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NOT LESS THAN ALL

 

Margaret Malcolm

 

Rosamund Hastings and John Lindsay were both running away. And both were unwilling to discuss the lives they were fleeing.

All that mattered was the present...and their newly discovered love for each other.

But it wasn't quite that simple. For when the past, as it inevitably must, caught up with them, their love and trust were not sufficient. Would their past destroy their future?

 

CHAPTER ONE

HE couldn’t believe his luck.

For weeks—it seemed more like months—he’d been looking for some quiet place where he could work undisturbed. He didn’t care what sort of place—it could be a cottage or a bungalow or even a caravan. But it must be somewhere quiet. That was essential. But apparently impossible. Cottages which were once isolated were now either on a new arterial road or on the perimeter of an airport. Bungalows, he discovered, rarely came singly. More usually they were part of a development and were crowded against each other like hens in a battery. As for caravans—he shuddered at the memory of the camping sites he had visited. Hundreds of caravans stacked in neat rows and thousands of shouting, squalling children, to say nothing of transistor radios bawling without cessation.

And then, quite by chance, he saw the advertisement, not in an estate agency, but on a hand-printed card in the small crowded window of a general store where he had stopped to buy something for a picnic lunch.

The first time, he read it automatically as one does any single notice in a shop window. Then, as the penny dropped, he read it again incredulously, but with sudden surging hope.

“TO RENT for three months or longer by arrangement. Canal butty (i.e., living quarters, no machinery) permanently moored half a mile west of Yeoman’s Lock.

ACCOMMODATION: well equipped galley, living room, sleeping accommodation for two in comfortable cabin. Extra bunk can be made in living room. Modem sanitation, Calor gas stove and refrigerator.

NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN. No dogs, radio, television or musical instruments permitted.

A perfect haven for those who value isolation and peace.

Rent per month—”

But he didn’t stop to read the last line. He must have it! Absolutely must, whatever the rent. It was surely the perfect answer!

He went into the shop, only to have to wait while the pleasantly plump woman in charge attended to two earlier customers, and exchanged all the local gossip.

At last it was his turn.

“That—that advertisement in your window.” He was almost stammering in his eagerness. “Is it—is it still available?”

“Oh yes, sir,” The woman looked at him curiously. “Would you be interested?”

“Very much indeed! It sounds just what I’ve been looking for. I’ll take it!”

“What, without seeing it?” She gave him a doubtful look. Just what sort of a man was this, as young as he was—and good-looking—who wanted to hide himself away—and why? Didn’t seem natural like—The doubt was so evident that there had to be an explanation.

“Yes, without seeing it. I’ll take a chance. You see, I’m a writer, and I’ve been hunting for somewhere quiet where I can work undisturbed. This sounds ideal.”

“Oh—a writer!” The woman’s face cleared. “That’s funny, now! It belongs to a writing gentleman, but he’s gone abroad looking for some sort of colour for his next book.”

“Local colour, I expect. Well, how about it?”

“Well, if you’ll write down your name and address— and Mr. Thomas did say I was to ask for the first month’s rent down—”

“Fair enough! Give me a piece of paper—”

But instead she produced a small black notebook which had evidently been prepared for just such an occasion as this, for, as she opened it at the first page, he saw that it was headed:

“Long-boat,
Seven Stars."

“Now, sir, if you’ll write your name and address, then I’ll put down each time you pay me. Would you like a pen, sir?”

But he had already taken his own pen from his pocket and wrote:

“John Lindsay,

31A Faber Street,

Bloomsbury, London, W.C.1.”

Then, as she studied it carefully, he took out his wallet and counted out the necessary notes and added a few coins from his pocket.

With the payment entered in the little black book, he was the official tenant of the
Seven Stars.
He drew a breath of relief. But he wasn’t allowed to seek his sanctuary yet. Boring though admittedly useful information was given with the key.

“It’s Calor gas, sir, for both cooking and the fridge. If you go into the ironmonger’s shop opposite, you can make arrangements for delivery of fresh supplies with Mr. Mangell. There’s two containers on board, so what you do is let Mr. Mangell know as soon as you’ve emptied one. Then you never get caught without. He looks after the dynamo that does the electric light as well if it goes wrong. Then there’s food, sir. If you care to give me an order, my son will bring it all down to you when he gets home from school.”

“Thanks, Mrs.—?”

“Watchett, sir. My husband works up at the farm yonder—” with a jerk of the head.

“I see. Well, thank you very much, Mrs. Watchett, but I’ll take supplies for a few days with me. After that—” He left the remark in the air, but in fact he’d made up his mind that he always would fetch and carry his own supplies. He didn’t want a gangling schoolboy disturbing his peace!

It was only just as he was leaving that he remembered one important question.

‘‘How near to the canal can I park my car?”

“Oh, quite near, sir. You go down the lane opposite and when you’ve passed a stile, you come to a field gate with an old barn just inside. You can park your car in the bam—but you have to pay Mr. Jobling, the farmer who owns it, for that He only charges a pound a month. Then there’s a small gate in the hedge and when you’re through that, you’re on the canal bank. Shall I tell Mr. Jobling you want to make use of the barn?”

“Yes, please. And now, food—”

A quarter of an hour he set off burdened with two heavily laden carrier bags. Mrs. Watchett watched him from the shop window as he got into his car and turned down the lane.

“Quite a nice gentleman, though a bit abrupt, p’raps. Looked as if he might have a bit of a temper, too, with that square chin and the frown creases between his dark eyebrows.”

“I wonder what Miss Alice will make of him?” she pondered as she went back behind the counter. Then, with the vestige of a chuckle: “And I wonder what he’ll make of Miss Alice?”

 

Incredibly, the advertisement had not exaggerated the amenities of the
Seven Stars.

The galley
was
well equipped. It was also very conveniently arranged and spotlessly clean. The cabin
was
extremely comfortable, but it was, in fact, the sitting room which gave him the greatest satisfaction. To begin with, it was larger than he had anticipated. He thought that a second sleeping cabin had been sacrificed to achieve this. The fittings were plain and sensible, the two armchairs well sprung and upholstered. But best of all from John’s point of view was the solid kitchen table set under a window which looked on to the off-side bank of the canal. The middle third of the table top was covered by a stout piece of felt marked with four small round indentations. With relief he recognised them as the unmistakable impressions left by a typewriter. So, notwithstanding the restrictions about noise, the sound of a typewriter was permissible. He thanked his stars that the boat’s owner was also a writer, particularly as he had left behind him a small but useful selection of reference books—the Bible, two volumes of Milton and a complete Shakespeare, a good dictionary and an equally good Thesaurus. John blessed the absent Mr. Thomas with considerable fervour. Anyone who couldn’t write here simply hadn’t anything to say!

Having inspected his quarters, he went out on deck and momentarily frowned. As far as it went the advertisement had told the exact truth—but not all of it. No reference had been made to the fact that the
Seven Stars
was not the only long-boat moored here. There were two others; the
Pride of London
, adjacent to the
Seven Stars
though with about a boat’s length of water between them and beyond her, the
Rosebud.

John’s scowl deepened. Gone was his dream of absolute solitude. In fact, one or two people might be worse than a crowd if they happened to be of the gregarious type.

Still, presumably they, too, would be restricted about noise and might appreciate peace and quiet as much as he did. Moreover, on neither boat was there any sign of life. Perhaps, after all—

He turned his attention to his surroundings, and with these at least he could find no fault.

The canal, he knew, had not been used commercially for years, and there were evident signs not so much of neglect as of indulgence. On either side was a towpath backed by a hedge which had been allowed to take up far more space than would have been convenient in years past. In the main, it was of hawthorn. Falling petals drifted lazily like perfumed confetti on the slight, mild breeze. Then there were dog-roses, pale pink and white, whose delicate beauty surely warranted some more euphonious name.

At the base of the hedge spires of meadowsweet reared their creamy-white umbrellas and vied with purple loosestrife to delight the eye. Masses of forget-me-nots, the bluest John had ever seen, fringed the towpath, trailing down to the water and even drowning some of their blossoms in it.

And as the perfect complement to all this beauty, somewhere high up in the cloudless sky, a lark was throbbing out its heart—

John stood motionless, drinking it in, conscious of a sense of peace and well-being within himself that he had not known he was capable of feeling.

“Good afternoon!”

Startled, he spun round so sharply that he almost stumbled.

A woman was standing on the near side bank. At a guess, she was perhaps in her middle forties—a sturdy woman and no beauty with her strongly featured face and short, straight black hair. She was regarding him with interest, even curiosity, and instantly that peace of spirit gave way to resentment against the person who had destroyed it.

“What do you want?” he asked harshly.

“Nothing, personally,” she told him coolly. “But you left some of your property in Mrs. Watchett’s shop and she asked me to give it to you so that you wouldn’t worry that you’d lost it.”

And she held out his note-case.

“Good lord!” John felt in his inner coat pocket and it was empty. “Yes, it’s mine.” He came towards her, crossed the narrow plank gangway—and belatedly remembered his manners. “Thanks,” he said reluctantly. “Extremely careless of me. I’m very much obliged to both you and Mrs. Watchett.”

“Not at all.” She regarded him gravely. “And please, don’t feel that you’re under any obligation to me. I was coming down here anyway. I’m your next-door neighbour,” with a jerk of her head towards the
Pride of London.

“Oh yes?” Deliberately John made the two words sound as lacking in interest as possible. He could have cursed himself for having given her this opportunity to scrape acquaintance!

“Yes.” There was amusement now in the dark eyes which had a shrewdly penetrating quality about them. “No need for alarm, Mr. Lindsay! Returning your wallet was a purely disinterested kindness with no strings attached. I value my own inviolability far too highly to want to trespass on yours—or anyone else’s, for that matter!”

With a casual nod of farewell, she turned and walked back to her own craft with a confident, unhurried step which conveyed unmistakably her complete mental tranquillity.

And that was something John had completely lost in the engagement. He was fuming! An infuriating woman! In the space of a few minutes she had put him in her debt, had laughed at him—and had made him feel that he was behaving boorishly.

“Oh, confound the woman!” he muttered under his breath, and went into the galley to throw together the odds and ends of food he had collected for his first meal aboard. It was then he discovered that he had forgotten to buy any salt.

 

It took the best part of a week to master the essential mechanics of living on his own in the long-boat.

The first lesson he learned was the most important of all—what he didn’t do himself wasn’t done at all. And while, manlike, he could shut his eyes to a certain amount of dust here and there, other jobs, some of them none too pleasant, couldn’t be neglected without penalty. At first it seemed a waste of time to heat water in order to wash up after each meal—far more sensible to save up and do the job once a day. But that, he discovered, only made it more difficult, especially where pots and pans were concerned. Besides, there were the flies—

He had not thought it necessary to make his bed properly each day. Surely just to plump up the pillows and heave the bedclothes more or less into position was sufficient—but that, he found, was not so. One or two restless nights convinced him of that. The bottom sheet became runkled up and the bedclothes wouldn’t stay put—

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