Today's Reading

After Mungo has gone, Camilla goes out to fetch the washing from the line slung between the plum trees in the orchard. In the long grass wasps crawl stickily in the rotten fruit, drunk on the sweet fermenting juice, and down in the woods a pigeon is cooing its lazy summer song. The sheets are hot and crisp and she folds them carefully into the old wicker basket, thinking all the while about Mungo and Ralph and Izzy. If she's honest she has to admit that she never really liked Izzy all that much: she was too mercurial, too needy. Of course, Archie adored her—and she played up to him.

'Poor little Izzy,' he'd say affectionately. 'She's had it tough, you know. Both parents killed in a car accident. Brought up by a strict old cousin. She's done jolly well for herself.'

Camilla had to bite her tongue sometimes; close her lips on a cool rejoinder. Izzy was so thin, so quick, so witty, that she, Camilla, felt ponderous beside her. Pregnant, slung about with small children, she felt it was an unequal contest. Yet those years were such happy ones.

Camilla folds the last sheet into the basket. She remembers what Mungo said about Ralph and wonders in what way he regrets him. Perhaps he sees Ralph simply as a symbol of their youth. The three of them were inseparable during those early years in rep; and afterwards when Mungo started his own company. Camilla hoists the basket on to her hip and takes it into the utility room. She can't be bothered to sort out the sheets; it's too hot. Instead she wanders back outside where the dogs are stretched in the shade, fast asleep.

It was Kit who named the dogs, litter brothers, when she saw them first as puppies. Camilla remembers how she and Archie argued over names, neither able to hit on the right ones. Then Kit came to stay with Mungo and was told of the dilemma. She walked up with Mungo to see the puppies, curled together in the big dog basket.

'Boswell and Johnson,' Kit said at once, going to kneel beside them. 'Bozzy and Sam. Sammy and Boz. The big one's Bozzy and the little one's Sam. They are so cute.'

The names were so right for them that's Camilla and Archie couldn't think why they hadn't thought of them first.

'It's a gift,' Kit said modestly, perching in the dog basket, lifting the warm, sleepy puppies on to her lap. 'Oh, why wasn't I born a dog! How simple life would be.'

Camilla is filled with affection as she remembers the scene; glad that Kit is coming to stay. She's been such a good friend to Mungo, and the whole family love her.

'She should have been married with children of her own,' Camilla has said at regular intervals through the years to Mungo, to Archie. 'I can't imagine why she hasn't. She's so much fun and she's very attractive.'

It's funny, Camilla thinks, that she's never minded Archie adoring Kit, flirting with her, making jokes. She's never scented the whiff of danger that was present with Izzy. There was an instability, a vulnerable neediness, about Izzy that has never been there with Kit despite her moments of crisis and sudden crazy whims. She's managed her interior design company with confidence and flair, and she has good friends. Izzy was always so grateful for attention, for love.

'She's an actor, Millie,' Mungo would say. He is the only person to call her Millie; she doesn't like the nickname from anyone else. 'That's what we actors are like. We crave approval. It's what it's all about.'

But Mungo was never like Izzy, thinks Camilla, though Ralph always needed to be the centre of attention, admired, fêted. Perhaps that's what drew him and Izzy together—and perhaps that was the reason for the break-up of their affair.

Camilla glances at her watch. Archie should be home soon. She might try to catch him on his mobile and suggest that he picks up a few things for her in Ashburton. It would be nice to make something special if Kit is coming to supper tomorrow.

Down on his mooring at Stoke Gabriel on the river Dart, Archie watches life on the water. It's been too hot to take the boat off her mooring, and there's no breath of wind anyway, but he likes to potter, check things out; to sit here on The Wave, feeling the lift of the tide beneath her keel. Here he can escape the responsibilities that worry at him at home: the cost of repairs to the properties, paying his tax, keeping things running. It's odd how being just those few yards away from dry land makes such a difference; gives that sense of escape and relaxation. He can hear the whistle of the old steam railway as it trundles through the valley on its way to Kingswear; such an evocative sound bringing memories of his childhood; trips on the paddle steamers coming down to Dartmouth from Totnes; sailing with friends from the naval college when he was older. On the river, out at sea, he feels free, detached from that other self who sees things with such a clear eye: who likes to dot the i's and cross the t's.

'Mungo's been in for tea,' Camilla says, phoning his mobile, interrupting this idyll, 'and he was a bit odd. Apparently it's Izzy's birthday so I think he was just feeling a bit nostalgic. Oh, and Kit's coming down later this evening. Isn't that great? He'll bring her up for supper tomorrow.'

This excerpt ends on page 21 of the hardcover edition.

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