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Later in the Quadrant, Rix found his favourite place, the hidden little window seat in the L-shaped drawing room, drew the curtain half-closed behind him and settled down quietly with the paper he was writing for a medical journal and all his notes. Everyone else was playing cards in the dining-room or gathered in Maeve’s bedroom to admire the dress or else changing for dinner and he wanted to get his work finished before the wedding the next day.

Despite his intentions, he soon found his mind wandering and ended up gazing out of the window at the sea below, feeling drowsy. It was stuffy in the south-facing room and he had slept badly the night before. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

The sound of voices woke him and he sat up, about to declare his presence, until the sound of his own name stopped him in his tracks.

“Dick, I’ve no intention to stir everything up again – you know how sorry I am that we argued, but I wanted to ask – did Rix tell you why he didn’t want to work for me? Don’t worry, I’m not going to mention it to him, but I was – I am, rather concerned. I remember when he first started his medical training, he was very enthusiastic and then – well, he’s never given me an explanation and I wondered if he had you.”

Rix despised eavesdropping. He tried to open the sash window, but it was locked and the window key missing. He didn’t want to declare his presence and discuss the San for the hundredth time, but nor did he want to be discovered in such a dishonourable situation.

He stuffed his fingers in his ears and stayed as still as he could, hoping that they would go before Daphne came looking for him. They both spoke rather loudly and unfortunately, he could still hear them both quite clearly.

“He hasn’t mentioned anything to me or Moll.” Dick was saying, “Though I rather wanted to ask. I am concerned, he does look rather pale and I know he isn’t sleeping very well.”

“I did notice. He seems very reluctant to speak to me – and – well, I know how stressful things can be when you work in a busy hospital. It would be dreadful to see all that talent go to waste through some kind of breakdown.” Jack said.

“Do you really think that could happen?” Dick sounded extremely worried, and Rix couldn’t bear it any longer. Swallowing the anger he felt welling up inside him, mindful of what had happened last time a similar discussion had taken place, he willed himself to be calm and not lose his temper. After taking a few deep breaths, he jumped down from the window seat and walked determinedly to face them.

“I’m sorry, I must’ve dozed off on the window seat – I was just doing some work.” He said, trying to sound friendly and unconcerned. “I haven’t missed dinner, have I?”

“No.” Dick looked from his son to his brother-in-law in dismay. “It’s only six and we won’t eat till eight tonight.”

“I couldn’t help overhearing. I didn’t mean to listen…”

“We really should have a proper talk.” Jack said, taking charge. “Clear the air completely.”

“All right.” Rix said, realising that it was inevitable.

“Why don’t you go into the Library? You can talk quite privately in there.” Dick said, encouragingly. “Do you want me to come with you?”

“I think it’s better if Rix and I...” Jack began.

“I was talking to my son.” Dick said, becoming annoyed with Jack’s imperious manner.

“No, it’s fine, Dad. I’ll come and have a chat with you before dinner, OK?”

“I’ll look forward to it.” Dick said, and left them.

Rix pushed open the door to the rarely used Library, and sat down at the large table. Jack sat opposite him, for a few moments they sat in silence

“I’ll tell you why I can’t join the San.” Rix said, finally. “I don’t expect you’ll understand.”

“Why don’t you try me? I might.” Jack said, for once sounding sympathetic, almost the old Uncle Jack to whom Rix remembered confiding all his childhood problems.

“All right, I’ll tell you.” Rix said, reluctantly. “You see, I’m a socialist. I don’t agree with private medicine, I don’t see why you should charge vast amounts of money to treat your patients and I don’t want to be part of it.” He spoke frankly.

Too frankly. Jack started to look annoyed. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” He replied, “No, let me speak now. There’s a simple, economic reason why I charge my patients, I have a family to provide for. Anyway,” he continued in tones of scorn, “How can you reconcile being a socialist with your public school education? Your being your father’s heir to all this? You’re talking absolute rubbish.”

“I’m not. None of that matters. I’ve been going to the Marxist Society meetings, and we - ”

“Of course it matters! That’s what your working class friends want, to pull down all of this and have us all living in slums! Are you completely ignorant of current affairs – Russia, Hungary? I’ve never heard such utter rubbish!”

“You can insult me all you like, but I am not leaving the NHS. I said I would help people and I will. I’m not working for you and that’s the end of the matter. I don’t want to fall out again over this, so please don’t ask me ever again.”

“I don’t see how you working yourself into a nervous breakdown for nothing will help anyone.”

“Don’t call my patients nothing. How many people have you turned away because they couldn’t afford treatment?”

“I’ve never turned away a patient, Richard. I’m not a complete monster, despite your charming opinion of me. The San has taken on plenty of charity cases…”

“But it shouldn’t be charity! People should be entitled to healthcare – it shouldn’t just be a privilege for those who can afford to pay for it.”

“Fine. I won’t ask you again.” Jack said, “I can’t say I’m not disappointed, but – you’ve heard it all before. I am glad you could give me a proper explanation, even if we will have to agree to disagree.”

Rix nodded, then spoke,

“Uncle Jack – can I just ask, why did you want me to join the San? I mean me, specially. I’m not a thoracic surgeon…”

Jack sighed. “I need new ideas as well as someone who will help me with the finances. I know you helped your father out of the mess he was in and - I don’t know. I suppose I always saw you running the San after me. I don’t think any of my sons will take up medicine and Margot couldn’t run it.”

“I’m sorry.” Rix said, then he looked up at Jack. “Are you in trouble financially?”

“Not yet, but we will be before long. I have less than seventy cases of TB, mostly elderly folk who left it till it was almost too late before they sought treatment. Most of them are terminal… Contrary to what you’re thinking, I have been using the latest treatments. Nevertheless, I expect they will be the last and we will have to change our focus or close. I’m not worried about myself, I have a decent pension and we have your Aunt Jo’s income, but the younger doctors – they would all lose their jobs… Promise me you won’t mention this to your Aunt Jo or any of the children.”

“I’ll come out and visit and see if there’s any way I can help, if you want.” Rix offered, reluctantly, but not liking seeing his uncle so clearly at the end of his tether. “I can’t promise I will be able to help, but if I had a clearer idea of what you needed, I could speak to a few people. Could I look at your books?”

“Of course! Thank you. When can you come?”

“August, maybe. I’ll write and let you know.”

“That would be marvellous. Look, I’m sorry I said those things. You are entitled to hold your own beliefs. But socialism… I didn’t expect that. Have you stopped going to church? What does your father say, or doesn’t he know?”

“I will tell him – and you can tell him that I’m not having a nervous breakdown. I’m not and it’s not good to worry him,” like you did last time went unsaid.

“I’ll tell him I was wrong, but you do look very pale. I can give you some sleeping tablets if you want?”

“I’m fine. Look, it’s getting late and I have to change – I’ll have to go.”

“Wait, Rix – I’m glad we straightened it out. I really am.”

“Me too.” Rix said shortly, before he left Jack in the Library. He ran his father down in his dressing room, where he was changing.

“Sit down, how did things go?” Dick asked at once.

“All right.”

“Come on, are you going to Switzerland or aren’t you?”

“Just for a week, to help him out. He said he’s struggling, but don’t tell anyone. Don’t tell Aunt Jo, will you?”

“I don’t want you throwing away a perfectly decent job to work for Jack Maynard if it’s financially insecure…”

“I’m not. It’ll only be a week. It’s not about the money, anyway, is it? It’s about doing the right thing.” Rix hunted in his pockets for his cigarettes. “That’s what you always told us.”

“True. But you know that your mother and I only want you to be happy. Are you happy?”

“I’m fine.” Rix said, although Mary-Lou’s face crossed his mind at once. He wanted to confide in his father, but his habitual reserve stopped him doing so.

“Only you come home at weekends and you seem exhausted, but I hear you moving around in your room until the early hours. You smoke too much and don’t eat enough… You don’t need to do any more than you’re doing, you know. Jack said something about a breakdown and - ”

“I’m just busy, I’ve just taken my final assessments for the MRCS and I’m doing a lot of research on top of my normal shifts. It won’t last forever.”

“Good. Come on, you’d better change. The dinner bell will go in a few minutes.”

“There’s something else I should tell you.” Rix repeated what he had told Jack. The bell rang for dinner before he had finished, but neither of them paid any attention.

~

“Why are you so late, Rix?” Daphne asked at once, in her usual loud tones.

“Ssh, Daph… “ Rix sat down in between his sisters as unobtrusively as possible while his father sat down at the head of the table, still frowning thunderously.

“Are you in trouble?” Daphne persisted, while Bride looked at him in concern.

“No, don’t be silly.” Rix said at once, pushing the food around on his plate. It had been a very trying twenty minutes’ discussion with his father who had taken the news worse than Jack had and said some very cutting things. Their lateness to dinner had aroused some notice.

Rayner was sat on the other side of Daphne. He leaned back and raised an eyebrow in inquiry but Rix ignored him.

Mary-Lou was sitting fairly near by, and she too was looking at him with a question in her eyes. He sighed, now she knew he was in yet another family row.

“What are the plans for tonight?” he asked Bride quickly, before Daphne could burst out with another question.

“Nothing, really. Most people are having early nights. We might have some singing in the drawing room, but I don’t expect it’ll go on for long. Joining us?”

“You’ve heard me sing before, you can’t want to inflict that on everyone.” Rix said, distractedly, watching his father talking to his mother.

“You could accompany.” Bride persisted.

“I’ve got work to do and I’m exhausted, please, Bride. I’m sure you can get someone else to do it.”

“Fine.” Bride snapped, snubbed, and turned to make small talk with David on her left, who looked amused at the squabble.

Rix thought the meal would never end, when at last the ladies retired to the drawing room, he made his excuses and left too.

Annoyed with himself because he’d left his notes on the window seat in the drawing-room and seeing no way of retrieving them without being asked to play the piano, he pulled off his tie and left via the kitchen door to walk along the cliffs.

He had barely reached the kitchen garden gate, when someone called his name. He cursed, the last thing he wanted now was more conversation.

“Richard! Where are you going?” Francis Rayner caught up with him and grinned. “There’s a great furore going on in your drawing-room, I never knew you were in such demand as a pianist.”

“I’m going for a walk.” Rix said, shortly.

“You’re sulking.” Rayner seemed amused. “Why? What’s wrong?” he suddenly frowned, “Is it that idiot uncle of yours going on about that blasted clinic of his?”

“No – oh no, I said I’d go out there … No, now it’s my father. I told him the real reason why I didn’t want to join the San and he – just took off. Now I’m the stupid child that didn’t have the sense to jump at Uncle Jack’s job offer and even worse, a Communist as well. He’s done a complete U-turn, 360 degrees… What?”

“You mean 180 degrees.” Rayner grinned. “Go on.”

Rix managed to smile. “No, it’s too depressing. Please tell me they didn’t send you to fetch me back?”

“No, I said we had to work matters to discuss. As we have. Where are we walking?”

“Along the cliffs and maybe to the village.” Rix said, vaguely.

“Did you say you were going out to Switzerland? Please tell me I misheard.”

“No, I said I’d go out there for a week or so, in August. He said he’s got financial difficulties, and it might mean that they’d all lose their jobs. Look, Frank – I know what you’re going to say, but some of the doctors out there are people I’ve known for years, or family – Laurie Rosomon was pretty decent to me when I was first training. And, well, Jack is my uncle isn’t he? I do owe him something.”

“A week maybe, not your whole career, wasting your time in the back of beyond, treating rich old dears wanting a holiday in the Alps with large legacies to leave your crumbling Sanatorium…”

They walked to the village pub and Rayner bought them some whisky. Rix told him the full story of the discussion with his father, knowing that Rayner himself was rather socialist in outlook. To his surprise, Rayner was not very sympathetic.

“Let me get this straight – you told your father, who spent twenty years working for the gain of the British Empire in India, who sent you to public school, who owns a great deal of land – that you are not only a socialist, but a Marxist too? No wonder he was upset with you. Can’t you see it? It’s setting yourself up as the exact opposite of him and incredibly ungrateful to boot.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. It does seem like that, but I didn’t mean to – It didn’t occur to me. I don’t see Dad like that…”

“I’m sure he’ll come round, he seems a reasonable sort. I’ll speak to him if you like. But cut down your hours, take a few weekends off to spend time with your family, won’t you? That’s probably my greatest regret, that I spent too much time at work and not enough with Elizabeth or Michael when they were alive.”

“Of course… thanks for listening. Would - you speak to Dad?”

“If you want me to. If we go head back now I expect he’ll still be around. You don’t want this sort of family tension at a wedding, you know.”

“I know. Thanks.”

They walked back to the Quadrant, mostly in silence. Mary-Lou saw them return out of the drawing-room window and found herself compelled to excuse herself and go to meet them.

She found them both smoking in a small sitting-room off the main hallway.

“Hello.” She said, self-consciously, smoothing down the skirt of her dramatic, dark red dress. “I saw you from the window. Is everything all right? You looked rather bothered at dinner. I don’t mean to pry, but… I’m sorry, I am prying.” She stopped talking, aware of Rayner looking at her with some confusion.

“Of course not.” Rix said at once, “I’m fine, thanks.”

“We had to discuss something privately, so we went to the village.” Rayner added. “Miss Trelawney – Mary-Lou, I mean, I wonder, have we met previously? I don’t mean in the Savoy, but I do seem to remember that striking dress.”

Mary-Lou looked up at him and Rix’s words came back, that Rayner was a friend of Gerard’s, that he knew him from school. She felt hot, then cold. In a second he would figure out where he had seen her, on Gerard’s arm at a dinner dance or reception and Rix would find out and he would think the worst of her.

“I-I don’t think so… These dresses must be ten-a-penny…” she managed.

“Are you all right? Here, sit down, you’re as white as a sheet.” Rix said at once. “I’ll fetch you some water.”

“I’ll be fine. I just – I’m rather tired.” Mary-Lou replied, sitting down.

Rayner looked at her and then realised where he had seen her before. Not looking so terrible as she did now, but calm, collected and really rather beautiful; so obviously with Gerard Ellingham at the Cartwrights’ last party.

Mary-Lou caught his eye and she knew that he knew. Tears welled up in her eyes, knowing that he would undoubtedly tell Rix she had had an affair with a married man.

Rayner offered her a cigarette.

“I must be mistaken,” he said, politely. “I think, as you say, I just remember a similar dress from a dinner I went to at the Royal College of Surgeons.”

“No thanks, I’d better think about going upstairs. I’m rather tired.”

Rix came back with the water. Rayner watched him and put two and two together.

“I think an early night would be a good idea,” he said, finally. “Things always look better in the morning, don’t they? If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just go and have a word with your father, Richard. Goodnight to you both.”

“Goodnight.” Rix said, watching Mary-Lou also make her farewells and escape up to her bedroom. After a few minutes, he turned off the sitting-room lights and went upstairs to his own room.



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