The Demise of a Dour Man
David Ingles decided to play squash. He was not sure what the form was but he reckoned that if he turned up at the courts he might find a game and could then complete all the formalities. He had arrived at Cambridge University two days earlier to read for the Mechanical Sciences Tripos and was now installed at Trinity Hall. He reckoned he had organised his lecture and tutorial regime but wryly acknowledged that he might have to change it as the workload developed.
He changed into his squash gear and put a couple of soft balls in his pocket. All the courts were being used so he went and read the notice board and found out about joining the Hall squash club and booking courts. He was not going to achieve anything that evening so he went up to the gallery behind the courts. All were occupied but in one there was a single girl practicing. David watched her. She was good.
She paused and David leant over the back of the court.
"Excuse me," he said, "but I came down on the off chance of a bit of practice. Seeing you're on your own I wondered whether you'd like a knock-up."
She smiled up at him. "Be my guest."
David hurried down and entered the court. He stuck out his hand. "David Ingles."
They shook hands.
"I'm a freshman. Are you an old hand?" David asked.
"Nope! Fresh as you. Shall we start?"
They knocked up but inevitably tested each other. David knew he was quite good but quickly discovered that Moira was very good. The fact that she played with a soft ball was an indication of that but he marvelled at her control of it.
"Shall we have a game?" she asked.
"Sure," replied David, "but from what I've seen you're going to beat me all ends up.
She smiled at him and twiddled her racket. "Rough or smooth?"
"Oh well, you won that," and she tossed him the ball.
David tried for a tall serve into the back left-hand corner. It was a good try but too strong. Moira's backhand went straight down the side wall and dropped in the corner. She took the serve and did just what David had tried to do. The ball died in the back left hand corner.
Her next serve to the right hand court was not as good and he managed to return the ball. Moira had to vacate the centre of the court to return it but it made no difference. The ball with David in hot pursuit once again died back in the back right hand corner. So it went on, a love game.
In the second game David managed a return that was out of her reach. He decided on a power game rather than the subtle one that Moira clearly excelled at. It did result in two rallies which he won but then she regained the service and those were the only two points he scored in that game.
They only managed two more games before the next players arrived. David shook Moira's hand and smiled ruefully at her.
"You thrashed me," he said.
She smiled at him. "Scottish Junior Ladies Champion last year," she said.
"Wow! No wonder you beat me. I was merely a member of the school team. Do you give lessons?"
She shook her head. "No and I don't think you really need any. You've got the theory. You just need a lot of practice. That's why I can serve the way I do. Hours and hours."
"Hmm. I'm not sure I'm that dedicated a squash player. To me it's just a fun form of exercise."
"So stick to that and enjoy it." She smiled warmly at him.
"When we've had a shower may I treat you to a cuppa and a sticky bun?"
She smiled again. "That sounds great although I'm not sure about the sticky bun. Meet you in Front Court in about twenty-five minutes. OK?"
They both arrived simultaneously. Moira's hair had been tied back in a ponytail while she was playing squash. Now it hung loose framing her pretty face. It was auburn, curled at the ends and collar length. She was wearing a blue blouse and jeans which showed off her trim figure. David was impressed.
She was impressed with his appearance too. He was a good six inches taller than her and was wearing a red polo shirt and dark blue lightweight trousers. She covertly admired his broad shoulders, slim waist and long legs. It was a nice face too: strong but humorous.
"Heaven knows where to go," he smiled down at her. "How about that sort of direction?" He waved sort of half right from the gate.
Moira grinned. "You're the leader. Just remember the way back."
"Do my best."
They found a café. It was clearly not one of the popular ones but it was pleasant. Even though she did not have a sticky bun Moira had a flapjack, two in fact. David did the same.
They talked easily finding out about each other. Inevitably the degrees they were reading for came up first. Moira was reading English. She was not sure why but had always enjoyed it at school. Any degree was better than none, she felt, and therefore should be enjoyed. She was quite attracted to teaching or indeed becoming a literary critic.
"I might even become a best-selling author," she grinned.
She came from Perth where her father was a tax official and her mother a teacher. She had a brother who worked in Liverpool.
David's family lived in Wiltshire. His father was an architect and his mother a stay at home wife.
"Not that she's idle," he added. "She used to do a lot of show-jumping as a girl and young woman and still rides a lot. She's also a gifted pianist and takes part in local concerts."
Moira looked wistful. "I love music," she said, "and often wish now that I'd learnt the piano."
David had an older sister who was working in London. She was totally caught up in her life there and the family rarely saw her which made them sad.
They found their way back to The Hall and parted having agreed that David would book a squash court in two evenings' time. They exchanged phone numbers.
Both were gregarious and soon started to make friends who all seemed to get on with each other and they started doing things as a gang such as punting on the Cam, going to a pub together. David started to play college rugby and Moira hockey and the gang increased in size.
One of Moira's friends was Alison McGuire, also Scottish. She was also reading English and the two girls became very close. She came from Edinburgh so they were fairly easily able to see each other during the vacations. David liked her a lot too and found her attractive but the original friendship with Moira proved to be the stronger.
He took her to The Hall Christmas dance and although most of the gang was present too the two of them danced together almost exclusively. By the end of the evening they were hardly dancing, just clinging to each other and swaying in time to the music. David saw her back to her room where they kissed at length outside her door.
The Christmas vacation started the next day and they both realised that they were going to miss each other. They exchanged addresses on the pretext of sending each other Christmas cards. In the event, David went into Pitsbury the day after he got home and bought her a small, inexpensive brooch of a Scottish Terrier which he sent her in addition to the promised card. She was touched. They rang each other a couple of times but there always seemed to be people about and they were not able to talk privately or intimately.
As soon as he got back to Cambridge David rang Moira and they went back to the same café as they had after their first game of squash. Moira was wearing her brooch and gave him a friendly thank you kiss. They never drew breath over tea.
"I thought you sounded a bit iffy on the phone so did you have a good time?" David asked.
Moira wrinkled her nose. "Yes and no. Mum was cheerful as usual although she does seem to have become rather forgetful. Dad was his usual dour self. The bright spot was Daniel coming home for Hogmanay which livened things up. I'd like you to meet him but his working in Liverpool is going to make that difficult. You said your sister came home."
"Yes, a pretty fleeting visit though. She came down on Christmas Eve and then was back off up to London on the twenty-seventh. It was good to see her though. You say your dad was his usual dour self. Is he just naturally taciturn?"
"No, it's more than taciturnity. He's a strict Presbyterian and takes his religion very seriously so he's dour as well. For example, at Hogmanay he had one drink all evening and that was at midnight and he was pretty growly about everyone else having them beforehand. Daniel said to me that if it wasn't for Mum and me he wouldn't have bothered to come."
"Hmm," said David. He did not feel it would be appropriate to say anymore.
"But you had fun by the sound of things."
"Yes, we did. My parents had a drinks party on Christmas Eve and a number of my friends came to that. Several of the men were quite taken with Mel but while she was happy to flirt back I could see that in her opinion they didn't match up to her London crowd.
"But surely some of them work in London."
"No actually. I think all of them bar Jim Hathaway are at university and Jim's a bit shy of girls at the best of times. Then there were various other parties and on New Year's Eve a bunch of us went to a hotel in Pitsbury, had dinner, danced and saw in the New Year."
"That all sounds fun," said Moira a bit wistfully.
David smiled at her. "I'd have enjoyed the dance a lot more if you'd been there," he said quietly.
She looked questioningly at him for a moment and then smiled back. "Thank you. I wish I had been. I've missed you, David."
Moira was not prepared to be drawn more at this stage so she just smiled and said, "Well, we can make up for it now."
David nodded vigorously. "You bet."
They did, severally or as a pair. David took her up on her expressed love of music and they went to a number of concerts together. They both started to slip in to choir practices at King's College chapel. Alison joined them on a number of occasions. They also continued to play squash together and David's game improved considerably.
Slowly they became more and more drawn to each other. They found themselves waiting for each other before meals, meeting for mid-morning coffee and studying in each other's rooms. Although neither was prepared to admit it to the other, to everyone else they were an item.
That came to a head a month before the end of term. David suddenly realised that he did not want to be apart from her for a month and invited her to come and stay with him for a week or two in Wiltshire. It did not need much persuasion and she came for a fortnight with an understanding that if it was not her scene she could leave at any time.
She happily stayed the entire fortnight. David's parents fell for her and she for them. She and David rode, walked the dogs, visited historical sites, went to a concert, and patronised the Crown at Atheldiston.
By the end of the first week they were definitely in love. David was the first to voice it. They had arrived home after an evening at the Crown and wandered hand in hand into the kitchen. David's parents had gone to bed. David suddenly turned to Moira.
"Moira, I love you," he said abruptly and then bit his lip in fear that he had overstepped the mark.
Moira took his other hand and looked up at him. "And I love you too, David," she said softly. "It started when I saw you again after Christmas and it's just been gradually growing."
She let go of his hands and her arms went round him as she laid her head on his chest. His arms went round her and he kissed the top of her head. They stayed like that for several minutes revelling in the joy of their declaration for each other.
In the end Moira raised her head and looked up at him her eyes shining. "Please would you kiss me?" she whispered.
David did so gently and at first somewhat tentatively but it was a very soft, loving kiss that went on for some while. At last they pulled apart and she laid her head back against his chest and tightened her grip. They stayed like that for several minutes until Moira pulled back and held both his hands.
"I don't want to be a spoilsport," she said, "but I think that that's enough for now. Sleep tight, my love. I'll see you at breakfast."
David nodded but took her face in his hands and touched his lips to hers.
"Goodnight, my Moira, and you sleep tight too."