“Peter’s place is like a castle,” Gerard interjected into this void of contemplation. It roused them a little.
“I can’t wait to see it,” Paris said enthusiastically. “I always get annoyed when I see castles without roofs being allowed to slowly slip into decay. I presume Peter’s castle has got a roof and is basically habitable.”
“Yes, very habitable,” Gerard said. “He’s only recently taken it over after years of desertion. The basic structure of the building was fine but that’s why the gardens were in such a state.”
Timonthy contemplated how, when he was talking about things he knew about Gerard could sound quite sensible.
“Do you live in the castle Gerard?” Paris asked eagerly.
“Yes,” he nodded. “I’ve got a room on the inner wall. There’s a herb garden right outside.”
There was another silence as if they contemplated this arrangement. It didn’t sound completely comfortable, Timonthy thought but Gerard sounded happy with it.
“I think Stolid would like to live in a castle,” Paris said.
“He does like it,” Gerard says. “His room is in the, what I suppose you would call, the keep. I’ve never seen it but he says there is a good view from up there.”
“What do you all do when you’re not working?” Paris asked. “It sounds like you’re not close enough to anywhere to go out.”
He hasn’t been to Stolid’s room, Timonthy found himself gloating. They’re not that close, barely more than acquaintances.
“No, there’s nowhere to go to, apart from the wilderness all around us. Some people like that, others stay near the castle.”
“What does Stolid do?” Timonthy asked. He couldn’t imagine him in this desert of a place.
“He works hard, late into the evening and every day,” Gerard considered. “When he’s not working he swims in the lake, plays backgammon with Maone, Peter’s cousin, walks around with Peter and Maone, uses the sauna, joins in whatever’s going on or sometimes he just sits and watches.”
“Swimming in the lake? Surely it’s not warm enough for that?” Paris laughed.
“Well I wouldn’t do it,” Gerard admitted. “But he seems to like it and there’s the sauna to warm up afterwards.”
Well, perhaps the Solent experience had not been a suicide attempt after all, Timonthy considered, but the start of a new extreme pastime: well not as extreme as some but pretty unusual for a man who had been named by his friends for a reason. He felt better after that thought. Perhaps Stolid was on his way to carving out a new life for himself rather than teetering on the edge of a precipice. This Scottish adventure might have been a good move for Stolid not the disaster he had feared. He had certainly met some interesting people.
They began to see turning signs for Manchester.
“I wonder when Peter’s planning to stop.” Paris said. “I’m starting to feel hungry now.”
It was well past four o clock and although they had eaten a good breakfast Timonthy agreed with her that food would be welcome but it was another hour before the phone rang. Paris answered and there was that pause of expectation before she put the phone down.
“It’s Mother. They’re going to turn off in about ten minutes. Watch for the indicator. She says Peter knows a good place to have dinner.”
“Funny time for dinner, but I’m not complaining,” Timonthy murmered. He was getting to the stage where he wanted to get out and stretch his legs, throw some water on his face and fill up with coffee again. “I hope this place serves food all day.”
He had a sudden image of a place where they served food all day: a roadside cafe, a greasy spoon but disgust was tempered with hunger. Anything would do, he decided.
He was glad now that he had made an effort to dress more casually today, swapping the jacket for a plain jumper. If he was honest with himself he had done it in an attempt to make himself look younger, but it would serve the double purpose of not making him look ridiculous among the other diners with their t-shirts, tracksuits and jeans: less ridiculous at any rate than Will and Gerard with their smocked shirts, linen trousers and the leather waistcoats they had put on for the journey.
He saw the lorry indicate and followed it up the slipway. They were in a built-up area now, in marked contrast to the place they had set off from in the morning. There were streets of similar houses in lines, interspersed with ugly corrugated industrial buildings usually grey but here and there brutal colours: orange, red, blue. They polluted the brain as well as the eye.
Timonthy thought back to his home city where a pale stone was a more normal sight with classical proportions and plenty of greenery, with a sort of relief. He knew he was old fashioned. He knew that most people would scorn his prejudices, his contempt for modern ways, the narrow borders he set for his life but he could not find it in him to care for their opinion because they were part of the world he had turned his back on because of its tawdriness.
Eventually a little more of the natural world began to show through the man-made maze: a tree, a corner with grass, a park, a small copse and eventually a real field with tiny ponies grazing. Timonthy could not help looking across to Gerard to see if he was interested in these at all. They had avoided the whole subject of horses so far to Timonthy’s relief but it was a niggling worry that this could not continue.
Gerard smiled at him as if he could see what he was thinking. “I said I worked with horses, not children’s playthings,” he said in a tone of mock contempt.
Timonthy was about to answer when the lorry indicated again. They both turned down a tree-lined driveway. Timonthy couldn’t see their destination as his view was blocked by the lorry but it was starting to look optimistic in terms of dinner. The lorry curved around in front of him and stopped. He pulled up by the side of it. They were in the grounds of what appeared to be a Georgian dower house, or a generous rectory: square in shape, three storeys high with a high pitched roof and as like a perfect doll’s house as possible.
“This is unexpected,” Paris said. “I will feel underdressed if we’re going to eat here.”
Timonthy felt the same yearning for his jacket but he consciously restrained it and got out of the car. It was good to stretch but in a restrained way with many windows peering inscrutably towards them. They waited for the lorry occupants to join them. Timonthy looked around the car park. He felt at home here amongst these cars: there were no strange uncouth mouldings, no stickers, and no insignias he didn’t recognise. A couple of showy sports cars, but that was to be expected.