Paid to Ivy Carter for bread and eggs: 2s 6d
Repairs to Thomas's bicycle: 9d
Bill from London, Army and Navy Stores: £2 3s 6d (whatever has Topaz been buying, and why at the Army and Navy Stores? And why has the bill come here, when Topaz and Father are in London for the duration?)
Spent at Colthards in Kings Crypt: 7s 2d halfpenny (yet more blackout material, boot-black in a round tin, and Butterette biscuits; the biscuits were an errand for Miss Marcy, and I wish I could believe that she will eat them rather than giving them to the evacuees)
Spent in Boots in Kings Crypt: 5s 4d (Gibbs Dentrifice, bath mat, new comb - a luxury, but mine broke into three segments, the longest of which is two and a half inches long, so feel it is justified - and B library subscription, which entitles me to any book on the shelf.)
I would very much like an A subscription which would allow me to order books, and occasionally tell myself that I need them for my research - but the honest fact is that I don't, and the article of mine that has sold best of all was the one describing a visit to New Mexico, for which I did no research at all. I just wrote everything down that I saw when I was there with Rose and Neil and the children, and resisted the urge to work it up too much. I was particularly fetched by the church-like contrast between the dark furniture and the creamy-white walls. Rose says it is called Spanish Mission, and I can see why. I think I should have been converted by the Spanish like anything.
When I close my eyes I can still see the bright sunlight and the edges of the shadows like a hot blue knife running across tiles and parched earth. For a while I used to be able to feel the heat on my skin when I concentrated, and taste the dried peppers - a complicated combination of flesh and tobacco-smell and sunlight - but that seems to have faded now. A pity; it would have perked up the rations no end.
Payment for article on history of Godsend Castle from Mordaunts' Magazine: 3 guineas and very welcome too.
Sale of old typewriter to admirer of father's work: 5 guineas. This is also most welcome. Poor old typewriter - the S and Q keys always stuck and it was impossible to get enough traction out of one's little finger to create a semi-colon, but I'm glad to see it going to someone who will appreciate it. In any case, father always said that the lack of semi-colons did wonders for my style, so perhaps it will do similarly for the admirer.
Payment for story from Home Chat: Nothing, they rejected it, and it was shaming enough to write the thing in the first place! I only did it because I hoped it would keep us in coals for part of the winter. I suppose that it did work in a way, as I felt quite overheated with dislike for my hero by the time I had finished writing it all down. I wrote most of it sitting on a blanket with my back propped against the wall of Belmotte Tower with the rippled sky all around me, and typed it up at the table in the kitchen.
The kitchen is never really warm, but all the time I was typing I felt exactly as if I had eaten too much rich food and been made to sit with my back to a brick chimney-stack. I had to force the heroine to go off with the hero in the end, and I can't imagine they were happy. Oh, he was a horror! And I couldn't bring myself to feel anything for my heroine at all. Which is somewhat unfair to the poor creature, as she was a WAAF and far more heroic than I - but the lowering fact has to be faced that under her uniform she was cardboard all the way through.
Room and board from Mr. Folsom: 6s. Feel it is a cheat, as he pays an extra 1s 6d for hot baths, and none of us have had a hot bath since the coal rationing started. And a two-seater Victorian teak edifice ornamented with views of Windsor Castle is not everyone's idea of what to find in a bathroom.
All this being so - and the seven and six a week being so welcome - I feel quite guilty that I am so glad Mr Folsom has walked down to Godsend and left me in peace. But here I am, and here the gladness is, like wreaths about my head. Perhaps Heloise can see them, as she just gave me the most melting look; but more likely she just wants the dregs of my cocoa. She is as affectionate as ever, though growing a little stiff in the hips.
Thomas has just come in and looked at my account book in a very lordly way, and told me that I have debit and credit the wrong way round. I have a feeling he may be right. Oh dear, why didn't I take those lessons in book-keeping along with the typewriting course when Simon was willing to pay for them! But I thought at the time that I had a soul above book-keeping. I wonder about doing a correspondence course, but I'm not sure I have the staying power. Not that I would expect Simon to pay for the correspondence course, of course. I haven't heard from him in years, and Scoatney Hall is full of wounded airmen receiving the latest burn treatments.
I suppose one can't expect letters from America in wartime. Though Rose and Neil still manage to write.
Surreptitious little stall in a side street in King's Crypt: 2s 11d (shoe laces, braces for Thomas, and a quite large piece of dusty rayon georgette which I hope will become a blouse, though my dressmaking skills are not very existent)
Canister of Vim: 6d (and very glad to get it - it has almost vanished since the beginning of the war)
Fishmongers: 1s 3rd and two coupons. For this I received something that is alleged to be cod, but there is something distinctly shifty about it, and I will have to smother it in sauce before I present it in society. The sauce will have to be mostly flour, because that's all there is, and perhaps if I put some cress on top Thomas and Mr Folsom will be kind enough to pretend it is parsley.
I never thought I'd be grateful for my disreputable upbringing, but at least it taught me to cook, and how not to be profligate with coal. I wish it had also taught me how to solder the bottom of saucepans and how to be satisfied with five scant inches of water in one's bath, but one can't have everything.
Ab is slinking around my shopping basket sniffing the air suspiciously. I don't suppose he would do that if it was whale - or, then again, perhaps he would. He is perfectly willing to pit himself against any younger tom who comes muscling up from the village, so perhaps he would regard a whale as nothing less than his natural prey. I must make sure Hel gets some whale too - I hear that the oil is good for the joints.
Thomas's season bus ticket: 3s 6d. He offered not to take it, but I told him not to be so silly. There is no point at all in Mr Folsom getting on the bus and Thomas slogging on after him on foot through the rain when they could continue in their companionable way, bicycling to Scoatney and then getting the bus out to the place that no one is supposed to know about, though everyone around here knows that it is an inconveniently big Victorian house that used to belong to the Bishop of King's Crypt and thereafter was a boys' school.
I think the real problem is that Thomas feels guilty about being a technical draughtsman in a reserved occupation, especially with Neil being so dashing and heroic in uniform. I offered to take him to see Stephen in Wings Of Honour at the King's Crypt Odeon with the last of the typewriter money, but Thomas said that that wasn't his idea of a necessary journey in wartime and stamped out to make sure the lantern in the gate-house passage was out and the blackout up at the window.
I do worry about Thomas. I think he may have been crossed in love. But he never confides in me, and I think I would probably find it disconcerting if he did. I certainly never thought of confiding in him when I was crossed in love myself.
Nothing. Well, unless one counts Mr. Folsom asking if I wanted to walk down to the Red Lion in Godsend for a drink, and I pretended that I had some writing to do. I feel a little guilty about that, because I don't have any writing to do, but I couldn't bear to put up with Mr. Folsom's chivalrous conversation all the way down into the village. He will rhapsodise about the beauty of the countryside, and the more he does, the more I feel that he is picking out a series of views in cross-stitch, or cutting them up to make a jigsaw, and that I shall never see the real thing again without seeing his version over the top. He says that the Red Lion is 'quite a showpiece' and that Belmotte is 'as pretty as a picture'.
He said that I was as pretty as a picture once too, but I pretended not to hear him, and gave him more than his share of the burnt portion of the carrot soup. The carrot soup was not a success, and Thomas has asked me not to make any more of it. There was an air raid in the middle of cooking it, but I honestly think it would have been ruined anyway without that. That was the only air-raid we've had here so far, though we have been doing our share of fire-watching. Topaz says that there are raids every night in London, and that last week she was on a bus with boarded-up windows, and when she asked why she was told they had all been blown to pieces by a plane coming strafing down the King's Road.
It doesn't seem real at all, but Topaz is very matter-of-fact about it. I don't think Topaz has any imagination at all, except when she's remembering to put one on. And father is in fine fettle, which is the main thing - Topaz told me very proudly that he almost got into a fist-fight at a literary dinner because someone suggested that the latest section of the book was an allegory of Fascism. It might be an allegory of anything at all for all I understand of it - it is partly bell-ringing and partly organ-stops.
In any case, even though I have no writing to do, I did have any number of chores on hand which would not have profited from the presence of Mr. Folsom. The largest and leakiest saucepan is now soldered - rather messily, but who is going to look at the bottom of a saucepan? and the sheets from Thomas's room are turned sides-to-middle. I don't like to mend sheets in front of Mr. Folsom. He looks at me as if I am mending underwear and makes me feel precisely like Flora Poste in Cold Comfort Farm. Though Mr. Folsom is certainly nothing like Seth.
Oh, there is a credit I forgot! Ivy Carter brought us over a duck from Four Stones Farm. It was dead and plucked - I was almost more grateful for that than I was for the duck itself. The meat ration doesn't go very far, particularly with Ab and Hel making hungry eyes from the periphery.
I am not sure what brought on this fit of generosity in Ivy Carter. She generally has her eye very sharply on the main chance, and it isn't like her to be giving presents. I wonder whether she has her eye on Thomas? I can't say I am absolutely ready to welcome her as a sister-in-law, but I'm sure she would be much better at soldering the bottoms of saucepans than I am - she is the most terrifyingly practical girl.
I asked Thomas what he thought of the matter, and he said that I should have asked her what the duck died of.
Coal: 2s. It came in large cobbles of anthracite which Thomas will have to break up; perhaps it will help him to work off some of his sulks. And he was such an uncomplicated small boy! But complication seems to be one of those things that come on with time, like a taste for oysters.
Bar of soap and a new blade for Thomas's safety razor, from a man who came peddling door to door: 9d. I should have given a coupon for the soap, but the pedlar didn't ask for one. I do not feel as guilty about this as perhaps I should.
Butcher's shop: 1s 2d and all of my and Thomas's meat coupons, not to mention Mr. Folsom's. The butcher threw in a bag of bones for Ab and Heloise, for which I was very grateful, though I'm not sure Ab deserves it - yesterday he de-feathered a pigeon all over the kitchen rug.
A parcel from Rose and Neil! A big box of American candies and a lot of things in tins, and two pairs of nylon stockings - Thomas teased me that one of them must be meant for him, which made Mr. Folsom say 'Aye aye, that's a bit near the knuckle' and go and turn on the radio. When he did, I noticed that his neck was quite red.
Best of all, there was a letter from Rose! I want to press it to my cheek and see if I can absorb the essence of her through my skin. Unfortunately, most of it seems to be about Roosevelt and the Atlantic Charter, when what I really wanted was something of their own lives. I suppose they can't tell me much about Neil because of careless talk costing lives and so on, but I would have liked to read about Rose and the children and the ranch.
I suppose I must have told Rose I was thinking of writing an article on Roosevelt, though I have to say I can't remember it if I did. Rose says that he is thought to be much more popular in Europe than at home and that no one likes his wife. She also says that over there they date the beginning of the war from the end of 1941, and say it has only been going for a year, and it makes her feel murderous. It would make me feel murderous too.
Invited the Vicar to come tomorrow and share the bounty of the duck. I wonder whether I can get Miss Marcy to accept some of the tins, if I tell her they are for the evacuees?
Nothing, unless you count the debits of sleep caused by fire-watching. I can't deny that it is very cold and often rather dull, but all the same there is something uplifting about sitting up in the circle of battlements under the high shot-velvet canopy of the sky, alone with my fire-bucket. (The stirrup-pump is kept at the Red Lion, and by the time I had run down to fetch it and hauled it back again, I dare say the Castle would be entirely engulfed in flames). I wear the old coachman's greatcoat that Rose was a bear in all those years ago, and I can say I am quite warm as long as I don't think too much about my feet.
Last night was particularly beautiful; the mist rose up in chiffon wisps from the dark stubbly wheat-fields and wrapped itself around the mound, like some half-born beast yearning for starlight. I don't mean that it was an elemental again; this time it was certainly just a metaphor.
I am glad, I think, to be doing something for the war effort, even if it leaves me the next day feeling quite wrung with tiredness. Sometimes when I examine my feelings of being glad to be doing something for the war effort I find that they are not real at all, particularly when it comes to never having enough hot water, but these are real enough.
Payment received from Mr. Heseltine for secretarial work: 10s. I feel rather a cheat taking money to type Mr. Heseltine's memoirs of life as head gamekeeper to old Mr. Cotton. They are dull in places and harrowing in others, and I am not sure I can see a publisher taking them, particularly not now there is a paper shortage. Miss Marcy told me that whether I found it interesting or not, it was a kindness to give him someone to listen to. I said that I thought it would be kinder if he wasn't paying me.
I can't say that the plan to work as a secretary to an author has worked out quite as I expected. I spent some time working for a Mrs. Warner, a large toothy woman who wrote light romances and family stories, but I didn't give satisfaction. I was rather sorry about that, as her house was wonderfully warm and she had an enormous American typewriter that was like typing on swansdown; she used to call me 'dearie', but I could put up with any amount of dearie-ing for that typewriter.
I suspect the problem was that I made faces sometimes whilst taking dictation of the light romances and family stories. In all justice, I wouldn't want to dictate to someone who made faces at me. But she would put regional accents and childhood lisps into them and sometimes both at once. They were all rendered phonetically, and it made me feel like Abelard being hugged.
Then there was the Vicar, who paid me to type up some poems for the Diocesan Magazine. They weren't at all the sort of poems I would expect to see in a Diocesan Magazine - very polished, and I could see that the rhyme and metre and structure were clever, but I found them rather hard to understand. The Vicar asked me my opinion of them and I said I thought they were a little like Donne, and he looked astonished. So now there is only Mr. Heseltine. I must put another advertisement in the King's Crypt local paper and see whether I can drum up more business.
Mr. Folsom has gone off to see his elderly mother in Shrewsbury, so it was just Thomas and me and the Vicar to dinner this evening. I sacrificed one of the tins of tongue for a starter, and basted the duck with most of my and Thomas's ration of margarine. Thomas got some candles out and put them on the table, and it made the kitchen look quite homely and farmhouse-like - though still very cavernous around the edges.
The Vicar has taken to wearing a long woollen evening cloak which he previously kept for best. I must say it makes him look quite splendidly eighteenth-century. He arrived full of good feeling, and bringing a half-bottle of claret which he had coaxed out of the Red Lion.
Thomas, unfortunately, was in a very bad mood. He gets more like father with every passing year, except that father is thriving on the war and one can't say the same for Thomas. He demanded quite aggressively what the Vicar thought of National Days of Prayer before I'd even finished pouring the claret.
"Well, I'm sure that for some people it's nothing but an entirely avoidable nuisance," said the Vicar easily. "And others feel, most reasonably, that for prayer to become yet another thing that the Government scolds us about does no service either to the Government or to prayer. But I feel it does some good in that we spend so much time in this war battling on alone - against queues and shortages, against our inner fears, against the ignorant opinions of uninformed people - " and here he raised his glass a little to Thomas in a way that, though I can't explain why, reminded me exactly of the scenes in regimental messes on the eve of battle that one sees in all the films. " - and it does no harm to be reminded that we are not alone."
A few years ago, I think I would have blurted out I suppose you mean God. But I thought Thomas was doing quite enough of that, so I sipped my claret - it was very good, I can't think where the Red Lion must have been hiding it - and wondered whether that feeling of a nation pulling together that one has in fits and starts, and sometimes in the most unexpected places, could be one of the thin places where one might catch a glimpse of God.
I thought about it whilst Thomas distributed the cold tongue, and tried to decide whether it had ever happened to me. I don't think that it ever has - but I think I would welcome it if it did.
"You look most mischievous," said the Vicar, lifting his glass to me. "Like a Regency miss in a painting, trying to decide between a pair of beaux with ribboned canes and bows on their shoes."
"I don't feel mischievous," I said, surprised. "I was thinking about God."
The Vicar looked rather surprised, but all he said was "Then perhaps I should say Grace?" and did; and by the time he had finished, and we had all stopped exclaiming about the tinned tongue, he and Thomas had started arguing in a friendly way about Hobbes and his Leviathan. I didn't even know Thomas had read it, but he seemed to have all kinds of ideas about philosophy and government. Perhaps his problem is that he doesn't get enough of that kind of discussion? Mr. Folsom is always talking about politics, but he will state his opinion - which is generally that J. B Priestley should be part of the Government, and so should Sir Stafford Cripps - in such firm and downright terms that it rather stamps on any further discussion.
I walked with the Vicar to the gate-house, carrying the lantern, so that he could find his bicycle. The rain beat down on the gate-house roof, but fortunately the bicycle was in one of the dry places. I can't imagine how the bicycle doesn't bite chunks out of the cloak - I'm sure it would if I wore it - but the Vicar seems very deft at managing it. Perhaps it is all the practice with wearing a cassock.
"Oh, I forgot - this was delivered to the Vicarage by accident," he said, and gave me a letter. All I could see of it by the lantern-light was my own typed name and address, and a London postmark.
"You look rather taken aback," said the Vicar.
"I am," I said. I couldn't think who it could be from. The only person who generally writes to me from London is Topaz, and she can't type.
"If you ever want to talk about anything," he said, in the least pious tone you could imagine, "my door is always open - I mean the Vicarage, but the other door, too." And he nodded to me and swung himself onto the bicycle and was away through the curtains of rain before I could think what to reply. How I do love the Vicar! Not in a carnal way, I hasten to add; I don't think I am capable of loving anyone in a carnal way, it all seems to have been scoured out of me after Simon left, and I can't say I feel the lack of it. Though I do have dreams sometimes.
I took the letter and the lantern, and went back through the passage to the Castle. I had the strangest feeling of a weight on my shoulders and a pressure in my ears, as if I were in a submarine. Partly it was the gate-house passage, which has a low round ceiling like a tunnel, but partly it was the letter. The pressure in my ears had turned to a buzzing as I put out the lantern and hung it up neatly on its hook, and I was able to show the letter to Thomas in a quite normal way as he was putting away the candlesticks and ask him what he thought of it.
"It's probably from London Zoo," said Thomas. "I expect Topaz has stolen a lion-cub because she thought it was the latest thing to inspire father."
"It sounds exactly like her," I said.
Mr. Folsom had come back from Shrewsbury whilst I was seeing off the Vicar, and was stuffing his wet shoes with newspaper by the fireplace grate. He suggested that the story about the WAAF might have sold to Home Notes, where I sent it after Home Chat didn't want it. I said that I didn't think I'd hear from them so soon. Mr. Folsom looked at me as if he thought I was spreading despair on purpose, and said that in that case the letter might be a notice of a fine for inadequate blackout. I fear it may be. I do my best with our blackout, but the A.R.P don't understand the problems of blacking out a castle. And I don't think I like Mr. Folsom taking an interest in my writing, either - he is so painstaking about it, and so concerned not to give offence, but at the back of it I think he actually has the most decided opinions and is merely keeping them in check.
The candle has burned down to a stub now and is tilting over to one side in a way that suggests it is not long for this world, so I think I will leave the letter from London until tomorrow. If I am entirely honest with myself - and really, there is no point being otherwise - I think that the letter is probably notice to me to register for conscription, and that is the reason I am keeping it to open tomorrow when there is some light. I know that I could be doing more than fire-watching and keeping house for Thomas and Mr. Folsom, but I don't feel filled with enthusiasm for it. I can't think I'd be any use on the land and I can't drive, and if making munitions is anything like mending saucepans I doubt I shall be wanted for that either.
The rather architectural-looking remains of the duck, stolen brass-facedly from the larder. Ab did not seem at all interested in milk this morning.
The letter! Not from the Ministry, but from the BBC! They want me to record the New Mexico article as a speech for the Home Service, and they will pay me two guineas! The letter was signed by a B. Tripplehorn who seemed to know me - they had certainly dashed off a personal message at the bottom, but I couldn't read a word of it, and had no idea whether it was something about the train fare, or about remembering my gas mask, or telling me not to come after all.
I was just holding it up to the window to see whether that was any help - though there is very little light through that window at any time of the year, and it is particularly grey and submerged-looking in winter; one might as well hold the paper up to the moat - when Thomas came in and I asked him whether he could make it out.
"You must need spectacles," he said in an irritatingly superior way. "So delighted to meet you again we must have lunch at the Anglo-Colonial Club and please remember me to your father yours cordially Baby. Who's this, then? A boy-friend in London?"
I racked my brains whilst I put the kettle on. Not because I have a surfeit of boy-friends - I have none at all - but because I knew I remembered the name Tripplehorn. Eventually I remembered a Mrs. Tripplehorn who I had met once at one of Mrs. Cotton's parties. She was a lean, greyhound-ish edition of Mrs. Cotton, with eager forward-leaning shoulders and a lined and smokerish face. I couldn't think what she might be doing at the BBC. Thomas thought it was something to do with promoting good feeling towards the Americans. He said that when he went to see Wings of Honour with a girl from the office, there were two short films about America on the programme, along with one about scrap-metal salvage and another about cabbages.
I was a little annoyed that he had gone to see Stephen in Wings of Honour without me after all, but I suppose if he'd gone with a girl from the office I wouldn't have wanted to be included in the party. Perhaps he has left off being crossed in love. I do hope so.
I can't tell you how my heart leaps about going to London. I must make sure that Topaz doesn't put on a literary dinner for me. Or perhaps, after all, it would be kinder to let her, as it gives her a great deal of pleasure and doesn't hurt me at all; in fact I'm glad of the food. I shall have to buy a new frock, though, if she does. The remains of my last good evening dress are living out their final days as a lining for what is known as Ab's basket, though in fact it is generally Hel who sleeps in it.
The chimney-sweep's bill, which he presented just as I was hurrying out of the door: 1s 6d. Feel sure the kitchen will be full of soot on my return, but it will be worth it to keep the chimney in good health.
Ticket to London: 2s 3d. Thomas offered to make it first class, but I said I thought that was taking it a bit far, and in any case it was part of the excitement to wedge myself into a compartment with a party of middle-aged ladies all clasping their gas-masks and some solemn schoolboys and a very Scottish soldier. The ladies and the schoolboys made much of the soldier and offered him chocolate and an orange and a copy of Picture Post, at which he seemed rather overwhelmed.
Tea and a bun at the station: 5d.
Bus fares: 9d
Seeing London was both wonderful and a little saddening, like visiting a very magnificent friend in hospital. Hoardings with posters everywhere - even around the lions in Trafalgar Square - and so many streets with houses sagging sympathetically to either side of a gap, like a mouth full of bad teeth. I had a sudden urge to go and look at the Houses of Parliament and they are the same as ever, which for some reason made me want to cry. I tried to explain my feelings to Topaz when I arrived at the flat, but she was at her most bogus, and hugged me and said in her swooping velvety voice that it was full of hemispherical profundity. Do not see what hemispherical profundity has to do with anything, but I was most glad to see her, and to have lunch, as the tea and a bun were not very filling. The flat is rather crowded, because of some friends of Topaz who are refugees and have a small baby - I have no idea at all where I'm going to sleep.
Father is facing the chaos with much flair. Topaz says that he has only once threatened to throw the baby out of a window - I think she rather fancies the idea of herself dashing out into the street and catching it. He is on any number of committees, one of them very distinguished indeed and something to do with the British Council. Cannot imagine how the British Council persuaded him to do it, but he is thoroughly enjoying all the opportunities to be rude to people. I asked Topaz rather nervously whether he had time to write at all under the circumstances, and she said that yes, he thrived on it, and often stayed up scribbling furiously until three or four in the morning. Topaz's blackout must be much more efficient than mine.
I was very surprised by how many Americans and Canadians there are in London. Most of them are in uniform and look very young, and are slouching about as if they have nowhere to go. You would think someone would at least put on a concert for them. I won't tell Topaz this thought, as I know she would be very fetched by the idea of playing the lute to them.
Visit to the BBC safely achieved! An exhausted-looking lady was sitting at a trestle-table in the cavernous foyer directing people in all directions. Fortunately she was able to direct me to Mrs. Tripplehorn, who was lurking in a large sawdusty-smelling office at the end of a great number of draughty corridors that smell of dust and sealing-wax. I'm still not sure what Mrs. Tripplehorn's official position is, but she is just as I remembered, and it seems her name is Baby - or Bébé, at least - though she is the most un-babylike person.
I read parts of the lecture into a large microphone whilst two young men in pull-over sweaters did complicated things with equipment. My voice came out very high and stilted at the beginning, like a small child reciting. The second time round I tried to be more relaxed, and by the third I had it - Mrs Tripplehorn said in a very dry tone of voice that if I hadn't relaxed, she would have considered starting to take her clothes off in order to startle me. I said that I certainly should have been startled, but I thought it would have made her rather cold, and she gave a barking laugh with the ghosts of a thousand cigarettes in it.
She was very pleased with the lecture, anyway, though she said it would have to be cut down to fit the time available, and asked if I had anything more available, on light subjects or women's issues. I said that I would do my best. She whisked me to the Anglo-Colonial Club, and would have whisked me into a taxi at the other end, except that I said I would sooner walk.
I could have walked forever. I felt as if I were being filled up with noticing new things. Everything at the Castle is so familiar that I don't notice it any more, but in London the most ordinary things were new - the fashion for pixie hoods, the piles of heavy-looking sandbags outside air-raid shelters, the breathtaking river-reflected colour of a London sky.
Eventually I found myself outside the National Portrait Gallery. It was closed for the duration, which was a pity. I hadn't been in there since before they built the new wing; they were still building it when father had the spasm of sociability in which he married Topaz. I remember going round with Rose and discussing what the mistresses of Charles II would have done if they were living in the present day. I think we had it that Nell Gwyn would be in the films, and Lady Castlemaine certainly wouldn't be invited to any of Aunt Millicent's parties.
I suddenly realised that I had a blister on the back of one heel, and that my throat was dry with that cold dryness that only comes in winter. I walked a little further down a side street until I saw a café. It wasn't a particularly nice-looking café for such a prominent part of town - it was mostly full of down-at-heel people eating baked beans, and the waitresses looked unpleasant - but I had to have a drink of water, so I went in.
The café was even nastier inside. It had a dusty display of what I believe is called 'craft work' in the window - it mostly seemed to consist of those tatted flowers that you are supposed to pin on a coat, though I never had a coat that would be improved by one - and an even more dusty display by the counter of two buns on a plate big enough for ten. I sat there with my water for a while, expanding on the conversation that Rose and I had had all those years ago in my head. It almost felt as if Rose were there with me; we had decided that the Duchess of Portsmouth would be working with the Free French. My eyes drifted to the street outside and I saw a man go by.
I didn't recognise him at first. I thought how distinguished his back looked, and how the American military greatcoat is a lot more becoming than the British one, and how unusual it was to see someone with such dark hair and such pale skin. It was only when he'd almost turned the corner towards the Museum and strolled out of sight that I realised it was Simon. I think it was the shape that his hair grew into at the back of his neck that did it.
My fingers went numb. I don't know how I managed not to drop the water glass. I could hear a voice in my head, very booming and with a strange echo to it, saying 'Now don't you run after him, my girl'.
And I didn't mean to. He hadn't written to me in years, after all. I'd asked him to report back when the circumstances were favourable, and evidently they never were favourable; or at least not favourable enough. I told myself that I was a poised, successful woman of twenty-five who the BBC was soliciting to read aloud on air, and that I was not going to embarrass myself by running after a man who was very nearly my brother-in-law.
And then the strangest thing happened. I honestly can't explain it. There was a roaring noise in my ears. I saw a room, a stuffy little room, with brown patterned wallpaper. Everything was small and quite distinct, as if I were looking at it through a camera obscura. I could see a grate and a coal-bucket and an overstuffed chair with an antimacassar on the back, and sitting in the chair was Mr. Folsom. His scalp was quite red on top where his hair was thinning. He was smoking a pipe and reading a newspaper. And I felt suffocated. I can't explain it more clearly than that.
Oh, it wasn't that I thought that if I didn't run after Simon, there would be nothing for me but Mr. Folsom! But it made me realise that I had been letting life close in around me like the walls of that little room, and that if I didn't run out into the cold air now I would never forgive myself.
I dropped a handful of change on the table and ran out of the café, leaving the waitress staring at me. I pelted along the street. Two sailors leaning against a wall laughed and hooted at me, and a woman pushing a perambulator stared as though she thought I was a dangerous maniac.
And just as I turned the corner onto Orange Street, I saw an elegant shoe and the hem of an American-style greatcoat, disappearing onto the step of a bus. All the breath was flattened out of me. I don't even know what number bus it was: they have taken down all the signs at the stops.
Eventually I found myself walking again, and then I discovered I was at Charing Cross, so I got on a bus myself and went back to father and Topaz's flat. All the refugees showed a flattering interest in the BBC, and eventually I was able to show a flattering interest in the baby and change the subject. I can't say that I feel anything much towards babies, but I felt battered by their waves of talk, and the baby can't talk yet, which is restful. And yet it wasn't that I wanted to get away and be alone: once I was alone, my thoughts turned very unprofitable. They kept dawdling helplessly backwards to all the things I thought were safely tacked down into the past.
I think perhaps part of the problem is that so many of the small privations of wartime remind me of those years, drifting back like unwanted household ghosts. Being cold and never having quite enough to eat, and having to be particularly careful with the lamp-oil, and so on. I shall try to think of Simon as just another in a run of rather lowering circumstances.
And I must go to sleep.
Nothing. I had intended to go and get a haircut, but I couldn't find the energy. Likewise, I had meant to buy a new frock for Topaz's literary dinner and any BBC engagements that come my way, out of Mr Heseltine's memoirs and the final scrapings of the typewriter; but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that it was a waste of my coupons. If I buy stockings with them instead I will have three left over to give to Thomas towards his new mackintosh - he has been procrastinating about buying it, and he really does need one.
I decided to borrow a frock from Topaz instead. Topaz entered into this with delight and so did the refugees, but I can't say the results were good. All of Topaz's gowns are very flowing and very backless, and nothing like what anyone else is wearing. They look splendid on Topaz, like the formal robes of some aquatic race. They didn't look at all splendid on me, and they showed quite large swathes of my underwear, which I can't think anyone would find appetising whether they were literary or not.
Eventually it came down to a choice between an old black velvet dress that was somewhat less backless than all the rest, and a quite new brick-red one with built-up shoulders and a cream-coloured yoke and cuffs. I couldn't imagine Topaz ever wearing brick-red and asked where on earth she had got it from, and she hemmed and hawed and said something about a dear old sculptor friend who had turned designer and got a job on a panel which was something to do with Utility Clothing.
In the end I decided that the black velvet was really too draughty and that I could at least try to look crisp and businesslike in the brick-red, though it doesn't do a lot for my complexion. One of the refugees kindly turned my hair up for me with some side combs, but I don't have the knack of wearing side combs; my hair is meek but slippery, which is why I keep it short. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought that I looked a little like the girls in the colour illustrations in American magazines. That made my composure wobble a little, so I told myself to stop thinking about America and went to spruce up the flat's tiny sitting-room and rearrange the ashtrays.
Topaz, meanwhile, put on a flowing affair the colour of drowned waterlilies and looked no older than twenty-nine in it, though she did spoil it by insisting on discussing Proust over drinks. Somewhere around where she was explaining that Remembrance Of Things Past reminded her of a triangular symphony in yellow, the doorbell rang. I knew that one of the refugees was in the kitchen and the other - who knew a great deal more about Proust than I did, having read him in the original - was getting the only adult conversation she'd had in weeks, so I went to open the door myself.
And there Simon was. Holding his hat in both his hands, and looking grave, and older than I remembered. Of course, he is older, we all are, but I'd somehow expected him to remain exactly the way I last saw him. Father had always said that Simon had good bones, and they seemed more prominent than I remembered, riding shallowly under the skin. There were lines around his eyes and mouth as well - nice lines, reminding me of the creases in a well-loved book, but lines nonetheless.
For all that, he was just the same. He smelled clean, and he had that air about him still, of being made of slightly more refined metal than other people. And oh, all the small attentions that a rich American could afford, and the literary lions roaring in the tiny sitting-room could not! His hair was clean and brushed back. The small peak of his shirt-collar under his coat was shiningly white and looked thick and newly laundered. Even his nails looked cleaner than other people's.
And there I was in an unflattering brick-red dress that turned my skin the colour of cheese, with shapeless hair and a shiny nose from spending the afternoon being taught by the refugees how to make latkes. I could see why he'd never come back. I wouldn't have come back to myself.
He looked taken aback, and I couldn't blame him. "At least I'm not a green child this time," I said, making a feeble joke of it.
"You're certainly not a child," he said gravely. I had forgotten the sound of his voice, the precise, almost Elizabethan timbre of it. It belonged in panelled rooms with a string consort playing quietly in one corner and plump leather-bound books on the wall. Or in Boston; except that I could not, just now, think what Boston was like, except for an impression of sea-wind and chrome and metal.
Wherever he belonged, it wasn't in this crowded flat, with the cheap green shade over the electric light and the pile of gasmask-boxes under the hatstand in the hallway, and the baby waking up and starting to cry. Simon seemed quite disconcerted by the baby. I supposed it must be because he had so little to do with Neil when he was younger, whereas I was used to babies because of Thomas. And then, one couldn't expect him to be a particularly attentive uncle to Rose and Neil's babies - though Rose said that he did send expensive Christmas presents.
"Are congratulations in order?" he asked. "To you, or to Topaz?" There was a quick harsh note in his voice that I'd never heard before, as if much depended on the answer. I supposed that he thought the lot of any baby in a city being racked by air-raids was a perilous one, and that we were being selfish. I blushed as brick-red as the frock.
"Good heavens, no," I said hastily, and started explaining to him about the refugees as he hung up his coat and hat. The hatstand was over-full and precarious, and we both reached out at once to steady it. I remembered exactly how the touch of his hand always felt. I hadn't thought about it at all in years, but the memory had lived on under my skin.
I tried to snatch my hand away again, but he took it and looked at it, turning it over in his hand like someone receiving a national treasure on behalf of the British Museum. "No," he said as if to himself, "not green."
Topaz came hurrying out to see who it was, and I managed to efface myself off into the kitchen to help the senior refugee dish up. Thankfully there was no nonsense about men taking women in to dinner. The flat is so small that it would be ridiculous, and in any case these days there are always far more women than men.
I found myself seated somewhat slantwise across the table from Simon. I told myself that I wouldn't have to look at him if I didn't want to, but I couldn't help catching sight of him every now and again in a sort of soft lightning-flash; his hands emerging from those big clean shirt-cuffs, or his shoulders, or the shadow at the side of his jaw. Topaz asked him what he was doing in London, but he couldn't say much. I somehow got the impression that it was very hush-hush and that part of it was to do with evacuating paintings and other national treasures, which I suppose explains why he was outside the National Portrait Gallery, though I don't really see why the American Army would have anything to do with it at all; one would have thought they had enough to do moving their own national treasures out of Washington and New York.
"And have you been doing that for the whole of the war?" said one of the ladies from the flat downstairs, who Topaz had asked because she rolls bandages with them at working-parties. They are very patriotic and do a great number of things besides the bandage-rolling; it makes one feel feeble just to look at them.
"There hasn't been so much of a whole of the war, for us, yet," said Simon gravely.
The lady from the flat downstairs swelled up with indignation. One can understand it; she lost a brother at Dunkirk. But I still felt what Topaz would probably call a sympathetic vibration. I felt as if I knew Simon, and therefore also knew exactly what would knock his otherwise perfect social pitch out of key. I wanted to explain him to people; but he wouldn't have thanked me for it, and it would have sounded ridiculous if I had tried.
How could I say I knew him? After eight years, I didn't know him at all, and he did not know me. And worst of all, I could see father looking at me down the table. I couldn't tell whether he was pitying or baffled, or whether he just wanted the salt. The salt was the only thing I had to offer him, so I lifted it, but he shook his head, and I went back to eating cress soup. Everyone has a surfeit of cress these days. The cress soup cooked up by Topaz and the refugees was more successful than most; I think it was because a lot of it was stock, and more was brandy.
And brandy warms one inside, even when all one can think of is the heat of a summer that is eight years gone.
Father told a lot of very funny stories about the war committees he is on and had everyone laughing, even the bandage ladies from the lower flat. There was one about a man who was brought in to give a professional opinion on rabbit-keeping, which raised the rafters. Even Simon laughed, though he'd looked a bit serious and shocked at first; I don't think they eat rabbit in America, or perhaps because father was being so very dry and ferocious Simon hadn't realised it was a joke. He saw me looking over at him and raised his glass to me - Simon, I mean, not father. I felt myself giving a very stiff little smile back.
Topaz suggested dancing after dinner, but fortunately there wasn't room - even if one rolled up the little square of rug, there would still only be room for one couple to rotate; two, if the second couple were willing to dance on the windowsill. So we made do with very small cups of coffee instead. I hoped people would think we had continental habits, but actually it was because that was all the coffee Topaz had been able to get, despite a lot of hopeful queueing, and to make it go round all the literary lions it had to be either very scant or very watery.
I ended up perched on the windowsill, sandwiched between a tall bald man from one of father's committees who wanted to talk very seriously to me about the state of rationing in the country (I said that we wanted for nothing, especially not cress) and a poet friend of Topaz who kept talking to me over the back of a chair about how beautiful Topaz was. I can't deny that she is, but it doesn't make for very interesting conversation. The only thing that could have made it worse was if Topaz had invited the Fox-Cottons, but very fortunately they let their flat and went to live in a guest-house in the country as soon as war was declared, and I think they are there for the duration.
Simon was right over on the other side of the room talking very seriously to the refugees. I couldn't help noticing that it was the youngest and most distinguished-looking refugee he was talking to most. Her name is Gitel, though since she arrived here she has been telling everyone to call her Geraldine, which isn't half as pretty. Justice impels me to say that she is kind and cultured as well as distinguished-looking, not to mention having the patience of a saint when it comes to Topaz being bogus. She is about the same age as I am, but I don't think I could even have a run-up at looking distinguished for another ten years at least; but then I haven't had her experiences.
I thought she might be telling her experiences to Simon; he looked very grave, as if she was, and occasionally patted her hand. Though when I passed them on my way to make sure the kitchen blackout was in place, they were talking about Debussy.
The more I thought about it, the more I felt like Emma Woodhouse casting unfair aspersions on Jane Fairfax. Though I really don't think I would go so far as to spread rumours if Gitel were sent a piano. I'm sure she would like one; she often goes to Myra Hess concerts.
And then, when I was getting into bed (how I do hate cold unfamiliar sheets) I thought that I wasn't Emma Woodhouse at all, but far more like Anne Elliot. I don't think I am 'wretchedly altered' in looks, despite the brick-red frock, but I am hardly that young girl of eight years ago, either.
And nor am I a woman like Gitel - I mean Geraldine - making her own way in the world despite having gone through horrors I shrink from imagining. What must it be like, to face the worst the human spirit can drag up from its depths, and still able to put on a brave face at a party and talk about Debussy? For I do believe that evil springs from the human spirit and not from the Devil; that makes it worse somehow.
I must take that vision of the little room with the walls closing in and make some use out of it - perhaps it could be the seed of an article about what women are to do in wartime, those seem to sell very well just now. And if I am called up to make munitions, I will go and make munitions and also try to make the best of it.
And I will not think about Simon any more.
Nothing, nothing, nothing.
Groceries: 4s (lump sugar and cheese biscuits which can't be had for love nor money in King's Crypt: four bottles of beer, a present for Thomas, and a tin of condensed milk, a present for the refugees' baby, since they assured me that was what they would most like. Which reminds me, I never did find out what Topaz was buying at the Army and Navy Stores)
Stockings, 1s 10d and 4 coupons
Lunch at Lyons Corner House: 11d (oxtail soup, very filling, and something alleged to be seed cake - I think it must have been birdseed)
Bus fare to the station: 6d
Thomas's war bonus: 20 guineas! I can't believe it. Mr. Folsom got the same, and says jovially that he is thinking of buying a motor bicycle, though I don't know where he expects to get petrol for it.
"You could get a war bonus too, next year," said Thomas as we finished up the cheese biscuits by way of savoury. The main course had been leek and potato pie; more potato than leek, and oatmeal added for bulk, as at present one can always get oatmeal. Thomas and Mr. Folsom seemed to enjoy it, though I have to say I didn't taste a single mouthful.
"Who from?" I said. "Mr. Heseltine?"
It turned out that they knew of a secretarial vacancy at the hush-hush establishment, as a Miss Elliott had got engaged and was leaving. I hoped she wasn't the one Thomas had been taking to the pictures, though if she was, he didn't seem at all cut up about it.
I said I would think about it. I can't say that the prospect of slogging through the frost by bus and bicycle appeals to me, but at least it would be doing something for the war effort. I felt that I had to consider it at least, that it was part of the new leaf I'd determined to turn over.
Though it is much easier to resolve to turn over a new leaf than to actually do it. Particularly when one does the resolving in a warm bed, and the doing in a cold kitchen whilst cleaning the oil-lamps.
I wonder whether the Vicar will give me a reference?
Owed to Ivy Carter for bread and eggs: 2s 6d. I really must go over there and pay her, before she turns up on the doorstep to collect it and I have nothing but two farthings in the bottom of my purse.
Thomas was displeased with dinner, and stated his dislike of rissoles. But what am I supposed to do, when making the equivalent of one small chop go round two meals for three persons? There is a limit to how inventive anyone can be with breadcrumbs. And one can't expect Rose and Neil to be forever sending us tinned ham.
Thomas's train fare to Oxford: 2s. He has gone to see his friend Harry and to meet Harry's new wife, and I don't begrudge it to him. After all, it is his bonus he's spending, and he hasn't been at all sociable as late. But it does throw me rather on Mr. Folsom.
This evening Mr. Folsom told me all about his mother's house in Shrewsbury and the particulars of her neighbourhood whilst I made another attempt at re-bottoming the broken cane chair. If this doesn't work we will burn the wretched thing. At least it would save on coal if we did. I was itching to get away and continue with my latest article instead - it is on the popularity of Myra Hess's concerts, the idea for which I must thank Gitel - but Mr. Folsom just kept laying out the dullest little facts like cards in a game of Patience; the pig-and-bee society, the glee club, the desirable position of his mother's house at the end of a terrace. He even told me that she owned it outright rather than renting, having inherited it from an uncle, and I can't imagine why he thought I should care about that.
The kitchen was even colder and darker than usual, with only the embers sulking in the grate, and I kept catching glances of the angel-head that was really a demon up above on the wall. I wondered whether I could wish on it to make Mr. Folsom go away.
Perhaps it even worked, though I don't think wishes from below have quite the same efficacy as being winched up on the drying-rack. Mr. Folsom was just telling me about his mother's weekly working-parties to knit socks for the Navy when Ivy Carter turned up out of the dark to ask for the butter and egg money.
Mr. Folsom contented himself with an embarrassed shrug by way of greeting and went off to listen to the radio in his fireless bedroom. I am not sure why Mr. Folsom dislikes Ivy Carter; she is the sort of woman men generally like, dark and rosy and knowing-looking. I think perhaps he is embarrassed by the lack of a Mr. Carter. That horrid Leda Fox-Cotton asked me once whether there ever had been a Mr. Carter, with an air of conscious unshockability. I was pleased to tell her that there was - but I only met him once, and I don't remember much about him except that he had a caressing tone of voice and wore a flannel cap, and Thomas said he would probably try to cheat us over the barn, which Ivy rents from us as her father Mr. Stebbins did before her. Perhaps I should tell that to Mr. Folsom, too, though I'm not sure that it would help. In any case, Mr. Carter is long gone - well before his absence could be in any way blamed on the war - and I am not sure whether he is dead or just absconded.
Ivy Carter gave him a very knowing look as he scuttled out of the room. She sat down at the half-cleared table, and I felt I ought to light another candle in her honour, though I wouldn't have done it just for myself and Mr. Folsom. I made her a cup of tea and asked if she had her own milk and sugar; we all do, these days, and no one is ashamed of it. She had no sugar, but milk in a brown glass bottle that looked as if it used to contain Epsom salts. "Are you glad to have a man about the place?" she said.
I said that I supposed I was, but they took a lot of feeding. Ivy laughed as if I'd said something very sharp and witty. She generally looks like the heroine of a ballad - red cheeks, dark curls, and one could quite believe she could stab her lover or pour oil through a portcullis without feeling the slightest pang about it - but the firelight makes her look absolutely devilish. We sat and drank tea for a while in companionable silence and then I asked her about the chair, which she thought beyond repair. On balance I agree with her. There was a complicated plan in a leaflet from the Board of Trade about turning old chairs into economical hen-coops, but I don't think that even the most homebodyish hen would remain a moment in this one.
"You don't want to start with hens," said Ivy. "They need to know you mean business, or they'll up and die on you. Same with rabbits."
I said that I supposed she was right, and went to get her two shillings and sixpence from the shelf. On the way I knocked against one of the chairs and almost dislodged Mr. Folsom's rubbed-at-the-elbows corduroy jacket, which was hanging over the back waiting to be mended. He is thinking of putting leather patches on the elbows. I suppose I should offer to do it, but my sewing is not up to getting patches to come out even on opposite elbows - and besides, I think he would be rather too grateful.
"He hasn't given you any trouble, has he?" said Ivy, with a jerk of her head to make the coat stand in for its owner.
"Oh, no, he's not a complaining type," I said, pretending not to understand her. "And it's nice for Thomas, to have someone to talk to about his work."
"I'll bet," said Ivy. I poured more tea for her and thought how strange it was that before the war Ivy had helped out when we had dinner parties and washed up in the kitchen whilst I sat at the dining-room table; and now here we were, both sitting in the very same kitchen, and I was the one who was grateful for her company and advice, not to mention the occasional duck. I am sure it's better this way, but it does take some getting used to. "You should tell him you've got a young man overseas."
"But I haven't," I said in a prim surprised voice, and slopped some tea into the saucer by accident.
"Haven't you?" Ivy pushed her chair back and wrapped her fox-fur stole around her neck with a decisive snap of her wrist as if she were throttling the fox. "You should still tell him so. Better he knows he hasn't a chance."
It was only when she'd gone that I realised she must have been talking about Stephen. I suppose it makes a good story for the girls to tell in the village; and if it sells a few tickets to Wings Of Honour, I don't even begrudge it. And he is overseas - one can't get more overseas than Hollywood - which even makes it clever.
But it was never Stephen. It was Simon all the time.
More Debits Still
How I wish I'd had the chance to put Ivy's advice into practice! Mr. Folsom has just proposed to me!
I could go into the details, but they are all too dreadful.
Mr. Folsom has given notice that he no longer intends to pay the extra 1s 6d for hot baths, and also complained about the roof. It does leak, but only when it rains particularly hard, and he never complained about it when he thought he had a chance of marrying me. How lowering it is to realise that what one thought was good nature was merely concupiscence! One would have thought that I'd have been prepared for this by the Stephen business, but Stephen would have been good-natured whether he loved one or not - he was even noble when he was leaving us forever. Though I do have to say, looking back, that he was a good deal sharper with Rose than he ever was when talking to me.
A telegram from Bébé Tripplehorn! The lecture will have to be cut down even more, but they have accepted it, and I must go to London again to make the broadcast! Looking over where I can lose the requisite minutes, I think I need to choose whether to lose the part about visiting a ranch, or the rather amusing part about the differences between British and American airfields, not to mention all the stops in between. Either will be a wrench. I think it will have to be the airfields, because they might be censored anyway, and if it isn't, that part is far more suitable to work up into a lecture of its own than the ranch part.
Somehow, if I think about America quite solely in the context of Rose and Neil, it becomes easier not to think about Simon at all. Or, at least, sometimes my thoughts creep off in that direction - but I almost always chase them back.
Ticket to London: 2s 6d - the fares have risen again. I suppose it is to deter people from travelling.
Bus fares: 9d
Tea without milk, at little temporary stand at Waterloo: 2d
No sign of the promised two guineas for my lecture yet - I get the distinct impression that the BBC considers it an honour to be asked to broadcast, and that if they pay at all it will be in arrears.
There was no sign of Bébé Tripplehorn either, which made me briefly wonder whether she had absconded with my two guineas. Instead, I was met by a young subordinate of hers in horn-rims. He seemed very overwhelmed with meeting me, and treated me with most flattering deference. It was only when he said doubtfully that I must have been very young indeed when I wrote Jacob Wrestling that I realised he had confused me with father. Fortunately he only said it after I had made the broadcast; I think it would have shattered me beforehand.
I came out feeling very pleased and self-conscious, and with my hands in my pockets, because I had forgotten to bring any gloves. London was showing itself to its best advantage under a charmingly blueware-coloured sky. I wondered whether the BBC would like a lecture about what goes on outside its gates, though I suppose it would be a little self-referential. There was an official-looking car outside and a girl driver leaning against the railings smoking. I didn't take any notice of the car; there always are official cars in front of the BBC. I didn't take much more notice of the girl driver except to wonder where she got her hair done. I looked around at the scene and felt very pleased with it.
And then I realised that part of the scene was Simon. He was striding towards me and I was taking his arm. Oh, it almost undid me; not just the warmth and closeness of him, but the particular wool-smell of his overcoat, and the tiny patch of bristle under one ear that he must have missed whilst shaving.
"I see you're growing the beard again," I said.
He rubbed his chin with his spare hand. Topaz always said his hands were worth painting, though the one time she tried it, she called it 'Moonlight Benefaction' and it looked like a bowl of celery. "I'll have to be more careful," he said ruefully. "Beards are against the regulations."
"What regulations are you under, really?" I said, looking up at him. My hair was blowing in my face. London really was putting its best foot forward; even the bustle of Regent Street looked poetic, which is saying something when you consider that it contained a rag-and-bone cart whose most prominent exhibit was a large tin bath.
"I'm not allowed to say - even to you," he said. "My God, your hands must be frozen."
"I forgot my gloves."
"I never thought you were the kind to forget anything," he said easily.
"I'm not, in general."
We talked a little about the BBC and the man who had thought I was father, which led on to the admirer who bought the typewriter - I'm surprised Simon never tried to buy it himself. Simon threw the burden of the talk on me, in a very American way that made it feel like a compliment; I suppose with Mrs Cotton as a mother, he got enough practice.
We walked a little way, and then Simon drew me to a halt. We were standing by the pillared portico of the church that is tucked away at an angle to Regent Street, the one with the pale slender stone spire that narrows like a needle-point towards heaven. I don't think it is a Wren church, though so many are; it might of course be Nash.
"Look at that," Simon said. I looked. A woman was coming down the marble steps with a child so bundled-up in scarves and hats that it looked like a teddy-bear, but I didn't suppose that was what he meant. Or perhaps he did.
"You live in the middle of so much..." he said, and paused so that I didn't know whether he was going to go on with '...history' or '... architecture' or something about shortages or what; and when he picked up again, it didn't seem to be the same thought at all, or only glancingly. "I wish I could show this to everyone at home who hides behind their own picket fence and parrots the line about it being Europe's war."
"Aren't there such things as War Photography Units?" I said.
"You very prosaic child," he said; and then, looking at me more closely, "No - I should have stopped calling you that years ago. You're not a child any more, are you?"
I must say I had never felt more Anne Elliot-ish than at that moment. "What were you doing at the BBC?" I said as I tucked my hand into the warm crook of his arm again.
"Oh, waiting for you. Bébé Tripplehorn tipped me off." He gave me a glancing smile. "How did it go? I wish I'd been able to hear you."
I couldn't get over the knowledge that he'd been waiting for me; it lit a small fire inside me, even though I was naysaying at the flame as fast as I could. "I think it went quite well," I said. "You've read the article anyway, I bet."
"I don't think I'll ever get over hearing you Brits saying I bet," he said in a very serious voice, so that I knew he was laughing at himself. All the same, he sounded like Neil. I wanted to say so, but I thought it best not. "Besides, it wouldn't be your voice reading it."
"I always prefer the voice in my head," I said, and we got into a discussion about which was best; Simon thought that hearing the author read it would allow one to understand more of the nuances, and I said that father at least didn't have any truck with nuances, and would read the same lecture three different ways on three different occasions just to be trying.
"You're not being as kind to him as you could be," said Simon neutrally; I had forgotten how worshipful he got about father.
"He doesn't thrive on people being kind to him," I said dryly; I had often wondered whether that was mother's problem, though as far as I know they were very happily married.
"And how about you - Cassandra?" We had stopped again, outside a very large plate-glass window containing a very small display of packets of tea. My hand was still in the crook of his arm and he was looking down at me, and I suddenly felt that whatever answer I gave would be very important.
"I thrive on what I have, I suppose," I said, making my voice very businesslike. "I'm thinking of taking a job - there's a place going spare at that hush-hush outfit of Thomas's." And then, because I couldn't help it, "Will you be in London long?"
"That's another thing I can't say." His other hand covered mine. One of my hands now felt beautifully warm, and the other was cold as ice; and that went for the rest of me as well, I was warm and ice-cold in patches all over. "When I have leave, I'd thought of going down and taking a look at Scoatney. I haven't seen it since it was requisitioned. At first I wasn't in the country, and then I couldn't bear to."
I said that I thought Scoatney would appreciate knowing that it hadn't been abandoned.
He looked at me very gravely. "Do you feel I abandoned you?"
"I suppose one always does," I said, "when things change."
Simon looked as if he was going to say something in reply, but then a woman with a perambulator rammed it into the back of my knees and gave me a reproachful look, and there was a lot of confused apologising before she took herself off to the back of the queue for the packets of tea.
"We can't talk here," said Simon, and swept me into a tea-shop - a very plush one with gilt cupids everywhere and a menu informing one very grandly of the official restrictions on meal prices and then charging four shillings for a glass of wine and a bread roll. Not that I ordered a glass of wine, though I felt rather as if I needed one. We were seated in a booth with green velvet curtains everywhere; it felt most Edwardian.
Simon clasped his hands on the table and looked at me. I thought how drawn his face looked, as if he hadn't been getting enough sleep; it made his upward-tilting eyebrows look positively devilish. There was an interruption whilst the waitress brought our coffee. It came with an Italian biscuit on the side of the saucer, and real cream in a little jug. I had to stop myself scheming to find some way to carry the cream away with me.
"What I guess you don't know," he said when the waitress had gone, "is that when we said our final farewells in London - well, that wasn't the last time I tried to see Rose."
"Good gracious, I should suppose not," I said. "You must have been invited to at least one christening."
Simon drew shapes with the tip of his teaspoon against his napkin, and I thought again what a beautiful shape his hands were. "I don't mean that. I mean that I was madly in love - it was a kind of madness, exactly as the poets used to describe it. I thought that if I spoke to her once more, if I made one last attempt..."
My skin was clammy-cold all over now, the warm patches quite gone. The delicious coffee might as well have been cinders. I hadn't dreamed that he would come all this way just to talk to me about Rose. "Go on," I said stiffly.
"I thought - and this will show you exactly how disordered I was in my thinking, so please don't think for a moment that I'm proud of it - I thought that I was doing no worse to Neil than Neil had done to me." He stirred his coffee. "Looking back on it now, it seems like a fever-dream. Or perhaps like one of those things one did as a very young child - one can capture the memory of the action, but not the reasoning behind it. If there was any reasoning at all. It all went as badly as one could expect."
I shrank from trying to imagine it; though I knew that I should imagine it, sooner or later, whether I wished to or not. "Did Rose slap you?" I said.
Simon looked more rueful still. "She had every right to, but no - she just looked embarrassed, and tried very hard to pretend that I was talking about something else. It was Neil who told me to stay away from you after that - from all the family, but especially from you."
"I suppose he said you would break my heart," I said, breaking the Italian biscuit into fragments.
"Just that it wouldn't be good for either of us."
"And so why are you back?" I couldn't look into his face; I felt his eyes would have burned me.
"Because, as you say, things change." He reached across the table for my hand. "Circumstances change. Cassandra."
I could still think of nothing but Rose. Simon and Rose; Rose and Simon; and me, the silent watcher. "For you, perhaps," I said bruisedly.
"I should have known. I should have asked." His hand closed over mine; it was all I could do not to turn my wrist and twist my hand upwards to clasp his. But I knew that I couldn't be second best. It would be like living in a dream. Worse, it would be living someone else's dream. I'd known that when I was eighteen, even when I knew nothing else of substance. "Forgive me. There's someone else, isn't there? Or... there was someone?"
"A fiancé shot down over Dresden, or in a POW camp? No." My voice sounded high and brittle - Bébé Tripplehorn wouldn't have allowed it on air for a moment. "No one."
He said nothing, and crumbled the rest of his biscuit into his coffee.
"I haven't just been waiting here like a princess in a tower for you," I said, and then thought it might have been better to say nothing at all.
"You do have a head-start on most in that direction," he said, his voice sounding very American all of a sudden, when it never does usually. I don't know how I could have spent eight years waiting for the sound of his voice and then be unable to listen to it, but there it was - every syllable was like a shoe rubbing on a blister. He seemed to have got onto the subject of the job Thomas was offering, the one that his Miss Elliott had given up to get married. Evidently he thought it very suitable for me.
"I couldn't be prouder of you. Taking on a war job on top of the articles, the lectures, helping Topaz cope in that ridiculous little flat... oh, that reminds me." Simon drew an envelope out of his greatcoat pocket. "I don't suppose you could hand that on to Geraldine?"
"First Rose and now Gitel - Geraldine, I mean." I felt quite hot with fury, though the plush tea-room was most underheated. "You have the strangest way of informing a person of a change in circumstances."
He looked at me quite straight and levelly; I felt as if I could see his soul, not in his eyes, but in the new small creases around them. His hair still grows into a peak over his forehead, and his eyebrows still lift up at the corners. There is the smallest hint of grey in them now, though not in the rest of his hair.
"Who is it that says most, that can say more; Than this rich praise, that you alone are you," he said very quietly, and put the envelope into my hand. I felt a brush of warmth where his fingertips touched mine, like the light of summers years ago. "It's little enough; a record of the whereabouts of some of her family's paintings that were stolen by the SS in Vienna. It seems insulting, when we can't return the paintings themselves to her, let alone everything else she'd lost. It's one of the things I've been doing in my time with the OSS." He patted my hand and withdrew his own. "The rest, I really can't talk about, not even to you. Not to anyone."
"I wouldn't expect you to." I said.
"I wish you would give me one more chance," he said, very simply and directly. "I don't deserve it. But I'm asking you, all the same."
I had the strangest fizzing feeling inside. Before, all of my feelings had been safely self-contained. I wanted Simon, but I knew in my heart that I couldn't get him, and that made things safe in a way I'd never admitted to myself before, as well as most luxuriously romantic. This wasn't luxuriously romantic at all. But my heart was beating faster all the same.
I took a deep breath, and met honesty with honesty. "It wouldn't be easy, you know. I was a child before, and you were half in love with Rose and half with Scoatney."
"It fluctuated," he said with half a smile.
"And also," I said - and it hurt to be so honest, but it was the right kind of hurt, like the way a broken bone hurts when it's set - "I do wonder whether you're not a little like that comic man at the BBC - or perhaps the admirer who bought the typewriter. I always wondered whether you thought that by getting closer to us, you could get closer to father's writing - creep up on it and surprise it, I suppose, and make it explain itself to you."
He flushed. "At first, perhaps," he said. "But - oh, lord, do you really think that's why I'm here making a fool of myself now?"
"Because father's writing is getting published again, and it doesn't need you to unlock it any more?" I said helpfully.
He didn't answer that. He just shook his head. "Cassandra. If I were to come down to see Scoatney one last time - would you - "
I felt the anger and the resentment start to drain out of me; and, I hope, some of the silliness too. I was being offered something real and complicated and down-to-earth, and it wasn't what I'd expected at all. It left me empty-feeling and yet exalted, like a sky without clouds.
"I'll tell you if circumstances are favourable," I said.
Cooking apples: 6d for 3 lbs, and very lucky to get them too - though some of them looked a little wormy.
Bacon: 8d for 8 ounces and all of my coupons and Thomas's - I don't dare to use Mr. Folsom's, as he has informed me that he is moving back to Shrewsbury at the end of the month, and wishes to give his ration-book to his mother. Bacon and cooking apples is more of a reward than I usually expect for queueing at the shops. I had actually been told when I joined the end of the queue that it was for sausages, but bacon is more welcome still.
Excess postage on a parcel from Topaz: 9d. It turned out to be a pair of wooden-soled shoes which she had bought for me (dear Topaz! But it must have cost her at least five of her coupons) and a hay-box. Evidently cooking in a hay-box is Topaz's latest passion; which is all very well, but why she has to buy one from the Army and Navy Stores and have it shipped here I have no idea, particularly as I could have had all the hay I wanted from Ivy Carter for asking in the right season.
A telegram! Simon is expected! I still don't know what I am to say to him. It varies from moment to moment. Before, it was all me directing myself at Simon like a light-house. Now, he seemed to be doing the light-house bit himself, and I won't deny finding it a little disconcerting.
I don't know where he is to sleep. I considered Father's old room over the gatehouse, but I thought that if Simon was put there he would probably not sleep at all, but just sit up being reverent. Eventually I decided that Simon must have Thomas's room, and Thomas must sleep for once in little room under the stairs that used to be Stephen's.
Stephen's old room was much worse than I imagined. The window was so overgrown that one could barely see that it was a window at all, and the damp plasterboardy smell was augmented with something that I think may have been mould. It had to be thoroughly turned out. On any other day I think I would have flinched from the turning-out, but today you could have thrown me at the Augean Stables and I would have pitchforked away and whistled The Last Time I Saw Paris all the while.
I was half-way through the turning-out when another telegram arrived. Gracious, the expense! It was from Simon, saying that he had arranged to stay with the Vicar. I thought that I might as well continue turning Stephen's room out, as I'd started. Thomas came in whilst I was fetching something out from under the bed. It turned out to be an old biscuit-box, very rusted, full of old cigarette cards; I'd never known Stephen collected them. I'd half feared I would find the drafts of his poems, but of course he must have burnt those.
"Good heavens, how you startled me," I said to Thomas, giving him the box of cigarette cards. "Do you want something?"
Thomas waved the telegram at me. "I want to know why you've invited Simon Cotton to visit when it'll just make you mope around like a wet week again, my girl," he said in the most irritatingly superior manner.
I had been tiptoeing around Thomas's feelings for weeks, but I felt most disinclined to tiptoe around them any more. "I don't know how you can say that I mope, when you've been so unbearable for months that I've been thinking you must be crossed in love," I said. "And don't call me my girl like that, it makes you sound like a comedian on the wireless."
"I might as well be a wireless comedian for all the good I'm doing here," said Thomas quite bitterly. "And I don't see why the Cottons should come poking their noses in here again. We've paid them their rent for the last six years, we don't have to tug our forelocks to them any more."
"What on earth are you talking about?" I said.
"Just that I've paid them in rent, there's no need for you to go paying them in kind. I may not be fighting on a battlefield, but I can defend my own home."
"I'm not your own home," I said, "and if you're that cut up about not fighting, why don't you join up instead of just talking about it?"
Thomas gave a sort of roar and threw the box at my head. I'd never seen him so like father. He stormed out. I was left picking up the cigarette-cards. I don't think I felt at all frightened; only surprised and shaky, and fearful that something had shattered between us and would never be repaired again.
I cleared the rest of the room, but I must have done it in a daze, like a sort of automaton. I stayed an automaton all the way through making dinner. I made a bacon pudding - there wasn't enough flour or suet, so I eked it out with grated beetroot - and an apple snow for pudding. There wasn't really enough sugar for the apple snow, but I thought it would be going too far to put beetroot in that.
Thomas didn't come back to dinner.
Neither did Simon. I couldn't even think that he must have been delayed in London. I knew that he must have come, because I saw the big car sweep down towards the Vicarage, and surely it couldn't have been anyone else? But he didn't come up to the Castle.
I sat in the kitchen with the candle burning down in its socket. I gave most of my dinner to Hel, who was wagging her entire body to and fro from the shoulders down in an ecstacy of reassurance that she would love me no matter what happened. After a while I got up, and sensibly put the rest of the dinner in the larder - with a crocheted cover over the bowl of apple snow, it would keep another couple of days at least. I just wasn't sure I would. Heloise followed me into the larder and out again, looking at me with slightly cross-eyed devotion.
At least I wasn't left alone with Mr. Folsom, which really would have been past bearing. He has not yet gone to Shrewsbury, so I suppose he and Thomas must have eaten at the Red Lion. It is extravagant, but at least the Red Lion doesn't ask for coupons. I thought about asking Miss Marcy up to share the dinner, but she would have been sympathetic, and I couldn't bear it. And she wouldn't have approved of me feeding dearest Hel at the table.
When I think about what Simon said to me in the tea-shop, it comes to me that he must just have been playing a part, the way he did the very first time he met father. He was being gallant, I suppose. But oh! how I wish he had chosen to be gallant to someone else!
The fire died in the grate. Ab uncurled himself from the hearthrug and slunk off about his nightly avocations. Still an automaton, I finished trimming the wick on the lantern and cleaned the oil-reservoir, and took it back out to its appointed place in the gatehouse passage.
Neither Thomas nor Mr. Folsom had returned. I didn't care about Mr. Folsom. But I did worry about Thomas, and wondered whether I should go down to the pub to fetch him. It all felt too Emily Bronte for words, though, and I have always been most like Anne - in as much as I am like any of them.
That was another Anne, to go with Anne Elliot. "What next - Anne of Cleves?" I said aloud to myself. "You'll be haunting the battlements next."
I couldn't help taking a superstitious look upwards to make sure that nothing was haunting the battlements - though the castle is not much troubled by ghosts. Far up above, at the top of the tower where I sit when I'm fire-watching, I saw a lump that wasn't battlements. I knew at once that it had to be Thomas.
I couldn't leave him there, of course. I put the lantern away, and made my cautious way up the stone steps that girdle the outside of the tower. It is always rather nerve-wracking climbing that tower, because the stones are old enough to crumble at the edges. It was doubly so climbing up in the dark. I found Thomas sitting like a hunched lump with his arms round his knees in the bearskin coat - I was glad to see he had the coat on. I sat down cautiously beside him. I wouldn't have absolutely put it past him to try to throw me off the tower, though I think he would have thought better of it at the psychological moment.
"I'm sorry about what I said," I said. "I really do know that your skills are needed to fight this war, just as desperately as those of men who know how to make guns or pilot ships. And so do you, and you know it's a sacrifice you've got to make, to be doing this instead of what you want to be doing. And you ought to be sorry about throwing a box at my head."
"It's my stupid temper," he said. "I don't let it have its head often, and when I do, well - "
I made a feeble joke about temper having heads like a Hydra. Thomas looked over at me, and I felt as if he were the younger and I were the elder, there was such a disconcerting pity in his expression.
"I just saw red when I saw you clearing out Stephen's room," he said in a stumbling rush. "After you drove him away in the first place..."
"I didn't drive him away!" I said at once. "Well, perhaps I did - there are certainly things I feel ashamed of, and I wish I had some way of making them up to him - but, oh, Thomas, it was complicated."
"It was all right for you," he said, looking away at the broad silver-penny moon rising over the frozen spread of fields. "You still had Rose. But I didn't have a brother any more. And then, what with Simon Cotton coming back - well, it just reminded me of that year, that's all. I know I should be grateful, that if they hadn't come I'd probably have gone on never having anything to eat, and there certainly never would have been the money for me to go to Oxford. But I'm not grateful. It's hard enough to feel like a man when you're not fighting. It's even harder when the Cottons come swooping back in, having everything, and not caring whether they trample on another man's pride or not."
"It's only one Cotton," I said, and hugged his arm. What with the extra bulk of the bear, it was all I could reach. "Oh, Thomas. I didn't know."
"You never do know, that's your trouble," he said, and then looked at me under his stubbly wheat-coloured lashes, the way he did when he was a very small boy and making mischief. "My girl."
"Thomas," I said, "do you think you could manage on your own, if I went away?"
"Well, I dare say I'd burn the soup a few times," he said. "I suppose it's Simon Cotton, is it?"
"It might be," I said cautiously. "After this evening, it's hard to know. But even if it isn't... I'll need to be in London more, because of the BBC, and I've had some queries about articles from people who heard the New Mexico lecture. It would be easier if I were on the spot. And then, if I were to be called up..."
"Good God, don't stick around on my behalf," he said, looking out over the battlements again. "Who do you think you are, Elizabeth Barrett Browning?"
"That was her father and not her brother." I told him. "Though I have been feeling very much like Anne Elliot."
Oh, the luxury of telling someone about it! I don't think I could have done it if we had been indoors, somehow, or if he had been looking in the right direction. I expected Thomas to say something very pithy and scathing, but instead he looked puzzled, and said "But her name was Vera."
"I don't know much about Jane Austen compared to some people, but I do know she didn't call any of her heroines Vera," I said.
"What's Jane Austen got to do about it? I was talking about Vera Elliott in the office, the one who's leaving," said Thomas vehemently. "Wasn't that what you meant?"
"Well, no - " I said, and I suddenly felt as if the words didn't matter, only the goodwill between us. I felt as if every one of us was in our own little compartment, thinking things that made sense to us and mattered terribly, when to all the rest of the world they made no sense and mattered not at all. And I felt that the important thing was to break the walls down and realise that we were all sitting under the same sky.
There was a glow on the horizon. "Thomas, what's that?" I said.
He didn't answer. I stared at it, and the more I stared, the more I felt hollowed out inside with the knowledge of disaster. It looked so natural, as if it were just one more of the long dance of phenomena that marked the night's progress, from the sunset to the misty sunrise; but this was a false dawn, red as throbbing blood, and the mist in the sky was smoke.
The only time I'd seen a fire before, in all my time fire-watching, it had been someone setting fire to a couple of hay-ricks. The police had caught the firebug quite quickly; it was an itinerant worker with a grudge against Ivy Carter. I tried to make it something like that again, inside my head, but I already knew it was not. It was a still night, but I could hear a thin wailing as if on the wind, like the ghosts of bells ringing. The bells of the cathedral in King's Crypt, ringing for the last time amongst the air-raid sirens. Looking back, I think it was my imagination, but it felt as real as the smoke.
"Oh, my God, get down," said Thomas sharply. He flung one arm around my back and shoved us both downwards. I was trapped between the strong smell of bear in the coat and the dry sharp smell of the stones. There was a darkness in the sky above us, blotting out the stars. I only saw a glimpse of it, but I don't think I shall ever forget. I knew what it must be like to be a bird in a nest, and see above one the silhouette of the hawk. It was just like a hawk - all outstretched wings and long mean body, and it seemed to be flying over the Castle forever. I felt as if the blood was very thick behind my eyes and in my ears, and I couldn't think at all clearly.
The ground shook like a thunderclap. The tower shook beneath us. I thought at first that the Castle had been bombed, the noise was so loud and so close. I peered out between the battlements and looked down at the village. It was all lit by a red and orange light and people were running out of the higgledy-piggledy cottages. The roof of the church was burning. The roof of the Vicarage was gone altogether, and so was half the front wall.
I felt numb inside. I knew that people died in war, of course. It had just never occurred to me that one of them might be the Vicar, and still less that another might be Simon.
I couldn't even think about Simon; I knew that if I did I wouldn't be able to get down from the tower, let alone do anything useful at the bottom of it. I found myself thinking that God couldn't be worth much, if he let the Vicar be killed after everything the Vicar had done for Him; but I knew at the back of my mind that the God who the Vicar had spent his life for was much bigger and more complicated than that, more complicated than any of us could understand. I hoped that someone could understand, somewhere; if I could only know they did, I felt I would be much more at peace with the idea that the someone wasn't me.
Thomas was already scrambling down the steps. I followed him, scuttling cautiously crabwise down the cold stone. I don't even remember how we got to the village. We must have run.
By the time we got there, Mrs Jakes was hauling the stirrup-pump out of the Red Lion with the help of a fat man in shirt-sleeves whom I didn't recognise. A lot of other people were organising a chain to stand and pass buckets. Thomas hurried over to help the fat man get the stirrup-pump working. I passed buckets with the best of them, until my arms and shoulders felt as if they had been nailed into their positions and wouldn't stir again for the Second Coming.
It was nearly dawn when we had finished fighting the fire back, and the church was still smouldering. The Vicarage had lost most of its frontage, and the rest was sagging horribly. One could see scraps of the Vicar's life everywhere - there were charred pages from his books drowned in all the puddles - though it seemed quite wrong to look. The back bedroom was quite caved in. That would have been where Simon was sleeping, of course. I felt like crying.
"You'd better sit down and have a cup of tea," said Miss Marcy at my elbow. She hesitated. "I think King's Crypt had it worse."
"I expect they did." I couldn't think of anything I wanted less than a cup of tea. "Perhaps someone mistook our church for their cathedral."
"At least the evacuees are all safe," said Miss Marcy. I felt ashamed to think that I hadn't given a single thought to the evacuees except to be glad that they weren't under my feet.
"If you don't want a cup of tea yourself, why don't you take one to the Vicar?" suggested Miss Marcy.
I thought she must be making some kind of joke; and then I saw the Vicar himself, sitting on the steps of the Red Lion wrapped in a blanket over his pyjamas and slippers. He had several cups of tea sitting un-drunk beside him, so I didn't think he would welcome another from me; though I would have given all the tea in China, as they say, I was so pleased to see him safe. "Oh, thank heaven," I said so sincerely that Miss Marcy looked quite startled. I hope she doesn't believe I am in love with the Vicar.
Because I am not. I knew that all the time I was hauling buckets, all the time my back was growing stiff and my hands and feet were growing cold, all the time the knowledge was growing inside me like the seeds of wheat under winter earth. I had missed my chance to tell Simon that the circumstances were favourable. I would never be able to tell him now.
I sat down on an overturned horse-trough that used to stand in front of the milestone in the village square - if you can call anything so higgledy-piggledy a square. I didn't know whether the horse-trough had been overturned by the raid, or whether it had been plundered for its water early on. The stars were fading, and the dawn was making its water-colour way into the sky.
The world was the emptier now, and no one else seemed to know it. Unless I wrote about it, some day - but I didn't think I would.
"But he that writes of you, if he can tell," I quoted softly to myself, from the same sonnet that Simon had quoted to me. "That you are you, so dignifies the story."
"Cassandra," said a voice behind me. A voice that sounded the vowels in my name quite beautifully, but not in any way that an Englishman ever would. I thought that I was like Jane Eyre, and hearing voices. I turned round to see whether there was a vision to go with it.
There was, and the vision was real. His hair was all on end, his beard was back - or, at least, a springy two-day growth of it, blending into an oily smudge on one of his lean cheeks - and his coat was dirty and patched with water. I think I must have leapt over the horse-trough. I flung myself into his arms. He smelled of pump-water and sweat and of the curious smell that was everywhere that morning - I later realised it must be the lead boiled from the church roof. I buried my head in his shoulder. My body just shook. He held me. I don't know how long we stood there until he tipped my chin up and turned my face to look into his.
"I tried this with Rose and it was a terrible mistake," he said. "But you're not Rose, are you? And you have to believe I never wanted you to be. You're the one I should have been saying this to, all the time. You're the one I should have wanted. The one I did want, in the end. Just let me say it once, and I'll go."
"I don't want you to go," I said shakily into his collar. "What on earth are you talking about?"
His face turned determined. Stephen could have executed that noble expression a thousand times better; but I never loved Stephen.
"Don't marry him," he said. "Have me."
"Don't marry who?" I said. "Don't tell me you think I'm in love with the Vicar? I do adore him, of course, but not the way I adore you."
It was a silly thing to say, of course, and looks even sillier written down, but it didn't feel silly at the time. It felt true and real and new - and even if it wasn't the last of those things, it made it up on the first two.
"The Vicar?" said Simon. "Good lord, you have been cutting a swathe through the village, haven't you? No, I mean that you shouldn't marry Bernard Folsom."
"Whatever made you think I would marry Bernard Folsom?" I said. "I refused him weeks ago, and he's been making himself very unpleasant ever since. As far as I'm concerned, he can't go back to Shrewsbury soon enough."
Simon looked as if a thunderbolt had struck him. I felt the muscles in his hand stiffen as it pressed into the small of my back. "He was being very unpleasant in the Red Lion yesterday, then," he said grimly. "He told me that it had all been settled between you for months, and that if I showed up for dinner I would most certainly not be welcome."
"And you believed him?" I let my breath out in a long shaky exhalation. I supposed that Simon had more reason than most people to believe it when he was told something of that nature - though it is quite a come-down from Neil to Mr. Folsom. "I will turn the stirrup-pump on Mr. Folsom when I next see him," I said fiercely.
"My own love's delight," said Simon quite ridiculously. And then he kissed me, and that wasn't ridiculous at all. That first kiss eight years ago had only been a prefiguring of this. His lips on mine, his hand tangled in the hair at the back of my neck, the rough urgent brush of his other hand against my cheek, all felt intended since the world began. My arms went up around his shoulders, and I knew that wherever my future might take me, I would have someone to walk beside me, out of the Castle and into the world.
Licence to marry: £2 2s. Simon would have paid it, but there are restrictions on how much currency Americans are allowed to bring into the country, so it came out of the fee for the story about the WAAF, which with extensive revisions has sold to Home Notes after all.
Fee to the Vicar: 7s 6d, though the Vicar tried to waive it.
Tips to the verger and bellringers at Scoatney: 7s
Copy of marriage certificate: 2s 7d
Payment from the BBC (at last!): 2 guineas, and more is expected.
Payment from Mordaunt's Magazine for first in series of articles on Nash churches: £2 2s 6d
Payment from Home Fires magazine for article on 'What To Do With Our Art Galleries In Wartime': 18s
Honorarium for speaking to Soroptimist Society: nothing, as donation to charity made instead - and the Soroptimists were a much kinder and less intimidating audience than I expected, particularly since lunch beforehand consisted of watery cream soup and almost nothing else.
I shall not need this account-book any longer, as from next week I shall be paying Gitel's sister-in-law Hanna to do my book-keeping, and also a little typing as and when needed. Me, with a secretary of my own! But I really do need one, now that I am doing so much writing and speaking. And I shall need her to help me type up my novel - for I know in my heart now that there is going to be a novel, though so far there is not very much of it at all except a couple of characters talking to one another. It will be very good to me to read it to Hanna rather than write it and type it myself, as she does not in the least mind being critical.
How different this is to the ending I gave my poor heroine in the story that sold to Home Notes! I felt very much that her marriage was the clang of the coffin-lid, and I gave no thought at all to what might happen afterwards. But there always is an afterwards, even when one closes the book.
Simon has been posted to the Continent again, and I don't expect to see him in the coming months; and then, of course, there's the thought that always hangs there unspoken, looking down on one like the gargoyle on the Castle wall, that I may never see him again. But London and I will manage, together, somehow.
And when this war ends, Scoatney will be there for us, waiting.