Our Neville had a secret of his own.
After the portentous meeting with Margaret that first time, when she thought she alone knew of their future, before she took herself off for Her Adventure, before settling down to her life with Neville--he, too, had taken one look at Margaret, watched her as she came across the Fitzmorgan's lawn that day... her pale rose summer dress floating around her slim legs, wide mouth smiling at something that silly prat Duddy Lindsey-Gordon was saying to her....he saw the sun glinting on her soft brown curls, saw the high cheekbones, those intense eyes...he could see the hint of the warmth of the woman she would one day become, and he was lost.
Margaret thought she knew all, but, Neville understood full well she would be settling when she married him. That she had it in her to draw in anyone she wanted, so, he decided to give her the best he could; he never wanted her to regret being with him, a middle class English man whose middle class family went back hundreds of years into the green grass and soft air of Devon history.
He put her on the train, and took himself off to his last year at University. He read her letters, seeing between the lines, and not begrudging her whatever good times she was having...he trusted her solid good sense and he knew in the end, she'd be with him for the rest of their days. He was willing to give her that year to remember.
In the meantime, he needed to make enough money to buy her That Ring. The one to show her his devotion, love and admiration. One that she could wear with pride when she showed it to her mates, who were marrying doctors and lawyers. Neville was a dear, sweet man...solid, kind,clever, but, not terribly smart, and he was clever enough to know this. He took the courses open to him that allowed him a career where he'd be well placed, give him a tidy retirement, and give them both a good standing in the community.
Agriculture was the way to go.
It did not, however, give him a large amount of cash to start his marriage. The family funds were going to buy them a nice little house....three bedroom detached cottage with a large back garden, a sitting room, a lounge, nice fitted kitchen and a garage. He had no money left over for That Ring.
He answered Margaret's letters with easy going letters of his own, talking of his swimming on the University team, the rowing he did, and his gymnastic competitions. All of these, along with the work on the farms, had given Neville a splendid physique.
A very splendid physique.
Along with this physique, kind manner, loyal, loving and dear behaviour, Neville was..... shy. If not for his unwavering belief that he was destined to marry Margaret, he'd never had said a word to her, and remained by the arbor, hidden by the wisteria. Neville was happiest in the barnyards with the farmers, talking cows and milk production... he never understood why their wives and daughters, and on occasion a son or one of the hired hands, wanted to be in his presence.
Neville didn't see himself as they did.... his lean arms, and muscled broad chest were usually covered by a thin white shirt when he went out to help. Trousers clung to his well built legs. He had a strong face, used to laughing, and crinkles already were forming around his deep blue eyes. Yes, Our Neville was quite the man. Quite the very, very shy man. He dodged invitations to dinners, church fêtes, country dances or any other form of social gathering.
He spent his time wondering how to get the money needed.... what would he do?
One day, it happened. While climbing out of the pool, he was approached. A woman gave him her card... she was a sculptor, she said. She lived in Cornwall with her husband, she said... and was visiting friends. She would like to sculpt him, and would pay him to model for her. The price she gave him was enough for That Ring, and a plain band to go with it.
Neville never gave it a second thought, and accepted. A time and date were set, they shook hands, and he was committed to the deed.
A week later, he arrived at her studio, set inside the gardens at her home.... it was there he found out the cavet... it was to be a nude. Neville was a man of his word, however, with a bit of discussion, he removed his clothing, getting ready to take his place, he discovered not only his benefactor was to going to sculpt him, but, a few students of hers were going to also take advantage of his, as she put it, ".....ancient Greek proportioned body." Peeking out, he saw two of the students who attended his University in attendance.
This was a pickle. He motioned Dame Barbara over, and explained his very real concerns. How could he finish his degree? He'd be mortified. These people would be at his wedding!! Neville was a shade of red not seen before on this planet. Dame Barbara only half listened, secretly wishing she had her paints at hand, to try and capture just that shade of scarlet.
A compromise was reached... Neville would pose... the study would be done, the statues and paintings could be completed...
Neville stepped onto the stage. As he removed his robe, a gasp went up as the students were overwhelmed not only by his body, but, by.... his Great Package.
So awed were they, the fact he had a pillowcase over his head with eyeholes cut out was ignored.
"We are doing a headless torso!", announced Dame Barbara. Pencils flew across sketch pads, oils were put onto canvas, students moved around him. Neville was allowed time to stretch, a break was called for lunch, each time, he robed, and stepped behind the curtain. No one ever saw his face.
For a month, every weekend, he journeyed over to Dame Barbara's place, and posed. Every month, the students gasped, never getting over either Neville's musculature nor the Great Package. At the end, only Dame Barbara created a sculpture that captured Neville in his glory. It was displayed in a show of hers at the Tate, one Neville was invited to see, an invitation he chose to ignore.
Margaret loved her ring, the carat sized deep red ruby sunk in a channel of gold, with two diamonds on either side. It was an Art Deco setting, something Neville had seen in an antique dealers, something he felt matched her, going with a quote from the Bible, that a good woman is worth more than rubies. She showed it to all, turning her hand this way and that, letting the sun catch it, sending sparks of light.
Neville never spoke of the job he'd taken, saying only he'd earned the money doing this and that. Among all the other things Neville was, he was also an innocent of sorts. On their fifth anniversary, he took Margaret to Cornwall, where they visited the local branch of the Tate, set in Dame Barbara's former studio, walking the Sculpture Gardens.... passing one piece called "Torso Divine". Neville thought nothing of it, walking past with his brochure, eyes scanning for the next piece.
Margaret took one look, and smiled with that wide mouth of hers, recognising not only the small mole on a right hip, but, the left curve to the generous heft of The Package. She hurried after Neville, slipping a gloved hand into the crook of his arm, loving him for the sacrifice he'd made to give her the ring she wore, never letting on she knew.
On occasion, for the rest of her life, she'd glance down at her left hand, turn it in the sun, letting the ruby and diamonds send sparks of light out and think to herself she was wearing a cock rock... she'd chuckle as she sought out her husband, to thank him for what he'd done. Neville always thought these odd bursts of laughing passion were the best times he and Margaret had in their private lives. He never understood what brought them about.
And he wasn't about to stop and figure it out--why fix what isn't broken?