But time had showed that the Farthing Set were right. The Continent was the Continent and England was England, and old Adolf admired England and had no territorial ambitions across the Channel. Nine years had been enough to test the terms of the Farthing Peace and show that England and the Reich could be good friends. The Farthing Set had been vindicated and stayed at the centres of power. And now there had been a murder in Farthing House, so Farthing changed its meaning for him again and Inspector Carmichael found himself being driven through a green, peaceful and very beautiful England on a Sunday morning early in May.
Carmichael came from Lancashire, not the industrial southern Lancashire of cotton mills and unemployment, but the bleak northern uplands of moorland and fell. His father lived in a crumbling house not much better than the farmhouses of his tenants and struggled to send his sons to minor public schools. Carmichael's had been so minor it had since perished, with no loss to anyone, especially Carmichael. If he ever had sons, which he increasingly doubted, he'd certainly not choose to send them to that hellhole to be starved and beaten. Still, that, with the Dunkirk experience, had been good enough for Scotland Yard, and he was a full Inspector now at twenty-nine, with good pay and excellent prospects for advancement. Many hadn't done as well in the lean post-war years. His older brother, Matthew, whose public school had been better, if still minor, was living in the North helping his father with the sheep. He didn't see civilization more than once a month when he went into Lancaster to the bank and the solicitor and maybe a stop for lunch at the King's Head and a quick hour at the pictures in the afternoon. It wasn't much, and Carmichael sometimes paused in his enjoyment of the good things in life to consider the pitiful lot of his distant brother.
All the same, there was enough of the Northerner left in him to distrust the Hampshire countryside that was doing its best to beguile him. The trees, so much more frequent and so much broader here than on his native moor, were in fullest leaf and cast a delightful shade. Beneath them spread as solid a carpet of bluebells as he had ever seen, sending their scent drifting into the car as he was driven on past them. The sun was shining from a deep blue sky, as it rarely shone on Lancashire, the fields were ploughed and planted, the hay was already high, the grass was a verdant green and the birds were singing. As if this wasn't enough, every few miles the road wound its way through a little village with a church, a pub, a post office, thatched cottages, and enough individuality to tell it from the last one. One might boast a manor house, a second a duckpond, a third a village green, or a mighty oak with two old men sitting beneath it as if they were about to hand down the wisdom of the elders. Carmichael sighed.
"What's wrong, sir?" Sergeant Royston, at the wheel of the police Bentley, spared a quick glance for his superior. "Didn't fancy Sunday duty?"
"Not especially," Carmichael said. "Though I hadn't anything special to do today, and I might as well work now if the Yard needs me and have a free day in the week when the shops are open. It's just this countryside depresses me somehow."
They swept into another little village. This one had a pretty girl feeding white Aylesbury ducks outside one of the cottages. "It is lacking a bit of life compared to town," Royston said as he rounded the curve back into the endless fields and spinneys.
"It's not that," Carmichael said, as it suddenly came to him what it was. "It's all so fat and complacent somehow, as if it's had too long living on its rich soils and warm summers. It's fallen asleep in the sunshine. It could do with something to give it a shake and wake it up, like a famine, or a plague, or an invasion or something."
Copyright © 2006 by Jo Walton
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