|“Are you worried about Uncle Jack and Auntie Jo coming this afternoon?”|
Rix looked up from the newspaper he had been frowning over and shook his head.
“No, honestly. Don’t worry, Maeve, I promise I’ll be on my best behaviour when they arrive, OK?”
“Well, there must be something wrong.” Maeve persisted, squeezing herself onto the window seat next to him. “You’re moping around like anything. What’s the matter?”
“Oh, nothing really. Just – work stuff. Sorry. I’ll try to cheer up. What plans have you made for today?”
“Well, I’m picking the Maynards up from Sheepheys in ten minutes, then later we thought we could all go down to the beach – us lot anyway, I don’t think Daddy or Mummy will want to come. We could have a swim and a picnic tea. Con’s coming, I expect she’ll want to swim too, and the Wintertons and Mary-Lou. Will you join us?”
“Sure. Who else is going?”
“Everyone, even Daffy. I told her about the bathing in Lake Thun and she’s desperate to learn to swim before she goes to the Chalet School.”
“Daphne’s not going to Switzerland, Maeve. Don’t get her hopes up, it’s not fair.”
“She’s nine soon, that’s old enough for St Agnes’s.” Maeve argued, “But, anyway, Mary-Lou’s going to teach her, she used to win the Swimming cup every year when we were at school.”
“Did you ask Dan Lyndhurst?”
“Yes, he can’t play cricket, but he said he’ll umpire. And Bride’s coming, but she says she’ll just watch and paddle. It’s such a lovely day, we can’t not spend it outside. My last full day at the Quadrant…” Maeve looked wistful. “I wish Maurice was here.”
Rix put his arm around her, “I bet he wishes he was here too. He’ll be back soon though. I’ll write and tell him all about tomorrow and send him the photos, OK? I know how you feel, sometimes I wish Peg wasn’t so far away.”
“Thanks, Rix. You always know the right thing to say.” Maeve said, smiling.
“I wish I did! Come on, I’ll come with you to the station.”
Mary-Lou was pleased about the beach picnic. It had been nearly a year since she’d had time to go swimming. She walked down the steep path to the beach with John Bettany, who was pointing out all the good places from which to dive.
“The cliffs are low about three hundred yards that way – see? We’ve all dived from there before, and that big rock over there is good as well. We’ll have some races later as well.” He told her.
Mary-Lou remembered the cave. She had discussed it with John earlier that morning but forgotten to ask him where the second tunnel went.
“John – where does that other tunnel lead? It seems to fork off, with one road leading onto the cliffs. We never got chance to explore the other one. Do you know?”
“I’ll show you.” John laughed, “It’s really odd actually, it leads to the cellar of the Quadrant. I told Dad, years ago but he said not to mention it to the others in case the kids went exploring and got hurt. I’d forgotten about it actually, I think it must’ve been an old smugglers’ tunnel at one time. There’s a door made of really thick wood, but the lock was completely rotted away. I can’t believe you got Rix to go down there, you know.”
“I don’t think he ever will again!” Mary-Lou smiled.
“I don’t know. He might if you ask him,” John said, looking directly at her and grinning.
“I don’t know what you mean.” Mary-Lou said at once.
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll show you the cave properly on Sunday afternoon, if you want.” John wondered if the wild theory Maeve had told him about Mary-Lou and Rix was correct after all.
Rix drove his father’s car to the station with Maeve in the passenger seat and Freddie in the back. It would be a squash going back, but Maeve had wanted Jo to meet her fiancÚ as soon as possible.
It was a disappointment when they realised that Jack, Felicity and Con had come without Joey. Maeve’s face fell almost comically.
After the introductions, Jack explained that much as Jo had been longing to come to the wedding, they were now grandparents and Jo had wanted to stay with Len.
“A lovely baby girl – nine pounds and healthy. We’ve brought some snaps, haven’t we Con? Len and Reg have called her Laura Emily, to be known as Laura.” Jack explained, “She is sorry, Maeve, she was so torn between wanting to come to your wedding and wanting to stay with Len and our granddaughter. She’s given me a letter for you.”
“It’s fine, I understand.” Maeve said at once. “Can you all squish into the car? Uncle Jack, if you go into the front, I’ll sit on Freddie’s knee.”
Jack got into the car and nodded at Rix.
“Nice to see you again,” he said, trying hard to sound friendly. Rix relaxed slightly.
“You too,” he replied, and the six of them were able to discuss the new Entwistle baby all the way back to the Quadrant.
Rix walked down to the beach with Daphne running on ahead of him. She was full of excitement at having so many people to talk to and didn’t want to waste a second of the day. He heard footsteps behind him and turned round.
It was David, running to catch him up.
“Hi! Wait for me – I didn’t know you’d left until Aunt Mollie told me. Is everyone down there now?”
“I think so. Here, take this flask, will you? I can manage the rest.”
David took the coffee flask from him. “I saw Mary-Lou go down earlier with Jackie. Did you get chance to speak to her yet? Or do you know if Maeve did?”
“I think you should speak to her yourself. Things get too confused if other people get involved.” Rix said and to his relief, David seemed to accept this.
“I suppose – if you spoke to her she might think you were the one who wanted to propose!” He joked, laughing. “Hey, careful, now you’ve dropped the mugs. Good job they’re plastic.”
“Are you going to propose?” Rix asked, as he picked up the items he’d dropped. “I didn’t think – that you were that serious about her.”
“I think I might be.” David said, easily. “Come on, look, they’re all in the sea already.”
Mary-Lou, having swum quite far away from the others, squinted against the sun and saw David and Rix preparing to swim out and join the others. Daphne was waiting at the water’s edge, letting the tide wet her toes but unwilling to paddle out.
Mary-Lou watched David swim over to the group without sparing a glance at Daphne, in direct contrast to Rix who went over to the little girl at once. She was touched at how considerate Rix was.
“Mary-Lou! Fancy a race? “ David asked, surfacing right next to her.
“I’m going to teach Daphne how to swim now, but definitely later.” She replied, pleasantly.
“Oh, she’s fine. Look, Rix is dealing with her. We won’t get the chance later.” He said, frowning slightly.
“I promised her, David. She’s only little. Look, she’s waving to me. I’ll see you later.” Mary-Lou was a powerful swimmer, and faster than David. He half-heartedly tried to chase her, but considered teaching Daphne too boring and swam away to talk to Lalla and Polly.
Daphne had been persuaded to wade out so the water level was at her waist, but both her eyes were screwed tightly shut and she was clinging to Rix’s hand.
“Hi Rix.” Mary-Lou said, awkwardly. She cringed to remember how she had fled in the taxi outside the hospital. “How are you getting on, Daphne?”
“It’s cold!” Daphne squealed. “And the water keeps trying to knock me over. Will it be this cold when I go to the Chalet School?”
“We haven’t made much progress.” Rix said, laughing.
“Mary-Lou promised to teach me. Will you, please, Mary-Lou?”
“Only if you open your eyes.” Mary-Lou said, promptly, motioning for Rix to let go of Daphne’s hand. The two of them spent the next half hour or so teaching Daphne intensively, and at the end of it she could swim two or three stokes, only doggy paddle, but unaided. Her small face glowed with triumph.
“What do you say, Daph?” Rix said, splashing her. He was stood waist-deep in the sea, and Mary-Lou turned to look at him, noticing that the cuts and bruises on his side had healed to practically nothing. He caught her eye.
“Thanks, Mary-Lou.” Daphne said, before running out of the sea towards Freddie, who was waving a bucket and spade at her.
“Your side – how is it?” Mary-Lou asked, feeling awkward.
“Oh, it’s completely fine.” He replied, sensing her awkwardness and wondering why. “It hurt for a day or two, but honestly, I’m fine now.”
“I’m glad.” Mary-Lou said, “Is your girlfriend coming to the wedding?”
“I don’t have one of those.” Rix said, laughing. “No girl would ever put up with the hours I work...”
“Rix – who was that girl you were with – outside your hospital? I-I saw you, a few weeks ago. It was the day you brought that gold cigarette lighter to the Museum.” Mary-Lou asked.
He frowned, remembering how she had fled. “I was going to ask you about that – you seemed so – there’s nothing wrong, is there?”
“What do you mean, is nothing wrong? I don’t understand.”
“Well – you dashed off like that – and, it is a hospital. I didn’t – I was concerned you’d had bad news.”
“Oh, heavens, no. No, honestly! I-I, well, I’d had a bad day and I just wanted to go home. I was appallingly rude not to say hello, I am sorry.”
“It’s fine – the girl I was with, that was Gina. She’s a nurse at the hospital, and my former girlfriend. We’re just friends now.” Rix wondered if this was an opportunity to ask Mary-Lou about what her colleague and Gerard Ellingham had hinted.
“Your ex – I see.” Mary-Lou ducked under the water to hide her blushes. She knew he was telling the truth. She wondered what he would say if he knew she’d spent the last two years having an affair with a married man.
Rix swore under his breath as he saw David swimming over to them. He wasn’t in the mood to listen to David’s flirting. David always knew how to talk to women when Rix ended up tongue-tied and coming across as aloof and far too serious.
When David reached them, he made his excuses and swam back to the beach, where he joined Freddie, Daphne and Daniel, who were making a sandcastle. It was only later on, as they were all returning to the Quadrant after a picnic and a riotous game of cricket, that it occurred to him to wonder why Mary-Lou had asked her question.