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Under the Waves

Chapter Text

The weather was unbelievably hot, very uncommon in these latitudes. The farmhand was sweating under his corduroy jacket as he cycled up the hill. There was a letter from London in his game bag. ‘Better read it straight away when I get home,’ he said aloud. ‘But it’s a large one, I wonder if anything is amiss.’

He stopped, got off his bicycle and put it against a stone wall that bordered a pasture. A ewe and her lamb slowly trotted up, sniffing the scent of the human with questioning looks in their eyes.

He tore open the envelope, leaned against the fencing, lit a cigarette and started to read the elegantly written lines.

By the time he got to the second page, he was cursing. ‘Damn you, this is bollocks. What do you expect me to do, eh? You never ordered me about before, so why start now? Oh, really, sod this, mate, and mind your own business.’ The ewe bleated in agreement.

When he was done reading, there was a glow on his cheeks. He grinned and lit another cigarette. Then he rummaged through the bag to see if the wire from London with the money order for ten pounds was still there.

Better cash it now, he thought, and while I’m at the post office anyroad, I might as well make a telephone call. Settle things. I mean, it’s wonderful and all, but what the dickens is all the rest about?

Smoking and blushing, he read some lines on the last page of the letter again. Then he stuffed the sheets in his bag, wheeled his bicycle to the road and rode back to the village.

***

‘What’s on your mind, love?’ Maurice asked, kissing Clive’s shoulder and stroking his stomach. Clive pushed the hand away, shifted in the pillows and started staring at the ceiling. ‘You’re one to ask,’ he muttered.

‘You’ve been acting like a bear with a sore head ever since I made arrangements to go to Scotland,’ Maurice said. ‘Why all this fuss? You know I’ll only be gone for two weeks…Good God, you’re like a spoiled child. Can’t you be content with what you’ve got? A lovely wife, a wonderful daughter, an estate and two cars, and a man who’s completely smitten with you. Some people have too much, I dare say. Try and earn your stale bread working as a bloody woodcutter like I did before the war, then you’ll grow to appreciate things.’

‘I’ve been thinking,’ Clive said. ‘A lot of memories have come back to me lately. Our days at Cambridge. We fell in love and hid it from the rest of the world. All we did was exchange chaste kisses when no one else was around. You could have had it all, but you just trotted along. You never even had the decency to try and force yourself on me – why didn’t you?’

Maurice laughed. ‘I made an attempt once. It was in the smoking room at my mother’s house. I flew at you when I suspected you had taken an interest to my sister…Don’t you remember? I do. You served me with a punch in the stomach, very clumsily, but it hurt…It hurt a lot. Even more so afterwards, when I learned you had met Anne on a guided tour in Athens only weeks earlier.’

Maurice sat up, put on his glasses and lit a cigarette. He blew out a plume of smoke, reflected in silence and then grinned. ‘The same could be said of you, Clive. You could have set the police on Alec and me when we fled, if only to get me back. I would have gotten away with it.’

‘It would have meant years in a workhouse for Scudder, though,’ Clive remarked. ‘And that never happened.’

‘It never did indeed,’ Maurice said. ‘And as I said before, he and I are so thankful to you for that. But you married Anne and that was the end of our story…And still, you swam into my net rather effortlessly in France. You could have said no, but you didn’t. A few days into our reunion, we were, pardon my language, screwing to beat the band. I’m not complaining, though. You’re brilliant.’

Now Clive laughed. Maurice joined in. ‘We’re men,’ he said. ‘We can’t bear to lose what we’ve got. You have a daughter to love and cherish, but she’s grown up now. She’s finding her own way in the world and that’s the hardest thing to accept for any father – or so I’ve been told.’

‘It’s not that,’ Clive moaned. ‘It’s just…’

‘Her state of dress?’ Maurice interrupted. ‘Good God, clothes are only accessories, you know that. Milan is a city full of life, varying from up-scale tearooms to grubby public houses where they serve delicious, rustic food. But everywhere you will find locals dressed up in their Sunday best, even on weekdays. Italian life is not about plainness and modesty like in Britain. Josie must have read a lot about it before she went there, and she acted accordingly. I presume she also wanted to look older, to prevent being treated like a nurse in training at the hospital. She’s about to enter a profession in a men’s world. And I thought that suit and that hat looked really nice on her. She is pretty, she takes after Anne. Would you rather have a scarecrow for a daughter? I wouldn’t.’

Clive lit a cigarette, slid a bit further under the sheets and mused for minutes. ‘You’re right,’ he said almost inaudibly after minutes.

‘But…?’ Maurice asked with a smile playing on his lips.

Clive nodded towards the framed picture on the nightstand. A man in a hunting jacket, wearing his cap askew, with his head slightly tilted, smiling into the camera with warm, dark eyes and perfect pearl-white teeth.

‘Too bad, old sport,’ Maurice said. ‘He’s mine and I’m his. You were never one to chase what you wanted. I presume Josie takes after you in that department, or else she would have invited many suitors to tea at the estate already to meet you and Anne…I say, you are really making a mountain out of a mole hill.’

‘But you’ll be back, won’t you?’ Clive asked as Maurice got out of bed and picked up his dressing gown from a chair.

‘Of course I will,’ Maurice said. ‘I’m only going to the lavatory now…And oh yes, I’m going to make us some tea and serve up some delicacies. What you need is sweetness and there’s plenty of that here.’

He walked around the bed, drew away the sheets and lovingly teased Clive’s nipples with his tongue.

‘There now,’ he said. ‘Well, I never…You’re smiling like you just won the sweepstakes…Will you kiss your silly Maurice…? Why are your lips so wonderful…? Believe me, I shall miss you when I’m in Scotland.’