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"Shall we go out today?"

"In that?" Peggy jerked her thumb in the direction of the sitting room window, through which little could be seen beyond the rain lashing against it. "I think I'll pass, if it's all the same to you..." She grinned and laid down her magazine, turning expectant eyes on her eldest sister.

Mary dropped into an armchair with a sigh. "I just feel I'm not being much of a hostess, with you cooped up inside all the time. I'm sorry."

"Mary," Peggy began patiently, trying and failing to suppress an impish grin, "I know you are a woman of extraordinary power and influence, but I don't - yet! - hold you responsible for the weather. In any case, I did actually come to visit you, you know, not because I thought your house would make a convenient bolt-hole for a walking tour of Aberdeenshire."

Her hostess gave a rueful smile. "I just really wanted you to get an idea of what the place is like. It's beautiful around here, Peg. Not quite Tyrol, I'll grant you, but still rather lovely."

"Next time, then. What? You are going to invite me again, aren't you?" Mary's only reply was a very expressive look, one which lingered pointedly on her sibling's legs as they dangled insouciantly across the arm of the sofa, and Peggy returned her gaze with calm comprehension. "But of course you are. You're understandably delighted to have me."

Mary snorted. "I'm delighted to see how very much at home you've made yourself already."

"Well, naturally. Mi casa es su casa and all that." 

"Oh, you think so, do you? You would, wretch. I do hope you're better behaved than this when you're visiting your mystery acquaintance." She sat up now, the better to seize her chance. "Who is he, Peg?"

Peggy eyed her with good-natured suspicion. "I told you, I'm not telling. Come to think about it, I believe I told you there's scarcely anything to tell."

"Oh, go on, Peggy. You're practically duty-bound to provide me with distraction -"

"Then I shall provide you with other distractions, my love! Have I already told you the yarn about the prefects - the prefects, Mary - leaping headlong into a pond which appeared suddenly from nowhere?"

"It sounds remarkably like the sequel to the mistress leaping headlong into a well which appeared suddenly from nowhere," Mary observed drily, nonetheless settling down comfortably to listen. Neither had forgotten the original question, nor did either expect the other to have already put it from her mind, but as Peggy had no intention of answering it and Mary saw little use in pursuing the subject - for the time being at any rate - they both allowed it to fall unmentioned by the wayside.

 


***

 


"Torrential rain notwithstanding, it's been a jolly nice weekend," Peggy murmured gratefully as she knelt on the floor to fasten her suitcase.

"It has, hasn't it," Mary agreed from where she sat on the guest bed, her knees drawn up to her chest and her feet tucked beneath the eiderdown. "Peggy? Just tell me. I promise I won't breathe a word, not even to Andrew or Kitty."

Her task completed, Peggy settled herself on top of the secured case and looked consideringly at her sister. Mary was straightforward almost to a fault: if she said she wouldn't repeat it, then she wouldn't. She was also reassuringly unflappable. Peggy recalled the cautious and irrelevant warnings she had issued that day in Carnbach, barely a fortnight ago, and concluded that to maintain her silence would lead her sister to fill in the gaps with explanations far more worrying than was necessary; for all Mary had demanded distraction, Peggy doubted that a distraction of quite that nature would prove beneficial.

Mary stayed quite still, her face impassive, and when she spoke her voice was just as steady. "Who is it - this person you've got nothing to tell me about? We don't have to speak of it again, but don't leave here without telling me at all, Peg."

"Evvy." She blurted it out quickly, dark eyes intent, sharp chin jutting forward: a fragile mixture of apprehension and defiance.

"Evvy?" As Peggy might have predicted, had she not been so preoccupied weighing up the reasons to break her silence against the knowledge that such a confession could not possibly be retracted, Mary's countenance betrayed no real surprise: no shock, no disbelief, no disappointment could be read in her placid face. "I don't think so, sweetheart. She's - she's an interesting woman, of course: she's that much older than you, and she's had a very different route from the one you or I might have taken. I can see why you might look up to her, and she's certainly an excellent teacher and a worthwhile colleague. But - no, I don't think you need to worry, littlest -" Mary's voice was growing surer as she went on, and the slight crease between her eyebrows melted away. "You said there was really nothing to tell, and that you weren't sure - no, you needn't worry about it at all any more. That's a very understandable admiration - especially considering this is your very first term, and after her role in your little underground escapade too! Oh, I must say I am relieved that that's all it is, Peggy - and glad that you decided to tell me. Now, have you everything you need? Then we'd both better get some sleep, you've an early start in the morning."

And with this soothing denouement, Mary gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and left the room, and soon both women were settling down for the night and reflecting on their short conversation with a great deal of relief. For Mary, the relief was somewhat impaired by a wish that her sister might learn to be more mindful; and for Peggy, by the desire for her sister to be a little more worldly.




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