, whatever she did want, marriage wasn't it, had shielded her from having to test too assiduously just how worldly she had been - or hadn't. She supposed it was possible that Burnett had given thought to these matters too, but felt quite certain that, whatever else, she would not have drawn the same conclusions. There was a cheerful innocence to her manner that strongly suggested she hadn't given the matter much thought at all, had been happily coasting along the usual paths, waiting for her world to fall into place as she went. Rhyll was not entirely comfortable with recognising that innocence, given the circumstances.
And yet, innocence notwithstanding, Burnett was dangerous: not because she was young and sweet and beautiful, and Rhyll was captivated by her - if only it were as simple! No, the danger was not in what Rhyll thought, or felt. Burnett was dangerous because of how she looked at Rhyll, when she thought nobody else was watching. Burnett - Peggy, her name was Peggy - with her eyes shining and a certain inviting smile that made Rhyll look away, lest she find herself unable to help reciprocating. Burnett - Peggy, beautiful sweet Peggy - was quite obviously besotted with her.
This knowledge should have gladdened Rhyll's heart, but instead it hung heavy over her, a grave responsibility. Not for its obviousness - it was a niche sort of obviousness, Rhyll reflected, and the person most likely to have noticed it was now far away in Switzerland, rather decisively averting that particular danger - but for its innocence, its ambiguity, its inconstancy. Peggy was standing steadily on the shore and flirting with uncharted waters; and if she chanced to dip her toes, or leap more wholeheartedly into dark currents she knew nothing of, there would be nothing for Rhyll to do but plunge in after her. Rhyll snorted to herself, first at the overegged metaphor and then at its unusual applicability, recalling Peggy's recent wholehearted leap across the Madonna lilies and into an almost-uncharted well.
And Rhyll had been here before, knew that women like that could be dangerous: knew that they relished the comfort of an imaginary liaison that wasn't; knew that it wasn't meaningless, not exactly, but that the risk of it meaning too much - and the pain of it not meaning enough - both fell squarely on her side of the bargain. She knew the affection was genuine, that it was never calculated to hurt or endanger, but invariably it did - one or the other; sometimes both.
Rhyll had been here before, enough to know that Peggy had not. Rhyll had been here before, enough to know that the right thing to do was to decide firmly against it and not give the matter even one more thought. So why did she find herself quietly trying to be where Peggy was, staying for meals she had no need of, conscientiously supervising the girls' gardening outside of formal lesson times, sitting in the staff room hours after she would normally have left to go home? There was no good reason to imagine Peggy would be any different. All the usual hallmarks were there.
No, she said to herself firmly, out loud, sitting at her desk under the open window in the darkness of her room, watching the stars twinkle encouragingly in the inky-black sky. No, this stops here.