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Our Library => Simon Raven - Fielding Gray (1967) => Topic started by: Admin on July 19, 2023, 04:50:25 am



Title: Part Six
Post by: Admin on July 19, 2023, 04:50:25 am
ALTHOUGH I had politely answered Mr. Tuck's questions and even filled in a form, thereby seeking to deny my father that sense of being opposed which alone gave spice to his activities, we still hadn't heard the last of the tea-planting scheme.

'I want to get it all settled,' my father said. 'A definite application must be made. I want to see more keenness.'

'But Jack dear, Mr. Tuck said we couldn't do anything more until we knew about Fielding's Army service.'

'Well, what about his Army service? Is he trying to find out? There must be people he could go and see.'

'I've told you,' I said: 'I've been deferred for another year because I'm a candidate for a University award.'

'But if you're going to India,' said my father with relish, 'you won't need a University award. Therefore you needn't be deferred. Why,' he said, clapping his hands spitefully together, 'we might even be able to get you into the Army this autumn. And as soon as that's out of the way you'll be free to leave for India at once.'

'It's too late to get me undeferred,' I said, uncertain whether or not this was true. 'Anyway, the Headmaster's made all his arrangements on the understanding that I'm coming back. And apart from anything else, you haven't given notice, so they'd charge you at least one quarter's fees for nothing at all.'

This argument told.

'By God, we'll see about that,' said my father, slapping his hands together once more. 'I just wouldn't pay, that's all.'

'Then they'd sue you and you'd look a frightful fool.'

My father gave a grunt of rage.

'And anyhow,' I went on. 'you said you wouldn't go back on your word. About next year.'

'These days we have to take our chances when we see them. It's all very well for that Headmaster of yours, dreaming away about Latin and Greek all day long. What does he know about the practical things?'

'Enough to administer a large school, and act as a housemaster, and sit on several commissions in London, and get an important book written, all in the face of a horrible war and a crippling shortage of staff and materials of every kind.'

'What's the book got to do with it? '

'Nothing. That's the point. He just managed to get it written as well as coping with all the practical things, as you call them.'

But the point was lost on my father.

'Well, one thing I can do,' he said, grinding his teeth, 'is to write to Lancaster College and tell them that you won't be wanting your place there.'

'But Jack dear, supposing this tea thing falls through?'

'That's just what you'd both like, isn't it? I'll see it doesn't fall through. You can rely on that.'

The next day we heard that after two bombs of a new and hideously powerful kind had been dropped on cities in Japan the Japanese had surrendered unconditionally. Good, I thought: quite a chance now that I won't have to do any Army service at all.

'. . . And so [the Headmaster wrote from Wiltshire], you need have no worries about Lancaster. They're not interested in your father's plans, about India or anything else, only in yours. It is true they will want to know where their fees are to come from: but all sorts of systems of government subsidy are now being mooted, and I've no doubt at all that your case will be covered---though it might mean doing your Army service before you go up, which is perhaps the better choice anyhow.

(Incidentally, l don't think the end of the war in the Far East will make much difference to your military liabilities.) However, just in case your father's letter should cause the college authorities any doubts. I've written to Robert Constable the Tutor (you met him last quarter, I think?) to reassure him and to set everything straight. I know it must be tiresome for you to put up with this kind of behaviour, but you must try to remember that your father is a busy man and is no doubt suffering from the strain of these last years.'

Lolling about boasting in R.A.O.C. messes.

This is black news [the Headmaster continued], from Japan. It is tempting to let relief, that the war is now finally over, oust any other emotion. I hope that you will not make this mistake. An element more terrible than any I could have thought possible has now obtruded itself into our lives, and I do not see any limit to the potential horrors which may develop from it. And this is to take only a selfish view. What has already been done to the people of Japan, and done in our name, is horror enough.

That's all very well, I thought; but then no one was going to send you out there to risk your neck in the jungle.

'My wife and I [the letter concluded], are looking forward to seeing you about 7th September. Perhaps you will write and let us have an exact date? By the way. I've written to Somerset Lloyd-James and asked him to join us if he can. I felt he would make an interesting addition to the party.'

The hell he will, I thought. If I go to stay in Tonbridge en route for Wiltshire, as Christopher suggests, then Somerset will smell out my state of sin the first moment he sees me. Or will he? For Christ's sake be reasonable. We're all beginning to go on as if Somerset had a crystal ball. And anyway, all that can be forgotten for the time being, because this afternoon is golf with Angela Tuck.

+++

Mrs. Tuck was rather late, but she was impeccably dressed and turned out to be a thoroughly competent player. She declared her handicap as eight; and though at first sceptical of this, I found myself two down after the first five holes.

'I never thought you'd be so good.'

'Why not? They say women need big bottoms for golf, and, I'm well equipped there.'

She hit her ball straight down the fairway the best part of two hundred yards. I squared up to mine, hit too hard and lifted my head, struck the ball with the heel of the club, and saw it hop fiercely into a bunker twenty yards away and forty-five degrees to my left.

'Bugger,' I said, and apologized hastily to Mrs. Tuck, who smiled and shrugged.

Excited by this tolerant behaviour, I took my No. 8, walked into the bunker, sent my ball flopping out in a cloud of sand, and yelled blue murder.

'Whatever's the matter?'

'Something's got in my eye.'

'Come here then.'

As she examined my eye, she came very close; her splendid breasts brushed against my shirt, her belly pressed up against mine. For about ten seconds she stayed quite still; then she made a quick dab with her handkerchief and stood back.

'All right?' she said.

'I'm not sure it's really out.'

'Aren't you now? I'll have another look . . . later.'

At the end of the hole I was three down.

'Your father's been on at Tuck about your job,' Mrs. Tuck said a few holes later on. 'He wants to know what the next step is.'

'There isn't a next step.'

'You really don't want it?'

'I've told you. I want to go to Cambridge.'

Mrs. Tuck sighed gently.

'But you filled in that form, didn't you?' she said, and put her ball dead from fifty yards.

'Only to keep my father quiet. I didn't suppose your husband cared much either way.'

'Oh but he does, Fielding. When Tuck came on leave, he was told to recruit suitable young men over here. Promised a bonus if he did well at it.'

'In a few months there'll be ex-officers at a penny a score.' 'Not just any young men. Young men from good schools, to give the place a bit of tone . . . and young men whose fathers have money to invest.'

'Just let Tuck try getting money out of my father.'

'Tuck,' she said softly, 'has more ways of persuading people than you might think.'

I took my No. 6 for my chip shot and hit the ground some inches behind the ball. It described a flaccid little arc and fell lifeless, still twenty yards short of the green. I looked at it stupidly.

'Is there any way,' I said at last, 'of calling your husband off?'

'It could mean promotion for him. Important promotion.'

'What do you care?'

'Since I'm stuck with Tuck,' she said, placidly but very firmly, 'I'd sooner it was for richer than for poorer.'

She plopped in a twelve foot putt.

'Five up,' she said, 'and nine to go. I could do with a rest.' We sat down on a sand dune, from which we could look across an empty beach to the sea. The breeze whispered through the seattered, spiky grasses; the sand was warm.

'Lonely,' said Mrs. Tuck, and shivered slightly despite the sun. She moved closer. 'Let's have another look at your eye,' she said.

With her left hand she held the lids apart, while with the fingers of the right she gently massaged my scalp.

'That's all right.' she said. She withdrew her left hand from my eye, then ran her finger nails down the bare flesh of my arm and on down my flannelled thigh.

'Ooooh, Angela.' I said, and reached out greedily for her. 'No,' she said, pushing me away; 'you're very sweet, but no.'

'Then you shouldn't have done like that with your nails.'

'It's not that I don't like you. Fielding. I think that you're very attractive.' A hand rubbing my knee. 'It's just that . . .'

'Just that what?'

'I can't really be at ease with you as long as we're at cross purposes.'

'What on earth do you mean by that?'

'You're quite sure you want to go to Cambridge?'

'Of course. I've wanted nothing else ever since I can remember.'

'And I suppose I can understand that. But,' she said regretfully, 'it does place a barrier between us. Me brought up in India, you see, and you despising it like this.'

'I don't despise it.'

'But you refuse to go there. Fielding. I find that . . . rather hurting. I find it makes it very difficult for me . . . to get to know you better.'

'You mean . . . You mean that if I fall in with this sch----'

'---Don't spell it out,' she said kindly; 'it would only spoil things.'

There was a long silence while she went on rubbing my knee. 'Come on,' she said at last, taking my hand to pull me up, 'we can't sit here all day.'

I lost the match by eight and six.

+++

The first rocket soared and sprayed over the fairground in the Tuesday Market Place; there were cheers, gasps, moans; the V-J celebrations in Lympne Ducis had begun.

Lympne Ducis, which was about twenty miles up the coast from Broughton Staithe, was an ancient town with modern facilities for shipping. It had a beautiful fifteenth century Customs House and also a small but well equipped harbour which had been working to capacity during the war. Although the summer fair, which was traditionally held in the Tuesday Market Place, was limited in scope by war-time restrictions as to fuel and power, the proprietors, knowing there was a lot of good money in the town and victory to grease it, had strained the regulations to bursting. The old-fashioned roundabout and the tower slide were there as usual; but for the first time since 1940 there was also a big wheel and a dive-bomber, a ghost-train and bumping cars. The stalls were crammed with food and prizes, with waffles and cockles and 'Victory' sausages, with teddy bears and goldfish, with hats which bore the legends 'Blighty', 'Britannia'. 'Tipperary', 'Tobruk' and 'Hiroshima'. There were lights, after the years of darkness, wreathes and festoons of lights; and as the rockets swept arching up over the gabled houses, every bell in Lympne Ducis rang out in triumph over the evil little yellow men beyond the sea. 'How exciting,' said mama; 'I wish your father had come.'

'He might at least have let us have the car.' I said.

'You know how it is, dear. This hateful petrol rationing.'

'There's always enough when he wants to go somewhere . . .'

And now the outlines of a huge set-piece were visible high over the market place. The myriad points of light crackled and whirled and fused, formed themselves into gradually distinguishable features. Surely . . . it must be . . . yes, oh God of Battles, yes, George King and Emperor, his Queen, his daughters, all smiling serenely out of the spurting flames. The noises of the fair died, music came from the loudspeakers hung round the square, and fifteen thousand voices took up the chant:

    LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY,
    MOTHER OF THE FREE...

'I think, dear,' said mama, 'that I should like to sit down somewhere.'

With some difficulty, I made way for my mother through the rapt singers and led her into the lounge of the Duke's Head. With even more difficulty I fought for and won a glass of whisky in the bar.

'There, mother. Make you feel better.'

'Thank you, dear. Don't let me spoil it for you, though. You go out and join in, and collect me later.'

'If you're sure, mama . . .'

But I turned away without waiting for an answer. Outside was a vast sea of vocal euphoria.

    God, that made thee mighty.
    Make thee mightier yet...

The music died, the cheers faded, the fair-ground chorus resumed. The roundabout organ; laughter, screams. A man in front of me was sick, another slipped in the mess, staggered against two young girls who were walking arm in arm, and fell violently to the ground.

'Two bloody little 'ores,' the man said.

The girls looked distressed. Pale and vulnerable, irresistibly pretty and pathetic.

'Bloody, fuckin' little 'ores,' the man shouted from the ground.

The dense crowd seemed indifferent.

'Come with me,' I said, and taking them both by the arm I swept them through a gap in the crowd to a stall which sold waffles.

'Have a waffle?'

'No, reelly ...'

'What's your name? Mine' - 'Fielding' would sound too ridiculous in this company - 'mine's Christopher.'

'Chris... I'm Phyllis.'

'And I'm Dixie.'

Phyllis was a well set up but commonplace blonde; Dixie, who wore a 'Hiroshima' hat, was a brunette with spotty but interesting features, a weak mouth, a tilting nose.

'Have a Waffle?'

'Well, all right.'

Three waffles, please. With syrup.'

'Ooooh .. .'

It was not an evening on which to rebuff invitation. All round us, set free in the name of victory, excited by the singing, made bold by the pealing bells, people were confronting one another, breaking the rule of a lifetime for this one night. Hand reached for hand, even heart (briefly) for heart; stranger clung to stranger and called him brother. Phyllis and Dixie could be no exception. We all went on the roundabout, the dive-bomber, and the tower slide, at the bottom of which the girls' skirts flew up to reveal brown, ample thighs. Wc went on the bumper cars; we fired air guns and threw darts; Phyllis won a goldfish in a bowl.

'The ghost-train. The ghost-train.'

'Phyllis is feared of the dark.'

'Then you come, Dixie.'

'Yes, you go, Dixie, love. I'll stand here and mind my fish.'

Into the car and through the double gates.

'Ooh. I'm so feared, I'm as bad as Phyllis, hold me tight.'

'I'm here. Dixie. Kiss me.'

Spider webs trailing in the dark. Dixie's tongue meeting mine, keen, wet, inexpert. An enormous phosphorescent skull. Into the huge mouth went the car and into Dixie's went my probing tongue.

'Hold me tighter. More. More.'

Diabolical laughter. A sudden turn, throwing me right across her. My hand on her breast---how did it get there?---a little whimper, part of guilt and part of joy.

'Chris, Chris, Christopher. Kiss me again.'

Rattle, jerk, bang, and out into the lights.

'Round again, please. Two.'

'No, Chris. Phyllis. She's waiting.'

'Just once more. I've already paid.'

Crash through the double door. Now. Tongue between her lips, left hand over her shoulder and cupping her breast, and with the right hand . . .

'No, Chris. No.'

'Yes. Dixie. And when we get out. we'll give Phyllis the slip and we'll----'

'---No, Christopher. No, no, no.'

But her legs parted slowly to admit my hand into a warm, moist country where I had never been before.

'Oh, no . . . Oh . . . Oh . . .'

'Dixie. We'll give Phyllis the slip. And then . . .'

I moved my hand to part her legs yet wider.

'I can't. I can't, I can't. She's my sister.'

Using both her hands, she thrust mine away from her, away from the paradisiac country. Panting and whimpering, she strained away from me. The whimpers mounted and coalesced into hysterical weeping. Christ. Christ, Christ, Christ.

'Dixie, please . . .'

A heavy, rending, choking, unquenchable cacophony of sobs. Rattle, jerk, bang, and out into the lights.

Run for it.

Out of the car and down the steps, just missing the astonished Phyllis (crash went the goldfish bowl---'Oh Chris, my poor little fish'), straight through the crowd, round the lower slide and behind the stalls. Would they follow? Would they call the police? Would they collect a mob? A whistle from the distance. Could that be . . . ?

Into the Duke's Head.

'Quick, mother. We'll miss the train.'

'But Fielding dear, I thought----'

'---No, no. There's no time at all.'

'If you say so----'

'---Please be quick, mother. This way, out of the side door . . . Down this street. It's a short cut.'

'Really, dear, anyone would think the police were after us. You know I can't hurry too much.'

'Taxi . . . Taxi' By God, what a bit of luck. There weren't more than three in the whole town. I blocked the road, waving frantically.

' 'Ere, 'ere. I don't take no more fares, master. I'm off 'ome. I've used my quota for the day.'

'But the lady's ill. Just to the station.'

'Ill, be she?'

'There'll be a whole pound for you if you take us.'

'Ill she be. In you get, missis . . .'

When we were in the train, which was not due to leave the station for another thirty minutes, mama said: 'If you ask me, dear, you ought to be a little more careful of your money. A whole pound.'

'It was for you, mama.'

'Was it, dear?' said my mother equably. 'Well, if you think it was worth it . . .'