Authors: Jill Tahourdin
Tags: #Harlequin Romance 1967
“The more the better, my boy.”
“You’ve grown up into a fine handsome fellow,” crowed the old grandmama. “The girls won’t leave
alone for long. I expect we’ll have you bringing your wife here before many months pass.”
Richard said with a laugh, “I hope so, Granny. Time I settled down and became a family man, don’t you think?”
“It’s never too soon,” the old lady agreed. “Early marriages are the best. Start your family while you’re young—that’s the way to ensure a happy life. I’m always telling Sandra
But Sandra, it seemed, had no intention of allowing her grandmama to expound further. She broke in quickly, “Poor Richard. Isn’t somebody going to give him some tea, instead of settling his future for him? I expect you’re dying of hunger and thirst, aren’t you, Dicky? Granny, pass him the sugar, please. Don’t you remember he always took three lumps?”
“Sweet tooth, sweet nature,” crowed Grandmama; and Richard winked at Alix and said, “That’s me.” Let him just have time to get out of these town clothes, he told them further as he ate and drank, and he would be ready for anything. Ah, but it was
to be here!
Sandra at once began to plan what they would do. Tennis now; then a swim, then sundowners and a barbecue supper beside the pool. Then how would it be if she rang up some friends to come along for the barbecue? They could dance later to some wonderful new records she had just got out from England
She looked radiantly pretty as she talked and planned, her eyes s
like silver between their curtains of lashes, her voice high and eager. It was to Alix, and to Richard, that she kept appealing—“Would you like that?”—“Would this amuse you?”—but all the time her eyes sought Bernard’s. When he gave a little approving nod she would say happily, “Then that’s settled
that’s what we’ll do.”
On Sunday morning they would get up early, ride to a distant kopje, and have breakfast, cooked by one of the Mashona boys who could ride on ahead, earlier still. Then back for a swim—“And after that,” said Sandra, “we shall see
It was all charmingly done. But Alix—perhaps because of the tenseness in herself—felt the nervous tension in Sandra. She was gay, sparkling, lovely—but she wasn’t happy. And Alix was pretty certain, now, that she knew why.
As for Bernard, it was difficult to tell. He had never been one to show his feelings in his face; not, at least, for the world to see.
Thank goodness he and Richard seemed to get on quite well. It would be difficult, of course,
to get on with Richard when he chose to lay on the Herrold charm, thought Alix with a little private grin. For herself, she was glad of him. Without him, she didn’t know how she could have managed to keep up her gay, carefree facade.
He was her partner in the tennis match. He played hard and well, with a strong service and a useful volley, and Alix was inspired to show her best form. They managed to take two out of three sets—Bernard seemed to be a little off form. Richard put his arm round Alix’s shoulders for a moment as they changed ends after the second set, when they were one-all. He gave the top of her arm a little friendly squeeze.
“Keep it up,” he whispered, “and we’ll win. You were grand at the back line. Come up to the net a bit more this set, we’ll be home if you do.”
The praise sent a little glow through her; she needed, just now, a boost for her morale.
When the game was over the four of them ran, warm and flushed, to the pool, changed, and flung themselves into the cool water. As she surfaced Sandra cried, “Wonderful! Oh, wonderful!”
Her wet head was sleek as the head of a seal. She shook the water out of her eyes with a pretty gesture
nothing Sandra did was ever other than graceful and pretty.
She said to Bernard, “Race you under water, three lengths,” and the pair of them were off, back and forth like eels. Sandra won, of course; when Bernard came puffing to the surface she ruffled his thick wet hair and said “Slow coach,” and he grinned and ducked her. They had both forgotten, for the moment, that they weren’t alone.
Richard said quickly, “Now
put on a show, Alix. We’ll dive without hands.”
“But I don’t know how.”
“Come on, I’ll teach you.” Anything, he was thinking, to take that hurt look from her darling face.
Soon he had her diving easily with her hands tight against her sides. “It’s fun,” she cried happily. “Come and try it.”
The four of them fooled about in the water till Sandra said, “The others will be here about half-past six, so perhaps we’d better come out and dress, don’t you
? Mummy and Daddy won’t be here for supper—this is the night they always go in for bridge at the Club. And Granny will be having her
er in bed as usual. So we can do just whatever we like. Fun
She had invited a family of her cousins from a farm ten miles further along the road, as well as a couple of bachelors who were farming in the district.
The party turned up in Land-Rovers within half an hour of each other. Bernard seemed to know them all, and Richard had met the cousins. Alix was introduced to Jenny and June and Bill Lurgen, and Roddy Steele and Harry Graham. But not, she noticed, as Sandra led her forward in her charming way, as “Bernard’s
.” What Sandra said was, “This is Alix Rayne
she’s visiting from the Cape.”
Alix thought it odd—and perhaps only too significant. So did Richard, though he gave no sign.
The newcomers were cheerful, suntanned young Rhodesians with fine athletic bodies and a fund of teasing talk about things they all were familiar with. They didn’t mean to exclude Alix—but once again she felt rather out of things.
Harry Graham, however, came to her rescue. When they were all sitting round the pool, dr
g their sundowners and listening to a new
recording, followed by the latest calypsos, he made a point of trying to find out more about her.
“Been up here long, Alix?”
“No. A few days.”
“Going to stay, I hope?”
“H’m. You’re looking round, I suppose?”
“More or less.”
He made sheep’s eyes at her.
“Then look my way, sweetie, won’t you? Clean, upstanding young Rhodesian, only waiting for some really nice girl to take
in hand. Like to try, Alix
He was laughing, fooling—but just a little bit serious too. Alix thought he was rather nice—if not, perhaps, very much of an intellect. To let him down gently she lifted her cigarette t
o her lips with her left hand.
He saw the ring on her third finger, and his face fell comically. He said, “Oh, lord. You’re not engaged?”
“I’m afraid I am.”
“Somebody down south, I suppose? Not fair, coming up here to raise our hopes, and then
Now tell me, Alix, why is it that any girl I
I could get serious about has always been bagged by another chap first?” Alix laughed—the laugh that began in her eyes. Harry Graham loved her laugh. He said, pursuing his theme,
“Take Sandra now. Isn’t she a lovely girl?”
“She certainly is.”
“Well, of course I could have got serious about her. Who couldn’t, if you ask me? But it’s the same old story. Not a bit of use going in for any heartbreak about Sandra. Hasn’t been, not for a minute, since old Bernard showed up. Funny, isn’t it? I mean, take a look at him. Nice chap, I know. But be fair—what’s he got that I haven’t? Looks? Charm? Gift of the gab? Money? Would you know? But there it is. Goodbye, Sandra.” The boys were cooking the barbecue and there was a mouth-watering smell in the air. Ever afterwards Alix was to associate it—in the way people do associate certain events with certain smells, coffee or new-baked bread or the scent of cloves, say—with that moment when she knew definitely, not from her own suspicions but from independent, innocently offered evidence, that Sandra was in love with Bernard.
Poor Sandra, A
x thought. No wonder she doesn’t look happy. No wonder there’s all this tension about.
She looked across the pool to where Sandra was sitting, a little apart, with Bernard, both of them hugging their knees, smoking, pretending to be gay as they sorted and selected the records.
Once, when Sandra spoke to Bernard, she saw him lift his head and look across at with an expression that was almost—startled. She lifted her left hand, the one with the cigarette in it, and waved at him. He waved back. Then he turned to say something to Sandra. She saw Sandra shrug her shoulders and turn away.
“Have you told her yet, Bernard?” Sandra had whispered.
“No. It’s tricky, darling. You can’t just blurt it out. I mean, after two years. She’s so—so
“I know. I feel awful. But it’s all our
Bernard. You will, won’t you? You did promise.”
“Of course I will. What do you take me for? For that doesn’t mean I shan’t feel all sorts of a heel. So—darling—leave it to me, will you? Let me choose the time.” That was when Sandra, beaten, had shrugged her pretty, bare, sun-tanned shoulders and turned away; She didn’t want Bernard to see that her eyes were swimming in tears
The barbecue was ready now. The boys handed round paper plates and napkins, split rolls, and long skewers threaded with the grilled pieces of chicken, sausage, steak, kidney, tomato and the rest. Mmmmm, scrumptious, said everybody, nibbling, chewing, swallowing and clamouring for more. The music was lively and in between times there was always somebody singing the words. It was all going with a swing.
Alix heard Sandra’s voice crooning “I’m in love with a wonderful guy.” It was clear and high and sweet
some sort of bird. There should be a message for me in that, Alix thought, her smile ironic, faintly bitter.
Later on, when they had left the pool and trooped into the house for dancing, Alix did a turn with Bernard. He asked, “Enjoying it. Alix? Liking Rhodesia?”
“Yes, thank you. I like your Barretts, Bernard.” ‘They’ve been awfully good to me.”
“I can see they look on you almost as a son.”
She had said the words without thinking of any implication. She bit her lip when Bernard gave her a startled look. She said hastily. “I gather there aren’t any sons? Sandra hasn’t got brothers?”
“There was one. He was killed in a flying club accident.”
“Oh. How dreadful.”
“Specially tough on his father. No one to take over.” Unless you, perhaps
Alix found herself thinking; but not with rancour.
The music ended and Bernard let her go. When she danced with Richard he too asked if she were enjoying herself.
“Very much,” she said.
“Oh? Why not?”
“Come on, tell Richard.”
“No, please. Not now, anyway. Some time, perhaps. Don’t let’s be serious tonight.”
“For tonight,” carolled Richard in a mellifluous baritone, putting his hand on his heart, “for tonight, let me dream out my dream of delight, tra-la-la.”
Alix’s laughter rang out.
“Idiot,” she said, shaking her head at him. She saw Bernard turn to look at Richard. And expression of
could it be
sudden dazzling hope?—flashed over his face. She felt the colour flood into her own, and turned away,
Richard with her. They swung round and round in delirious circles and fetched up breathless, laughing again.
“Bless, you, Richard,” Alix said warmly.
“Oh? Why specially now?”
“Never mind why. Or let’s say, if you like, for always being able to make me laugh.”
“Oh. Funny man. Comic relief. That’s how you
of me?” His eyebrow was cocked at her; his eyes glinted. She thought, what a dear he is. What luck for me that Richard is here.
But of course she knew that luck had nothing at all to do with it. She was perfectly well aware, by now, how carefully Richard had planned it all.
She hoped he didn’t imagine she was going to fall in love with him.
She had loved once—and lost, it would seem. ’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, didn’t they say? That might be. But it didn’t mean you’d fall in love, after, with the first admirer who turned up.
That, Alix thought, would be a very unreliable kind of
in love—being founded on chagrin, and a desire to boost your deflated ego, and a natural wish to show your lost love that you were desirable to some other man