Читать онлайн «An Almost Perfect Moon»
‘No, no, I’m sure it’ll be fine,’ Harry lied. ‘Anyway, I’m intrigued.’ They had taken his Citroën. Julia insisted they should, saying it would give him something to talk about, as her father loved cars.
‘He’s got lots of them,’ she told him.
‘Really?’ said Harry, interested. ‘What kinds?’
‘Oh, I’m not sure. Some quite old ones I think – including a James Bond type – but none as smart as this.’
Harry laughed. ‘Of course not.’
‘What? They’re not. I much prefer this to anything he’s got.’
‘OK, if you say so.’ With the sun breaking through, the clouds above were mirrored on the long black bonnet; the mounted headlights, bulbous and twinkling, pointed the way as they surged down the M40. Harry thought his car had rarely looked shinier.
‘I mean, this car really is so stylish,’ said Julia, turning to smile at Harry. ‘So much more fun than mine.’
Did she really mean that? he wondered. He’d been in her car, a fast, luxurious BMW, with a CD player and an impressive array of additional gadgetry. His, by contrast, was slow, stark, and had no mod cons, least of all a stereo. Sometimes he couldn’t tell whether she said things because she thought it was what he wanted to hear, rather than because it was what she really felt.
‘I hope he isn’t too gruff with you,’ Julia said as they crossed the border into Gloucestershire, ‘only he can seem a bit grumpy and stern at times. But he’s harmless really.’
‘Honestly, Julia, stop worrying. I’m sure it’ll be fine.’
‘And you know Dominic will be there, don’t you?’
‘Absolutely. He’s six and a brat, but I mustn’t let him make me play with him.’
‘Exactly,’ said Julia, biting her bottom lip.
‘And Stella’s a bit thick and after his cash, but otherwise quite harmless,’ He turned to her and gave her a reassuring grin.
‘Sorry, you must think I’m ridiculous. It’s just, well, I adore Daddy obviously, but things haven’t been the same since the divorce. It’s weird going back home to find him with a completely different family. You know?’
‘I can imagine. Please don’t worry, though. I won’t disgrace myself, I promise.’ It was strange seeing Julia like this. Normally she was so confident, controlled and charming. But now, seated beside him, she was so edgy she’d even started biting her beautifully manicured nails.
‘And anyway, I can’t wait for you to see the house. I know you’ll love it,’ she added, rubbing his thigh.
Harry had to admit it to himself. The house was one of the main reasons he had agreed to come. Julia had told him about it in great detail, how the main part was built in the 1760s onto the remains of a ruined abbey. The owner had made the abbey habitable, so that the house was in part solidly medieval, and part Georgian refinement.
‘I absolutely adore it,’ Julia had told him. ‘One minute it’s all Gothic arches and the next you’re looking out of delicate sash windows.’ What a place to grow up, Harry had suggested. Of course it was, but now that her father had remarried and started another family, she no longer felt it was her home. ‘But I love that place more than anywhere in the world,’ she’d sighed wistfully.
‘I’ll show you the folly when we get there,’ said Julia as they turned off towards Oxford.
‘There’s a folly?’ said Harry incredulously. ‘You never said anything about a folly.’
‘Didn’t I? I’m sure I must have done.’
‘Believe me, I wouldn’t have forgotten.’
‘I suppose it’s more of an obelisk really. Quite pointless, but rather fun. I told you the owner back then was mad.’
‘How brilliant. I can’t wait,’ Harry grinned.
‘Daddy’ll know who the designer was. Quite famous in his day, I think.’
‘You know, I just feel certain I’m going to love this place.’
‘I think it is rather up your street. You’ll have to incorporate bits of it into one of your murals.’
Julia had always shown a great interest in his work, which he appreciated. ‘You’re creative, I just push figures about,’ She’d once said. Harry had pointed out that at least she made lots of money doing that. ‘Doesn’t make it very stimulating though,’ she’d countered. He remembered playing a game once in the pub with some friends, including Ben and Flin. You had to pick someone else and say what they did during a normal working day. Everyone got it hilariously wrong. They simply didn’t have a clue. Recounting amusing incidents at the office, or talking about plans to become the biggest entrepreneur since Richard Branson, or boasting how their company car was due to be upgraded, were regular features of the banter Harry enjoyed with his friends; but no one actually discussed what they did to earn the BMW upgrade, because, in truth, no one else cared. Harry didn’t really know how Julia spent her day either.
As they turned into the drive, Harry saw her visibly tensing up. He’d seen the effect a broken family had had on Ben, but until now had never known how wounded Julia had been by her parents’ divorce. It made him realize just how lucky he was to have a family he adored, and parents he could still greatly depend on. Now that both had retired, they led even more active lives, always keen to try something new, whether it be travel, food, drink or anything for that matter. His parents had given him a wonderful upbringing and even now, in his thirtieth year and long gone from the nest, he still felt as close to them as he always had. He knew his was an exceptional case, but how terrible it must be not to have that rock, that support. He didn’t know how he’d feel if his father decided to start another family in the old house where he’d been brought up. It was unthinkable.
As Julia had promised, the house was amazing: one end ordered, graceful and refined, the other a mismatch of passageways, thick walls and sudden open spaces. And the view was spectacular. To one side of the house the lawn led away towards a ha-ha, and then beyond lay a snaking valley, banked on either side by a sylvan curtain of lush green trees. Overlooking the whole scene, imperious in its splendour, stood the obelisk, testament to an eighteenth-century landowner’s vivid imagination and excessive wealth.
Much to Harry’s relief, Charles wasn’t around.
‘So sorry, Julia, but he’s huffing about sorting out a problem with the wild boar,’ explained Stella with a roll of her eyes. Slim, tall, but rather plain, Harry thought she seemed friendly enough. Dominic, effectively an only child and clearly used to getting his own way, marched up to Harry and said, ‘Who are you?’ in an indignant tone of voice.
‘He’s Harry, a friend of Julia’s darling.’
‘Do you want to marry her?’ he asked.
‘Dominic! Really, that’s not polite,’ scolded Stella.
Harry, feeling himself pinking, looked at Julia and Stella and, laughing feebly, said, ‘Well now, that would be telling, wouldn’t it? Ha, ha.’ He knew he sounded faintly avuncular, as though he should be handing out a shiny sixpence and then cuffing Dominic gently around the ear.
‘Well, do you want to see my train set?’ Dominic asked next. ‘I bet it’s bigger than any you’ve ever had.’
‘And there you’d be right,’ said Harry, ‘as I’ve never had a train set.’
‘Honestly, Dominic, you really shouldn’t say things like that. It’s rude to brag,’ Stella told him, dropping to her knees and looking him square in the face.
Dominic shrugged and turned back to Harry. ‘Do you want to see it though?’ he persisted.
‘Not now, OK?’ said Julia testily. ‘Later maybe. Poor Harry’s only just got here.’
Dominic grinned inanely, twisted round on his toes and then ran out of the hall.
‘I’m going to show Harry his room and take him for a tour if that’s OK,’ Julia told Stella.
‘Sure, be my guest. We’re having supper at eight but I think your father will be back much before then.’
‘I am your guest,’ muttered Julia once Stella had headed back towards the kitchen.
Harry was put in his own room in the abbey part, dominated by a huge four-poster. Unlatching the leaded window, he peered out and above him saw a weather-beaten gargoyle, its mouth a conduit for the guttering that led towards it.
‘You like?’ asked Julia.
‘Very,’ grinned Harry, ‘it’s amazing.’
Her tour led all round the house and then out to the garden. It was a warm day, although there was a cooling breeze. Large white cumuli spattered the deep blue sky. The lawns had just been cut and grass clippings scented the air. Wood pigeons cooed from the trees, their low, soothing song floating out across the gardens. As they paused at a bench by the rose beds, Harry closed his eyes and felt the sun on his lids, his head warm on Julia’s lap.
‘Ah, this is the life,’ he sighed. ‘What a place.’
‘It’s certainly peaceful at the moment,’ agreed Julia. She was thoughtful a moment, then said, ‘I hope I can live here one day, and not that brat Dominic.’
‘What about your brothers?’ asked Harry. Mark, four years younger than Julia, had dropped out and was travelling somewhere in South America, while Toby, still only eighteen, was in his last year at school.
‘I don’t think Mark would want it. One of the reasons he’s buggered off is to escape our family. And Toby is in line to inherit my uncle’s place in Yorkshire. But he might drop out too, I suppose.’
‘I thought you had high hopes for him?’ Harry queried.
‘No, you’re right. I’m sure he’ll be fine. He’s not as sensitive as Mark. More like Daddy.’
They walked on, over the ha-ha and then skirted round the valley, until eventually they reached the obelisk. Despite the moss and lichen at its square base, the column looked strong and solid, proudly extending some seventy feet into the air.
‘What a wonderful spot,’ said Harry, taking in the view. ‘I bet you can see this for miles and miles around.’
‘You can. It’s rather fun, isn’t it?’
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