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Authors: Olivia Manning

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School for Love

BOOK: School for Love
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Contents

About the Author

Also by Olivia Manning

Title Page

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Copyright

About the Author

Olivia Manning, OBE, was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, spent much of her youth in Ireland and, as she put it, had ‘the usual Anglo-Irish sense of belonging nowhere’. She married just before the War and went abroad with her husband, R. D. Smith, a British Council lecturer in Bucharest. Her experiences there formed the basis of the work which makes up
The Balkan Trilogy
. As the Germans approached Athens, she and her husband evacuated to Egypt and ended up in Jerusalem, where her husband was put in charge of the Palestine Broadcasting Station. They returned to London in 1946 and lived there until her death in 1980.

Also by Olivia Manning

Novels

Artist for the Missing
A Different Face
The Doves of Venus
The Play Room
The Rain Forest

The Balkan Trilogy
The Great Fortune
The Spoilt City
Friends and Heroes

The Levant Trilogy
The Danger Tree
The Battle Lost and Won
The Sum of Things

Short Stories

Growing Up
A Romantic Hero

Olivia Manning

SCHOOL FOR LOVE

To Robert Liddell

1

When they reached the top of the hill from which the road snaked down in the Seven Sisters’ bends, the driver nodded to the opposite hill and said: ‘El-telq.’ Felix knew that did not mean Jerusalem, although Jerusalem was over there.

He asked: ‘El-telq?’

The driver smiled, shrugged, could not explain. Felix felt he ought to respond in some way. To show interest, he wound down the window and put his head out; the air, striking him with a glassy freshness, made him think of England. He had not been home since before the war when he was a small boy. That was the time his father had gone abroad alone and he and his mother had lived in Bath; the best time of all. Now, in spite of everything, the cold gave him a slight exhilaration. The exhilaration was painful, like blood returning to a cramped limb, for it seemed to him he had had no feelings at all since his mother’s death. At once, of course, he was jolted by the realisation there was nothing to feel exhilarated about. He would never see his mother again. Not only that – he had now to face the real Miss Bohun. Ever since the letter arrived inviting him to Jerusalem, an imaginary Miss Bohun, exactly like his mother, had been standing in a
doorway with her arms open for Felix. She was still there when the plane touched down at Lydda and while the taxi was taking him from the mild, flat seaboard up into mountains where rocks overhung the road as though an avalanche had been arrested in mid-descent. Now he knew there was not a chance she would be like his mother. For one thing, she was years older; she was older even than his father, who had always seemed elderly and remote. Although she was not related to him – Miss Bohun had been an adopted child of his father’s parents – Felix was afraid she might resemble his father. Another thing, Miss Bohun was a person whom his mother had not wanted to visit. Whenever his father had suggested a trip to Jerusalem, his mother had said: ‘Oh no, dear one, not there. We’d have to see Ethel Bohun. I couldn’t bear it.’

Felix shivered, not only with cold, but with a return of an old grief and sense of being lost in the world. He felt a slight nausea of apprehension. The driver, as though sensing this, drew his attention to distant, sharp-edged peaks, each tipped with a village and looking like a stronghold carved from living rock.

‘All Arabs,’ he said, ‘and down there . . .’ Felix gazed down into the valley where the settlements were green with cultivated fruit trees, ‘Down there all Jews.’

Felix, ignorant of the problems of Palestine, nodded and thought this was probably some arrangement agreed on by both parties. On either side of the road the rocks were like great flints, the earth pinkish and bare as desert, and over all a silver glimmer fell from a dark sky. In the distance, on the uneven top of the hill that was their destination, a few towers began to rise: ‘El Kuds,’ said the driver, and Felix knew that meant Jerusalem, for some of
the Iraqis called it that. The driver murmured again: ‘El-telq,’ then, remembering that Felix did not know what he meant, he distracted him by saying quickly: ‘Here road very bad. These Seven Sisters very bad,’ he was taking the bends at top speed so Felix was thrown from side to side as they zigzagged downhill: ‘Turkish engineers think this very clever, yes, but I say no good. Bad for cars, bad for horses. Here in Turkish times horses smell their home and bolt, so very bad accidents,’ he lifted a hand dramatically from the wheel and nearly had them off the tarmac on to the rocks.

‘Very bad!’ he shook his head sternly, then put two fingers into the pocket of the car-door and took out a caramel and offered it to Felix, ‘Very good!’ he said.

It was not until they had passed the first grey-stone houses of Jerusalem that Felix saw the cause of the brittle cold in the air and, even then, a moment passed before he realised what it was. ‘Snow!’ he said suddenly. The Arab nodded, pleased, and said for the third time: ‘El-telq.’

It seemed to Felix he had seen snow before but he could not remember when. He had heard of it, had seen pictures of it, but now the sight of it touched him like a primordial memory; he could scarcely see the city for looking at the snow. They were driving down a long main street. Everything was built of stone, silver-grey, snow-capped, huddled under the blue snow light, looking like nothing so much as a wintry English village street. The driver ignored all this; it was not until they came to the centre of the new town and saw before them the Old City, walled like a fortress, the snow marking the crenellations and towers, that he announced again: ‘El-Kuds,’ then, swinging left, dropped down the hill to Herod’s Gate. Without
slowing, he stepped on the brake and the car stopped abruptly outside a gate set in a wall.

‘Misboon house,’ announced the driver.

Felix felt no surprise. In Baghdad he had seen, behind walls as unpromising as this, tiled courtyards full of jasmine and roses, fountains and little fretted platforms for musicians, and, opening on all sides, summer rooms painted like golden brocade. He hoped for as much within.

When he had settled with the driver and the car had backed with a rush to the main road and disappeared, Felix found himself alone for the first time – yes, for the first time in his life. In Baghdad, after his mother’s death, there had always been the Shiptons; they had become bored by him and sent him off as quickly as they could when the chance came, yet they were there, people he knew and who had known his mother. Here he knew no one. He felt an acute loneliness that would have filled his eyes with tears had he not thrown it off, angry with himself because now he was a boy, not a child.

He knocked on the gate. While waiting, he bent and touched the snow. It was greyish, glassy and wet, but to him it was a wonder and, being a natural thing, a consolation. No one came to the gate. He knocked again, then, at last, lifted the latch. Inside was a small courtyard, undecorated except by snow. Doors opened off on either side and at the end was the façade of the house. A woman stood beside one of the doors staring towards the gate. She looked small and dark against the white ground, a bundle of dark, shabby clothes, with a dark face, her head bound round with a black woollen scarf and her feet in Wellington boots. She called out in a resentful, nasal whine: ‘You are wanting somesing?’

‘Miss Bohun, please?’

‘Ah, so? In there,’ she pointed to the front door of the house, then went on watching as Felix dragged his luggage over the step and latched the gate behind him. Someone spoke to her in German from a side room; she answered in German. Felix, shut into the small courtyard in the strange, uncertain light, felt as though he had entered an enemy country.

His suitcases were heavy. He carried one of them at a run across to the porch, then returned for the other. As he did so, the woman went inside and slammed the door. Almost at the same moment a window opened in the upper part of the house and another woman put out her head. A strong voice echoed in the noiselessness of the snow: ‘Who is that? Frau Leszno, where are you?’

Felix called up: ‘It’s Felix . . . Felix Latimer.’

‘Felix? Oh, dear!’ The window rattled to and he waited in the silence.

‘My dear boy, come in, come in,’ said Miss Bohun as she opened the door. ‘This snow has disorganised everything. Frau Leszno is so bad-tempered to-day. We must make allowances, of course; any variation in routine gives extra work to the servants. Wipe your feet. Now, if you can manage one of these bags, I’ll take the other, and I’ll show you up to your room.’

Miss Bohun was a tiny woman but she lifted the suitcase as though it were a feather. She hurried ahead while Felix struggled after with the other case. ‘You’ve arrived between meals; an awkward time,’ her voice sailed back to him. ‘But you can get all nicely unpacked before tea.’

The front door had opened straight into a living-room. Here the floor tiles were marked with wet foot-prints.
There was no fire and no light except a phosphorescent glimmer from a back window which was set, like a painting of iridescent whiteness, in the black wall.

‘Oh,’ said Felix, ‘a garden! And the snow! Isn’t it super?’

‘You wouldn’t think so if you had to do the housework.’ Miss Bohun moved ahead with irritable quickness so Felix could not keep up with her. She paused on the stairs. Her face – featureless, like a long egg, in the gloom: her hair the same colour as her skin – was turned towards him but Felix was sure she was not looking at him.

‘I’m so busy,’ she said.

‘Oh, sorry!’ said Felix, trying to hurry. The stairs led up directly from the sitting-room to the landing. At the top Miss Bohun turned right and showed Felix to one of the two bedrooms overlooking the garden.

‘Here you are,’ she said, ‘this is such a nice room. It gets all the sunlight. And my room’s just opposite,’ then she darted over to the window and closed it sharply. ‘Don’t want snow in here. When you’re studying, you can have an oil-stove, but now you’ll be busy unpacking so you won’t need one. If you
should
happen to want me, I’m preparing the room at the front – but try not to disturb me, there’s a good boy.’

Felix opened his mouth, but the door closed before he could speak. She was gone. Had she, or had she not, said she was preparing a room? If so, that meant someone else was coming to the house. The thought heartened him – he had been unnerved by the German woman, by Miss Bohun herself, by a muddle of memories of horror stories about houses as dark and cold as this – but he was uncertain if he had heard her right. With all the servants there were in this part of the world, surely she would not be
preparing a room herself? He opened the door and, with his heart thumping, tip-toed out to the landing. Yes, there was a sound of brushing coming from the front. As he listened, Miss Bohun’s voice rose strong and tuneless:

‘I know not, oh, I know not

What social joys are there. . . .’

He hurried back to his room. Unused to real cold, he was chilled to the bone. Mr Shipton had said he would need an overcoat here, but there had not been time to buy one. As, with numbed, clumsy fingers, he struggled to unlock his cases, he longed for his mother to come into the room and give the world its normal look.

Reality was thrusting at him now through a sort of blanket of memory of her. As the ’plane that morning had passed over the dawn-lit Iraqi sands, he had slid into sleep; rather, he had slid back into the sleep from which he had scarcely wakened when Mr Shipton got him out of bed and drove him through the night silence to the airport. His setting out had been no more than a dream from which he had passed easily into that other dream still clinging like an atmosphere about him. In it he had seemed to be sailing with his mother on the Golden Horn. Shortly before his father was killed, they had rented a summer house on the Bosphorus. He had had a little boat of his own. In the dream he and his mother were together in the boat, skimming the surface as smoothly as a swan. It seemed to be early morning. A mist lay on the sea, very white but thinning here and there so the water beneath could be seen looking like green milk. The mist hid the waterside buildings, but the cupolas and minarets
of the mosques rose from it and hung as though baseless on the pearl sheen of the sky. The air was warm and delicate. A perfume of flowers came from the gardens so he knew it must be spring. When he smiled at his mother she smiled back with so much love and sweetness, he was filled with well-being. Transported by this delicious security, he moved to touch her, but his hand passed through nothingness. Then he saw she was fading out of sight. In an instant she would disappear. As he leant forward he wakened himself with his own cry. He had sat upright, surprised to find himself where he was, setting out into strangeness. . . . Then, remembering, he had glanced round, shamefaced, but there had been only two other people in the plane, officers, both asleep.

BOOK: School for Love
6.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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