There were no restaurants in the tiny village, so they decided to have luncheon with whatever they could find in the kitchen. Bread, tomatoes, cucumber slices, tinned salmon, figs.
Maurice opened a mysterious-looking jar and fished a golden-yellow wedge from it with a pastry fork.
‘Here, taste this,’ he smiled. Clive caught it on his tongue, chewed and shuddered. ‘Whoah, what’s that?’ he panted, swallowing. ‘Pickled lemon,’ Maurice explained. ‘I bought it in a lovely Tunisian shop on the coast…Do you like it? Why that face, pray tell?’
‘It’s delicious,’ Clive said. ‘But I was just thinking – you settled in Chelsea and I have still got my flat near Temple. London is but a hamlet. You lived under my very eyes for years and I didn’t know.’
‘Let me get this tray of food to the garden first,’ Maurice said. ‘And then you can tell me all.’
Josephine was born in March 1914. A few months later, the war broke out. Clive did not want to leave his wife and daughter so soon. Did not report until late in 1916. An infantry lieutenant, sent to Cambrai. A gunshot wound in the shoulder, ten days into his stint in the trenches. Not a serious injury, but then sepsis in a field hospital, nearly lethal. Return to England in early 1917, recovery in London, a position in a Ministry of Defense office.
In 1919, illness in Anne’s family in Sussex. Both her parents and her younger brother. Anne went there with Josie to look after them. They recovered. Anne did not return to the estate. She was happy in the house where she had grown up.
Josie stayed with her and attended a private school in the nearby village. Precocious, no friends to speak of. Didn’t like the estate either. Clive bought her an Arabian gelding, but she never rode it. He did, though, at night, jumping over hedges and storming down gravel paths until dawn broke and the animal was shivering with exhaustion.
Always nights, brandy in the library, too much brandy in fact, stepping out onto the front porch in between to shoot at the noisy jackdaws in the trees.
And there was the flat in London, two or three times a month, entertaining guests, too much drinking, pretty young ladies. Anne found a position as a legal secretary to a distant cousin who was a solicitor in Sussex. Unheard of, a married woman earning her own money, but her husband was happy for her.
Josie at college, more bored on the estate during holidays than she ever was at school, no friends, no secrets. Invitations to parties from other squires’ sons and daughters. She went because her parents wanted her to. No young man would invite her to dance, which was just as well because she could not even manage a simple waltz. She liked reading. She couldn’t keep her balance on a bicycle. Happy, so unbelievably happy when Papa taught her how to drive and eventually gave her a car. Josie in London, sharing a flat with two cousins, attending lectures, not going out on weekends and not inclined to drive to the estate or to Sussex to see her father or her mother. The so-called lower classes mesmerized her for some reason. She wanted to help them, teach them about health and hygiene and birth control. Odd that she was tending more to phlebology now.
A doctor in the making with a car and a dog, now on her way to Milan to study under Professor Carriera.
‘Whatever got into her?’ Clive asked. ‘Within two days, she took up smoking and drinking and she had her hair cut and bleached and bought new clothes that her family would not approve of – trousers and a gentleman’s hat. She was not poorly, she wouldn’t meet me because she was too busy raiding shops and visiting beauty parlours. And she left this morning, just like that. Meeting the professor on account of an urgent medical case – rot! She’s not even a qualified doctor yet.’
‘Why would you blame her for wanting to be like you?’ Maurice pointed out. ‘Or rather, for being like you? A lone ranger, always on the move but never arriving. But she’s young, she will find a place to land yet. Perhaps she’s socially awkward because she grew up without siblings. You and I did.’
‘That’s the crucial point,’ Clive said. ‘When Anne and I got engaged, we dreamed of having a large family. Many sons and daughters. We were blessed with Josie, she’s the princess of our hearts, but…’
‘What’s the matter?’ Maurice asked worriedly. ‘You’re about to cry now – why?’
‘Ever since that night,’ Clive stammered, ‘ever since that night in 1913, when you met me in my garden outside the dining room and told me you loved Scudder and that you would leave with him…Ever since that night, I have taken to sleeping in my study. Anne was in the master bedroom. A few days after you left, she saw a doctor and he confirmed that she was expecting…and so we had Josie…I thought I would eventually regain my strength to share a bed with Anne again, but it never came to pass and that is why she and I never had any more children and that is probably while she moved to Sussex.’
Clive was on the chair, shaking with convulsive sobs, suppressing wails, tears running from under his glasses and steaming them up.
‘Let’s sit on the sofa in the lounge,’ Maurice offered. They shuffled through the kitchen and into the musty room and slumped down. Maurice took him in his arms and put his head against this chest.
Clive stammered, called out Maurice's name a hundred times, weeping loudly.
‘I learned during the war that crying is essential,’ Maurice whispered in his ear. ‘It releases hormones that calm you down and make you feel more serene later on. But you have to go through a crisis first. You’re having one now…But don’t worry, the two of us shall stay put here until it’s over.’
He drew Clive closer to him and softly crooned some melodies his Irish grandmother had taught him long ago, songs of love and longing.
The sun was setting when Maurice and Clive had tea in the garden. The air was full of smells of roses, geraniums and mountains with an alpine hint of snow. ‘Oh rot, I’m out of cigarettes,’ Clive said. ‘There’s another pack in my car. In fact, it would be best if I…’
Maurice looked up at him and shook his head smiling. ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘Take them from the glove box if you must, but you’re in no state to drive. Stay with me. We’ll share a bed. I will watch over you and look after you. Don’t think you can do this alone.’
Clive rushed out the front door, hurriedly took a pack of cigarettes from his car and ran back in. He stopped in front of Maurice, who was laying the kitchen table for supper, looked him in the eyes and then tumbled into his arms.