Authors: Ellis Peters
“Tamsin, I’ve got something very urgent to tell you. I just ran slam into Dad and Simon outside the police station, and from what I heard, Simon has just given himself up for killing Trethuan.” That’s the way news should be delivered, if you want to know what people really feel about it.
?” cried Tamsin, eyes and tone flaring into partisan anger and derision. She was on her feet. “Simon
someone? You’re out of your mind.”
“I didn’t say murder, I said killing. They were perfectly calm but deadly serious. And they’ve gone into the police station. I’d say what’s in the wind is manslaughter, at most. But it
Simon, I heard him say it himself. He said: ‘Nobody even wanted it. But it happened, and I was the one who made it happen.’ And then he asked Dad: ‘What do you think I shall get?’ Now you know everything I know. And what,” demanded Dominic, jutting his jaw at her, “are you going to do about it?”
She was a remarkable girl, he’d always known it. She had exclaimed once, and there was no more of that. She caught him by the shoulders and held him before her, so hard that she left the marks of her fingers on his arms, while she searched his face with wild blue eyes that had been like cornflowers a moment ago, and were now like spears.
why!” she said in a rushing whisper. “Five days, and he hasn’t touched or looked at me. You’d have thought I had plague. Ever since it—And I thought he’d just been having fun with me! What does he think I
“He wouldn’t let you be dragged into this. And you said he was spoiled and in bad need of a fall, anyhow.”
“Dragged in? Let him try and keep me out! The big, brilliant, incapable
did he get himself into this mess?”
“It’s nothing to you, anyhow,” pointed out Dominic, tasting a kind of slightly bitter but still unmistakable joy. “You wouldn’t have him. You don’t even like him.”
“I know I don’t. I could wring his neck! And anyhow, what do you know about it, Dominic Felse? The last time he asked me I didn’t tell him yes or no, I just walked away.” She had been all this time ricocheting about the room like an uncoiled spring, slamming the cover on her typewriter, grabbing her coat from a closet, sweeping the papers from the table into a drawer anyhow, just as they fell. “And now I’m walking back,” she said, turning the blue blaze of her indignation on Dominic, as if he had dared to challenge her. “Whether he likes it or not. I bet he hasn’t even got a lawyer. Can you get bail in a case like this?”
“I don’t know, I’m just the errand boy.” She had caught him by the hand and was towing him with her through the doorway; and there, caught close together, they turned to spare one hurried glance for each other, and she stretched across the remaining few inches, and kissed him on the mouth.
“With me, you’re royalty plus! But right now, if you can drive, you’re the chauffeur. I’ve just started lessons. Can you?”
“Yes, I’ve got a licence. But we can’t possibly take—”
“We can, we’re going to. We’ve got to get down there quickly. She’s out with Benson in the Morris right this minutes, but the Rolls is in the garage.”
? Not likely!” gasped Dominic, appalled. “I’d be terrified to
it. Suppose I went and scraped the paintwork?”
“You won’t!” she said, commanding, not reassuring.
And he didn’t. And perhaps that was all that was needed to crown this mad holiday with the right extravagant finale, the impossible fantasy of himself driving that glossy, purring, imperial monster doggedly and gloriously out of its garage and down through the steep, narrow streets of Maymouth to the square, with Tamsin bright and fierce as a fighting Amazon beside him, and parking it with the superb accuracy of sheer lunatic chance in a painted oblong only just big enough to contain it.
Tamsin patted his shoulder, and said something wild and fervent and complimentary, that he never even heard in his daze of retrospective terror, and was gone like an arrow across the square.
Dominic sat quivering with reaction, still clutching the wheel. He wasn’t even sure he could stand up now, he thought his knees would give under him if he climbed out and attempted to walk away. They didn’t; he got out, closed the door with reverent gentleness, tried a few steps, and had hard work not to take to his heels. One thing was certain, as soon as he turned to look again at the majesty on which he had just laid impious apprentice hands: the chauffeur would have to fetch it back. Nothing in the world would have induced Dominic to tempt providence a second time.
George, humanely withdrawn to the window of Hewitt’s office, and thus having half the square in his sight, saw the resplendent car insert itself with the delicacy of desperation into the tight parking space, saw the brave red head sail flaming out of the opened door like a torch, and blaze across towards the doorway below him. And in a minute more he saw the driver’s door open, and his son emerge. George’s brows rose; he permitted himself a small, appreciative smile. Taking away cars without the owner’s permission, now. No need to ask if Miss Rachel had been consulted. Dominic’s charge-sheet was becoming interesting. But George was not an exclaiming man. The speaker and the listeners behind his back knew nothing of the storm-wind that was blowing rapidly their way.
Simon, having reached simultaneously the end of his cigarettes and the end of his story, felt lighter, but with the lightness of emptiness. If you can see your whole life clearly as you drown, so you can when events go over you like a tidal wave, and effectively drown the person you have been up to now. Simon saw his life as a dust-sheeted room, the occupant of which had gone gallivanting so often and so far that he had never actually had time to live in it at all. Such a lot of time wasted, looking elsewhere for the impermanent. He’d left it too late to realise the potentialities of a son, and far too late to fall in love with a girl twelve years his junior.
I’m a thirty-seven-year-old widower, he thought, looking into the last coils of cigarette smoke as into a mirror, and a pretty harsh mirror, too. I’m going to be doused headfirst in the kind of publicity I’d rather do without, and I shall learn to live with it. I’m going to be hurt, and survive it. I’m going to be stripped of my privileges, and fight my way back into a competitive world as best I can. But at any rate, the distress to other people is only going to be marginal.
He offered himself this, despondently, as a worthy and comforting thought, but instead it made him feel even more depressed. It’s too late for me to change, he thought, I’ve revolved round myself too long. Much the best thing I can do is keep my own company. No wonder I could never find the right note with Tamsin, no wonder I always managed to sound as though I was insulting her. I suppose in a way I was trying to protect her, wanting and not wanting, begging for her and warning her off. And Paddy—what was he to be? A consolation prize? Thank God they both have sound instincts. They know a heel when they see one.
The quietness of the room was suddenly shaken by raised voices below, one of them, and the one that seemed to be laying the law down most emphatically, unmistakably a woman’s. They all pricked up their ears, Simon most sharply of all. But it couldn’t be! She couldn’t even know anything about it yet, and even when she knew, why should she interfere?
George crossed from the window; Hewitt rose from his desk in mingled irritation and curiosity, and stalked across to open the door and call down the stairs: “Who is that? What’s going on down there?”
The tones which had disrupted the desk-sergeant’s calm echoed imperiously up the well like a trumpet-call: “Oh, Mr. Hewitt! Good! I’m coming up.” High heels pattered rapidly up the uncarpeted stairs like a scud of hail. “Is Simon here with you?”
Simon was on his feet, shaky and disrupted with hope and dismay, and an absurd, shamed apprehension; half hoping against his own heart that Hewitt would manage to send her away, half smiling in spite of his own conscience, because he knew that that was more than the entire Maymouth constabulary and the county regiment could have managed between them.
“You can’t come up now, Miss Holt, I’m occupied,” Hewitt blocked the doorway with a broad body and an extended arm.
up. He is there, isn’t he? What’s he told you? What have you charged him with?”
“He hasn’t been charged with anything yet,” said Hewitt dryly. “He’s made a statement, which is now being typed. And you’ve got no business here, my girl, let me tell you that.” He had known her since she was a pig-tailed imp doing acrobatics on the swings in the park; if he couldn’t control her, he could still make satisfactorily stern noises.
“Oh, yes, I have. I bet he hasn’t even done anything about a lawyer yet. I want to talk to him. Let me in!” Not a request, a command.
She appeared beyond Hewitt’s solid shoulder, pale and bright and formidably angry, her red-gold hair in ruffled feathers on cheek and temple, her forehead smudged with carbon. Her eyes, levelled lances, flashed across the room and pierced Simon to the heart. Faint flags of colour had come to life in his tanned cheeks, warming the grey of sleeplessness out of them. An incorrigible spark of mischief reappeared in his eyes, a shadow of itself and veiled in desperation, but alive. The two roused faces locked glances like the beginning of a battle or an embrace. Difficult to be sure which, thought George, edging unnoticed towards the door. Maybe both.
The first words of love sounded like the clash of arms, if that meant anything.
“You’re a fine one!” said Tamsin hotly. “What the devil have you been up to, to get yourself in this mess?”
“If it’s a mess, at least it’s my mess,” said Simon, all the more loudly and angrily because of the longing he had, and knew he must suppress, to welcome her in and grasp at this unbelievable happiness while it offered. “What do you think you’re doing here? For God’s sake, girl, go home and behave yourself.”
“ ‘Go home and behave yourself,’ he says,” Tamsin rolled bitter blue eyes to heaven in mute appeal. “Listen who’s talking! And he isn’t fit to be let out alone!”
“I doubt if he’s going to be let out at all for the next year or two,” snapped Simon, man-alive again, and surrounded by a live, thorny and rewarding world. “So you can make your mind easy,
won’t be needed for a keeper. Now get out and leave me alone!”
Maybe it was the note of entreaty he hadn’t been able to suppress, or maybe she possessed an intuition that didn’t even need such aids. However it was, Tamsin knew her moment. The blue of her eyes softened to its calmest gentian darkness.
“It’s the forty years or so afterwards I’m worrying about,” she said sternly. She looked at Hewitt, looked him levelly in the eyes, and smiled.
“You’d better let me in. Give me ten minutes with him. I have got a certain right here, you know. That’s my fiancé you’ve got in there.”
She had unfurled her colours, and nobody would ever be able to trick, bully or persuade her into striking them again. Seemingly they all knew it. She breasted Hewitt’s large arm, and it gave before her and let her in. She looked as if she could have marched through walls just as irresistibly. She marched straight at Simon, all pennants flying.
“Ten minutes!” said Hewitt, and shoved George before him out of the office, and closed the door upon them.
[scanned anonymously in a galaxy far far away]
[proofed and formatted by MollyKate and released in #bookz for the Prooflist, Sept 17, 2002]
[A 3S Release— v2, html]
[July 17, 2007]