HASTE to the
Chel and Oliver arrived home to the Helford river from London on a high after the close of Oliver's fantastically successful first exhibition of paintings, and came down to earth with a bump. During their absence, a wild November gale had swept up the river, shifted four tiles on their newly acquired roof, totally removed one, and left the guttering on the front of the house dangling pathetically across the front door.
'Well, welcome home!' remarked Oliver, but philosophically.
'And no landlord to blame,' said Chel. 'Fun, isn't it, owning our own house?' She opened the car door and stepped out into the lane, and the wind caught at her hair, blowing it straight back like a flag, and made her jacket balloon out behind her. She staggered with its force, even in the shelter of the creek. In the dim interior of the car, she heard Oliver laugh, the tiny inside light lit his face and showed her the accompanying grin.
'Real life starts here,' he said.
At that point, they didn't know about the tiles. They found this out when Chel went into their bedroom to dump their bags, and discovered a wet patch spreading across the ceiling and dripping onto the floor. She went back downstairs and broke the news to Oliver.
'Over the bed?' he asked, ever practical.
'No. Fortunately, it's in the corner by the window.'
'Worry about it tomorrow, then. It's too late to do anything about it tonight.'
'It's going splat, splat, splat. It'll drive us mad. And if it rains all night it'll bring the ceilings down.'
'It won't keep me awake, and I can't stop it raining, can I? You can phone Deb in the morning and ask her for the name of a good builder. Mawgan is bound to know someone, you can't leave a historic building to look after itself.'
'If this was a boat, you'd find a way to fix it soon enough,' grumbled Chel. She reached for the kettle and filled it from the kitchen tap.
'If it was a boat, I'd have some idea how to,' Oliver returned, without heat. He picked up the accumulated post that his sister, who lived - in sin, according to her mother - at the pub in the village, had stacked tidily on the kitchen table during their absence. Chel watched him shuffling through it, throwing the junk aside carelessly, making a mess where there was none before.
'You could at least get into the loft and put a bucket under it. You can manage that, surely.' She tried to keep the edge from her voice. Oliver gave her a long look, on the brink of saying something he might regret later, but decided to leave it alone. Instead,
'Good idea.' He dropped the last of the letters on the random heap that he had made. 'Have we a bucket?'
'Of course we have a bucket - here - ' She took it from its cupboard and thrust it into his hands. 'I'll make some tea while you do it.'
When he had vanished upstairs with the bucket, she sighed wearily, and looked at her watch. There had still been lights in the Fish as they drove past, but it was a bit late to start phoning now, and no builder would turn out tonight, anyway. Splashed past, actually, the tide had been unusually high and the causeway at the bottom of the hill almost too deep under water to drive across. She pulled out a chair and sank into it. Upstairs, the sound of the loft ladder extending and a series of crashes and bangs charted Oliver's progress. She hoped he would be all right. Apart from his disability from horrendous physical injury two or three years ago, he was about as domesticated as a wolf in a forest, and finding himself a home-owner had done nothing to alter that.
Come to that, owner. The last, still slightly unreal, fortnight had ensured that they could stay here, the gamble of buying a house they couldn't really afford had paid off. She hadn't realised, until it actually happened, how much of a strain it had been, and how much was riding on the outcome.
So they had a home. All they needed to do now, was make a life.
Out in the living-room, the phone rang, and Chel got to her feet and went through to answer it.
'Chel! I thought I saw you go past.' Her sister-in-law's voice came lilting down the wire. 'Dreadful weather, isn't it? You should have been here yesterday, we nearly had the river in the bar, I had wondered why there wasn't carpet on the floor! Had a good journey?'
'We had a lousy journey. We were late leaving, Giff Thomas wanted to talk to Oliver, and then it rained all the way back, there was a pile-up on the M5, thick fog in Devon, and now we're home the gutter is down and the roof is leaking, and how long has it been blowing a hooley like this?'
'Hey, hey, slow down!' Debbie was laughing. Glad someone found it funny, Chel thought morosely. She said so.
'Glad you find it amusing.'
'You sound shattered.' That was more sympathetic. 'But it was worth it, wasn't it? Did Oliver have a sell-out in the end?'
'Pretty well. I believe there were a couple of sketches left, but Giff says they'll go as soon as he opens tomorrow.' Gifford Thomas was the gallery owner who had staged the exhibition. 'I was going to ring you, actually. I thought it was too late tonight, I was leaving it until tomorrow - but since you've rung anyway - '
'Sunday,' interrupted Debbie, by way of explanation. 'Mawgan's just closing up. His night on the bar, remember? We can spend it sort-of together.'
' Well ask him, can you, if he can recommend a good builder? One who'll actually turn up would be first choice. There must be somebody sticks bits back on the Fish.'
'I'm sure there is. Did you get some damage in the gale last night, then? It was all OK yesterday morning when I went to pick up the post for you.'
'No, we need them to dig the garden!' answered Chel, tartly. 'Deb listen, can't you? Oh - sorry! I'm just so tired, all I want is to go to bed and the ceiling is dripping water onto the carpet. I've sent Oliver up into the loft, but he looked at me as if I'd asked him to scrub the kitchen floor - look, come over for coffee tomorrow morning. We can have a real talk.'
'Great. I'll do that. There's loads to tell you, too. Meanwhile, welcome back!'
When Debbie had rung off, Chel looked at the winking red light on the answering machine and wondered if she had the strength tonight. Oliver was still upstairs, she pressed the button and listened. There were only two messages.
'Oliver!' said his godmother's voice. 'Look, I'm flying out to Greece on Thursday, can I come and see you tomorrow morning? Give me a ring if it's inconvenient, otherwise I'll be over about ten, OK? Longing to see you both! Oh - this is Nonie.'
'Chel, it's Susan. We need to get together, if Deb is really going to marry this chef of hers in February, there's things to arrange, like a wedding - Tom and I can come down next weekend if that's all right with you? Don't worry, Deb says we can stay at the pub. Give me a ring when you get back, can you? Oh - and great about the exhibition. Well done Oliver!'
There were one or two clicks, where people hadn't bothered to leave messages. Chel rewound the tape and stood lost in thought. Oliver came back down the stairs and found her still standing there. He put his arms round her.
'It's OK Chel. We seem to have lost at least one tile, I've tried to wedge something in the hole for now, and at least the rain has stopped. I'll go outside while you make the tea and see if I can stop that guttering banging about - I've put a towel under the drip.'
'I've spoken to Debbie,' said Chel. 'God knows when we can get someone here though - we won't be the only people with tiles off and things.'
'I'll have a proper look in the morning, when it's light,' he promised.
'You won't. Nonie's coming over. She'll want to talk about what comes next for you.'
'Then I'll have a look when she's gone. It shouldn't be beyond me, just to stop up a leak.'
'Susan rang, too. She wants to come down next weekend.' Susan was Oliver's stepsister, unlike Debbie, who was his half-sister. They didn't really get on. He sighed, dramatically.
'Into each life, some rain must fall.'
'Don't be like that. Anyway, she's staying at the Fish.'
'Poor Mawgan! He hasn't had the pleasure yet, has he?'
'Go and fix that gutter, if you're going to.' Chel managed to unstick her weary feet from the carpet and trailed across to the kitchen door. 'You've got ten minutes. Use them!'
But in the morning, things looked altogether better. It hadn't rained in the night, the drip had stopped, and the sun was shining. Even the wind had dropped a little. Standing outside in the blowy sunshine, instead of in the windy darkness, nothing could seem so bad. The arrival of Anona Fingall while they were still sitting over the remains of a disgracefully late breakfast further improved the day.
'You'll stay to lunch, of course,' said Chel.
'I'm counting on it. There's a lot to talk about.'
'That's what everyone says.' Chel yawned. 'If it's about painting, count me out. Go up into the studio and tell Oliver - I'm going to unpack and tidy round, settle back in. It feels as if we've been away for months, not weeks.'
'Some of it is about painting,' said Nonie. She gave them both a demure look. 'Some of it isn't. I'll tell you over lunch.'
'Let's get out of Chel's way, then,' said Oliver, getting to his feet. 'You OK, sweetheart? Nothing we can do?' He was already heading for the door. Nonie hesitated.
'I shall be fine - Deb's coming over later, she said. Don't worry about me, it's easier without him!' They exchanged a grin.
'Point taken,' said Nonie, and followed Oliver outside.
Oliver's studio was over the adjoining garage, up an outside staircase. It enjoyed a magnificent view of the creek from a wide balcony, and was the thing that had really sold them the house, although that was lovely too. The first thing that Oliver did was to push the doors to the balcony wide open, letting the cool November air rush in. Nonie shivered.
'Fresh air fiend!'
'I hate being shut in,' said Oliver, apologetically.
'I'll keep my coat on.' Nonie looked around her. 'What happened to that lovely picture you did with the boats and the sea urchins? I expected to see it at the gallery, but I didn't, and it isn't here either. Did you sell it?'
' I gave it to Deb,' said Oliver. He shifted a few things around on the workbench where he did his framing, and didn't look at Nonie. 'She's had a bit of a rough time - I wanted to show some solidarity.'
'My goodness, you are improving!' said Nonie. He looked up then, and met her eyes ruefully.
'Selfish bastard? I know. But at least now, I can see it. Mostly I can see it.'
'More self-centred than selfish, maybe.'
'Yeah... well, it'll have given Deb some practice. I think she's picked out another one the same.'
'I'm longing to meet her. Chel says she's like you.'
'Is she?' Oliver considered this. 'No, she's a blonde.'
'I don't think she meant looked like you, exactly,' said Nonie.
'Susan's the one you need to look out for.'
'She was a sweet little girl. Her father was a darling.'
'Her mother isn't. You know what she did to Deb, don't you?'
'Disowned her. You told me. Well, she got her come-uppance, hasn't your father left her?'
'Yeah - left her with the house and all the furniture, and no divorce.'
'Bitter for her, even so.'
'She deserved worse.'
Nonie couldn't argue with that. Oliver's mother, Helen Macken the sculptress, had once been her best friend, the dissolution of Helen's marriage to Jerry Nankervis due to the machinations of the woman who became his second wife, had meant the dissolution of that friendship too. She wondered whether to comment on the fact that Jerry and Helen had come to Oliver's private view together, and decided not to. She had managed a brief talk with Helen, it had felt strange and, she rather thought, led nowhere. The whole incident had been very curious.
She was Oliver's mentor and teacher now, as well as his godmother. Another thing that had infuriated and humiliated Dot - the Dreaded Dot, as Helen had christened her, back in the days when they were young together. She had things to talk about, relevant to his future career.
'So what do you plan to do next?' she asked him, now. 'You have to build on that success, it won't carry you forward on its own.'
An hour later they were still deep in discussion, when a sudden and unexpected wailing screech from outside made them both jump.
'What the hell was that?' Oliver strode onto the balcony, and stopped abruptly. 'Oh God, it's you! What are you doing up there?'
His brother-in-law elect, up a ladder at the front of the house with an electric drill, doffed an imaginary cap in his direction.
'Mornin' zur. Oi be 'ere about the trouble.'
'Chel said she asked Deb to ask you for the name of your builder - not to take up your time.'
'She did, so I sent him round.' Mawgan abandoned his country bumpkin impression and grinned across at him. 'I'm up to the job - promise. I served my time in the building trade, as well as in one of Her Majesty's prisons, remember.'
Oliver decided not to go there, Mawgan's attitude to the tragic accident that had led, indirectly, to Deb's disinheritance was often frivolous to the point of being alarming. A defence mechanism, Oliver thought, but didn't know him well enough as yet to be certain how to deal with it. He called over his shoulder,
'Nonie! Come and see what I've found - a chef on a ladder!'
Nonie stepped out onto the windy balcony behind him.
'Deb's intended, Mawgan Angwin from the pub down the road. My godmother, Mawgan - Anona Fingall.'
'Nonie,' said Nonie. 'Hullo, Mawgan.' She smiled at him, and he gave her back a friendly grin.
'Hi, pleased to meet you.' He spun the drill in his hand with a whirring noise. 'Must get on, excuse me. See you on the ground later?' Nonie just had time to stick her fingers in her ears.
When they went back inside, Oliver shut the balcony doors, so there was some mercy.
'A native Cornishman,' said Nonie, stating a fact. 'Poor Dot - you'd think your sister was doing it on purpose if you had a nasty suspicious turn of mind.'
'It serves her damn well right - after the way she tried to treat Chel, it's poetic justice. But no, you wouldn't, if you knew Deb. She just fell in love.'
'I can see why. What a charmer! I should think the grin alone was enough to slay her at twenty paces.'
'So long as he doesn't hurt her.'
'How do you get on with him?' said Nonie, curiously.
'I don't know him all that well so far - we've both been too busy.'
'He's not likely to hurt her, is he?' asked Nonie, after a pause, and Oliver gave her a wry smile.
'Not that I know of - it's just that he's the first one of a long line she's got as far as marrying, and I want it to work for her.'
'You big softie! Who'd have thought it?'
'The last man she shacked up with gave her hell, and he was from her own world. It seems a bit risky to me to step so far out of line - background, upbringing, interests, everything so opposite, you wouldn't think they'd find a thing in common.'
'You did the same thing,' Nonie reminded him.
'That was different. And I didn't care a toss what bloody Dot thought. Deb does.'
'That wasn't different at all,' Nonie contradicted. Oliver thought about it.
'Not on one level, no, maybe you're right, but Chel didn't have a prison record. Nor was she dedicated to a very time-consuming career, she had room to manoeuvre. For us both to manoeuvre. And although Chel worked in a hotel, for some reason, Deb's loving mother finds the pub even more difficult to swallow.'
'He owns the pub, I thought.'
'He does, and you could add that it's a beautiful, historic building. It's still a pub, and he still works in it. That's absolutely fine by me, but so far as my stepmother is concerned, it's the lowest of the low. She's never met him, but you know what Deb says she called him? Rubbish!'
'That sounds like Dot we all know, and love. You'd think she'd learn, wouldn't you?' Pause. 'He looks nice - fun,' Nonie offered.
'I've no doubt he's both those things. But apart from the pub, he's a very ambitious chef with his own restaurant. Doesn't leave a lot of time to be a party animal, I wouldn't have thought.'
'A man with his hands full.'
'I'm sure they've talked about it, and worked something out.' It was so odd, hearing Oliver who claimed that he had no time for his family, fretting like this about one of his sisters, that Nonie had almost lost sight of the obvious reason. It came back to her now.
'Did you say he went to prison? What for?'
'Manslaughter,' said Oliver, shortly.
'Ouch! Nasty.' She hesitated. 'I'm surprised that Jerry...'
'He reckons that it was a miscarriage of justice, and is trying to build a case to appeal.'
'I hope he's right.'
'Your father isn't a fool, you know. And presumably, he loves your sister too.'
Oliver said nothing, and after a moment looking hopelessly at the blackness of his frown, his godmother decided to take the bull by the horns. There was already enough trouble in the Nankervis family without Oliver creating yet more.
'Oliver,' she said. 'Look - maybe I'm speaking out of turn here, but you know, you can't equivocate on this one. Your sister is going to live just down the road from you, she's going to marry that man out there. Credit her with being capable of running her own life, why don't you? If you do anything else, you'll run the risk of alienating her the way you did poor Susan, but without the excuse of being a child.'
'I didn't alienate Susan!'
'Don't change the subject. And yes, you did.' She waited, but Oliver said nothing, so she continued. 'Don't build up prejudices, Oliver. It can be habit-forming.'
The silence that followed seemed to go on for ever. Then Oliver turned abruptly and crossed the floor to the balcony door in three quick strides, wrenching it open to step back outside. He crossed to the rail, Nonie was glad to see, with no trace of the tension of a minute before.
'How's it going?'
Mawgan was about to climb down the ladder. He paused.
'Well, it's up. But I reckon it's been there near enough since the house was built back in 1907. You need to replace it, and that'll probably be true all round the house. D'you want me to do it?'
'You?' asked Oliver, taken aback.
'Why not me? It's not rocket science, ezackly, just replacing a launder.'
'Sorry. A gutter to you. I've put your tiles straight, but one blew off, and it broke. I've patched it for now, until I get you a new one.'
Oliver could be both stubborn and difficult, and wasn't much given to considering the viewpoint of other people, but much like his father, he was no fool. It wasn't what Mawgan had said so much, as the confrontational way in which he had said it. He recognised that what he had been in danger of doing to Mawgan, Mawgan was also in danger of doing to him, and that Nonie was right, it couldn't be allowed to happen. He leaned comfortably on the rail, and set out to arrest the process before it went too far.
'So what's this, moonlighting?'
'Just keeping my hand in.' Mawgan looked rueful. 'Truth is, I'm not used to having days off, I don't know what to do with them.'
'So this is a day off, is it?'
'Something like that.'
'Then you don't want to spend it up a ladder in half a gale. Come up here instead, and we'll have a beer and talk about it. Or talk about something else. Whatever.'
'Fine by me.'
Oliver went back into the studio, and looked at Nonie, challengingly.
'Did I do all right?'
'You sounded almost human. So, did it hurt?'
'Not so's you'd notice. Look Nonie, it isn't that I don't like the man, I think I probably do. It's just... because it's Deb, I suppose. I do love Deb, you're right.'
'There's an admission. And it didn't choke you, either, congratulations!'
Oliver looked at her with an unexpected crooked grin.
'My father did warn me you were a very astringent, judgemental woman.'
'Did he? Poor old Jerry!' Nonie rose from the stool where she had been sitting. 'I'll get out of your way then, the two of you won't want me around for your male bonding session. But Oliver, be careful. That's a man who looks and sounds as if he's had just about enough, and you, of all people, know how that feels.'
'Paintable?' asked Oliver, with interest, for his godmother was a well-known portrait painter. For reply, she made a face.
'Very, but not right now. It wouldn't be fair. Anyway, I doubt if he could sit still for long enough, that's a live wire your sister has there.'
When she had gone, running down the outside stairway to the lane, Oliver went slowly over to the small caravan fridge that he and Chel had put in the studio to facilitate the evening enjoyment of the view from the balcony, but didn't immediately open it. He stood with his hand on the door, thinking. Down below in the lane he heard Nonie's voice, and Mawgan answering, the sound of laughter and the rattle of the ladder sliding onto the roof-rack on Mawgan's Volvo estate. Deb presumably was here somewhere, but she hadn't come up to say hullo. Did that mean that she, too, was feeling uncomfortable? No, amendment: had he himself created a situation with which nobody was entirely comfortable?
It hadn't been deliberate, of that at least he was innocent. Both he and Mawgan had been too busy over the last month to do more than nod to each other in passing, but while the pressures on Mawgan had been easing with the end of the season, giving him maybe too much time in which to think, they had been building on Oliver in the run-up to his exhibition, giving him none at all.
'Oh, bugger everything,' Oliver muttered to himself. He wasn't much given to self-criticism, and disliked the feeling.
'I second that,' said Mawgan, from the door.
'Come in,' said Oliver. He took two cold beers from the fridge, and Mawgan came in and looked about him with interest.
'Nice pictures - not that I'm a judge.' He accepted the offered can and opened it with skill born of long practice. 'That one you gave Deb - that's some beautiful.'
'I gave it to both of you.'
'Then thank you. It was generous.'
'Come out on the balcony. I take it you're not frightened of a little breeze, like my godmother?'
'Look,' said Mawgan, as they leaned on the rail together. 'If you like, we can talk about gutters and tiles, and whether you want me to make good the damage to your bedroom ceiling, and that's fine.'
Oliver drank some of his beer, savouring the cold of it as it ran down his throat, and chose his words carefully.
'We can do that, yes. Or?'
'Or you can listen to me.'
'You want to tear me off a strip?'
'No. Why should I? I just thought the boot was on the other foot, maybe.'
'I'm very fond of Deb,' said Oliver, moderating his confession to Nonie. 'If marrying you is what makes her happy, I go with that.'
'Do you, really?' Mawgan looked as if he didn't believe a word. 'Then perhaps this'll make you feel better about it. She's perfectly safe with me, I wouldn't hurt her, not physically, not even accidentally - you do that kind of thing once, it kind of cures you for ever.'
'I can see that it would,' said Oliver, quietly.
'What happened to Mike was a fluke. You do realise that? Even if it happened with Deb, which God forbid, she'd very likely get up and walk away.'
'You don't have to convince me.'
'I feel as if I do.'
'Then I can only say, I'm sorry if that's my doing.'
'I killed him. I can see you can't overlook it.' There was too much pain in that simple statement. Oliver, who was more used to creating dramas than dealing with them, forgot Nonie's advice and reacted straight from the shoulder.
'According to my father, you didn't. And for Christ's sake try and put it behind you, or you won't be marrying my sister in February, for the simple reason that you'll be on the funny farm!'
They stared at each other. Mawgan took a deep breath, he looked furious.
'Then what's your problem? You don't even want me around your house.'
'That,' said Oliver, 'is not true, but I don't know what I can say to make you believe me. Another beer? Or will you simply pour it over my head?'
'Oh, shit,' said Mawgan, and leaning his elbows on the rail, buried his face in his hands. Oliver picked up the two empty cans and went back into the studio to fetch replacements. The interval, short though it was, gave them both time. By the time he got back, Mawgan had turned round, leaning his back against the rail so that they faced each other.
'Sorry,' he said, abruptly.
'Here.' Oliver put the can into his hand. 'Now, shall we go out and come in again?'
'Deb asked me not to quarrel with you, and now look what I've done.'
'Oh well,' said Oliver. 'We can't always be doing what the women tell us to. Cheers!'
They drank in silence for a while, and then Oliver said,
'Chel once said to me, when I was in much the same sort of mood as you are now, if you're not dead, you have to go on living. The two of you were friends once upon a time. Do you think he'd be glad that you can't go on living, even when you're the one that lived?'
'No,' said Mawgan, after a pause.
Another silence, but a less strained one. Oliver drained his can and looked at his companion, thoughtfully.
'No, better not. Deb tells me I drink too much, so I'm trying to cut back.'
'That's good. I wouldn't like to think of you drunk in charge of my - what did you call it?'
'Launder. And with my gift for hitting the floor just lately, I only climb ladders when I'm stone-cold sober.'
'That being understood, I'll be happy to have you fix it, if it really isn't an imposition.'
'I'll do something for you in return, one day - if you can think of anything, that is.'
'Fine.' Mawgan paused. His mood had changed, thankfully moved on. 'Paint a mural in my restaurant.'
'Hey, there's an idea! What of?'
'I'm not sure yet.'
'You were serious, then?'
'I think so.' He spoke slowly, thinking it out as he went. 'Although, considering who you are, I probably shouldn't ask you.'
'If I can ask you to mend my roof, I fail to see why not. It's all in the family, after all. Want to tell me about it?'
'It's just an idea, at present. I expect Deb has told you how I got landed with the pub?'
'She said your partner took off and you had to buy him out.'
'That's a kind way of putting it, but something like that. We bought the place between us, Edward and me. I wasn't the smallest bit interested in running a pub, and I'm still not. As a matter of fact...' he paused. 'No, we'll save that. Has Deb shown you the restaurant?'
'Not so far. What's it like?'
'Strange - I think so, anyway. Got a pencil and paper?'
'I'm an artist, I've got them in spades. Come inside, I'll find it for you.'
They went into the studio, and Mawgan drew a long, thin rectangle on a sheet of paper.
'It's this shape. Like a subway on the underground - and for some reason best known to themselves, the people who converted it, out of a row of cottages actually, covered in all the old beams in the walls and ceilings with plasterboard, so it's very bland, too. They built the kitchen here - ' He drew a square on the back of his rectangle. 'The pub has the river frontage, the restaurant overlooks the start of St. Erbyn Creek -' He lightly sketched in the adjoining Fish, added a few wavy lines along the front, and drew a few boat shapes at the mouth of the creek, before returning the point of his pencil to the rectangle representing the restaurant. 'See what I mean?'
Oliver did, immediately. He said, indicating on the plan,
'But if you moved this wall back, you'd have a smaller restaurant.'
'Yes, and no. There's another building here.' He added a small block on the far end, making an L-shape. 'It was a store room, or a garage or something, they walled up the door, it's only accessible from outside now. Things get dumped in it. I thought I c'd knock through, make it into a smaller restaurant area, where for one thing we could put those big, noisy parties that tend to take the place over when we get 'em, better for them, and nicer for everyone else too. Then, if we did move this wall back - ' he drew another line, reducing the length of the rectangle, '- about ten feet or so, and move the restaurant bar into there, it would make a place where the punters can sit and have a drink, look at the menu, chat to each other while they're waiting. It would save space in the restaurant itself if the bar weren't against this wall, widen it and help make it a better shape.' He sketched in the bar as it was, against the rear wall beside the kitchen door, and drew in an arrow pointing to its new position.
Oliver looked at the sketch critically.
'See what you mean. It would work well. So what stopped you, in the first instance?'
'What always stops everyone, money. I reckoned three years before I had enough to do the job proper, but then... well, you know what happened. But I had a good season this year, and although I'll have to borrow a bit - a bit more, I should say - the bank seems ready to listen, and maybe it's time.'
Oliver had become interested.
'Presumably, you'll expose all the old beams again?'
'I thought so. It's an old building, it's a shame to have it looking like a fast-food outlet.'
'Would you do it yourself?'
'No. I'll get Dad in to do it - he's a builder, I expect you know.'
'So what will you call it?' Oliver asked.
'Call it?' Mawgan looked blank. Oliver's obvious interest disarmed him. The earlier quarrel might never have happened.
'You've got to call it something. If you're pushing it up-market - as I assume you are - it can't just be "the restaurant at the Fisherman's Arms". It's got to stand on its own.'
'Yeah...' Mawgan looked thoughtful. 'I hadn't thought about it, but you're right. Any ideas?'
'Turn the problem over to the women, they'll come up with something. What about the pub?'
'If you're aiming for a top-flight restaurant, you can't run the pub as well - not if you're the chef, and everything depends on you. Get real!'
Mawgan said, slowly,
'Deb says, put in a manager.'
'And will you?'
'I'm thinking about it.'
Oliver spoke casually, a throw-away line as if it didn't matter.
'You could do worse than have a talk to Chel. She's looking for a job.'
'Deb's been talking to you,' said Mawgan, immediately.
'Only in passing, I promise you. They're very organising, the women of my family, as no doubt you've already realised.'
'Mine, too.' They exchanged a look, and laughed.
'Seems like we have a lot in common,' Oliver remarked. He might have been going to say more, but they were interrupted by the arrival of Debbie at the studio door.
'Chel says to tell you it's nearly lunch time, and to ask, do Michelin-starred chefs eat ham and salad? Because that's all there is.'
Both men turned round at the interruption, and she saw, with relief, that they seemed to be on reasonable terms. From what Nonie had said in the kitchen, they had all had doubts. Almost, they had drawn lots to see who came up.
'We're staying to lunch?' asked Mawgan, surprised.
'We are, if that's OK with you. So are you coming, both of you?'
Oliver picked up the sketch from the table.
'We'll take this with us, see what ideas we can come up with.'
The first idea that Chel came up with, when the plan had been outlined over lunch, was,
'So, when are you planning to do all this work?'
'Close after the New Year,' said Mawgan. 'Open again, hopefully, at Easter. Why do you ask?'
'Oh, no reason - just a little matter of a wedding reception, or had you forgotten about it?'
'No, I hadn't forgotten. Where's the problem? It won't affect the kitchen.'
'You're planning to arrange seating among the rubble?' Chel sounded curious. 'Different!'
'No, of course I'm not. I never reckoned to use the restaurant anyway - it probably isn't big enough, going by what Deb and my Mum have been planning.'
'Go on then.' Chel rested her elbows on the table, and her chin on her hands. 'We're listening. Surprise us!'
'It's all right. He's planning a marquee in the car park.'
'Really? Well, I'm sure he's thought it all out, but where do we then park all the cars?'
'In a field, up the lane. Or up the road at Seagulls, it should be ours by then. We're hoping to clear the site later on this month. If it's raining, we can organise a park and ride, or something. Hire a minibus.'
'There's a novel idea.'
'We'll hand it over to Roger and Carl to organise.' Roger Hickling and Carl Colenso were Debbie's putative partners in her new venture of a sailing school, on the site of a burned-out guest house by the river.
'Have you run this past Susan?' asked Oliver, interested.
'Not yet. We'll have that pleasure at the weekend.'
'Ah. I'll look forward to that.'
Nonie, sitting on the sidelines of this lively family discussion, watched them all with interest. From what both Oliver and Chel had led her to believe in the time since she had known them, she hadn't expected Jerry's fragmented family to behave so... well, like a family. Debbie and Oliver, wrangling cheerfully together over car-parking, sounded perfectly normal and not in the least dysfunctional. Chel and Mawgan, both from proper families if she hadn't missed her guess, added balance. She thought that Jerry might actually have been moved by the scene, and that took some doing. She knew that she was moved herself, the road to this moment had been so long, and so hard. There was no telling, of course, what the addition of Susan would do to the mix.
'So, have you thought of a name for this new restaurant?' she asked, much as Oliver had done. 'It's got to have one.'
'I have,' said Debbie, unexpectedly. They all looked at her, and she blushed. 'Well, it was obvious he hadn't given it a thought.'
'So, what did you come up with?' asked Chel.
'An Rosen Gwyn.'
Mawgan had gone suddenly still. Oliver said,
'Nice play on words, but what does it mean?'
'The White Rose,' said Nonie, immediately. 'It's Cornish - the name of a song, actually.'
Debbie looked across the table at Mawgan, almost with a challenge.
'Don't look at me like that. Your doctor told me - when you had that migraine that frightened us both to death, and I thought you were going to die on me from delayed compression of the brain, or an embolism or something.'
Unconsciously, Mawgan fingered the slanting scar above his right eye, acquired in the chaos that attended the burning of Seagulls in the summer. He said,
'Well, you have surprised me,' and left it at that. Chel looked at them curiously.
'Are you going to let us all in on the secret?'
'It's so old a story, it should begin Once upon a time,' said Mawgan, dismissively.
'Tell us, anyway.'
'Deb will. For one thing, I don't think I can stop her.'
Everyone looked at Debbie.
'Once upon a time?' prompted Nonie, smiling.
'It was only a couple of months ago that I first heard it, actually, just after Mawgan came out hospital. He suddenly had this horrendous migraine out of nowhere, he'd never had one before in his life and because I knew he'd... well, been less than honest with the hospital so he could escape quicker, I got in a panic and rang the surgery, and this nice Dr. Pollard came over. Dr. Billy, everyone calls him. We hadn't met before though, and I... oh goodness, it was unforgivable.' Momentarily, she hid her face in her hands. 'He said he thought it was just a migraine but he'd arrange to have it checked out to be sure, and I said...I can't believe now that I said it!'
'What did you say?' asked Mawgan, curiously.
'I said, it was good of him to come out, when he probably had no time for you anyway, just like everyone else.'
'Nice one,' murmured Oliver.
'I was upset,' said Debbie, defensively.
'So what did he say to that?' asked Chel.
'He gave me a long, cool look,' said Debbie. 'I shrivelled on the carpet, and then he said, had I time to make him a cup of tea, he thought he'd better talk to me. And he told me this story.'
She paused, and looked belatedly at Mawgan. 'You don't mind if I tell them, do you?'
'Can I stop you?'
'Well, the year after Edward and Mawgan bought the Fish, Dr. Pollard's wife - her name was Rose, by the way, you must remember that, it's part of the story - was very ill. Dying, actually, of cancer. They knew she was on borrowed time, so they were just making the best of what was left. She was going into hospital, and they were going to try and do something... but there wasn't really any hope. Anyway, she had a what d'you call it, a recession, and she was so much better that she asked him to take her out to dinner somewhere - they always loved going out to dinner, he told me, but they hadn't done it for months by then. It was dreadfully short notice, and she obviously couldn't travel far, and she probably wouldn't eat much when they got there, but he wanted to give her what she wanted because he knew it was probably the very last time they could be together like that. So he rang the Fish, because it was close and everyone was always saying how wonderful it was now, not really thinking that he would get a table... and Mawgan happened to take the call. He must have known, Dr. Billy said, well, all the village knew. And he said he'd fit them in, and what did she particularly like to eat? And he saw that they had the best table, in the corner by the window, and he did everything to please her, all her favourite things in tiny portions that she could manage, and when they got to the coffee, he - him over there, blushing - came out of the kitchen to ask if everything had been all right, and he gave her a tight, white rosebud, that he had driven all the way to St. Austell to pick from his grandfather's garden.'
'You could stop there,' Mawgan suggested, rubbing an embarassed hand over his face. 'Have mercy on me.'
'No, why? There's more to this story than even you know, so I'll finish it, if you don't mind.'
Mawgan gave a howl, and collapsed onto the table, hiding his face in his folded arms.
'I thought you said you loved me!'
'Oh, I do. Lots.' Debbie turned back to her, by this time, fascinated audience. 'She was thrilled and touched, Dr. Billy said, and she looked at him across the table, her face all lit up like it hadn't been for months, and she said, laughing you know, what a pity they weren't in Italy, so some romantic young troubadour would come up to the table and sing the White Rose for her too, wouldn't it make a wonderful evening absolutely perfect? And he said - Mawgan said - would that really make it perfect? And she said yes, but that was just dreams, it was wonderful anyway, nobody got perfect. And Dr. Billy said, he stood there, in his chef's whites and all sweaty from the kitchen, and he sang it for her - just like that. Only, this was the thing, and if you know the words of the song you'll understand why he did it - he sang it in Cornish, and she sat there with her eyes like two stars, shining, Dr. Billy said he thought she fell in love, right then and there, and there were tears rolling down his cheeks because she was so happy... and everyone in the restaurant went silent, he wasn't the only one crying, and when it got to the chorus, the locals who were there began to hum the accompaniment, and the last chorus, they all joined in, some of them even with the harmony, and it was utter, complete, magic.'
She paused, but silence had fallen on the dining table here, too, and nobody spoke. After a minute, she went on, her voice quiet and not quite steady.
'Mawgan doesn't know this bit himself, but Dr. Billy told me. She took the rosebud home and put it in a little vase and watched it unwrapping itself, day by day, delighted with it. But two days after their meal at the Fish, she collapsed in agony and had to be transferred to the hospice in Hayle, and the rose went with her. She could hardly speak for the pain, but she said "The rose - where's my lovely rose?" and so they put it where she could see it. Of course, in the heat of the ward it came out fully, and as it began to drop... she died.'
Mawgan had raised his head and was looking at her in amazement. She met his eyes, and surreptitiously wiped a tear from under her own.
'The nurses said, should they throw that old rose away now, it was dropping everywhere, but Dr. Billy said no, he'd take it away... and he wrapped it carefully and put it in the top of the freezer... and when she was in her coffin, he tucked it into her hands, and it was buried with her... and he said... he said...' She swallowed, and when she spoke again, it was in a voice not quite her own. 'He said, "And you tell me I don't like that man of yours, young lady? Well, you're quite right, I don't. I love that man."'
Into the long silence that followed, Oliver said quietly,
'Well, that was a real conversation-killer. Coffee, anyone?'
'I'll make it.' Chel got to her feet, glad to have an excuse to escape into the kitchen, where she blew her nose, hard, on a piece of kitchen paper. Debbie, she thought, probably shouldn't have done that, although she could see why she had.
Back in the main room, Nonie said, to bring the disconcerted company down to earth without creating a non sequitur that would be out of place,
'So you're a singer, then, Mawgan? That's a very Cornish "thing", isn't it? Like the Welsh.'
'I'm not really. My family has a long choir tradition, so I grew up knowing all the old songs, but I was never a member of a choir myself. It just seemed the right thing to do at the time.'
'Oh, I agree with you. It was.'
'You never said you spoke Cornish, either,' said Debbie, and he grinned at her, relieved to have her uncomfortable revelation behind him.
'I don't. I just happen to know that particular song in Cornish, and like you said, it wasn't the moment to sing it in English.'
'I have this awful suspicion creeping up on me,' said Nonie. 'You said a long choir tradition... please don't tell us, on top of everything else, that you were brought up a Wesleyan Methodist, Debbie's poor mother will have a stroke!'
'I won't tell you, then.'
'But you were?'
'And you ended up with a pub,' observed Oliver, thoughtfully. 'Bet that went down a storm!'
'I already told you, that wasn't my idea.' He gave Oliver a mischievous look. 'Abstinence's never been a problem in our family, though. Dad's side anyway, Mum's lot are a bit more strict.'
'So, are you planning a chapel wedding?' asked Nonie.
'Up to Deb. So long as she marries me, I don't care where.'
'Oh, I'll marry you,' said Debbie. 'Particularly now even Susan can't call you a brainless country yokel.' She turned with an air of pride to the company in general. 'They did a scan, and he's definitely got one, they showed him a picture.'
'So he says,' remarked Oliver.
'That's true. He could be lying.' She looked at Mawgan, and there was such love in her look that her brother turned away, feeling as if he had trespassed on private ground. He realised that Nonie had prevented him from making a very bad mistake, and was grateful to her, one thing he never wanted to do was to - what was the word she had used? - alienate Debbie. He found that he had inadvertently met Nonie's eyes, and she was looking at him very seriously, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking.
Mawgan and Debbie left after the coffee, leaving the other three still sitting around the table.
'I feel we ought to help to wash up, but we're supposed to be going to see Mawgan's grandparents,' said Debbie, apologetically. 'So much for days off - but they asked us so nicely, we couldn't really refuse.'
'Don't worry about it,' said Chel. 'We took over a washing-up machine with the fixtures and fittings, what luxury! See you again.'
The front door slammed behind them, and a minute or two later, the sound of a car reversing announced their final departure. Nonie looked at Oliver, a challenge in her eyes.
'A nice pair,' she said.
'Is that meant to be confrontational?'
'No. A comment, merely. And she is like you, to look at as well.'
'As well as what?'
'That would be telling.'
Chel began gathering the plates together, and then stopped, pushing the pile away from her.
'So, what did you make of that tale of Deb's?'
'I hope she never uses it in an after-dinner speech,' said Oliver, 'There won't be a dry eye in the house.'
'Whether she told it for that reason or not, it was the picture of a very compassionate man. I can't believe how he must have felt when he was responsible for somebody's death.'
'It was his brother-in-law's death, and he wasn't exactly responsible,' put in Chel.
'Oh no! How awful. Whatever did his family do?'
'From what Deb says, which is all we have to go on, they didn't know what to do - so they did that,' said Oliver. 'Mind you, I'm not saying I blame them. I don't know what I would have done myself.'
'And the sister?'
Chel said, with perhaps unnecessary force,
'She made trouble for the next few years, and now seems to have buggered off with some man without leaving an address. Let's not think about her! You said it wasn't only painting you wanted to talk about. So, what else? For instance, what's taking you to Greece in November, of all times?'
Nonie said, quietly, accepting the change of subject,
'I'm going out there to see Theo.'
'Serious talk time?' asked Oliver. Nonie's friend and ex-lover, Dimitrios Theodorakis, was a long-standing friend of his own, and her refusal to marry him because of unfinished business elsewhere had nearly wrecked the friendship altogether.
'Yes, serious talk time. Decision time, in fact.' She looked up at them both, almost with apology. 'If I sent you a message - would you drop everything, and come?'
'Come, for what reason?' asked Oliver, holding her gaze with his own.
'To dance at my wedding,' said Nonie.
'You're really going to do it?' Amazement rang clear in the words.
'Yes... yes, I think I really am. Are you surprised?'
'Gobsmacked, actually! What about your studio here, or will you paint out there all the time?'
'Oh, I shall keep it. I might sell the cottage, but I'll keep the studio. We shall spend some time in England, quite a lot of it I expect, we'll need a base. The rest of it in Ayios Giorgos and in Athens - we both have lives of our own, we shall need to work it out.'
'You've discussed it, then,' said Chel, stating a fact.
'Yes. When he came over for Oliver's private view, we talked for a long time. The only thing we didn't decide - I didn't decide - was whether I wanted to get married. But now, this time, I think I really do. I think I want to belong again... it's lonely, when you don't belong anywhere. Looking at those two just now kind of rubbed that in.'
'You always belong with us,' said Chel.
'Yes, I know, and I appreciate it, but that's different. You're a different generation, and you're starting a new life. I can't live through you, even if you were my children - and you're not, although it does often feel as if you are.'
'It feels like an ending...' said Chel, and sounded lost.
'No, it's a beginning. Two beginnings, mine and yours. You've real family with you now, and you're sure to get involved in all sorts of things. Those two pack some punch between them, and Oliver's on the threshold of a brilliant career. You won't have time to miss me at all.'
So what about me? Chel thought, a little desolately. Where do I come in? She said, trying to sound positive,
'And you're sure about it? Getting married?'
'Nearly absolutely certain.'
'Then congratulations, we're really happy for you.' Chel got to her feet, began to clear the table properly this time. 'But whatever you do, don't summon us next weekend. Susan would never forgive us!'
Order Haste to the Wedding from any good bookshop, buy direct from Jane Hatton or get the ebook from Amazon.co.uk
ISBN 9780955 450808
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