Peter’s eyes didn’t focus suddenly. Instead they closed and then quickly opened. He shook his head and laughed,
“I am more tired than a man ought to be with another four or five hours of driving to go. What would you say to the idea of staying here tonight? I don’t want to disappoint you but at this rate Stolid will be well asleep by the time we get there so you won’t see him until the morning anyway.”
Paris and Lizzie both looked at Timonthy. He was tempted to agree with Peter. If they had driven up on their own he definitely would have chosen to break the journey up, although they probably would have been miles ahead of their current position now without the slow lorry holding them up.
“What do you think, Paris?” He asked her because she had been the most concerned about Stolid in the first place.
“I think that stopping overnight is probably a good idea,” she said with an expression of consideration, of being open to both sides of the argument.
“Lizzie?” he asked.
“I could sleep for England,” she said. “And I can’t see any advantage in turning up tonight when everyone else has gone to bed.”
“You said you could get rooms for all of us?” he asked Peter just to check.
“Yes. I’ll go and book them now if you’re happy to stay. What do people want, singles, twins?
“We’ll share a twin room,” Lizzie said, looking at Paris to check she approved.
“I’ll need a double preferably king size,” Timonthy said apologetically. “The beds are too short for me otherwise.”
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Peter disappeared. He was as good as his word. He handed round keys before he sat down.
“Breakfast starts at half-seven but I suggest we get down here about eight. We can be off by nine and we’ll comfortably get there just after lunch.”
“Shall we quickly get the luggage in, before the food arrives?” Peter asked and Timonthy went with him to the car. Peter collected three tiny bags and took one of Lizzie’s suitcases. They dropped the large luggage by the desk with instructions and went back to their dining room.
Their starters arrived and the conversation grew more general. Timonthy tried to pay attention to Peter’s conversation with Paris although it was quite often too quiet for everyone to hear. That troubled him but he was reassured by the look on Paris’s face, She was not enchanted at all. She had the expression of a woman dining with an elderly relative who couldn’t hear very well. She was tolerant but not swept away. Lizzie opposite him, on the other hand appeared happy. Will seemed to understand how to keep her amused and feeling valued without stepping over the line of propriety. Timonthy imagined that Peter found him a useful companion in situations like this.
Timonthy realised that he had been ignoring Gerard since they had arrived at the hotel, not completely unconsciously. It had been part of a vague strategy to appear unshackled, to try not to alert Peter to the fact that Gerard’s loyalties were divided. In spite of the day which had gone to plan he was still suspicious about the outcome of this journey. He wondered whether Gerard was following the same plan, as he hadn’t been trying to gain Timonthy’s attention unduly. Timonthy realised he had missed this a little. Perhaps he had gone a little too far in his neglect.
“Is your food good?” he asked Gerard politely.
“Very pleasant thank-you. I’m hoping the next course will be larger.”
“It should be,” Timonthy chuckled. His own starter had been tasty but slightly on the light side. “Have you tried these little things?” He pushed forward a plate with a collection of tiny sculptural objects on it. “Try a swan,” he urged.
Gerard looked at him as if he was mad but then took the swan and bit into it suspiciously. Then he swallowed the rest with as little consideration as a giant swallowing a real swan whole, feathers and all. Picking up the other objects delicately, he smiled and two seconds later they were all gone.
“I think we have to build up in layers at this place, not rely on one massive plateful,” Timonthy suggested.
“You think I am a fool, or a child,” Gerard said without rancour. “But I am a whole man, when I am in my proper place.”
“Am I being patronising?” Timonthy said in surprise. “I didn’t mean to be.”
“I probably deserve it,” Gerard said ruefully. “But it becomes a little wearing. Not you, but the fact that the world holds so many surprises for me that I constantly look a fool. Stolid did warn me but words are not the same as experience.”
The waiter appeared again and cleared their plates, leaning between them all briefly with an unobtrusive air.
Gerard asked for another ale, finishing off the third still in his glass with a flourish. Peter turned around and looked at Timonthy with no expression at all. What does he expect me to do? Timonthy frowned. Anyway two pints isn’t going to kill him, or even harm him. Only a teetotaller would think it a problem.
The main courses arrived next, looking more substantial than Timonthy had feared. Keep Gerard talking and eating was the thought running through his brain, but it was tricky. He thought he knew him a little but he was beginning to question that. He scrabbled around for something he knew Gerard liked. He tried,
“So those ponies were beneath your notice?”
“If you stood beside a fully equipped warhorse you would understand the ridiculousness of comparison,” Gerard said quietly.
“But why were you looking after war horses? There wasn’t a war where you were, was there?” His brain ran through all the conflicts in the world that he knew of. He realised how pathetically out of touch he was and how likely there could have been. A war with horses though, he would be aware of that surely? Perhaps he was straying perilously close to the conversation Will had steered him away from.
“There was a war,” Gerard muttered. “A bloody awful, world changing war. And I don’t mean it changed the world in terms of politics and the way people lived on it, although it inevitably did. I just meant it changed the world for me. I couldn’t see the hills, the mountains, or the rivers for the mess we’d made of them. That’s a very insular view I suppose.”
“How did you get involved?” Timonthy asked.