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Dear John

Hope things are well with you. I'm at the Quadrant for the time being; Maurice is ill and having a rest. Nothing too serious, so don't worry, just a combination of exhaustion and stress (in my view anyway). I can see why now I'm trying to manage the estate.

I don't think I ever realised just how much he was doing. I'm up every day at five doing the milking and then it just doesn't stop until the evening. I'm exhausted every night; I never realised how hard the work was.

Emerence has been a godsend. I was a bit short with her at first, couldn't really see what she was doing, I suppose. Also Mother had given her Peggy's old room, which I wasn't too happy about at first, but I really don't know what we'd do without her.

Mary-Lou and the kids are coming down for Christmas; they should be here next week. I'm looking forward to seeing them. M-L is thrilled; we had a call from our social worker yesterday and they may have found us a little girl to adopt. I know I can tell you this in confidence; we haven't told anyone else yet. Hopefully we'll be able to take things forward in the New Year. We don't know anything about her yet, only that it's a small girl.

I don't know if you knew them, but the Olsens' daughter has taken a turn for the worse. David phoned yesterday and says he doesn't think she'll see 1968. We've kept it quiet from the kids, of course, but it's very sad. David's more cut up about it than I've ever seen him. It seems so senseless, poor little mite.


Rix stopped writing and ripped the paper from the pad with a sigh. He couldn't send that to John, a long list of moans, complaints and bad news. He scrunched it into a ball when the door to the drawing room opened and Daphne came in.

“Rix, Daddy wants you in the estate office,” she said, tossing her long dark curls over her shoulder.

“Thanks Daph.” He got to his feet, tiredly. “I'm going to the hospital this afternoon if you'd like to come with me. I might go and see Dan Lyndhurst afterwards too.”

“OK.” Daphne was wondering if she could talk to her brother about Cecil. Her mother hadn't been much use, refusing to believe they were now the bitter enemies Daphne said they were. But Rix seemed so distracted. “What time?”

“Three – I'll see you by the car. See if you can find Emerence, will you? She might like to come with us.”

*

“Were you looking for me, Dad?”

“Just wondered if you'd double check these figures.” Dick smiled, ruefully. It was something they'd always done together. Rix nodded and sat in the chair he'd always used, wishing once again he wasn't the eldest and that the Quadrant would go to John or Maurice.
*
It was coming up to the end of the Middle Watch when John made his weary way back to his cabin, feeling rather like the world had tilted. After their dinner, Lewis had taken him to the beach, one they had visited back when they were younger and had just met. They had sat down on the sand and talked for hours, exactly as they had done on their first visit.

Lewis had been very honest. John had listened, trickling sand through his fingers, content for the first time in months. When Lewis had taken hold of his hand to examine the scar on his wrist, John had leaned in and they had kissed.

Only now, three hours later, as John let himself quietly into his cabin, did he think of Daniel.
*
Mike Maynard was only half-listening to Lieutenant Marshall droning on about the armaments. His attention was mostly concentrated on the tall figure of Commander Keeler in the distance, talking animatedly with two of his senior officers; and Mike’s own pounding head. They had enjoyed the hospitality of some of Valetta’s drinking establishments during their leave, and he was suffering for it.

He liked being on board HMS Camaraderie and rather admired Commander Keeler. The lads were friendly on the whole and the officers generally easy-going. The mission wasn’t going to be the most exciting; but on the whole Mike was reasonably happy.

His last letter from Freudesheim had been full of how fortunate he was to have John on hand to look out for him. He hadn’t written back yet but wouldn’t put anything in the letter about how that hadn’t worked out. Not that he had really expected it; John was far too important to bother with a lowly Midshipman cousin even if Mamma didn’t realise it, but Mike did acknowledge that it would have been pleasant to have gone for the occasional pint in Portsmouth or be invited to tea on HMS Commitment to chat about family news. Still, he had to make it on his own and no doubt John Bettany was distant because he couldn’t show favouritism. Mike hadn’t exactly made it easy for him. He frowned, mulling this over. Perhaps they could talk, clear the air.

“Good afternoon,” Keeler said affably; joining their group. They all saluted him, as was proper, and the next few minutes were spent in chat. Mike again reflected on how relaxed Keeler’s ship was, compared to others on which he had served, then realised Keeler was greeting him directly.

“Sir – I have First Watch free. I was wondering, if you didn’t mind… Could I go over to the Commitment to see my cousin?” he asked, once the pleasantries were over.

“Your cousin? Oh yes… I’d forgotten. Yes, that’s fine. Tell your D.O. I said it was fine. Any particular reason for the visit?”

“I’ve just had some news – a letter from home.” Mike had heard all about Maurice’s hospital stay from his mother.

“Not bad news, I hope.” Keeler was frowning.

“Nothing serious, no.”

“First Watch… You can accompany me. I’m going over there myself.”

It was the equivalent of a royal command; Michael couldn’t refuse. “Thank you, sir.”
*
Daphne walked across the landing of the east wing of the Quadrant, shivering slightly. She had forgotten how cold it could be in winter on the draughty landings and the sun had yet to rise. It was barely past five in the morning.

Rix came out of the bathroom, already dressed warmly; about to go out on the farm.

“I thought I’d come out and help with the milking,” Daphne greeted him, keeping her tones low in view of the early hour.

“Thanks, Daph.” Rix said, yawning. “Make sure you wrap up. I don’t want you going down with one of your famous colds.”

“I haven’t had a cold since I went to the Gornetz Platz,” Daphne, having already washed using the basin in her bedroom; followed him down the stairs. “Happy Christmas, by the way.”

“Oh – yes.” Rix said, distractedly. “Happy Christmas. I forgot.” He turned and kissed his little sister on the cheek.

“Are you worried about Maurice?” Daphne asked, as they pulled on boots in the scullery.

“Yes – no, I mean, there’s nothing to worry about, I’m sure. I spoke to his doctor and he said the test results were positive. It’s not a tumour, or anything. We’ll go and see him this afternoon, I expect.”

“But, Rix, he should be home for Christmas if it’s nothing serious…”

“He’ll be fine, I promise. Look, I’ll get hold of that Dr Maxwell and ask him a few more questions, OK?”

“OK,” Daphne murmured, not at all convinced but clever enough to know that arguing would be no use.

It was cold outside, and raining. Rix sighed and pulled up the collar of his coat. Daphne bundled her long hair awkwardly into her hood. The walk to the milking sheds was passed mostly in silence, both of them concentrating on keeping out of the worst of the mud by the light of Rix’s torch.

*

“When do you get your exam results?” Rix asked, as they were walking back, their farm work finished for the time being. The rain had stopped so they could take their ease.

“Second week in January. Four days after I go back to school.”

“You’re going back to school?”

“Auntie Hilda said I might as well stay for the rest of the year. I can’t go to art school till October.” Daphne shrugged. She was secretly quite pleased at staying at the Chalet School for longer; apart from Cecil’s unfriendliness (and Daphne had convinced herself she could take that in her stride) the girls in Lower VI were becoming good friends. Also, she liked wandering around the Platz, painting the beautiful scenery, often when she was due at lessons. Despite this failing, she thought she had done much better in her O-level re-sits.

“Do you still want to go to art school? You could go to university, you know.” Rix caught Daphne’s expression and changed his mind, Christmas morning when they were both cold and miserable was not the time. “Come on, let’s get a move on. I’ll make us some breakfast.”

“You know when you were at school with David…” Daphne began, hesitantly.

“What about it?”

“Were you always friends?”

“Well, yes. We were in different forms, but we used to go down together for nets, and sometimes we did prep together. Of course we were friends – we’re cousins. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, it’s just Cecil. She hates me.”

“I’m sure she doesn’t hate you, Daph. Have you argued?”

Daphne filled him in on the dormitory row, and the time she’d caught Cecil going through her things in Freudesheim.

“Oh, I’m sure David and I rowed from time to time,” Rix said, privately dismissing it as a schoolgirl quarrel. “You’ll both forget about it over the holidays.”
*
John was alone; following the Christmas Day service on board his ship, he had returned to his cabin and was opening his post over a late breakfast.

Most of it he had saved over the past week; various letters and cards from family and friends for Christmas and also for his birthday. John had always rather liked being born at Christmas.

Rix’s sons had sent a card they had made themselves, John propped it against the marmalade jar, wondering how old they would be when he next saw them. Rix had sent a cheerful letter from the Quadrant that tried and failed to disguise the fact that he didn’t want to be there. John looked around his cramped cabin and wondered about the fortunes of being the eldest son.

A knock on the door brought him out of his reverie, and he stood up, brushing the crumbs from his uniform.

“Come in,” he called, with a glance at the rest of his letters and parcels. There wouldn’t be time to open them until much later.

“John? Happy Christmas!” Mike was hesitant; John looked completely forbidding in his full dress uniform until he grinned.

“Same to you, I thought you were Lt McLaughlin. Come in, how did you get across?”

“Cdr Keeler gave me 12 hours’ leave so I thought I’d come on the off-chance. Happy birthday.”

“Thanks.” John was pleased; it was good to spend Christmas with family. They exchanged gifts, as usual merely small tokens from the NAAFI, and news from home.

“Did Cdr Keeler say he was coming over himself?” John enquired.

“No, he said he was too busy.” Mike had been pleased, his last trip to John’s ship, with Keeler in tow, had been much more formal, drinking tea politely and discussing the mission; always conscious of their different ranks. John was so much friendlier when it was just the two of them. Mike remembered his own cool behaviour with some embarrassment.

“John, I’m sorry about that day I was rude, you know, when you said you’d meet me and then didn’t get chance. I don’t expect you to take much notice of me, you know… I mean, I know you’re busy and I’m only a Midship, it’s not that I didn’t want you to look out for me…” Mike was crimson with embarrassment.

“It’s fine. I told Aunt Joey I’d look out for you where I could but I totally understand you want to stand on your own two feet. I missed the orientation training because I was – ill. I was given a long leave so I went to stay with Rix and then to the Quadrant for most of the summer.”

“I see.”

“So I apologise I haven’t been as available as I should have. Anyway, tell me how you’re getting on. Did you say you were doing some communications training?” John changed the subject, as his eye fell on a package with Daniel’s handwriting on it, and he moved it under the rest of the pile.
*
“The wind’s getting up,” Mike said, as he waited to board the boat that would take him between ships. John nodded, privately thinking it had been a nice day.

The wind was nothing; he had sailed in much worse. He lit his cigarette and told Mike one of his anecdotes of the Suez campaign. Mike was a satisfying audience; he was so desperate to see action.

Mike waved once from the boat, dwarfed between the two destroyers. They were sailing close, the Camaraderie slightly ahead. The wind was indeed blowing hard; unusual for their location and he frowned. Once he’d opened the rest of his presents, he’d head up to the Bridge.

Daniel’s letter was dated days earlier; it had obviously been lying around a naval post room for a time, which often happened. Not a birthday present then. It was a copy of his book, as he had promised.

John forgot about going to the Bridge and flipped the pages, all covered in dense, scientific text. Daniel had said he didn’t expect John to read it, but he would try. With a sudden recollection of his Aunt Jo’s books he turned to the first page looking for a dedication but there was only half a page of impersonal acknowledgements.

John ran his finger over the author photograph, tracing Daniel’s perfect features; his thoughts conflicted.



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