A dream of wessex, p.15
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       A Dream of Wessex, p.15
 

          
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  Julia remembered Paul in her room; the calculating grin before he tried to rape her.

  ‘Mary, last night ... I spoke to Paul Mason. He was talking about what he was going to do with the projection.’

  ‘What did he say?’

  ‘Nothing specific. But he dropped a large hint, said there was an obvious omission in the projection.’

  ‘I heard him talking to John Eliot,’ Mary said. ‘He was asking how the projection equipment was used in Wessex. Eliot said it was used to retrieve the participants, and Paul asked him if it could be used for anything else. Do you suppose this is the same thing?’

  ‘It might be. What did Eliot say?’

  ‘He said, of course, that it couldn’t. That’s all I heard.’

  Julia said: ‘He’s up to something. Mary, what’s it going to be?’

  ‘We’ll find out eventually. But we have a consolation.’

  ‘What’s that?’

  ‘We know the projection better than he does. It’s ours, and we can keep it ours. There are thirty-eight of us, Julia, and only one of him. No one can change the projection alone ... Wessex is too deeply embedded now.’

  Julia thought of Paul, the ambitious graduate who claimed that no job was too big for him and his talents, and had been right. Paul the career-climber, the rat-race smoothie. She knew Paul would have the will.

  Mary said: ‘If we succumb to Paul he’ll do what he wants. Our only hope is to be united with ourselves.’

  ‘But only four of us know about Paul! And Colin’s on leave, and you’re going back to London.’

  ‘I’ve already talked to Colin. He feels the same as us. He’s entitled to his leave, but he’ll be coming back as soon as he can. Maybe in a day or two. I’ll be back in two days’ time. As for the others ... they’ll have to be told as they’re retrieved. Although if Paul makes changes, they’ll see what’s happening for themselves while they’re in Wessex.’

  Mary stood up, and took her coat down from the door.

  ‘I want to catch the last train,’ she said. ‘And I’ll have to ring for a taxi.’

  Julia watched as Mary checked that the suitcase was firmly closed, then glanced about the room to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything. Julia followed her out of the room, and they went downstairs together. Don Mander was waiting for them in the hall.

  Julia caught Mary’s arm as they turned on the stairs, holding her back before Don saw them. She had suddenly realized that after Mary left she and Don would be the only two active participants at Bincombe. The thought frightened her, and made her understand how Mary had become an unexpected ally against Paul. Don Mander she didn’t trust; he seemed altogether too ready to accept the trustees’ appointment of Paul.

  ‘Mary,’ she said softly, ‘can’t we do something to stop Paul?’

  ‘I think not, dear. He joined the projection this afternoon.’

  ‘Then it’s too late.’

  ’To do anything here, yes. But we’ll be in Wessex.’

  Julia followed her down to the hall, and waited with Mary until the taxi arrived from Dorchester. When the car had driven away, Julia went up to her room, tidied her things, put away her clothes. She was thirsty, so she drank a little water from the toothbrush glass in the bathroom, then went downstairs again and talked to Don Mander. She was to return to Wessex that evening; there was no special brief for her, except to keep in contact with David Harkman; John Eliot and his staff were waiting for her at Maiden Castle.

  Later, as Julia refreshed the mnemonics in her mind, she was thinking of David, remembering how, when oppressed by Paul, the thought of him had strengthened her.

  Once Wessex itself had been the unacknowledged refuge from Paul; now there was only David, and Paul did not know.

  twenty

  It was suffocatingly warm in David Harkman’s office, and he sat with his jacket off and his tie undone. Even though the window was wide open, there was no draught to speak of, and the sounds of the tourists walking in the cobbled street outside were a continual distraction. He was reading through the Minutes of the Culture and Arts Committee, the body in the Commission theoretically responsible for subsidies to local drama workshops, art-galleries, playwrights, libraries and musical societies. Very little money was ever approved for direct sponsorship of the arts, because most of the Committee’s allocation seemed to be spent on administrative expenses. It made depressing reading, and the page of Harkman’s notebook, on which he had started to jot down observations, was still almost blank.

  He picked up the internal telephone, and dialled a number.

  ‘Is that Mr Mander?’

  ‘Speaking.’

  ‘David Harkman. Has the Commissioner had a chance to approve my application?’

  ‘Mr Borovitin has been engaged all day, Harkman. Will you try again in the morning?’

  ‘I’ve been waiting for two days already. I can’t start work until I have access to the archives.’

  ‘Call me again tomorrow.’

  Harkman had grown accustomed to the bureaucratic delays of Westminster, and had learned how to take short cuts when it was necessary, but he had not expected to come up against similar habitual obstructiveness here. Civil servants were probably the same all over the world, but the departmental mind was dissonant with the idyllic atmosphere of Dorchester.

  Harkman closed the Culture and Arts file, and leaned back in his chair, staring irritably at the opposite wall. He was blocked in every way. The work he was paid to do couldn’t be started properly, Julia was busy during the days, and even wave-riding was excluded from him. High tide came just too late now, at a time when he was supposed to be at his desk. The exhilaration of his ride of the day before was still in him, but his next day off wasn’t for another week, and it would be only towards the end of the week following that the wave would arrive late enough in the afternoon for him to take the time off.

  It was at moments like this, when his external drives were temporarily thwarted, that Harkman felt his inner compulsion the strongest. It was what he had talked to Julia about, that morning at the Castle: the unaccountable urge to be in Wessex, to live and work in Dorchester. But it was not only Dorchester and Wessex, because he was here and the urge had not been satisfied.

  Maiden Castle was the focus. He was obsessed and dominated by it. He could not walk the streets of the town without looking frequently to the south-west, he could not conceive of Dorchester without the Castle beside it, he could not feel at ease unless he knew in which direction it lay from where he was. Just as the States tourists prostrated themselves five times daily towards Mecca, so Harkman paid frequent instinctive homage to the low, rounded hill-fort overlooking the bay.

  Dwelling again on these matters renewed his frustration at the bureaucratic delay. As the days passed, Harkman realized that his own work would have to be set aside until he had investigated whatever records there were about Maiden Castle and its community.

  On an impulse, Harkman hurried out of his office, determined to go directly to the Castle, as if this alone would dispel the compulsion, but before he was halfway along the corridor that led to the front office he had changed his mind. He had already been to the Castle, and it had not satisfied the urge.

  He walked on, with less resolution than before. He passed through the front office and saw the usual line of States tourists, waiting patiently to apply for English visas.

  As soon as he entered Marine Boulevard, Harkman looked towards the south-west, like the needle of a compass swinging towards the north. He could see the Castle across the bay: the day was sunny and humid, but in the sky beyond the Castle dark clouds were lowering. A weird light seemed to surround the hilltop, a glowing golden green, sunlight on storm; Harkman could almost detect the thermal of rising heat, like the hypnotic power the Castle had over him, an invisible but detectable radiation, mystical and elemental.

  A high tide in the morning made it impossible for him to ride the Blandford wave, but it meant that the harbour wa
s open all during the rest of the day, and when Harkman reached the stall he found it crowded with visitors.

  He managed to catch Julia’s attention.

  ‘Can you get away?’ he said.

  ‘Not until later. We’re too busy.’

  As she spoke, an argument broke out between two of the customers over which of them had picked up a fragile crystal vase first. The two men squabbled in a fast North American dialect, rich in Arabic words, incomprehensible to the English.

  ‘Five o’clock?’ Harkman said.

  ‘All right. If this has quietened down.’

  She turned away from him, and took the vase gently from the man who was clutching it. Harkman watched as she deftly intervened in the argument, clearly favouring one of the two, yet appeasing the other with a combination of flattery and the production of a slightly more expensive piece of merchandise. She spoke in English, and this itself had a calming effect. Harkman waited until both sales had been made, and then he walked away through the crowd of strolling tourists and went to the far end of the quay, overlooking the entrance to the harbour. He sat down on the paving-stones, feeling the sun’s warmth through the fabric of his suit, a reminder of the long timeless summer, and his incongruous preoccupations in this tourist centre.

  Many private cruisers were taking advantage of the tide, and the harbour remained busy until well after five. Harkman waited until half-past before walking back to the stall.

  Julia looked tired, but she seemed pleased to see him, and as soon as she had spoken to the other two people behind the stall she left with him.

  What would you like to do?’ he said, as they walked up the hill away from the shore, and towards the wild heaths that spread for miles around the town.

  ‘Be with you,’ she said. ‘Alone.’

  What they had together was still a novelty, and no habits had formed. They walked quickly, although the air was hot and humid, until they found a sheltered dell away from the path, and there they made love. The newness, the freshness of what they had gave them the excitement of recent encounter, the sense of mutual conquest.

  Harkman felt relaxed and tender, and when Julia had pulled on her loose-fitting dress again he hugged her against him, and they lay back in the long grass together.

  ‘Julia, I love you.’

  Her face was turned towards him, and she stretched up to kiss his neck beneath his ear.

  ‘I love you too, David.’

  Last night they had said the same words again and again, a dozen times in an hour, and each time it had seemed fresh and original, the feeling belied by the inadequacy of the words. This evening it was as if they said them for the first time.

  Because he had spent much of the afternoon pondering on the intangible compulsion of the Castle, Harkman had allowed himself to overlook the feeling of displaced memory that Julia aroused in him. He had felt it again as they met, and he felt it now as she lay in his arms. If he held her tightly he could diminish it, but nothing could dispel it entirely.

  It was not that Julia gave only a part of herself to him, nor that she was distant or unaffectionate, because the first tendernesses came from her, the first loving kisses. She was in every way as dependent on him as he was on her, and in the manner of responses or of gestures, or of physical commitment, she satisfied him utterly.

  He possessed Julia in every conceivable way bar their permanently living together, but he did not experience her. He remembered her into existence.

  The thundercloud Harkman had seen earlier was blacker than before, but seemed no closer. A breeze had sprung up from the sea, and as it moved through the long grass it made a soothing, sweeping sound, at variance with the calm which tradition laid before the storm. They had heard the rumbling of thunder all afternoon, but the storm did not seem likely to strike for an hour or more.

  Harkman, holding Julia, felt the stillness of fulfilment, felt the breeze of disconcerting compulsions, awaited the onset of what was to come.

  She moved in his arms, and turned to lie on her back beside him, her head resting on his arm. She stared up at the sky. If the storm did not break beforehand there were about two hours until sunset, the time when they both knew she would return to Maiden Castle.

  This temporary, borrowed aspect of their affaire had begun to have a corroding effect on Harkman.

  He said, in a while: ‘Julia, I want you to leave the Castle. Come and live with me in Dorchester. We can find somewhere - ’

  ‘No. It’s impossible! ‘

  The readiness, and finality, of her answer came as a shock to him.

  ‘What do you mean?’ he said.

  ‘I can’t leave the community.’

  ‘Is it more important?’

  She turned to face him and laid her hand on his chest, stroking him. Her touch suddenly felt alien, unwelcome.

  ‘Don’t let’s argue about it,’ she said.

  ‘Argue? It’s too important for an argument! Do you love me?’

  ‘Of course.’

  ‘Then there’s no question. Julia, I love you so much I couldn’t - ’

  ‘David, it’s no good. I simply can’t leave the Castle now.’

  ‘Now? But later?’

  ‘I don’t think so,’ she said.

  There was one matter that Harkman had never raised with her, preferring to imagine the best than know the worst, but there could be no more avoiding it. He had to know.

  ‘There’s someone else,’ he said. ‘Another man.’

  She said, very quietly: ‘Of course.’

  ‘Then who - ?’

  ‘But it isn’t that, David. I’d leave him for you. Surely you know that?’

  ‘Who is it?’

  ‘You haven’t met him. His name wouldn’t mean anything to you.’ She sat up and faced him, looking down seriously at him. The breeze played with her hair, and behind her the storm-cloud loomed. ‘Don’t question me about him. If it was just that I’d leave today.’

  Harkman, still burned by the fires of possessiveness and jealousy, barely heard this.

  He said: ‘But I have met him. The man with the beard ... at the workshop. Greg, wasn’t it?’

  She laughed dismissively, but there was strain in the sound. ‘It’s not Greg. I told you, you haven’t met him.’

  ‘He was acting very strangely that day.’

  She shook her head firmly. ‘Greg’s always like that. It was because you were from the Commission. He wanted to make you pay more.’

  ‘Then who is it?’

  ‘Someone else. You haven’t met him, probably never will. It doesn’t matter who he is.’

  ‘It does to me.’

  It occurred to him then that Julia might be lying. There had been that unmistakable expression on Greg’s face, that morning at the Castle, the expression which seemed to plant territorial fences around Julia whenever he looked at her.

  ‘David, please don’t go on asking about it. I love you, surely you know that?’

  ‘Then come and live with me.’

  ‘I can’t.’

  Again, the finality.

  ‘Give me one reason, apart from this other man, why you will not.’

  She said nothing for a long time; so long in fact that Harkman thought she was going to avoid the question by maintaining the silence. But at last she said: ‘I can’t leave the Castle because I live and work there.’

  ‘You work in Dorchester.’

  She said: ‘I’m not going back to the stall again. I’ve finished there.’

  ‘You haven’t told me this before.’

  ‘You haven’t given me a chance. I was going to tell you later. From tomorrow I shall be at the Castle all the time.’

  ‘Then I could live with you there?’

  ‘No, David ...’

  ‘So we come back to this other man, whose name you won’t tell me.’

  ‘I suppose so,’ she said.

  Harkman felt disappointed, angry, hurt. For a moment he thought he had seen a way round the problem, but it
returned to source.

  ‘What is it? Are you in love with him?’

  Her eyes widened, not in affected innocence but in a surprise that seemed genuine. ‘Oh no, David. I love you’

  ‘You live with him ... is it because of the sex?’

  ‘It used to be. Not now. He repels me. Really. That side of it is finished, but I need more time to work it out. I’ve only known you for five days ...’

  He had to allow her that. What they had was profound, but it was certainly recent. For him there was a feeling of rightness about it that rose above the conventions, and in that moment of hope he had thought there was a way: he had been prepared to leave his work to live with her, to become one of the community at the Castle. The idea still appealed to him, because of its simplicity, but he knew too that if it came to a decision - here, on this heath, in this instant - he’d want more time to think about it.

  Wasn’t Julia only asking the same?

  But the vagueness of her relationship with the other man, or at least the vagueness of how she presented it to him, was as potentially hurtful to him as the pain a hidden weapon could inflict. He was nervous of it, watchful for it, uncertain of how it might be used against him.

  ‘Will you try to work it out, Julia? Can you?’

  ‘I think so. Give me time.’

  ‘Tell me you love me.’

  ‘I do, I do,’ she said, and leant forward to kiss him on the lips, but as soon as the kiss was finished she drew away again.

  ‘David, it’s not just this other man. If I told you the rest, would it be between us alone? Completely confidential?’

  ‘You know it would.’

  ‘I mean the Commission. You know there are several people there who are set against the Castle, and because you work at the Commission, I’m ... well, unsure - ’

  ‘I’m only attached to the place because of the archives,’ he said at once. ‘I’m not a civil servant, and I confide in no one there.’

  She was staring at him very closely, and he felt uneasy under the intensity of her gaze.

  ‘We’re doing something at the Castle that no one at the Commission knows about. It’s not illegal ... but if Commissioner Borovitin or one of his deputies found out there’d be so much interference that the work would become impossible.’

 
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