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in the marvellous month of may

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A few days after their return to London, Mrs. Fisher began to feel regret.

"It's because you are more firmly fixed in heaven," Lotty told her. For Lotty had come to tea, bright as an azalea in the dimness of the drawing room at Prince of Wales Terrace. "When you have your feet well planted in heaven, then you find you have room to be generous."

Mrs. Fisher could not help smiling at the image of herself ankle-deep in the earth. It would only encourage the buds, she felt. Yet her mouth drew into a frown when she came to the substance of what Lotty had said. "That is precisely what I regret: that I let the time to be generous pass. You invited Mr. Wilkins immediately upon your arrival, and even Rose wrote to Mr. Arbuthnot in time for him to join us in San Salvatore. But I spoke so often of asking Kate down, and still I put off doing so till our month had ended."

"Well," said Lotty, "it's just as well you did, for Mr. Briggs could not have stayed in her room if she were in it."

This was undeniable, but it did not assuage Mrs. Fisher's sense of stinginess. How small, how mean she had been to use Kate as an abstract obstacle, without wishing the actual Kate to enjoy any of San Salvatore's overflowing riches! "She would have loved the wisteria," Mrs. Fisher said. "And the acacias. I do wish I had invited her."

"Invite her here, then."

Mrs. Fisher blinked. "Here?" she said.

"You have a garden," Lotty pointed out.

So she did. It was somewhat indistinct through the raindrops on the windows, but what could be seen of it was a lush green, and she knew the apple trees were blooming, and the rhododendrons beginning to come out in large, soft clusters, even here in London.

"Well," she said.

"Don't wait much longer," Lotty advised, rising from her chair. "I must go see about Mellersh's dinner now, but I want to hear all about Kate's visit next time I come." Lotty leaned down to kiss Mrs. Fisher, bent her cheek to receive a kiss in return, and then slipped quickly from the room.

Mrs. Fisher pushed herself to her feet and made her way to the window to look out at the dripping trees. She was still conscious that she had acted selfishly, but she was now also thinking of Lotty's kisses, how common they had become in so short a time, and of what it was to be a person who had attracted such a friend. Surely she did have the wherewithal to be generous. She seated herself at the writing-table between the windows, took paper and pen from the drawer, and began a note.

 

"Lizzy," Kate said upon entering the garden. "You're looking well."

Kate's voice held a rather unflattering note of surprise, but Mrs. Fisher was sitting under a canopy of delicate apple blossoms and a sky streaked blue between the clouds, and had for once no need to bristle. "Italy agreed with me," she said peaceably. "Won't you sit down?"

Kate asked where she had been, then, and what San Salvatore was like, and Mrs. Fisher paused, trying to think how to describe it. The rooms and terraces and gardens were immediately before her mind's eye, but in the end what she said was, "I met the most extraordinary people."

"You look like you've had a real holiday," Kate said. She sounded pleased, genuinely pleased, for Mrs. Fisher's sake; not jealous nor suspicious of Mrs. Fisher's branching out in an unfamiliar direction. Perhaps one might speak of new thoughts even to old friends. Perhaps thinking that one could not had also been a mean and stingy view.

"Yes," Mrs. Fisher answered. "A real holiday, and a real spring."

Kate smiled. "Shall we have a cup of tea in honor of it?"

Mrs. Fisher could not even balk at the well-worn suggestion, being too taken by the idea that her astonishing and unsettling April should be celebrated. But why should it not be? True, it had made her restless and unable to read. But it had given her Lotty, and Rose and Lady Caroline and dear Mr. Briggs, and it had brought her to this bright afternoon sitting with her eyes open in the beauty of her own garden. So when the tea came and Kate raised her cup as if it were a wineglass to toast with, Mrs. Fisher clinked her own against it and sipped from it while looking into Kate's eyes over the brim.

"Do you know," she said, "I felt there might be something green in me, too. In San Salvatore. As if I might suddenly put out some- some buds, or leaves, or... as if I..."

Kate was looking at her steadily, curiously. "And here?" Kate said when Mrs. Fisher did not continue. "Now, in London?"

"Perhaps..." Mrs. Fisher said faintly, her burst of boldness nearly worn out, "perhaps... here, too."

Kate nodded and brought her cup back to her lips.

They spoke of more familiar things for a while then, drinking their tea and eating the dry, crumbly cake that the cook had provided with it. Eventually the breeze became too brisk for sitting still out of doors, though the dappling of the light as it swayed the branches was lovely to see. Mrs. Fisher rose, and Kate followed suit.

Another new thought had come into Mrs. Fisher's mind, or perhaps it was merely a new branch of the wish to share the abundance she had received. She could no longer invite Kate to San Salvatore, but she could invite her here. She could not offer Kate a young person's kiss, but she could give her the kiss of a living person- of a person who was alive and awake, in whom the sap was moving. She stepped close to Kate, and Kate glanced at her but did not move away. So she leaned up and pressed her lips to Kate's cheek. Kate's skin was dry, and slightly chilled from the wind, and very soft.

"Lizzy," Kate murmured when she drew back. Kate was neither smiling nor frowning, but studying her closely. Lizzy felt that Kate was searching her and finding her out; that it was Kate, in the end, to whom all her secrets would be made plain.

Kate did smile then. She laid two fingers on Lizzy's cheek to turn Lizzy's face towards hers, and bent her head to kiss Lizzy's mouth.

For a moment Lizzy simply stood and let herself be kissed. She found she was leaning heavily on her stick, for her knees had gone quite weak. Then she surged up, clumsy with energy, and parted her lips to meet Kate's. Kate lifted her head and laughed softly.

"What is it?" Lizzy said.

"Oh, it's the silliest thing to think of now," Kate said. "I told Mary Wilson you were like us, back at school, and she would never believe me. But I was right."

Lizzy opened her mouth and shut it again.

Kate stroked some loose locks back from Lizzy's temples with her thumbs. "I'm glad I was right," she said. She captured Lizzy's lips in another kiss, let her go for a breath, then kissed her again. Presently Lizzy dropped her stick and put both arms around Kate's neck.

When they went indoors, they found rosy white petals in all the folds of their dresses and their hair.