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John left his parents and after a few words with his brother-in-law, joined Geoff for a while.

“Having a good time?” he enquired with a smile.

“Rather. It’s smashing, isn’t it? Are you leaving?”

“Well, I’ll stay another half-hour. I might go back to the Quadrant, mind the kids so Rix can stay.”

“Aren’t you waiting so we can see the surprise guest?”

“I suppose so.” John had forgotten.

“Oh ‘scuse me,” Geoff darted away. John smiled and went to ask Maurice’s girlfriend, who looked very uncomfortable, if she would like to dance.

"You dance really well," she said, surprised. He smiled, knowing that she was comparing him with Maurice, who avoided dancing wherever possible.

"They made us learn at Dartmouth," he explained. "For all those officers' balls I now try and avoid."

"Do you? I hadn’t realised it would be this grand,” she confessed, as he led her around the room. “My dress…”

“You look lovely,” John said politely. She didn’t look much different to the other ladies in the room, but it was clear she was ill at ease, and Maurice wasn’t reassuring her.

She seemed pleased by his compliment. He answered her questions about the Navy as well as he could and delivered her back to his brother. On his way back to join his parents, he noticed to whom Geoff was speaking and froze.

“I didn’t hear the man say your name,” Geoff was speaking and his clear tones carried.

“The toastmaster? Oh no, I came in the back way. There’s some people here I’d rather avoid,” Daniel laughed, his handsome face lighting up.

“Who?” Geoff asked, but Daniel just shook his head.

“When do you go back to school, then?” he asked, changing the subject. John saw him carry out a quick scan of the room while Geoff chattered on. He wondered if it were he that Daniel wanted to avoid. He rather suspected so. It had been ill-mannered of him to invite Daniel to go out in the boat and then not turn up, and since that day, avoid him, but he felt awkward now and it was easier not to go over and make conversation. He turned and headed out into the gardens for some fresh air.

He sat on a bench and lit a cigarette, loosening his tie. The night was mild, but with an autumnal chill in the air, the end of summer. Not the best summer he’d ever had, and with the prospect of a difficult deployment ahead, but he felt better than when he had first arrived. He sighed and leaned back, closing his eyes, trying not to worry about things that were beyond his power to change.

“John? Oh, no, he’s still here.” The words floated over to him, the speaker – David – clearly hadn’t realised he was there. “He’s around somewhere – with Maurice and his girl, I think.”

“Good. I wasn’t sure if he’d left already.” Daniel replied.

“No. Is he all right, do you know?

“Oh, fine. Did you see the minutes of the last committee meeting? I expect it’ll raise some hackles. I rather thought Freddie would invite Jennings here this evening and I couldn’t bear to go over it all now.” Daniel changed the subject, adroitly, obviously to a meeting they had attended. David was interested and spoke at length about their mutual acquaintance, it was clear that neither of them thought much of him. John decided to go over and speak to them, apologise to Daniel and then go back to the Quadrant.

“Hello,” He joined them, self-consciously.

“Hello, we wondered where you’d gone. Smashing party, isn’t it? I saw you dancing with Susie.”

“Yes.” John couldn’t think of anything to say.

“When do you go?” Daniel asked, politely but rather distantly, John thought.

“The end of next week.”

“You might look more cheerful about it,” David remarked.

“I’m not looking forward to it.” John said, a mistake, as they both looked at each other, then at him with concern. “Well, that is, it’s going to be a bore. And open-ended operations are not very good for morale,” he hastily added, aware that he was talking rubbish, or sounding very pompous, or both.

“I wouldn’t imagine they are,” Daniel said, looking away, John glanced at him, was he laughing? His cheeks flamed. David yawned.

“I’m going to see if Maeve’s brought out her friend, yet. See you later, Lyndhurst. And you too, Jackie.”

“See you next week,” Daniel said.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been round,” John said, stuffing his hands into his pockets. There really was a bitter chill in the air, which seemed to match the atmosphere. “I haven’t really had much time…”

“I’ve been in London. I left you a note with Mrs Collins. It was urgent, otherwise I would have stayed.” Daniel said, in much friendlier tones. “I should have written to the Quadrant, you must think me rude.”

“No,” John said, relaxing slightly.

“Why do they call you Jackie? Is it a nickname?”

“Not any more, they called me that when I was small. I hate it.”

“It’s not so bad.”

“I should go back – I don’t want to stay too late.”

“Me neither. I’ll give you a lift – it’s on the way after all. I suppose we should wait to see this guest of honour.” Daniel smiled.

Freddie Brentford was giving a speech. John took the flute of champagne that the waitress offered and leaned against the wall to listen. It was about his new company and how he welcomed the shareholders but John wasn’t very interested, so he allowed his attention to wander. He could see Maeve talking to a blonde girl who without being pretty, was nevertheless attractive, and on the other side of her was his sister-in-law, who was laughing with her husband’s arm around her.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” Rix whispered.

“Ssh,” Mary-Lou hissed, but she was smiling. “It was a surprise. I’ve missed you, you know. You haven’t said hello to Emmy yet.”

“Hello,” Rix held out his hand, but he couldn’t place the girl, who appeared about the same age as his wife.

“Emerence Hope,” she grinned. “I was at school with Mary-Lou and Maeve.”

“John, you remember Emerence, don’t you, she’s Margot’s best friend.” Maeve brought her guest of honour over to them.

“Of course, hello.” John had a vague recollection of the Australian girl.

“And this is my husband’s cousin, Dr Lyndhurst. Daniel, this is Emerence Hope, she was at school with me.”

“How do you do.”

“Emmy will be working with Freddie on something exciting to do with the business.” Maeve added.

“Oh, hush darling, that’s not exactly common knowledge just yet.” Freddie ruffled his wife’s elegantly arranged hair, much to her fury. “But yes, it is rather exciting. Dan, you’ll have to know, I suppose. We’ll have a chat later.”

“I can’t stay, I’m afraid, I’ve an early start tomorrow, but yes, give me a ring. I’m at Candlebury for a while longer.”

“I thought I might go back to the Quadrant, you can have my room here.” John said to Rix and Mary-Lou. “I can babysit the kids till you come back tomorrow.”

“Are you sure?”

“I wouldn’t offer if I wasn’t.” John smiled.

“It would be nice to stay for a while,” Mary-Lou said, as her husband put an arm around her shoulders. “If you’re sure you don’t mind. We will be back early tomorrow. I want to see the boys.”

“Thanks, Jack.” Rix looked pleased.

“Do you still want that lift?” Daniel asked. “I’m probably going in half-an-hour.”

“That’s very kind of you.”

“No problem.” Daniel smiled.

“Daniel – I didn’t think you’d be here.” A man of about Maurice’s age joined them. He was biting his lip. “Can we talk?”

“Excuse me, please,” Daniel did not seem happy, the glance he gave his acquaintance was almost hostile. John left them and decided to have another flute of champagne, as he would not now have to drive. He crossed the room to talk with David, Emerence and Maeve, who was talking about the children, but he watched Daniel talking to the stranger and wondered if it was the man from the committee. He rather thought not.

“Your parents have invited me to stay at the Quadrant, it’s very kind of them,” Emerence said, after a few minutes of general conversation with him and Maeve. “I’m going to be in England for about six weeks. I expected to have to put up in a hotel.”

“No, we wouldn’t let you do that,” John smiled, knowing that his mother would love to have Emerence stay with them and it would distract her from Daphne being in Switzerland and him in Africa. “Maeve – do you know who that is?”

“Who? Oh, I can’t remember his name – I think he’s friends with Daniel. He works for Freddie.” Maeve frowned. “I don’t know. Should I go and rescue Daniel, do you think? Gosh – do you think he’s ill?”

“I’d say drunk,” Emerence said, as they watched the young man, unsteady on his feet, grip Daniel’s arm to get his point across. “Oh dear.”

“Maybe I should show him out,” John saw that Daniel was trying to disentangle himself without causing even more than a scene.”

“Yes – go and help, will you? I think he does work for Freddie, don’t let him see, or he’ll be furious… Don’t let the shareholders see, will you?”

“No, don’t worry,” John left them and went over. “Need a hand?” he asked, calmly.

“It’s fine. We’re just going outside for some fresh air, aren’t we, Charles?” Daniel looked grim. “Come on, we can talk in the garden.” He looked at John and the two of them managed to manoeuvre Charles out of the room without anyone seeing.

“I’ll leave you to it…” John said, as Daniel thanked him, abstractedly.

“He works in Freddie’s office,” Maeve said, she had been waiting for him by the doors, which were all flung open despite the autumnal chill. She shivered and her brother hastened her inside. “Is he all right?”

“He’s being ill… I’m sure it’s fine. I’ve been to hundreds of parties where this sort of thing happens, people just have too much to drink. Cheer up. I meant to ask if Primula was coming tonight?”

“No, Robert’s got a cold and she wanted to stay with him. He’s not very strong, you know.” Maeve was distracted, as he had intended for her to be.

“I’ll have to see them before I sail. Would you like a drink?” He delivered her back to Maurice and went to collect some more champagne, checking his watch and wondering if they would be leaving in half-an-hour after all. Daniel was still outside, but he could always borrow David’s car.

However, once he had made his farewells and headed outside, David’s car keys in his hand, he found Daniel waiting for him.

“I asked my driver to take Charles home, I thought it was best,” he said, apologetically, but John nodded.

“Loveday, our maid, is staying to look after the triplets, but only until midnight. I can drop you on the way,” he said.

“Thank you,” Daniel got into the car and as John, cautious at the speed that David’s car could reach, turned somewhat experimentally down the drive, he started to speak.

“I do apologise. He’s young and had far too much to drink. Thanks for helping me get him out of there before my cousin saw.”

“Fred? What would he do?”

“Oh, nothing, but it would just be awkward. And Charles does work for him.”

“I won’t have time to say anything to your cousin, I’m off at the end of next week to look over my ship, then we sail mid-October. Besides, it’s none of my business, is it?”

“I suppose not, but I thought I owed you some kind of explanation.” John had built up his speed on the road and Daniel had to yell over the wind. “Look,” he said, clearly exasperated, “Pull over, won’t you? This is ridiculous.” And when John obliged, turning round to protest that they would be late; Daniel scowled fiercely and told him that they would not be going anywhere until they had talked properly.



John left the engine running, feeling a touch apprehensive.

“Is he your lover?” he heard himself ask, although he hadn’t intended to be so blunt. “David and Rix said…”

He stopped when Daniel leaned over and turned the engine off, then for some moments sat very still. An owl hooted from somewhere, across Exmoor, breaking the silence.

“No,” Daniel said, sharply. “He’s a mixed-up child who doesn’t know what he wants. I’m certainly not about to take advantage of anyone.”

“No, of course not, but, you are…”

“What did your brother and David Russell say?”

John told him, “I hadn’t realised,” he added.

“Is this why you’ve been avoiding me?”

“I really should get back to the Quadrant.” John didn’t want to answer that; his own feelings were too confused to articulate. He hadn’t for a second imagined that David had been right. It’s just too confusing…

“What is?” Daniel asked, and John realised that he had spoken aloud.

“I’m sorry, I was avoiding you. It was because – do you remember when we were at the Admiralty and you said that people only try suicide because of debts or – or the end of a relationship, and I said I didn’t have any debts?”

“I remember,” Daniel said, briefly.

“And I didn’t really have a relationship, either. Not since years ago anyway, and that wasn’t anything real. It was…”

“Unrequited?”

“No, it just didn’t matter to him.”

“Will you tell this to Toby Forrest before you go back? It will help, you know.”

“I’m telling you.”

“I’m not your doctor. I can’t be.”

“I’m not telling you as my doctor.” John’s knuckles were white, he was gripping the steering wheel.

Daniel reached out and covered his hand with his, “Come back to my house,” he said, quietly.

“I can’t. I have to get back to the Quadrant. The triplets…”

“Of course.”

“They’ll be asleep – it’ll just be me. Would you come? We could – talk.”

“So we could,” Daniel grinned. “You look scared half to death, though.”

John managed a laugh. “It’s been a while since I’ve done anything like this.”

“I’d be glad to come to the Quadrant.” Daniel changed the subject. “What time is the family home tomorrow morning?”

“Mary-Lou said early… nine or so? The kids wake up at the crack of dawn though. I know Maurice is leaving the milking to Jake.”

“Well, then…” Daniel reached over to look at John’s watch. “It’s quarter to. We should go.” He moved his hand up John’s arm and drew him closer, “In a minute or two.”

*

“You scared me!” Loveday said, breathlessly and accusingly, as John opened the unlocked kitchen door. “I didn’t hear you…”

“Sorry, Loveday… How are you getting home?”

“I didn’t know you were so keen to be rid of me,” Loveday huffed, but she was already pulling on her coat. “Ben’s collecting me, he’s just gone to bring the car round. Come in before you freeze to death. Oh, I’m sorry, Dr Lyndhurst, I didn’t see you there.”

“You and Cookie aren’t here tomorrow, are you?” John asked, as Loveday searched for her handbag.

“No, lovey, Cook’s not back till Tuesday now. Will you be able to get breakfast for yourself and the little ones?”

“Oh, I’ll manage. Thanks, Loveday, see you soon.” John shut the kitchen door after her, and locked it, then put David’s car keys on the table.

“Would you like a drink?” he asked.

“I would, thank you.”

“Come to the drawing room, I think Dad’s got some whiskey somewhere. Or something, anyway.”

“You won’t be able to drive me home if you have anything,” Daniel said, with a smile. “They’ve tightened up the drink driving laws.”

“I thought you might like to stay…”

“I would. Very much.”



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