“They’re doing what!”
Harry had been asleep when Stephen got back to King's Hampton but he was too restless to let her be. His throat was already sore from talking with the Thorncombes but he had more to say . . . and to ask.
"Here Stephen, throw me that shawl and make us some coffee, will you?"
Harry rubbed her eyes with one hand, caught the shawl with the other, reached for her glasses and pushed back her hair, wriggled properly upright, turned on the lamp beside her bed and grabbed a book. Stephen was impressed. She seemed instantly alert. He'd expected her to be angry but she wasn't.
"I haven't been asleep long."
"You didn't wait up?"
"I couldn't help wondering what was going on. You're terribly late."
He began to apologise.
"It's ok, Stephen, but I would like that coffee. Just a small one. You don't mind bringing it here?"
In a way he did. He'd never before discussed anything with Harry when all she was wearing was her nightdress. It was high necked and long sleeved and Victorian but still . . . He often went through her room on his way to the lift but she wasn't usually there and if ever she was, she was asleep. This was the first time in years that he'd been with her after midnight. She was beautiful and exotic and clever and all sorts of things which Stephen admired. And he found it difficult.
Thoughtfully, he made the coffee.
"I still don't understand," she said, taking a mug from the tray and pointing to the end of the bed so he would sit there. "Biscuits! Well, done. It's like a midnight feast. One minute they're broken hearted, aging at the speed of light and possibly insane . . . and the next minute, they're rejoicing because they're being booked into some old people's home in Clapham and discussing paint. Or is that the insanity? Sounds like it."
"It's a horrible orange," Stephen remarked. "They've only kept it because Rosemary chose it. It's been oppressing them for ages."
"So it may. But surely they can have the kitchen painted without going into an old people's home first?"
"Care Home then!"
"Well, it's not just that." He was beginning to feel sick. He really was awfully tired. He should have waited till morning. And he would have been better off with tea instead of coffee. "It's so they can have the windows opened between the kitchen and the terrace. That's another thing they've been wanting to have done for years but they couldn't bring themselves to have people around, builders and . . . ."
Harry didn't look impressed.
"They're very isolated," he said, putting his mug back on the tray. "You've got to understand." He moved it off the bed and onto the floor. "They're not used to having people round all the time like that. They wouldn't cope."
Harry looked doubtful.
"I know! It's Robert!" she said firmly. "I've never thought of him as a bully but if he's decided this is 'right' I expect he'll do everything he can to push it through."
"No!" Stephen felt loyalties tearing inside. "He's a bit of a stuffed shirt." (Harry smiled.) "And a bit conventional." ("You can say that!" she said.) "But he's kind. No, Harry, really!"
"Doesn't seem very kind to me," she said, gruffly. "Dragging them away like this. Why don't Hugh and Camellia ask Robert and Rosemary to come and supervise the builders now the place is tidied up?"
"Because they want to go to London. (And I wouldn't exaggerate the 'tidied up' bit either). That's the only way they've any hope of seeing the children."
Harry looked up sharply.
"They didn't come?"
Harry stared. Stephen tried not to flounder.
"It's all to do with grandparents, Harry. Robert wants Hugh and Camellia to be 'proper' grandparents - all neat and tidy and old and looked after. I think he quite likes the idea of country life but not farmers, especially not muddy ones."
"Goes with the territory doesn't it?"
"Possibly. But that's beside the point. It'll only be for a short while. Just a week. Two at the most. So they can try it out."
Harry looked at him. "But what's the 'but'?".
"It won't be till March."
"So . . . "
"So I was wondering . . . "
"If I could stay here until then - until the lambs are big enough . . . then, after they're back . . . "
"You're going to be a shepherd!?"
"No. I've been offered free-lance work from the people I was with in America. As long as I can use my word processor, maybe plug in a computer, I can tide myself over for a bit - it's only till March. I said I'd keep an eye on things while they're away. After that - well, by then I'll be ready to go back to London myself, maybe my old firm. There's a place."
"You don't know anything about animals!"
"There won't be much to know. The cows will be back in the fields. So will the sheep. And there's no milking. That's it."
"In the lift!"
"It would be a kind of office."
"Just till March? You're sure?"
"Right," she said. "Agreed. Till March, well, till they come back. Don't bother with the tray. Just shove it under the bed." She turned off the light, lay down and pulled the duvet over her shoulders. "Goodnight."
"Harry?" he whispered.
"They don't know. I mean Rosemary and Robert simply haven't a clue."
"That it isn't a real trial. That there's no chance they'll do anything other than carry on living at Thorncombe. There's no give. No flexibility. Once they've seen the children and the kitchen's done - they'll never budge again."
"But surely they realise that? They can't seriously think Hugh and Camellia would move to London.?"
"But they do! They think London's wonderful and that everyone would like to live there and that Hugh and Camellia will only be doing what people do when they're old - go and live near relatives. Move into a home."
"Oh gracious!" Through the dark, he could tell she was irritated. Then he felt the atmosphere change because she had begun to smile. "Well, I'm glad they're all in agreement and everything's clear and organised."
"It is," he said. "Goodnight!"
To continue - Thirty-Three
For the post before this - Thirty-One