'I see.' I wasn't very sure I did see. But I remembered how these two men lovers then, it was to be supposed had obscurely panicked before the unsettled courses of my cousins. Their reasons had been nonsensical, but perhaps their instinct had been sound. It looked as if Ruth, without much understanding of what she was about, had found a release from frustration in mucking something up. I wanted to elucidate this. 'Just how did it take Ruth?' I asked.
'I suppose she looked around, and felt there was only Alec. So she threw herself at his head, you might say. Awkward. Made things untenable. There were discoveries, disclosures.'
'She thought she was in love with him?' I stared at Colonel Morrison round-eyed.
'We mustn't say it wasn't love.' The Colonel was smiling at me. 'It was a great pity, you know, that Ruth could never get away from the place.'
'It was certainly that.' Ruth, I felt, had behaved idiotically, but it was still a shame that she had set her cap at so hopeless a mark. It remained this, whatever further and obscure promptings had conduced to the whole small catastrophe. I remembered guiltily my undertaking to invite her to Oxford and submerge her in the society of returned warriors. But there had scarcely been time for anything of the kind. 'The whole thing got out of hand?'
'Not sensationally.' Colonel Morrison smiled again. 'Alec had his month's holiday coming along, and of course it's known that I travel a little from time to time. So it was possible to ease ourselves out un.o.btrusively. I discussed it all with your uncle.'
'You discussed it with Uncle Rory?' This thought dumbfounded me. 'And with Aunt Charlotte too?'
'Not with your aunt, Duncan. One can't quite take up these matters with ladies. Man-to-man is different. Your uncle was fortunately quite all right at the time. A bit at odds with the duke, but not on about that unfortunate standing army. It has been a most regrettable aberration, that.'
'Yes, it has.' The notion of that man-to-man talk took me utterly out of my depth. I held the common belief of my generation that the very existence of s.e.xual deviations had never been revealed to our innocent forbears. 'So you and Uncle Rory quietly worked something out?'
'That expresses it very well. A cover story, as they now say. Of course, it's exile that it comes to. One can't blink that. But do you know, Duncan? It seemed almost simple at the time. A sense of relief, too. Things becoming less covert, I suppose. Naturally there are certain problems. There must be. I see that now. Alec sees it. It's true that money happens not to be a difficulty. If one owns property one can always have a little money follow one around. But we all know that money isn't everything. It isn't everything, by a long way. There's the business of any sort of place in the world. And Alec likes a little society particularly young fellows of his own age.'
'I suppose he does,' I said. 'Or younger.'
'Yes, yes you understand what I mean. But he and I are very solid, absolutely together. Still, one has to think a little. One has to try to think ahead. A sudden meeting like ours now which has been delightful in a way that's utterly due to your way of taking it, my dear boy somehow a little brings it home.' Colonel Morrison paused, as if this last word had reverberated in his mind. 'I'm rather fond of Scotland,' he said. 'I expect you are too.'
Fish, hungry for dinner, was sprawled on his bed next to mine, once more idly turning over the pages of Lady Chatterley's Lover.
'Christ, you've been the h.e.l.l of a time,' he said. 'We'd better get down to that eternal vitello. Have you solved the problem?'
'Solved the problem?' I stared at Fish blankly. 'Oh, that! No.'
'Then forget it. I say! There's an absurd bit here. Mellors blows his top to Connie about all the ghastly things that have happened to him in bed. He says that pretty well all women are lesbians. And Connie says, "You do seem to have had awful experiences of women." And Mellors-'
'Martin,' I said, 'do you mind? Just belt up.'
'And why the h.e.l.l should I belt up?' For a moment Fish was indignant and fairly enough. Then he gave me a quick look. 'Oh, all right,' he said. And he tossed our bedtime reading into his suitcase.
A Staircase in Surrey.
These titles can be read as a series, or randomly as standalone novels.
1. The Gaudy 1974.
2. Young Pattullo 1975 3. Memorial Service 1976.
4. The Madonna of the Astrolabe 1977 5. Full Term 1978.
Other titles by J.I.M. Stewart.
Published or to be published by House of Stratus.
Mark Lambert's Supper (1954) The Guardians (1955).
A Use of Riches (1957) The Man Who Won the Pools (1961) The Last Tresilians (1963) An Acre of Grass (1965).
The Aylwins (1966) Vanderlyn's Kingdom (1967) Avery's Mission (1971) A Palace of Art (1972).
Mungo's Dream (1973) Andrew and Tobias (1980) A Villa in France (1982).
An Open Prison (1984) The Naylors (1985) B. Short Story Collections.
The Man Who Wrote Detective Stories (1959) Cucumber Sandwiches (1969).
Our England Is a Garden (1979) The Bridge at Arta (1981) My Aunt Christina (1983) Parlour Four (1984) C. Non-fiction.
Educating the Emotions (1944) Character and Motive in Shakespeare (1949) James Joyce (1957) Eight Modern Writers (1963) Thomas Love Peac.o.c.k (1963).
Rudyard Kipling (1966) Joseph Conrad (1968) Shakespeare's Lofty Scene (1971) Thomas Hardy: A Critical Biography (1971).
Plus a further 48 titles published under the pseudonym 'Michael Innes'
Published by House of Stratus.
The first volume in J.I.M. Stewart's acclaimed 'A Staircase in Surrey' quintet, (but the second in time), 'The Gaudy' opens in Oxford at the eponymous annual dinner laid on by the Fellows for past members. Distinguished guests, including the Chancellor (a former Prime Minister) are present and Duncan Pattullo, now also qualified to attend, gets to meet some of his friends and enemies from undergraduate days. As the evening wears on, Duncan finds himself embroiled in many of the difficulties and problems faced by some of them, including Lord Marchpayne, now a Cabinet Minister; another Don, Ranald McKenechnie; and Gavin Mogridge who is famous for an account he wrote of his adventures in a South American jungle. But it doesn't stop there, as Pattullo acquires a few problems of his own and throughout the evening and the next day various odd developments just add to his difficulties, leading him to take stock of both his past and future.
This is the second of the 'A Staircase in Surrey' quintet, and the first in chronological order. Duncan Pattullo arrives in Oxford, destined to be housed off the quadrangle his father has chosen simply for its architectural and visual appeal. On the staircase in Surrey, Duncan meets those who are to become his new friends and companions, and there occurs all of the usual student antics and digressions, described by Stewart with his characteristic wit, to amuse and enthral the reader. After a punting accident, however, the girl who is in love with Duncan suffers as a result of his self-sacrificing actions. His cousin, Anna, is also involved in an affair, but she withholds the name of her lover, despite being pregnant. This particular twist reaches an ironical conclusion towards the end of the novel, in another of Stewart's favourite locations; Italy. Indeed, Young Pattullo covers all of the writer's favourite subjects and places; the arts, learning, mystery and intrigue, whilst ranging from his much loved Oxford, through Scotland and the inevitable Italian venue. This second volume of the acclaimed series can be read in order, or as a standalone novel.
This is the third novel in the Oxford quintet entitled 'Staircase in Surrey'. Duncan Pattullo returns in middle age to his old college. The Provost is heavily engaged in trying to secure a benefaction from a charitable trust which the old and outrageous Cedric Mumford influences. One significant complication is the presence in college of Ivo Mumford, Cedric's grandson. He is badly behaved and far from a credit to the college. His magazine, 'Priapus' proves to be wholly objectionable. Stewart explores the nature of the complicated relationships between the characters with his usual wit, literary style and intellectual precision and turns what might otherwise be a very common and ordinary situation into something that will grip the reader from cover to cover.
The Madonna of the Astrolabe.
In the fourth of J.I.M. Stewart's acclaimed 'Staircase in Surrey' quintet the gravity of a surveyor's report given to the Governing Body is the initial focus. The document is alarming. The Governing Body, an assembly of which Pattullo was in awe, was equally awed by the dimensions of the crisis revealed. It would seem that the consideration was whether there would literally be a roof over their heads for much longer. The first rumblings from the college tower brings the thought well and truly home to Pattullo. 'Professor Sanctuary,' the Provost said evenly, 'favours the immediate launching of an appeal . . .' And so it begins . . . In J.I.M. Stewart's superbly melding of wit, mystery, observation and literary prowess a gripping novel develops that will enthral the reader from cover to cover. This can be read as part of the series, or as a standalone novel.
The final volume in the 'A Staircase in Surrey' quintet. Duncan Pattullo is coming to the end of his term as 'narrator' and is thinking of re-marrying, although his former wife continues to cause difficulties. His intended is also providing gossip for the college, but that is as nothing compared to the scandal caused by Watershute, an eminent nuclear physicist. His misdemeanours range from abandoning his family and conducting an affair in Venice, to being drunk at High Table. However, things get very serious when he appears to be involved in activities that might amount to treason. An interesting and convoluted plot, which is a fitting end to this acclaimed series, is carried forward with J.I.M. Stewart's hallmark skill and wit. Full Term can be read in order, or as a standalone novel..