THE BOOK PAGES

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Summer on the River

Postcards from the Past

The Sea Garden

The Christmas Angel

The Summerhouse

The Prodigal Wife

The Way We Were

Memories of the Storm

Echoes of the Dance

The Golden Cup

The Birdcage

The Children’s Hour

A Week in Winter

Forgotten Laughter

A Week in Winter

The Chadwick Trilogy

     Looking Forward

     Holding On

     Winning Through

Second Time Around

Starting Over

Hattie’s Mill

The Dipper

The Courtyard

Thea’s Parrot

Those Who Serve

Summer on the River AN EXTRACT

The loganberries are nearly over. As she picks the soft crimson fruit, sun-warmed and so easily crushed between her stained fingers, Evie can hear the warning ‘tck-tck-tck’ of the blackbird half-hidden in the ivy on the wall. She glances up at him, just able to spy a flicker of black wing and a flash of golden beak.

‘I know you’re there,’ she says. ‘You’ve been helping yourself, haven’t you?’

She drops the berries into a wine glass, which also contains a few sweet peas, straightens up and looks out across the roof-tops towards the harbour entrance where two tiny white boats seem to be slipping and sliding across the shiny blue silk of the sea; tacking this way and that in an attempt to catch the fitful breeze. The steep garden that rises up behind the old Merchant’s House is built in a series of terraces, surrounded by high stone walls, warm and sheltered from strong winds. On this highest level a white-painted wrought-iron table and four chairs stand on slate flags, half screened by a low lavender hedge: a small formal area set above a water-colour wilderness of flowers and shrubs.

Evie sits down at the table, smiling with pleasure, reaching to run her fingers through the tall spikes of purple-blue lavender, breathing in its scent. Tommy loved it here, sitting with a bottle of wine open on the table, watching the traffic on the river streaming between the wooded cliffs out to sea. Privately, between themselves, she called him Tommy. Thomas David Fortescue: TDF. The Darling Fellow. His aunts always called him that: the darling fellow. They’d raised him, between the three of them, when his mother died young of cancer and his father was busy in London running the family wine import business. ‘Is it my turn for the darling fellow this exeat . . . half term . . . holiday?’ As time passed, two of the aunts – one a widow, the other unmarried – moved into the Merchant’s House, so that the darling fellow’s life should be as undisturbed as possible, and he grew up as his nature dictated: calm, optimistic, generous. His peers called him TDF though some, remembering with fondness the aunts and happy school holidays in Dartmouth, still referred to him as ‘the darling fellow’. He didn’t mind, enjoyed the joke – though his wife occasionally found it irritating when this had to be explained to her own friends or to newcomers to their circle. She called him Thomas. Marianne always preferred London to Dartmouth, though it was convenient to be able to invite friends down to the Merchant’s House for a weekend party, for regatta, very occasionally for Christmas. With its elegant rooms, sweeping views of the river, the luminous quality of light and sense of spaciousness, it was the perfect house for celebrations.

As their son Charlie was growing up Marianne became busier than ever, organizing his social life, entertaining his friends. More and more Tommy found that he was travelling down to Dartmouth alone.

Sitting at the table on the terrace on this late August evening, Evie thinks of him: tall, lean, black hair, brown eyes. She first met him in the road outside the house as she climbed up the steep flights of steps from the converted boathouse that she was planning to buy. She reached the pavement, paused to catch her breath, and saw him coming out of the elegant town-house opposite. He dropped his keys into his pocket, turned round, saw her standing there and smiled at her.

Nearly twenty-five years later, Evie begins to laugh: that smile had wreaked its very own kind of havoc. It was friendly, almost amused, as if he somehow guessed that she was in a state of great excitement. Eyebrows raised, he seemed to be challenging her to tell him about it – and so she did.

Look,・she said, beckoning him across the street, leaning over the wall so as to point down to where the small, newly converted boathouse stood at the river’s edge, poised above it, full of water-light and sunshine. ‘Isn’t it lovely? I’m going to buy it!’

‘Gosh!’ he said, eager as a boy the darling fellow entering into her joy. Good for you! So we’ll be neighbours.’

‘Do you live there?’ She nodded across the road towards the Merchant’s House, impressed and more than that, heart-thumpingly hopeful. He was rather nice.

‘In London mostly,’ he said ruefully. Dartmouth whenever I can. My wife gets bored very quickly here, and she’s not a sailor. I love it, though.’

Oh, damn, she thought. A wife. Oh, well . . .

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