Authors: Anne Saunders
CIRCLES OF FATE
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data available
This eBook published by AudioGO Ltd, Bath, 2012.
Published by arrangement with the Author
Epub ISBN 9781471311963
Copyright Â© Anne Saunders 1973
The Author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
All rights reserved
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental
Jacket illustration Â© iStockphoto.com
Anita was among the first passengers to board. Feeling nervous, she smiled brightly at the air hostess, hoping to dispel the butterflies and exude complete calm and confidence. Not that she deceived the girl in the blue and grey Airways' uniform. Air hostesses are trained to spot the timid first-timer; one of their less arduous but tricky duties is to see that first-time flight nerves do not spread. And, so stressed the Airways' instructor many times during the long and expensive training, the best way to do that is to tackle the problem at source.
The air hostess walked down the narrow aisle, helping passengers to stow away belongings and, where necessary, assisting in the fastening of seat belts, stopping as if by chance by Anita.
“Are you quite comfortable, madam?”
The girl's voice, pitched low to inspire confidence, was a great nerve steadier. As she smiled her thanks, Anita felt almost calm.
The aircraft door slammed shut and the plane taxied down the runway. Just for a moment, before it thrust its giant bulk into the air, it seemed to hesitate and that was the moment Anita closed her eyes and wished herself back home. Armed to the back teeth with statistics, she knew there was less chance of coming to grief while airborne than travelling on the tightly packed roads. But cars are in frequent usage, whereas planes are still nerve-rackingly out of the ordinary, except for a minority of blasÃ© business people travelling on expense accounts.
Suddenly she realized they were up, cutting through clouds as wispy as cigarette smoke into a blue, sunlit world. With feminine perversity she thought, Why, there's nothing to it! If Edward could see me now he'd be really quite proud of me. She wished the plane was taking her all the way to Leyenda. Unfortunately the small airfield there only catered for light aircraft, so after this journey she was still faced with another take-off, another landing.
The hostess who had spotted her little idiosyncrasy was politely enquiring whether she would like tea or coffee with her lunch. As she began to eat she realized how hungry she was. She had been too excited to eat a proper breakfast, half a slice of toast and half a cup of tea had gone down very slowly and, anyway, that was hours ago. She noticed that her travelling companion, a woman of about forty with sad brown eyes, barely touched her tray.
“Is this your first flight, too?” asked Anita, full of sympathy.
For a moment the woman did not answer; it seemed as though her thoughts absorbed her to the exclusion of everything else. Then, realizing:
“Gracious, no! I've done this trip scores of times.” With precise, deliberate movements she turned from Anita to catch the hostess's eye, indicating that she wished her to remove the unwanted tray. Repressively, because above all else Anita longed for a feminine natter to keep her mind off other things, the woman opened a magazine. Opened it, but did not bother to read it. She stared glassy-eyed at the same line, not even making the pretence of turning a page now and then. Anita respected the barrier and did not attempt to draw the woman into conversation again.
The big plane touched down. The huge engines screamed as the wheels slowed on the tarmac, so that even when the plane stopped moving and all was quiet, the noise lingered in Anita's ears. There was a murmur of voices, a shuffle of feet as people rose, collecting holdalls, handbags and suchlike. Anita edged forward and took her place in the slow-moving queue, smiled her goodbye to the air hostess and came out into a shimmering dance of light. The sky was a bright intense blue, innocent of all but one tiny finger-smudge of cloud, and the light bounced back off the stark white airport buildings, so that she was forced to reduce her eyes to slits to combat the glare.
Clear of passport control and customs, she stopped an airport employee and asked where she should go to catch the plane to Leyenda. He grinned at her and pointed a bronzed finger in the direction of the restaurant building.
“You mean I've time for a cup of tea?” she said, feeling keen relief because she wasn't going to be hustled straight on another plane.
“I mean you've time for several,” came the puzzling reply. Whereupon he let out a bellowing laugh and went away holding his head in mock disbelief.
She tried again. This time her quarry made better sense.
“You'll be wanting Rock Bennett's crate. Now let me see, if you go ... Ah, look! There's Mrs Perryman. She's going to Leyenda. Your best bet would be to tag on to her.”
With precisely that in mind, Anita picked up her suitcase and legged it after the stylish back. “Excuse me,” she said breathlessly drawing alongside.
The club-cut brown hair swung away and those sad brown eyes surveyed Anita again, causing her to bite her lip in dismay. Of all the unhappy coincidences, it was the uncommunicative woman she had sat next to on the plane.
“Oh, I'm sorry. I honestly wouldn't have come chasing after you, no matter what the man said,” she gulped with an intrepid rush of honesty, which could hardly be called flattering.
“The man I asked to direct me to the Leyenda plane.”
“Oh, I see. And he directed you to me.”
“Yes, but it's all right. I'll ask someone else.”
“That would be pointless. I suggest you join me for a cup of tea.”
“Oh, I couldn't ... couldn't force myself on you.”
“But you already have, dear,” pointed out the older woman reasonably. “We are both Leyenda bound, it seems. If I let you go now I shall feel a worse monster than I do already. I'm not usually this boorish and unsociable, but I'm wrestling with a gigantic domestic problem which has blinded me to the point of impoliteness and has stolen my normally unimpeachable good manners. Let's start again, shall we? I'm Monica Perryman.”
Dazed by earlier rebuffs, Anita stared, not immediately grasping the meaning of the outstretched hand. Then her mouth rushed full-force into a smile, as her own hand went forward to do the niceties. “Anita Hurst. And if you don't want to talk, I won't. I'm just grateful to be alongside.”
“You're not used to being on your own, are you?” enquired Monica Perryman shrewdly.
“No,” said Anita, her eyes filling with uncontrollable tears. “I'm not.”
“Tea first,” said Monica Perryman, taking hold of Anita's elbow and steering her purposefully forward.
Then, cryptically: “We'll have to toss for who has first go â”
“Unloading. Unburdening. On second thoughts I think I shall be mean and execute the prerogative of age. I'm aching to whisper my troubles into an uninvolved, discreet ear. Are you discreet?”
“Well, I think so,” said Anita, “although it's a long time since I've been put to the test.”
The older woman's throat surrendered a tiny sigh. “I'm an idiot not to keep my own counsel. Hang on while I get the tea. It's self-service, so you grab a table.”
Monica Perryman stripped off her gloves. Her hands were broad, her fingers fat and stumpy and did not do justice to the rings on her marriage finger. Her wedding ring was a broad, many faceted band, but it was the other ring with its single ruby stone which fascinated Anita.
“Yes, it is rather nice,” said Monica Perryman. “I'd let you try it on, but it doesn't come off that easily. If I were knocked down and robbed, at least my rings would be safe.” She spread her fingers out and looked at them disparagingly. “The only place I admit to putting on weight.” She had a droll, rather dry way of talking, which Anita was just beginning to get used to. If she was cynical then someone had made her that way, someone had fashioned that mouth into bitterness and filled those brown eyes with sorrow. Suddenly they fixed on Anita.
“Would you take a piece of advice from someone who's experienced life the hard way?” She pointed to Anita's engagement ring. “I see you've already chosen your man. Accept him for what he is; don't go blithely into marriage with the thought that you can change him because the chances are you won't succeed. At the age of matrimony a man is more or less moulded in his ways; if they're not your ways then tear up his letters and give him back his trinkets while they are just that, and not perks that go with the job, paid for with years of bending to his will and flattering his silly ego.” Her mouth tightened and for a moment she seemed to drift away into a world of her own as she said: “They're mine now, no matter what the outcome. I've taken care of that.” She broke off to sip her tea and she regained control of the moment. Still cradling the cup in her hands, she said, entreated almost, “Don't make the mistake of listening to his promises. Three years, my man said. Try Leyenda for three years and if you still don't like it, we'll find some place you do like. Okay, I said. Three years later I said, I've given the island a fair trial and I don't like it. Let's go. One more year, honey, he begged. The business isn't going so well. Never let it be said that your husband walked out on a failure. Ten years later there was rather a subtle change. You can't expect me to walk out on a success? Give up my life's work? Not likely! Go visit your sister, he said. Compare her life with yours and don't come back until you are in a more reasonable frame of mind.”
“Is that where you've been,” interrupted Anita, “visiting your sister?”
“Yes. And making unfair comparisons because my sister's husband has fought ill-health all his life and has never been able to give my sister much in the way of material advantages. But do you know, on happiness, on understanding and togetherness, they are points ahead.”
“But you're still returning to your husband?”
“No dear.” She reinforced herself with a huge breath. “I'm leaving him.” Then she sat back, highly satisfied, as though voicing it to a stranger was a gigantic step forward. “You've heard the classic joke, I've come to say I'm not coming. Well, I'm returning to say I'm not returning. I could have written a letter. Almost did. But my sister persuaded me not to take the coward's way out. She said I owed Claude a face-to-face explanation. So here I am. And now, my dear, I must extract a promise from you that you will not repeat one word of this conversation to a living soul. I've told you all this to relieve my feelings and not to steal a petty advantage. Claude Perryman is, in every way, a fine man and a kind, considerate employer. I'm throwing that in because for all I know you might be going out to work for him. He is, after all, the island's chief source of employment and I don't want to prejudice you right at the beginning.”
“I'm not going out to a job.”
“I didn't think so, but I couldn't be sure. If you meet my husband socially, do like him. We are both really very nice people who are mismatched and should never have fallen in love. Now, I'll have your promise, please.”
“Of course. I promise.”
“Thank you. Now I wonder what's keeping Rock Bennett.” She consulted her watch. “He's scandalously late.” She smiled and added: “As usual.”
“Is he a bit of a joke, or something?” ventured Anita. “The first man I asked directions of found it all highly amusing.”
“Rock Bennett is no joke, he's a first-class pilot, but the crates he flies aren't what you might call confidence inspiring. Not to worry,” she said, answering the flicker of alarm in Anita's eye. “To the best of my knowledge he's never lost a plane or a passenger yet.”
“Someone defaming my character?” cut in a lazy voice.
“I may be indiscreet â” flashing Anita a smile â “but I never talk slander.” As Monica Perryman's gaze was drawn to the blue eyes with a high masculine charm-rating, of which their owner was totally unaware and which probably made him such a nice person to know, Anita also looked up.
“Rock Bennett â Anita Hurst,” introduced Monica Perryman.
Anita decided his eyes were such an intense shade of blue because they contrasted so vividly with his black lashes and brows.