"You are safe, you are safe… But, no, if it was the kind of safety that Frances thought, this wasn’t safety. She felt sick to think of it.
And what was her future but a dark one?
She pictured the house on Champion Hill: her mother, her died father, her brothers who died during the First World War, their vanished family fortune because of her father,her finished relationship with Christina and those rooms occupied by the paying guests, Lilian and Leonard a married couple.
"Thank you for making everything so nice. I’m sure Leonard and I will be happy here." said Lilian to her.
Frances pictured herself stepping into the porch, opening the door, passing through it. She saw the door closing behind her and sealing her in.
Now she was being like a bad actress again.
At once, she felt that she would never be able to get up again. There seemed nothing to get up for. It felt like the tired turn of the world.
And when she opened her eyes again, Lilian was there.
How long had she been standing there? She said, in a disbelieving way, ‘I saw you from the taxi. I came looking for you, and I found you. Why didn’t you wait for me? Why did you go?’
Frances was staring at her as if she might be a figure in a dream. ‘I thought you wouldn’t want to look at me.’
‘How could you think that?’
‘Because —’ She lowered her head. ‘Because I’m not sure that I can bear to look at myself.’
‘I wish there was something I could say to you, Frances, to make it all right.’ ‘But Leonard will always be dead. He will always, always be dead. And I will always have killed him. And all the time I’ve been at Walworth I’ve gone over and over it in my mind, trying to see what I could have done differently – where I could have stopped it, where I could have kept it from becoming what it became. But every time, it seemed to me that the only thing I could have done differently was never to have kissed you, that night, after the party… And even now, after everything, I can’t wish that. You made me want to, for a while, but – I can’t. I can’t.’
Frances thought, as much as of love. But they were like the two words that the jury had brought back: the moment she heard them she began to shake, to imagine if they had not been said.
Lilian saw and put a hand over hers; and presently the tremble passed away.
They didn’t try to speak again. They leaned together by an inch – that was all it took, after all, to close the space between them. Would it be all right, wondered Frances, if they were to allow themselves to be happy? Wouldn’t it be a sort of insult to all those others who had been harmed? Or oughtn’t they to do all they could – didn’t they almost have a duty – to make one small brave thing happen at last?
She didn’t know. She couldn’t think of it. Her mind wouldn’t reach that far.
At home, her mother would be waiting. Lilian’s family were waiting too. But for now there was this, and it was enough, it was more than they could have hoped for: the two of them in their stone corner, their dark clothes bleeding into the dusk, lights being kindled across the city, and a few pale stars in the sky.
In 1922 London, Mrs. Wray and her daughter Frances cope with their limited financial resources by renting part of their house to a newlywed couple. Frances becomes involved with Leonard and Lily Barber in a manner that leads to tragedy and a terrible secret.
An intense read, beautifully written and highly memorable.