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The secret force that manipulates our strings

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It wasn’t going to be a good holiday, Nicola decided, on the very evening she and Lawrie and Ginty came home from school. She’d thought it would be fantastic: the first time all of them, including her father, had been at home for Christmas in years; Giles out of hospital; no simmering tension resulting from grime sheets at school. Which made a pleasant change: perhaps they were growing up. All three had had almost uneventful terms: she and Lawrie preparing for O Levels; Ginty in the Upper Sixth, even if she was rather unenthusiastic about her A Level choices. Her parents had read their reports and congratulated them in the usual, low-key way, but had not seemed particularly happy.

Always preferring to stand back quietly and observe rather than ask for explanations, she had not asked questions. The reason had been painfully obvious, after all.

She curled up in one of the armchairs in the library. The room was cold, and thus free from other members of her family. She wondered if she might call Miranda, or whether hearing her voice and not being able actually to see her face and know what she was really thinking would be worse than not talking to her at all. But Miranda was usually good at teasing out the difficulties in any situation and stating them baldly, and she had no – attachment – to any of the family. Though maybe that might actually preclude devastating honesty.

The telephone in the hall rang abruptly, startling her out of gloomy introspection. She unwrapped the blanket, but before she could get up to answer the call the ringing stopped. Out from the comfortable confines of the blanket, she felt distinctly chillier, so she padded across the room to draw the thick, shabby velvet curtains closed against the black panes of glass. Rowan had finally cleared out a couple of cases and volumes of the farm log had been carefully displayed, now that Edwin had finished his translations. Nicola, though madly interested in her family history, found history in general rather dull, and had been surprised to find that the publication of the results of Edwin’s research had been thought important. She peered over the volume currently displayed, and tried to puzzle out the crabbed and ancient writing of a long-dead ancestor.

She was thinking about retreating to the warmth of her bed when the door opened and the unmistakeable form of her older sister, Rowan, was silhouetted against the glow of light in the passageway behind her.

“Hullo,” Rowan said, evidently surprised. “I did wonder where you’d disappeared to.” She did not sound as tense as she had at dinner, and shut the door behind her. “I also didn’t think you were the chilly type – it’s arctic in here.”

“I did have the blanket,” Nicola said, automatically excusing, but realising that she was cold, even in slacks and thick socks and one of Giles’ old sweaters that she had commandeered for her own use. Her thoughts snagged on Giles, and recovered.

Rowan raised an eyebrow, and stooped to the fireplace. A few minutes’ work, and she had laid and lit a fire, and sat down in one of the armchairs beside it. “There’s plenty of wood,” she said, beckoning to the other chair. “We had a pear tree felled a week ago.”

Nicola sat down and curled up in her chair again, and watched the flames flutter and flap in the grate. “Who was on the phone?” she asked, shying away from the question she really wanted to ask.

“Someone official for Dad,” her sister said, readily. “I hope he isn’t going to be carted off back to the Admiralty or wherever before his leave’s up: we still haven’t managed to talk properly about the farm.”

“Are you still going to college next year?”

“That’s one of the things I need to talk to him about.” She made a wry face. “Given that they were gracious enough to overlook my lack of higher qualifications, I would prefer not to strain their patience further by deferring.”

“Do you think you’ll enjoy it?”

Rowan shrugged. “I do actually enjoy running Trennels now that I know more about what I’m doing. I’m hoping college can help.” She paused, and said, “Have you thought more about what you’ll do after school?”

“I’d always thought I’d join the Navy. But I couldn’t possibly, now. So,” she added hastily, in case Rowan asked for specific reasons, “I’ve been thinking seriously about being a vet. I’m not altogether sure about all the more gruesome bits – James Herriot reaching inside the cow, and all that – but I think it would be an interesting thing to do. And Miss Cromwell thinks I’d get the grades I’d need for university.”

Rowan considered her. “You’re not thinking of this because it’s what I suggested, are you?”

“Well, you put it in my head. I’d never really thought about it before. But you’re right, I like animals and they like me, and it’s a respectable sort of career, and I would be useful.”

Her sister gave a brisk nod, as though these were adequate and sufficient reasons. “And how is school? Mum sounded jolly pleased you haven’t added to your list of misdeeds lately.”

Nicola grinned, rather shamefacedly. “Too much work, I think. I have prep to do these hols, too.”

“And Lawrie?”

“Best ask her,” Lawrie’s sister said, tersely. Lawrie had been in the B form since Lower Fifth and she and Nicola rarely saw each other during the day.

“I can’t imagine she’ll tell me, properly.” Rowan stared into the fire for a while. “Gin seems to have changed this term.”

“Oh? I hadn’t noticed.”

“More serious. Properly so, not putting on the act. I sometimes think,” Rowan said, parenthetically, “she and Lawrie are more alike than they’d admit. With Lawrie it’s a conscious act and with Ginty it’s unconscious. When I think what she was like with Patrick, and Mark Farrant, and whatshisname – James Conroy? – it’s a relief she can actually be herself with a boyfriend.”

“I quite like Roger.”

“Yes, me too. I never thought he’d be Ginty’s type, though.”

“He looks fab on a horse,” Nicola said, accurately.

Rowan grinned. “Perfectly matched. Do you want to hunt, this holiday? Prisca’s good for a few more seasons, and Peter won’t want to.”

“I’d like to go out on Boxing Day, but there’s no need for you to give up Prisca. Mr Reynolds would lend me one of theirs, Olly said.”

“He did, eh?”

Nicola grinned, undismayed by Rowan’s teasing. “He only wrote twice last term, so I think the crush is subsiding. Thankfully.” Reminded, she asked, “Are the Merricks back from London?”

“They are. I bumped into Mrs Merrick in the village this morning. Almost literally – we avoided collision by the narrowest of margins. Not my fault, I may add.”

“I’ll probably go over tomorrow.”

“If you must – the forecast is pretty awful for the next few days.” She glanced at her watch, and rose to her feet with a quick sigh of breath. “I’ll be going up to bed. Make sure the fire’s out before you go upstairs.”

“Alright. ‘Night, Ro.”

Nicola was left to her thoughts. It had been a surprisingly unprickly conversation, and she wondered if Rowan had been standing outside things, too occupied with her work to feel the tension, or whether, in her pragmatic way, she was taking the view that it wasn’t something she could do anything about, and so it was pointless getting dragged into the mess.

The following morning was gloomy and grey, bearing out Rowan’s forecast, and making it so that the lights had to be switched on in the dining room for breakfast. Her father, usually a stickler for punctuality at meals, said nothing when Giles came down late, limping heavily, and a thick silence reigned. Even Lawrie was subdued. The rattle of the letterbox came suddenly, and Nicola scudded out of the room to collect the post from the mat in the hall. Most of it was for Rowan and her parents, but there was a letter from Roger for Ginty, which made her face light up, and an official-looking typewritten affair for Ann.

After finishing breakfast and drinking the first of several cups of coffee, Captain Marlow opened his post. The first, which had Admiralty franks all over it, he read twice, and at the end of the second reading said forcefully, “Damn.”

“You don’t have to go up to London, surely?” Mrs Marlow said, trying not to sound too disappointed.

“No, Whittier’s sending someone down. He’ll be here this afternoon.”

“Will he want putting up? Or meeting at Westbridge? The trains are awful.” She was calculating what bedlinen there was clean and wondering whether Ginty could sleep in Ann’s room.

“No. He’ll be driving down and then going on to St Anne’s Byfleet tonight.”

Nicola looked up abruptly from her plate and met Peter’s glance; was surprised that he did not seem to feel her own sense of shock. She glanced at Ginty, but she was absorbed in her letter and did not seem to have been listening. Uncomfortable thoughts prodded her as she finished her tea and went up to make her bed and clean her teeth; of things she hadn’t thought about in ages.

It had not actually started raining when she thrust her feet into her wellies and zipped herself into Peter’s sailing oilskins, but was so imminent that her mother, passing through the hall on the way to the kitchen, was moved to protest. “Darling, you’ll be soaked.”

“I’ll be alright, Ma,” Nicola said, bestowing a rare kiss on her mother’s cheek, suddenly aware that she was taller, and now had to bend her head to the caress.

Mrs Marlow made a sweeping-off gesture with her hands, and added, “Call if the Merricks want to keep you for lunch.”

Nicola nodded, and jogged outside. She was about half-way across the fields when the rain struck; and strike it did: she felt almost battered by it. Her brother’s oilskins were not proof against it, and she could feel, even as she started running, water seeping down her back and up her arms. She made her way to the house, after climbing the gate to the Chase’s well-kept grounds, though it seemed odd not to go to the hawk house and find a quiet soothing occupation there.

Patrick answered the door himself. “You do look like the proverbial drowned rat, Nick,” he said, welcomingly, as she sloughed coat, hat and boots cautiously, shedding copious quantities of water on the stone floor. He padded away soft footedly, and returned with a towel, with which she tried to mop up some of the rain. He grinned as she emerged from it, hair a wild and woolly brush. “Come upstairs. You can borrow a garment or two and I’ll drape yours next to the hot water tank.”

“Thanks.”

They climbed the wide, shallow steps of the staircase to Patrick’s bedroom, where she was soon drier and warmer and dressed in a shirt and sweater rather too large for her. “What brought you over on a day like this? Or were you beating round Cape Horn during a wild nor-wester?” he added, pointedly.

“Very funny,” she said, but she grinned wryly, nevertheless. “I’d meant to come over anyway, but I wanted to talk to you – and for longer than a three-minute telephone call.”

“Quite right.” He seemed to understand that she didn’t want to talk immediately about what was bothering her, and so they beguiled a while with chat about school and exams, in details that had not seemed worthwhile to write in letters, and how the Merricks were having the usual relatives for Christmas, and that led Nicola into explanation of the visitor due that day, and of what that reminded her.

“We were all sworn to secrecy at the time,” she said, “and you must absolutely promise not to tell.”

Interested, Patrick held up his hand and said, “I do most solemnly swear. Go on.”

“It was when I was twelve or so, the Easter before we came to live at Trennels. Daddy was on exercises and Ma had taken us youngest four down to St Anne’s Byfleet to stay in a hotel for the duration. Peter and I found a house called Mariners, and when we went with the others, later, to explore, we saw something we shouldn’t have. Mr Anquetil – he was a fisherman, at least, I thought he was, but he turned out to be in Intelligence as well – warned us not to go back, but I couldn’t persuade Peter not to. We got kidnapped by one of Peter’s instructors at Dartmouth, Lieutenant Foley, who was – I think – selling secrets to foreign powers, I can’t even think now who. We were trapped in a lighthouse – honestly,” she added, hastily, seeing him raise an eyebrow, “it belonged to his family – and we were eventually rescued after signalling with the light. It was a Captain Whittier who – I s’pose you’d say “debriefed” us afterwards. Lawrie got run over by a car, and there was a lot of huha with a sub and someone got shot, and Foley – died.”

“It sounds tremendous,” he said, lightly, then saw her shiver, and so folded her cold hands in his. “I can see why it might not have been at the time.”

“I liked him. Foley, I mean. He was kinder to me about being seasick than Giles ever was. And I can’t help feeling sorry that he died, even though I know the alternative was imprisonment, and he’d probably have hated it. Peter doesn’t look at it like that at all, though. He thinks if you’re a traitor that’s the worst thing possible, and cancels out anything good you might do.”

Patrick thought back immediately to Gondal, when Peter-as-Malise’s reaction to Rupert's betrayal had been intense and visceral. “Hm. That sounds like him. But people are people – never entirely bad, even though it might seem so to others. A naval instructor sounds an odd sort of traitor, though. I wonder why you’d do it. Blackmail?”

“I don’t know why he did it. I didn’t understand him. I was only twelve, and the things he said seemed so wrong, but I didn’t know how to articulate how I felt.” She paused, and, since Patrick was still looking interested, “I got the impression, from certain things he said, as though he was a Cat-Who-Walked-By-Himself sort of person, the kind of man who’d have laughed at any attempt to blackmail him. Maybe it was because he was ‘agin the Government’, and not necessarily because he believed in the cause.”

“I see. Interesting. I can’t imagine doing something so awful just for rebellion’s sake.”

“Me neither. There would have to be a really important reason.”

There was a long pause, before he asked, “How did Lawrie get run over?”

“Oh, she managed to get away when Foley was marching us out of the house, but instead of doing anything useful like raising the alarm, she managed to run out of a bus and into a car, and break her leg. Fat lot of use she was to anyone.”

Patrick grinned at the sisterly scorn, but asked, curiously, “So why worry about it now? It happened four years ago, and everything sounds like it was Hushed Up.”

“Well, I can’t help wondering why Captain Whittier is sending someone to talk to Daddy. After all, Daddy’s not in Intelligence, and Whittier is – or was. I hope it’s not about Foley.”

“If it is, why should you be worried?” he asked. “It’s over, surely.”

“Anquetil told me not to go to Mariners, and I should have taken his advice.”

“Would he really have expected you to? You were all kids, after all. I did plenty of mad things myself at that age that I’m horrified about now.”

“Leeper’s Bluff, you mean? But that was for a reason.”

“One which seemed important at the time. But it was utterly idiotic in hindsight.”

“It seems sad not to have hawks now,” Nicola said, changing the subject.

He nodded, accepting that she wanted to talk about something else. “I could have got another, I suppose, but even at Broomhill it’s tricky. Maybe when I’ve done me Levels and come back here to live I’ll get an eyass and make it myself.”

Nicola was sympathetic, but said, “Is your father really going to go for that?”

Patrick got up and paced to the window. He sighed. “Not on your nelly. He and my mother are making noises about university. You know the sort of thing, When Patrick’s at college we can... or When you’re at university, Pat, you’ll find... whatever it happens to be.”

“Not if.”

He shook his head. “I suppose I won’t mind reading History somewhere, pottering around libraries and leafing through manuscripts. I’ve applied.”

“You should come and look at the farm log now that it’s all properly displayed. Did you read any of Edwin’s terribly learned papers?”

He nodded. “Dad was interested in the Merrick-related things, and got them copied.” He grinned. “He was surprised that Trennels had such an extensive archive and we didn’t. He’s been cursing some tidy-minded ancestor who had a great bonfire of stuff that had been cluttering up the estate room for years, and destroyed a lot of records.”

“Oi thought they din’t have record players in them days,” Nicola said, doing Peter’s Mummerzet accent.

“Nay, ‘twere a very wild party, surelye,” Patrick responded disapprovingly, in a rather better local accent, face deadpan.

Then they giggled together, thinking of staid Victorian ancestors drinking and dancing to current pop music. “That reminds me,” Nicola said, still grinning, now lying at full length on Patrick’s bed, “we’re having a New Year’s Eve party this year. Seeing as Daddy’s home for a change.”

“How’s Giles?”

She was instantly sobered. “Not well. I mean, at least, I think he’s well enough in health, apart from the leg. He’ll always limp, Ma says. But – well, it’s not very comfortable at home. And if you come to Trennels you mustn’t – please – stare at him. It really is horrible, and I think what makes it worse is knowing how smashing he used to look.”

Patrick was not at all vain of his own, odd, looks, but could imagine what it might feel like to be so changed. “Is Juliet staying with you? It was Juliet, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was. No, she’s not staying with us. I think that’s one of the things which makes him so awkward and bitter: she’s gone. I don’t think I blame her, because it wouldn’t have been easy for anyone, let alone someone so – so superficial – and of course that was completely Giles’ own fault for falling for a pretty face – but she did the jilting so unkindly and hastily. And she couldn’t disguise how she couldn’t look at him. So now he’s glooming around the house and making biting remarks about disfigurement which just kill any conversation dead.” She sighed, and Patrick abandoned his station by the window to sit beside her.

“I suppose it’s not surprising,” he said. “Being killed would have been distressing for everyone else, but he’d not have known anything about it. But this has to be worse – serious injuries, no more Navy, no fiancée, back home living permanently with parents. Not that your parents aren’t super,” he added, hastily, “but your brother must be used to being independent.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. I think it’s the Navy which is the worse loss, particularly since Peter’s giving up on the idea – though it was about time he saw sense and realised he would be a bad officer. But Giles was a good one and he loved the Service: he’d never thought of any other career.”

Patrick envied such certainty, but he appreciated that his own disappointments must seem unbearably petty in contrast. He saw distress in Nicola’s unguarded face and changed the subject, asking about the Trennels party instead, and was pleased to see her expression change when she answered.

“Are you coming along to ours as usual?” he asked in reply.

“I expect so. Though I have no idea if anything will fit now. I seem to have grown enormously this term.”

“I’d noticed.” She grimaced. “No, you look – sort of elegant.”

She smiled. “I associate that word with your mother.”

He thought about this. “I suppose she’s always well-dressed and poised – I always feel like a complete shambles in contrast.”

Nicola regarded the clothes he was wearing; worn corduroys, checked shirt with frayed cuffs and collar, an unravelling sweater garnished with spaniel hairs, hand-knitted socks (one of which had a large hole in the toe) on his long feet: and his thick black hair which would not lie flat or obediently. “I’m surprised she lets you out of the house like that.” From Nicola, who cared very little about clothes, this was something of a surprise.

“She doesn’t,” he responded dryly. “At least, not when she’s there to see me.”

“I suppose not, but don’t –” She broke off as there was a brisk knock at the door, which opened before Patrick could call, “Come in.”

“Hello Nicola,” said Mrs Merrick, quite warmly, though her appearance made Nicola sit bolt upright. “Rowan mentioned that you were all coming home yesterday. Did you have a good term?”

“Yes, thanks, Mrs Merrick.”

“I’m sorry to disturb you both, but maybe as the weather is so bad you won’t mind – Pat, don’t forget that you’re going to get your hair cut this afternoon. I’ll take you into Colebridge – I need some things there. Nicola, would you be kind enough to take this home for your mother? It’s just a reply to her invitation.”

“I don’t mind at all,” Nicola said, easily, accepting the thick white envelope, “but it might get a bit wet. I borrowed Peter’s waterproofs, and they aren’t.”

“Ah. I did wonder why that guernsey looked familiar. Pat can run you home in the Landrover.”

“Patrick is beginning to wonder why he bothered passing his driving test.”

“It’s magic,” Nicola said, approvingly. “I can’t wait to get my licence, even if I will have to take Lawrie everywhere.”

Mrs Merrick’s immaculately judged expression of disappointment made Nicola bite her lip and Patrick resignedly put on his boots. “Come on then, young Nicola,” he said, “before I’m borne away like the lamb to the slaughter.”

“Only like the lamb to be shorn,” she retorted, getting up and letting Mrs Merrick precede her from the room.

Patrick fetched her clothes from the airing cupboard and waited almost patiently outside the bathroom while she changed. “Thanks for the loan,” she said, wriggling a little uncomfortably as the dampness of the not-quite-dry bits touched her skin.

“Don’t mensh.”

They headed outside in waterproofs and hats, and dashed to the Landrover, parked not far from the door. Patrick did not hasten over the journey, which Nicola was glad of, having suffered his driving on other occasions, but it was still raining heavily and the old vehicle’s windscreen wipers were of little use. They rattled over the cattle grid and drew up to the house.

“It will be alright,” he said, tentatively. “Things usually do work out.”

“I know.” She hesitated, her fingers on the handle. “Thanks.”

Deliberately he put the gear stick into neutral and engaged the handbrake, then turned to her. She went into his arms without hesitation, her own tight around him, her head on his shoulder. Then she was pulling back and he let her go. She smiled, tightly. “Thanks, Patrick.” She opened the door and slammed it behind her as she hurtled into the shelter of the porch. She waved; he waved back, then drove off.

Nicola divested herself of her outer garments, and wandered to the sitting room where she hoped to find her mother. Eventually, Mrs Marlow was run to earth in the conservatory, where she was planting bulbs in bowls, and Nicola handed over the envelope. “Thank-you, darling,” she said, and took off her gloves to open it. “That’s very nice of Helena. Can you put that in my room, please? Lunch will be in twenty minutes, Mrs Bertie says, and I’d like to get these done by then.”

Nicola plodded to the small room next to the library which her mother had taken as a work-room, and deposited the letter on the cluttered desk. There was a knock at the front door, a sharp double-rap, and so she wandered out to the hall to see who was there. She opened the door and found a slight figure in Naval uniform standing with his back to her, seemingly looking out over the yard. He swung round, and was suddenly still, looking at her. Nicola held onto the door. For a moment the only sound was the rain on the glass.

“Lieutenant-Commander Robert Anquetil from Rear-Admiral Whittier to see Captain Marlow,” said the visitor, as if he’d never seen her before.

Swallowing the lump in her throat, and following his lead, Nicola said, huskily, “Come in.” She shut the door behind him and watched as he took off his cap. Remembering her mother’s greetings, she added, “I’ll find him if you wait there.”

He gave a brisk nod, and stood at ease while she headed off to the estate room where she thought she might find her father. He was talking to Rowan, but they broke off on seeing Nicola insert her head round the door. “Can it wait, Nick?” Rowan said, impatiently.

“I don’t think so. Your man from Rear-Admiral Whittier has arrived, Pa. Lieutenant-Commander Anquetil,” Nicola said.

“He’s early,” her father said, looking at his watch with a frown. “Tell your mother – he’ll have to stay to lunch. Sorry, Rowan, but I must see him.”

Rowan shrugged, fatalistically, and watched as Nicola and her father exited the room. There was a murmur of voices. Nicola informed her mother as requested, and was then asked to enquire of Mrs Herbert whether lunch would stretch to an extra mouth.

The kitchen was a good deal warmer than the rest of the house, and lively with the sound of the wireless, tuned to Radio Two, as well as Mrs Bertie chatting to Ann, who was making a bread-and-butter pudding. “Afternoon, Mrs Bertie. Pa’s visitor’s arrived early, and Mum wants to know if there’s enough lunch for him.”

“People shouldn’t just turn up at lunchtime,” Mrs Herbert said, grumpily. “It looks cadging.”

“I’m sure there’s enough,” said Ann pacifically, her hands busy with buttering bread. “It’s a fish pie.”

“Good,” said Nicola firmly.

“Maybe you’d better set another place at the table.”

“Right-o.” Nicola opened drawers and retrieved cutlery, glass and a spare napkin, and went into the dining room, which was already set with nine places. She set the place with care, found a chair from another room, and wondered if she should warn Peter and Ginty. Would they recognise Anquetil? She had done so, instantly, though she supposed she had known him better, and before their adventure. He’d been older than Giles, she’d thought, when she was twelve, but at the time she hadn’t appreciated that it was not by much: he was hardly thirty now. She had also been surprised to realise that he was good-looking, in a thin, rather drawn sort of way, as though tiredness was an occupational hazard, with grey, very alert, observant eyes: she had certainly never noticed that when she’d been younger.

She wondered if her father had said something to his guest in the brief space of time before lunch, since Anquetil’s clear glance showed nothing when he saw Giles. But then, he looked at everyone like that: dispassionately, observing, as if filing away what he saw. Picture of the Marlow family at home, Nicola thought, wryly. Peter and Ginty showed no awareness of his identity, nodding greeting when he was introduced, but otherwise continuing a conversation about Christmas which had started on the stairs.

After lunch, Captain Marlow and Anquetil went to Rowan’s office, while Rowan went out to the stedding accompanied by Peter. Nicola hung round the house aimlessly, wondering what she would say to the visitor, or even whether he’d acknowledge her existence as someone for whom he had cooked fried potatoes and mackerel, and someone who had helped find a spy. Her mother, finding her at a loose end, set her dusting in the drawing room, and Nicola did not protest too much. She sprayed furniture polish and wiped with the yellow duster in a competent fashion, did the drawing room and then, in a rush of enthusiasm, carefully polished the stair rods and banisters.

She did not realise she’d been humming until a cool voice said, “I haven’t heard that tune in a while.”

She broke off, realised what she’d been humming: Injuns on the railroad, Russians on the Spree, Sugar in the petrol, And up goes she! “I’m sorry,” she stammered.

“Oh, it’s alright,” Anquetil said, with a wry smile. “I did think Whittier optimistic in hoping you’d forget the whole business.”

“I didn’t know you were in the Navy.”

“I’m not.” He glanced down, and shrugged on the coat he’d been carrying over one arm. “I told Captain Marlow that I’d see myself out, but perhaps you’d like to walk me to the car?”

The rain had stopped, Nicola saw. She put down her tools tidily and descended to the hall. “Alright.”

They walked across the gravel to a grey car, old enough and of a common enough make to be inconspicuous. He unlocked the door and opened it. “You’ll be – what, sixteen – now?” His tone was conversational.

“Yes. Seventeen in July.”

“Going to join the Wrens like you planned?”

She shook her head, though startled he had remembered that ambition of hers. “I’ve been thinking about being a vet.”

He shrugged, took off the cap and flung it onto the passenger seat. “Don’t be surprised when you hear from us again in a few years’ time.”

“Us?”

He held out a hand: thin, hard; capable. She shook it, rather bemusedly. He smiled, and swung down into the car, switched on the ignition. “Think about it. Good-bye for now, Nicola.”

He let in the clutch and the car moved smoothly down the drive and over the cattle grid before Nicola could unfreeze herself. Had he really been implying what she thought? Thoughtfully, she wandered slowly back inside the house, thoughtfully finished polishing the banisters, and thoughtfully tidied herself away into the conservatory where she found an abandoned book. She drew up a chair close to the glass to make the most of the last light of the afternoon, and became thoroughly absorbed in Uncommon Danger, by a writer heretofore unfamiliar to her. It was far less exciting than the couple of Bond books she’d read (and gosh, had Anquetil been implying that Whittier was ‘M’ or someone like?) but for all that, seemed much more unsettling and yet oddly likely. She shivered. Even if she couldn't imagine betraying one's country, neither could she imagine choosing a duty which would mean living with constant fear of discovery. But, as the night rose from the ground, and the type increasingly blurred into the page, she supposed that it depended very much on who the enemy was, and what they made the sticking-point.