His tone and enthusiasm reassured him that Paris was untainted with the misery of wrongdoing. This relief made him feel unbowed, able to enjoy the view, the meal and the company.
“We ought to move everything around the front again when we’ve finished eating,” Will said to Gerard.
“Do you think that Peter will be in a rush?” Timonthy said.
“He is never in a rush,” Will said as if contemplating the matter, “but I don’t like wasting his time and my wife and children are waiting for me to come back.”
That was the final proof, Timonthy thought. It would have been excessively bad mannered, even for an adulterer, to gloat about getting back to their family in front of their fellow sinner. Paris had been sensible. It was only he who had let desire trick him into an act which a few days ago he would have advised himself against. It was too late now. He was committed. He was a fish on the line with a hook in his lip. He might regret the foolish temptation but he couldn’t escape the consequences. He didn’t even want to.
His hand rested on the table next to Gerard’s hand. He noticed the signs of his age by contrast. He felt the heat of conscious not-touching as if electricity jumped between them. Thinking about it made it too obvious so he dragged himself upright and reached out for more toast.
This was made with the same bread he had yesterday, he realised. It was like bread used to be when he was a young boy visiting his grandparents. What had progress done to bread? Even from the expensive bakeries of London and in the gentrified city he lived in it was not the same. With so many improvements in life it seemed ironic that the taste of food had gone backwards. Being able to remember these tastes that everyone else seemed to have forgotten only intensified the feeling that he was getting old but this bread had reassured him his taste buds hadn’t tarnished.
They all turned towards the door as a sudden movement and noise distracted them from food and drink. It was a slightly less immaculate Lizzie: not completely as woebegone as he had expected, just not as perfect as normal. Because he was thinking about it he could see faint lines in the skin on the curve of her neck, and around her mouth that he had never seen before. It was getting ridiculous he scolded himself. He had done something that made him feel more alive than he had felt for years: why was he dwelling on his own age?
He was thinking too much about the future instead of enjoying the present, and that was a bad habit that he acknowledged was stupid. They finished breakfast and Will and Gerard got up ready to work.
“I will give you a hand,” Timonthy offered. He was trying to avoid clearing up the mess from breakfast but also looking for something positive to do in the fresh air that would stop him thinking too much, away from the possible negative comments he felt he was owed by the two women in his life. Will gave him a look which seemed to size him up as a non-gardener not used to physical work but then he relented.
“If you could bring around the smaller pots that would be very helpful.”
He followed them outside and spent the next half an hour busy and contented. There was a timeless and enclosing atmosphere on that patch of land, it was impossible to be discontent there. Just for a second he saw himself there, completely divorced from any other aspect of his current life working on the land and looking at the sea and he was completely happy as he hadn’t remembered being for years.
At one point he saw Will get out his mobile and look at it.
“Peter’s nearly here,” he shouted across. “About fifteen minutes away.”
“I’ll go and warn Paris and Lizzie,” Timonthy said and made his way back to the dining room. In spite of his enjoyment it was good to have a quick break.
Both of them were in the kitchen still drying and putting away china. They looked at him; one excited, one blearily.
“Peter’s on his way and Will seems keen to get home, so I suppose we ought to prepare ourselves for a journey to Scotland.”
He expected a protest but they both seemed quite happy by the prospect.
“I haven’t really unpacked,” Lizzie said, “so I’m virtually ready to go.”
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“I’m fine now. The bacon and eggs made me feel more human again.”
“I’m sorry,” Timonthy said, contritely. “Did Paris tell you we were trying to get those two a bit drunk so that they would talk, although we had to give up before it worked?”
“No, she didn’t tell me that. She told me though, that Will appears to have a perfectly adequate mobile phone this morning. He must have been at least a bit drunk to have played such a pointless joke on us last night.”
She sounded hurt and confused. It did seem out of character so perhaps this had been the one result of their plotting. He hoped it had been the only one.
“I would have thought that Peter would be tired,” Paris said contemplatively. “If he’s driven all night to get to us….”
“That is a point. You mean he won’t be ready to leave straight away,” Timonthy said. “It makes it difficult to plan. All we can do is sit and wait, I suppose.”
“So what were you and the soulful Gerard talking about last night? You seemed to be getting very friendly,” Lizzie asked casually, and Paris turned to him with a startled look in her eyes.
She meant in the pub, his guilty conscience hurried to advise him.
“Well,” he said thoughtfully. “I found out that I was wrong about his relationship with Stolid. They’d been closer than I imagined to begin with, although there is nothing between them now. I don’t know the full story yet. I was trying to find out and he diverted my attention somehow.”
He tried to remember how he had been distracted. Not that the story would be suitable for their ears but he liked to get things straight in his own head.
“They were still talking though, without animosity from what he said,” he continued.
“It’s all so confusing,” Paris said. “What does it all mean?”
He knew that she meant the larger picture but that part of it was clear to him. Stolid was not a saint. He had never until the last year or so had to live the life of a celibate. So it was inevitable that he would fall, even if his heart wasn’t yet recovered and he couldn’t love.
Gerald and Will walked by the window in front of them. They both smiled in acknowledgement of being watched. They had nearly finished moving everything from the terrace now and the next time they walked by the window they came in.
“All done,” Will said.
Paris automatically put the kettle on.
“Who wants coffee?” she asked. “I got some proper beans this time.”
“I’ve never had proper beans before,” Gerard said. “But I’d like to try them.”
“Yes please,” Will nodded.
While Paris busied herself in the kitchen everyone else sat around the table in the window. The sun was just coming round so that it shone on their faces. It looked like a picture from a holiday villa advert, Timonthy thought.
Paris ground the beans with a mechanical grinder and spread them between a small and large cafeteria. Timonthy remembered the instant coffee he had made yesterday and breathed in the aroma with a sense of relief. This was a very mixed group of people Timonthy mused as they waited but they seemed quite quickly to have become comfortable with each other.
“What did you mean telling Paris and I that you had no mobile phone last night?” Lizzie said to Will, as if suddenly remembering. He looked very embarrassed as he answered,
“I don’t remember what I said to you. I think I might have been slightly drunk. I’m used to a weaker ale than the one we had last night.”
“What do àyou normally drink then?” Timonthy said curiously.
“We don’t drink alcohol at all. Peter doesn’t allow it,” Gerard said looking at Will as if daring him to shut him up.
“You’re joking!” Lizzie exclaimed. “Is he a religious man then?”
“No he’s not really religious but Gerard is telling the truth,” Will said gravely. “Peter had an unfortunate experience once, he said, where someone almost died because he was drunk. So he, well not exactly banned it, just disapproved of it.”
“It’s not healthy, is it, that everyone does what one man says?” Paris said earnestly as she handed round cups of coffee.
“He’s the boss,” Will said placidly putting sugar into his cup and stirring.
“Yes, but things like that affect not just your work but your whole life.”
“It’s a good life,” Will said. “Little things like not being able to drink are outweighed by all the benefits. We’re not prisoners. If we wanted to leave and live somewhere else by our own rules we have that option.”
There was a silence after this statement as if everyone was considering the implications and then there was the sound of the front door opening. Will jumped up and made his way to the hallway. They heard him talking to another man who had a calm, reassuring voice in contrast to the tension apparent in Will’s voice.