Authors: Jill Tahourdin
Tags: #Harlequin Romance 1967
“He’s got the better of me—and it’s made me hopping mad. What I’m asking myself now is—what more will he do, to get me out? That’s what he’s said he’ll do, y’know—and he strikes me as a man who keeps his promises.”
“Yes. Not the sort of feller to give up,” James Gurney agreed, stroking his white moustache with a thin, well-bred hand and
his dear Drusilla, the foolish, obstinate creature, would have the sense she was bo
with, and take the feller’s really very decent offer of a good plot and a new house, and be blowed to the old place; it was full of wood-worm as she very well knew. But there,
—with even the best of them, which Drusilla in his opinion was, you never could tell what they would or wouldn’t do
Alix said, “I wonder what else he
“I thought I’d got him stymied for a bit when I closed the road,” her aunt said with a grimace. “But in a week
got around that. Now I can’t think of anything else. I can only sit and wait till
fires the next round.”
“Perhaps he hopes that one season of living cheek by jowl with this circus of his will wear you down quicker than any action he can take,” James Gurney suggested shrewdly. “I wouldn’t mind betting that’s what he’s counting on.”
Lady Merrick looked doubtful.
“Except that I wouldn’t expect such tame tactics of Tornado Andrew,” she observed. “I’d expect something more dramatic. Something that would
me to go
at pistol point as it were.”
perhaps you overrate him, Drusilla,” James Gu
ey said. “He isn’t such a wonderful feller, after all.”
“Not wonderful. No. Just dynamite, James.”
ey looked at his love with sudden suspicion. He considered she was thinking and talking far too much about this Herrold feller. He changed the subject, asking her what film they were going to see. He kept the talk away from Herrold for the rest of the evening.
The film, unfortunately, was not very good. Edward was rather off the beaten track for the main circuits, and hadn’t yet got one of the wide screens that the newer pictures require. This one was a rather tedious old comedy of American family life. By the time it was half-way through they were all be
g to be very bored.
But presently something was shown on the screen which
of interest. It woke them out of the stupor of ennui into which they had fallen.
It was an emergency announcement.
It said: “If Lady Merrick is in the audience, will she please come out to the box office at once. The matter is urgent.”
The lights went up. The scanty audience turned their heads to see if Lady Merrick was there .They craned to follow her with their eyes as she and her two companions got up and hurriedly left the hall. They only turned their heads back as the lights went down again.
Outside, a police officer was awaiting them.
“Oh dear, I suppose it’s Francis, I knew he would make trouble,” Lady Merrick boomed.
But it was something quite different.
“ ‘Laguna’ is on fire, Lady Merrick,” said the police officer. “We just had a telephone call and as your servant knew where you were I came to inform you at once. Luckily there are h
undreds of people at the braai
vleis. The fire’s got a good hold on the thatch, I’m afraid, but they’ve formed a chain gang with buckets and are doing what they can. And Edward are sending their fire engine as soon as they can.”
They piled into the car, and Alix drove out in the direction of Paradise as fast as she dared. Now they could see the reflection of the fire in the sky—a glow of lurid red above the trees.
The lights picked up the signpost, WELCOME TO PARADISE. Alix swung the car off the smooth broad tarmac of the national road on to the rough causeway, and perforce slowed down.
At that moment Lady Merrick gasped and put a hand to her mouth.
“Oh God,” she said. “Nelson! He was shut up in the house. He—hurry, Alix, hurry. Nelson was shut up inside.”
“Now, now, Drusilla,” James Gurney soothed. “Nelson would bark. Dogs smell fire very quickly. I wouldn’t wonder if it was Nelson that gave the alarm. And with all those people about, do you think there wouldn’t be one of them who’d have the guts to go in and get him out?”
“I d—don’t know,” she stammered. “I want to be
Alix was hurrying as much as she dared on the rough, rutted road. Now they were over the causeway, and taking the rise that led through the stands of wattles and gums to the plateau on which ‘Laguna’ stood.
Long before they reached Herrold’s tall white archway they could smell the fire. The night was warm and the car windows were open. Mingled with the smell of burning thatch and wood was another smell—that of meat cooked in the open on open grills. The smell of Andrew Herrold’s braaivleis.
It brought a new thought into Lady Merrick’s mind. She said grimly, “I told you Andrew Herrold hadn’t finished with me. He hadn’t got me out. I said he wouldn’t be satisfied till he’d
me out. But I didn’t think even he would go so far as to
James Gurney remonstrated, a little shocked at his dear.
“Come now, Drusilla, you really don’t think it was Herrold set fire to ‘Laguna.’ ”
As Alix pulled up the car—she had to, she couldn’t get it any further on account of the crowd, the other cars that had parked to get a view of the fire, and the chain of workers that were passing buckets filled with water from the lagoon and flinging them on to the flames—she heard her aunt say, still in that grim way, “I wouldn’t put anything—
—past that man.”
Alix didn’t wait to hear more. She was busy pushing her way through the crowd. She could feel the heat of the fire—‘Laguna’ was beyond saving, she could see; the roof had fallen in, they were getting things under control, but it was too late.
She ran on, looking wildly around her. She saw two men, tall men in their shirt-sleeves, with blackened faces and hands, who seemed to be organising the work.
Andrew Herrold. And Richard.
She ran to Richard. She gasped, “Richard! Nelson was inside the
house. Did anyone
He turned round, saw the white face, the wide eyes. He took both her hands in his. She didn’t notice till a moment later that one of his hands was bandaged. He said, “It’s all right, darling. Nelson’s quite safe. I got him out myself.”
She said, crying with relief, “Oh, Richard, it
be you. Bless you. I must go and tell my aunt.”
She pushed her way back through the throng, and ran to Lady Merrick.
“Nelson’s safe,” she cried. “Richard went and got him out.”
“Oh, thank God, thank God!”
As she spoke Christina came waddling up to them. Her face was blubbered with tears.
“Meddam, meddam, it was that Francis,” she cried. “He been d
g, smoking dagga, meddam. He came and said, ‘Christina, you coming with me.’ When I say ‘No,’ he say, ‘Then we have a braavleis too.’ He make a fire right by the myrtle hedge, meddam, and tell me to bring meat for he to cook. A
d then the hedge was on fire, and it shoot up, right to the thatch, and Francis run away. I run too, got the big Master, he made everybody come help. And the young Master went for Nelson and bum he’s hand.”
She stopped for breath. Her eyes rolled moonily in the dying glare of the fire. The workers were still passing buckets of water from hand to hand, still throwing them at what was left of the fire. But it was burning itself out now. Luckily there was no wind—the night was quite still.
Over Lady Merrick’s face a strange expression had come. She said to Alix, “I must speak to Andrew Herrold.”
“I should wait a little. He’s very busy, keeping them all at work. Your friends, Aunt Drusilla. They’re all there, working with the blacks and coloured. But I’m afraid ‘Laguna’ has gone.”
When the helpers called a halt at last, it was plain that that was so. Only the shell of ‘Laguna’ now stood. The roof, crashing down as the rafters gave way, had set everything inside the walls alight. Nothing was left but empty, gaping holes that had been the long windows, blackened walls, charred and blackened wood.
A few pieces of furniture had been salvaged, right at the beginning. But it had soon been impossible to go inside.
“You hurt your hand,” Alix said to Richard. “How did you do it?”
“It’s nothing. I scorched it a bit, putting Nelson out. A curtain was ablaze near him, and he was trying, the old fool, to pull it down. He’s a bit scorched too, but nothing to matter.”
“Take me to see him, Richard.”
“In a minute, darling. Here’s your aunt.”
Lady Merrick was holding out her hand. Richard took it.
“I want to thank you for saving Nelson,” she said. “This—the house—I shall get over losing that. But I should never have got over losing Nelson. I can’t thank you enough.”
Richard smiled down at her. His smile was very charming.
“I’m glad I was in time, Lady Merrick. I’ll get him for you just now. I had to tie him up in the estate office
he wanted to help fight the fire.”
Lady Merrick smiled too.
“Bless him,” she said. “And bless
Now Andrew Herrold joined them. He looked like a sweep, but his eyes were bright. It was plain that he had enjoyed fighting the fire. He enjoyed any kind of fight.
“Well, Lady Merrick, this is a bad business,” he said. “My sympathies.”
She held out her hand to him too.
“I believe I’m greatly in your debt, Mr. Herrold,” she said on her lowest register. “And I want to apologise. I thought—for a short time until my cook told me how it all happened—that this was doing. Remember, you’d said you would have me out if it was the last thing you did.”
Mr. Herrold’s eyes began to twinkle. He looked at Lady Merrick for a long moment without speaking. Then he burst into a huge guffaw of laughter. He threw back his head and roared. Tears ran out of his eyes and made clean furrows down his dirty cheeks.
“By heavens, you must have a wonderful opinion of me, my lady,” he bellowed. “I meant to get you out
but even I never thought of
you out. Haw, haw, haw!”
Suddenly Lady Merrick began to laugh too. She said, gasping, “Well, at least that problem is solved. I’ll
to let you have the place now, m’mm?”
“It looks like it, my lady.”
“That is,” Lady Merrick added with quite an impish grin, “if that offer of yours is still open.”
“It’s still open, by golly it is,” Andrew Herrold said. People were crowding round now, exclaiming, sympathising, offering hospitality to their poor, dear Drusilla. A dozen friends begged for the pleasure of putting her and Alix up. But Andrew Herrold said, arrogantly, “Lady Merrick and Miss Alix are coming in to Edward to stay with my family. It’s all arranged. Isn’t it, Lady Merrick?”
To Alix’s astonishment her aunt said docilely, “Why, yes, I believe it is, Mr. Herrold. And thank you very much indeed.”
Alix said faintly, “I think this is where we go and fetch Nelson, Richard—don’t you?”
He took her by the elbow, and led her across the road, under the big archway, along the row of Spanish
style cream-white buildings and the patios with their orange trees in tubs and their bright pots of flowers. The scene was deserted, though the ashes of the fires on which the meat had been cooked still glowed dully. Everybody had gone over to the big fire, to help or to gape.
Richard unlocked a door. He called out, “Nelson, boy. Come on!”
There was a rush of padded feet as the light went on. Nelson saw Alix, rose up on his hind legs, put his paws on her shoulders and licked her face. His own was one huge grin of delight. She said, “Nelson,
Where is he hurt, Richard?”
“Here, on the shoulder. Just his hair, luckily. Nothing to worry about. The old silly had pulled the blazing curtain down on top of him. But only just.”
“Oh, Richard. You
be there, wouldn’t you? You always are, somehow, just when you’re wanted.”
Richard brushed back his rather tousled hair with a dirty hand. He said with his engaging grin, “I hope
always shall be. Wanted, I mean.”
x looked at
. She thought,
He cocked his eyebrow at her.