It was one of Argentina’s most beautiful autumn days. A soft breeze played with the leaves of the ash trees which were already turning a brilliant yellow, unpinning those which were only lightly attached and sending them spinning and whirling through the warm, golden air.
Overcome with anxiety, Jane checked the main bedroom, the T.V. room, and the sitting room to make sure that they were exactly as Violet had left them. The piano and drink cabinet were locked, the curtains drawn; they looked as formal and sedate as even Violet could have wished.
Nervously, Jane fiddled with the flower arrangement she had placed in the hall, while her mind darted about the house and recalled the past week. She felt sure that despite all her efforts the house was rocking with silent laughter and she wondered if it still had some other calamity up its sleeve. Robert and Violet were due to arrive at any minute.
“Another week with that child here, Jane?” Dora exclaimed petulantly. “Really, I think that that is too much. I’ve been remarkably patient, as it is.”
“I know, I’m sorry, Ma,” Jane said contritely. “But what could I say?”
“I don’t know, but it’s so inconsiderate of these people. One would think they’d stick to their plans. What if they decide to stay six months after this?”
“Oh, I doubt it. Robert has to work, after all.”
“A whole week! It’s incredible. I have my bridge game at Eileen’s today; don’t forget. I want to wear my green dress…” Dora had been agonizing over which dress to wear for days. “… and my fur coat. You had better go and bring them down now. The fur coat is in a plastic bag with a zip, and my stockings… “
Patiently, Jane went upstairs and collected the clothes her mother wanted, piling them on the double bed. Her father was surprisingly neat. He made the bed every morning and left the bedroom and bathroom perfectly tidy. The clothes he changed into when he returned in the evening were folded and lay on a chair. Jane ran her fingers gently over his beige angora pullover and wondered if he would ever relent. Despite his stiff-necked objectionable attitude, she still loved him and longed for their relationship to be healed.
“Why, Lord?” she thought. “Why is he like that? Help us to make it up. Help him to forgive me.”
During lunch the telephone rang; Dora answered and then handed the receiver to Jane. “It’s for you.”
“This is Mrs. Armitage from Candy Kindergarten. Bobby Gregory is running a very high temperature and is not at all well. Would you come and fetch him right away?”
“Why, yes, of course. I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
“What’s the matter?” Dora asked.
“Bobby has a temperature. I have to go and fetch him.”
“Sure. I’ll go in a taxi.”
“What did they say he had?”
“That he had a temperature and was not at all well.”
“You’ll have to take him to the doctor.”
“We’ll see. I’ll get you your coffee now. O.K? “
“Did they say if the temperature was very high?”
“Quite high, apparently.”
The telephone rang again as Jane hurried to prepare the coffee and she heard her mother’s raised voice repeating. “Yes, she’s here. Who’s speaking? Yes, yes, she’s HERE.”
“Oh, heavens, that’ll be Aunt Georgina,” Jane thought and hastened back to the living room with her mother’s coffee which she set down on the table beside her.
“Some man wants to speak to you,” Dora said. “Why on earth do you give this ‘phone number to people when you don’t live here?”
“I must speak to Jane Rowan,” Aunt Georgina trumpeted.
“Speaking,” Jane said loudly.
“Ah, Jane, listen. The plumber is here, and the porter. Apparently the bathroom can’t be fixed today. In fact, it’ll take about a week I understand… ”
“Let me speak to the plumber,” Jane shouted.
The plumber explained that the bathroom would be a major repair job and he would have to work in both the apartments, break the floor, change pipes and that the whole operation would take several days.
“So,” Aunt Georgina said, back on the line once more. “I’m taking my jewels and going over to Robert’s house right away, to stay. I can’t live here with all that noise and hubbub going on.”
Jane pictured Aunt Georgina moving into Violet’s antique-filled house and felt a wave of panic. It had been bad enough the night before, with all the pizza and piano playing in the sitting room, but what if she was still there when Robert and Violet returned? Helplessly she said, “I´ll see you later.”
“What letter?” Aunt Georgina asked. “Have you heard from Robert?”
“No, nothing. See you LATER, that’s all.”
“Oh, well, perhaps you’ll let me read it this evening when you come.”
“What’s the matter?” Dora asked, intrigued despite herself. Jane explained and Dora shrugged, “Well, they’ve got plenty of room and a living-in cook so I don’t see what you’re so worried about.” She sniffed. “She sounded like a man with that voice.”
Jane pulled on her anorak, thinking as she did so that she would have to put Aunt Georgina into Violet and Robert’s bed; there was no other room available. She kissed her mother, who called after her as she hurried to leave.
“Don’t forget that I have to be at Eileen’s at three.”
“No, no. Don’t worry.”
Bobby, limp and fretful, his eyes glassy with fever, was sitting forlornly in Mrs. Armitage’s office. Jane picked him up, thanked Mrs. Armitage for advising her and returned to the waiting taxi. When she arrived home she found her mother lying in a heap on the floor.
“Mummy! What happened?”
In horror she sat Bobby in one of the arm chairs and rushed to her mother’s side.
“It was getting late so I thought I’d start getting ready,” Dora said as Jane helped her back onto the sofa. “And I lost my balance.” She winced.
“What’s hurting you?”
“My shoulder, I seem to have twisted it. Never mind, it’s getting late, I must change. How’s Bobby? Hello, Bobby how are you feeling?”
Jane sighed as Bobby’s eyes filled with tears and he began to twist a clump of hair round and round with his fingers.
“You must take him to the doctor, Jane. Look how flushed he is,” Dora exclaimed anxiously.
Jane glanced at her watch, organizing the next hour mentally as she did so. Assuming her most efficient and no-nonsense attitude, she went to get a quarter of an aspirin for Bobby and then began exhausting business of dressing her mother for her first bridge party.
“Do you think this green dress is a good choice? Perhaps the brown…”
“No, this green is lovely; how does your shoulder feel? I think I had better massage you a little before you put it on.”
Dora, tense and anxious, fussed and fumed as Jane massaged her shoulder.
“I’ll get there late. That’s fine; really, that’s quite enough, let me get dressed now. For goodness sake, Jane, I’ve told you, you’ve massaged me enough.”
Jane pulled on her dress, zipped it up the back, helped her put a smart black shoe on her foot without plaster; sprinted upstairs to get her pearl necklace and black handbag, the Channel Nº 5 perfume and two pretty handkerchiefs; combed her hair because her shoulder was still painful; closed up the house and rang for a taxi. Bobby had fallen asleep. He awoke when Jane picked him up to take him to the taxi and began to cry, a forlorn, little whimper.
“You really must take him to the doctor.” Dora repeated and Jane said irritably,
“I’m going to as soon as I’ve delivered you at Eileen’s”
“There’s no need to get cross,” Dora said huffily. “It’s quite obvious the child is sick. What time is it? I don’t want to arrive late. What are you going to do tomorrow if he has to stay in bed?”
“Your char comes tomorrow.”
“Yes, I know, but I don’t want her dressing me or anything like that. Their living-in cook will have to look after him. Daddy will be furious if you don’t come.”
“Stop worrying, Mum, I’ll fix something up. I won’t miss, I promise. Here we are and ten minutes to spare.”
“Oh, goodness, are we early? Perhaps we’d better drive round the square.”
“No, Mummy, I’ve got to take Bobby to the doctor. Come on, out you get.”
Dora maneuvered herself out of the front seat of the taxi and Jane accompanied her slowly up the garden path. Eileen greeted them effusively at the front door and took charge. Thankfully, Jane bade them goodbye and returned to the waiting taxi and Bobby, giving Dr. Michaelson’s address.
Dr. Michaelson decided that it was a clear case of German measles and told Jane to take Bobby home and keep him in bed until the fever fell.
“As soon as the rush erupts it will come down,” he comforted Jane. “I have any number of little patients with German measles just now. God bless them. Don’t worry, dear. He’ll be as right as rain by the time his Mummy and Daddy come back. How is your mother?”
“She’s well, but she slipped while I was fetching Bobby just now and twisted her shoulder; I hope it turns out to be something unimportant. She went to her first bridge party today, the first since she was operated, so it’s quite a day for her.”
“Good, let me know about the shoulder. Give her my kind regards.”
“Sure. Mrs. Michaelson?”
“Off spoiling her grandchildren.”
“Give her my best love,” Jane said, remembering Hetty’s ‘phone call and what an enormous difference it had made to her life in general.
Aunt Georgina was not at home when Jane arrived. Her suitcase and several bulging nylon bags stood in the hall, mute indications of her disembarkation. Jane went to the kitchen, told Albertina to prepare some lemonade and asked her how Nelly was.
“She is still sleeping, Señorita Jane.”
Jane looked at her watch in alarm and hastened upstairs with Bobby in her arms. She pulled off his shoes and jeans and tucked him into bed.
“Jane’ll be back directly,” she comforted him, her heart beating anxiously.
She knocked on Nelly’s door and as there was no answer she opened it and stepped into the darkened room. The stench of stale cigarette smoke assailed her nostrils. Nelly lay spread-eagled on the bed breathing with slow, heavy gasps. A note was propped up on the night table.
The ambulance arrived within ten minutes and an hour and a half later Nelly was tucked up in a hospital bed; her stomach had been pumped out and she had been given the necessary treatment to help her heart and body counteract the effects of the lethal dose of sleeping tablets she had taken.
“Why didn’t you let me go?” she whispered bitterly.
“If Bobby hadn’t got sick, and if my mother hadn’t had a bridge party today, you would have,” Jane said quietly, shuddering at the thought. “You were not meant to go yet, Nelly. You still have a lot to do here in the world. Suicide is never the answer. Life on earth is to learn; we should extract the lesson hidden in everything that happens to us. Bettina loved you, really loved you. How can you suddenly start believing Kevin and all his lies? Kevin is a very selfish, self-centered person, Nelly. Don’t let him ruin your life, you’re worth ten of him. God surely has something lovely all fixed up for you. You just have to learn to be patient and wait for it to arrive.”
“Without Bettina, nothing will ever be the same. I just don’t want to go on living.”
“Of course it’s not the same, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll never be happy again, or that super things won’t happen in your life. Don’t shut the door to the future; don’t lock out experiences which are good and positive.”
Nelly turned her head away. “If you had been through what I’ve been through you’d understand,” she murmured bitterly.
Jane sat beside her helplessly, feeling desperately tired and depressed. Clasping her hands she prayed silently, invoking Nelly’s guardian angel and trying to fill the room with her own faith. Nelly’s depression was like a gluey substance filling the whole room, and she felt sticky and in some way contaminated. At last she rose and said, “I must go now, Nelly. Bobby isn’t well; I think he has German measles, and Aunt Georgina has decided to stay at home as well so there’s a lot to do there.”
“Yes, yes. I understand,” Nelly said wearily without moving. “I’ll be alright.”
Jane rose, bent over her, kissed her cheek and left.
Bobby was in the kitchen with Albertina when she arrived back at the Gregory’s. His rash had broken and he was covered with little red spots, but his glassy, feverish gaze had been replaced by his usual impish expression and he was busy pushing cars about the kitchen table and in and out of an improvised bus station. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee reminded Jane of how tired she was, and with a grateful sigh she sank down beside Bobby and let Albertina fuss around her, serving her coffee and cookies, while she gave the old cook a carefully edited version of Nelly’s experiences in the hospital. Albertina shook her head in a melancholy fashion, convinced that Nelly would make a better job of it next time. The bell rang and she went to see who had arrived.
It was Aunt Georgina, her untidy white hair blued and skillfully restrained into a poem of waves and curls, stiff with spray. Jane went to welcome her.
“Hello,” the old lady said with surprise, fiddling with her hearing aid, “I thought you didn’t get back until after six.”
“It’s six now,” Jane said. “How nice your hair is looking!”
“Not bad, huh? Terribly expensive, though. I can only afford to go now and then, but I had the time and the money so I thought I’d go today. Where do you want me to sleep?”
“It’ll have to be Robert and Violet’s bed, there is no other.”
“That’s alright by me.”
“I’ll take your suitcase up for you.”
As they passed the T.V. room which was open, Aunt Georgina said, “And how is Nelly today?”
Jane proceeded into Violet’s bedroom and laid down the suitcase and hold-all.
“She tried to commit suicide today. Overdose of sleeping tablets. Luckily I came home early. She’s in hospital now, recovering.”
“Good gracious me. What a thing to go and do, and in someone else’s house too! What would have happened if she had been successful? Really, some people have no brains. Any tea to be had? All this hairdresser business has made me dreadfully thirsty.”
“Bobby has developed German measles so he’s in the kitchen where it’s warm. Would you like your tea there or in the sitting room?”
“Oh, I think the sitting room. Bobby’s got what?”
“Good heavens, how did he catch that?”
“From one of the children at school, I expect. The doctor says he is attending to lots of children who have it.”
“Aunty! Aunty, I’ve got measles; I’ve got germy measles!”
Bobby ran up to them excitedly, baring his chest as he did so to show off his rash. “Look, Aunty. Look, look!”
“Goodness gracious me, who’s been painting you with a red crayon?”
“Well, I never, what a funny thing for Him to do! Would you like me to teach you snap?”
“Yes. What’s snap? Is it an eating game?”
“No. It’s a card game. Come along to the sitting room; we’ll light the gas fire to keep you warm.”
Jane went to the kitchen to ask Albertina to take Aunt Georgina a tea tray. She finished her coffee and returned upstairs to make up the old lady’s bed, close the windows of the T.V. room, and turn on the electric fire in Bobby’s room.
Much later, sitting once again beside Nelly’s bed, having brought the few things that Nelly had needed, Jane tried to cheer her up describing Bobby learning to play snap with Aunt Georgina. At last she said, “Nelly, when Robert and Violet come back I’ve nowhere to go, as the friend who lent me her flat has returned from her trip. Would it be possible for me to go and stay with you for a few weeks until I find a room or an apartment that I really like?”
Nelly raised dark, hollow eyes and regarded her without answering, and Jane thought, “In this moment she’s deciding whether to live or to die. If she says no, it means that she is determined to take her life and there is nothing anyone can do to help her.”
Nelly sighed and closed her eyes, trying to stop the tears from spilling over. She ran her tongue over her dry lips and said wearily, “Yes, of course you can come and stay at home.”
Jane relaxed, aware suddenly of how tense she had been. She leaned forward and touched Nelly’s hand. “Thanks tons,” she whispered. “That’s a huge weight off my mind.”
When she got back to the Gregory’s, Aunt Georgina asked gruffly, “Well, how is she?”
“Probably do the job properly as soon as she gets out.”
“She said I can go and stay with her, when Robert and Violet come back.”
“Well, that’s something.”
“It’s late, Aunt Georgina, and I’m just about dead on my feet. I think I’ll go to bed.”
“Off you go. I think I’ll play the piano for a little while. Unlock it for me, will you?”
Jane fetched the key, unlocked the piano, showed Aunt Georgina where to turn out the lights and reminded her not to forget to turn off the gas fire.
“How’s Bobby?” Dora asked as soon as Jane arrived.
“Better; he’s covered with a rash.”
“Who’s looking after him?”
“The cook and his great-great-aunt.”
Jane helped her mother to dress and asked about the bridge game.
“Paula couldn’t go, so Eileen asked Molly instead, but she plays a dreadful game of bridge.”
“I expect you had a super tea, though.
“Not really. The sandwiches were all soggy.”
“Oh, dear. Well, how about an adventure today?”
“What do you mean, an adventure?”
“I can’t very well leave Bobby with two old ladies all day so I’ve decided to invite you over to the Gregory’s.”
“What about Marta?”
“What time does she leave? Five, isn’t it? We’ll tell her to wait until we arrive before leaving.”
Marta was banging away in the kitchen washing the floor with great vigour to make up for having arrived fifteen minutes late.
“Well,” Dora said doubtfully.
Jane crossed her fingers behind her back. The idea of seeing the Gregory’s house with her own eyes, after all Jane’s descriptions, was too much for Dora.
“Alright,” she said. I’ll write out a list of all the things I want Marta to do today.”
Jane relaxed and whisked about finishing off her chores. Since her mother made no mention of her shoulder, Jane refrained from doing so either.
Bobby and Aunt Georgina were in the sitting room when they got to the house and Jane wondered if Violet would realize the room had been in constant use while she had been away. She introduced her mother to Aunt Georgina and left them discussing the weather in order to arrange about lunch with Albertina and telephone the hospital to find out how Nelly was. She was informed that the doctors were satisfied with Nelly’s condition and that she could go home. Pulling on her anorak once again, she hastened to say goodbye and left. Bobby had been made a new swan, in bright red paper this time, and he was helping it to swim about on the sofa while he listened in to the conversation. Jane was sure that it would not be at all suitable for small ears before long, but there was nothing much she could do about it. She flagged down a taxi and climbed wearily into it. The taxi driver recognized her at once.
“Good morning, Señorita,” he exclaimed. “How are you?”
Jane, taken aback, took a moment or two to remember the afternoon they had spent at Ana’s. “Hello,” she exclaimed with a pleased smile. “Fancy our meeting again!”
She gave him the name of the hospital and the address.
“I hope no one in your family is ill,” he said, concerned.
“No,” Jane reassured him and told him the story of Nelly’s suicide attempt and the reason for it. He shook his head sadly.
“It must be terrible to reach such a state of depression. But life has so many good things hidden within its folds, if one is willing to look for them.”
“That’s what I told her last night,” Jane said. “I believe in reincarnation you see. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Repeated lives during which one has tons of different experiences, like being very rich or poor or Japanese for instance.. Suicide is such a waste of time and effort!”
“I too believe in reincarnation,” the taxi driver said, smiling at Jane in the rear view mirror. “One life is not enough, and would never be enough, to learn all we have to learn to be worthy of the perfection which God demands of us.”
Surprised, Jane leaned forward eagerly and they discussed the subject until they drew up in front of the hospital.
“Would you like me to wait for you?” he asked, leaning across to turn off the clock. “It would be easier, wouldn’t it? You do all you have to do and don’t worry about the cost.”
“Thanks, thanks very much,” Jane said happily. “But it might take a longish time.”
“What is your friend’s name?” the taxi driver asked. “I will think about her and try to give her strength.”
Startled, Jane gave him Nelly’s name and walked into the hospital thoughtfully. Nelly seemed to be receiving help and protection from all angles. First the fact that she herself had returned early and discovered her before it had been too late; now the taxi driver meditating for her. The kindness and efficiency of the doctors, and too, that she, Jane, had not found anywhere to live despite visiting any number of rooms and flats and would now be living with Nelly for a while, so that she would not be alone. “I wonder if that is Bettina’s doing or if it’s part of her destiny? Nelly’s own higher self protecting her against herself? Perhaps it’s a combination. But it’s all very remarkable all the same.” She mused.
Once all the necessary paper work had been filled out and signed, Jane helped Nelly to gather her belongings and accompany her to the taxi. The driver opened the door for her and settled her comfortably, his square-jawed face full of compassion. Sitting behind him and looking at his grey, cropped head Jane felt how extraordinary it was that they should have met once again. The return trip was completed in total silence, but Jane felt that the taxi seemed to be full of a strange, warm light which enveloped them with a deep sense of peace.
“It`s a miracle,” she thought glancing at Nelly and seeing how her tight, anguished expression had softened and how she had gradually relaxed against the taxi seat. When they came to the Gregory’s house, the taxi driver opened the door of the taxi for them and wished them a gentle goodbye. Jane paid him and thanked him.
“Whatever you did,” she did quietly. “It was very effective.”
Nahuel Luna, alias Bernardo Rivas smiled into her eyes and replied. “It was not I, Señorita, I just acted as a channel.”
His words and his expression made Jane’s heart tremble a little, and she felt short of breath. Who was this man, she asked herself? What sort of powers had he developed in himself? She shook his hand and followed Nelly almost unwillingly.
“Jane ? Robert here. How are things, Cinderella?”
“Where are you, Robert? You sound just round the corner!”
“Still in Rome, and I’m alone and it’s raining. Violet has gone to Spain to see her parents.”
“D’you want all the news?”
“Of course, I’m lying on my bed so I’m safe enough. What’s happened now?”
“Bobby’s got German measles. Aunt Georgina is here because the plumber had to change all sorts of pipes in the bathroom of the flat upstairs. Did Violet tell you? There was a leak in Aunt Georgina’s bathroom so I sent the plumber to have a look.”
“No. But that’s not unusual. How is Bobby, poor mite?”
“He’s fine now, his rash is fading.”
“Who’s looking after him, or has your mother recovered?”
“No. Nelly is staying here too … “
“Nelly? My dear, the house must be overflowing; where have you put them all?”
“Nelly’s in the T.V. room and Aunt Georgina is in your bed. I hope you don’t mind.”
“My God, how are you coping?”
“Bobby sleeps in, in the morning, and then Nelly looks after him, and then a taxi fetches him and takes him to my mother’s and then fetches us both and brings us back.”
“He goes alone in a taxi?”
“A tame taxi, I mean the taxi driver is a, … well, a sort of friend. We arranged this because I couldn’t leave my mother and Nelly can’t cope all day. She… she had a sort of… breakdown you see. But she’s O.K. now. I’m going to go and stay with her when you come back, for a while at least, until she feels more able to cope.”
“When will Aunty’s bathroom be ready? We’re due to arrive on Saturday morning.”
“The plumber promised it for Thursday so I expect she’ll be home by Saturday. I’ll tell him you’re arriving on Saturday to hurry him up.”
“You seem to have had an extraordinarily hectic couple of weeks. Is there anything special that you would like me to bring you?”
“Just a couple of Rafaels,” Jane laughed.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Robert promised. “Till Saturday, then. Look after yourself, Cinderella.”
Jane replaced the receiver with a smile. She could hardly believe that her days at the Gregory’s were nearly over and that a new home and new experiences awaited her as from Saturday. It would be hard to leave Bobby. She would miss him.
Nelly returned to her flat on the Friday. Aunt Georgina, decided on Saturday morning, early, that she preferred her own home and left with all flags flying.
“Can’t stand Violet,” she said as she kissed Jane goodbye. “Selfish little brat as far as I’m concerned. Come and see me, dear. You’ve got my address.”
Jane, who had had the daily stay extra time to have the house shining, tore upstairs and vacuumed the bedroom, made up the bed with fresh linen, opened the windows wide to let in the autumn sunshine and set a small vase of flowers on the dressing table. Then she fetched Bobby and changed him into his pale blue shorts, white blouse and pale blue pullover.
“Now, don’t go and get dirty, Bobbins,” she pleaded. “Mummy and Daddy will be arriving very soon and we want everything looking nice, don’t we?”
Glancing at her watch for the hundredth time she hurried to change her pullover for a white cardigan and run a comb through her hair.
The company car stopped in front of the house, and moments later Violet opened the front door and sailed in. Jane caught her breath. Her hair had been cut in the latest Parisian style and dyed the same colour as Bobby’s. Her clothes screamed ‘Paris’, and her perfume filled the hall as she flung out her arms and swooped down upon her small son.
“Bobby, darling! How’s my baby? “ she cried clasping him to her. “Did you get German measles while we were away then? Poor darling.”
Bobby, overcome with emotion and shock at his mother’s strange appearance, burst into loud wails, wriggled out of her embrace and ran to Jane for reassurance.
“What’s the matter?” Violet asked indignantly, straightening up.
“You look so different, it’s hard to recognize you.”
“Like the colour? It’s the exact shade of Bobby`s.” Violet admired herself in the hall mirror.
The chauffeur, after several trips, finished piling all the luggage in the hall, shook Violet’s hand and left. A moment later Robert appeared.
“Hello, Jane. Hey Bobby, it’s us. Mummy and Daddy. We’re back,” he cried happily. Bobby stopped crying and stared at his father from the safety of Jane’s arms, his head pressed against her shoulder.
“Did you bwing me the bus station?” he asked.
“I did, and lots of other things too!”
His tears forgotten, Bobby slid out of Jane’s arms and ran to his father. Albertina, hovering in the background, came forward to welcome home her employers. Violet gave her a peck on the cheek and Robert shook her hand.
“Coffee?” Jane asked. “Or drinks?”
“Beer, I think,” Robert said.
“I’ll have a whisky,” Violet said. “Take our things up, Robert; the hall looks such a mess with all this clutter.”
“Everything is looking very nice, isn’t it?” Robert said approvingly, giving Jane a wink. “Flowers all over the place; furniture all spat upon and polished. Wonderful.”
“Why, yes. “ Violet said dutifully and picked Bobby out of Robert’s arms. “Come to me, darling,” she said. “Daddy has to take our things up to the bedroom.”
“An’ the bus station, Daddy?”
“It’s all packed. I’ll give it to you as soon as we get unpacked, but here is a bus to start with.” Robert drew a toy bus out of his pocket and Bobby squealed with delight.
“Look, Mummy. A weal bus. Look, look, Mummy.”
“Yes, darling.” Violet asked Albertina to bring the drinks to the T.V. room and led the way there. She sniffed and wrinkled her nose.
“Who’s been smoking in here?” she asked.
“Nelly,” Jane said.
“Oh, was she here? How is she?”
“Better now. I’m going to stay with her for a while.”
“What a good idea. I brought her a present. I brought you these soaps from Paris. Haven’t they the most divine perfume? It was all simply marvelous. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you could come like that, Jane. We both felt so at ease knowing you were in charge. Do you like the soaps? Robert got something for you in Rome I think. He had to stay an extra week so I went to see my parents in Spain, alone. I told you on the ‘phone, I think. They’d just returned from a super trip to Hong Kong.”
She babbled on, darting from Paris to Rome, describing company dinners at exclusive restaurants, visits to the opera and to the theatre and shopping sprees.
Robert, having taken the luggage upstairs, came in with the bottle of whisky.
“Have you fixed up anything for lunch?” He asked. “Or shall we go out?”
“No, Albertina has prepared lunch,” Jane said. “I shan’t be staying, though. I want to get over to Nelly’s. She’s expecting me.”
“Too bad. But you do have time for a drink I hope.”
“Sure. I’ll have some ‘coke, if I may.”
“No thanks. By the way, here all the expenses, and what I spent and so on. Rather a lot on taxis, I’m afraid. I told the plumber you’d pay him when you got back and had seen the job finished. I only paid him what he spent on materials. These are the bills.” Jane handed Robert a neatly written sheet of paper with several bills attached. He looked through everything carefully and nodded.
“Will you accept a cheque?” he asked. “Or would you prefer cash?”
Jane shrugged. “Whatever,” she smiled.
“I think the best thing for Nelly would be to go to Brazil to stay with Diego, don’t you?” Violet said emphatically. “Get right away. Poor Nelly. I can imagine how lonely she is. You’ve no idea how I missed Bobby, didn’t I, my little pet?”
She leaned over and gave Bobby a hug. Robert had unpacked the bus station and Bobby was too thrilled to pay her any attention. He wriggled free and returned to his new toys.
Jane finished her ‘coke and stood up. “I’ll be off, then,” she said. “I’ll be at Nelly’s if you need me for anything.”
“I’ll help you with your stuff,” Robert said, and followed her upstairs. “Here’s your cheque; considering what you’ve been through I feel it should be much higher. Are you sure you’re satisfied?”
“Oh, Robert. It’s fine, and I’ve really enjoyed myself. I just love Aunt Georgina.”
“Let’s hope Violet never finds out she slept in our bed all this week, they can`t stand each other. Oh,” Robert raised a finger. “You asked me for a couple of Rafaels, I believe.”
Jane laughed. “I was joking.”
Robert went quickly to his bedroom and returned with a roll of paper fastened with a rubber band. “Not a very elegant parcel, but just pretend it is!”
Jane slipped off the rubber band and opened out the rolled-up prints. She gasped with delight and turned shining eyes towards him. “Hey, they’re wild,” she breathed and kissed him.
“The pleasure is mine. I feel you deserved the originals, but there were none on offer while I was in Rome!”
“Oh, I prefer these to the originals. The insurance would have been crippling.”
“Too true. Well, I`m glad you like them, and thank you, Cinderella, thank you for everything.”
Jane rolled up the prints, picked up her hold-alls and went downstairs sadly.
“How I’d love to have my own home and my own child,” she thought.