Authors: Jill Tahourdin
Tags: #Harlequin Romance 1967
“Are you there, Alix?”
She came out at once on to the little stoep.
“I must talk to you.”
She gave him a level look.
“Yes, Bernard. I think you must. I was just thinking so now. Let’s sit down, shall we? My legs still feel wobbly—shock, I guess.”
“Mine, too. Cigarette, Alix?”
They sat down, and he brought out his lighter. Over its small flame their eyes met. Bernard said, “I gave myself away, good and proper, didn’t I?”
He lit his own cigarette, drew in smoke, blew it out. His blue eyes were clouded with trouble. He stammered, “D—did it
“Surprise me? No, I suppose I already guessed
“I feel every sort of heel about it, Alix,” Bernard burst out. “At first Sandra and I decided we’d never let you know. But then it seemed all wrong. I mean
three people’s happiness sacrificed instead of ... I mean
“You mean instead of one?” Alix prompted gently. She was trying to keep all trace of bitterness from her voice, but she couldn’t quite manage it when she asked the next question.
“Why did you ever let me come here, Bernard? That’s what I can’t understand. Why didn’t you stop me?”
He flushed darkly.
“You must believe me, Alix, when I tell you that we didn’t know ourselves—how we felt about each other
till after you’d sailed. We’d played fair by you till then. It was when this thing about the farm fell through and Mr. Barrett asked me to stay on that we suddenly
“Yet you didn’t tell me when I arrived here. You haven’t said a word all these four days. You
He made a gesture with his shoulders.
“How could I? You were so gay, so happy, so
I tried, believe me, but I just couldn’t bring it out. And till I did, Sandra wouldn’t give herself away either.
You must forgive us, Alix. We wouldn’t want to hurt you for the world. But this—it got too big for us. You see, it was all our
Alix crushed out her cigarette. She put a hand on his. “Look, it’s over, don’t let’s say any more. I expect you and I were too young, when we got engaged, to know what we were about. We had fun, we were awfully happy together, but I suppose it was just attraction, not really love. I wasn’t really your one-and-only. I—I suppose you weren’t really
She smiled at him, and Bernard managed to smile too.
“I hope not,” he said. “I hope you’ll find
“Of course I shall,” she interrupted robustly. “Not just yet—I’ll wait till my judgment is a bit more mature this time, I think.”
He grinned ruefully.
“I deserve that, Alix. But you’re right, of course. We were—just kids, I suppose. It was sweet while it lasted, though, wasn’t it?”
She nodded. There was a lump in her throat.
“What will you do, Alix?”
“For the present, go back to Aunt Drusilla. She made me promise. I showed her your letter, you know, and she said
“What? Go on, tell me. I can take it. It can’t be worse than what I’m thinking of myself.”
Alix bubbled into sudden laughter.
“She thought you wanted to jilt me, but hadn’t quite got the guts to say so.”
Bernard said again, “You must forgive us, Alix. You’ve been so w
derful about it. And you’ll let me take care of your air passage back to the Cape, won’t you?”
Alix shook her head.
“Of course not,” she said crisply. “Because if I’d only had the sense to hear what Aunt Drusilla was trying to tell me, I’d never have been so foolish as to come here at all.”
He tried to persuade her, but she was adamant. When he gave up, she took the signet ring from her finger and handed it to him.
He took it without a word. She guessed at his relief that there hadn’t been a scene. She supposed he had expected her to make him one.
She said with a smile, “I hope you and Sandra will be very, very happy.”
“You do like her, Alix?”
That maternal feeling she had had for him when he loaned her the signet ring came over her now. She felt as if she were years older than he. She said warmly, “Of course I like her. How could anyone not? She’s lovely, too. You’ll have a wonderful life together.” You’re being too noble and forgiving to be true, she was telling herself derisively. Can’t you feel your wings sprouting?
true that she liked Sandra. It was true too
she knew it now—that she had grown out of Bernard. Now that she had faced up to the situation, ended it, got it over, she found she wasn’t heartbroken after all. What she felt was no more than a faint nostalgia for those happy, busy, comparatively carefree days at the Priory when they—and love—were young and new. She had grown up since then. She was a wiser—and
only a little sadder—girl. So
“God bless, Bernard,” she said cheerfully. It had been their old way of parting. Bernard bent and kissed her. “God bless, darling,” he said. She saw with surprise that the blue eyes were wet with tears.
MR. AND MRS. BARRETT returned from Salisbury soon after sundown, with the cheering news that Sandra’s accident had not been so serious as the doctor had at first feared. They had seen the X-ray pictures
“Of course they meant nothing to us, absolute gibberish,” Mr. Barrett said, “but the fellow explained them for us.”
“You’ll soon have her back at home with you,” the doctor had assured the anxious parents. “She’s had a lucky escape—might have been a much longer job. She’ll have headaches off and on for a time, but that’ll pass, and she’ll be as good as new.”
“Better sell Victor, or send him away, while the child’s in hospital,” Grandmama advised shrewdly.
“You bet I will, Mother,” Mr. Barrett agreed. “I blame myself for ever buying him—but she was so set on him.”
“And of course you never can refuse her anything, eh?” cackled Grandmama. “I pity the young man she marries. If he doesn’t take a firm line from the start he’ll never control here.”
Alix couldn’t resist glancing at Bernard. She caught his eye and he reddened and bit his lip. He meant to speak to Sandra’s father after dinner. He would tell him that his engagement to Alix was over, and ask for Sandra’s hand in the good old-fashioned way. Mr. Barrett was that sort of father. He would expect to have his consent asked, even in these modem times, before giving his adored child to any man.
It’s a good thing, Bernard reflected, that I’m in his good books and under contract for another year. He can’t very well kick me out.
After dinner, when Mrs. Barrett had gone up to Grandmama’s room to settle her for the night, and Bernard had disappeared with Mr. Barrett into the estate office, Richard and Alix walked down to the pool and sat by its edge, ta
The night was warm, and though there was no moon, the stars were very bright and the constellations made emphatic patterns against their background of gold dust. Away in the distance sheet ligh
g flickered, and now and then some celestial writer scribbled fiery zig-zags on the sky.
Richard had carried down some of the rubber cushions from the hut that served as a dressing room, and they made themselves comfortable on these, and lit cigarettes, and for a time didn’t talk, but watched the dancing fireflies that ought to have meant rain, but like the daily thunder and lightning, probably meant nothing at all.
After a while Richard said, ‘I noticed you weren’t wearing your ring at dinner, Alix.”
“Over? Yes, all over. Bernard came to see me. He knew he’d given
elf away, you see. So we talked. We agreed we’d made a mistake. Grown out of each other, actually. So now he can marry Sandra. They
they’re terribly in l
ove, Richard. Had you noticed?”
“Well, it did rather leap to the eye, didn’t it?”
“I suppose it did. Only I wanted to be sure before I
burnt my boats.”
“So now I shall leave here and go back to Aunt Drusilla, and start all over again.
Pick myself dust myself down
—you know the song?”
“I do.” She had expected him to add, “You poor little girl” or some such expression of sympathy. But he didn’t. He merely gave her hand a congratulatory pat and said, “Bravo, Alix. I’m glad that’s all settled and you’re still, as it were, afloat.”
That made Alix laugh. The word “afloat” conjured up a picture of herself as a small but sturdy dinghy in a popply sea, gaily and confidently mounting from the trough of one wave to the crest of the next. She told Richard that and they laughed together.
Whatever Richard may have been feeling, however much he may have longed to take her in his arms and say “Now you’re mine, nobody else is going to have you,” he gave no sign. It was, he knew, far too soon. Instead he was cheerful and practical.
“You’ll want to run in to the hospital and visit Sandra tomorrow, I suppose?”
“Yes. And take her some flowers.”
“Right. I’ll run you in. And then we’ll go and fix up our passages back to P.E.”
passages? You mean you’re going back there
He looked at her quizzically, his eyebrow raised. “You’re surprised? But why? I’ve done what I came to do up here. Or at least, I can tie everything up while you are shopping for your flowers tomorrow morning. Wouldn’t you
us to travel down together?”
Alix didn’t answer at once. Tricky, she was
g. “I’d love it,” she told him candidly at length. “You’re a very nice travelling companion, Richard. But
He waited patiently, offering her another cigarette and lighting it for her.
“You see—it’s Aunt Drusilla,” she burst out in a rush. Her face was pink with embarrassment, but perhaps he wouldn’t notice by the light of the distant stars. “Ah yes. Aunt Drusilla. Difficult,” Richard allowed. “I suppose, since you’ve left your car at the Murrays’, you’d offer me a lift back to Paradise, like before?”
“That had been in my mind, I admit.”
“But can you
feelings—especially after your father’s behaviour at Northolme
if I arrived a second time escorted by a Herrold? Not by the Arch Enemy, but at least by his son, his collaborator? You can see it wouldn’t do, can’t you?”
It was a problem, certainly.
“Then how did you propose
“I must take the bus,” Alix said decisively. Richard was disappointed and said so. He had been hoping great things of a second day’s motoring with Alix. It was too soon to speak now. It might not be, then
he began to argue.
But Alix knew it wouldn’t be right, and his arguments didn’t persuade her.
“Don’t let’s talk about it any more or we’ll be having our first quarrel,” she begged. (In fact, the matter was to be settled for them, on their arrival at the airport in
Port Elizabeth, in a way that neither of them could have expected.)
The mosquitoes were beginning to bite—it was time to go indoors. Richard jumped to his feet and gave Alix a hand. He thought she looked very small and defenceless, standing there with the Starlight
in her hair. But he knew she wasn’t in the least defenceless really. She had met her problem, and tackled it and solved it, with courage and good sense. She had lost, but she wasn’t whining.
Apart from the fact that I adore her, Richard thought, I couldn’t admire her more.
Next morning Richard drove Alix in to Salisbury in the small Morris that Sandra usually drove.
When they came to the outskirts of the city, which had spread from a business centre—of offices, banks and shops, now largely of skyscraper pattern—to peter out in open country, Alix looked about with lively interest.
This was where she was to have made her home; or rather, her home would have been some distance away, but her work would have been here. They drove along avenues planted with gorgeous flowering trees, past fine houses with big gardens of flower beds and shrubberies and lawns; and Alix could see that Bernard had been right, in these fine suburbs there would have been plenty of scope for her kind of work.
was no good regretting. She must leave this mushroom city out of her calculations now, and look forward to making her career somewhere else. Oddly enough, now that she had made the break with Bernard, she found herself full of confidence, even of gaiety. The energies and skill she hadn’t been using during the past few weeks lay coiled like a spring inside her, waiting to be released. Soon she would be in a position, she hoped, to set them free.
“It’s a handsome city,” she said to Richard as they drove past the gardens in the centre of the business area. “I think I would quite have liked it here.”
Richard wanted to say, “You still can.
, after all, am shortly coming back here,” but wisely he kept quiet. There was something about her, today, that was friendly and even cordial but yet kept
at arm’s length. He thought, all right, we’ll play it her way. He had the fisherman’s virtue. He knew how to wait. Though not for a moment did he let himself think he might be waiting in vain.
He began circling round to find a parking place
always a matter of acute difficulty in Salisbury. He found one at last and slid the car into it.
“The Airways Office first, I think.”
“Yes, please. I must send a cable to Aunt Drusilla when we know the day.”
“Right. You can do that and buy your flowers while I’m visiting our office.”
“Then out to see Sandra?”
Richard shook his head.
“By the time we’ve done all that we’ll have missed the mornin
visiting period, I fancy. So what we’ll do is to treat ourselves to a cocktail and lunch at Meikle’s
then we’ll drive out to have a look at Lake Mcllwaine. We’ll be in plenty of time for visit Sandra this afternoon. How’s that?”
Alix thought the longer they could contrive to stay away from Punchestown the better. She was rather dreading all the explanations to the Barretts about her broken engagement and hasty departure, and planned to take the cowardly way out—let Bernard do the explaining for her, and trust to the Barretts’ tact not to dwell on things when she and Richard returned. So she agreed with enthusiasm to Richard’s suggestion.
The charming girl clerk who attended to them at the Airways Office shook her head when they asked about an early flight to Port Elizabeth. Bookings, it seemed, were heavy all that week. Alix echoed in dismay, “Nothing till next Monday?”
“I’m afraid not. Unless
look, excuse me a minute, will you?”
Miss Charming vanished into an inner office, remained closeted there for some time—they could hear her voice, faintly, making a telephone call—then came back all smiles.
“I thought I might be able to help you,” she said pleasedly. “There’s a chartered aircraft—taking a business delegation—going tomorrow. I knew there were two empty seats and you’re lucky, they don’t mind your having them if that suits you. It’ll mean an early start and they hope to get in about three p.m. No overnight stop, so you may not like the idea, of course....” Richard certainly didn’t. He had planned to take Alix out for dinner and dancing. But it seemed there would be quite a saving in the fare, which must be a consideration with Alix now. Also she had an urgent feeling that the sooner she got down to starting her new life—whate
ver it was to be—the better. So—
“Do let’s take it,” she urged. “We may not get another chance and I couldn’t
to hang around till next Monday.”
“I ought to get back too,” Richard agreed. “Okay, thank you very much, we’ll take the seats.”
So it was arranged. That done, Alix cabled her aunt giving her the news of her imminent return, and the expected time of arrival. She didn’t suppose the message would cause any great surprise, and she knew that she was sure of a warm welcome back to Paradise.
Now she and Richard parted to do their separate errands. Alix bought gladioli in gorgeous colours—she knew Sandra liked them—as well as the newest
Thus armed, she found her way to Meikle’s Hotel and sat down to wait for Richard. Large numbers of people wer
e there, sitting, standing, walki
ng from table to table in the bar lounge, enjoying their aperitifs and the gossip of the day. A
x too enjoyed it all very much. When Richard came in she greeted him with a happy smile that made his heart leap.
“Business all finished?” she asked.
“All finished. So now you and I are going to enjoy ourselves.”
She saw that there was a light in his eye. A light of
she didn’t know what. Whatever it was, she hadn’t any doubt they were going to enjoy themselves.
“I’m ready,” she told him gaily. “Shall we begin?”
Alix found the chartered plane a very different matter from the stately airliner in which they had made the journey up. It looked alarmingly small, for one thing. For another, it made—not often, but too often for Alix
the most frightening upward and downward swoops, like a crazy lift.