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Authors: Susan Barrie

The Stars of San Cecilio (16 page)

BOOK: The Stars of San Cecilio

To which Miss Tracey replied:

‘You can pay for the odds and ends — I’ll supply the essentials. Not only for you, but for me as well. These old tweeds,’ looking down at them, ‘make me feel like a grandmother! ’ And then she chuckled. ‘ Which I shall never be! ’ Peter arrived in Madrid ahead of them, and although his aunt had given him permission to install himself in a modest hotel, when he met them off the train he explained, with a twinkle in his very blue eyes, that all the modest hotels had been full, and he had had to put up at one of Madrid’s leading, and distinctly palatial, edifices. Aunt Grizel shook her head at him.

‘Do you think I’m a millionairess?’ she demanded. ‘ And do you think I’m easily deceived? You took a taxi straight to the Bahia Palace, and there you intend to remain so long as Lisa remains in Madrid! Well, well ... I suppose it won’t altogether ruin me!’

‘As a matter of fact,’ Peter said, the audacious twinkle remaining in his eyes as he took both their arms and led them straight to a taxi. ‘I can’t think why the two of you don’t join me at the Bahia Palace. That flat of yours is a bit

cramped, Aunt Grizel!----------‘

‘Cramped or not,’ she returned, ‘it will do for us! ’ Then she looked up at him approvingly. ‘However, you look very nice’ — and he did look almost elegant in his well-pressed lounge-suit, and flowing Eton tie — ‘and I’ve no doubt I shall receive quite a number of bills as a result of your visit to Madrid. But as I want you to look nice to escort us around I won’t be really cross with you.’ ‘Thanks.’ He squeezed her arm, apparently having no conscience at all about using her credit, and then almost tenderly assisted Lisa into the taxi.

Once arrived at the flat, which was at the top of a tall modern block, further evidence of his extravagance awaited them. The flat was full of flowers, spicy carnations and dark red and yellow roses. The yellow roses were in the room he had assumed Lisa would

occupy. The red roses were in the lounge.

Aunt Grizel touched them with a faint look of amusement on her face once she got over the surprise of being greeted by these floral offerings

— to be paid for, no doubt, by herself!

‘Why didn’t you put the red roses in Lisa’s room?’ she asked. ‘The yellow ones would have done for the lounge. ’

Her quizzical look made him grin, and Lisa flushed delicately.

‘I didn’t want to appear to be rushing things!’ Peter explained, and the way he looked at Lisa made her flush still more.

‘This afternoon I have plans,’ he said. ‘Lisa is coming out to tea with me first of all--------’

‘Nothing of the sort!’ his aunt told him. ‘I, too, have plans, and the first part of them involves getting on to the telephone and making some appointments. And after that we have shopping to do. ’

‘No one shops in the Spanish capital in the afternoon, as you very well know,’ Peter replied imperturbably. ‘It is the time for siesta.’

‘It will come awake when we want it to do so,’ Miss Tracey assured him. ‘And we haven’t had our lunch yet. I suppose you’ll stay to lunch! Or does the Bahia Palace cater for your tastes better than my Juanita is likely to do?’

Peter stayed to lunch.

‘My Juanita’ was one of the reasons why Lisa’s visit to Madrid was such a success from the first. Juanita was the ideal cook-housekeeper, and she had been with Miss Tracey for several years. She was plump and good-looking in a typically Spanish way, a wonderful cook, even-tempered, methodical and punctual — which was not typically Spanish — and she adored Miss Tracey. It was she who had arranged the flowers, and she had thought the yellow roses very suitable for the young senorita who, being English, probably had hair to match them. And she was not disappointed.

That night, when she brushed it out — a task she insisted on — she exclaimed in delight at the fineness of its texture, and the silken softness of it.

‘Like moonlight! ’ she said, and watched it ripple about Lisa’s shoulders with charmed eyes. And when her employer mentioned the beauty parlor she snorted. ‘For you, perhaps, senorita

—    at your age it is good not to neglect the looks!

—    but for the Senorita Waring, no! She has no need of beauty parlors! ’

Nevertheless, since Miss Tracey had made the appointment, Lisa found herself accompanying her next day to an up-to-the-minute salon where a few recognizable improvements were made to the manner in which she wore her hair, and as a result of skilled attention it discovered an extra sheen which even Juanita had to admit had not been there before. And her nails were attended to, and she came away with a whole series of new cosmetics that had been selected to blend with her skin. As for Miss Tracey, she came away with the lavender-blue hair-rinse that she had always secretly wished to see transfiguring her snowy locks, and the first lipstick she had ever possessed in her life.

‘I probably shan’t use it,’ she said; ‘but it will give me confidence just to know it’s there in my handbag, and that I can produce it in a sophisticated way if I feel like it. ’

After that they went shopping, and that night Peter took them both out to dinner wearing entirely new additions to their wardrobes. In Lisa’s case it was oyster-pink net with a series of underskirts that rustled when she moved, and a tiny bodice that made the most of her absurdly slender proportions, and in Miss Tracey’s pearl-grey satin. She had never worn satin in her life before, considering it too opulent for her proportions, Which were decidedly stocky; and when Lisa persuaded her to drape a rich petunia stole about her shoulders she wondered whether she was permitting her emancipation to be too sudden.

A more gradual attempt to acquire something in the nature of elderly glamor might have suited her better, she thought; Lisa was enthusiastic about the results.

‘It’s quite a transformation!’ she declared. And then, afraid that she sounded rude, she added: ‘You could have done this years ago, but you never bothered. You stuck to your tweeds, and you’re not really the type for tweeds. You can be really elegant, dressed to suit your type! ’

Aunt Grizel laughed, as if genuinely amused, and then pinched the cheek of the girl affectionately.

‘Well, we’re in this together, my dear. And you look like the fairy on the Christmas tree in that gauzy thing! I’d never describe you as elegant, but I do think you’re quite enchanting! Wait until the dark Spanish heads start turning round rapidly when you make your appearance

— masculine heads, of course, I mean! ’ She went to her dressing-table and lifted the stopper from a flagon of expensive perfume. ‘You must have a dab of this behind your ears, and in the appropriate places. Maybe it’s a bit heavy, but Madrilenas love heavy perfume, and the girl in that beauty parlor place assured me it was madly provocative — apasionado perfume she called it! ’

But Lisa declined it, thinking she was hardly the type to carry off apasionado perfumes, and Aunt Grizel, replacing the stopper reluctantly, nevertheless agreed with her.

‘Well, perhaps you’re right, We’ll have to get you something a trifle more redolent of violets, or an English rose-garden.’ She did not notice how Lisa stiffened slightly at the mention of rose-gardens, and then looked unconsciously wistful. ‘But don’t forget to wear this,’ picking up a stole of fine black lace, that was the perfect complement to the pink net dress, and draping it about Lisa’s shoulders.

And as they went out together she thought: ‘The girl isn’t merely lovely — she’s like a Dresden-china rose!’ The evening passed off in an unreal and slightly lightheaded fashion for Lisa. Peter quite obviously shared his aunt’s opinion of their young fellow-countrywoman once he had an opportunity to examine her in the lights of the exclusive restaurant to which he took them, and because it was such an exclusive restaurant, without any guitar-playing or clicking of castanets between the courses, Lisa was a little misled about Madrid on that first evening that she dined out in it.

The champagne they consumed — which Peter insisted upon — was of the very highest quality; the food was delicious, and wonderfully served; the rest of the diners looked as elegant as Miss Tracey’s grey satin dress, and the atmosphere was as quiet and orderly as a pool. But it was not the Madrid of the throbbing interludes, the ‘apasionado’ perfumes, the clashing tambourines. There were no whirling skirts, or roses caught up in mantillas, or dark eyes peering seductively over the tops of fans.

‘Another night,’ Peter said, when she mentioned her surprise at finding so much restraint. ‘This is Madrid par excellence! I thought it better to introduce you gradually. Begin at the top, and work downwards! ’ He grinned at her.

She thought, Madrid par excellence — the sort of background against which Gia’s father, and Dona Beatriz, probably moved, when they were in their home city. And suddenly she thought: ‘Supposing they walked in now! ’ But they didn’t walk in, and the dinner pursued its leisurely course. When it was over, and the final liqueur and coffee had been consumed and appreciated, and it seemed very late, they walked part of the way back to Aunt Grizel’s flat because it was such a breathlessly hot and perfect night, and it seemed a sin to take a taxi.

Aunt Grizel drew Lisa’s attention to the stars that seemed to be blazing fitfully down on them through the sensuously warm atmosphere, and she said:

‘There they are! Stars over Madrid!.. . Aren’t they huge?’

Lisa looked up at them. They were wondrous stars, but they were not the stars that peered at their reflections in the indigo waste of waters that washed upon the shores of her beloved San Cecilio— San Cecilio, where she had sat in a little cafe on the waterfront one night, and drunk wine with her present employer. Wine the color of ripe apricots, and as clear as glass

It had gone to her head a little that night, that apricot-colored wine. ... Or else the offer of a position she had never expected had gone to her head! And she had been very unwise to accept. She should have gone home the

following day, and in that way she would have avoided heartache in the future — for the whole of her future!

And even now, after such a pleasant evening, she felt the coldness settling round her heart, the loneliness because here in this impressive capital city of Spain was one man who could easily get on without her for the rest of his life, and very shortly now would pay her a final month’s salary

— with perhaps a little over as a kind of bonus — and tell her her services were no longer required.

She stumbled, and Peter caught hold of her slim, bare elbow, and gripped it rather tightly.

‘Tomorrow,’ he said, in a warm, intimate tone, ‘I’ll have lots more to show you, Lisa. It’s going to be a wonderful week or fortnight! And, I think we ought to make it a fortnight! Fernandez and that odd infant of his can do without you for that length of time! ’

Which was another reason why she suddenly felt as if a knife turned in her heart.


But the ten days that passed with the rapidity of lightning were undeniably enjoyable days for Lisa.

They began in the same manner each morning, with Juanita bringing her early tea — Miss Tracey was not one of those people who lived abroad and forewent any of the privileges of being a British citizen, and tea-drinking was an ingrained habit with her — and then following it up with a breakfast tray containing orange juice and curls of crisp bacon and toast. After that Miss Tracey made her appearance in a bathrobe, and they talked about all sorts of things, including the plans for that day, and what Peter had decided upon, and what he had decided could be postponed for yet another day.

So far he had taken her on a whirlwind sightseeing tour of Madrid. She had seen the Escorial Palace, and the Royal Palace — El Pardo, a delightful residence enhanced by magnificent woods, which Velasquez used as a background to his portraits. She had seen the Prado Museum and other museums, churches, fashionable thoroughfares, fountain-decorated avenues. She had sipped iced drinks in gay open-

air cafes, and lunched in impressive restaurants; and at cocktail time, or ‘Vermouth time’, an hour when most other capitals were sitting down to dinner, she and Miss Tracey had been introduced to one or two discreet little bars, where the atmosphere was very fashionable, and very respectable, and they, too, had become part of the background, and it had seemed that such a thing as a dinner hour would never be arrived at.

For dinner was always late in Spain, and time seemed to have no importance whatever. It just drifted by. And after dinner there were the fashionable cabarets; in particular one, where the decor was positively sumptuous, where the famous flamenco songs were sung, and Lisa had her first taste of the sort of thing that charms the tourists, and puts money into the pockets of Madrileno night-club proprietors.

Lisa, like Miss Tracey, felt something like excitement creep over her when she heard the clicking castanets, and saw the billowing dresses and the wildly voluptuous movements of the Andalusian entertainers for the first time. The second time it still thrilled, but not quite so wildly. She much preferred lingering in the fragrant avenues afterwards, on the way home, breathing the first breath of coolness since morning dawned, seeing the yellow glow of a lantern in a silent, dignified courtyard, and hearing the whisper of the plane trees that flanked the just as silent squares.

Then there were still shopping expeditions, and it was a little disturbing how much money she spent, because she declined to allow her very generous hostess to do more than make her a few very generous presents. And that seemed to put her hopelessly in the debt of Miss Tracey, whom she grew to like very much indeed.

Peter she had always liked, and he improved on continuous acquaintance. A year before, when she had met him for the first time in the Hamilton-Tracey house, she would never have believed that one day he would behave towards her as if she had an irresistible attraction for him — and that was another thing that bothered her, because he would never have an irresistible attraction for her.

Only one man would ever have that!

Miss Tracey certainly seemed to have quite a few friends who remained in Madrid. Several of them came to tea, and one particularly charming family with a handsome young son named Ricardo gave a party to celebrate some member of the family’s birthday, and Aunt Grizel and her English guest and her nephew were all three invited.

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