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It was the sun rising that woke John the next morning, they had left the curtain open. He blinked, then moved out from under the weight of Daniel’s arm and got out of bed, locating his clothes and dressing quietly but quickly. They had slept in a guest bedroom, the one that his Aunt Bridget had used when she had lived at the Quadrant, as the door locked and was therefore triplet-proof, unlike his own.

Daniel stirred, but he didn’t wake. John stood for a moment, looking down at him as he buttoned his shirt. Should he wake him to explain, or would it be better to slip away? It could be awkward, he suspected neither of them had expected things to happen this quickly, but… John smiled and sat down on the edge of the bed, “Good morning,” he said, quietly.

“Morning…”

“I’m just going back to my own room in case the kids come looking for me. You don’t need to get up, it’s very early…”

Daniel smiled, sleepily. “I suppose that’s sensible. I should get up, I’ve rather a lot of work to do this morning.”

“It’s not six yet.”

“Well, maybe I’ll have another hour… I can’t imagine Harry will be awake yet.”

“Stay for breakfast, anyway – thought I don’t know if I can do anything more than toast and cereal.”

The triplets were noisily dressing as he walked past their room, so he hastily dashed and washed and changed in his own before they joined him.

“Where’s Daddy?” Tom asked.

“He’ll be here after breakfast.” John replied, distractedly.

Daniel had eaten toast and cereal and left, after a murmured and hasty goodbye near the front door. The triplets ran outside to wave, and had only just come back inside when their grandfather’s car swept up the drive.

“It was a good party,” David said, over coffee, after the triplets, now over their first raptures at seeing their mother but still somewhat over-excited, ran around in the corridor outside. “How was the car?”

“Fine, I parked it around the back. You’re low on petrol.” John was washing up the breakfast dishes in the scullery, whistling softly to himself.

“I know, I’ll go to Bideford later. What did you want to ask me, Maurice? You said yesterday there was something you wanted to discuss?”

“Oh – nothing.” Maurice was pulling on Wellingtons, preparatory to heading down to the farm. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Where are Mother and Dad and Geoff?” John asked, re-appearing drying his hands.

“Coming along with Susie – Freddie was sorting it out. Aren’t you going to wait to see your girlfriend, Maurice?” David asked.

“No.” Maurice replied, tersely. “I’ll be back in an hour or so, but I’ve got too much to do.”

“What’s going on?” John saw David raise his eyebrows as Maurice left.

“Nothing that’s any of our business,” Rix began, but David interrupted.

“We think they had a row – it was all icy politeness and not looking at each other over breakfast at Brentford Hall.”

“Shut up, David. What are you doing today, Jack? We thought we’d take the kids to the village.”

“I’m going to the village to get my hair cut and then I’m going to see Prim and Nick. I’ll probably stay the night.” John fibbed; he was going to Etherleigh, but he intended to stay the night elsewhere.

*

“Are you sure you don’t mind? If you’re busy, I don’t have to stay.”

Daniel laughed, “How on earth can you think I mind? I just hope – well, it’s not like your home.”

“I’ll say,” John looked around the enormous hall.

“Oh, no, God, no, I didn’t mean…” Daniel looked embarrassed. “The Quadrant is a home, a proper home and this place – well, this isn’t.”

John was silent for a moment or two. “You’re talking to someone who lives in a six foot square cupboard on the sea,” he said eventually, “But I like it here. It’s got a history, I think. But I suppose you spend more time in London?”

“Yes. I prefer London. I’m glad you’re here. How long can you stay?”

“I told them I’m at Primula’s tonight, then – I don’t know. I’ve got eight nights left.”

“Who’s Primula?”

“She’s a cousin – no, she’s David’s cousin, but she lived with us when we were kids. She lives in Etherleigh. Her husband is my solicitor.”

Daniel nodded. “Eight nights?”

“Yes. Then about a month in Portsmouth, then we sail in November.”

“Beira?”

“How did you know that? Yes. Thirteen months, I think, depending on how it goes.”

“I hear things around Westminster. I hope it won’t be too difficult – the patrol, that is.”

“Oh, no, it’s just routine. Boring, even. We’re got a library on board, but nothing very exciting. Still, I’ve been on worse.”

“If you want to take anything from the library here, feel free.”

“Thank you… Will you write?”

“Of course.” Daniel shut the drawing room door after them. “What about that officer you were arguing with in Greenwich?” he asked, candidly. “Will you have a lot of dealings with him?”

“I hope not.” John replied, sitting down near to the fire, as directed and frowning slightly. “He’s nominally in charge, but I don’t expect he’ll interfere too much with my ship, unless anything goes wrong.”

*

The library was large and surprisingly cheerful, although most of the dusty volumes looked far too elderly and valuable to survive a naval voyage. A table near to the window was covered in papers and research documents and what John recognised from his Aunt Jo as proofs, Daniel obviously worked in the library when he was in Devonshire.

“What are you working on?” John asked.

“A book – It’s about psychiatry. I’m just reviewing my editor’s comments on the final draft and it should be published in December.”

“Really?” John was impressed, even though the text seemed incomprehensible at first glance. “Can I read it?”

“I’ll send you the first copy,” Daniel promised, benevolently.

“Autographed,” John smiled, but moved away slightly when there came a knock on the library door and it was thrown open.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Freddie Brentford said cheerfully, before taking in the presence of his brother-in-law and greeting him with a wave.

“You’re not, what’s up?” Daniel asked, in a calm and composed manner.

“I’ve just brought the proposals – the Hope girl, you know.” Freddie produced them. “I can go through them with you, it’s no problem.”

“Thanks. I’ll look at them later. How are Maeve and Bella and Lucy?”

“They’re fine. Hullo, John, everything all right?” He glanced from John to Daniel, in a preoccupied way. John nodded and seeing that he really did want to talk business, wandered away to look at the shelves again.

Daniel had told him to take anything he wanted, so although he was careful with them, he had no compunction about pulling the books from their homes at will.

Reaching for a volume of poetry, he knocked a small cardboard box to the floor and when he picked it up to replace it, he saw that the box was full of newspaper clippings, yellowed with age. They had spilled over the floor and he was picking them up when Freddie and Daniel joined him.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ve damaged anything…” he didn’t quite like the expression on Freddie’s face, but it soon became clear that it wasn’t directed at him.

“What the hell is all this?” he demanded, almost snatching some of the papers from John.

A similar anger flashed across Daniel’s face, “It’s none of your business,” he retorted in chilling tones.

“I – Excuse me,” John thought it best to leave them to it; so clearly a private matter. He hadn’t read the newspaper clippings, but he had seen the date on one, 1942, surely so long ago that it seemed strange to argue so fiercely over whatever they contained. So it couldn’t be that.

In the garden he found the water gardens and sat down, despite the chill. He had never seen Daniel so angry before, and glancing across at the library window, he could see they were still arguing.

Does he know? John thought, with a sudden anxiety. If his brother-in-law had guessed, then he would have to end things before his parents or the Navy found out.

*

“Daph? Are you busy?” Cecil, opening the curtains of her own cubicle, found Daphne lying on the bed, scribbling away on her writing pad, breaking about three rules at once.

“Yes,” Daphne replied, her concentration fully on her letter. Only when Cecil didn’t leave did she look up. “What’s the matter?”

“It’s just – Amélie said that you were up here…”

“So?” Daphne looked over in exasperation. “Look, Ces, I’m really sorry, but I have to finish this before the postman comes.”

“You shouldn’t be up here!” Cecil went red as the weeks of suppressed anger burst out of her. “If Matey catches you, then she’ll blame me, and it’s not fair! Just because you’re only taking some classes doesn’t mean you can break bounds. Besides, you’re getting ink on my coverlet!”

“Cecil, calm down, won’t you? I’m not getting ink on it, honestly.” Daphne got up and flourished the counterpane at her cousin. “See?”

“I don’t know why you can’t just go home,” Cecil flung back, before bursting into tears.

“Oh, grief, look, Cecil, I’m only here until November, it’s not worth me having a cubicle here and I can’t sit downstairs all the time, can I? And if I go back to Freudesheim, I have to find a mistress and let her know, and it’s just not worth it for forty minutes!”

“I didn’t mean Freudesheim, I meant the Quadrant!” Cecil, always slow to rouse, nevertheless had a temper, and her cousin’s behaviour had been increasingly awful since she had arrived. The worst thing was the mistresses just seemed to ignore it and regard Daphne’s exploits as amusing. Even Miss Annersley was rumoured to have invited her to see an art exhibition with her in Zurich after Daphne had been discovered plotting to truant during an English class to go! It just wasn’t fair.

“Oh, Cecil, shut up. Look, I’ll go, OK? And thanks for this, now John probably won’t get my letter before he goes away.” Daphne left the room, cool and composed despite her annoyance. Cecil sat down on her bed, shaking after the confrontation, where she was found by Matron and treated to a long lecture, before being ordered to remake her untidy bed.

*
John waited until he saw Freddie Brentford leave, screeching up the drive in his expensive car with a scowl on his face. He headed back, through the garden door and found Daniel in the drawing room.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, at once. “I thought you’d left. Where did you go?”

“I just went outside.” John replied.

“You’re freezing – sit by the fire. I do apologise, we shouldn’t have argued like that in front of you.”

“It’s fine, you’ve seen me do the same with my brothers and David.”

“Families…” Daniel smiled, with no humour.

“I’m sorry if I caused trouble between you.”

“Oh, no, it’s an old argument, don’t worry about it. Certainly not your fault.”

“Does he know about us?”

“No. He doesn’t.”

“It’s not that I don’t want people to know, but if they found out in the Admiralty…”

“It’s not something I can shout about either,” Daniel said.

“What are those papers anyway?”

“Newspaper articles from when my mother died, things like that...” Daniel turned away and John only just caught his next words. “Freddie doesn’t think I should have kept them.”

“Oh?”

“Not as interesting as we’ve made them out to be, I’m afraid.” A clear dismissal, and John took the hint and changed the subject, but he remained curious.

The next day there were seven nights left.



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