The Fountain - By Mary Nichols Page 0,1

ages. Giving me the creeps.’

All three turned to look and George, who had heard all he wanted to hear, decided it was time to make himself scarce.

Chapter One

Barbara spent the day wandering about the farm with the dog at her heels, exercised her mare, Jinny, across the common near her home and came back in time to have a leisurely soak in the bath, the bathroom having been converted from a small bedroom. It was a life she loved, just as she loved the rambling old farmhouse with its mellow brick and flint exterior and the yellow climbing rose that reached her bedroom window. Her mother had planted that on the day Barbara was christened. ‘I wanted to watch it grow, as you grew,’ she had told her. ‘My golden girl and my golden rose together.’

The whole house was full of treasured memories like that. Barbara didn’t believe in ghosts, but the spirit of her mother was everywhere. It was in the bricks themselves, in the decorations and furnishings, in the garden. It was beside her when she cooked. It stood over her when she painted, a silent but accurate critic. Until her mother died she had not known a minute’s anxiety, beyond having to confess to her teacher she had skimped her homework or when the cat’s unwanted kittens had to be disposed of. She always cried buckets over those. Safe and loved, she never expected the blow, and when it fell, she had no one to lean on, no shoulder to cry on but her father’s, and he had been grieving himself. Together they had weathered it, made a life without the loved one, and now she could look back with a smile at the pleasant memories and reminisce with her father. ‘Do you remember when…’

Leaving him to go to college had caused her some soul-searching. As the daughter of a well-to-do farmer she could stay at home and paint pictures to her heart’s content and wait for the plaudits if they came, but she wanted to be independent, and though her father never grumbled, she knew the farm was nothing like as prosperous as it had been in her grandfather’s time and she did not want to be an added burden. She planned to teach art at a local school, where she could live at home, painting in her spare time. When she explained this, he had smiled and said if she wanted to go to college, then of course he would find the wherewithal to send her.

She pulled the plug on the cooling bathwater, wrapped herself in a towel and went to her room. Her dress was the same one she had worn at the college ball but that did not matter since there would be no one at tonight’s affair who had been there. Sweeping her blonde hair into a chignon and fastening it with combs and pins, she took a last look in the wardrobe mirror and went down to join her father.

He was waiting for her in the drawing room, standing by the hearth with one foot on the fender. At forty-four, he was a good-looking man whose thick, dark hair had the merest suggestion of grey at the temples and whose figure was supple enough to belong to a much younger man. He moved forward and took her hands to hold her at arm’s length. ‘I suppose it was worth the wait. I shall be the envy of every young blood there.’

Before the war the Harvest Supper, which was grander than a supper, more a dinner followed by a ball, had been held in Melsham each year at the end of the first week in September, but this was the first since the war. Barbara recalled, as a child, watching enviously as her parents went off without her, her mother looking radiant in a flowing ball gown, her father in evening dress, so much in love it hurt her to remember. Now she was going with him, but Simon’s remarks preyed on her mind. ‘Are you sure you want to partner me?’ she asked.

‘What’s brought this on?’ he asked with a smile. ‘Are you having doubts about my staying power?’

‘No, of course not.’ She couldn’t tell him what was in her mind, couldn’t bring herself to say it aloud, as if voicing the notion that he might prefer to take a lady friend would put the idea into his head. ‘I thought you might be bored.’

‘Let me tell you, my girl, I