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Authors: Mark Mills

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The Savage Garden

BOOK: The Savage Garden
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The Savage Garden
Mark Mills

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's
imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over
and does not assume responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Mills.
"Readers Guide" copyright © 2008 by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Text design by Meighan Cavanaugh.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.
Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of
the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
BERKLEY® is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
The "B" design is a trademark belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
The Library of Congress has catalogued the G. P. Putnam's Sons hardcover edition of this book as follows:
Mills, Mark, date.
The savage garden / Mark Mills.
p. cm.
ISBN: 1-4362-1508-0
1. College teachers—Fiction. 2. College students—Fiction. 3. England—Fiction. 4. Italy—Fiction.
5. College stories. I. Title.

 

 

Acknowledgments
My thanks, as ever, go to my inimitable agent and friend Stephanie Cabot for—well—being Stephanie Cabot;
to my editors Julia Wisdom and
Rachel Kahan for their enthusiasm, wisdom and guidance; and to my
wife, Caroline, for her tireless patience and encouragement.
I am also extremely grateful to Francis and Rachel Hamel-Cooke,
Anne O'Brien and Jane Hall, as well as Charles and Angela Cottrell- Dormer,
whose hospitality and generosity of spirit account for much
more of this book than they are probably aware.

 

 

For Caroline, Gus and Rosie

 

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
— T. S. ELIOT, "
Little Gidding
"

 

 

 

August 1958
    LATER, WHEN IT WAS OVER, HE CAST HIS THOUGHTS BACK to that sunstruck May day in Cambridge—where it had all begun— and asked himself whether he would have done anything differently, knowing what he now did.
    It was not a question easily answered.
    He barely recognized himself in the carefree young man cycling along the towpath beside the river, bucking over the ruts, the bottle of wine dancing around in the bike basket.
    Try as he might, he couldn't penetrate the workings of that stranger's mind, let alone say with any certainty how he would have dealt with the news that murder lay in wait for him, just around the corner.

 

    HE WAS KNOWN, PRIMARILY, FOR HIS MARROWS.
    This made him a figure of considerable suspicion to the ladies of the Horticultural Society, who, until his arrival on the scene, had vied quite happily amongst themselves for the most coveted award in the vegetable class at their annual show. The fact that he was a newcomer to the village no doubt fueled their resentments; that he lived alone with a "housekeeper" some years younger than himself, a woman whose cast of countenance could only be described as "Oriental," permitted them to bury the pain of defeat in malicious gossip.
    That first year he carried off the prize, I can recall Mrs. Meade and her cronies huddled together at the back of the marquee, like cows before a gathering storm. I can also remember the vicar, somewhat the worse for wear after an enthusiastic sampling of the cider entries, handing down his verdict on the marrow category. With an air of almost lascivious relish, he declared Mr. Atherton's prodigious specimen to be "positively tumescent" (thereby reinforcing my own suspicions about the good reverend).
    Mr. Atherton, tall, lean and slightly stooped by his seventysome years, approached the podium without the aid of his walking stick. He graciously accepted the certificate (and the bottle of elderflower cordial that accompanied it), then returned to his chair. I happened to be seated beside him that warm, blustery afternoon, and while the canvas snapped in the wind and the vicar slurred his way through a heartfelt tribute to all who had submitted Victoria sponges, Mr. Atherton inclined his head toward me, a look of quiet mischief in his eyes.
    "Do you think they'll ever forgive me?" he muttered under his breath.
    I knew exactly whom he was talking about.
    "Oh, I doubt it," I replied, "I doubt it very much."
    These were the first words we had ever exchanged, though it was not the first time I had elicited a smile from him. Earlier that summer, I had caught him observing me with an amused expression from beneath a Panama hat. He had been seated in a deck chair on the boundary of the cricket pitch, and a burly, lower-order batsman from Droxford had just hit me for "six" three times in quick succession, effectively sealing yet another ignoble defeat for the Hambledon 2nd XI.
    Adam turned the sheet over, expecting to read on. The page was blank.
    "That's it?" he asked.
    "Evidently," said Gloria. "What do you think?" "It's good."
    "Good? 'Good' is like 'nice.' 'Good' is what mothers say about children who don't misbehave. Boring children! For God's sake, Adam, this is my novel we're talking about."
    Probably best not to mention the overzealous use of commas.
"Very
good. Excellent," he said.
    Gloria pouted a wary forgiveness, her breasts straining against the material of her cotton print dress as she leaned toward him. "It's just the opening, but it's intriguing, don't you think?"
    "Intriguing. Yes. Very mysterious. Who is this Mr. Atherton with the prodigious marrows?"
    "Aha!" she trumpeted. "You see? Page one and you're already asking questions. That's good."
    He raised an eyebrow at her choice of adjective but she didn't appear to notice.
    "Who do
you
think he is? Or more to the point:
What
do you think he is?"
    She was losing him now. The wine wasn't helping, unpalatably warm in the afternoon heat, a wasp buzzing forlornly around the neck of the bottle.
    "I really don't know."
    Gloria swept the wasp aside with the back of her hand and filled her glass, topping up Adam's as an afterthought.
    "He's a German spy," she announced.
    "A German spy?"
    "That's right. You see, it's wartime—1940, to be precise—and while the Battle of Britain rages in the skies above a small Hampshire village, an altogether different battle is about to unfold on the ground. As above—"
    "—so below."
    Were they really quoting Hermes Trismegistus at each other over this?
    "I think it was Kent," said Adam.
    "Kent?" "The Battle of Britain—Kent and a bit of Sussex, not Hampshire."
    This news was clearly something of a blow to Gloria.
    "Well, maybe some of the planes, I don't know, went astray or something."
    Adam looked doubtful.
    "Damn," said Gloria, "I wanted dogfights in the sky."
    "Then move it to Kent."
    "It has to be Hampshire."
    "Why?"
    He regretted the question almost immediately.
    "Because it's all about a secret submarine base in Portsmouth harbor."
    Was this really where two years of English literature studies had led her, all that Beowulf and Chaucer, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: to a secret submarine base in Portsmouth harbor?
    "What?" demanded Gloria warily.
    "I was just thinking," he lied, "that your narrator's a man. Unless she's a woman who happens to play cricket for the village team."
    "So?"
    "It's a challenge, I imagine, writing a male narrator."
    "You don't think I'm up to it?"
    "I didn't say that."
    "Four brothers," she said, holding up three fingers.
    "And it's not as if you're the first chap I've ever stepped out with."
    This was a truth she liked to assert from time to time, dishing out unsavory details to drive home her point, although she was too angry for that right now.
    She tossed the remainder of her wine away, the liquid crescent flopping into the tall grass. She got to her feet a little unsteadily. "I'm going." "Don't," he said, taking her hand. "Stay."
    "You hate it."
    "That's not true."
    "I know what you're thinking."
    "You're wrong. I could be jailed for what I'm thinking."
    It was a crass play, but he knew her vulnerability to that kind of talk. Besides, this was the reason they'd skipped their lectures and come to the meadow, was it not?
    "I'm sorry," he said, capitalizing on her faint smile, "I suppose I'm just jealous."
    "Jealous?"
    "I couldn't do it, I know that. It's great. Really. It hooked me instantly. The drunken vicar's a great touch."
    "You like him?"
    "A lot."
    Gloria allowed herself to be drawn back down onto the blanket, into their sunken den, out of sight of the river towpath, where the stubby willows bristled.
    His fingers charted a lazy yet determined course along the inside of her dove-white thigh, the flesh warm and yielding, like new dough.
    She leaned toward him and kissed him, forcing her tongue between his lips.
    He tasted the cheap white wine and felt himself stir under her touch. His hand moved to her breasts, his thumb brushing over her nipples, the way she liked it.
    Sexual favors in return for blanket praise. Was it really that simple?
    He checked his thoughts, guilty that his mind was straying from the matter in hand.
    He needn't have worried.
    "You know," said Gloria, breaking free and drawing breath, "Hampshire it is. Screw the Battle of Britain."
BOOK: The Savage Garden
5.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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