His mind went back to Rookwood, as it often did these days. The old quadrangle on a summer's day, masters in gowns and
mortarboards walking under the great elms, boys strolling by in dark blue
blazers or cricket whites. It was an escape to the other side of
looking glass, away from the madness. But sooner or later the
painful thought would always intrude: how the hell had it all
from that to this?
hotel had once been grand but the elegance was faded now; the chandelier in the entrance hall was dusty and there was
smell of cabbage and polish. Watercolours of stags and Highland lochs covered the oak-panelled walls. Somewhere a grandfather
clock ticked somnolently.
There was nobody at the reception desk. Harry rang the bell and
a bald, heavily built man in a commissionaire's uniform
'Good morning, sir,' he said in the relaxed, unctuous voice of a lifetime in service.
'I hope I haven't kept you waiting.'
'I've an appointment at two thirty with a Miss Maxse. Lieutenant Brett.' Harry pronounced the woman's name
'Macksie' as the
caller from the Foreign Office had instructed.
The man nodded. 'If you would follow me, sir.' His footsteps soundless on the thick dusty carpet, he led Harry to a lounge
easy chairs and coffee tables. It was empty apart from a man and
woman sitting in a bay window.
'Lieutenant Brett, madam.' The receptionist bowed and left.
The two rose to their feet. The woman extended a hand. She was
in her fifties, small and fine-boned, smartly dressed in a blue
twopiece suit. She had tightly curled grey hair and a sharp, intelligent
face. Keen grey eyes met Harry's.
'How do you do, so nice to meet you.' Her confident contralto made Harry think of a girls' school headmistress.
'Marjorie Maxse. I've been hearing all about you.'
'Nothing too bad, I hope.'
'Oh, quite the contrary. Let me introduce Roger Jebb.' The man took Harry's hand in a hard grip. He was about Miss Maxse's age, with a long tanned face and thinning black hair.
'What about some tea?' Miss Maxse asked.
A silver teapot and china cups had been laid out on a table.
There was a plate of scones too, pots of jam and what looked
cream. Miss Maxse began pouring tea. 'Any trouble getting here?
I gather one or two came down round here last night.'
'Victoria Street's closed off.'
a nuisance. And it's going to go on for
some time.' She spoke as though it were a spell of rain. She smiled. 'We prefer to
meet new people here, for the first interview. The manager's an old
friend of ours, so we won't be disturbed. Sugar?' she continued in the
same conversational tone. 'Do have a scone, they're awfully good.'
'Thanks.' Harry scooped up jam and cream. He looked up to see Miss Maxse studying him closely; she gave him a sympathetic
'How are you getting on now? You were invalided out, weren't you? After
'Yes. A bomb landed twenty feet away. Threw up a lot of sand. I was lucky; it shielded me from the worst of the blast.' He saw Jebb studying him too, from flinty grey eyes.
'You had a bit of shell shock, I believe,' he said abruptly.
'It was very minor,' Harry said. 'I'm all right now.'
'Your face went blank there, just for a second,' Jebb said.
'It used to be a lot more than a second,' he replied quietly. 'And both hands
used to tremble all the time. You might as well know.'
'And your hearing suffered, too, I believe?' Miss Maxse asked
the question very quietly, but Harry caught it.
'That's almost back to normal as well. Just a little deafness in
the left one.'
'Lucky, that,' Jebb observed. 'Hearing loss from blast, that's
often permanent.' He produced a paperclip from his pocket and began absent-mindedly bending it open as he continued looking at
Amazon cuts off 5200 affiliates in Minnesota(Jun 19 2013) With Minnesota's online sales tax law due to take effect July 1, Amazon has played a familiar card by cutting ties with 5,200 members of its Associates...