It seems a long time since life was good for Liz Dewhurst. Her happy marriage to Gregor ended six months ago when she discovered he had been having an affair with another local woman for two years. But if that wasn't enough, Liz and Gregor's family businesses were also intertwined. Growing up on neighboring farms on the East coast of Fife, an area blessed with rich soil and beautiful, unspoiled landscapes, the marriage made it perfect sense to merge. The separation, however, has come at the worse possible time. With business bad, the two farms are barely struggling to survive on their own.
Then an extraordinary opportunity arises. An American-financed consortium is looking to build a golf course, and with Liz's and Gregor's land think they have found the ideal site for the best new links course in Britain. Liz is torn: the money is tempting, and she knows that by turning the scheme down she will face the wrath of the local community. On the other hand, the farm has passed through five generations of her family; is she really ready to give up that history, a move that will also help Gregor and his mistress?
At the same time Liz's son Alex, a student at nearby St Andrews University, suggests renting a room out to raise some money. And the person he suggests, his German tutor Arthur Kempler, is the man to change everything. Funny, charming, he hits it off immediately with both Liz and Alex's grandfather. Indeed, if he were twenty-five years younger, Liz would find him extremely attractive. Then Arthur goes on holiday to Spain, and asks Liz to join him. Once over there, she meets the last person either expected to see: Arthur's son . . .
In Robin Pilcher, readers will discover a fresh new voice in fiction. With a deft touch and an uncanny sense of the human heart, Robin Pilcher, after a promising start with his first novel, is now a proven master of the genre.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|File size:||361 KB|
About the Author
Robin Pilcher has spent too long behind the scenes. The son of bestselling novelist Rosamunde Pilcher, he has worked as a farmer, assistant film cameraman, and PR consultant. His first novel, An Ocean Apart, was a New York Times bestseller, and a favorite among Pilcher fans old and new. He lives with his wife and four children near Dundee, Scotland.
Robin Pilcher is the son of bestselling novelist Rosamunde Pilcher. His first three novels, An Ocean Apart, Starting Over, and A Risk Worth Taking were New York Times bestsellers. He lives in Dundee, Scotland.
Read an Excerpt
A taste of spring. That’s exactly how it should be described. Nature pervading the senses with the tangy texture of newly tilled soil, laced with the lightest sprinkling of salt that blew in on the cool breeze from the North Sea. Liz Dewhurst leaned against the rotting strainer-post at the head of the field and closed her eyes, pulling in a deep breath and moving her tongue across her palate to identify more. There wassomething else, but it seemed alien, ill at sorts with this carefully prepared recipe. She opened her eyes and watched the large John Deere tractor sweep past fifty metres below her, the masculinity of its six-cylindered roar giving way to the more genteel sound of the drill-spouts, clicking away like a thousand synchronized knitting needles as each placed its designated quantity of barley seed into the rich dark earth.
Liz smiled to herself and pushed away from the strainer. Diesel fumes. That’s what it was. Her moment of sweet communion ended by a technological breakthrough.
“Come on, Leckie!” she called out, shrugging the strap of the basket higher onto her shoulder and scanning the hedgerow for the Jack Russell terrier. He appeared from the undergrowth a hundred yards uphill, like a cork fired from a champagne bottle, and stood looking at her, a small power pack of energy weighing up the odds as to whether obedience should give way to further moments of pure joy.
The tone of voice was enough. Obedience would seem a better option today. Hitting full speed at only two strides into its run, the dog tore down the hill towards its mistress, then veered off and dodged away down the field in front of her.
Liz made for the centre of the field, hoping to coincide her arrival there with the next pass of the John Deere, but as it turned on the end rig, the engine was cut, emptying the air of its noise, leaving only the weaker, yet more melodious sounds of the cab radio to take its place.
Bert was well settled into his lunch by the time she reached the tractor, alternately biting into a white-loaf sandwich and supping away at a plastic cupful of tea. Acknowledging her arrival with a chuck of his head, the old tractorman slid forward in his seat and gave the door a hefty boot open, allowing the fug of sweet pipe tobacco to escape from the cab’s airless confines and waft down towards Liz.
“Weel?” Bert replied with his customary question to the greeting.
Liz turned and looked down the rail-track straightness of his drilling. “How’s it going?”
Bert took a noisy slurp of tea before answering. “Tractor’s pullin’ braw, but yon machine ahent’s a real scunner. Spoots aye seem to be gettin’ fell chochit.”
Liz smiled up at the old man. Having lived all her thirty-seven years right here on the east coast of Fife, she was proud both of her Scottish roots and lilting voice, but sometimes she found it almost incomprehensible that both she and Bert should come from the same country, so broad was his accent. A native of Aberdeen, he spoke as if every word had been given a good chewing before being sputtered out in a whirring stream. And that lack of comprehension had not all been one-sided. At the ceilidh that her father had held to mark Bert’s twenty-five years’ service on the farm, the tractorman had risen unsteadily to his feet, clutching in his hand a glass of whisky that was as dark as the peat with which it was made, and remarked that “the reason that me and the fermer hev got on sae weel ower the years is that neither of us hev understood a bloody word we’ve said tae itch ither!”
Liz bent down and picked up a handful of earth, rubbing it gently between fingers and thumb and allowing the crumbled soil to fall back to the ground. “At least the conditions are perfect. I don’t think they’ve been this good in years.”
Bert sat back in his tractor seat. “Aye, weel, there’s somethin’ tae be said fer that at ony rate.”
Liz glanced to where the old cab-less Fordson sat idle at the bottom of the field. “You wouldn’t happen to know where my father’s got to?”
“Aaay. He went off doon the gulley just afore ye arrived.” He let out a throaty chuckle. “He’ll be sunbathin’ on the rocks, nae doot.”
Liz laughed at the vision of her father lying prostrate on a rock, his coveralls zipped right up to the neck to keep himself warm. “Aye, nae doot.” She gave her head a quick shake of admonishment, realizing that she too was slipping into the vernacular. “Well, I’ll away down and see him. I’ve got his lunch.”
She patted the basket with her hand and looked back at the tractorman. But he had already closed the door of the tractor to resume his own.
Liz set off at a brisk pace towards the gulley, hoping to catch her father before he made his way back to the field. As she went, a blinding pin-point of light from the adjacent field, sun hitting polished metal, caught her eye, and she stopped to see what had caused it. Two distant figures, their fluorescent green coats clearly outlining them against the dark backdrop of the sea, stood on open ground two hundred metres apart. One held a long white pole at the vertical and moved this way and that in response to the hand-waving of the other, who, when not giving directions, was stooped over a surveying theodolite, the source of the reflected light. The sight of this hitherto innocuous task had an immediate effect on Liz, displacing her feeling of complete contentment for the day with a griping sense of foreboding. She watched them for a moment longer, then, with her hand held hard against the basket, she turned and began to run in tottering, uneven steps across the unworked land, as if physical distance might help separate her from the undesirable infringements of the surveyors’ actions. Only when she was sure that the undulating contours of the field hid all view of the neighbouring farm from sight did she slow to a walk.
The gulley that led down to the shore was dank and gloomy, the sun’s rays being denied access to the dreariness of its inner sanctum by a canopied arch of unkempt hawthorn bushes, their roots exposed like gnarled arthritic limbs after years of undermining by an out-of-control rabbit population. Consequently, the full length of its rutted centre still brimmed with a succession of stagnant brown puddles despite the fact that it had not rained for the best part of a month. Liz kept to the driest part at the edge of the track, her upper body tilted to the side to avoid having her head caught by the tentacled branches of spiky hawthorn, and at the same time keeping an eye on the darting Jack Russell, just in case he decided to up-tail and vanish down one of the all-too-inviting rabbit holes.
With warming relief, she stepped back out into bright sunlight at the bottom of the gulley and climbed up high onto the overhang of craggy volcanic rock to afford her a better view of the shoreline. The wind, now sparkled with moisture from the crashing waves, had become more chilled, and she zipped up her quilted jacket to the neck and pushed away the strand of short blond hair that blew about her face. The dog, who had been vainly sniffing out something of interest in these new maritime surroundings, suddenly let out a short yelp, heralding the discovery of her father’s whereabouts, and headed off, his claws scrambling for purchase on the slippery rocks, in the direction of the lone figure that sat looking out to sea fifty yards upwind from where she stood. Liz turned to follow the animal at a more careful pace, her Wellingtons being too loose-fitting to be classed as ideal footwear for the purpose in hand.
Even though he would have certainly been forewarned of his daughter’s proximity by the dog’s appearance, the farmer continued to look mesmerically out to sea as she approached, the collar of his coveralls turned up as token protection against the wind, his white-browed eyes shielded by the peak of a battered tweed cap. He sat with the wriggling dog in his arms, his hand clamped tight over Leckie’s mouth to avoid his over-amorous greeting.
“Hi, Dad,” Liz breathed out in a sigh of exhaustion.
At the sound of her voice, the farmer broke from his train of thought and turned to flash her a crooked smile. “Well, lass. How’re you doing?” He let go of the dog, allowing it to spill from his arms and run off to explore the peripheries of a nearby rock-pool.
“I thought I’d bring your lunch out to you.”
“Aye, well, there was no real need. I’m not that hungry.” He gave his head a quick, appreciative nod. “But it’s good of you, nonetheless.”
Liz sat down beside him on the rock, tucking the bottom of her jacket under the seat of her jeans to avoid its chilling smoothness. She wedged the basket into a crevice, damp with seaweed, behind her, then delved in and took out a Thermos and a plastic container filled with sandwiches. She poured out a cupful of soup for her father and handed it to him.
“Just as well I brought this down. You didn’t look as if you were going to bother coming in for lunch.”
He took a loud swallow of his soup, but did not follow it up with any verbal response, instead just wrapped his large, calloused hands around the steaming warmth of the cup and cast his eyes far beyond the frothing breakers on the rocks.
Liz reached across and put a hand on his knee. “Are you all right, Dad? You seem to be a bit away with the fairies.”
Her father let out a long sigh and turned to her, a wistful smile on his face. “Och, I don’t know, lass. Just having a few thoughts.”
“What kind of thoughts?”
He took another sip from his cup, then gave a short laugh. “If you really want to know, I’ll show you.” Handing her the cup, he leaned forward to pick up a pebble before pushing himself to his feet. He stood for a moment, as if readying his tall, angular frame for action, then, with a certain and, to Liz, quite alarming unsteadiness that was probably only to be expected of a man nearing his seventieth year, he jumped his way across the rocks to stand just out of the spattering reaches of the breaking waves.
“See that out there?” he called back to her, his voice barely audible above the noise of the sea. He pointed his finger towards a jagged needle of rock that protruded from the sea seventy metres offshore. Liz nodded in response. He moved back a couple of paces, executed a number of practice throwing actions to loosen off the muscles in his stringy arm, and then, with one ungainly skip forward, he launched the pebble, and almost himself, out into the water. The small stone hit the surface with a feeble plop, not even a quarter of the way to its appointed target. For a moment, he stared at the point of impact, then, letting out a loud exclamation of derision, he made his way back to where Liz was sitting.
She shook her head as he approached. “What was that all about?”
Her father sat down, letting out a heavy blow from the effort, then leaned over and took a sandwich from the box. “I’ll tell you.” He took a bite and, almost simultaneously, began his explanation. “When I was a wee lad, about ten or eleven years old, my father brought me down here and showed me that rock. He said that the day that I could hit it three times in a row from that point where I just threw that stone would be the time when he’d let me take over the farm. Well, I thought there and then that I’d make him eat his words.” He shot a knowing wink at Liz. “Aye but, lass, he was a wise old devil. No matter how much I tried, I fell short of that rock all the way through my teens. Then, once I’d the strength to get the range, it took me another two years to get the control. And when I eventually did hit it three times, he didn’t believe me! So I had to do it all over again, with him standing as witness—and that took another six months!” He laughed. “I was twenty-three by that time!”
Liz smiled at her father. “You’d wonder how he knew that it would take that long. Do you think that his father put him through the same test?”
“Oh, aye, he did. And as far as I know, his father before that, too!”
Liz was silent for a moment before making the decision to ask the question. “And did you ever do it with Andrew?”
The farmer took another bite of his sandwich and this time said nothing until he had swallowed his mouthful. “Aye, I did—and the lad hit it three times when he was only nineteen.” He gave a long sigh and held out his cup to be replenished. “But your brother was never that interested in the farm. And why should he be? I never minded that much. He was always a clever boy. Too bright to spend his days driving tractors about the place. He’d only have got bored. No, he made the right decision, going away to Australia like that. Managing director of a company and all.” He drained his cup, and flicking its residue out to be dispersed by the wind, he once more scrutinized the distant rock. “Aye, it’s like the family’s own stone of destiny, that out there. I suppose it’s sort of become like the physical pinnacle of my life, with those pebbles getting closer and closer to it as I grew up, and now, as I get older, getting further and further away. I suppose it won’t be long now before I canna even heft them further than the shoreline itself.”
Liz took the cup from him and put it back in the basket. “Come on, Dad, you’re being a bit pessimistic, aren’t you?”
He wiped his hands on the legs of his coveralls. “Aye, well, I’ve had the mind to be a bit pessimistic over these past few months, as I’m sure you’ll understand.”
“Yes. I can,” Liz replied softly. She screwed the top back on the Thermos and kept hold of it at its tightest position. “You’ll be missing Mum a good deal, Dad?”
He pushed back the peak of his tweed cap and scratched at the top of his snow-white tangle of hair before settling it once more on his head. “Of course.” He got to his feet and held out a hand to his daughter. “You don’t easily forget the scent of a flower just because it’s died.”
Taking hold of the outstretched hand, Liz felt the power in his grip as he brought her effortlessly to her feet, then, picking up the basket, he set off across the rocks towards the gulley ahead of his daughter.
“Aye?” He turned back to look at her.
“I haven’t ever asked you this before, but—well—you don’t blame me, do you? In any way—for Mum, I mean?”
Her father beamed a broad smile at her and shook his head. “No, Lizzie, I don’t. And never think it. It was just one of those sad coincidences, her getting ill when you and Gregor parted company. Of course, there was no doubt that we were all affected by it, with our families and the farms being linked so close, but no, lass, I’m pretty sure that it never hastened her end.”
Liz leaped the two rocks to where her father stood and put her arms around his chest, pushing her cheek against the exposed front of his woollen jersey and feeling the warmth radiate through from his lean frame.
“I sometimes wonder what it would be like if it never had happened.”
“What? You jumping in the back of the Land Rover with young Gregor?”
Liz pushed herself away from him, and looked up at a face that twinkled with amusement. “Dad!”
His grin spilled out into a laugh. “Och, you mean the marriage? Well, I suppose one wouldn’t have happened without the other, would it?”
Liz smiled and shook her head. “No, you’re right. It wouldn’t.”
Her father pushed his hands deep into the pockets of his coveralls and gave a brief nod in the direction of the rock, its tip now becoming more pronounced with the ebbing of the tide. “You can’t change destiny, lass. You can’t get your pebble back once you’ve thrown it. It’s all been. It’s in the past. Anyway, you wouldn’t have that fine lad of yours if it was different, would you?”
Liz took in a long deep breath and let it out. “I know that.” She paused for a moment. “But sometimes I wonder if the future holds anything better.” She cast a wary glance at her father. “They’ve been out on Gregor’s farm again—doing more surveying for the golf course.”
He nodded. “I know. Gregor phoned me this morning. They want to start here tomorrow.”
“What did you say?”
“I told him to hold off until we see what the outcome of the meeting is tonight.”
He watched the change of expression on his daughter’s face, the usual open, smiling features being drawn down into a hardened glare of determination. “We can’t let it happen, Dad. We mustn’t let them steamroller us into making a decision.”
Putting an arm around his daughter’s shoulders, he drew her into his side, and lifting his other hand to her face, he pushed gently at the corners of her mouth with his thumb and forefinger to reinstate the smile. “Listen, Lizzie, we’ll see what they have to say, and we’ll do what’s best.” He bent down and planted a kiss on the top of her head. “But I don’t want you getting all huffed up and bitter about it all, lass, because that’s not you—that’s not you at all.” He leaned his head forward to make eye contact with his daughter. “D’you hear me?”
Liz looked up into his kind, weather-beaten face and could not help but break into a genuine smile. “I’ll try—but it’s hard sometimes.”
“I know.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her up bodily onto the next rock, then turned and gave a shrill whistle for the dog. “Come on, we’d better get going, otherwise Bert will have no worked ground in front of him.”
Together they picked their way slowly across the rocks back towards the gulley. Just as they reached the plateau on which Liz had stood to search him out, both caught the distant but constant rumble of thunder crescendoing as it approached them. Instinctively putting their fingers to their ears, they watched as the menacing cross-section of the Phantom jet sleeked towards them, hugging the coastline like a hunting fox, conspiring to keep hidden until the last from its unsuspecting prey. With an earshattering roar, it passed overhead, no more than two hundred feet above them, then banked hard to the right and streaked out seaward for the final run-in to its destination at RAF Leuchars.
No more than a minute later, Alex Dewhurst stepped away from the ball, just as he prepared to play his approach to the tenth hole on the New Course at St. Andrews. He took two more practice shots, swinging his number eight iron in slow, rhythmic arcs, desperate to keep his concentration until the Phantom jet, which had set down on the runway at the other side of the estuary, had closed down the reverse thrust on its engines. When the noise had subsided, he re-addressed the ball, flexing his knees to settle his tall frame into the shot, then played through the ball with a swing as smooth as those that he had executed in practice. The ball soared high into the air, starting its flight left of the fluttering flag before catching the stiff sea breeze that blew in across the course. It pitched fifteen metres short of its target, but with no back-spin applied, it ran fast across the hardened fairway onto the razored surface of the green. It caught the borrow and swung in towards the flag, and eventually came to rest no more than three feet from the hole.
Alex kept the final position on his swing until he had seen the ball come to a halt, then let the club rest down on his shoulder. He turned to his opponent, and grinned. “Of course it was meant!”
Tom Harrison’s eyes had not left the ball. The captain of the university golf team stood no more than two clubs’ distance from Alex, supporting his right elbow with his left hand and biting thoughtfully at a fingernail. He took a deep breath and glanced across at his younger opponent, shaking his head in disbelief.
“That is bloody ridiculous! That’s about the fourth time today you’ve laid it dead from that distance!”
Alex stepped forward and scooped up the divot of turf with the blade of his club. “It doesn’t always work that way.” He replaced the divot and stamped it back into the ground. “But I suppose it does help being brought up on links courses. You just get to know how they work.” He speared the club back into his golf bag and swung it up onto his shoulder, then stood watching as Tom walked over to where his ball lay in the short, wispy rough at the edge of the fairway.
No, he thought to himself, it certainly didn’t always work that way. Far from it. Despite having a handicap of five, quite often by this stage in a game he would have blown a couple of holes, simply through some niggling apprehension that momentarily bled his concentration. But then it always seemed to be a different matter when he was in a match situation. This was his forte, playing head to head against an opponent, playing to win. And he knew that, in this case, his reward for winning would probably be a place on the team.
Tom played his shot, but badly miscalculated the resistance of the rough, the consequence being that the ball stopped ten yards short of the green. “Damn!” He picked up his bag and walked rapidly forward to catch up with Alex. “So, go on. You were saying that you were at school around here.”
“Yes. Madras College. I wouldn’t say that I exactly excelled myself there, but that was my fault, not the school’s. I spent more time on the golf course than I did in the classroom during my final year, which did play havoc with my grades. But I was the captain of the school golf team, and I took it all quite seriously.”
Tom pulled a face at Alex’s obvious self-deprecation. “Well, you couldn’t have done that badly if you got into the university.”
“Only there by the skin of my teeth.”
“Aren’t we all? So, what are you reading?”
“Languages—German and French.”
“Ah, a leenguist, huh? And what about digs? I suppose you’re in halls, being a fresher.”
“No. I still live at home.”
“Oh, right! I didn’t realize that you lived that close to Saint Andrews.”
Arriving at his ball, Tom shrugged the golf bag off his shoulder and pulled out a pitching wedge in one practised move, then, with near nonchalance, stood over the ball and stroked it to within two feet of the hole. He turned to Alex, a hopeful grin on his face. “A gimme?”
Alex nodded. “Okay. A gimme.”
Tom crossed over to the ball and pushed it into the hole with the back of his club. “So where exactly are you from?”
Alex took a putter from his bag and walked over to his ball. “Balmuir. You’ve probably never heard of it. It’s just a wee flea-bite of a place seven miles along the coast. My parents both farm out there.”
“Oh, I know Balmuir! That’s where they’re planning to build the new course, isn’t it? I read about it in the local paper. ‘The best new links course in Britain,’ that’s how they’re describing it already.”
From the moment that Alex put the blade of the putter to the ball, he knew that he was not ready for the shot. Thoughts unconnected with the game flashed through his mind, and he suddenly felt apart from the ball, his brain totally out of tune with the movements of his hands. He tried to play for time by taking a couple of practice shots, but was only too aware of a tenseness that grated at the fluidity that had been there beforehand. His eyes began to focus on other things—the logo on his ball, lying askew with the angle at which he was preparing to play his shot, a minute blade of grass that seemed to be lying against the grain in the carpet of green. All things that, up until that moment, had remained completely unimportant and unnoticed in the momentum of his game. He took back the club and hesitated. The sin. The cardinal sin. He pushed the ball towards the hole, and knew from the moment that he had hit it that it was to the left and well past.
He watched the ball as it took its designated path, bending his knees forward in the hope that the movement would in some way alter its course to the hole. But psychology gave way to physics, and the ball glided past its target exactly at the point that he had imagined. He stood watching it for a moment, then glanced across at his opponent, cocking his head to the side in an expression of resignation to his own fallibility.
Tom scratched at the side of his face with a finger. “What happened there?”
Alex didn’t reply, but walked forward to his ball, hiding his disappointment by scrutinizing the line once more, as if trying to lay blame on something other than his own ineptness at getting it into the hole.
“Is that all right?” he asked quietly. He bent down, his hand hovering above the ball.
“Yes, sure,” Tom replied. He exhaled in relief. “Hell, you let me off the hook there, mate. Thought that was definitely me going one down.”
Alex scooped up the ball and went to pick up his golf bag, passing Tom without a remark.
Together they walked to the next tee in silence.
Even though it was still his opponent’s honour to drive off, Alex watched as Tom dumped his bag on the ground and continued on to the bench that was situated at the side of the tee, nestled under the protection of a rampant gorse-bush. He sat down and folded his arms. “I’m sorry, Alex. I psyched you out just then, didn’t I?”
Alex smiled at him and shook his head. “No, it was nothing. Just my concentration went.”
“I know. I saw it happen. What was the cause?” He paused for an explanation, but none was forthcoming. He asked again. “Was it something I said?”
Alex shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Like hell it doesn’t! Listen, forgive me if I come over as being a bit of a know-all, but it’s perfectly true that seventy-five percent of this game is played in your head, and to put it bluntly, Alex, if you’re going to have any chance of playing for the team, I have to make sure that you don’t spook quite as easily as that.”
Alex looked back to the tenth hole and watched as a ball came to rest on the edge of the green. “Come on, Tom, we’d better get a move on, or we’ll hold up play.”
Tom paid no heed to the remark. “Oh, bugger them, let them play through. Come on, tell me. It was something about the new golf course, wasn’t it?”
Alex walked slowly over to the bench and thumped himself down beside Tom. “Yes, you’re right.” He paused. “The plan is to build the golf course on our farms.”
Tom nodded slowly. “And you don’t want it.”
“Do I not! I think it would be a great idea. Can you imagine having a championship course right on your doorstep?”
“So … what’s the problem?”
Alex shot his opponent a faint smile. “It’s a long story—but, in a nutshell, ‘family’ is the problem.”
Alex took off his baseball cap and ran his fingers through his thick brown hair. “Well, if you really want to know—it’s a bloody mess, really! My parents split up about six months ago, after eighteen years of marriage, the reason being that my mother found out that my father had been having an affair with this local woman for about two years.”
Tom bit at his lip. “Ah, right!” he mumbled quietly.
“And that’s only half the complication. Mum and Dad came from neighbouring farms, you see, so their parents thought, well, if the families are to be united in marriage, why not unite the farms as well? So that’s exactly what they did. Farming was going really well at that time, and there were these massive grants coming from the European Community, so they were lured into buying tractors and grain-driers and all the latest technology—all against the collateral of the farm, which, as it turned out, was pretty bloody stupid. Anyway, times changed, prices went down, and the business began to suffer. And then, to cap it all, my mother found out about the affair.”
Alex stopped talking as the two golfers who had been playing behind them came onto the tee. They exchanged pleasantries about the weather and the condition of the course, and watched as both hit shots that made light of the awesome expanse of gorse-infested rough that separated the tee from the fairway. With a final wave of thanks, the two golfers went on their way.
“So?” Tom asked. “What was the outcome?”
Alex took in a deep breath. “The outcome was that both my parents and the farms split. My father shacked up with his girl-friend at his place, where in fact we’d been living up until that time, and my mother and I moved back to my grandparents’ farm. And then, two months ago, just to rub salt into the wound, my grandmother turned up her toes.”
Tom blew out a noiseless whistle and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and rubbing his face with his hands. “Blooody hell!” he exclaimed, almost to himself. He looked at Alex. “As you say, what a mess.”
Alex smiled at him. “Exactly. And what’s been left is this almighty financial wrangle about who owns what, or, to be more exact, who doesn’t own what. The bank really has it all. Anyway, going back to the new golf course, my father thought that he had found an answer to all our problems. He’d been approached by this financial consortium that wanted to reinstate an old nine-hole course which had existed on the farm sometime around the First World War. Their plan was to make it into an eighteen-hole championship course—as you say, ‘the best new links course in Britain’—which would mean constructing it across the two farms.”
Tom nodded his head slowly, beginning to understand the implications. “And your mother’s dead against it.”
Alex fired his fingers pistol-fashion at his opponent. “Got it in one. And if you think about it, can you blame her? Her husband leaves, and then comes back, all sweetness and light, to ask her if she would mind giving up her family farm so that he can pay off his overdraft and live happily ever after with his girl-friend.”
“Blooody hell!” Tom exclaimed again, this time more forcefully.
Both were silent for a moment as each contemplated what had been said.
“Why don’t you leave home?” Tom asked eventually.
Alex let out a long breath and shook his head. “I can’t. I don’t think that would be fair on Mum. Her two men upping sticks and leaving in the space of six months. No, I’ve got to stay around. It’s just that the atmosphere gets so … depressingly heavy, and everything is so insular. It’s like being caught up in some appalling soap opera. Nothing new—or … well—of any consequence is ever talked about in the house. It’s all about the wretched farms, and who’s saying what behind whose back, and”—he pulled down the corners of his mouth—“‘Whose side are you on, anyway?’ There is just absolutely no outside interest taken at all.”
Tom got to his feet and stood up on the bench to see how far the two golfers were in front. He jumped off, took a driver out of his bag and teed up his ball. “Well, introduce something.” He swung his club back and forth.
Alex looked at him quizzically. “What do you mean?”
Tom turned and leaned on the top of his club. “Well … you can’t just sit and wait for something to happen, for things to get better, because, you have to admit, it’s a pretty hopeless situation. So why don’t you try to take the lead? Introduce something new to talk about—I don’t know—get a student lodger, or take a girl-friend home or something.”
“I don’t have one at the minute.”
“Well …” Tom held out his hands in exasperation. “I really can’t tell you, Alex. It’s your business, not mine.” He stepped forward to his ball and, without any preparation, hit it with enormous power straight down the centre of the fairway. He bent forward to pick up his tee. “But what is my business is the fact that I can’t risk having you blow a game when you’re on the team.”
Alex was silent for a moment as he took in what Tom had just said. “What d’you exactly mean by that?”
The captain of the university golf team smiled at him. “I’m short of a guy on Saturday. Can you play?”
Copyright © 2002 by Robin Pilcher.