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If, standing alone on the back doorstep, Tom allowed himself to weep tears, they were tears of anger. He looked his good-bye at the garden, and raged that he had to leave it leave it and Peter. They had planned to spend their time here so joyously these holidays.
Town gardens are small, as a rule, and the Longs' garden was no exception to the rule; there was a vegetable plot and a grass plot and one flower-bed and a rough patch by the back fence. In this last the apple-tree grew: it was large, but bore very little fruit, and accordingly the two boys had always been allowed to climb freely over it.
These holidays they would have built a tree-house among its branches.
Tom gazed, and then turned back into the house. As he passed the foot of the stairs, he called up, 'Good-bye, Peter!' There was a croaking answer.
He went out on to the front doorstep, where his mother was waiting with his suitcase. He put his hand out for it, but Mrs Long clung to the case for a moment, claiming his attention first. 'You know, Tom,' she said, 'It's not nice for you to be rushed away like this to avoid the measles, but it's not nice for us either. Your father and I will miss you, and so will Peter. Peter's not having a nice time, anyway, with measles.'
'I didn't say you'd all be having a nice time without me" said Tom. 'All I said was '
'Hush!' whispered his mother, looking past him to the road and the car that waited there and the man at its driving-wheel. She gave Tom the case, and then bentover him, pushing his tie up to cover his collar-button and letting her lips come to within a few inches of his ear. 'Tom, dear Tom ' she murmured, trying to prepare him for the weeks ahead, 'remember that you will be a visitor, and do try oh, what can I say? try to be good.'
She kissed him, gave him a dismissive push towards the car and then followed him to it. As Tom got in, Mrs Long looked past him to the driver. 'Give my love to Gwen,' she said, 'and tell her, Alan, how grateful we are to you both for taking Tom off at such short notice. It's very kind of you, isn't it, Tom?
'Very kind,' Tom repeated bitterly.
'There's so little room in the house,' said Mrs Long, 'when there's illness.'
'We're glad to help out,' Alan said. He started the engine.
Tom wound down the window next to his mother. 'Good-bye then!'
'Oh, Tom!' Her lips trembled. 'I am sorry spoiling the beginning of your summer holidays like this!'
The car was moving; he had to shout back: 'I'd rather have had measles with Peter much rather!'
Tom waved good-bye angrily to his mother, and then, careless even of the cost to others, waved to an inflamed face pressed against a bedroom window. Mrs Long looked upwards to see what was there, raised her hands in a gesture of despair Peter was supposed to keep strictly to his bed-and hurried indoors.
Tom closed the car window and sat back in his seat, in hostile silence. His uncle cleared his throat and said: 'Well I hope we get on reasonably well.'
This was not a question, so Tom did not answer it.
He knew he was being rude, but he made excuses for himself: he did not much like Uncle Alan, and he did not want to like him at all. Indeed, he would have preferred him to be a brutal uncle. 'If only he'd beat me, thought Tom, 'then I could run away home, and Mother and Father would say I did right, in spite of the quarantine for measles. But he'll never even try to beat me, I know; and Aunt Gwen she's worse, because she's a child-lover, and she's kind. Cooped up for weeks with Uncle Alan and Aunt Gwen in a poky flat . . .' He had never visited them before, but he knew that they lived in a flat, with no garden.
They drove in silence. Their route took them through Ely; but they only stopped for Alan Kitson to buy a picture-postcard of the cathedral tower. It was for Tom. Tom was bitterly disappointed that he was not allowed to climb the tower, but his uncle pointed out to him with great reasonableness that this was quite out of the question: he was in quarantine for measles. He must not mix with Peter, in case he caught his measles; and he must not mix with other people either, in case he already had Peter's measles. Fortunately, the Kitsons had both had measles, anyway.
They drove on through Ely and the Fens, and then through Castleford and beyond, to where the Kitsons lived, in a big house now converted into flats. The house was crowded round with newer, smaller houses that beat up to its very confines in a broken sea of bay-windows and gable-ends and pinnacles. It was the only big house among them: oblong, plain, grave.
Alan Kitson sounded the car-horn and turned into the drive only it was really too short to be called a drive now. 'The house had a better frontage, I believe, until they built up opposite, and had to widen the road too.' He pulled up outside a pillared front-door; and Aunt Gwen appeared in the doorway, laughing and wanting to kiss Tom. She drew him inside, and Uncle Alan followed with the luggage.
There were cold stone flags under Tom's feet, and in his nostrils a smell of old dust that it had been nobody's business to disperse.