Authors: Jill Tahourdin
Tags: #Harlequin Romance 1967
... so now I’m afraid the deal for leasing that farm in the Mason valley has fallen through. And as I don’t know of any other going that suits my pocket, I’ve agreed to Mr. Barrett’s suggestion that I stay on with him for at least another year. As his paid assistant, please note—a rather loftier status than farm
pupil! It’s a good thing really—there’s a lot more to learn than I expected in this tobacco racket.
This is going to upset our plans a bit, Alix. But as you’ll be with your aunt, you can take your time, can’t you, about deciding whether to come up here now, or later on?
would give us time to see how things work out here, and whether another suitable farm seems likely to come on the books—don’t you agree?
Anyway, let me know what you decide. And meantime, have lots of fun. Love. Bernard.
Alix read this one slowly, three times, then let it drop in her lap. She found she was trembling.
Just what did it mean?
her to go to Salisbury?
Was this what they call a polite brush-off? Nonsense, they were engaged. They’d been engaged for more than two years. They were going to be married
Or were they?
Without consulting her, or even telling her about it beforehand, Bernard had decided to stay on with Mr. Barrett
—for another year.
A year. Twelve long months. Mentally she saw them stretching ahead of her, a lonely, empty vista. Her heart sank down, down. Sitting there, still trembling a little with shock, in her aunt’s unfamiliar room, she felt bewildered, miserable and alone. Unable to see where she, Alix Rayne, fitted into Bernard’s new scheme. Uncertain what to think or believe
A few hours ago, speeding along with Richard Herrold between mountains and sea, she had been so happily confident of the future. A snatch of their conversation floated back into her mind now.
“ ‘Brand-new farm an’ a brand-new wife’—like in
. Very idyllic.”
Radiant, unaware of any cloud in her sky—that was how she had been. Now she didn’t feel sure of anything
of the future, of Bernard, even of herself
Presently—for she was no moper—she tucked the letters into her handbag and went into the garden.
On the lawn the sprinkler was whirling. Francis was making ready to leave, collecting the tools of his trade into an ancient wheelbarrow. At sight of her, off came the dreadful old hat.
“Meddam gone walking on the strand with Nelson, Miss Ellix,” he offered.
Alix could see her aunt, some distance away along the beach, leaning on her shooting stick and talking to a bearded man in a beret, while Nelson gambolled with a small skittish dachshund at the water’s edge.
She didn’t feel in the mood for meeting more strangers. She strolled rather aimlessly round the garden, not really seeing it, still thinking about the letter; deciding, finally, to sleep on it, not spoil her first evening with her aunt by bringing the matter up. There was plenty of time ... a whole year ...
Soon her aunt came back, and showed her to a pretty, chintzy bedroom with a big window looking towards the seaward end of the lagoon, where the big breakers crashed and roared.
The view was lovely; but Alix saw it through a sudden mist of tears. She shook them away impatiently.
Resolutely, when her aunt had left her alone, she began to unpack. She chose a pretty silk dress to wear for dinner, brushed out her curly light brown hair, and re-did her nail varnish.
The heat of her bath—in water that was clear brown, straight, her aunt told her, from a mountain stream
soothed and relaxed her. She began to feel less desolate. Tomorrow things would look differently, perhaps. Tomorrow she would put her problem to her aunt, a wise old bird with two happy marriages to her credit, and so well equipped to advise her. Tomorrow was another
ALIX got up early next morning, as soon as she had drunk the tea Effelina brought in to her on the stroke of seven. The coloured girl was all smiles again—perhaps Aunt Drusilla had already settled
problems for her
In spite of her resolution Alix had slept badly, lying awake half the night, indeed, thinking about Bernard’s letter and its implications for herself.
At one point she had even found herself wondering just how much she was in love with Bernard. What would it mean to me, she asked herself, if I were to lose him now?
Then she had felt ashamed. She had accused herself of showing a sad lack of faith in her lover. Just because their love had perhaps been pushed into the background a little by two years of separation, was that any reason for assuming it wasn’t just as warm and vital as ever?
And then, tossing and turning and thumping Aunt
Drusilla’s well-stuffed pillows, she had admitted that she just didn’t
Theirs had been an impetuous, rather disjointed courtship, carried on in snatches between hoeing and weeding, planting and gathering crops. There hadn’t been much time, at the Priory, for ardour. It was surprising—looking back now on those hectically busy days
that Bernard had managed to find an opportunity to propose.
But he had—one day when she was trimming and tying tomato plants.
He had come racing into the kitchen garden to tell her of his godfather’s legacy and his idea of
emigrating to Rhodesia. And when she had told him what a splendid idea she thought it, he had looked at her with those blue, long-lashed eyes of his and said gruffly, “We could afford to marry on it, Alix, if you like—after I’ve trained.”
She couldn’t quite recapture, now, the rush of warm feeling that had led her to put her arms round him, lift her face to his kiss, and say frankly, “I’d love that, Bernard—if you redly mean it.”
“I mean it—you darling.”
The next day he had slipped the signet ring into her hand and told her to wear it for
till he could give her the wacking big diamond she deserved.
She had felt rather maternal, somehow, over the loan of the ring. Dear Bernard, she had thought tenderly. He was twenty-one then, not quite a year younger than herself, but a good deal older-looking. They had been very happy with each other. And if Alix hadn’t exactly felt like swooning with delight when Bernard kissed her, she had found it very enjoyable. She wasn’t, anyway, a swooner.
Now she wondered if they hadn’t rushed too precipitately into an engagement involving so long a parting. She recalled the old saying about absence
the heart grow fonder ... of somebody else
Some time in the night a wind got up and blew in from the sea. It tore and battered at the house for a while, then died away on a sigh. Alix sighed too. When she got up to look out of her window she saw that the tide had ebbed right away. The beach lay bone-white in the moonlight. The hills were black cardboard shapes against a luminous sky. She longed for it to be light so that she could get up. The wild, plaintive cries of seabirds, that were the only sounds breaking the silence, seemed to echo the unfamiliar sadness in her heart.
When she did get up the tide was running strongly into the lagoon again and the sun was just up.
She decided to go down for a swim. She and Bernard had sometimes met very early for a dip in the lake at the Priory. She thought a swim would clear her head, muzzy from too much thinking.
Zipping herself into her sleek black swimsuit took barely a minute. She pinned up her hair on top of her head, put on sandals and a towel wrap and slipped quietly from her room.
Nelson, hearing her step, came to greet her, his tail a
“Coming for a swim, boy” His ears pricked. The wagging accelerated. Evidently
was a word he knew.
He padded at her side as she made her way through the garden and crossed the coastal track.
Beyond this the plateau ran out in a blunt point, carpeted with grass. Alix was amazed at the variety of brilliant wild flowers—till she remembered the reversal of the seasons, and that September is spring south of the Equator.
She followed Nelson down a little path to the beach. A fishing boat with a coloured crew was chugging under engine towards the sea. A flock of white egrets winged up-lagoon on their own urgent business. A dinghy in which a patient figure sat, watching a line, was anchored a hundred yards from the shore.
Otherwise, Alix and Nelson had the world to themselves.
The air felt deliciously fresh. The lagoon was smooth as glass, dark bottle green under the hills, palest lime green near the shore. The morning light on the water was very beautiful.
“Heaven. Come on, Nelson,
cried Alix, and they splashed together into the cool shallow water. They had to wade quite a way before it became deep enough for a real swim—almost as far, in fact, as the anchored fishing boat.
Alix broke into an easy crawl and swam with her face under for a bit; and Nelson paddled effortlessly beside her, his forehead wrinkled with the anxiety of guardianship.
Soon she turned on her back and floated, looking up dreamily at the pale morning sky.
I ought to be thoroughly miserable, she thought; but I can’t, on such a heavenly day.
She started and came upright, treading water, when a voice from the fishing boat called out:
“Good morning, Alix. Enjoying your swim?”
“Richard! What are
“Fishing. What else?”
“Have you caught any?”
“Sure”—gaily. He held up a plump, striped fish by the tail. “Sand steenbras. Four so far. They’re very good to eat. Would you like one for your breakfast?”
“N—no, I don’t think so, thanks.”
She knew she shouldn’t be t
g to him; but how not, after he’d been so kind yesterday?
“Do you usually fish here?” she demanded with sudden suspicion.
He nodded. He was watching his line. “Invariably,” he asserted calmly. “My favourite spot for steenbras. You fish, of course?”
Then I must teach you,” Richard said. “Come on, we’ll start now. Can you pull yourself aboard?”
She had been hanging on to the gunwale by one hand as they talked, while Nelson cruised back and forth a yard or two away. Now she dropped back into the water.
“I don’t think I’ll come, thanks, or Nelson might want to come aboard too,” she hedged.
“Don’t go. Wait a minute,” Richard said sharply. Suddenly
s lines had gone s
ng out. The tip of the rod was bent over in a quivering taut arc.
“I’ve got somet
ng,” he said tensely. “It’s a whopper, I think. Look, you
come aboard, Alix. I’ll want you to help me. Get in over the stem and catch hold of that landing net. Hurry up, for the love of Mike
He was playing
fish as he spoke, checking the line, reeling in, letting line run out, reeling in again. He didn’t seem to be paying any attention to Alix; yet somehow she found herself scrambling into the dinghy, snatc
ng up the net, standing beside Mm, breath held, eyes s
ng with excitement, as slowly, inexorably, he brought the big fish nearer and nearer to the net she was now holding out.
When it was a couple of yards away the fish executed a prodigious leap, trying to t
ow off the hook. But it failed. Three glorious minutes later, it lay gasping in the bottom of the boat, and Richard was saying:
“Done like a pro, Alix, bless you. Enjoyed that?”
She gasped too—rather like the fish, she thought. “Oh
I did. I never imagined fis
ng could be so exciting.”
He had picked it up and was weighing it on a small spring scale. He grinned at her delightedly.
“It’s an eleven-pounder. Gosh, Alix, you’re lucky. An eleven-pounder for your first fish!”
He paid no attention to that. He had picked up a smaller rod and was baiting the hooks.
“Come on now, you must try a cast,” he urged. “We’ll make a fisherwoman out of you yet.”
But Alix had come to her senses. What am I doing here? she asked herself with shocked amazement. Fishing—in a
boat? Fraternising with the enemy. In full view of the house too. What
Aunt Drusilla think? She’s probably watching me through her binoculars now, absolutely horrified
“Oh no, Richard, th
you very much, but I must go back,” she
hastily. “I’ll be late for breakfast.”
“Then will you come for a lesson tomorrow morning?”
Nelson saved the situation for her by trying to scramble into the boat. He was bored with swimming round it; besides, something told him his morning bowl of porridge was waiting for him on the kitchen step.
“Stop it, Nelson, I’m coming,” Alix cried, snatching at the pretext he offered. “Sorry, Richard, got to go. Thanks so much
Splash! She was in the water and swimming hard for the shore.
As she grounded in the shallows a tall figure, stripped down to
trunks, jumped to its feet beside her. Richard. His eyes, resting on her face, had a warmth in them she couldn’t fail to notice. He was thinking, in point of fact, how adorable she looked in her wet swimsuit, with her hair in a damp curly topknot, colour rising in her cheeks, and an attempt at a severe frown creasing her smooth brow
“What ?” she began. He didn’t allow her to finish
“You didn’t say,” he reminded her gently, “whether you’d come and fish tomorrow, or not.”
The sea-water glistened on his well-muscled, sun
browned body. He looked very big and confident and
determined. Alix said:
“You know I can’t, Richard.”
He lifted the humorous eyebrow.
“Not allowed to play with that Bad Man’s child?” She nodded sedately, though a glint showed between her lashes.
“I may say I shall be fishing off Laguna Point just as often as the tide is right. So what happens? Do you swim by, cutting me dead?”
“If I ask you—as a favour—to go and do your fishing somewhere else...?”
There was no mistaking, this time, the diablerie in his amused grin.
“Sorry, no dice. The lagoon is free for all.”
“Then I must find somewhere else to swim.”
“If you did,” said Richard thoughtfully, “I mean if I hadn’t seen you for two or three days, I might get anxious. I might feel in duty bound to call at ‘Laguna’ and enquire after your health. Besides, I invited you to dine. I’d have to try and find out which date would suit you.”
Alix tried, not very successfully, to look severe. “You’re very persistent, aren’t you?” she accused. His grey eyes gave her a long level look, entirely serious now. No humorous lift of the brow.
“When I happen to want something a lot
very,” he agreed quietly.
She had no answer to that.
“Well, I must fly
A military-looking man with white hair, wearing khaki drill shorts and a bush jacket, was strolling along the path towards them. He eyed Alix with frank curiosity. He called out:
“Hullo, Herrold. Nice morning.”
“A few nice steenbras.”
“Lucky. Not even a nibble last evening. Well—that’s fishing, isn’t it? S’long.”
When he was out of earshot Richard said, “That’s Colonel Braines, ex-Indian Army. He’s just sold his place to my father. That’s it, over to the right of ‘Laguna.’ ”
“Do you, indeed?”
“About the Chambers, too. Have they signed on the dotted line yet?”
“They will. This morning, actually. Who told you?”
“A Mr. Gore came to call and warn my aunt.”