At the end of a hard day's ride, they came at last to their night's resting-place, an abandoned farmhouse in the valley. The setting sun shone on a walled orchard full of pear trees, gilding the fruit that hung heavy on the boughs. Major Grant dismounted with an exclamation of delight and set about pulling the ripe fruit from the trees.
“What will you cook them with?” asked Strange, who doubted the farmhouse would provide what was needed here. He did not intend to eat any of the fruit: stewed pears reminded him of his childhood and attendant bellyaches.
“Cook them?” Grant exclaimed in astonishment. “You don't cook pears like these, Merlin. It would be a sacrilege.”
“You would not eat them raw, surely?” said Strange, horrified. Uncooked fruit was baneful to health, as every Englishman knew. Grant was a Scotchman originally, of course, and one did not quite know what wild things might occur north of the Border.
“Would I not?” Grant said, laughing, a pear in each hand. He threw one to Strange, who put out his hand and caught it as instinctively as if it had been a cricket ball.
Strange sniffed cautiously at the golden fruit. It smelt good, rich and perfumed in a way the hard green pears in his father's garden never had. They had remained viciously indigestible even after long hours of cooking, and had tasted of nothing at the last. He looked sceptically at Grant: he was getting better at knowing when Grant was teasing him, which these days was pretty often, but Grant could still catch him out on occasion.
Grant was evidently not teasing, however. He sank his teeth into the fruit he was holding, and groaned with pleasure.
“Is it so good?” asked Strange, mildly incredulous.
For answer Grant only groaned again, and went on eating with evident delight.
The pear must be very ripe, Strange thought; Grant's mouth and chin were wet with juice. He was shaken with a violent desire to lick it off Grant, which filled his mind with a riot of images. It was impossible to hear those groans, to see Grant's shining face and not to imagine him indulging in quite other kinds of carnal ecstasy. It was also, Strange found, impossible not to want to know if those wild imaginings were correct, if Grant's appetite for the pleasures of the flesh would draw those same sounds from him in bed. Strange breathed hard, and attempted to compose himself, thanking heaven that Grant was apparently unaware of the effect he was having on him.
“Dear god, that was good,” Grant said, finishing his pear and tossing the core over the orchard wall. “It's been too long.”
He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and grinned at Strange. The glint in his eyes suggested he had perhaps not been so oblivious after all, and that his thoughts were tending in the same direction as Strange's.
“Your turn now, Merlin,” he said. “You will never think of pears in the same way again, I promise you.”
In this, as in so much else, Major Grant turned out to be quite correct.