Maxwell’s Flame

Maxwell’s Flame by M. J. Trow Read Free Book Online

Book: Maxwell’s Flame by M. J. Trow Read Free Book Online
Authors: M. J. Trow
Bede’s, was in post as Number Two. Then there was Lydia Farr, who taught Textiles in Tenterden and who appeared to have been the model for the Skexis in The Dark Crystal; Alan Harper-Bennet, who got Maxwell’s prize for daring to have a double-barrelled name and still teach in a comprehensive; Phyllida Bowles, a wall-coloured woman who was a positive martyr to hay fever; Margot Jenkinson, whose main loves were ceramics and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber; and of course Maxwell himself, the only normal one. They took to the heather just before the weather changed and trudged over the slippery shingle with the sweep of the bay to their left.
    ‘Well, there’s no shelter at all,’ Lydia was saying, holding her hair as if the eddying wind might take it off. ‘How are we supposed to construct a shelter if there isn’t any?’
    ‘You haven’t read your instruction sheet, dear,’ Trant patronised her. ‘It doesn’t say it’ll be easy.’
    ‘There’s a rubbish tip over here,’ Wynn shouted. ‘Let’s see what we’ve got.’
    ‘Oh, please!’ Phyllida wailed, thrusting her hands resolutely into her jeans pockets. ‘I did not enrol on a GNVQ course to catch something from somebody’s old mattress.’
    ‘Needs must,’ Wynn told her coldly, ‘when the Devil drives. Peter? Will you join me?’
    ‘If I must,’ sighed Max, ‘and that’s Max, by the way. Not Peter. Max.’
    ‘All right, Max,’ Wynn grinned. ‘Funny things, nicknames, aren’t they? I knew a bloke at school called Arthur. Arthur Gries. A complete vegetable was Arthur and known to us all as Cret, short, obviously, for Cretin. You’re my vintage, give or take a few years, you know how it is. You don’t consider how cruel kids can be. It was only when I met him years later at some big Rotary thing and I had to call him Arthur. It just didn’t ring true. The man’s name was still Cret really, in that you are of course one for life. Shame we can’t be more honest, isn’t it? Fancy a rummage in the rubbish?’
    Gregory Trant, Alan Harper-Bennet and Lydia Farr had wandered off in search of driftwood as a frame for the shelter they had to make. The wind was in the wrong direction for them to hear the shouts of the others and before long, two groups had formed, each out of sight of the other. It was then that the heavens opened, reminding Maxwell of that sudden storm that had appeared from nowhere in the Battle of Evesham, 1265, when Simon de Montfort had been caught napping in that murderous loop of the Avon. Maxwell was reminded of that because he was an historian, first and foremost. Maxwell’s kids thought he knew it because he’d been there at the time.
    The rain positively hurt with its big spring drops and the unofficial rubbish heap was a quagmire of sludge over which the foraging party scrambled to the shelter of a clump of stunted cedars.
    ‘Oh, bloody hell!’ Margot Jenkinson fumed. ‘It takes a downpour to winkle out the little fact that you’ve a hole in your shoe, doesn’t it? Wet tights are a bitch, Mr Maxwell, aren’t they?’
    ‘They are,’ Maxwell bridled in his best John Inman, ‘and clean on this morning.’ He licked his finger and slicked down his eyebrow with it – not a gesture many single men would have the nerve for.
    ‘Well,’ Michael Wynn stuck his head out of cover for a moment, ‘looks like the session’s rained off. Shall we wait for a bit or make a dash for the house?’
    Alan Harper-Bennet and Lydia Farr had made a dash for the house when it started, followed by Gregory Trant. Except that they were on the wrong side and screened from the main drive by a dense privet hedge. Lydia was even more concerned about what the rain would do to her hair than she had been with the vagaries of wind direction and, seeing a side door, she wrenched it open and dashed in. Harper-Bennet collided with her in trying to close it and was mumbling his apologies when he realized Lydia wasn’t moving. Couldn’t move, in fact.

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