I and My True LoveHelen Macinnes
I AND MY TRUE LOVE
ALSO BY HELEN MacINNES
AND AVAILABLE FROM TITAN BOOKS
Pray for a Brave Heart
Assignment in Brittany
North From Rome
Decision at Delphi
The Venetian Affair
The Salzburg Connection
Message from Málaga
While We Still Live
The Double Image
Neither Five Nor Three
Snare of the Hunter
Agent in Place
Ride a Pale Horse
Prelude to Terror
The Hidden Target
Cloak of Darkness (November 2013)
Rest and Be Thankful (December 2013)
Friends and Lovers (January 2014)
Home is the Hunter (February 2014)
I AND MY TRUE LOVE
I and My True Love
Print edition ISBN: 9781781163252
E-book edition ISBN: 9781781164358
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP
First edition: October 2013
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 1953, 2013 by Helen MacInnes. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
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About the Author
Go far; come near;
You still must be
The centre of your own small mystery...
Ah, when clocks stop, and no-more-time begins,
May he who gave the flower
Its matchless hour,
And you the power
To win the love that only loving wins,
Have mercy on your miseries and your sins.
WALTER DE LA MARE
The sun, cold yellow veiled by grey cloud, freed itself from the mist and reached down to the rain-washed platform. The railway lines, curving, meeting, parting, multiplying, suddenly gleamed against the dark tracks. Sylvia Pleydell shivered at the touch of the chill wind and turned away from the lonely platform with its neatly spaced little Doric columns supporting its shallow room, from the multitude of railway lines leading to everywhere, leading to nowhere. It’s the spring, she thought, as she moved back into the crowded warmth of the station: it always depresses me now. Or perhaps it is this waiting.
Waiting. Waiting for a train that was late. That was always an anti-climax. You arrived at the station, congratulating yourself on your unexpected efficiency—you had accomplished everything on time, and neither the long dreary luncheon for a good cause nor Washington’s jumbled afternoon traffic had delayed you. And then the train was late. Fifteen minutes to put in. Fifteen minutes to add to the lump sum of busy engagements that filled your hours and amounted to nothing. So why worry about another fifteen wasted minutes?
She walked slowly over to the bookstand, a massive island on the vast stretch of polished stone floor, making her way between the groups of people who waited with her. The strangers glanced at her, then glanced again, some covertly, some quite openly. She seemed unaware of their interest. The rows of magazines held her attention.
* * *
Lieutenant Robert Turner had seen Sylvia. Just my luck, he thought: here I am, stuck with Baker in front of an information board, waiting for a delayed train. No use trying to get rid of Baker, either. Apart from the fact that Baker was the senior lieutenant, Baker’s eyes were sharp, Baker’s guesses were often shrewd, and Baker’s amusement was generally hard to share. Robert Turner studied the information board once more.
“There’s a friend of yours, Turner,” Baker said with sudden interest.
Turner looked carefully in the wrong direction—anything to delay Baker from suggesting they go over and talk to Sylvia.
“Over there, by the news-stand,” Baker informed him helpfully.
Turner looked, and nodded.
“I suppose she’s waiting for this train, too,” said Baker, the perpetually curious.
“Seems like it.” Turner became absorbed in the information board again. Today, as he knew very well, Sylvia’s young cousin was arriving from California. Her name was Kate Jerold, and he was invited to meet her at dinner tonight. But none of this was any of Lieutenant Baker’s damned business.
“How did you ever get to meet Sylvia Pleydell, anyway?” Baker asked.
“I knew one of her cousins. In Korea.”
“The cousins of the men I knew in Korea always turn out to have double-lens glasses and nervous giggles.” Baker shook his head over some memories. “Let’s keep moving,” he suggested suddenly. He began to walk along the row of gateways that led to the various platforms, and Turner fell into step with him.
But Baker hadn’t given up, yet. “Yes,” he remarked as he glanced over at Sylvia Pleydell, “she’s easy to look at—even at this distance, and I never seem to get anywhere closer.” By the way he was edging towards the bookstand, he was obviously going to take care of that. “One of the Jerold sisters—quite a bunch, weren’t they? You couldn’t open a magazine a few years ago without seeing their big beautiful eyes gazing back at you. A few years? My God, it’s almost ten! The summer before Pearl Harbour. But that was before your time, wasn’t it?”
Turner agreed, coldly, that it probably was.
“I bet you weren’t even in the eighth grade,” Baker said with his usual tact. He looked at the junior officer’s ribbons and shook his head with an amused grin. Suddenly, he halted his steps. “Why don’t we go over and say hallo to her?” he suggested as if the idea had just struck him.
Turner hesitated. Then, almost with relief and yet with a touch of harshness, too, he said, “Someone has already done that.” For a brief moment, he stared at the man—tall; walking with a slight limp—who had come up beside Sylvia; the man was speaking, now, and Sylvia turned to him with wonder in her face. Turner looked sharply away. “We’d
better see if the arrival platform is posted yet.”
“Suppose so.” Baker gave one last curious glance over his shoulder. “Wonder who that fellow is, haven’t seen him around. One of those diplomatic types, I’d say. Strong competition, Bob.”
Turner’s lips tightened.
Baker’s grin widened. “Okay, okay,” he said soothingly, “but what keeps her so faithful to Pleydell? I met him once. He must be about fifty. Important, though, in his own quiet way. He’s got money, too. I suppose most women would settle for that.”
Robert Turner glanced at his wrist watch: “Seven minutes more,” he announced. He kept his eyes away from Sylvia Pleydell and the man who had spoken to her.
* * *
From a world of odd little thoughts and random magazine titles she heard his voice. She turned round slowly.
“Sylvia,” he said again. He stood there, in front of her, the same look in his grey eyes, the same half-smile on his lips that she had seen there so often. He put out a hand to steady her arm, and the grip on her wrist was real. He drew her away from the crowded bookstand. But she still stared at him, her eyes wide with disbelief.
“This was the only way I could see you,” he said gently.
“I’m sorry. I frightened you.”
She said, “Jan...where did you, when—” She couldn’t finish. She bit her lip and shook her head.
“I reached America three days ago,” he said, speaking quickly now. “I’ve been trying to find a chance to meet you. Casually, like this. Yes, I followed you here today.” That smile spread to his eyes, lightening his serious face. “I wanted to see you when I spoke to you. Like this. Face to face.” His voice altered as he looked down at her. “As beautiful as ever,” he said almost to himself. This was how he remembered her: the pale soft skin moulded over the gently shaped bones, the smooth gold hair gleaming, the blue eyes and their long dark lashes.
“Jan...” She caught control of herself. “I thought you were dead.” Dead or imprisoned. Her hand tightened on his arm for a moment, and he covered it with his.
“More beautiful,” he said. Sadness, he thought, could make beauty more powerful. “Were you sad because of me? Or is that too much to hope for?”
She drew her hand away. “I thought you were dead,” she repeated. Her voice was faint. “Dead or imprisoned,” she said.
“Let us walk a little,” he said. For a few moments, they kept slow step in silence. Then his quiet voice spoke again, “I couldn’t get messages out to you. So in the end I agreed to come here. It was the only way to reach you.”
“You agreed?” She could gather her thoughts only slowly, painfully. Nothing but emotions seemed to fill her mind. She looked at him again, at the face that had changed and yet remained the face she knew. He was paler, thinner, but there was still confidence in the firm mouth, still strength in the even features. His dark hair now showed some grey at the temples, his marked brows seemed more determined, but there was still the same warmth and humour in his grey eyes when he smiled at her. “Agreed? You mean—you didn’t escape from Czechoslovakia?”
“I tried that.” His voice became expressionless, the smile had gone from his eyes. “I was caught, imprisoned. But they needed me, so they offered me a truce. I accepted it. It was the only way I could make sure of ever seeing you again.”
“You mean,” she said slowly, “you are staying here—in Washington?”
“As one of them? You’re at their Embassy?”
He said, coldly, impersonally, “I’m on a visiting mission.”
Her emotions turned to alarm. “But then—it’s dangerous to talk to me. They watch each other. Even here, in this crowded station—oh, Jan, with your background it’s—it’s dangerous.”
“But I must see you.”
“Oh no... Jan—no!”
“For whose sake? Mine or yours?” He was grimly serious now, his brows frowning, his lips tight, his eyes watching every expression on her face. “I didn’t take this job and come all the way from Prague to hear you say that, Sylvia.”
She forced herself to look up at him, to meet his eyes. She said, slowly, “What happened six years ago is over. It’s all over, Jan. It has to be.” She halted her step. They stood facing each other.
He said, “Let me worry about any danger. For both of us.” He paused and added quietly, “Did I let any scandal touch you six years ago?”
She shook her head.
“You got my letters after I left Washington?”
“Yes.” And burned them as bitter penance.
“You never answered them,” he said.
“It’s all over,” she repeated. “It has to be.”
“All over? Is love ever over?”
She took a step back from him, looking away quickly towards the strangers around them. The crowd had come to life, it had begun to stir, to flow in cross-currents towards the stream of traffic moving steadily from one of the platforms. There was a sudden sense of expectancy, a sudden feeling of excitement. The train had arrived. The waiting was over.
At one side of the gateway a girl stood patiently, a darkhaired girl in a green suit, who was trying to keep from being drawn into the crowd. She was watching Sylvia uncertainly, waiting for her to come forward and, even as Sylvia looked in her direction, she smiled.
Jan Brovic’s eyes followed Sylvia’s glance. He took her hand and held it. “When shall we meet? Tomorrow?” he asked quickly.
She shook her head.
“When?” he insisted. “Sylvia, look at me!”
But she couldn’t. She drew her hand away, and she walked towards Kate Jerold.
Brovic watched her go. Then he turned and moved slowly towards the station’s side entrance. Yes, he was thinking, I had to see her like that: suddenly, unexpectedly, cruelly. Now I know she hasn’t forgotten me any more than I had forgotten her. His lips tightened, his eyes became guarded, as he caught sight of the grey man who was leading the way to the car parked outside. He followed. By the time he had reached the car he was under control.
The man at the steering wheel said, “It would be a stupid blunder to fall in love with her again.”
Brovic was lighting a cigarette.
“A stupid blunder,” the man repeated. Then his attention was given over to the Army car beside them. A corporal held its door open and gave him too little room to edge out of the parking space. He swore under his breath, and eyed the two officers who were escorting a tired-looking civilian towards the waiting car.
Brovic was watching them too. The young officer, a brisk lieutenant with a couple of ribbons on his tunic, glanced quickly at Brovic, returning his look blankly yet critically. Jan Brovic, staring back at the lieutenant for a brief minute, almost smiled. You should have seen me six years ago, he was thinking, just when I was about your age and wore an air force uniform with ribbons across my chest. Then all I had to worry about, when I let myself get round to it, was whether a Nazi would shoot me down before I got him in my sights. How simple were the days of war.
“Do you know him?” the man beside him asked sharply.
Brovic shook his head. “All clear on this side,” he said, watching the roadway. Then suddenly, “No—hold it!”
* * *
“Sylvia—how wonderful you look! And you recognised me after all these years. Haven’t I changed?”
“Yes.” It was the right answer, for Kate’s face lightened. “But you wore green as you promised. And that suntan and smile could only come from California. I’m sorry I kept you waiting.”
“Oh, that didn’t matter. Isn’t it good to see you! You haven’t changed at all.”
Sylvia’s smile became real. Kate’s enthusiasm was heartwarming.
“And isn’t it good to be here!” Kate went on. “Now where’s that redcap? Oh, there he is. Which way, Sylvia? Straight ahead?”
“To the left. I’ve parked the
car out there.”
They walked quickly, followed by the porter and Kate’s suitcases. Her feet were moving lightly as if they wanted to dance over the station floor, she looked around her with her eyes sparkling, there was laughter in her voice. “Washington! Imagine, I’m in Washington at last!”
She’s so young, Sylvia thought. She’s twenty-two, but she seems so young. “And what about California? How are Uncle George and Aunt Meg?”
“Oh, fine, just fine. They sent their love, and I’ve got all kinds of messages to give you.” Kate made a little face. “Mostly instructions about me. But you know what families are like.”
“Yes,” Sylvia said, thinking of her own branch of the Jerold family who wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow if she had travelled to the moon.
“Spring’s nearly here, isn’t that perfect?” Kate said as they left the station for the bleak cold daylight of the March afternoon. Everything was perfect for Kate today. The damp streets or the sharp wind or the sombre sky couldn’t chill Kate’s determined enthusiasm. Sylvia glanced at the girl’s tanned face, with its wide smile and white even teeth: a pretty girl, healthy and vital, her dark hair shining and sleek, her chin rounded, her nose tip-tilted, her brown eyes laughing with the world.
“Here we are,” Sylvia said as they reached a grey Chrysler. She looked at the roadway in front of them, now a tangle of cars that were backing, turning, waiting, edging their way out of their parking spaces to form a slow-moving line. “We can take our time, anyway. No point in—” She broke off, her eyes on one of the cars.
“Gay, isn’t it?” Kate remarked. “Quite like home. Except”— and now she looked at the buildings, at the wide plaza stretching beyond a busy avenue towards distant domes and pillars—“everything’s so big and solid and there’s so much space.” Then she noticed Sylvia’s silence. She glanced quickly from Sylvia’s tense face back to the blocked roadway again. She could see nothing but the line of nudging, slow-moving cars, easing their way, one by one, into the stream of traffic on Massachusetts Avenue.
Sylvia Pleydell watched the car now turning into Massachusetts Avenue with Jan Brovic sitting beside the driver. Then she bent her head to search for the key to her car. “This ridiculous bag, it holds nothing.” She fumbled badly. “I’ve lost the key... I think.”