Margaret Leaving, a gripping historical mystery
The clock was chiming again and she tried to focus on it. She loved the clock. It was her father’s clock. The clock had lived at the centre of the kitchen mantelpiece all her life. It had been a wave-shaped wooden presence that stood like a permanent blister rubbed out of the wood beneath it. It had two deep black keyholes in its face and she’d always known the holes were friendly eyes, and the hands a droopy moustache. But now she was hearing Margaret saying, as she so often did: that clock, only the half hour chime is ever satisfactory. It stops the quarter hour too soon, and the three quarter hour is all too much effort for it.
photo by Simon Hayward
A haywain, drawn by a sturdy big-footed farm horse, was positioned under a magnificent old tree, on a single-track lane that cut across an open field. A wooden hay rake lay on the ground, tines down. The haywain had pneumatic tyres, she noticed, otherwise all the farm tools were the same as they would have been when Constable was painting idyllic country scenes. The second world war effort on the home front had been unmechanised and labour intensive, at least in this picture. Two women with pitchforks were loading the cart with hay; one by the side of the track, one on top of the growing load. A third sat on the back of the horse, whose white nose was down on the ground, presumably seeking tender shoots to eat, while a fourth woman was tugging on his bridle.
photo by John-Jo Hayward
“What has impressed you most about what you’ve seen so far?” he asked.
“The square with the Radcliffe Camera.”
She didn’t lie back. Largely because she wanted too and could imagine him rolling over and kissing her, her eyes closed, the weight of his body on hers. She shifted slightly further away from him, while he couldn’t see her do it, and said, “Warm honey stone against bright blue summer sky, heavy arches for dark doors, lumpy cobblestones crossed over with flagstone walkways, the bright green circle of grass around the mathematical perfection of a domed building. It’s so completely non-twentieth-century. There is nothing ugly in it at all.”
She walked out of her study and into the garden. She loved her back garden. It captured the afternoon sun in the summer. And she had planted roses: Peace, for her father. They were well suited to the Oxford clay.
Out on the lawn, Emily was taking her after lunch nap, lying on her back on her new blue, padded, reclining chair, shaded by a matching blue parasol. A paperback Dick Francis rose and fell on her chest.
Jenny sat on the grass and imagined herself lecturing to garden clubs, not undergraduates.
“Peace, this famous rose, was conceived in 1935, a scion of the house of Meilland.”
photo by Rosemary Hayward