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Chapter 45

HARRY LEAPT UP and threw his arms around Emma the moment he saw her. He continued to cling to her, something he'd never done in public before, which confirmed her belief that it could only be bad news.

Without a word passing between them, he took her by the hand, led her into the building, down a circular wooden staircase and along a narrow brick corridor until he came to a door marked 'Antiquities'. He peered inside to make sure that no one else had discovered their hiding place.

The two of them sat opposite each other at a small table where they had spent so many hours studying during the past year. Harry was trembling, and not because of the chill in the windowless room that was lined on all sides by shelves of leather-bound books covered in dust, some of which looked as if they hadn't been opened for years. In time they would become antiquities in their own right.

It was some time before Harry spoke.

'Do you think there is anything I could say or do that would stop you loving me?'

'No, my darling,' said Emma, 'absolutely nothing.'

'I've found out why your father has been so determined to keep us apart.'

'I already know,' said Emma, bowing her head slightly, 'and I promise you it makes no difference.'

'How can you possibly know?' said Harry.

'My father told us the day we returned from Scotland, but he swore us to secrecy.'

'He told you my mother was a prostitute?'

Emma was stunned. It was some time before she recovered enough to speak. 'No, he did not,' she said vehemently. 'How could you say anything so cruel?'

'Because it's the truth,' said Harry. 'My mother hasn't been working at the Royal Hotel for the past two years, as I thought, but at a nightclub called Eddie's.'

'That doesn't make her a prostitute,' said Emma.

'The man sitting at the bar with a glass of whisky in one hand and the other on her thigh wasn't hoping for stimulating conversation.'

Emma leant across the table and touched Harry gently on the cheek. 'I'm so sorry, my darling,' she said, 'but it makes no difference to how I feel about you, and it never will.'

Harry managed a weak smile, but Emma remained silent, knowing it could only be a few moments before he asked her the inevitable question.

'If that wasn't the secret your father asked you to keep,' he said, suddenly serious again, 'what did he tell you?'

It was Emma's turn to hold her head in her hands, aware that he'd left her with no choice but to tell him the truth. Like her mother, she was no good at dissembling.

'What did he tell you?' Harry repeated, more emphatically.

Emma held on to the edge of the table as she tried to steady herself. Finally she summoned up the strength to look at Harry. Although he was only a few feet away, he could not have been more distant. 'I need to ask you the same question you asked me,' said Emma. 'Is there anything I could say or do that would stop you loving me?'

Harry leant across and took her hand. 'Of course not,' he said.

'Your father wasn't killed in the war,' she said softly. 'And my father was probably responsible for his death.' She gripped his hand firmly before revealing everything her father had told them the day they returned from Scotland.

When she'd finished, Harry looked dazed and was unable to speak. He tried to stand up but his legs gave way beneath him, like a boxer who'd taken one punch too many, and he fell back into his chair.

'I've known for some time that my father couldn't have died in the war,' Harry said quietly, 'but what I still don't understand is why my mother didn't simply tell me the truth.'

'And now you do know the truth,' said Emma, trying to hold back the tears, 'I would understand if you wanted to break off our relationship after what my father has put your family through.'

'It's not your fault,' said Harry, 'but I'll never forgive him.' He paused before adding, 'And I won't be able to face him once he finds out the truth about my mother.'

'He need never find out,' said Emma, taking him by the hand again. 'It will always be a secret between us.'

'That's not possible any longer,' said Harry.

'Why not?'

'Because Giles saw the man who followed us to Edinburgh standing in a doorway opposite Eddie's Nightclub.'

'Then it's my father who's prostituted himself,' said Emma, 'because not only did he lie to us yet again, but he's already gone back on his word.'

'How?'

'He promised Giles that man would never follow him again.'

'That man wasn't interested in Giles,' said Harry. 'I think he was following my mother.'

'But why?'

'Because if he was able to prove how my mother earned her living, he must have hoped it would convince you to give me up.'

'How little he knows his own daughter,' said Emma, 'because I'm now even more determined that nothing will keep us apart. And he certainly can't stop me admiring your mother even more than I did before.'

'How can you say that?' said Harry.

'She works as a waitress to support her family, ends up owning Tilly's, and when it's burnt to the ground she's accused of arson, but holds her head high, knowing she is innocent. She finds herself another job at the Royal Hotel, and when she's sacked, she still refuses to give up. She receives a cheque for six hundred pounds, and for a moment believes all her problems are solved, only to discover she's in fact penniless just at the time when she needs money to make sure you can stay at school. In desperation, she then turns to ...'

'But I wouldn't have wanted her to ...'

'She would have known that, Harry, but she still felt it was a sacrifice worth making.'

Another long silence followed. 'Oh my God,' said Harry. 'How can I ever have thought badly of her.' He looked up at Emma. 'I need you to do something for me.'

'Anything.'

'Can you go and see my mother? Use any excuse, but try to find out if she saw me in that dreadful place last night.'

'How will I know, if she isn't willing to admit it?'

'You'll know,' said Harry quietly.

'But if your mother did see you, she's bound to ask me what you were doing there.'

'I was looking for her.'

'But why?'

'To tell her that I've been offered a place at Oxford.'

Emma slipped into a pew at the back of Holy Nativity and waited for the service to end. She could see Mrs Clifton sitting in the third row, next to an old lady. Harry had seemed a little less tense when they'd met again earlier that morning. He'd been very clear what he needed to find out, and she promised not to stray beyond her remit. They had rehearsed every possible scenario several times, until she was word perfect.

After the elderly priest had given the final blessing, Emma stepped out into the centre of the aisle and waited, so Mrs Clifton couldn't possibly miss her. When Maisie saw Emma, she couldn't hide a look of surprise, but it was quickly replaced by a welcoming smile. She walked quickly towards her and introduced the old lady who was with her. 'Mum, this is Emma Barrington, she's a friend of Harry's.'

The old lady gave Emma a toothy grin. 'There's a great deal of difference between being his friend and being his girlfriend. Which are you?' she demanded.

Mrs Clifton laughed, but it was clear to Emma that she was just as interested to hear her reply.

'I'm his girlfriend,' said Emma proudly.

The old lady delivered another toothy grin, but Maisie didn't smile.

'Well, that's all right then, isn't it?' Harry's grandmother said, before adding, 'I can't stand around here all day chatting, I've got dinner to make.' She began to walk away, but then turned back and asked, 'Would you like to join us for dinner, young lady?'

This was a question that Harry had anticipated, and for which he'd even scripted a reply. 'That's very kind of you,' said Emma, 'but my parents will be expecting me.'

'Quite right too,' said the old lady. 'You should always respect your parents' wishes. I'll see you later, Maisie.'

'May I walk with you, Mrs Clifton?' asked Emma as they stepped out of the church.

'Yes, of course, my dear.'

'Harry asked me to come and see you, because he knew you'd want to know that he's been offered a place at Oxford.'

'Oh, that's wonderful news,' said Maisie, throwing her arms around Emma. She suddenly released her, and asked, 'But why didn't he come and tell me himself?'

Another scripted reply. 'He's stuck in detention,' said Emma, hoping she didn't sound over-rehearsed, 'writing out passages from Shelley. I'm afraid my brother's to blame. You see, after he heard the good news, he smuggled a bottle of champagne into school, and they were caught celebrating in his study last night.'

'Is that so wicked?' asked Maisie, grinning.

'Dr Paget seemed to think so. Harry's dreadfully sorry.'

Maisie laughed so uproariously that Emma had no doubt she'd no idea her son had visited the club last night. She would have liked to ask one more question that still puzzled her, but Harry couldn't have been more emphatic: 'If my mother doesn't want me to know how my father died, so be it.'

'I'm sorry you can't stay to lunch,' said Maisie, 'because there was something I wanted to tell you. Perhaps another time.'

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