Authors: Jill Tahourdin
Tags: #Harlequin Romance 1967
She had barely settled in the armchair and opened it when her doorbell rang.
A page entered, carrying a big sheaf of gladioli in Cellophane, and a vase. Under his arm was a big bundle of shiny magazines—all the ones she liked best.
“From the gentleman in number 506,” the page told her with a smirk.
“Thank you.” Seeing that he didn’t at once go, she remembered that of course he was waiting for his tip. When he had left, satisfied, she looked at the card that was tied to the flowers.
“Wake up well. Love. Richard,” was all it said.
It made her feel more of a heel than ever.
But she knew that tomorrow, when she was face to face with Bernard, she would be glad about tonight. Though hadn’t someone said, somewhere, that when you are old, the only things you really regret are the things you didn’t do?
RICHARD’S pleasant voice over the telephone said, “Good morning, Alix. Feeling better?”
“Much better. Quite recovered, in fact.”
“Thank you for the flowers and magazines, Richard. It was very sweet of you.”
She heard him laugh.
“Yes, wasn’t it? The Herrold touch, m’m? Look, Alix—if you really feel up to it, I’d like to hire a car. We’ve got the morning—I could show you the sights before we need to report at the air terminal.”
At least I owe him that, Alix thought. She said at once,
“I’d love that, Richard. If you’ll let me go Dutch on the car
“I won’t let you go Dutch,” came his decisive reply. “Think what I saved on you last night! What I will do is collect you down below, in the foyer, in half an hour’s time. Can do?”
She felt suddenly gay, don’t care.
“Can do,” she echoed. “Shall I pack and bring my air-cases, so that we needn’t come back here?”
“Do that. We’ll go straight on to the airport when we’ve
hed seeing the sights.”
So they spent the morning together, seeing the mines, and the cyanide dumps, and the streets of skyscrapers, and the fine shops, and the lovely homes and gardens, complete with swimming pools and tennis courts, of the rich Johannesburghers out in the city’s lavish suburbs.
Richard was careful to be just the char
g escort. No lovemaking, either by word or look. He succeeded so well that Alix thought he must have seen the glimmer of the red light too.
She had awakened feeling nervous. Butterflies had fluttered inside her as she reminded herself that in a few hours she would have met Bernard. She would know the best—or the worst, she supposed
Richard’s calm cheerfulness soothed her.
She said suddenly, “Stay with me, won’t you, and meet Bernard?”
“If you wish. But only for a minute. You’ll have such lots to talk about.”
“Yes. Yes, we shall, of course.”
He said gently, “I hope you’re going to be very, very happy.”
She smiled with her lips. Not he noticed, with her eyes. She was worried, he could see.
He had been right to back his hunch.
She managed to get through the take-off, and the landing, without needing to have her hand held this time.
“Quite the seasoned air traveller now,” Richard said,
“I believe I’m actually beginning to enjoy it,” she said. “Do
like flying, Richard?”
“Love it.” He had his B license, he told her. He was a member of the new flying club at Edward.
“I’d like to take you up one day,” he said.
“Oh, please do,” she said, glowing. Then bit her lip. She had forgotten that she wouldn’t be there.
She was quiet after that till the airliner touched down. As it taxied towards the air terminal she thought, suddenly panic-stricken, This is it.
She was wearing her suit of green jersey because Bernard had always liked her in green. The little angora cap hugged her head and her angora topcoat was hung over her arm. Richard walked beside her, tall, very well turned out in his town suit of mid-grey. He gave her elbow a squeeze and said softly, “Chin up, Alix.”
She said rapidly, “I’ve changed my mind. I’d like to meet Bernard alone. We’ll see you later, in the reception hall. Do you mind, Richard?”
“No, I don’t mind.”
She was scanning the crowd behind the barriers with eager, frightened eyes. Someone waved—someone with rough hair and very blue eyes, dressed in khaki bush shirt and shorts and carrying a broad-brimmed hat. Bernard. Her heart tripped at sight of him. She waved back. Then she was swallowed into the Incoming Passengers section, and it was some minutes before the formalities were completed and she was free. Free to join Bernard
A moment later she was in his arms, enveloped in the well-remembered bear-like hug. He was kissing her, and she was sniffing the familiar odour of the shaving lotion he had always used. She said breathlessly, “Bernard! How are you? How lovely to see you again.”
He held her off and looked at her. His kisses, she noticed, had been on her cheeks, not on her lips.
“You naughty girl, giving me so little notice of your arrival,” he said, mock-severe. “It was just luck that Sandra went in to the Post Office and cleared the box yesterday. They don’t deliver telegrams in these wild parts—didn’t you know?”
She saw that he had filled out, looked older, more mature. Just as she had expected he might. She said gaily, “No, I didn’t know. But since you got my cable, it doesn’t matter, does it? It’s all right, isn’t it?—that I came?”
“Of course. Bit of a surprise, though. I hadn’t expected you quite so soon.”
“But you don’t mind?”
Was there a touch of impatience in his voice as he replied?
“No, I don’t mind.”
“Where am I to stay, Bernard?” She was nervous still. She didn’t feel at home with him yet. Nor, she could see, did he with her. Perhaps it was natural after their long parting.
“Stay? Why, with the Barretts, of course. They’re looking forward to having you. Where, in heaven’s name, did you think?”
She could see Richard striding across the reception hall, making for the door. Wasn’t he coming to meet Bernard, as he had promised? Richard, wait, her heart cried. But he had already gone outside.
Bernard was saying, “I’d better see about your luggage. We’ve got the car outside. It’s a station wagon, so there’ll be tons of room for your stuff.”
We? she was wondering; while aloud she said, with her delicious chuckling laugh, “I’ve got only two air
cases. You won’t need tons of room for my luggage, darling.”
It had come out with difficulty, that
What’s the matter with me? she wondered impatiently. Why do I feel so miserably shy with him? Why is he so shy with me?
He took her by the arm as they left the building. That’s better, she thought, and smiled up at him.
“Is it far to the Barretts’ farm?” she asked.
“Sixteen miles. Look, there’s the car.”
The station wagon was a big fawn-coloured one. There was a girl at the wheel. And standing talking to her was Richard. Of course, he had known Sandra well; been “rather smitten” once.
Bernard said, “Come and meet Sandra, Alix.”
He had dropped her arm in order to lay his hand on the edge of the lowered window beside Sandra.
“Sandra, this is Alix,” he said.
Sandra put out a slim brown hand.
“Hallo, Alix,” she said. Her voice was clear and rather high. It was sweet, polite, but not truly cordial.
Alix said warmly, as warmly as she could manage, “Hallo, Sandra. It’s very kind of you to have me to stay.”
“We’ve been looking forward to meeting you,” Sandra said. When she smiled, she showed teeth as white and small and even as a starlet’s. She was utterly beautiful in the way Richard had described—flashing
eyed, dark. Her hair was almost black and fitted her small head as sleekly as a cap. Her eyes were brilliant and of a strange very light grey, almost silver, between black lashes extravagantly luxuriant.
The eyes were studying Alix, whenever Alix was not looking her way, with a nervous intensity. A few minutes before, when she had seen Richard and discovered that he had travelled in the plane with Bernard’s
, she had asked him with a casualness that didn’t deceive him, “What is she like, Richard?”
He had answered, “You’ll see for yourself in a minute.”
Well, she was seeing now. This rather small girl, with good skin and hair and eyes, and a pleasing figure, but not even really pretty, a serious rival? she was thinking. Oh
Remembering her manners, she introduced Richard and Bernard. She said, “Richard and Alix are old friends. They met in Paradise, it seems, and flew up together today.”
The two men shook hands. Bernard, Richard noted, was looking at him with more than ordinary interest. Taking my measure, Richard thought; just as I’m taking his.
Richard saw nothing in Bernard to dislike; much to like on sight. His fa
ce was frank and open, good-tem
pered-looking; his manners were pleasant.
But he was a trifle jittery, Richard sensed. Natural, perhaps, on such an occasion. Yet—was it? Was he under some sort of strain? Or was that just wishful
g on his own part? Richard couldn’t be sure.
They were chatting easily now, the four of them. Questions about the flight; about future plans.
“What are you doing here, Richard?” Sandra wanted to know.
“Business. Doing a recce preparatory to coming up later on my new job.”
“You’re going to be here for good later? Oh, Richard, what fun. Look, how long have you this visit?”
“Where are you staying?”
“With my stand-in for the moment.”
Sandra said eagerly, “Couldn’t you come to us for just a few days? Do, please, Richard. Daddy would love to see you again. It’s been ages. And we’d be a foursome for tennis and riding. You
play tennis and ride, I suppose, Alix?”
“Tennis, of course. But I’m afraid I never got much beyond the leading-rein stage on a horse.”
Sandra looked incredulous.
“Oh well, you can ride Trojan. He’s a staid old thing,” she said dismissingly. She turned again to Richard.
come?” Alix, waiting for him to reply, found that she was actually holding her breath. She saw him grin.
“You bet I’ll come, thanks very much. Not right away, though. Duty first, if you’ll forgive me for being noble. But by Saturday I should be through. Will that suit you?”
Sandra clapped her slim hands.
“Oh, goody,” she cried. “Come on Saturday morning for a long week-end—or for as long as you like. That’ll be marvellous, won’t it, Bernard?”
Bernard agreed that it would. He was busy stowing Alix’s cases, and then Alix, into the car. Richard said,
till Saturday, then.”
As he looked at Alix—whom Bernard had placed in the rear seat, leaving the vacant place in front for himself, next to Sandra at the wheel—his left eyelid drooped gently in an unmistakable, reprehensible wink.
her severe look; but laughter bubbled inside her—the laughter Richard could always evoke. She had been feeling terrible—now, suddenly, everything came into proportion and was all right. Or at least, no longer terrible
Blessed Richard, she thought. She was glad, glad, glad that he too would be staying with the Barretts. He would be an ally, if she needed one.
she needed one
though why should she?
Now he had gone, and they were moving off, leaving the airport. Alix looked out at the country which—she hoped—was to be her home, and saw to her disappointment that it had none of the beauty that she had left behind her at the Cape. It was flat and rather ugly—the ugliness relieved by coppices of trees, in new spring leaf of, surprisingly, the richest autumn colours. When she exclaimed about them Sandra said indifferently, “They’re masasa trees. They turn green, and very ugly, later on.”
There was a good deal of rock about, in the shape of giant boulders scattered haphazard about the land. As if some giant cruising in outer space had shaken a pepperpot over it.
There were more trees now—gums, planted in great thick wind-breaks.
“This is our boundary,” Bernard said. “All this, now, is Mr. Barrett’s land. Punchestown, it’s called—because that rock you see over there, on your right, is shaped like the head of Mr. Punch.”
They had turned off the main road now on to an earth road provided with two parallel strips of tar just wide enough apart to take the wheels of a car.
“A Rhodesian specialty—a strip road,” Bernard said. “Not many of them left now. Useful in the rains.” There was no sign of rain now. The day was hot, the grass was brownish and dusty, and a dam they passed was not very far from dry. There would be no rain till late October, Alix knew. She knew about Rhodesia in theory—she had read everything about it that she could lay her hands on. When I start up my plant nurseries, she thought now, I’ll need to irrigate
They crossed a river by way of a concrete drift, climbed a steepish rise, and ran through a plantation of wattles in bloom, the golden puff balls sweetly scenting the air.
“There’s the house,” Sandra said, and slowed down as she spoke. She had driven fast and well. She blew a long blast on her horn.
The drive up to the house was bordered with jacaranda trees, already in bloom, and breathtakingly beautiful. The car passed over an azure carpet of fallen blossom.
The house looked very large. With its thatched rondavels and guest cottages around it, it had the look of a small village. The walls of the main building, which was long and thatched, with a veranda at least twelve feet wide all round it, were of stone.
On this veranda were gathered a man and a woman, standing, and an older woman, white-haired, in a wheelchair. Sandra brought the car to a halt and switched off, and Bernard jumped down to give first her, and then Alix, a hand.
Alix felt too hot in her jersey suit. Sandra was wearing cotton jodhpurs and a thin cotton-knit riding shirt. She said, “Come and meet Mummy and Daddy and Granny.”
Mr. Barrett was big, lean and leathery, with a bald head and a spoon jaw. His expression was kindly for
Alix, adoring for his daughter. His wife had the same black hair as Sandra, with just a light sprinkling of grey, and the same eyes; it was clear where Sandra had got her looks. Her manner had a reserve—Alix felt a little chilled. It was the grandmama who gave her the warmest welcome. She was small and twinkling-eyed and looked as if she were a character.