Considerations Beyond Understanding: episode twenty
So. She had induced him to break a rule, steered him to a place of disadvantage. Had this been a diplomatic occasion—the useless phrase he’d tossed at Wrentsley—having somehow committed an offense, he would owe her a concession.
When it is unnecessary to say anything, yes…say nothing. Through his work, he’d met high-level Americans, cultured Americans at Peace League functions, but never what he thought of as one of the ordinary class. He could not quite credit her with Machiavelian cleverness…he found he didn’t want to…and hoped she did not parrot lines of dialogue, rehearsed with her by Wrentsley.
But he knew of ways to speak with every sort of difficult person. What neutral topic could set things right?
“Do I understand you, that you live in St. Louis?”
“No, I don’t. I grew up there. Sometimes I have to travel there with my boss. I was only saying…it makes me afraid I’ll run into one of them.”
“Ah. And what would happen?”
The topic, far from being neutral, was inexcusably personal; he ought to stop himself, letting her lead in this way.
“Oh, a castle!” She pointed, turning to watch the receding summit. Now trees obscured her view. They drove through a region of low hills, a near landscape of dark, ivy-grown trees, limbs chalky with lichen, lime-hued moss brighter than April’s new leaves. The straw-colored middle distance was hazy, the far ridge refracting blue light. Frontal clouds crossed the horizon like sea wash, ocher-bottomed and pale grey.
They were on the Eastbourne Road; Kneussl needed to find a turning for Blindley Heath. She didn’t have to answer his question. He had chosen badly in asking.
“Is this where the Fordyces live when they’re not in London?”
He took a moment to see the road on which he was driving come at the windscreen pell-mell; and saw ahead a grassy incline, crossed by a hedge. A solitary house, flanked by outbuildings. A stream, lying low between high banks, more an interconnected series of shallow, obsidian pools than a flowing current. The change of subject was arresting. Her mind seemed to tack about erratically.
“Tunbridge Wells, you mean. If you are a friend of the Fordyces, they will probably invite you to stay.” They invited everyone…but not for insult had he refused Muriel. Kneussl would have found his time wasted at a country house party.
“I’m not friends with the Fordyces! Lordy, I don’t even know them. I think Colonel Fordyce was happy to see me go. Okay. You asked what would happen?” Again, she didn’t answer at once. In another two miles, they would reach the aerodrome.
(2014, 2018, Stephanie Foster)