When 3.20 came it was a relief. The noise of active children had jarred already and Rogers lit a smoke. Mrs Hansen’s bulk sailed past the door, then thrust into the room from an afterthought. ‘Oh, Paul,’ she said, ‘care to come up home with Sue and me for a cuppa?’
‘Well, yes, thanks Belle,’ he said clumsily, the words tumbling out in his eagerness. He was oddly grateful that she had accepted him, though he suspected the invitation, because she still treated page 11 him as if he was the little boy next door. In fact, she had the best of it both ways. Secretly, she judged him as a woman would a man; she looked for energy, power, force of character, and found instead that clumsy freckled-faced eagerness and sincerity, which made her want to mother him. Yet his clumsy strength and good-natured face reminded her of a tame bull that knows neither its strength nor the measure of its own ferocity once roused. She found it safer not to acknowledge his manhood, to keep him in his place, over the fence staring through the palings.
‘When are you going?’ he said, but she had gone back to her room to collect her things. She liked a plain answer, yes or no.
The three of them walked down the road between water-races flanked by lush blackberries and Yorkshire fog. Ahead of them there was a prospect of wilderness, the river, purple hills and beyond them more hills and the peaks of the Alps, with a few patches of snow that had so far survived the summer. Not many of the house were painted; the boards and the rickety fences sprouted lichen. Outside each front gate was a pile of coal. Mrs Hansen’s house was painted a bright cream. A collie leapt at the side gate as they approached. ‘Hello, Bounce!’ she said. Her firm blackboard hand pawed its nose. ‘Hi ya, big bo’!’ She took a glossy women’s magazine from the shopping bag she always took to school, and put it in the collie’s mouth. ‘Beat ya round the back!’ Bounce snatched the magazine and bounded out of sight round the corner of the house.