April 14, 2022

Conversations by the Fire Place

By aarondkey

“What was it like travelling in the lorry?” he asked. He worried that it would remind her of sitting next to Will and being happy but being instantly commanded to be entertaining always had the effect of emptying his mind.

“I really liked it,” Lizzie said wistfully. “The feeling of being above all the other traffic, being removed from the troubles of the world.”

She continued after a thoughtful pause. “I wasn’t comfortable on that seat though. There didn’t seem to be much insulation against the thudding of the road. It was a bench seat and not adjustable so I was pleased when we stopped eventually though I would volunteer to sit there again after a good night’s sleep.”

“I think you should travel in my car,” Timonthy said heavily.

“Perhaps Paris would like a turn in the lorry?”

Timonthy said this because he did not want to lose Gerard but his double thoughts made him think of another worry.

“What was Peter talking to you about so earnestly?” he said to Paris.

She laughed at his concern.

“You don’t have to worry for all of us,” she said lightly. “Worry about yourself and let us sort ourselves out. Peter was just asking me lots of questions about myself, like he had met a long lost cousin and wanted to know everything that had ever happened to them: catching up a whole lifetime in an hour or so. I don’t know why he felt like that about me but there was nothing to worry about.”

She frowned as she considered this. “Perhaps it was just that he had heard Uncle Stolid talk about us all which sparked his curiosity.”

That was a possibility, Timonthy conceded, although now he thought of it he remembered Peter saying that he had no idea Stolid had someone who cared about him.

He nodded wisely in answer as he thought it would not cheer her up to know that Stolid had not mentioned her.

Into the pause he launched with a degree of trepidation, “Lizzie, what are you thinking of doing now you have decided you’re bored of living in France?” 

“I haven’t had chance to consider it yet,” she answered. “But I’m thinking of a small flat in Bath. I want to travel so I don’t want too much tying me down.”

“That sounds very sensible,” he said, surprised. Both of them knew that travelling was not the answer to finding contentment but it was a distraction while the mind was unsettled.

It would give her time to decide what was important to her and she would meet more people, more suitable people perhaps.

“How many people live on Peter’s estate, Gerard?” Paris asked.

He startled as if his mind had wandered in the conversation to which he could add nothing but he focused and said with a nervous smile.

“I’ve never counted but I’d guess a couple of hundred.”

Paris looked surprised. “What do they all do?”

“Well mainly farming,” Gerard considered. “We’ve gained quite a few gardeners since Stolid has been with us. But we’ve also got our own teachers, cooks, bakers, tailors. Everything we need to survive we try and make.”

“Are you part of a religious group?” Lizzie asked with emphasis as if she needed to know.

“No,” Gerard said more definitely this time. “We all have different beliefs but we get on with them without affecting others.”

“So why do you live apart from everyone else?” Timonthy asked.

“I don’t think we do really,” Gerard said. “Allowing for the obvious geographical constraints…”

“We need to see those before we understand them.” Lizzie said with resolution. “It’s just that Peter and Elena don’t seem to find them that much of a constraint.”

The mysterious Elena, Timonthy thought. He had believed that he was going to meet her yesterday, until she had gone shopping and happily abandoned Will and Gerard.

Presumably she was still shopping or at least staying in a more accessible place if Peter was able to contact her on his phone. Strange that those two spent most of their time away from the place they presumably encouraged the other couple of hundred people to stay in.

Gerard said nothing but pursed up his lips as if in contemplation.

“I’m ready for bed now,” Lizzie said. “How about you, Paris?”

Paris nodded and rose from her chair, Lizzie gave Timonthy a defiant look as if daring him to think that she could be thinking of disturbing Will’s contemplation of his married state with her daughter by her side.

“Goodnight, see you tomorrow at eight. Don’t spend all night worrying. I think everything will turn out alright.” Paris bent down to give him a quick kiss on the cheek, and Lizzie copied her with an enigmatic smile.

They left Timonthy feeling humble. He did not feel worthy of their affection, even the light, mocking affection that Lizzie afforded him.

“I hope you don’t think I was wrong to tell her that?” Gerard said. “I thought it would make her feel better if she understood Will’s motives but now I’m wondering whether it might have made her feel worse.”

“They say it is better to have to have been loved and lost, than never to have been loved, or something very similar to that, in which case you would have been right to have said something though I don’t know if it will turn out for the best,” Timonthy admitted.

Timonthy felt his mind was getting muddled, warm and gloopy like a syllabub. He was definitely ready for bed even though this was his first chance of talking to Gerard since they got up that morning.

“Where are you planning to sleep?” he asked him.

“Well I’ve got a choice,” Gerard said lazily, “solitary grandeur or sharing with you. Which would you rather?”