He sat back in the chair, and flexed his arms behind his head, thinking. He found the number for the tourist information office and gave them a ring. After explaining what he was looking for he was finally reassured that there were only three large gardens within a thirty mile radius, although they could not guarantee there wasn’t another one that was not public. He rang them each in turn and asked if they had ever heard of Peter McDonald or the address on the letter. He could almost see them shaking their head at the other end of the phone. It was very discouraging and seemed to suggest that Paris had some reason for her worries.
The journey to Scotland seemed more likely now. He was certain that Stolid had gone in the train to the station the letter had mentioned. What had happened to him after that was anyone’s guess. It was all looking worrying. He wondered whether he should take Mr Philips advice and talk to the police but that seemed a step too far: as if acknowledging the seriousness would make it real.
It was almost five o clock now, so he closed down the computer and went to find Paris.
She was sitting by the side of her bed looking at a collection of objects in front of her.
“Hello,” she said. “How did you get on? I heard you on the phone. Any luck?”
“No, I’m struggling to find out where he’s gone,” Timonthy admitted. “What are you up to?”
“I was reminiscing,” Paris said with a sigh. “I’ve made the beds.”
“Why are you blue?” he asked Paris gently. It was quite noticeable now as she avoided looking at him. Her face looked even more like her mother’s, as he had seen it so many times before, on the edge of contemplation of the abyss. This was the main reason Lizzie had moved away, he thought. He had the power to move her to question the meaning of life itself, or at least of love but there was no reason for Paris to be feeling the same way.
“I’m not blue?” Paris said brightly, biting her lip slightly. It was a habit she had when she was unsure of herself.
“I was just remembering the last time I stayed in this room,” she said haltingly.
He thought back. It had been Johnathon’s funeral, he remembered. Stolid had been inconsolable. Funerals were supposed to provide relief but Stolid had never been like other people.
“Let’s get some dinner,” Timonthy suggested to change the subject.
“I’ve had an idea about sleeping. We’ll take it in turns and keep an eye on the door. If you think you can drop off you can sleep first. I’ll wake you about three and then I’ll try to get to sleep. I wouldn’t mind normally but if we’re driving up to Scotland we’ll need to be fresh.”
They drove into town this time and found an Italian restaurant with a menu that satisfied them both. The room was warm and decorated in a traditional style: dark wood furniture and low lights that created an atmosphere of intimacy. Timonthy looked at Paris’s face and wondered what were the thoughts spoiling her normally optimistic expression. She could not share them with him. That was unusual. They had not had many secrets from each other. He hoped that he had restrained critical comments so that she thought him as much a friend as a father figure. Was he fooling himself?
“What are you hoping for?” he asked her. “I mean for the outcome of this adventure.”
“I just want to be reassured that Uncle Stolid is alive and well,” she replied but there was still that subdued expression showing that she was not telling him everything. They were back at Stolid’s house now and ready for their vigil.
“Goodnight,” Paris pecked him on the cheek and left the room.
The night was young yet and he could not settle so that he wondered back into the study. He felt that the room so redolent of memories and the spirit of his friend should be able to speak to him: to tell him what it knew, where to look. In the corner of the room there was a regency rosewood chess table. It seemed blank and unloved with the chess pieces all packed away in the inlaid box on the nearby shelves. He sat down in the leather armchair, remembering how hard he had worked to find this perfectly embracing and comfortable seat, with Johnathon chasing behind him criticising and commenting every step of the process. It was unsettling to sit in this old fashioned corner of this modern and light house, as if completely isolated from every other human in the world, contained in a bubble of the past. He imagined that Johnathon enjoyed that feeling, just as he used to enjoy sitting in his car that was so old it belonged in a museum more than it belonged on the road.
He had never understood why Johnathon, although annoying and eccentric, had been able to acquire that precious thing he thought he had been searching for all his life, love. Not just from Stolid but from himself and Lizzie too. Did Johnathon deserve love? Did he not deserve it? He did not understand why if that was so. Perhaps it was not about deserving, just luck or something else. The ability to love others had been lacking in his life, apart from his love for the one man who could not return his love. He was not sure that was even love or just an obsession based on jealousy.
He had grown used to the thought of old age on his own though once the thought had horrified him. He was comforted by the thought that Paris would not abandon him completely even when she fell in love herself. Perhaps one day she would have a family and he would be a part of that family too.
His eyes were falling on the shelves in front of him without seeing and then he suddenly realised what it was that was missing. Johnathon had always kept four or five large volumes here that were journals, crammed with inexplicable information. Timonthy had always believed their carefully written and illustrated pages were an early sign of some sort of mental disorder. He had never been allowed or encouraged to read them in depth but he had peered over Johnathon’s shoulders now and again while he wrote and he did not understand the fascination. They were a compendium of information on medicine, anatomy, herbs and probably a thousand other things that he could not understand the relevance of to Johnathon’s life. Now they were gone. It did not seem likely that Stolid had looked at them and decided he didn’t need them, given his reluctance to get rid of anything else belonging to Johnathon. But who else would want them?
He felt his mobile phone vibrating in his inside pocket and looked at the screen. It was Lizzie trying to contact him. He was almost tempted to answer, thinking that talking to her would be better than sitting alone in this house but he was very conscious that his defences relied upon not knowing how to answer his phone so he restrained his hand. He waited until the call disappeared and then he waited for the inevitable text. This time it didn’t arrive so he imagined that she was cursing him.
He wondered around the downstairs of the house like a lost child. It was a lovely house and anyone would have felt comfortable living here but to him it held too many memories, too many regrets for him to feel at ease. He walked across the living room towards the window and stood looking over the view. There was a low moon and it hung over the sea illuminating the edges of it as it curved the land like a mother of pearl inlaid pattern on a dark wood chest. This memory was vivid and rasping. It drained him with a sense of loss so strong it was almost pleasurable.
Stolid was sat on the settee and Timonthy sat down next to him a respectable distance away. He knew Stolid wanted to say something of importance to him. He had been thoughtful and distracted all day.
“I am really grateful to you for keeping me company,” Stolid said eventually. “But I think that it is time and I am ready to face life alone now. I know you have a business to run and I don’t want you to suffer because you think I can’t cope. Lots of people lose partners and they survive, don’t they?”