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Authors: Lynette Silver

In the Mouth of the Tiger (131 page)

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It must have been some time after two in the morning when Denis looked at me inquiringly, and I hesitated, and then smiled my grudging consent. The dice had skittered across the bright and shiny surface of the playing board and come to rest against us.

Alan had waited at the hospital all night, and he came in when Denis had gone and took me down to his car. I don't think I've ever felt so alone, emerging into the cold, grey streets of Bournemouth on that awful day. Alan offered to hold my arm but I walked alone, my chin up, as Denis would have wanted.

I dreamt of Denis that night. There was nothing in my dream about hospitals, or grave-faced doctors, or even helicopters clattering across the black winter sky. In my dream we were riding in Malaya. I was on Dame Fashion, and I knew I was in a dream because Denis wasn't on Thor but an earlier horse, his beloved Soliloquy. At first we were alone in open country with scattered coconut trees and the gleam of water in the distance, and then there was a change. Suddenly we were in difficult terrain, with stands of oak and beech and with the fields criss-crossed by hedgerows. And we were in the middle of a fox hunt, with lolling-tongued dogs and red-coated riders in full cry. I saw Stewart Menzies, his eyes popping with effort as he galloped past me in pursuit of the leading riders. A gully opened up on my right, a dangerous, tangled, thorny place, and I instinctively veered my horse to the high ground on my left. As I did so I saw that Denis had not followed me but had plunged down into the gully to be lost to sight. Just as I was becoming concerned the gully ended and Denis reappeared, galloping up to join me, his face alight with triumph. Safe on the pommel in front of him there was a pure golden fox, its head resting against his chest.

I knew immediately what the dream was all about. Stewart Menzies had told me that no one would qualify to take the pure golden fox of Stirlingshire in the last, symbolic outing of the Linlithgow Hunt because all its members had been forced by the nature of their craft to compromise.

But Stewart had been wrong. Denis had not compromised. In the last, fatal moment, when the trap at Monk's Farm had closed and the helicopters had come clattered in on us, he'd kept his word and handed Malcolm a loaded gun.

That is where my story ends: all else is postscript.

I sold everything we owned in England – our leasehold on the Manor, Monk's Farm, Richelieu, even the Wolseley – and the children and I sailed for Australia at the end of March 1950. Denis had been cremated and I took his ashes with me, in a small metal box in the bottom of my suitcase. Good friends had begged me to stay, to fulfil the dreams that Denis and I had shared, but of course I couldn't. They had been
our
dreams, Denis's and mine, and they meant nothing to me after Denis died.

At first we tried to settle in Melbourne, but the place carried too many memories and so we moved on to Western Australia where I had learnt to live without Denis once before. I bought a rambling, friendly house in the hills just outside Perth, and tried to make it into a happy, busy home where the children could grow up surrounded by stability and love.

In time they all went their individual ways. Tony didn't end up as a naval architect after all. He fell in love with languages – Russian in particular, which is curious because I had never mentioned his Russian heritage – and today he teaches Modern Language at a university in Canberra. Bobby did become a lawyer, with his interest in the wide scope of administrative law rather than the minutiae of a solicitor's practice. Frances became a doctor, a specialist paediatrician, and if I say so myself, a successful and a rather famous one.

All three of my children have established families, and though we are scattered around Australia and the world we are all still close and loving friends. Though I do have my moments with Frances. It is in her nature to need to know things, and one thing she wants to know with a passion is everything about the past. But the past she wants to know about is Denis's and mine alone, and not for me to share. So we row, Frances and I, and make up, and then row again, and in the meantime she has achieved all those glittering prizes I knew she would achieve.

A few years ago I sold the house outside Perth, which had become too big for a single woman of ancient years, and moved to the east coast. At first to Canberra, where some of the family had settled, and then to the unit I now occupy in a retirement village on the south coast of New South Wales.

And it was here that I discovered that the gods had granted me one last favour. On my first morning after moving in I was sitting on my small deck overlooking the sea when I saw my neighbour staring at me from his little garden. He was a tall, sunburned man with a long, friendly face, vaguely familiar, and he raised his battered hat politely. ‘Norma, my dear. Fancy meeting you.'

It was Tim Featherstone.

EPILOGUE

By Timothy Featherstone

(Executor of the Estate of Norma Felice Elesmere-Elliott)

Norma died in her eighty-second year, sitting alone on her deck at sunset. I'm not usually an imaginative soul, but I like to think that Denis had joined her there in the evening shadows, and had smiled his ineffable smile, and taken her hand to lead her home.

She had made me her executor, and so I was the one who went through her financial and private papers. They were all in immaculate order: bank statements, share certificates, certificates of deposit, instructions about how to dispose of her effects, and directions for her cremation. It was her wish that her ashes be mixed with Denis's and scattered ‘somewhere beautiful'.

Amongst her papers was a manuscript. I hesitated before reading it, because it was at first glance intensely personal, and a love story. But it also deals with some of the most sensitive secrets of our times, secrets that may well change our perception of events and personalities, and for that reason I decided that it needed to be published.

Norma's and Denis's ashes were scattered from a wild and beautiful seacliff at the tip of Pretty Point. It was a fine, windy day and I stood in the background while Norma's children and grandchildren said a prayer and released the mixed ashes to the sunlight and the fresh sea air. A sea eagle soared above the group, circling with rigid pinions on the eternal winds of the Tasman Sea.

I often visit that spot, and sit in quiet contemplation on a convenient root of an upturned tree. It is a considerable walk from my unit, but I enjoy it because it is a walk I used to take with Norma before her hip began to trouble her. We would stroll from the neat, trim gardens of the retirement village down to the craggy beaches that line this part of the coast, and when we came to Pretty Point we'd stride out to the very end, to the windy promontory
above the sea. The walk would take us half the morning, and we'd chat all the way, about Malaya and the old days, about mutual friends, and about those we had loved and lost.

I loved Norma all my life, of course, but that is neither here nor there because she only loved her Denis. But she gave me a place in her heart, and that is enough for me. So I sit there, on my gnarled seat beneath a casuarina tree, and guard her memory.

BOOK: In the Mouth of the Tiger
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