Julian was correct, though it was some months before his prediction was realised. The conversation about Rhyll's future came in the Spring, over the planting out of those azaleas that had reminded her father of his own boyhood.
He had paused in his work to look at her for a moment, after hearing her response. Rhyll did not, her head bent over the seedlings she had carried tenderly from the glasshouse, and so was in no position of having to guess what the interested look on his face really meant.
The more enlightening treatment of her idea took place many hours later, long after she had been dispatched to bed by Nanny.
"She wants to what?" Mrs Everett asked, disbelief wrinkling her elegant features.
Her husband shrugged. "It shouldn't really have come as such a surprise. It's what she enjoys, and she's fearfully good at it all - although of course she would need an enormous amount more science to get anywhere with it."
"You're not entertaining her?" She looked appalled. "Oh, surely she can't. She needn't, in any case. I do hope you made that clear to her - children can get up such silly ideas, and after having to give up dear old Edgecot..."
He nodded slowly. "Though it's at the very least something to push her through her schoolwork, and not much else seems to."
She snorted. "It's certainly cause to return both attention and industry to the schoolroom. That girl has had altogether too much time to fill with her plants. Oh, I shouldn't mind if she'd only light upon a more suitable hobby - embroidery, music, dancing; but not this. She's thought the last two years nothing but a summer holiday, and one can hardly blame her. I suppose she might go in more thoroughly for science. There's a certain academic achievement in that - and the proof that this gardening idea of hers is much more than mere planting that anyone dexterous enough might claim themselves skilled in." A certain disdain made clear her real hopes for this last suggestion: that prolonged exposure to the theory would prove sufficiently discouraging, that boredom or outright inability would choke off the interest before it could grow out of hand.
"I should think she's near enough the limit of what Nanny can teach her in that field," Mr Everett remarked, quietly disregarding the complaint itself as a tiresome irrelevance and neglecting to comment on his daughter's academic potential.
"I should think she's near enough the limit of what Nanny can teach her about anything."
"Not one of the boys has ever been interested in the land. Not one. Just as well there's nothing to hand on, isn't it?" Unexpected bitterness.
No sympathy. "That doesn't entitle you to make a son of your daughter."
Silence fell, the sort of permanent and uneasy silence which casts an impossible shadow over any eventual return to the subject, and Mrs Everett returned to her novel.
Summer came. The flowers bloomed. Julian came home again - 'home' tripped unconsciously from everyone's tongues now - taller and broader, his voice changed, his grin the same as ever.
Ralph came home too. Rhyll had seen so little of him that she was unable to judge whether he, too, seemed changed, but her mother remarked upon it frequently, so she accepted that it must be so. A few days later, he disappeared in his motorcar and returned mid-afternoon with a pretty young woman in the passenger seat. She was the sister of a friend he had made at Ypres, Rhyll understood from the murmured conversations of Murrin and Bennett when they thought themselves alone with their cleaning; an Australian girl, dainty in both appearance and manners. They sailed for Australia that November. Rhyll was granted permission to go and see them off. Low winter sun sparkled on the crests of the waves and in the diamond on the young Mrs Everett's slim hand as she clutched Ralph's arm, all shy smiles and the promise of a new life far away. The departure itself was not impressive but the great ship was, an imposing behemoth in steel, and she felt a pang of guilt that it was she and not Julian who was here to witness it.
Before Christmas there was another departure. Nanny left, her stiff goodbye tinged with a barely-suppressed tearfulness Rhyll had not expected. Her surprise must have been obvious, for Nanny glanced skyward in exasperation: "I've been with the family a long time, child. You think it's only Ralph I've watched grow up and marry? Why, I can still remember your mother in her cradle."
Rhyll's eyes widened, and she could think of no appropriate comment. "I hope your mother is better soon," she offered politely. "I'll write to you every week."
Nanny nodded, approvingly. "That will be nice," she replied, and already her voice seemed to come from somewhere very far away.
Author's Chapter Notes:
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