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Radiantly happy

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Maurice was due back from Penge late on Thursday evening, but his place at the head of the table remained empty at breakfast on Friday morning. They barely remarked on it: in some respects he was a creature of habit, but he also came and went as he chose, not always bothering to let anyone know if he was going to be out. Kitty didn’t spare much time for thinking about Maurice at the best of times: Violet had asked for her help with a fundraising concert, Miss Lincoln had renewed the offer to share her digs that she had first done three months ago, if Kitty wanted to move to London (she did, but she didn’t think she could leave Mother), she needed to finish the book on economics she had borrowed from Miss Holmes so she could return it at the next soc. meeting.

When nearly a week had passed and his place at the table remained empty, Mrs Hall finally remarked that it didn’t seem like Maurice to go away unannounced for so long. Kitty looked up from her letter. “I’ll send him a wire at Penge,” she said. She was used to remarks that concealed a request for something Mother didn’t want to do herself but didn’t want to ask her to do either.

She had to go the shops anyway, so she stopped at the post office to send her wire and post her letters. She didn’t think more about it until they were seated for dinner, and Maurice’s place still stood empty. It was strange that she hadn’t had a reply to her wire yet.

However, there was a cryptic letter from Clive the next morning. He apologised for not replying to her sooner, but the situation was difficult. Maurice wasn’t at Penge any more, and if he had not arrived at home, then Clive suspected that he was gone for good and Clive didn’t know where he might have gone. Kitty stared at the letter, trying to understand what Clive was saying—she sensed that Clive knew more than he was saying, but she doubted he would be willing to say any more than he already had.

“Clive says he thinks Maurice has gone away somewhere and isn’t going to come back home again,” she told her mother. “He doesn’t know any more than that.”

“But where would have he gone? This is his home. And what about Hill & Hall?”

“I don’t know, Mother. But I will telephone the office after breakfast.”

Her telephone conversation with Mr Hill was as unsatisfactory as the letter from Clive. Yes, Maurice had announced his intention to leave the partnership, and they were busy finalising the details. No, Mr Hill didn’t know where Maurice was, although he had picked the impression that Maurice had been planning some time away in the peace and quiet of the countryside. No, Mr Hill didn’t have a forwarding address, although he assumed that Maurice’s solicitor had it as he was handling Maurice’s side of the business. He would have his secretary send the name and address of the solicitors to Kitty. It was all very puzzling, and so unlike Maurice.

Her mother alternated between worrying about Maurice and what had made him do something as inexplicable and unexpected as this and worrying about what their friends and acquaintances would think when they found out. Mrs Barry had already been asking after Maurice, and Mrs Hall thought her response had been too flustered and had aroused suspicions.

Kitty didn’t know what to think, and she was too busy to spare many thoughts to speculation. She had own commitments, with Violet and other friends, and she wasn’t going to let those go now, and she made it her business to find out everything about the family financial commitments. Ever since Maurice came of age, Mother had been reluctant to get involved, and after Ada’s marriage some of it had fallen on Kitty, but she knew she had never been involved in everything. There were many letters and meetings with Forester, the family solicitor, until she was satisfied that she understood everything.

She had written to Ada to ask her to come to be with Mother whilst Kitty attended to her commitments, but Ada was expecting, feeling unwell, and not willing to stay away from her own home. Eventually, Ada invited Mrs Hall to stay for an indefinite period to help her in the preparations for the new arrival. Kitty could tell Mother was tempted: away from her usual circles, with something else to think about, but it took the best part of a fortnight for her to actually say yes. She couldn’t leave Kitty alone, it wouldn’t be proper, she said. Kitty recognised an opportunity when she saw it and suggested that she could stay with friends in London, in fact Miss Lincoln, whom Mother had met on several occasions and who had come to stay with them for a weekend or two, had repeatedly invited Kitty to share her digs, but she had been unwilling to leave Mother. But if Mother was going to stay with Ada, Kitty could stay with Miss Lincoln, and everything would be proper. After a fortnight or so of conversations going in circles, Mrs Hall agreed to go to stay with Ada, and surprised all of them by suggesting making the arrangement permanent. Kitty couldn’t tell if Ada was truly happy about the idea, but she accepted it serenely enough.

She made her arrangements with Jane—Miss Lincoln—she would move in after Christmas spent at the Chapmans, in time to start in the office job she had found through Mrs Trent, a friend of Violet’s, at the beginning of January. There was plenty to do before that: they were going to close the house since no-one would be living there. In the process of doing it, she discovered that the house belonged to Maurice now, rather than Mother as she had assumed. She didn’t have time to do anything about this discovery right then: there were things to be packed and sent to the Chapman’s, things to be packed and passed on to Jones who dealt in furniture, meetings with Forester about money and bills.

After an awkward family Christmas at the Chapmans she sighed with relief when she boarded the train to take her to London and start her new life. Jane welcomed her, and they spent the next couple of days getting her things unpacked. On New Year’s Eve, Jane took her to a party at some friends of hers. She hadn’t met any of them before, and as Jane was pulled aside first by this person and then another, she felt a little lonely and out of place, not as interesting or opinionated or fashionable as the other people present. She was standing by a window, looking at the street outside where rain was steadily falling, when a woman came up to her and introduced herself as Anna, and effortlessly, or so it seemed to Kitty, struck up a conversation that ended up totally absorbing both of them. Kitty didn’t pay any mind to anything else going on in the flat until over an hour later when somebody else came to collect Anna to settle some dispute or another, and Kitty found herself again next to Jane, who now introduced her to others and made more of an effort to include Kitty in her conversations. But it was Anna whom she still had in mind. She didn’t get another opportunity to talk to her that night, and it made her oddly disappointed.

The first week of January she was learning the ropes at her new job. It was a hard week, unlike anything she had done before, but even the routine parts that seemed to bore Miss Darling who was teaching her her tasks seemed exciting to her. In the evenings, she and Jane had some supper and talked about their respective days.

It felt wonderful to be working, earning her own money. It wasn’t very much, but it made a difference. She had a small income from the arrangements her father had made in his will, but it wasn’t quite enough for independent existence in London, so a job was both a necessity and something she wanted to do for herself. She didn’t miss her old life. Letters from Mother suggested that Mrs Hall wasn’t finding her changed circumstances quite as comfortable: they were half filled with worry about Maurice, and half with the difficulty of settling into the Chapman household. Once Kitty was settled in the office and felt that her brain could again engage with more than the immediate concern of learning everything, one day during her lunch break she set out to write a letter to Maurice, about the house, having discussed the matter with Jane and come to the conclusion that asking his bank to forward it might be the best solution she could hope for. She stared at the empty sheet for a good fifteen minutes, trying to think what to say. They had never been that close. Eventually she decided she was wasting time and dashed the letter off quickly and got on with her work.

A couple of weeks after the New Year’s Eve party, Anna was visiting Jane when Kitty came home from the office. Seeing her, sitting on Jane’s threadbare armchair by the window, a teacup in one hand and gesturing with the other made Kitty’s heart jump. She had been thinking about Anna, and wondering if they’d meet again, and now she was here, drawing Kitty into the conversation the moment she was in the room. The evening passed quickly, quicker than Kitty would have wanted it to pass. At the end of the evening, she made plans to see Anna again soon.

They were soon fast friends who saw each other nearly every day, who walked on the streets arm in arm. Thinking about Anna made Kitty giddy with happiness, but it also reminded her of the way Sylvia had made her feel all those years ago, and how it all had ended with heartache for her, and it made her afraid it might all end badly with Anna too. But spending time with Anna was always so inspiring and exciting that she always forgot her fears, and Anna seemed to enjoy her company just as much as she enjoyed Anna’s.

By the time she had a reply from Maurice she had almost forgotten she had written, except that she had heard from Forester who was preparing for a sale. It was a very short letter.

Dear Kitty,” it read, “please tell Mother I am well and that I am sorry about how abruptly I left, but I cannot come back to my old life.

Perhaps we’ll come across one another one day, perhaps we won’t. All the best, Maurice.

There was no address, but the letter was postmarked London. She didn’t know what to tell her mother, so she kept the letter her secret. One fine Saturday afternoon in May, when she was out walking with Anna, she thought she glimpsed him—and a friend—walking down the other side of the street in the other direction. Then an omnibus drove along the street, closely followed by another, and when she looked again, she couldn’t see him again. She was never quite sure if it really had been him, but at that moment, she thought she knew why he had disappeared from their lives and gone away to live his life the way he chose, not unlikely how she had moved to London, made new friends and found Anna. Anna stepped closer to her to avoid a crush of people in front of the shop windows they were passing, and put her arm round her waist. It was a familiar gesture by now but it still made her feel warm inside, loved. She had all this now, and she was radiantly happy.