Read Welcome to Paradise Online

Authors: Jill Tahourdin

Tags: #Harlequin Romance 1967

Welcome to Paradise (16 page)

A few days later a small motor launch towed the boat into position and dropped its anchor off the point. It was a flat-bottomed centre-board boat and would take the ground, at low tide, quite comfortably. Red sails were neatly rolled and stowed in the little cubbyhole up forward. James Gurney came round himself, later in the day, to show her how it was rigged.

Alix was delighted. She took it out for a little spin that evening and found it easy to handle. She ran it aground once or twice, but jumped overboard and pushed it off; she soon learnt to locate the shoals by the colour of the water. So long as she only went out in light winds, she thought, she would have no trouble at all. And it was glorious fun.

She sailed up-lagoon and past a number of dinghies whose occupants were fishing. One of these waved to her and called, “Hi, Alix. Nice your red sails look.”

It was Valerie Herrold.

“Come out one day,” Alix called back, but whether her voice was blown away on the breeze or not she didn’t know. Valerie merely waved again, and then they were out of earshot.

By the end of a week she was handling it with confidence and plann
in
g more extensive trips up-lagoon.

By the end of a week, too, Andrew Herrold’s activities had begun to take recognisable shape.

Exactly opposite the outer corner-stone of Lady Merrick’s land, a huge arch of concrete blocks had been erected, with the words “Paradise Caravan Park”, wired for neon lighting, inscribed round its upper curve.

“That knocks about a thousand off the value of ‘Laguna’ right away,” Lady Merrick said disgustedly, stopping her car on the way back from Edward to take in the full horror of this monstrosity. Actually, Alix thought fairly, when it’s plastered and whitened, as I suppose it will be, it’ll look quite handsome. Her aunt had spotted the master builder giving orders to some workmen fifty yards away.

“There’s Baldwin,” she said. “Known him for years. He built our house, you know.”

She got out of her car and waved.

“Baldwin, come and tell me what all this is about,” she called peremptorily, Baldwin, a big red-faced man with a paunch, came at once, smiling ingratiatingly.

“Big changes going on in Paradise, m’lady,” he observed, stating the obvious.

“Indeed yes. What do all those mean?”—pointing to a series of rectangular foundations which had been laid all the way along the side of the road, right along to the gates of ‘Laguna.’

“Usual offices, m’lady,” Baldwin said. “Garage and petrol station; estate office, shop; then the ablutionary blocks and the ...
er...”

“Didn’t I tell you?” Lady Merrick demanded tragically of Alix as she returned to the car. “Buildings the whole way to my very
gates
. The
ablutionary
block actually facing my entrance.
Oh!
And the brute is within his rights. There’s absolutely nothing I can
do.
I suppose this is his revenge after my closing the road. The man’s ... a
monster
. I must see my lawyer at once. There must be
some
way to stop this outrage.”

But of course there wasn’t, as Mr. Forsyth, the lawyer, later confirmed. Herrold had bought the property. He had the backing of the local Council and the support of a majority of the residents in carrying out his new scheme. Lady Merrick would have, he feared, either to accept Mr. Herrold’s very generous offer to take over ‘Laguna’—or grin and bear it.

“I
won't
give in. I
won't
be driven out,” asserted her ladyship stoutly. “I’ll see Herrold myself. I’ll appeal to his better nature. I suppose I can’t object to the arch—but to have my entrance
devastated
in this horrible fashion
...”

Dropping Alix at the house, she turned the car round and sped back to Herrold’s office there. She returned an hour later, flushed, excited

but obliged to admit that Mr. Herrold, though polite and even charming, had been quite adamant. That was where his architect—that son of his, Lady Merrick snorted—had decided the buildings should go. That was where they
would
go. The other block would go along the other boundary of ‘Laguna,’ on the Braines’ land. Oh, yes, he had already purchased the stand of gums. Clearing would start tomorrow.

“He’s—he’s
uncrushable
,” Lady Merrick mourned. Alix saw that she was inconsolable.

To take her mind off Herrold and his doings she told her that she was having some trouble herself, in the garden.

“With Francis?”

“Yes. He really scared me this morning, Aunt Brasilia. I feel pretty certain he’d been smoking dagga. His eyes—they were horrible, dull-looking, dilated—you know, I expect.”

“But what did he
do,
darling?”

“First of all he did everything wrong. Planted things in the wrong places, dithered about generally. Usually I can give him his orders and leave him to it. But this morning he was so stupid I had to stand over him. And then suddenly—he had one of those big knives they use for slashing undergrowth in his hand at the time—he threw up both arms and shouted, “I can’t work with Miss Ellix all the time watching me. I good gardener. I know my work.’ He was waving his knife about. And then he started to move towards me. I thought he was going to attack me, Aunt Drusilla.”

Lady Merrick cried, startled and shocked, “Did he touch you?”

“No. I turned and walked away, as slowly as I dared. A bit later on I went back and he was going on with his work. I didn’t speak to him.”

“I must sack him at once,” Lady Merrick said with decision. “He did this once before, and I forgave him. It’s the way dagga takes him—makes him pugnacious. But people have been known to kill under its influence. We can’t take that risk. He’d better go.”

“It’s a pity,” Ali
x said. “He’s a good gardener.”

“Yes. And Christina’s a good cook. I suppose she may go too. We’ll just have to take a chance on that.” So Francis was paid off that evening. Asked where he had got the dagga, he grinned vacuously and didn’t reply. Lady Merrick shrugged. That, really, wasn’t her affair. It was for the police to discover. She rang up the station and told the sergeant in charge that she had dismissed Francis, and why. He promised to make some enquiries.

“And that’s all we shall ever hear of it, I suppose,” said Lady Merrick, with no idea how wrong she was to be proved. “And now to find a new garden boy.”

Eric Gore solved that problem for them. He loaned them a boy of his own, a real expert who made light work of everything Alix gave him to do. The rockery, pathway and steps began to take shape, plants and dwarf conifers and shrubs were tucked into place, you could begin to see what a delightful garden feature it was going to be.

Alix began to look around for a couple of acres to rent for her plant nurseries. She put an advertisement in the Edward
Star
announcing that she was available as consultant. Having found land, she went into the cost of a simple irrigation system from a nearby mountain stream.

In all this, unavoidably it seemed, Eric Gore took an active part. Lady Merrick had got into the habit of appealing to him in any difficulty or uncertainty; and one had to allow that he always seemed to know the answers.

Alix began to feel rather as she imagined a fly must feel, caught in a spider’s web. There was no getting away from him.

A week after their expedition up the river, for instance, he had telephoned Lady Merrick with an invitation. This was for them to join a party he was arranging for the annual Ball in aid of the local hospital. There would be cocktails and a dinner party at Northolme first.

Lady Merrick was enchanted.

“It’s
the
social event of the year,” she said. “It’s held in the Town Hall at Edward and everybody in the whole district will be there. You must have a new evening dress, dearest. I’ll stand you one. And a hair-do at ‘Loraine.’ ”

“I usually do my own, Aunt Drusilla.”

“I know. And very nice it always looks, so lucky having that natural wave. But this is an
occasion.
Eric usually invites some very smart people down from Cape Town. We’re honoured, my dear.”

Alix made a face. Her aunt said rather anxiously, “You
do
like Eric, don’t you, dear?”

Alix decided to be honest.

“I’m afraid—not terribly,” she said.

“My dear child, you’re surely not still pining for that Bernard of yours, I do hope?”

“Of course not. That’s completely over. I’m not pining for anyone. I’m just—not interested at present. That’s all.”

“Oh well, if that’s really all,” said her aunt, looking relieved. “I suppose it’s natural under the circumstances. But I should snap out of it as soon as possible if I were you, dear.”

“I’ll try to, Aunt Drusilla.”

Though if snapping out of it meant being more amenable about Eric Gore, Lady Merrick was going to be disappointed, she thought

She knew the gossips were busy about her.

She really couldn’t blame Richard if he thought she was encouraging Eric Gore. He didn’t know—how could he?—how strong was the pressure Gore and her aunt between them were exerting. Nor, perhaps, how often, to avoid a scene, she had let herself be involved in arrangements she would much rather have avoided.

It was all becoming very difficult.

It seemed ironical to her that she, who had so recently been jilted, should now have two eligible males at her feet.

But no—Richard wasn’t at her feet. He had taken a very firm stand—at a distance. He had offered his heart—but he wasn’t
tr
ailin
g
it.

But even if I found I was in love with him, should I ever bring myself to tell him so? she wondered. Yet that was the condition he had laid down.

Why
should
I? she thought indignantly. But she knew the answer. She would
—if she loved him enough.

Fortunately, there wasn’t much likelihood of that
.

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

NOW it was October and the weather was
wa
rmin
g
up for the summer season which would be at its height all over the Cape in December and January.

The countryside had burst into bloom. There were drifts of mauve cineraria and fire lilies on the veldt and hill slopes. Yellow daisies, purple ground geranium and golden ursinia carpeted the verges. The proteas and pincushion bushes displayed their gay, fantastic flowers. Wattle trees dripped gold and jacarandas shed azure petals to carpet the ground. It was a lovely time of the year.

At Paradise building was going on apace. Andrew Herrold meant to have his caravan park ready in time for the season this year. By next year he planned to have built his country club. He had doubled the number of workmen and machines on the job. The noise and dust never ceased from sunrise to sunset. Every time she left ‘Laguna’ in her car Lady Merrick was held up by one or other of the fleet of lorries Mr. Herrold employed. Though the buildings he was putting up, designed by Richard, were in fact charming and appropriate, Lady Merrick saw them only as blots on a fair countryside.

Her closing of the road, moreover, hadn’t deterred Herrold for longer than it took
him
to clear the spinney of gums. Now he was building another line of offices, shops, etc., on the other side of ‘Laguna.’ Lady Merrick was indeed hemmed in.

Once Alix did suggest, tentatively, that the site Herrold had offered would have all the peace and quiet that ‘Laguna’ now lacked. It was the only time she had ever seen her aunt really cross with
her....

Meantime she was going quietly about her own business. Her advertisement, plus a lucky break, had brought her her first commission.

A Mr. and Mrs. Pascall, whom Aunt Drusilla had known in India when Mr. Pascall was manager of a very important bank, had come to the district recently, and had called. It seemed they had bought a largish old house on the hill-slopes above Edward, with about five acres of land. This, they said, had gone to wilderness. When they later saw Alix’s notice in the
Star,
Mrs.
Pascall rang up at once to engage her to plan a new garden.

Alix was delighted. She decided to purchase a Corgi motor-cycle so that she wouldn’t be dependent on her aunt’s car for transport. Soon she and it were a familiar sight in the little town of Edward.

Eric Gore didn’t approve. He didn’t think it fitting in his future wife. But Lady Merrick had warned him on no account to try to rush Alix. So he was biding his time. But he was not a patient man. He had to have what he wanted,
when
he wanted it. And at present

though he had known many girls more beautiful, better dressed, more amusing and more sophisticated than Alix Rayne—Alix Rayne was the girl he wanted, and meant to have. It was, he told himself, just one of those things. His ardour grew with waiting. He didn’t intend to wait much
longer...

Now and again in the early morning, when she and Nelson went down to swim, Alix saw Richard. Sometimes she fished with him for a little while, sometimes not.

One morning he said, conversationally, “Will you be going to the dance next Saturday, Alix?”

“Yes.”

“Will you dance with me?”

“I’d love to—if I can. You see, we’re going in
a
party. My aunt has accepted...

“H’m. Gore’s party?”

“Y—yes.”

“I see. You’d really like to dance with me, Alix?”

“Of course, Richard. But
...

“Then just leave it to me.”

She glanced up at him, took note of the forceful English nose and chin, and thought, Yes, I can leave
it to you.
Changing the subject in order to do a little of what
she called her “sleuthing,” she learned that Herrold
Senior was planning to give a big braaivleis party fo
r
the whole district to mark the opening of the caravan
park. This would be in early November. It seemed incredible that it could be ready by then; but Mr. Herrold had decreed it, and so, she didn’t doubt, it would be.

“I suppose it’s no use my inviting you to that?” Richard said with a rueful smile.

“None at all.”

“And after that, Alix, I’m off to Salisbury.”

“For good?”

“Oh, I shall come down now and then, I suppose, to visit the family. But yes, for good, you might say. I expect to be hectically busy for a time, anyway, till I get things organi
sed. None of this lazy lagoon life. No
home comforts either. Though I suppose I shall have to look round and find a flat, sooner or later. Can't stand hotels for long.”

He cocked an eyebrow at her. His eyes had the familiar glint in them. She said coolly, “Too bad. I expect to be busy too.”

“Business flourishing?”

She told him about her first commission and he was gratifyingly impressed.

“I still think, though, that Salisbury would have given you more scope.”

“Of course it would. But I happen to be living in Paradise.”

“True.”

“I ... if you...”

She fell silent, biting her lip.

“You were going to say?”

“No. Nothing, really.”

“Look out, you’ve got a bite. Carefully, now
...
” She was becoming quite skilful, now, with the rod and line he kept in the boat specially for her. He was proud of his pupil. His manner to her, these mornings, was cheerful, easy,
brotherly.
Sometimes she wondered if she had dreamed that he had ever said to her, “I love you so much.”

That was how she wanted it, wasn’t it?

Of course it was. But perversely, it teased her. It irked her that she wasn’t sure, any more, how Richard felt.

“Has Lady Merrick thought any more about the new site my father had offered?” he was asking now. Casually, as if it were a matter of little consequence.

“No. She hasn’t.”

“I think she’d be wise to consider it. The offer might be withdrawn.”

“Is that meant to be a threat, Richard?”

He laughed, seeing her chin go up.

“Good heavens, no. Just a little seasonable advice.”

“For which my aunt won’t thank you.”

“What do
you
think, Alix?”

“I’m still on her side of the fence.”

But apart from loyalty, and blood being thicker than water, am I really? she asked herself honestly. For it was plain that Herrold Senior wasn’t, in point of fact, going to deface the countryside at all. He was merely going to make it possible for more and more people to enjoy it.

Still, he had ridden rough-shod over her aunt. So she was against him. She had to side with her own.

Richard didn’t attempt to argue with her about it. He only hoped something might happen to cause her to change her mind.

When she walked back to the house she found Francis hanging about by the shrubbery. She said sharply, “What are you doing here, Francis? What do you want?”

“I come to fetch Christina,” he said sullenly. She saw that he had been drinking. Smoking dagga too, pr
obably. His eyes had a glazed,
unco-ordinated look. He added insolently, “Christina my wife.”

Alix said, “You can’t see her now. You must go away.”

He began to talk loudly, in a mixture of his bastard English and Afrikaans. At the note of abuse in his voice Nelson growled and bared his teeth. When Francis raised the stick he carried Nelson began to look really dangerous. Alix took hold of his collar and tried to calm him.”

“Go quickly, Francis,” she urged. “He might hurt you.”

Francis threw her a dirty look and scuttled off. Nelson barked and tried to follow, but Alix hung on to him, and when the coloured man disappeared round the hedge, he quietened down.

Alix told her aunt about the incident at breakfast. Lady Merrick was a little worried.

“I’ll tell the police to keep a look-out for him,” she said. “But if he’s made up his mind, I suppose I’ll have to let Christina go. He’ll make nothing but trouble otherwise.”

But Christina didn’t want to go.

“What I do for money to feed the shildren?” she demanded reasonably. “That Francis drinking all he earn. Buying dagga, very dear. You don’t lissen to h
im
, meddam. Where you get a cook like me?”

“I don’t know, Christina. I don’t want you to go. But I don’t want Francis hanging around.”

“You send Nelson after him, meddam. Francis is
bang
for Nelson. Nelson can bite for him.”

So for the time, Christina remained. Francis was warned by the police to behave himself. Nothing was seen of him for some days.

The following Saturday was the day of the Ball. Lady Merrick had insisted on giving Alix a formal evening gown, and they had gone in to the little shop in Edward that imported French clothes, and had chosen a crisp white pique, long, full-skirted, with a close-fitting top that left her shoulders bare and flattered the golden tan she had acquired.

To go with it they bought high-heeled satin slippers and matching handbag, jade green. Lady Merrick lent Alix jade ear-rings and a b
racelet of jade and heavy gold.

Loraine cut her hair and dressed it so that it was m short curls all over her head. It was an enchanting style, and gave a piquancy to her face. The whole outfit, Alix thought, was the loveliest she’d ever worn.

It gave her confidence to face the dinner party at Northolme, where because of Eric Gore’s obvious proprietorial interest in her, she was watched and commented on, criticised or approved or envied. It helped to dispel that feeling of being a fly caught in a web.

But it didn’t, really, help her to enjoy the party. The other guests were strangers—friends of Eric Gore’s from elsewhere, staying the
weekend
at Northolme. He had quite a house party.

The young man who took Alix in to dinner—he was a crack polo player, she gathered, from some place up
-
country she had never heard of—got a little drunk on the champagne Eric had so lavishly provided. Perhaps that was his excuse for saying, towards the end of the elaborate meal:

“They tell me this is some sort of an engagement party. Would you be the lucky girl, I wonder? Are you going to take a chance on being Mrs. Gore?”

He was a good-looking man; his smile was lazy, rather impertinent, as if he believed he could get away with anything, however outrageous. If she hadn’t been so allergic to making scenes, Alix would have left the table. As it was, the best she could do was to keep cool. She counted ten to allow her temper time to go off the boil, and said lightly, “Perhaps, don’t you think, I should wait to be asked?” Then she turned her back on him and engaged her other neighbour in talk.

But the little incident spoiled her evening. She was in a state of dither when the party went on to the dance. She was terrified that Eric Gore might be going to propose.

It ought to have been a wonderful evening. The town hall was splendidly decorated to look South American; there was a rumba band as well as the local five-piece dance band; the ladies had put up a magnificent supper; the night was balmy and gaiety was in the air. But even the glass of champagne she had drunk hadn’t succeeded in making Alix feel genuinely gay.

Not that anyone would have known. She laughed and chattered and danced with the best of them. For a time, w
hil
e Eric Gore was doing his duty dances with the elder ladies of his party, she wasn’t actually miserable. That only happened when it came to her turn.

Eric Gore’s intent ice-blue look, the way he breathed “At last,” as he put an arm around her and took her hand in his, the feeling of suppressed excitement that seemed to flow from his body to hers through their clasped hands, made her so uncomfortable that her feet stumbled more than once—though she was a good enough dancer in the ordinary way.

Her stumbles merely gave him an excuse to hold her closer. At the end of the dance he murmured, “It’s so hot in here. Shall we walk outside in the grounds to cool off, Alix?”

She tried to think of a sensible, plausible excuse, but he didn’t seem to hear. He made a way determinedly through the throng, holding her by the hand so that she had to follow. She saw amused, intrigued glances. Her face felt stiff with embarrassment as she smiled and nodded to acquaintances. She knew now what a lamb felt like when it was led to the slaughter. She caught Richard’s eyes on her and flushed crimson. She was thankful, after that, to find herself outside, strolling sedately along a path in the Municipal Gardens in which the town hall stood.

There were one or two other couples strolling, too. Eric led her away from them, to a comer where a circular hedge enclosed a small open-sided pavilion, a shelter from rain or the heat of the sun by day.

“Shall we sit down here a little?” he suggested. When she was seated he offered her a cigarette, and they smoked in silence for a while. Alix’s heart was thumping so hard that she thought he must hear it. Her mouth was dry. She felt slightly sick.

Suddenly he threw away his cigarette with an abrupt gesture. Taking hers from her he threw that away too. He took both her hands in his. When she tried to free them she realised the steely strength of him.

“Be still,” he rapped out. “And tell me when you will marry me.”

A
li
x said quickly, “Please, Mr. Gore, let go my hands. And I’m never going to marry you.”

He said: “But I’m in love with you. I want you to be my wife. You must have known that for some time. How can you say, now, that you are never going to marry me? Are you a flirt, or worse?”

She stared at him in amazement and horror. She thought, He
is
some sort of a foreigner, as I thought at first. I’m sure he’s a German. A Nazi, I should think. People don’t talk this way. It isn’t real.

But his anger was real enough. His eyes were frightening. Desperately she stood up, tried to walk away. But he caught at her wrists, held them again in that steely grip. He said, “You will not be allowed, do you understand, to make a fool of Eric Gore. Promise, now, to marry me. Or else
...

He was standing up now, towering over her. He looked more Teutonic than ever. His eyes blazed into hers. She cried suddenly, urgently, “Let me go!”

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