It was going on nine o’clock and the beach was deserted. The sun was still high in the sky, its warmth occasionally cooled by a breeze from the sea.
Clive and Maurice were standing on the top of the cliff, naked and in each other’s arms. Clive stared into Maurice’s eyes, fearing this beautiful man would disappear if he averted his gaze.
‘One more week,’ Maurice said. ‘One more week and then I’m off to London. I have to see my office manager before he leaves on holiday. And of course, I have to stay put in Silvertown until he gets back.’
Clive felt tears well up in his eyes. Maurice sensed it and gently caressed his shoulders. They kissed wordlessly. A late ferry hooted in the distance, seagulls screamed.
Maurice drew a deep breath, his expanding chest touching Clive’s. ‘How I love this salty air…It’s so invigorating.’ He gave Clive a melancholic smile. ‘I’m more of an outdoor man, anyway. At the end of August, I’ll drive up to Scotland to see Alec and to do some hunting on Lord Brenton’s estate.’
Clive tightened his arms that held Maurice. I’ve finally found you, he thought, why does it have to end so soon?
‘Will you come and visit me in London?’ he asked. Maurice smiled and kissed him. ‘Of course I will,’ he whispered. ‘It’s only a fifteen-minute ride on the tube.’
‘You’re being awfully pragmatic,’ Clive said. Maurice laughed with the same delicious sound that had already been so enchanting at Cambridge. ‘I’m sorry, old sport…It’s just that I still can’t believe this has actually happened…Oh, I wish we could stay in this place forever, in my shabby cottage, sharing frugal meals and being happy…But we will be happy in London too, won’t we?’
‘Will we?’ Clive asked.
Maurice nodded. ‘Yes, we will,’ he whispered. ‘Because I love you.’
‘I love you too,’ Clive stammered, fighting tears again and embracing him tighter.
They stood in each other’s arms for minutes, wordlessly breathing in alluring smells. Then Clive felt something. It was new to him, yet familiar, and delicious. ‘Our sexes are touching,’ he giggled.
‘I love that,’ Maurice moaned. Then he let go of Clive and gave him a pleading look.
‘Please, my love,’ he said. ‘I’ve never seen you dive. It must be the loveliest sight for the human eye.’
Their lips met again. Then Clive walked up to the edge of the cliff, stretched, fingers locked, looked around him, taking in the horizon and the setting sun and the deserted beach and his lover’s adoring eyes. He bent over backwards, hands on hips, to feel the caress of the warm rays and the cooling breeze. Then he thrust his arms forward and flew off the cliff in a wide arc.
Josie was standing at a fence at the edge of the car park, smoking, draining the bottle of eau-de-vie and overlooking the sea.
Bathing in the nude between innings, she thought as her eyes wandered to a distant beach were tiny people could be seen swimming or sitting on towels, that is unbelievably useless, even horrid, and it must have fueled the rumours about buggery on the estate.
There had been many cricket matches before and after the war, with players constantly taking breaks to cool off in the pond. They would mention their bathing suits and towels afterwards, but the ladies and the young girls from the audience were never allowed to check on them.
It was not like Papa to approve of anyone swimming on his premises without any clothes on. He would never play, he was a bad cricketer, but Mr. Hall looked sporty enough.
A chilling breeze came up from the sea. So Mr. Hall and probably a few other men had jumped into the water naked. Papa must have been appalled when he found out and banished him from the estate.
The church circle girls, however, had uttered their allegations in the present tense in 1931. There had still been yearly matches then, but without Mr. Hall, for he had last visited in 1913.
Anyhow, things had happened that were utterly beyond her reach. She felt that there might be a connection between those enigmas and Mama staying in Turnbridge Wells and only visiting the estate at Christmas, Easter and on Papa’s birthday.
She whistled for Boris and waited until he was back in the passenger seat. Then she got behind the wheel and started the car.
People are having fun without me and all I get to do is study and work my fingers to the bone to earn extra credit, she thought, and before she knew, she had violently turned the vehicle around, sending up a cloud of dust and gravel, and was back on the road, speeding downhill towards the border.
I’m twenty-four and already an old spinster, she said to the windscreen, not bothering to wipe away the drunken tears that steamed up her glasses, I’ll die a respectable doctor but a virgin. Swerve off the road at the next cliff then, and all will be over.
Two men in uniform appeared, positioned themselves in front of a red-and-white barrier and signaled in panic, and then Josie floored the break pedal until the car came to a screeching halt.
The lady was sitting at an antique desk in the parlour. The verandah doors were open, letting in a chilly Atlantic breeze. She stared at her embroidered sleeve and then at her wristwatch. It was going on half past nine now. Supper at the hotel must be over.
She put a cigarette in an amber holder, lit it and picked up the receiver of the telephone.
After a few connecting clicks, a very Provençal-sounding voice answered politely. ‘Good evening, Monsieur,’ the lady said. ‘This is Mrs. Durham from Deauville speaking. Would you be so kind as to see if my husband is in? He’s in room 217.’
There was rustling on the other end of the line. ‘I’m sorry, Madame,’ the clerk said. ‘Monsieur checked out this morning.’
The cigarette dropped from the holder and burned a tiny hole in the leather cover of the desk. She put it in the ashtray and asked if Monsieur had left a forwarding address. ‘No, I’m afraid he hasn’t,’ it sounded.
‘Might he be on his way to Deauville?’ she asked. ‘I wouldn’t know, Madame,’ she heard. ‘I was not on duty when Monsieur left.’ There was a sound very much like a chortle being smothered.
‘Thank you, that will be all,’ she sighed. ‘Goodnight.’
She hung up and saw Mr. Dawson standing in the verandah door. ‘Are you coming?’ he asked. ‘We’re just about to open a bottle of champagne.’
‘I’m coming,’ she smiled. ‘And I just learned that Clive is probably driving up here…Isn’t that lovely?’
The man stared at her for a moment, moved his head slightly as if he shook it, then nodded and bit his lip.