Authors: Ellis Peters
Dominic sat back happily in his corner and surveyed his successful and voluble party. They were all there but Paddy, who had gone to a cinema with friends of his own age; but Paddy, thought Dominic in the arrogance of his eighteen years, would have been bored, anyhow, in this adult circle. And they were getting on like a house afire. They’d liked one another on sight. Phil Rossall looked a different but equally attractive person with her dark hair coiled on top of her head, and her boy’s figure disguised in a black, full-skirted dress. And Simon—no one ever seemed to call him anything but Simon—was the centre of any group he joined, even when he was silent and listening. Everything was going beautifully.
“A wild lot, these Treverras,” Simon was saying, one wicked brown eye on Tim. “I’m thinking of writing the family history. Unless you make it worth my while not to, of course.”
“Me? I’m relying on selling the film rights. Go right ahead. Two of ’em hanged for complicity in various faction plots, one time and another, several of ’em smuggled—”
smuggled,” said Phil firmly.
“But the most celebrated of the lot was the poet-squire, Jan Treverra, in the eighteenth century. Go on, Simon, you’re the expert, tell ’em about Jan.”
“On your own head be it! No one can stop me once I start. But let’s adjourn to the bar, shall we? It’s cosier down there.”
They adjourned to the bar. There was a panelled corner that just held them all, with one place to spare, and Phil spread her skirt across that, with the glint of a smile at Simon.
“That’s for Tam, if she drops in later.”
“Tamsin Holt, Aunt Rachel’s secretary. It’s only a quarter of an hour’s walk from the Place, across the Dragon’s neck. We’re about on the same level, up here. And I should think the poor girl’s had enough of Miss Rachel by evening. She is,” said Phil blandly, “the real reason for Simon’s passionate interest in the Treverra Library. She’s re-cataloguing it and collating all the family papers. And when she takes off her glasses she isn’t bad-looking. All right, Simon, go ahead, give us the story of Jan Treverra.”
Simon lay back in his corner and talked. Not expertly, not with calculation, it was better than that; halting sometimes, relapsing into his own thoughts, hunting a word and coming up with it thoughtfully and with pleasure, as if it had a taste. Some of his writing was like that, the lamest and the most memorable. Dominic had the impression that those particular pages had been born out of his less happy moments.
“Jan was an individualist who smuggled and wrote and hunted in these parts about the middle of the eighteenth century. You must have noticed St. Nectan’s church, I suppose? You’ll have read about it even before you came here, if you’re the kind of person whe does read a place up before he visits it?”
“We read about it,” admitted George. “We’re the kind.”
“Good, I like that kind. Then you know all about it, and anyhow you can see it from the top windows here. Over in the dunes, where they’ve been planting all the tamarisks to try and stop the sand marching inland. I don’t know exactly what it is about this north coast, but there are several of these areas of encroaching sand, and nearly all of ’em have churches amidships to get buried. It’s never houses, always churches.”
“They’re surely digging out St. Nectan’s, aren’t they?” George looked across at Bunty. “You remember, they’d uncovered all the graveyard when we were over there, and that’s several days ago.”
digging it out. With these two hands I’ve shovelled sand to get at what I want. The fact is, as Tim will tell you, they do get fits of conscience here every now and again, and dig the place out, but they always forget it again as soon as they’ve finished, and in a couple of months the sand’s got it again. But the point is, that’s where Jan Treverra’s buried. He had a massive tomb dug out for himself there before he was fifty, right down into the rock, and he wrote his own epitaph, ready for when he died. He even wrote one for his wife, too. In verse. Not his best verse, but not bad, at that. And soon after he was fifty he did die, of a fever, so they say. Quite a character was Jan. His life was not exemplary, but at least it had gusto, and it was never mean. He was a faithful husband and a loyal friend. The whole district idolised him, and his wife pined away within six months of his death, and joined him in his famous vault. His poems were pretty good, actually. There’s a tradition that some of them were buried with him, at his own orders, and now Miss Rachel’s developed a desire to find out if it’s true.”
“Not unprompted,” said Phil, “by Simon. Any quest that gives him free access to the library will have our Simon’s enthusiastic support. As long as Tamsin’s in there, of course.”
“Not that it’s getting me anywhere,” admitted Simon with a charmingly rueful smile. “She’s refused me eight times, so far. Funny, she doesn’t seem to take me seriously. Where was I? Oh, yes. On the night following Mrs. Treverra’s funeral there was a sudden violent storm. It drove all the fishing boats out to sea, and wrecked two of them. And young Squire Treverra, the new owner, was out walking by himself on the cliff path when the wind suddenly rose, and he was blown off into the sea and drowned. They never recovered his body. So there never was another burial in the old vault, because by the time the younger brother died it was past 1830, and they’d given up the struggle with the sand, and built St. Mary Magdalene’s, right at the top end of Maymouth. They didn’t intend to lose
one. So for all we know it may be true about the poems in the coffin. Anyhow, as Maymouth’s in the throes of its periodical fit of conscience about letting St. Nectan’s get silted up, we’re in a fair way to find out.”
“You’re thinking of opening the tomb?” asked George with interest.
“We’ve got a dispensation. In the interests of literature. If we miss this chance, who knows when we shall get another?” He thumped a fist suddenly and peremptorily on the oak table. “And I propose—Hear ye! Hear ye!—I propose to do the job the day after to-morrow, as ever is.”
The whole public bar heard it, and several heads turned to grin in their direction; there was nobody among the Dragon’s regulars whom Simon did not know, or who did not know Simon. Sam Shubrough heard it, and beamed broadly over the glass he was polishing. And the girl just entering the bar by the outside door heard it, and turned towards them at a light, swinging walk, her hands in the pockets of her fisher-knit jacket.
“Hallo!” she said, over Dominic’s startled shoulder. “What’s Simon advertising? Carpet sale, or something?”
“Tamsin!” The men shuffled to find foot-room to rise, and Phil drew her skirt close and made room for the newcomer in the circle.
“One thing about a man who announces his intentions through a megaphone,” she said as she sat down and stretched out her long and very graceful legs, “you do at least know where he is, and how to avoid him.”
“You came straight here, a pin to a magnet,” said Simon promptly.
She looked round the table and counted. “There are six of you here. Five would have been enough. Some,” she added, with a smile of candid interest that robbed her directness of all offence, “I don’t know yet. I’m Tamsin Holt.”
Tim did the honours. She smiled last and longest at Dominic, because he was looking at her with such startled and appreciative eyes. “Hallo! Phil told me about you. You pulled her Patrick out of the water this afternoon.”
“Did she tell you he didn’t want to come?” Dominic felt his colour rising; but the tide of pleasure in him rose with it. She was so astonishing, after Phil’s mendacious description. Glasses, indeed! The bridge of her straight nose had certainly never carried any such burden. And as for “not bad-looking ”!
“She told me maybe he didn’t even
to come. But she said she’d like to think there’d always be you around whenever he even
need you. Take it from me, my boy, you’re in. You’ve been issued with a membership ticket.” She looked up over her shoulder, where Sam Shubrough’s granite bulk was looming like one of the Maymouth rocks, a monolith with a good-humoured beetroot for a face. Half of its royal redness was concealed behind a set of whiskers which looked early-nineteenth- century-coachman, but were actually ex-R.A.F., “Hallo, Sam! Nice night for a walk.”
To judge by the small, demure glint that flashed from her eyes to the landlord’s, this meant more than it said. But then, she had a way of making everything a fraction more significant. Ever since she had sat down beside him Dominic had been trying to assimilate the complete image of her, and she wouldn’t give him the chance. She was always in motion, and all he could master was the lovely detail.
“That right, now,” asked Sam interestedly, peering down at Dominic from behind the hedge, “that you fetched young Paddy out? That’s the first time anybody’s ever had to do
. Where’d he manage to get into trouble?”
“Off the rocks of the point, just in the ebb, the worst time.”
“Go on! What possessed a bright kid like him to go out there? He knows a lot better than that.”
“He thought he saw a body being pulled out to sea there,” Dominic explained. “He went in to try and reach him. But we went in afterwards and hunted as long as we could—at least, Mr. Towne did, I didn’t do much—and there wasn’t a sign of anything.”
“A body, eh! Not that it would be the first time, by many a one. But I’ve heard no word of anyone being missing, or of anything being sighted. No boat’s been in trouble for months, this is the best of the season. You reckon there’s anything in it, Simon?”
“I doubt it,” said Simon tranquilly. “He saw something, he’s no fool. But I don’t think for a moment it was a man. Bit of driftwood, or something, even a cluster of weed, that’ll be all.”
“Well,” said Sam comfortably, accumulating empty glasses with large, deft fingers, “if it was a body, we’ll probably know by tomorrow. Way the wind’s setting now, the next incoming tide in the small hours will leave it high and dry on the Mortuary, same as it always does.”
“The Mortuary?” Simon looked up with raised brows.
“That stretch of sand this side the church at Pentarno, where all the weed builds up. Almost anything that goes out off the point comes in again next tide on that reach. Many a one we’ve brought in from there. They don’t call it the Mortuary for nothing.” He stood brandishing his bouquet of dead men, and beamed at them cheerfully. “What’ll it be, Miss Holt? Gin and tonic? Any more orders, ladies and gents?”
George claimed the round, and Dominic backed carefully and gracefully out of it, because both his mother and his father had refrained from looking at him as if he ought to.
Something remarkable had happened suddenly to the circle. The two vehement people, the two who glittered and were always in motion, had fallen still and silent together. Simon was sitting with his hands folded before him on the table, all the lines of his long-boned face arrested in a Gothic mask, the brightness of his eyes turned inward. The stillness of the energetic often has a quite unjustified effect of remoteness and sadness. Their sleep sometimes has a look of withdrawal and death. And Tamsin—Dominic could see her whole for the first time, the pale oval of her face, the broad, determined brow under the smooth fringe of red-gold hair, the thoughtful, fierce and tender mouth, a little too large for perfection but just the right size for generosity and beauty; and the eyes, very dark blue under their startling black lashes, wide and watchful and withholding judgment, fixed upon Simon. If he looked at her she would lower the more steely blue of the portcullis, and her mouth would shape a dart quickly and hurl it. But now she studied, and thought, and wondered, and could not be sure.
“Gin and tonic,” said Sam, leaning between them with the tray. “Bitter? Whisky on the rocks, that’s Simon. Mild—that’s Mr. Felse.”
Simon came out of his abstraction with a start, and reached for his whisky.
“Doing the job down at the church day after tomorrow, are you?” said Sam conversationally. “That’ll be a day for Maymouth. Nobody still kicking about it being irreverent, and all that?”
It was rather quiet in the bar. A frieze of benign local faces beamed at the corner table. A tenuous little cord of private fun drew them all close together for a moment.
“Only the cranks, Sam, only the cranks. Look at the topweight we’ve got on our side. The church sanctions it, and Miss Rachel insists on it. Tim will represent the family’s interests, and the Vicar’ll be there to see fair play. How about you, Sam? Come and make a fourth witness? Ten o’clock in the morning, sharp!”
Just for a fraction of a second those two looked each other blandly in the eye, and the Maymouth regulars grinned like gargoyles along the wall.
“Wouldn’t miss it, Simon,” said Sam Shubrough heartily. “Any time you want a strong-arm man, you call on me. Ten o’clock sharp. I’ll be there.”
From the hotel on the headland a broad path brought them to the slight dip of the Dragon’s neck, where the road between Maymouth and Pentarno clambered over the hump-backed beast that slept in the moonlight. Their path crossed it and moved on through the highest roads, half back-street, half country-lane, of the quiet town of Maymouth, towards the towered monstrosity of Treverra Place.
“It’s a lovely night,” said Dominic dreamily, halting at the edge of the road, unwilling to cross, and shorten the way he still had to walk beside her.
“Lovely,” said Tamsin.
“If you’re not tired—”
“I’m not tired.”
“I thought we could walk along the cliff road towards Pentarno a little way, and then turn in by the other lane.”
“If you like, yes, of course.”
It was his day. She’d said yes to everything he’d suggested, the first dance, the offer to escort her home, and now this delicate prolonging of his pleasure. Perhaps to leave him room to expand and show his paces, because that was what he wanted, and she liked him well enough to give him his head, and certainly needed no help to manage him. Or perhaps to mark more clearly how firmly she had said no to everything Simon had asked of her. She had played Dominic’s game neatly back to him, and she knew already what he didn’t yet know: that he wasn’t in love with her in the least degree, and never would be, though there would be times when he would feel that he was. Nobody was going to get hurt by the game, it wasn’t going to get rough; but they would both enjoy it and learn something from it, and be a little bit the richer ever after. What she hadn’t expected was that he would say anything in the least extraordinary or out of the pattern. And when he had, their relationship had opened out on quite another plane. The game would delight him while his holiday lasted, and make it memorable afterwards. But the second relationship might well last much longer, and be seriously valued by them both. And neither of them would break any hearts. So she went on saying yes; yes to everything.