The picnic…

By the time Justin made his appearance on Lillie’s birthday, they were packing away the picnic. He came, as he had told Dinah he would, to take the last photograph on his roll of film. He meant to capture a likeness of his favourite, to place in his wallet when he returned to university.
Just why Aphelandra Lee-Simmons, three years his junior, should be such a favourite with him, Justin did not know. He was captivated by her as one is by a charming puppy, which is as likely to lick your face with affection as to bite your hand with excited perversity. He admired her character as well as her prettiness. She was witty, out-spoken, generous in an off-hand manner like her father, and impetuous; she could also be irritatingly provoking and there were times when she angered him with her cynicism, which he deplored in one so young. He enjoyed teasing her in a light-hearted, patronising young man to exasperating girl-child way and she responded with taunts and blushes of annoyance, not embarrassment. Like a fond older brother, he had always felt the urge to protect her from her youthful follies and had never understood how her family had ever been able to punish her severely. When Affle smiled at him, her blue eyes gazing levelly into his, daring him to be annoyed with her, Justin forgave her anything.
Approaching the picnic spot, he easily picked out Affle’s voice from the medley of others. She was arguing with Curtis and being reprimanded by her father. Nothing changes, Justin thought with a grin. He was keenly anticipating her look of pleasure when she set eyes on him, comfortably assured in the knowledge that she returned the affection he had for her, but he would have been less complacent had he known the warmth of that affection.
Affle would have welcomed more ardent kisses and embraces from Justin than the peck on the cheek and quick hug he usually administered as a form of pleasant duty whenever he came to say goodbye to her for a long period or when there was a gathering of their respective families on special occasions. Then he had to kiss and be kissed by all the females. (…)
There is something about Oliver Wenston that persuades people into acceptance of what they do not understand. Curtis would rather please his sister on this matter than tackle his devious friend, yet Curtis is basically brave and honest and remains uneasy with the pact he has made with Affle.
“Lillie and Oliver are back,“ Dinah informs them, returning with three very desirable stones, which she shares out. “One last throw and then I’m going to take the last photo, no the one before the last, the penultimate.”
This she does. She lines up Affle, Curtis, Lillie and Oliver against a background of the lake and spent rhododendron bushes and orders them to smile, which they do, even though at that moment not one of them is happy. Lillie, whose hand is firmly in Oliver’s, has been crying. He has exacted some kind of vengeance from her in the woods for going off in the boat with Aidan and leaving him on shore, where, after all, he preferred to be, but Lillie does not know that.
Curtis is worried because he believes that Oliver is an arsonist, even though Oliver has hotly denied being any such thing and has actually put the blame on him. Should he confide his suspicions to his father and risk Oliver’s anger? How annoyed would Lionel be to discover that his son had taken up smoking? Curtis is going to make an effort to stop, partly to show Oliver that he can and partly because he does not want to upset Alicia, who always gets everything out of proportion and will imagine his being carried off by some dreadful disease every time he clears his throat.
Affle is anxious for Justin to turn up and worried that he will not come after all. She is wrestling with her conscience as well. Should she tell her father about Curtis and Oliver? Perhaps she should just mention the smoking and forget about the fire, assuming that it was an accident. Surely it is unlikely that either of them will be as careless again and burn down Kupton Hall while they are all fast asleep in their beds.
“Tea time,” Alicia calls gaily, her own problems momentarily put aside for the benefit of her small niece, whose birthday treat it is.
Dinah shouts again, “Smile!” The group rises to the challenge and she hurriedly presses the button on the camera.
This is the snapshot. The one that Oliver is to produce many years later as proof of how happy the four of them were when they were young.

From the novel Snapshot Smiles, by Barbara Masterton – Il Moscardino

Cornista

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