Marking Time

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Authors: Elizabeth Jane Howard
Tags: Fiction, General, Sagas
rest of his legs were as white as fish, Lydia thought, and they were
so thin that his black boots looked too big.
    ‘Is your father going off to fight in the war?’ Neville asked.
    Robert shrugged, but Norma said, ‘’E might and ’e mightn’t. Mum says if ’e does it’ll be good riddance. Never trust a man. They’re only after one
thing.’
    ‘One thing?’ Neville said as they trudged home later for their tea. Miss Boot had called the evacuees in for theirs and it had been quite a relief. ‘What one thing? I want to
know, because when I’m grown up I suppose I’ll be after it too. And if I don’t like the sound of it, I’ll think of some other thing to go after.’
    ‘I can go after things just as much as you.’
    ‘She didn’t say ladies went after it.’
    ‘I don’t care. I shall.’
    They quarrelled gently all the way home.

    ‘What do you want with your grouse, darling?’
    Diana looked down at the large hand-written menu. ‘What are you going to have?’
    ‘Cauliflower, French beans, broccoli, peas—’ the waiter towering above them intoned.
    ‘French beans, I think.’ It was awful: here was Edward giving her a slap-up lunch at the Berkeley, probably the last she would have for ages, and she wasn’t in the least
hungry. It would not do to say that, though: Edward, like Louis XIV about whom she had been reading recently, liked his ladies to eat and drink heartily. Ladies! During the last year she had felt a
chilling certainty that someone called Joanna Bancroft, whom she had met at a dinner party, had been one of Edward’s flirtations, if not an actual affair. When Edward’s name had come up
during dinner, the young woman – younger than Diana, hardly more than a
girl
– had said, ‘Oh!
Edward!
He
would
say that!’, as though he was a very
old friend, but when they were powdering their noses in their hostess’s bedroom and she had asked her if she knew Edward well, the girl had answered rather distantly that she had simply met
him during a weekend at Hermione Knebworth’s, and the reply, elaborately casual, had roused her suspicion. When, later, she had asked Edward about Mrs Bancroft, she had recognised at once
that he was lying. He had been suave and hearty, and had not met her eye. She had had the sense to shut up about that, but it had exacerbated her feelings of insecurity which had been thoroughly
kindled by his revelation, a few weeks before the Bancroft episode, that Villy was having another child. Up until then, he had given her to understand, or rather had not stood in the way of her
understanding, that all intimate relations between him and Villy had finished long ago. Her jealousy had been such that she had not been able to stop questioning him about it: had, she realised
afterwards, more or less driven him into saying that it had been Villy who had
wanted
another child, and that he had felt unable to deny her. It was then that she had understood that he
could not bear confrontations of this kind – of any moral kind, she suspected – and as her respect for him diminished (his attitude about the new baby and his wife continuing to be
presented to her in a light she knew not to be true) so, curiously, her conscience shrank, and her intentions, her determination, emerged. If he was a poor thing, she had more right to call him her
own.
    She raised her glass of champagne cocktail to touch Edward’s.
    ‘Happy?’ he was saying.
    ‘What do
you
think?’
    Their caviar arrived – a prim, thick-lipped pot nestling in a bed of chipped ice, accompanied by thin triangles of toast that came warm and shrouded in a napkin, and a young waiter served
them with chopped egg, onion and parsley, while the wine waiter poured vodka into tiny glasses from a frosted bottle.
    ‘Darling, I shall be utterly tipsy!’
    ‘Never mind, I shall be driving.’ This, she knew, did not refer to their journey to Sussex later in the day, but to the interlude before it at Lansdowne Road.

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