When Robinson got back from the Small Loch there were already five fish laid out on the marble top of the table in the hotel vestibule. All were brown trout and they were placed in order of size with the smallest at the back and the largest at the front, closest to the table’s edge. All the heads were to the left. The biggest trout was a fine specimen: short and plump with a small head and a rich dark brown back with sprinkles of orange and purple.
‘Three and a half pounds, I’d reckon,’ Matheson said, pointing to this fish.
‘You think so?’
‘Just shy of four, I’d say.’
‘Well, it’s a fine fish.’
Matheson drew from his bag the two fish Robinson had caught that day: two brown trout at about two pounds each. He laid them on the slab, one each side of the central five and at right angles to them. Their heads pointed to the wall.
‘That would be Mr Ingleton’s catch,’ Matheson said, nodding towards the five fish in the middle. ‘I dare say you’ll get chapter and verse about them over dinner.’
Robinson smiled. ‘Bit of a fishing bore, is he?’
Matheson lowered his voice. ‘Well, it’s not really for me to say, sir.’ He winked.
‘Well,’ Robinson said, ‘he wins today’s prize. No doubt of that.’ Then he added, ‘Would you care for a dram, Mr Matheson?’
‘Thank you, sir, but no. I’ll need to get back.’
‘OK. Well, tomorrow then, when we catch that big one.’
‘Certainly, sir. Certainly. Tomorrow.’
Matheson turned and stepped out of the vestibule. He went down the stone steps of the hotel entrance to the gravel forecourt. He picked up the two fly rods he’d leant against the balustrade and set off for the car park. He was still wearing his green thigh waders, turned down at the knee. From the open front door of the hotel Robinson watched the steady but slow progress of the man as he crossed to the hotel gates and then turned towards the small car park where hotel employees were allowed to park their vehicles.
Robinson examined the fish carefully. He heard Matheson starting up his Landrover and then the jounce and clatter of the old machine as it made its way along the puddled dirt track that led from the hotel across the moor to the tiny hamlet of Ardrundle. That was where Matheson and the other gamekeepers and ghillies lived.
There was a small upright wooden chair beside the table of fish. Robinson sat on this and pulled off his wellington boots. The black and white floor tiles, he noticed, were already foot-printed in mud. He put his boots by the wall, at the end of a line of assorted outdoor footwear. Then he pushed open the glazed door that let into the hotel proper and he stepped into the hall.
Although the door to the bar, on his right, was closed, he could hear someone inside, talking loudly. The large expansive voice was like a wide river, not exactly fast but almost certainly unstoppable. No one dared interrupt.
‘… at the top end,’ the speaker announced, ‘not far from the boat hut, and I was only ten or fifteen feet from the bank itself. Now Urquart wanted to move on – I mean he really is quite useless that man and I’m going to have a word with Mrs Muirton about him. Oh yes, a very firm word, I can tell you. No imagination, you see, no imagination at all. And that’s the thing, you see. Oh yes. So I said, “There’s a fish in here, I’m quite certain so just stop rowing, will you?” Well, he did, of course, but I could see he wasn’t happy, no, not at all happy. But then I said to him, “Just remember, Urquart, that you’re working for me, not the other way round.” Well, that shut him up. Not a peep out of him after that, I can tell you. But anyway, I cast out just a few feet from the boat and then wham! The big fellow was on. Took Urquart by surprise, I can tell you. But not me. Oh no, not at all. Intuition, you see. That’s the thing. Intuition and imagination. Took five or six minutes to get the fellow in and nearly lost him too, because Urquart made a complete hash of netting him. The man’s absolutely useless. But then I said to him, “Time to finish up, eh? We’ve got a five pounder as well as some other very decent fish, so let’s just get back to the hotel.” I said to him, I said, “Look, this fish is a damn sight bigger than anyone else’ll get today, isn’t it?” And do you know what he said? Well, he told me that that Robinson chap had actually gone to the Small Loch looking for a monster trout. The Small Loch! I ask you!’
There was more, probably a lot more, but Robinson didn’t want to hear it. He made his way slowly up the stairs to his room on the second floor. He ran himself a bath and later, when he was putting on a suit for dinner, he realised how very tired he was. He took off his jacket, slipped off his shoes and lay back on his bed, intending to res for five or ten minutes. When he woke up he saw that he’d been asleep for just over an hour. He was late for dinner but, as he splashed water on his face to erase the sleep and puffiness from his eyes, he thought that there might be one minor compensation: with a bit of luck most of the other guests would have already left the dining room.
But someone spotted Robinson coming in and immediately called out to him. ‘I say, Robinson – it is Robinson, isn’t it?’ The other guests – there were about a dozen finishing their desserts – turned to find out who was being addressed.
Robinson didn’t reply but walked slowly over to the table where the man who had called out to him was sitting with his wife and two sons.
‘Yes,’ Robinson said. ‘But I’m happy to be called Charles.’ He stuck out his hand.
‘Charles, yes. Well, I’m Peter Ingleton and this is my wife Ella and the two desperadoes, Colin and John.’ He didn’t get up but took Robinson’s hand and shook it vigorously.
Ingleton was a large man – tall and heavily built – and, Robinson guessed, about fifty years old. He had thick black hair which was beginning to grey at the temples and a small, neatly-clipped moustache which, Robinson reflected later, was very black and, in his opinion, almost certainly dyed. Ingleton had the habit of reaching to his chin occasionally with his right hand. While his thumb and middle finger sat on either side of his chin he tapped his moustache with his forefinger.
Robinson nodded to Ingleton’s wife and said, ‘Good evening.’
‘Been admiring your catch,’ Ingleton said. ‘Fine brace of trout.’
He paused and Robinson took this as his cue. ‘Oh, nothing compared to yours,’ he said, smiling.
‘Well, yes…’ Ingleton waved away the compliment but he was clearly pleased. ‘I mean,’ he went on, ‘it’s not often you get a five-pounder on the Black Loch. Urquart tells me it’s the best for the past fifteen years.’
‘Well, that’s excellent.’
‘But I must say, I don’t generally set much story by what Urquart says. The man’s completely useless.’
‘Well, I’m sorry to…’
‘I mean, I only took him on this year because last year I had Matheson and he was even worse. A complete disaster. You had Matheson today, I believe.’
‘And how did you find him?’
‘First rate,’ Robinson said.
‘Really?’ If Ingleton was taken aback by this, he hid it well. He paused only briefly. ‘Well, he’s obviously improved immeasurably since last year…’
Robinson looked at Ella Ingleton. ‘Your husband’s a very accomplished angler,’ he said.
‘He says I’m rather good at it,’ Ingleton said to his wife, raising his already loud voice even further. ‘Angling. Good at angling.’
She smiled at Robinson and said, ‘Oh, please don’t make his head any bigger than it is already, Mr Robinson.’
Then Ingleton said, in a voice as loud as the one he had just exercised towards his wife, ‘Anyway, Robinson, the upshot is that you owe me a drink.’
Ella Ingleton said, ‘Oh, Peter, please…’
‘No, no, no,’ Ingleton went on, ‘I’m a stickler for tradition and it’s quite simple: the one with the best catch of the day gets drinks from all the other anglers. That’s the way it’s done. I’m sure you’re aware of that, aren’t you, eh?’ He looked at Robinson.
Ella Ingleton looked very embarrassed. ‘Oh, Peter,’ she said, ‘you can’t expect Mr Robinson here… I mean, we…’
But Robinson raised a hand to stop her. ‘As a matter of fact I didn’t know about this but it certainly seems like a very fine tradition. Of course, I’ll be very happy to buy drinks later.’
Ingleton said, ‘Good man.’
‘But right at the moment I see I’m rather late for dinner,’ Robinson added, ‘so I’d better not upset the staff any further. I look forward to seeing you in the bar later.’ He nodded to Ella Ingleton and turned to make his way over to his own table which, he realised, was mercifully at the far end of the room from the Ingletons’.
Only four of the other nine tables in the dining room were occupied. There was a party of four businessmen from London in the far corner by the French windows which gave onto the lawn. They had a fine view of the Red Loch whose northern shore was only fifty yards or so from where they were sitting. Robinson had met them when he’d arrived at the hotel the previous evening. They were here for the grouse shooting. One of them, who had introduced himself as Jim Alder, told Robinson that they came here every year. This year felt a bit strange, however. Just before Christmas one of their friends, who always came with them, had died, so they were mourning his loss all over again. ‘There used to be five of us but now there’s only four,’ Alder said, ‘so we’ve got to shoot a few more grouse to make up for the ones Tom would have shot.’ The four men were all about sixty, Robinson reckoned. Alder said that their friend had been ‘a bit older than us, but still it’s a bit of a shock.’
There was an elderly couple who Robinson identified as Colonel and Mrs Grainger. Earlier, at the Small Loch, Matheson had talked of the Colonel with some admiration. ‘Yes, seventy-nine this year, I believe,’ he’d said, ‘and still a fine shot. I was with him last year when he took down five in one covey. A left and a right as they rose and then I passed him the second gun and he got off a couple of shots while they were still just in range. Anyway, he took one down with his left and then two in line with his right. Five in all. Oh, fair pleased he was, I can tell you.’
The Colonel hadn’t missed a year since the war. He usually arrived in the first week of August and did a bit of salmon fishing before the opening day of the grouse season on the twelfth. This year he’d brought with him his daughter, son-in-law and grand-daughter as well as his wife who, Matheson said, accompanied the Colonel everywhere. Robinson noticed that the Colonel’s daughter and her family, the Parkinsons, were sitting as far away from the Colonel and his wife as they could. They were near the French windows, adjacent to the table occupied by Jim Alder and his friends. Above them, on the wall, there was a specimen case which held a plaster cast of a very large trout caught several decades before on the Black Loch. Alice Parkinson, the Colonel’s grand-daughter, appeared to be looking up at this trout or perhaps just at the wall immediately below it. She was about eighteen, Robinson guessed. She was slim and had thick blonde hair tied back in a pony tail. Robinson thought her quite attractive despite her expression, which was one of acute boredom.
And then there was the Ingleton quartet. The two desperadoes, both in their mid-teens, remained silent and expressionless throughout the remainder of their meal, Robinson noticed. He wondered if they had learned to ignore their father or were just crushed by him.
And what about Ella Ingleton? She was about forty-five and rather plain. Her dark brown hair was parted in the middle and plaited, the plaits then coiled into ugly disks that covered her ears.
Much to his wife’s further embarrassment, Ingleton chose to remind Robinson about the question of drinks as the family left the dining room. ‘Don’t forget, old boy, you have certain responsibilities this evening.’
Robinson just smiled. ‘Oh, don’t worry,’ he said.
But, twenty minutes later, when he stood up, took the starched white napkin from his knees and placed it untidily on top of his empty dessert dish, he became aware once again of how tired he was. And it was so unreasonable. Granted he’d had the long train journey up from London yesterday but all he’d done today was sit in a boat for a few hours and pull in two fish. Hardly very taxing. But he felt exhausted and wondered if he was on the verge of another attack. It would be the first for a very long time. He decided to go to his room and take some of his pills.
There was no lift so it was the stairs again. He paused on the first floor landing to get his breath and overheard part of the conversation taking place in the nearest room.
‘You’ve got to admit that it’s very beautiful here, darling.’
‘Yes but Mummy there’s just nothing to do, absolutely nothing…’
‘But you can go for walks, can’t you? And you’ve got your books. And you brought your sketchpad, didn’t you?’
‘Yes yes yes but we’re here for nearly a month. I mean, God, it’s just so desperately, desperately dull…’
Robinson moved on. The complaints had undoubtedly come from Alice Parkinson. And he had some sympathy with her. If you weren’t interested in shooting or fishing there wasn’t very much else to do here.
In his room Robinson took off his shoes and sat on the bed. He piled the pillows up behind him. From the drawer of the bedside table he drew out a small bottle of pills. He decided to take two, drinking them down with some water. Then he picked up the phone and asked to speak to Mrs Muirton, who was the manageress of the hotel.
He explained to her that he was feeling very tired – probably as a result of the long journey north – and had decided to rest the following day rather than go fishing. ‘So please release Matheson – he’s very good, by the way,’ he said. Then he asked a favour. He explained that he’d promised to meet the Ingletons in the bar and buy them a drink on the strength of Peter Ingleton’s excellent catch. Could she possibly offer them his apologies, get them some drinks and put it on his bill? Mrs Muirton confirmed that she would be very happy to do this and hoped that he, Robinson, would feel better in the morning. Robinson assured her that he would and wished her a very good night.
Even the phone call had tired him. He replaced the receiver and lay back on the pillows until he felt – or convinced himself that he felt – the pills he’d swallowed beginning to take effect. His breathing, which had been too fast, slowed down to almost normal levels and he began to feel better. In fact, within twenty minutes or so he thought about ringing Mrs Muirton again and saying that he would go out fishing in the morning after all. But no, better to be on the safe side. One full day of rest and he’d be so much better. After all, he’d booked to stay for a whole month so losing a day was not so important.
He looked at his watch. It was only nine fifteen. He knew that, despite his tiredness he wouldn’t get to sleep much before midnight. He shouldn’t have allowed himself to sleep earlier in the evening. But then, if he had trouble getting to sleep he had a pill for that, too.
In the meantime, he would read. There was no television in the hotel – the remoteness of the spot meant there was no signal – and there was no radio in his room. The daily newspapers arrived a day late, delivered by the postvan which made the journey to the hotel from Inverness, sixty miles over roads that got narrower and bumpier the further west it travelled. Of course Robinson had known all this before he came, so he’d brought several books with him. But he decided to reread the newspaper first, The Times of Saturday the tenth, two days before. He’d brought it with him on the train and, although he’d already read several of the news reports and articles more than once, he found one or two of them fascinating.
A lot of space was devoted to the train robbery, already being referred to as ‘The Great Train Robbery’. Robinson didn’t like the fact that so many column inches were being devoted to what he thought of as a local event with little long term significance. Nevertheless, he had to concede that it was a daring and spectacular crime and the amount stolen – two and a half million pounds – was certainly large.
He guessed that the Prime Minister would be quite glad that something other than government scandal had taken over as the main news story. But it also meant that items of vital national interest – coverage of the test ban treaty, for example, in which MacMillan and Lord Home had played an important part – were tucked away in very small reports.
The Times reported the findings of an opinion poll which put Labour at 6% above the Tories. And that was the Tories’ best showing for a year or more. No, it was clear that MacMillan was finished, as was the government – Profumo had seen to that. There would be a new Tory leader – probably that great bore, Butler – but Harold Wilson would be in Downing Street next May. No doubt of that.
Robinson folded the newspaper and placed it on the bedside table. Then he got up and put on his pyjamas. Back in bed he lay quietly, thinking of the strange world he inhabited in which so many disparate things vied for importance: the shooting of a grouse (or five); the extra-marital affairs of a government minister; catching a trout that weighed five pounds (or maybe only three and a half); the theft of two and a half million pounds; the unhappiness of one eighteen-year-old girl condemned to a month’s holiday in this hotel.
Despite his earlier misgivings he was asleep by ten o’clock.
The shooting parties had already left so the hotel was very quiet – he could see no other guests – and he was glad of the opportunity to read undisturbed. He was interrupted briefly by Mrs Muirton who came to ask how he was feeling. He assured her he was well and was looking forward to getting out on the Small Loch the next day.
‘Well, I hope they leave you some fish,’ Mrs Muirton said.
‘Somebody fishing there today?’ he asked
‘Mr and Mrs Parkinson,’ Mrs Muirton said.
The manageress was a little over sixty, Robinson thought. She was wearing a tweed skirt and a thick cardigan over a white blouse. She had a habit of clasping her hands at her waist with fingers constantly fidgeting.
‘Well, it’s a good loch,’ Robinson said, ‘and Matheson will find them the best places.’
‘Oh, they’re with Mr Urquart, actually.’
‘Really? And Matheson?’
‘Mr Matheson has escorted Mr Ingleton to the Black Loch,’ Mrs Muirton said.
‘Has he? Well, I wish them both the best of luck.’
Mrs Muirton left, reminding Robinson that if he wanted to go for a walk he should definitely take a raincoat with him as rain was forecast.
Robinson remained in the lounge. Twenty minutes later his reading was suspended again with the arrival of Ella Ingleton.
‘Good morning, Mr Robinson,’ she said as she entered the lounge. ‘No, please, don’t get up. Are you well? We were so worried about you.’
Robinson wondered who the ‘we’ might be who had experienced such concern on his behalf. Peter Ingleton didn’t strike him as the type of man who worried about anyone other than himself.
‘I’m fine now,’ he said. ‘Just tired from the journey north. Sometimes it catches up with you a day or two later. Anyway, I must apologise for my absence last night.’
‘Apologise? Oh no, no.’ She was standing by his armchair now. He noticed that her hair was arranged differently, held in a loose bun at the back of her neck. It was a style that suited her much better than those ugly coils over her ears. Her neck, he decided, was long and elegant. He also saw that she had a wire apparently dangling from her left ear. She was half-turned away from him so he couldn’t be sure. Almost certainly a hearing aid, though perhaps a different type from the previous evening.
‘You know, I think an apology is due, certainly,’ she went on, ‘but from me, not from you.’
‘I’m afraid I don’t follow you,’ Robinson said.
At this point the door to the lounge opened again. One of the waitresses appeared. She stood by the door and asked if they would like morning coffee.
‘I think that’s an excellent idea,’ Robinson said. ‘Would you care to join me, Mrs Ingleton?’
‘Yes, indeed. I’d love to.’
Robinson ordered morning coffee for two. Ella Ingleton sat down opposite him, a low table between them.
‘You must think we’re awfully rude,’ she said.
‘Rude? Why on earth…?’
‘Peter demanding a drink from you and so on…’
‘Not at all,’ Robinson said. ‘It was my pleasure.’ He was lying, of course, but he knew it was something he could carry off quite well. ‘Let’s put it this way,’ he went on, ‘I’ll certainly expect a drink from your husband when it’s my fish that’s the best of the day.’ He smiled. ‘Tomorrow. I promise.’
‘It’s just that he’s determined to be the best in everything. Hates coming second, you see.’
‘Well,’ Robinson said, ‘most people would say that’s quite a valuable trait.’
‘He takes it too far, in my opinion,’ she said. ‘I don’t think that competition is such a good thing all the time. I mean, in absolutely all aspects of life. Would you agree?’
‘Oh, I’d certainly agree with you there…’
‘And he’s so very loud, don’t you think?’
Robinson was a little concerned by this question and realised he had to take great care with his response. ‘Mrs Ingleton,’ he began.
But she cut him off. ‘Oh, I really don’t expect you to answer that,’ she said quickly. ‘No, no. It’s just that it’s my fault, you see.’
‘Your fault? How could it possibly be your fault?’
‘Well, I’m deaf, you see.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry… I’m sorry about that.’ Robinson found that he was suppressing a smile. Peter Ingleton’s wife deaf! He’d suspected it, of course, but now that it was confirmed, he saw how useful a disability it might be when in Peter Ingleton’s company.
But Ella Ingleton wasn’t smiling.
‘I’ve got several different hearing aids,’ she said, ‘and this one’s definitely the best.’ She held up a small black rectangular case which she’d been carrying in her left hand. It was connected by a thin white wire to an ear-piece in her left ear. ‘The others aren’t so good, you see,’ she went on, ‘so he has to talk loudly for me to hear. And now he does it all the time – talk loudly, I mean – and with everyone. He didn’t use to be like this.’
Robinson wondered how often she’d offered this short explanation. He said, ‘But I’m talking to you now in my normal voice and – well, as far as I can tell, anyway – you seem able to understand me perfectly.’
‘No background noise,’ Ella Ingleton said. ‘Just you speaking and… and, as I say, this machine is the best one. The others are those rather clumsy ones that sit behind your ear. And I wear my hair in those horrible coils to cover them up.’
‘Your hair…’ Robinson began but immediately realised that there was no way of continuing this sentence without embarrassing both of them. ‘Your hearing aid,’ he corrected himself, ‘surely… surely the important thing is for you to be comfortable, to hear well…’
‘Peter doesn’t like me wearing this one,’ she said. ‘I mean, I can see why. Such an ugly old thing.’ She placed the device on the arm of her chair. Then she patted it lightly and smiled. ‘Good,’ she said. ‘All that’s out of the way now, so let’s change the subject. Is this… is this your first time here?’
‘No,’ Robinson said. ‘But I’ve only been once before. A long time ago.’
‘How the place must have changed.’
‘Well, it has a bit, I suppose.’
‘Well, we’re regulars. Every summer for the past… oh, ten years or so. Yes, it was… fifty… yes, fifty-three when we came here first.’
‘You obviously enjoy coming here.’
‘Yes, yes, we love it. And Peter’s always on the lookout for an estate up here. Not to move here permanently of course…’
‘No, not at all. Well, not in the short term, anyway. But we really would love somewhere we could escape to whenever we felt the need. Of course, Peter is so keen on fishing that there’d have to be a loch or two on the property.’
Robinson said, ‘Of course.’
And then the morning coffee arrived and Robinson was glad that the conversation moved on to the exciting topics of the weather and the high cost, these days, of keeping servants.
Ella Ingleton said that she had planned a picnic lunch at Loch Brindle with Mrs Grainger, the Colonel’s wife and would he care to join them? Robinson declined. He said he wanted to rest a little more and then perhaps go for a short walk in the afternoon.
A light shower delayed his exit from the hotel till two thirty but then he set off in the direction of Ardrundle. He’d barely gone a mile from the hotel when the wind freshened again and it was clear that rain was on its way. The moors were as he remembered them from his first time here: wild, intimidating, exhilarating and cruel. As the rain shower approached, the low clouds turned from pale grey to dark grey to purple. He recalled the muscle and vigour of the landscape and the weather that attended it, power without reason or planning – playful, beautiful, fickle and vicious, all of these possible within a five-minute display.
A track to his left led down to a barn-like building in which the stalking ponies were stabled. But he knew he couldn’t possibly get there before the storm hit. Nothing for it but to turn up the collar of his raincoat and set off back towards the hotel.
As the first few raindrops fell he heard footsteps behind him. Someone called out. He turned and saw Alice Parkinson approaching at a run.
She was wearing a light cotton frock in pale blue and sandals that were already muddy.
‘Haven’t you got a coat?’ he asked.
‘No, no.’ She stood in front of him, breathing heavily after her run. ‘I thought I’d… I thought I’d try to catch you up.’
The rain was getting heavier. Robinson took off his coat. ‘Here,’ he said.
‘No, no. You’re ill.’
‘No, I’m not. Anyway, I’ve got a jacket and you’ve got nothing.’
‘I couldn’t. Really. We could… kind of share…’
But he stepped up to her and flung the coat round her shoulders. Her hair was already wet and hanging in strings.
‘Hold it tight to your throat,’ he said. ‘And come on. I don’t want you getting a chill.’
Within a minute the rain was so intense that the track in front of them was a haze of bouncing water.
‘God,’ he could hear her saying. ‘God.’ He put his arm round her hunched figure and they stumbled on for three or four minutes until the rain began to ease. After a further minute the rain stopped and the wind stopped and the sun shone.
‘God, that was awful,’ she said. ‘I’m soaked through.’
‘If you are, I’m taking that coat back to where I bought it,’ Robinson said.
She slipped the coat from her shoulders.
‘See?’ he said. ‘You’re perfectly dry.’
‘Well, you’re right, after all.’ She held the coat out to him. ‘Thanks very much.’
‘Oh, you might as well keep it on,’ he said. ‘There might be another shower before we reach the hotel.’
‘You think so?’ She looked up at the sky.
‘That cloud there,’ he said, pointing. ‘In ten or fifteen minutes.’
‘Well, in that case…’ She put the coat back on, this time slipping her arms through the sleeves. She pulled it tightly round her and tied the belt in a knot. The coat was too bulky for her but not too long – she was almost as tall as Robinson.
‘You must be Alice,’ he said.
‘Oh yes. I suppose I should’ve introduced myself. Alice Parkinson. And you’re Mr Robinson, aren’t you?’
‘We were all so worried about you.’
Robinson thought about this. ‘Well, that’s very kind,’ he said.
‘I’m here with my parents, you know,’ she said.
‘And my grandfather and grandmother. Might as well have brought the whole family, if you ask me. God!’ She shook her head. Wet hair fell about her face. She caught it up and pulled it round to one side. She squeezed water from it. ‘God, it’s so awful here!’
‘Well, I can imagine you find it a bit dull.’
‘A bit dull! It’s just so dreary, like the weather.’
‘Actually, the sun’s shining right now,’ he pointed out.
‘Oh, sure, but the next shower… You said so yourself.’
‘Well, that’s true.’
‘What I don’t understand,’ she said, ‘is the enjoyment everybody seems to get out of doing this… all this fishing and shooting…’
‘You haven’t tried it yourself?’
‘Oh, Grandpa tried to teach me to shoot last year…’
‘Yes. Well, I said I’d give it a try. But he was a hopeless teacher.’
‘You didn’t shoot anybody, did you?’ He smiled.
‘I didn’t shoot anything. I fired one shot. And he forgot to tell me that you have to hold the… the wooden bit…’
‘Yes, the butt, I remember now… well, you have to make sure the butt is hard against your shoulder…’
‘And… well, you know what happened, don’t you…’
‘I can guess.’
‘I didn’t do that so when I pulled the trigger the whole thing just walloped me in the shoulder and broke my collarbone.’
‘Oh, that’s dreadful. Must have been very painful.’
‘Certainly was. Wrecked the holiday, too. Not that I cared too much about that. Took the best part of a day to get me to hospital in Inverness.’
‘Oh, so it happened up here?’
‘Yes. Why they brought me back this year I’ll never know. Supposed to be some kind of treat. A treat!’
They walked on in silence for a little. The sun got stronger. Alice shook out her hair as it began to dry.
‘Are you at university?’ he asked.
‘Not yet. In the autumn.’
‘And where are you going?’
‘Ah, is that close to home?’
She laughed. ‘You’re joking. It’s as far away from home as I could manage. With a bit of luck I won’t have to go home all year.’
Robinson smiled. ‘I ran away from home too,’ he said.
‘Did you? Did you really?’
‘Yes. When I was thirteen.’
‘Yes. Oh, long story,’ he said. ‘Very dull.’ And they continued, mostly in silence, until they came within sight of the hotel.
They reached the car park first, the one outside the hotel gates. Matheson was there, standing beside his aging Landrover. Peter Ingleton was there too. And he seemed to be shouting at Matheson.
‘You go on,’ Robinson said to Alice Parkinson. ‘Leave my coat at reception, will you?’
‘Well, thank you so much. Really. I’m so sorry you had to get soaked.’
She walked on. Robinson struck off left, towards the confrontation between Matheson and Ingleton.
‘I didn’t think it was possible,’ Ingleton was saying, ‘I really didn’t think it was possible…’ He was actually wagging a finger in Matheson’s face. ‘… for anyone – for anyone! – to be worse than that fool Urquart but by God you managed it!’
Ingleton was red in the face and Robinson, approaching on Ingleton’s left, believed he was probably still winding himself up and had yet to reach the peak of his anger. Matheson was standing directly in front of Ingleton, unable to step any further back because he was pinned against the Landrover. He was clutching a trout rod in front of him like some sort of safety device. His face was white, his mouth open in shock.
‘I work hard!’ Ingleton was shouting now. ‘I work bloody hard all year. D’you hear me? Do you?’
Matheson managed to say, ‘Yes, Mr Ingleton.’
‘I work bloody hard for eleven months and then I come up here for a holiday. To relax, God damn it! To relax! And all you do is ruin it. Bloody hell! Urquart last year and now you. Useless! Bloody useless!’
During this rant another two Landrovers pulled into the car park. The party of Londoners got out, and their ghillies. The ghillies began unloading the guns and the bags of grouse that they’d shot. When they realised what was going on, they stopped to listen. But they stood by their vehicles and did not approach. Only Robinson was standing close to Ingleton, almost as close as Matheson. He wanted to intervene but had to wait for Ingleton’s tirade to end or at least for its ferocity to abate.
But it was Ingleton who drew Robinson in. He turned and yelled at him, ‘You! You said this man was good! You’re as much to blame as he is.’
‘Actually,’ Robinson said calmly, ‘I didn’t say he was good…’
‘Oh, I see, you’re backing out of it now, are you? Not so sure now, eh?’ Ingleton’s voice was a little quieter, but not much.
‘Not at all,’ Robinson said. ‘I was going to point out that I didn’t say Matheson was good, I said he was first rate. Which is an opinion I’m prepared to stick with.’
This comment certainly took Ingleton by surprise. For a few moments he was silent. Then, speaking more calmly, he said, ‘You’ve no idea, have you, not the faintest idea what you’re talking about.’
‘What happened today,’ Robinson said, ‘I can’t say, obviously, but my experience of Matheson’s work is that he’s excellent at what he does and your shouting at him like this is, quite frankly, offensive.’
Again, Ingleton was quiet for a few seconds. He put a hand to his face and began to tap his moustache. Then he said, ‘You know, I really don’t understand you at all, Robinson. I mean, why are you taking his side? I really… Look, I employ people to do a good job and if they mess it up I tell them so. As for your opinion on this… this idiot…’
‘You asked for my opinion,’ Robinson said, ‘and I gave it. The fact that you don’t like that opinion is your problem, not mine.’
This time Ingleton remained silent for longer. He was still breathing heavily, Robinson noticed, but the worst of his anger was probably over. When he next spoke it was with a wry smile.
‘I don’t believe it,’ he said at last. ‘I really don’t believe it. Anyway, since you two so clearly enjoy each other’s company, I’ll leave you to it.’ And he turned to go.
‘Just a moment, Mr Ingleton,’ Robinson said.
Ingleton stopped and half-turned. ‘What?’ he said.
‘Before you go, perhaps you could offer an apology.’
Ingleton took a step towards Robinson. ‘Apology? You want an apology? For what, exactly?’ His voice was quieter now but acid had replaced anger.
‘Oh, it’s not for me,’ Robinson said. ‘Though maybe we could talk about that later. No, you need to apologise to Mr Matheson here.’
Robinson was aware of Matheson’s hand on his arm. ‘Oh, Mr Robinson, really, it’s not…’
‘Are you out of your mind?’ Anger had certainly returned to Ingleton’s tone and volume. ‘You’re… you’re actually asking me to apologise to that… that imbecile! And you don’t even know what he did!’
‘I don’t care what he did, Mr Ingleton. Right now it’s not his conduct that’s the issue, it’s yours.’
‘You’ve referred to Mr Matheson in some very unpleasant terms and you’ve chosen to berate him in public.’
‘In public? What are you talking about?’
‘Look,’ Robinson said, and he pointed to the shooting-party, the hotel guests and their ghillies still standing by their vehicles. A couple of other guests from the hotel had joined them, witnesses to the altercation from a safe distance.
Ingleton turned to Robinson again. ‘If you think…’ he began.
But Robinson interrupted him. ‘Your conduct,’ he said, ‘has been shabby and ungentlemanly. You will apologise to Mr Matheson now.’
Matheson was at his side once more. Quietly he said, ‘You know, it’s not… it’s not really necessary, Mr Robinson…’
But Robinson ignored him.
Ingleton gave a little laugh. ‘You’re mad,’ he said, ‘quite mad.’
Robinson said, ‘We’re waiting.’
‘Are you indeed. Well, you’ll wait for a hell of a long time.’ He turned and walked briskly towards the hotel entrance. He looked straight ahead and did not acknowledge any of the guests he had to walk past as he made his way out of the car park, across the gravel forecourt and up the steps into the hotel.
Robinson smiled. ‘What a strange man,’ he said.
Matheson began, ‘Mr Robinson…’
But Robinson cut him off. ‘I’ll see you in the morning,’ he said. ‘Bright and early.’ He set off towards the hotel. As he passed the group of shooters he caught sight of Jim Alder who said nothing but gave an exaggerated shrug. Robinson smiled and walked on.
Ingleton did not appear at dinner. Nor did his wife. The two sons were there, eating silently as before, but their parents were absent.
Robinson ate alone but with little enjoyment. He looked round the dining room and decided that there was no one there that interested him apart perhaps from Alice Parkinson with her independent spirit. No, they were all so unpleasantly self-absorbed. Even Ella Ingleton, whom he had quite liked at first, was chiefly concerned about the dreadful cost of servants these days. And now she would never speak to him again, anyway.
This whole trip was turning into a disaster. He had come here for reasons which had been quite clear to him at the time. Now, the more he examined these reasons, the less persuasive they seemed. He did not belong here and never would. Best for him to leave. He would have to pay for the whole month that he’d booked, but that didn’t matter. He’d leave in the morning. When he finished dinner he went in search of Mrs Muirton to tell her of his decision.
But Mrs Muirton found him first, in the foyer outside the dining room.
‘Mr Robinson,’ she said, ‘do you have a moment?’
‘Of course, Mrs Muirton. In fact, I wanted to have a word with you myself.’
She led him back into the now empty dining room. ‘Tomorrow…’ she began.
‘Yes, I… I wanted to talk to you…’
‘It will be Mr Urquart,’ she said.
‘To accompany you. I hope that will be all right.’
‘I’m assuming, Mr Robinson, that you’ll be going fishing tomorrow, now that you’re fully recovered. Am I right?’ She smiled.
‘Well, yes, I’m certainly much better…’
‘Good, good. Excellent. Just to let you know that Mr Urquart will be with you.’
‘I see. Not Mr Matheson?’
‘No. I’ve only got Mr Urquart free tomorrow, I’m afraid.’
‘Really? So have Matheson and Mr Ingleton kissed and made up? Is that it?’ He smiled. ‘Are they heading off to the Black Loch to pull in a ten-pounder?’
‘Not exactly, no.’
‘So, if I may ask, who is Matheson with tomorrow, then?’
After a short pause, Mrs Muirton said, ‘I really can’t go into any more detail, Mr Robinson, I’m sorry. Mr Matheson is unavailable and that’s really all there is to it.’
‘I see. But tell me, has this got anything to do with what happened earlier between Matheson and Mr Ingleton? I witnessed that scene so I’m not asking you to give away any secrets.’
Mrs Muirton had stopped smiling. Robinson could see that she was not used to such direct questioning.
‘I’m sorry, Mr Robinson, but I really can’t elaborate further on what is a private matter between myself and another guest.’
Robinson shook his head and smiled. ‘Mrs Muirton,’ he said, ‘I appreciate your difficulty but please remember that the row between Mr Ingleton and Matheson was far from being private. It was very public and I was there and if Matheson is in any kind of trouble as a result then I’d be very upset indeed.’
‘The situation with Mr Matheson…’ Mrs Muirton began.
‘Have you fired him?’ Robinson asked.
‘Mrs Muirton, have you fired him?’
‘Mr Matheson…’ She paused. ‘Mr Matheson has been relieved of his duties for the time being…’
‘At the request of Mr Ingleton?’
‘Now, you don’t expect me to comment on that, Mr Robinson, surely.’
Robinson said, ‘No, I suppose not. However, I feel quite free to comment myself so let me say that if you’ve accepted Mr Ingleton’s request to have Matheson fired you can now accept my request to have him reinstated. I’m going fishing on the Small Loch tomorrow morning and I expect Matheson to be with me. If he isn’t, then I’m sorry but I’ll be leaving the hotel.’ He smiled. ‘Now I’ll say goodnight.’
Robinson was in bed by ten o’clock but he couldn’t sleep. Usually he could park any problems, business or personal, to one side and sleep soundly till morning. But recently he’d begun to find that things nagged at him, prodding him awake. At eleven fifteen he took a sleeping pill. He was asleep within five minutes.
He was awake again at two thirty. But forces beyond himself had disturbed his sleep. He could hear footsteps in the corridor, three or four people moving swiftly, trying to be quiet but failing. Urgent, agitated voices came in under the door with the light from the corridor but he couldn’t make out individual words except for ‘Come on. Oh, come on!’ whispered as loudly as possible.
Then the noise outside his door ceased, to be replaced by sounds from outside. His room overlooked the entrance to the hotel. He could hear footsteps below him, car doors opening and closing and then a car driving away, crunching over the forecourt gravel and off across the moor. Then someone returned to a room adjacent to his. The light from the corridor went out and with its disappearance the noise ended too. It was ten to three and he fell asleep again.
A couple of minutes later Ella Ingleton and her sons walked in. To his surprise she turned and nodded to him and smiled. This was not a smile of joy or happiness but neither was it artificial or disdainful or ironic. He thought she was probably incapable of irony.
She didn’t say anything to him but she walked smoothly and confidently to her table. She was wearing a pale blue blouse and dark blue slacks with sharp creases to front and back. He noticed that her hair had been carefully swept up into a roll at the back of her head. She was carrying the hearing aid which her husband so disliked. But Peter Ingleton himself was not there.
Just as he was finishing breakfast he received a visit from Alice Parkinson who thanked him for the use of his raincoat.
‘You must have got soaked,’ she said.
Robinson shrugged. ‘Expect to get wet up here,’ he said.
‘Well, thanks a lot, anyway. I left your coat at reception as you asked. Did you get it?’
‘Oh, probably,’ Robinson said. He’d forgotten all about it.
Alice Parkinson laughed. Then she leaned forward. ‘Wasn’t that a frightful row,’ she said. ‘Peter Ingleton shouting at that poor man.’
‘Unfortunate,’ Robinson said.
‘I mean, I know these people have to be kept in line but he went a bit too far, don’t you think?’
‘Anyway,’ Alice went on, ‘it made life interesting, if only for a few minutes.’ She raised her eyes to the ceiling. ‘Another dull day awaits. Goodbye!’
‘Goodbye,’ Robinson said.
He left the dining room before the Ingletons but when he came downstairs again Ella Ingleton was waiting for him in the foyer.
‘I wonder if I might have a word with you, Mr Robinson,’ she said. ‘In private.’
They went into the bar which, at nine thirty in the morning was empty. They walked across to the French windows which gave onto the back lawn. They could see the Red Loch only fifty yards away. Robinson saw that the surface was under attack from a freshening breeze. Ripples at the upwind shore grew into waves of five or six inches which clattered into the peat bank at the other end of the loch. As long as the wind didn’t get any stronger, the fishing would be good.
‘I believe you had a bit of a scene with Peter yesterday,’ Ella Ingleton began.
‘You could call it that, I suppose, yes.’
‘And… and he was rather beastly to poor Matheson…’
‘He got him fired, Mrs Ingleton.’
‘What? Oh, no no no. No. That was all sorted out.’
‘What? I don’t follow you.’
‘When he calmed down. Got it all sorted out with Mrs Muirton. Quite late on, I admit. After the bar closed. No, you see Peter gets terribly worked up but… well, then it all… subsides. It all got a bit heated – with Matheson, I mean – when Matheson made some silly mistake when they were fishing. It was nothing… I mean, it could have happened to anyone. Peter saw that later. Nothing at all really. But he does get so terribly worked up at the time and then it all blows over. Do you see what I mean?’
‘Well, I’m not sure…’
‘What I’m saying is that once he’d calmed down he sorted it all out with Mrs Muirton. So it’s all fine now. All sorted out.’
‘Really? Well, that’s something, I suppose,’ Robinson said.
‘It’s just that Peter’s been under such strain recently. Such a lot of strain. Awful. And he tries, he really does, he tries to leave it all behind when he comes up here but he can’t. You see, he’s going through all sorts of difficulties at work right now. He’s been working twelve hours a day for the past six months. I mean, I hardly ever see him. And he so looks forward to his break up here. And then, when some little thing goes wrong he tends to blow it up out of all proportion. I mean, he’s had such rotten luck.’
‘I see. Well, I’m sorry he’s having a tough time,’ Robinson said. He tried to sound sincere but was aware that he probably hadn’t quite succeeded.
‘He’s got such a short temper, he just…’ She shrugged. ‘He sort of blows up. But then it’s over just as quickly, you see.’
‘Good,’ Robinson said. ‘Good.’
‘I know he’ll apologise when he sees you next.’
‘Did he set out early?’ Robinson asked. ‘He wasn’t at breakfast.’
‘Oh, that’s the thing, you see. I hope we didn’t wake you up. He had a phone call during the night. Some new crisis. And he’s had to go back down to London.’
‘Yes, he had to leave straight away because there’s a train from Inverness at seven thirty and he wanted to be on that one. It’s so frustrating, the whole thing. Of course he’s hoping to be back within three or four days, a week at the most. There’s just this one thing that’s come up that he has to sort out himself. So… so off he went, at three in the morning. I hope we didn’t wake you.’
‘No, no,’ Robinson said. ‘Didn’t hear a thing.’
‘Well, that’s something,’ Ella Ingleton said and Robinson nodded his agreement.
Matheson picked up Robinson in his battered Landrover at twenty to nine.
‘Morning, Mr Matheson.’
‘Good morning, sir.’
‘Good breeze, don’t you think?’
‘I’d say the weather’s in our favour, sir, yes.’
No further words were exchanged until they reached the Small Loch. Like the Red Loch by the hotel, the surface was scarred by the strengthening wind.
Matheson brought the fishing gear from the Landrover and they stood on the short wooden jetty where the rowing boat was moored. They looked out over the loch.
‘What I have in mind, sir,’ Matheson said, ‘is that we row over there…’ He pointed. ‘… maybe fifty yards out from the far shore, and then do a drift down towards that first point. I’d be surprised if we got that far without hitting a few fish.’
‘Sounds fine,’ Robinson said. They got into the boat.
On the first drift Robinson took two fish. One was under a pound and was returned to the water; the second was close to two and was kept. Before breaking for lunch they completed three more drifts, one of which involved the entire length of the loch. Robinson took three more fish, the best of which was about two and a half pounds.
They sat in the Landrover with the doors open while they ate lunch. Robinson had the food that the hotel had provided: smoked salmon sandwiches; a couple of apples; two small bakewell tarts; four bottles of beer. The beer remained unopened. Matheson had a pack prepared by his wife: egg sandwiches; some biscuits; a slice of chocolate cake. Robinson offered Matheson an apple but he declined.
‘A bakewell tart, then? I mean, I can’t eat all of this.’
‘No thank you, sir. I’m fine.’
But they shared a flask of tea, drinking two cups each.
Then there was a sudden sharp downpour which kept them in the Landrover for a further ten minutes or so. They closed the doors and listened to the drumming of the rain on the roof. The inside of the vehicle smelled of fish and dog and mud, with fish predominating. Robinson noticed that even the steering-wheel had a few trout scales stuck to it.
Back in the boat they were halfway through another drift when Robinson got stuck into quite a large fish. When they got it on board and killed it, Matheson said it was definitely on the good side of three pounds.
‘Three and a half?’ Robinson said. ‘Three and three quarters?’
‘No, sir. Just over three, I’d say.’
‘Really? So, not as big as Mr Ingleton’s fish? You know, the one he caught a couple of days ago.’
‘No, no, I don’t think so. No, to be fair to Mr Ingleton, I think his fish was bigger. Not by much, though.’
‘To be fair to Mr Ingleton?’ Robinson said. ‘Considering what happened yesterday I’m a bit surprised to hear you say that.’
‘Oh, Mr Ingleton’s not that bad,’ Matheson said.
‘Not that bad? Now hold on. Just wait a minute… This is someone who insulted you in front of half the guests in the hotel. Called you an idiot and an imbecile.’
‘Well, it’s… that’s what Mr Ingleton’s like. I mean, it’s happened once or twice before…’
‘And that’s good? Christ, I can’t believe you’re actually defending him.’
‘He has a little outburst now and then,’ Matheson said. ‘It always blows over.’
‘So that makes it all right, does it?’
‘Well no, I wouldn’t say that, sir, no. But I’m used to it, you see.’
‘Really? Well… you’re used to it…’ Robinson shook his head. ‘I can’t believe what I’m hearing.’
‘I appreciate what you did for me yesterday, sir,’ Matheson said, ‘but there’s very little I can do about it. Anyway, I feel sorry for the man.’
‘Sorry for him?’
‘His job and everything. Must be driving him mad. No, I wouldn’t want that for all the world. Up and down to London like a yoyo. He’s off there now, I believe.’
‘Yes, he left during the night.’
‘Happens every year,’ Matheson said.
‘Every year, yes.’
They reached a particularly deep part of the loch and Matheson held station with the boat while Robinson fished with a leaded fly that sank quite a long way down.
Matheson said, ‘My father used to say there were big fish in here. A monster or two in this stretch. That’s what he used to tell me, anyway.’
‘I know,’ Robinson said.
‘I’m sorry, what was that, sir?’
‘He told me the same thing.’
Matheson stopped rowing. ‘You knew my father, sir?’
‘I did, yes.’
‘Well… well, that must have been a fair while ago, surely. I mean, he’s been dead for twenty… twenty-two years now. So when were you here — it was here that you met him?’
Robinson said, ‘Yes, it was here. In nineteen twenty-three.’
‘No! Really? But that was… I mean… I was only eleven.’
‘I know. I can remember you, too.’
‘But that’s… that’s ….’
‘You’d better keep rowing, Mr Matheson.’
‘Oh, right. Yes.’ He pulled the boat round and they set off again. ‘Well, well,’ Matheson said. ‘Nineteen twenty-three. You must have been a bairn yourself then, sir.’
‘Oh, a bit more than that, but not much.’
‘Well I never… That’s amazing. Amazing. So you were here for the fishing, were you, sir?’
‘No, I wasn’t fishing then.’
‘For the shooting?’
‘No, not the shooting either.’
Matheson didn’t ask any more questions, nor did Robinson volunteer any more information.
They fished for another half hour or so without success. By three fifteen Robinson felt himself tiring again, the fatigue overtaking him very quickly. He said to Matheson that he was done for the day. They rowed back to the jetty. Within another twenty minutes they’d arrived at the hotel.
With Ingleton absent, Robinson’s were the only fish displayed on the table in the vestibule. Matheson laid them out and said that five was a good catch. ‘Some nice fish there,’ he said. ‘That one there, maybe three and a quarter, maybe a bit more…’
But Robinson wasn’t listening. He was so tired he felt that bits of him were shutting down, quitting. He mumbled an apology to Matheson and then hauled himself upstairs to his room. He lay back on his bed, still in his fishing gear, and fell asleep almost immediately.
He woke up because someone was knocking at his door and calling his name. ‘Mr Robinson? Mr Robinson?’ Mrs Muirton, perhaps. He wasn’t sure.
‘Mr Robinson? Are you all right?’ More knocking.
Of course he was all right. Why wouldn’t he be? Just tired. He tried to convey this very simple piece of information to whoever it was that was calling to him but he found that he couldn’t get any words out. His mouth, it seemed, refused to do what he willed it to do. As far as he was able to judge, the words had been constructed but not delivered and he couldn’t understand what the problem was. All it needed, surely, was a bit more effort.
No, it was no good, he would just have to get up and go to the door, just get up, now… But he found that other parts of his body had betrayed him, too. His legs, for example, refused to accomplish even the simple task of swinging down off the bed and onto the floor. They refused. It was… outrageous! He began to get angry. He wanted to shout at his legs, tell them to get a move on, tell them that they should damn well get to work. But his voice, as before, failed him. This was just too much. The only thing to do was to wrench his body into action. He yelled, but only a small grunt escaped from him. He tried to sit upright but only succeeded in sending a spasm through his body which pushed him towards the edge of the bed. Then he slid onto the floor, upsetting the bedside table as he did so.
Soon he was surrounded by voices full of exclamation and instruction: Oh, look! No. Turn him… Turn him over. Get his boots, look, his boots, get his boots off. Onto the bed. Come on, lift. Lift! Call the doctor. Now. But where… Now. Do it now! A pillow. Under his head. That’s right, that’s right. Careful, careful. Oh, Mr Robinson!
He got out of bed and stepped over to the window. As he moved he felt that something wasn’t quite right. He looked down and saw that he’d somehow managed to put on his pyjama bottoms back to front. How odd. And there, by the chest of drawers, were his wellington boots. Now these were not allowed inside the hotel. Surely he hadn’t walked upstairs in them last night? Or had he?
He put his pyjama bottoms on the right way round and sat on the edge of the bed. He was about to pick up the phone when someone knocked at the door.
‘It’s Mrs Muirton. Good morning to you.’
‘Are you well?’
‘Oh, fine, yes. Though I’m a little… a little…’
‘May I come in? We’ve brought some breakfast for you.’
‘Breakfast? Well, that sounds good. Hold on just… just a second…’
He got back into bed and sat up with pillows piled at his back. ‘Come in, please.’
Mrs Muirton came in, accompanied by a maid who was carrying a breakfast tray.
‘So you’re feeling better, Mr Robinson.’
‘Oh yes, I am, but… well, I can’t really remember much about last night.’
‘You gave us such a fright, you know. You had some sort of collapse.’
‘Yes, you did. Quite… well, we were so worried… But Dr Dysart sorted you out. He saw straight away what the problem was.’
‘He was here within half an hour. Drove like a maniac over from Inchmuir.’
‘Well, I’ve put an awful lot of people to an awful lot of trouble. I’m very sorry about that.’
‘Oh, nonsense…’ She waved this away. ‘It’s just wonderful to see you well again.’ She turned to the maid. ‘Tilly, would you give Mr Robinson his breakfast, please.’
Tilly placed the breakfast tray, on its fold-out legs, across Robinson’s waist. Then she left.
‘I believe you’re a diabetic,’ Mrs Muirton said.
‘I am, yes, but I’ve got pills to keep it all in check and I haven’t had any problems for some years now. It’s all under control.’
‘Well, it wasn’t yesterday, I’m afraid.’
Robinson shook his head. ‘It’s a bit odd,’ he said.
‘Dr Dysart’s coming over at ten o’clock to see how you are. And you’re to stay in bed till then – his instructions, I assure you, not mine.’
‘Oh, right.’ Robinson glanced at his watch. ‘Ten o’clock. OK. Well, I’m sorry I’ve put you to so much trouble…’
‘Not at all. It’ll be reward enough to see you getting well again.’
‘I feel fine now, I assure you,’ Robinson said.
‘Good, good. Oh, and I’ve brought yesterday’s paper so you can catch up with the news.’
‘Thank you. Thank you very much.’
‘And if there’s anything else you’d like… I mean, you missed dinner last night, so you’re bound to be hungry…’
‘No, really, this looks fine, although…’
‘Well, this is a bit ungenerous of me, considering all the trouble I’ve put you to but I wonder if I could have some coffee rather than tea, if you don’t mind.’ He pointed to the teapot on the tray before him.
‘I’m sorry, Mr Robinson, but I’m only following the doctor’s orders. Sweet tea, he said, and no coffee. And when it comes to matters of health, I take things very seriously. Very seriously indeed.’
When Mrs Muirton had left Robinson started on his breakfast. He found that he was very hungry, as the manageress had suggested. Toast, porridge and boiled eggs all disappeared quickly. He put the glass of orange juice on the bedside table and then transferred the breakfast tray to the other side of the bed. He got out of bed and took the teapot into the bathroom where he poured the tea down the sink. Back in bed he sipped the orange juice and picked up The Times newspaper that Mrs Muirton had brought for him.
Some of the guests, he had noticed, made a particular display of disinterest in current affairs while they were staying at the hotel. He’d overheard the Colonel, for example, saying he thought a complete break was necessary. ‘Didn’t come up here to read The Telegraph,’ he’d remarked. ‘Came up here to get away from all that.’
In contrast, the news was almost a form of addiction for Robinson. When at home in London he got The Times and The Telegraph every day. He didn’t read every page, of course. In fact, there might be the occasional day, maybe once a month, when he only glanced at the main news stories. But he needed to know that both newspapers were there. He could read them if he wanted to.
The train robbery still occupied several columns of The Times. While he felt that this story was a distraction from more important news, Robinson found himself being drawn into it, impressed by the audacity of the raid but dismayed by the violence that attended the robbery itself. The police had already found some of the money but they hadn’t arrested any of the gang. The investigation was moving to London.
Interest in the Profumo scandal seemed to have disappeared altogether. But there was more bad news for the government. Kim Philby, it was revealed, was in Moscow. That news had broken a month or so ago. But The Times had a couple of articles about him, including a photograph from his Cambridge days. Robinson shook his head. How could anyone betray his country? How could he do that? It was unthinkable. Here was Philby with a group of his fellow students, all smiles and hypocrisy. Robinson examined the photograph carefully. There was someone right next to Philby who looked familiar. He scrutinised the face. A younger version of someone he knew? No, very unlikely. But still… He looked again. No, probably just a passing resemblance to someone he might have known a long time ago. He put the paper down and finished his orange juice.
Dr Dysart arrived at exactly ten o’clock.
‘And how’s the patient this morning?’ he asked.
‘Feeling fine,’ Robinson said.
The doctor was a man of about sixty with a thick moustache which was bushier and greyer than Ingleton’s. He was wearing a green tweed jacket and grey flannels. He sat down on the edge of the bed.
‘Sorry to put you to all this bother,’ Robinson said.
‘Not at all. Just let me take your pulse.’
Robinson offered his hand.
Dr Dysart, whose hands were small and delicate, held Robinson’s wrist lightly. After half a minute or so, he said, ‘A bit high, maybe, but nothing to worry about. So… do you know what happened to you last night?’
‘I’m guessing it was a hypoglycaemic attack,’ Robinson said, ‘but I don’t understand why because I’m quite sure I haven’t missed any of my medication.’
‘Quite so,’ the doctor said. ‘Well, I took the liberty of checking this out.’ He held up the small bottle which contained Robinson’s pills. ‘Took them with me last night.’
‘I didn’t notice they were gone.’
‘Fifty milligrams,’ the doctor said.
‘That’s right. I’ve been on that dosage for years.’
‘Changed your chemist recently?’
‘No. Well… let’s see…’
‘Any change at all in the normal routine? — at the chemist, I mean.’
‘I think he got a new assistant a month or so back.’
The doctor shrugged. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘that might be the answer.’
‘What’s the problem exactly?’ Robinson asked.
‘This bottle,’ the doctor said. ‘The label says the pills are fifty milligrams but actually they’re ten.’
‘Yes. How long have you been using the pills from this bottle?’
‘A week or so. Ten days, maybe.’
‘Well, it’s no wonder you had an attack. Been feeling a bit tired lately?’
‘Oh yes, certainly. The day after I got here. I took an extra couple of pills…’
‘Ah. Helped you in the short term no doubt…’
‘So I’ve been taking the wrong dosage?’
‘Yes. Last night I gave you an injection — you weren’t in any condition to take pills — and I made sure you got a bit of a boost. Sort you out in the short term.’
‘And what about the pills?’
‘Well, luckily I’ve got a small stock of these in the surgery so…’ He took a bottle from his pocket. ‘These’ll keep you going for a week. I’ll make up a prescription for a month’s worth and get the chemist in Inverness to post them over.’
‘Well, that’s very kind.’
‘Oh no, it’s just my job.’ Dr Dysart stood up. ‘Don’t be too hard on your chemist when you get home,’ he said. ‘Mistakes do happen.’
‘I came up here for a holiday,’ Robinson said, ‘not a period of convalescence.’
‘Well, you can get on with your holiday pretty soon, anyway. Don’t do very much today, or tomorrow for that matter. Just see how you feel. But I’d say you could get back to the fishing the day after tomorrow. I’d leave it till then. That’s what you’re here for, isn’t it? The fishing?’
‘Good, good. Well, tight lines.’ He turned to the door.
‘Thank you very much, doctor, for all your help.’
‘Oh, all in a day’s work.’
‘Oh, by the way,’ Robinson said.
‘Please tell me I can drink coffee again.’
‘You can drink coffee again, Mr Robinson.’
‘Thank you very much.’
Robinson was in the lounge at eleven. He ordered coffee and scones. Ella Ingleton arrived a few minutes later and joined him. She was surprised to see him. ‘But you’ve been so ill,’ she said, ‘and we’ve been so worried.’
She managed to convince him, for a few moments at least, that her anxiety was genuine.
He explained the mix-up with his medication and assured her he had fully recovered. He ordered coffee for her.
‘But you mustn’t rush into things, you know,’ she said. ‘Have a good rest.’
‘Oh, back on the loch the day after tomorrow,’ he said. ‘I have official sanction for that.’
‘Oh, that is good news.’
He asked her when her husband would return from London.
‘Tomorrow,’ she said. ‘Possibly. One’s never very sure. Peter is not master of his own destiny in these matters.’
‘Well, I’m sure he’s as keen to get back to the fishing as I am.’
‘No doubt about that.’
Ella Ingleton’s coffee arrived shortly after and she poured herself a cup. She had her hair piled up in a sort of precarious top-knot on the crown of her head. This was a style he hadn’t seen before.
‘Tell me,’ she said, ‘how does the fishing compare to when you were here first?’
He said, ‘Actually, I didn’t do any fishing then.’
‘No? When was this, by the way? If you don’t mind my asking.’
‘Not at all. It was nineteen twenty-three.’
‘My goodness. I was only a little girl then. And… and you must have been very young too.’
‘I was fourteen,’ Robinson said.
‘Oh, I see, so it was a family holiday then.’
‘No, no,’ he said. ‘I came here by myself, actually.’
‘At fourteen? That was very enterprising of you.’
‘I thought so myself, at the time.’ He took a sip of coffee and started to butter a second scone. Mrs Muirton was right: his body now realised that it had missed one complete meal. He was very hungry.
‘Surely you were too young to do any shooting,’ Ella Ingleton went on.
‘Oh, I don’t think so. I know of at least two boys of twelve who happily went out on the moors to bag a few grouse.’
‘Really? Well that does surprise me.’
‘But actually I didn’t do any shooting,’ he added. He spread some strawberry jam on one half of his scone and took a bite. A few moments later he looked at her and said, ‘Would you like me to tell you why I came here, Mrs Ingleton? In nineteen twenty-three, I mean.’
‘Well, I’m absolutely intrigued. So yes, please do tell me. Unless it’s something just too ghastly, of course.’
‘Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that.’ For the moment he abandoned his scone and sat back in his armchair. ‘I came here to wash dishes,’ he said, ‘and to peel potatoes. And scour the pots.’
After a few seconds Ella Ingleton laughed. ‘Oh, Mr Robinson,’ she said, ‘now you’re making fun of me.’
‘No, no. I’m not, I assure you,’ he said. ‘I was a kitchen porter.’ He reached for his scone. ‘I don’t recommend it as a career.’
Ella Ingleton said nothing. Robinson allowed her ample time to respond as he ate the second half of his scone. But she said nothing.
He went on, ‘I ran away from a home life that was, shall we say, less than enjoyable. And working here was the first step. Later on, I was determined to come back here. As a guest, of course. It was one of my goals. Less important as the years went by but then… well, I saw it was something that I could easily achieve. So why not?’
‘You didn’t remain a kitchen porter for long, then?
‘No. Just the one year.’
‘And what was it like? I mean, when you were here.’
‘Oh, pretty bad. I was last in the pecking order, you see. I got shoved around a lot, taken advantage of, and so on. All fairly normal in a kitchen, actually.’
‘But it’s the other staff you’re talking about, aren’t you? Mistreating you.’
‘What about the guests?’
‘I never saw them. Well, I suppose I saw them as I came in and went out of the hotel, but while I was working I had no contact with them.’
‘It doesn’t sound like a very enjoyable experience.’
‘It wasn’t. But I learned a lot.’
‘Oh?’ She took a sip of coffee. ‘And what did you learn?’
‘I learned to lie and cheat and manipulate. I did it rather well, too. And I learned that being a kitchen porter was not what I wanted. I had to do something else.’
‘I’d say you certainly moved on.’
‘And how did you do that?’
He smiled. ‘Well, by lying and cheating and manipulating. Only I did it a lot better than everyone else. Oh, and I educated myself, too. And I took elocution lessons.’
‘Quite a programme.’
‘Certainly. And it was hard work. Well… making the money was relatively easy. Changing my voice was hard.’
‘Well, I’d say you succeeded.’
‘I’ll take that as a compliment,’ he said and smiled again. He could have eaten another scone but the plate was now empty, only a doily and a few crumbs left. He poured them some more coffee.
‘You’ve led a remarkable life, Mr Robinson,’ Ella Ingleton said.
‘Perhaps I have.’
‘Oh, you have. No question. Yours is a story of success.’
‘In some ways.’
‘Only in some ways?’
‘Well, let’s say that I managed to get rid of a lot of things I was glad to see the back of, but I lost other things as well — the relationship with my family, for example. My mother… I can remember inviting her down to London to my big new house. I’d just completed a very successful business deal so I invited her down for a visit…’
‘And she refused?’
‘No. Worse. She came. But she managed to stay for all of two days. She was meant to stay for a couple of weeks at least. But she just felt so uncomfortable. This was not what she was used to, you see. And what was even worse was that I was glad that she left early because I just found her embarrassing. Now that’s pretty bad, isn’t it? To be embarrassed by your own mother.’
‘Oh, it’s not for me to say, Mr Robinson.’
‘No. We’ve all done things that make us uncomfortable when we remember them later. So I’ve made it a rule never to criticise others.’
‘No, never.’ She drank the last of her coffee and placed cup and saucer on the table between them. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I’ve learned a lot this morning.’
‘Yes, perhaps more than you needed to. I apologise.’
‘No, no. It’s been fascinating. Really. Such a journey, such a transformation…’ She shook her head. ‘It would have been beyond me, I can assure you. I admire your single-mindedness. But I do have one more question, if I may…’
‘Please, go ahead.’
‘Are you happy, Mr Robinson?’
The rest of that day he spent as Dr Dysart had advised. He stayed in the hotel for the most part, enjoying the fact that he had the hotel to himself as all the other guests were out enjoying picnics on the banks of distant lochs or were exercising their prowess in the killing of birds and animals.
In the afternoon he decided to go for a longer walk. He set off towards Adrundle as he had done three days before when he had encountered Alice Parkinson in the rain.
Within fifteen minutes he’d reached the side track that turned off to the left and led down to the stables. He decided to follow this and, after a further five minutes, he was standing in the cobbled courtyard. It was a large square area, uneven, strewn with damp straw and puddled from the recent rain.
He must have been here before, he thought, back in 1923. He had no way of travelling anywhere on his days off so he used to hang around the hotel. He remembered the ponies, their barrel shape and general air of defeat. There had been ten or a dozen of them then. On one occasion he’d seen them returning, four of them, each with a stag carcase strapped over its back. He remembered the open mouths of the dead stags, tongues hanging out like slavering dogs. Yes, he almost certainly must have visited the ponies here. But he didn’t recognise the place at all.
The door of the stable was open and he stepped inside. The stalls were all empty. He knew that the ponies – there were only two of them now – had been despatched to the Long End where McNulty, the head keeper, had organized a party of stalkers. Pale brown hessian sacks of feedstuff lined one wooden wall and a hosepipe for filling the troughs was dripping and forming a puddle on the concrete floor. The place was warm and smelt of straw and ponies and manure.
Robinson was about to leave when he thought he heard a voice behind him. Just one word: ‘Christ.’ Or maybe not. He turned round but there was nobody there. Then he looked up. Squeezed beneath the sloping corrugated iron roof there was a hay loft, reached by a wooden ladder. He hadn’t noticed this before. There was someone up there. He decided to leave but, as he stepped towards the door, he heard the voice again, a loud whisper: ‘Oh bloody hell.’ In a tone of shock and fear.
Robinson couldn’t resist turning once more. He looked up again. There was a young man there, the head and bare shoulders of a young man who said ‘Christ’ again and disappeared. Then, within a few seconds, he was coming down the ladder at speed, trousers and boots already on but his shirt in his hand. He ran past Robinson and out into the yard.
Then a female voice said, ‘Shit.’ Alice Parkinson appeared at the top of the ladder and made her way down slowly. She was wearing a blue frock. She came straight up to Robinson and said, ‘Promise me you won’t breathe a word about this.’
He shrugged. ‘I promise,’ he said.
‘They’d absolutely kill me, you know, if they found out.’
‘Oh, I think that’s just a little bit of an exaggeration, surely.’
‘Oh no, no,’ she insisted. ‘Well, I don’t mean actually kill me, of course not, but just as bad, really. I mean, that would be the end of… well of a lot of things. My allowance, for a start.’
‘And what about your friend?’
Robinson pointed to the door. ‘Your companion of only a few minutes ago who was so keen to leave.’
‘Oh, Jimmy. I don’t care about him.’
‘No. Why should I? He got what he wanted, after all.’
‘And did you get what you wanted?’
‘Oh God,’ she said in a tone that lay somewhere between boredom and wretchedness, ‘anything to brighten up this bloody awful place. I’ve got another three weeks here, for crying out loud. Another three bloody weeks!’
She was as tall as Robinson was, and he could see that any traces of adolescence, let alone childhood, were difficult to find. Her face was pretty but her expression was hard.
‘I’m always getting into trouble,’ she said. ‘I think this would just finish things off. Please don’t tell them. All right? Promise?’
‘I’ve already promised,’ Robinson said.
‘I’ll do anything. Just don’t tell them, OK?’
She took half a step towards him. Their faces were little more than a foot apart. ‘I’ll do anything. Really.’
‘Anything?’ Robinson said quietly.
‘Oh yes, anything,’ she said, as softly.
‘Turn round,’ he said.
She did as she was told. ‘Shall I bend over?’ she asked.
‘Do you want me…’
‘Oh, for Christ’s sake!’ Robinson shouted at her. ‘Just stand still.’ He reached a hand to her hair. ‘You’re covered in straw,’ he said, pulling away a couple of yellow stalks. Then he brushed his hand across her shoulders and down the back of her blue dress to remove some more. ‘Now clear off,’ he said. ‘Just go. Go!’
She ran through the open door and out into the yard.
Robinson waited for a couple of minutes before following her out of the barn. He shut and bolted the door behind him. Then he set off back to the hotel. His afternoon had been thoroughly spoiled. He was angry about the whole incident, angry that he’d been unlucky enough to stumble upon Alice’s meeting with Jimmy or whatever his name was and angry most of all with himself. For he’d been tempted. Yes, he’d allowed himself to be tempted, just for a moment, by Alice’s blond hair and young body, tempted by an eighteen year old girl who could have ruined him completely. What a mess.
He began to walk briskly, his annoyance making him press on towards the hotel. He was determined now to leave. Tomorrow, even today, if he could manage it. So far this holiday had been a complete disaster. And why had he come, anyway? What exactly had he wanted to prove? That he could bring himself to like these people and pass himself off as one of them? But he detested them. Peter Ingleton was a smug, arrogant fool; his wife diminished herself by trying to justify his behaviour and excuse his rudeness. And then there were Alice’s parents, guilty of manufacturing a sly, manipulative, detestable young woman. Of the guests he’d got to know a little, that left the Colonel, a man whose greatest achievement in recent years was to have killed five grouse with two shots.
And if he’d wanted to transform himself, to become one of them, then he’d done so in one sense at least: he despised them all and now he despised himself as well.
He had to leave; it was the only thing he could do under the circumstances. When he got back to the hotel he’d go straight up to his room and start packing. So he kept up a fast pace along the track until, coming over the brow of a gentle hill, he saw Alice Parkinson two or three hundred yards ahead. He was beginning to catch up with her. This prompted him to stop for a minute or so. Then he walked on again, more slowly.
Ten minutes later he entered the hotel vestibule. There were no fish on the marble-topped table. There were unlikely to be any today as he and Peter Ingleton were the only two guests who regularly went fishing. It was a pity, he thought, that he wouldn’t have the chance to catch one of those huge trout that inhabited the Small Loch.
He was about to enter the hotel proper when he heard a car pull up. He stepped back to the front door and saw that it was the car that had brought him to the hotel from Inverness. This time the passenger was Peter Ingleton.
Ingleton got out and waved to Robinson who couldn’t decide how to respond. Then, as Ingleton came up the steps, followed by the cab driver who was carrying two suitcases, Robinson said, ‘You made it back.’
‘Yes, yes,’ Ingleton said, smiling. ‘And very glad to be here again, I can tell you. Oh yes, no doubt about that.’
He was, once again, the buoyant, irrepressible, irritating figure that Robinson had discovered at their first meeting. It was as if the argument they’d had three nights before had never happened. Despite his frantic trip down to London he looked fresh and relaxed; he was not the harassed man that had left the hotel in the middle of the night. And he looked different, too. There was something about him that had changed but Robinson couldn’t identify what it was.
‘Sorry to hear you’ve been ill, old boy,’ Ingleton said. They were standing at the top of the entrance steps. They moved to one side to let the driver with the luggage go ahead into the hotel.
‘Oh, it was nothing, really,’ Robinson said.
‘Nothing? Oh, come along now. Ella was frantic. She thought you were a goner.’
‘Really? Well, it was… actually it was a mix-up over my pills. Dosage was wrong, that’s all. I’m fine, now, really.’
‘Glad to hear it, glad to hear it. Well, you look right as rain now, I must say. But look I… there’s something else. Could I have a word?’
To Robinson’s surprise, these last few words were spoken very quietly. Ingleton took him by the elbow and steered him into the vestibule. The glass door into the hotel was closed. ‘Look,’ Ingleton began, ‘I know I was abominably rude to you the other night. No, really. It was outrageous behaviour on my part. No excuse whatever. Just flew off the handle with Matheson over some silly little thing and… and you got caught in the crossfire, so to speak. It was really quite appalling of me. So… so I hope you’ll accept my sincere apologies.’ He stuck out his hand. ‘What do you say?’
Robinson felt himself to be thoroughly disoriented. He found that he was reaching out to take Ingleton’s hand. ‘Well, yes,’ he said as they shook hands firmly. ‘Yes, of course. Apology accepted.’
‘Good, good. Excellent. That’s really…’ Still gripping Robinson’s hand, Ingleton leaned forward. ‘Well… I wouldn’t expect anything less from a gentleman such as yourself. Splendid.’ He released Robinson’s hand and reached for the door into the hall. His voice rose again to its usual level. ‘Now do allow me to buy you a drink after dinner, won’t you, eh? Of course, yes. And now I’d better to up and say hello to the little lady who, by the way, didn’t know I was coming back today!’
Before Robinson could respond, Ingleton had entered the hall and was striding towards the stairs.
A few moments later Robinson went up to his room.
He lay on his bed for half an hour, not sleeping, not reading, just thinking about the bizarre events of the day so far. Once or twice he thought about packing but decided to put it off till later. Then later arrived and he thought about it again and decided not to pack; he would stay on — well, at least till the morning.
There was no doubt about it, despite Ingleton’s trip to London, the rest of the country hardly mattered to the world of the hotel with its grouse moors, its lochs, its herds of deer. Robinson picked up the latest edition of The Times which had been delivered to his room but, for the moment, he only glanced at it. No doubt there would be more about the train robbery, about Profumo and Keeler and perhaps some more about Kim Philby.
Philby. Robinson remembered the photo from a couple of days before of Philby and his university friends, a small group of young men, smiling and laughing at a shared joke. And, with an element of shock, two things became apparent to Robinson. First, he realised what was different about Ingleton since his return from London: he’d shaved off his moustache. And then there was the newspaper photo itself. He was sure that the man standing next to Philby, the man who had seemed familiar to him, was Peter Ingleton.
He got off the bed and started to look for that earlier copy of The Times in which the photo had appeared but he couldn’t find it. He wondered if the maid who had brought up the latest edition had removed the old one. Which she shouldn’t have done, of course, without his permission. But then he might have put it in the waste paper basket which he could see was now empty. He couldn’t remember. He decided that a casual enquiry would be in order. He went down to the ground floor.
Mrs Muirton was behind the reception desk. ‘I’m glad to see you looking so well, Mr Robinson,’ she said.
‘Thank you, yes. I feel much much better. And really looking forward to some fishing tomorrow.’
‘Did I… well, I had a copy of The Times… not the one I received today but the day before yesterday I think it was… Do you happen to know where it might be? I may have put it in the… in the waste paper basket…’
‘Ah,’ Mrs Muirton said. ‘Actually I wanted to have a word with you about that, yes. You see, Mrs Ingleton asked me if we had a copy of The Times and I said yes, that you got it every day. She was very keen to take a look so, as you were out I went up to your room. But Tilly was already cleaning the rooms and had put the waste baskets outside for emptying. There were two copies of The Times in your waste basket so I felt there would be no harm in my taking them downstairs…’ She paused and, as Robinson said nothing, she went on, ‘Clearly I was unable to refer the matter to yourself but, as the papers had already been discarded…’
Robinson raised a hand to stop the flow of words. ‘Please,’ he said, ‘you did absolutely the right thing. Yes, it’s rather selfish of me, now I think about it, to keep the papers to myself. From now on I’ll pass them on to Mrs Ingleton, or take them down to the lounge for others to read.’
‘Oh good. I’m so glad. I… I was afraid I might have rather overstepped the mark…’
‘Not at all.’
‘Mrs Ingleton assured me she will return them of course.’
‘Oh, no need for that,’ Robinson said. ‘If you see her before I do, please tell her I’m happy for her to leave them in the lounge.’
‘But if you need them yourself… I mean, specifically for…’
He shook his head. ‘Something of no importance,’ he said. ‘No importance at all.’
He left the foyer, stepping out into the vestibule with the intention of taking another short stroll, perhaps round the Red Loch once more. He wanted to check again if there was any movement of trout. He knew that, despite its proximity to the hotel, it was rarely fished. There might, after all, be some good fish in it. He’d reached the bottom of the front steps when someone called to him from the entrance. He looked up to find Peter Ingleton coming down to meet him.
‘Look, old chap,’ Ingleton began, ‘I was wondering… well, Ella and I both, obviously, well… we were wondering if you’d care to join us for dinner tonight. You know, me getting back from London in one piece, a bit of a celebration and all that… What do you say? Will you join us? I mean, obviously we don’t mean to impose, but if you…’
And Robinson said, ‘I’d be delighted.’
After his inspection of the Red Loch, Robinson spent the afternoon reading. He also took a short nap. Half an hour only. After this he felt the return of something close to his old levels of energy. He went down to the lounge and found it empty. Shortly the grouse shooters would be back, and the party of stalkers. He stood for a while at the window looking out over the lawn with its stunted hedge to the left. He could see a short section of the drive that led up to the hotel entrance and he saw someone walking along it, a woman. She was a little too far away for clear identification but the blue dress suggested it might be Alice Parkinson. Robinson hoped that, if it was her, she would go straight to her room and not visit the lounge on the way.
Then he spotted The Times. He’d actually managed to forget about it but there were two copies, lying folded on one of the coffee tables. He picked them up and checked the dates. Yes, here was the one he was looking for. He began to flick through it. He couldn’t remember the page the photo of Philby and his friends had appeared on but he was sure it was towards the back.
But he couldn’t find it. He started from page one again, going through the paper more slowly this time. Still no luck. He checked the date. He was sure this was the correct paper. Then he looked at the page numbers. He counted his way through and found that page twelve was followed by page fifteen. The sheet which held pages thirteen and fourteen had been removed. He was surprised but perhaps not shocked by this. He thought about it for a full minute before he folded the paper carefully and put it back on the table as he had found it.
At 7 p.m. Robinson joined Ella and Peter Ingleton for dinner. The three of them dined together, without the ‘desperadoes’ who had joined Mr and Mrs Parkinson and Alice for the evening. From time to time throughout dinner Robinson glanced across to their table. Almost invariably he saw Geoffrey Parkinson earnestly addressing the two boys who remained as silent as they usually were in the company of their father. Parkinson’s wife appeared to be spending the evening examining with great care every mouthful of the food she was eating. Alice concentrated on looking at the wall. She ate absently, without enjoyment, or so it seemed. Occasionally Colin, the elder of the two boys, turned away slightly from Geoffrey Parkinson in order to look at Alice. Robinson noticed these admiring glances. If Alice was aware that she was the object of Colin’s attention she gave no hint of it, maintaining her look of serious boredom.
Ella Ingleton was wearing her hair up in an elegant roll at the back of her head. Although her ears were partially covered, Robinson noticed that she was not wearing the hearing aid that her husband liked her to wear. On the table by her right hand sat her preferred device with its thin wire linked to the tiny earpiece in her right ear. Her neck was bare apart from a choker made from rows of pearls linked by silver clasps. She looked relaxed and confident.
The early conversation between Robinson and the Ingletons ranged over familiar subjects: the weather; the ever higher prices in London; the need for a better road system; the size of trout in the lochs; how MacMillan’s days were numbered and Harold Wilson would be in number 10 very soon.
‘Oh, don’t say that, darling,’ Ella Ingleton said when her husband remarked that the Tories were finished.
‘Oh, I don’t like it any more than you do, my dear,’ Ingleton replied, ‘but we must face facts. There’s no way back for this government. What d’you reckon, Charles?’
Robinson had already noticed that he was no longer Robinson but Charles, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to call Ingleton Peter. ‘You’re right, of course,’ he said. ‘I think Profumo has settled the matter.’
‘Undoubtedly,’ Ingleton said.
They were waiting for the main course which, tonight, would be the first of the grouse, shot only three days before. Robinson couldn’t remember if he’d ever eaten grouse before. Ella Ingleton assured him that the meat was a bit stronger than chicken but not as strong as, say, capercaillie. She was sure he would enjoy it.
Peter Ingleton said, ‘By the way, Charles, what exactly is your line of business? I take it you are in business of some kind.’
‘Yes, I am,’ Robinson said. ‘I deal in household goods.’
Robinson could see that this information was of very little interest to Peter Ingleton. There was a short silence and then Ella Ingleton asked, ‘What kind of household goods, Mr Robinson?’
‘Oh, the usual kind of thing — fridges, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and so on. Quite a range. And we do the smaller stuff too — kettles, irons, teasmaids…’
‘Quite a range indeed.’
Peter Ingleton said, ‘I’d have thought that, as far as London is concerned at any rate, McAndrew’s would have that market pretty much sewn up.’
‘Well, I hope so,’ Robinson said. He paused. ‘That’s my company.’
‘I see. So you work for McAndrew’s, do you?’
At this point the waitress arrived with the main course. Three large plates were laid down, each with a small but complete roasted bird sitting in the middle. A second waitress added potatoes – roast and boiled – and green beans. The first then returned with a gravy boat.
‘Well, I’m impressed, I must say,’ Peter Ingleton said as he ground pepper over his meal. ‘Working for McAndrew’s must be quite rewarding. A very successful firm, I believe. Do you enjoy the work?’
‘I suppose a lot hinges on how well one gets on with one’s boss, doesn’t it, Ella Ingleton remarked.
‘Critical relationship,’ her husband said.
‘Peter has his ups and downs on that score,’ Ella Ingleton added in a confidential tone.
‘What’s your boss like?’ Peter Ingleton asked. He had started to cut into his grouse, separating off the right breast.
‘Well…’ Robinson began, then paused.
‘I’m sure it’s none of our business really,’ Ella Ingleton said.
Robinson smiled. ‘No, no, it’s nothing to do with that,’ he said. ‘It’s just that I don’t really have a boss, you see.’
‘No boss? Lucky man,’ Ingleton pushed a lump of meat to one side of his plate and attacked the rest of the bird. ‘So how’d you manage that, then?’
‘Well, you see…’ Robinson said, ‘I own the company.’
If Peter Ingleton was shocked by this information he was able to hide it, certainly in terms of his facial expression at least. But he kept silent for some time. He concentrated hard on separating flesh from bone on his roast grouse.
Ella Ingleton said, ‘You own McAndrew’s? Really?’
‘Well, you really are a dark horse, Mr Robinson. Owning such a large company. Such a very large company, in fact. And I think… yes, I think we’ve got quite a few items from McAndrew’s ourselves, haven’t we, darling?’ She looked at her husband.
‘More than likely,’ he said.
‘The coffee percolator…’
‘Yes, the coffee percolator. We’ve got one of those, haven’t we.’ He paused for a moment and then returned to the arrangement of his meal.
‘You’ve probably sold hundreds of those,’ Ella Ingleton said to Robinson.
‘Coffee percolators,’ Robinson said, ‘Well, there are several models, of course, but we sell probably twenty-five, thirty thousand a year.’
‘Really?’ She failed to keep the amazement out of her voice. ‘Did you hear that, Peter? Twenty-five thousand percolators.’
Peter Ingleton did not respond.
‘May I ask what you do?’ Robinson said.
‘Foreign Office,’ Ingleton replied.
‘Ah, busy place these days, no doubt.’
‘Peter’s so busy,’ Ella Ingleton said. ‘I hardly see him any more.’
‘Oh, I imagine it’ll all blow over,’ Robinson said.
‘What do you mean?’ Ingleton asked.
‘Well, I suppose you’re busy because of all this nonsense with Philby. Am I right? If you’re allowed to say, of course. I’m not probing for any secrets here, I assure you.’
Ingleton waved this nicety away. Then he actually lowered his voice. ‘Man’s a complete bastard,’ he said.
‘Well, I’d have to agree with you there. Absolutely.’
‘Hateful man,’ Ella Ingleton said and she shuddered. ‘Hateful.’
Peter Ingleton loaded up a forkful of grouse and roast potato and conveyed it to his mouth.
‘How anyone could betray his country is quite beyond me,’ Ella Ingleton said.
‘Oh, I agree.’ Robinson nodded.
‘A frightful business altogether. And giving poor Peter so much work…’
Ingleton put his knife and fork down carefully on his plate. ‘Damnedest thing is,’ he began, ‘damnedest thing… he was actually at Cambridge when I was there myself.’
‘No. Really?’ Robinson said. ‘Did you know him?’
Ingleton shook his head. ‘Good Lord, no. Never met him.’
‘Pity in a way.’ He picked up his knife and fork.
‘A pity? Why do you say that?’
Ingleton put down his knife again and tapped the side of his nose with his forefinger. ‘I can smell ‘em,’ he said. ‘Oh, yes, I can smell ‘em all right. Exposed quite a few commies when I was at Cambridge, I can tell you. Yes, would’ve done the same with Philby if I’d known about him. Different year, though. We overlapped but not quite enough. Great shame.’
Ingleton began to eat again and his wife asked Robinson if he had any hobbies other than fishing. He assured her he had not.
The dessert was strawberries with fresh cream.
Matheson positioned the boat for the second drift. By then the wind had shifted slightly though it hadn’t increased in power. ‘We’ll do the same again,’ he told Robinson, ‘but we’ll start a few yards farther south and the wind’ll take us at another angle. Maybe try a different fly, too.’
Robinson looked in his fly box. ‘How about a Claret and Grouse?’ he asked.
Matheson shook his head. ‘I’ve always thought of that as an evening fly,’ he said, ‘when it’s starting to get dark. Something with a bit more silver on it, I’d say.’
‘How about this one, then?’ He held up a fly which had a solid silver body.
‘A Butcher? Certainly worth a try. It’s my son’s favourite.’
‘He’s a fisherman too, is he?’
‘Oh, certainly. And he’s killed a lot of fish with that fly.’
‘Well, we’ll give it a go, shall we?’ Robinson removed the fly he’d been using — whose name he couldn’t remember — and tied on the Butcher. ‘So, quite a fisherman, your son, is he?’
‘Yes, certainly. Catches a lot of fish. All for the hotel larder, of course.’
Robinson looked up from tying the fly and Matheson winked.
‘Of course, of course,’ Robinson said. Then he returned his attention to the fly in his hand. ‘How old is your son?’ he asked.
‘Jimmy? He’s nineteen.’
‘Did you say Jimmy?’
‘That’s right, yes. Have you met him?’
Robinson said, ‘No, no, I don’t think so.’ He paused. ‘He works here, does he?’
‘Yes, with the grouse parties, mostly, though he’s been out on a few stag shoots too.’
‘No, I don’t think I’ve met him,’ Robinson repeated.
‘When he was twelve, you know,’ Matheson went on, ‘he caught a seven-pounder in here.’
‘That’s right. Seven pounds and five… I think it was five ounces.’
‘One of those monsters your father talked about.’
‘Yes. I’m hoping there’s one or two left.’
On the third drift Robinson caught a fish of about two pounds but for the following hour there was nothing. At twelve o’clock they decided on one more drift before breaking for lunch. By this time the mist had lifted from the loch but still hid the hills. Only the lower slopes could be seen. A dull glow to the south suggested that the sun might eventually succeed in breaking through.
About three quarters of the way through this drift, while the boat was still about twenty yards from the home shore, Robinson’s fly was taken by a very big fish.
When Robinson struck, the fish immediately dived, stripping yards of line from his reel. Robinson said, ‘God Almighty!’ and Matheson, quietly, said, ‘Put pressure on him, sir. Keep him off the bottom. There’s all sorts of stuff he can tangle himself up in, so keep him moving. Keep the rod high. Keep the rod high.
Robinson tried hard to do as Matheson suggested but the fish was still pulling out line.
‘We’ll go after him, sir,’ Matheson said. He had shipped the oars when Robinson hooked the fish but now he moved them gently back into the water. With Robinson sitting in the stern and the fish moving farther and farther away, he rowed carefully in reverse so that the boat was moving backwards, following the fish. A minute later, when the fish stopped, Matheson pulled the oars in again.
‘Draw him up now, sir. Gently, but reel in. Make him work. Tire him out.’
Robinson did his best but the reel sang out again as the fish set off on another run.
‘He’s strong, isn’t he?’ Robinson said.
‘He is, but you’ll get him. I’m sure of that.’
Robinson applied pressure again, slowly hauling the fish to the surface. Within five minutes its runs had lessened in strength.
Matheson said, ‘He’s not ready yet. A lot of fight left in him still. Pull him in, sir, and let him go. Keep doing that and we’ll have him in another five minutes.’
Robinson followed instructions. Twelve or thirteen minutes after he had hooked the fish they got their first glimpse of it. It was only when it was within a couple of feet of the surface that they could make out the long, dark brown shape in the peat-coloured water. Its mouth opened and closed several times, slowly, as if it was gulping down air. The Butcher was caught just under the point of the upper jaw. Matheson declared that the fish was well-hooked and there was little chance of losing him. After one more feeble run, the fish was brought right up to the surface where it slipped over onto its side, exposing its pale brown flanks and white belly.
Matheson put a big salmon net into the water and instructed Robinson to draw the fish gently over it. Then he pulled the net up from below and within a few seconds the netted fish was in the bottom of the boat.
Robinson said, ‘My God.’
Matheson drew from his jacket pocket a small metal priest and, while the fish was still in the net he struck it sharply, twice, on the top of its skull. The fish shuddered for a few seconds and then lay still.
‘My God,’ Robinson said again.
Matheson said, ‘Between ten and twelve pounds. That’s my guess. An absolute beauty. I can’t remember a better one, sir. As big as a salmon but far bonnier.’
‘Is it bigger than the one in the dining room?’ Robinson asked.
‘The dining room?’
‘There’s a big fish in a case…’
‘Oh, Tommy, you mean.’
‘Tommy, is that what you call him?’
‘Yes, big Tom. Caught by a Major Thomas Sandison-Whyte in nineteen ten. Big fish, that.’
‘And what about this one here? Robinson said. ‘Is he bigger than Tommy?’
Matheson smiled. ‘I’m afraid not, sir, no.’
‘But I can say, sir, that I’ve never seen a better one out of any loch round here.’
‘Well, I’ll tell you what, Matheson, I’m not going to catch a bigger one. Not today, anyway.’ He looked round at the hills. The mist hadn’t lifted any further. ‘Let’s just go back to the hotel, shall we? And this time you’ll definitely join me for a dram.’
As they drove home, the day darkened again; the mist thickened and slid back down the slopes of the hills to fill the glens once more.
‘Not much shooting today, I’d have thought,’ Robinson said.
‘Probably not, sir, no. But then the weather might be quite different over by Loch Shure. ‘I’ve seen it myself — the hotel in mist but sunshine only a couple of miles away.’
And then, when they were within half a mile of the hotel they did leave the mist behind. The Landrover came over the brow of a hill and emerged into sunshine. The hotel and the Red Loch lay before them like delicacies displayed on a plate.
Within a couple of minutes they became aware of a gentle whirring sound behind and above them. This sound grew in volume until it was a jagged metallic roar that overpowered both their vehicle and the landscape it was travelling over. Then, with a further huge blast of sound it passed overhead and hurried in front of them towards the hotel. It was a large silver helicopter with RAF markings.
‘What the hell is that doing here?’ Robinson asked.
‘I’ve no idea, sir.’
‘It’s going to land by the hotel. Look.’
‘Some sort of emergency, do you think?’
‘Who knows? Maybe Mr Ingleton needs to get back to London again, only this time a little bit quicker.’
Matheson didn’t smile. ‘I don’t think it has anything to do with Mr Ingleton, sir.’
As Matheson parked the Landrover by the hotel they could see the helicopter had already landed on the lawn that lay between the hotel and the Red Loch. The rotor blades had slowed down somewhat but were still engaged in swift, noisy movement, as if this landig by the hotel was to be brief. Four men jumped down onto the grass and hurried over to the hotel. Several guests and some of the staff had congregated on the entrance steps. This small crowd parted to allow the four men from the helicopter to rush inside.
Robinson and Matheson began to run. The huge trout lay forgotten in the back of the Landrover as they hurried across the forecourt to find out what was happening.
Mrs Muirton met them at the top of the steps. ‘Oh, John,’ she said. ‘John, he’s in here…’
Matheson appeared shocked, either at being addressed by his Christian name or by the obvious anguish in Mrs Muirton’s voice. Or both. He looked at her in horror. ‘What’s happening?’ he asked.
‘It’s… oh, John, didn’t they tell you?’
‘Tell me what!’ he said, at a volume that surprised Robinson.
‘It’s Jimmy. There’s been an accident…’
‘He’s been hurt, John, but… I don’t think…’ She reached forward and took hold of his arm. She looked as if she was about to cry.
‘Where is he? Where is he?’ Matheson demanded.
‘Mr Matheson?’ This was Dr Dysart who had come out of the hotel to join them at the top of the steps.
‘Just come in with me, will you.’
Matheson followed the doctor into the hotel. Robinson came after them with Mrs Muirton. When they were inside, in the foyer, with Matheson and Dr Dysart nowhere to be seen, she said, ‘He’s in there.’ She pointed to the bar.
Robinson was about to speak when they heard Matheson, in the bar, very loud, say, ‘Good God, boy, what’s happened to you?’ And then, ‘Good God, boy, what have they done to you?’ Dr Dysart’s voice could be heard, in softer tones. Robinson couldn’t make out the words. Then they heard Matheson again. ‘Jimmy! Jimmy!’
Mrs Muirton began to cry and Robinson put his arm round her. ‘A terrible accident,’ she said.
Then she and Robinson were bundled aside as a group of men came out of the bar. These were the men in uniform from the helicopter, one at each corner of a stretcher on which lay Jimmy Matheson, his body covered by a grey blanket, his head heavily bandaged. The stretcher party was followed by Matheson and Dr Dysart. They moved quickly and silently through the foyer and out of the hotel entrance. Mrs Muirton and Robinson were alone. Robinson took a handkerchief from an inside pocket of his jacket and gave it to Mrs Muirton who stopped crying and began to recover herself. ‘It was the mist, you see,’ she said, ‘the wretched mist. I told them not to go — I mean, what’s the point when the mist’s so thick? But no, no, off they went. It’ll clear, they said. So off they went. And then, when they got to the hill, Jimmy got separated from them somehow, that’s what they’ve been telling me, anyway, separated, just… just for a few minutes… and then somehow or other he was on the hill in front of them, just as a covey rose and they started shooting…’
‘Good God,’ Robinson said. ‘You mean, he was shot?’
She nodded. ‘Yes, yes, that’s it. Shot.’ She put Robinson’s handkerchief to her face again. ‘Oh, if you had seen him, Mr Robinson, all that blood… I wouldn’t have believed it possible. Oh, poor Jimmy.’
For another half minute she wept freely and Robinson held onto her.
‘I’ve known him all my life, you see. All of it, from the beginning to the end. Oh, it’s the end, I’m sure. I mean, I don’t see how he could possibly recover… I don’t see…’
All this time there had been the regular dull beat of the helicopter’s rotor blades. Now the noise intensified as the blades picked up speed. Soon the roar was deafening, as if the aircraft was about to land on top of the hotel itself. Then it wheeled away and, in the hallway where Robinson was standing with Mrs Muirton, there were a few moments of complete silence.
‘Thank you, Mr Robinson, thank you.’ Mrs Muirton separated herself from him once more.
Robinson said, ‘Which party was Jimmy with?’
‘Mr Parkinson and the Colonel.’
‘The Colonel… well, he’s devastated, of course. He’s the one… well, it’s all so difficult, of course… I mean, with the fog and everything… very difficult to say but he’s convinced that he’s the one who fired the shot that hit Jimmy. The poor man… I doubt if he’ll ever recover. I really doubt it. I do.’
‘Where is he now?’
‘Upstairs in his room. He’s been there for an hour. He’s locked the door and refuses to see anyone. He won’t see anyone at all.’
‘He’s in a state of shock,’ Robinson said.
They were still alone in the foyer but now the sound of conversations reached them as the guests who had witnessed the helicopter’s departure began to drift back towards the hotel.
Mrs Muirton pushed Robinson’s handkerchief up the sleeve of her cardigan. ‘I’ll give everyone tea,’ she said. ‘Yes, that’s what I’ll do. Right now. Tea in the lounge. Would you be so good as to tell them as they come in?’
‘Of course,’ Robinson said.
She turned towards the reception desk, behind which was the kitchen, and shouted, ‘Tilly! Tilly!’
Behind Robinson the vestibule door opened. He turned to see that the first guest to arrive back was Alice Parkinson. She looked at him for a moment and then shouted, ‘You!’
Before Robinson could move, Alice was upon him, hands at this throat. ‘You bastard!’ she screamed at him. ‘You bastard!’
Robinson took hold of her arms and tried to pull her away but she was very strong. ‘What on earth…’ he began.
Mrs Muirton rushed back from the kitchen and said, ‘Miss Parkinson, Miss Parkinson, please!’ She took hold of Alice’s left arm.
‘Oh, clear off, you stupid old cow!’ Alice said. She wrenched her arm free and released her hold on Robinson in order to shove the shocked Mrs Muirton to one side.
‘You told them, didn’t you? Didn’t you?’ she shouted at Robinson. ‘Go on, admit it!’
Robinson said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He was as bemused as Mrs Muirton was.
Four other guests had now entered the foyer but they chose to stay apart from what was going on.
Alice said again, ‘You told them, didn’t you, you told them, you stupid, ignorant man.’ She was up close to him, shouting into his face but now she stepped back and slapped him hard across his left ear. Robinson’s head twisted round with the shock of the blow and it took him a moment to regain his balance.
‘You stupid, stupid man,’ Alice Parkinson went on. ‘You don’t know anything, do you. You just don’t understand anything.’
Robinson struggled to compose himself after the slap. Then he said, ‘It’s natural that you’re upset,’ feeling, as he did so, how lame it sounded.
‘… but I didn’t tell them anything. I can assure you of that. I made a promise and I kept it.’
‘So what happened was an accident, was it?’
‘A tragic accident,’ he said. ‘Of course. What other explanation could there be?’
She closed her eyes and shook her head. ‘No,’ she said quietly. ‘No. You really don’t understand, do you.’
She’d reached a point at which the balance of her emotions might be tipped either way: a further display of anger or something close to collapse. And he realised that she was right: he didn’t understand; he was no nearer to understanding than he’d ever been. But he wanted her to choose rage. He wanted her to shout and scream against what had happened even if it meant that she might strike him again. Anything else and he could find himself pitying her and he didn’t want that.
He wanted a world in which actions, motivations and emotions could be identified with ease and classified according to an uncomplicated taxonomy. But once more he was disappointed.
He could see tears escaping from between her closed eyelids. ‘Oh, if you’d seen him,’ she said quietly. ‘If you’d seen his poor face.’
All her fire and energy seemed to have gone. He stepped up to her and hugged her. She put her arms round his neck and pressed her head against his.
‘If only you’d seen him,’ she whispered.
He could feel the warmth of her face against his cheek. He began to stroke her hair gently. ‘It’s going to be all right,’ he said.
‘Do you think so?’ she said quietly.
She slackened her hold on him. ‘Do you really?’
‘Yes, I do,’ he said.
She stepped away from him. She wiped her eyes with a handkerchief and then stood regarding him for a moment, her arms folded against her chest. ‘You’re wrong,’ she said. Then she turned and made her way upstairs to her room.