JOCELINE Was cooking the porridge when she heard the clack of the letterbox. She drew the saucepan off the burner, and went into the hall to collect the post.
There were about a dozen envelopes in the wire cage on the front door. Most of them were circulars from pharmaceutical firms – ‘the daily avalanche of bumf,’ Tom called them. But there was also a gas bill, and surprisingly, a letter from France.
Joceline wrote to Camilla once a month, but her cousin had never answered by return before. She was an erratic correspondent, and usually replied with a few scrawled lines on the back of a picture postcard.
Joceline put the letter in the pocket of her blue wool housecoat to read later on. The bill she handed to her father as he came downstairs.
‘Morning, Dad. Breakfast is nearly ready. What was the baby?*
‘A nine-pound boy.’ Doctor Bishop kissed her lifted cheek, and walked to the kitchen with his arm round her slender waist.
He was a big man, and Joceline took after him. She was five foot seven in her nylons, and her long slim legs and good carriage accentuated her height. At school, she had been known as ‘Bean’
Bishop, and for a time she had tried to disguise her inches by slouching. But now, at nineteen, she was resigned to being a tall girl.
The Bishops seldom used their dining-room. Except on special occasions, they had all their meals at a table in a sunny corner of the large country-style kitchen.
But on this particular Monday morning, there was no sun shining through the frilled white Terylene curtains on to the crisp checked gingham cloth and blue-and- white Cornish ware.
After a mild wet winter, and the consequent outbreak of colds and bronchitis, the weather had suddenly turned cold. Now, in March, when there should have been a promise of spring in the air, the top of the milk was frozen, and sleet was spattering against the window-panes.
‘What time did you get home?’ Joceline asked, as her father sat down and spread his napkin. ‘I sat up till half past twelve, then I couldn’t keep awake any longer.’
‘The baby arrived at one o’clock. I got in about a quarter to two – but heaven knows what time little Nurse Davis got to bed,’ Doctor Bishop said wryly. ‘ It was her second confinement in twenty-four hours, poor lass. Still, Nurse Mace should be back in harness today. But we’ll have to get another nurse – or at least a part-timer -if the place goes on expanding as it has in the last twelve months.’
When Joceline had been in her early teens, the village had been very little different from the pre-war days when Grandfather Bishop had first set up practice there. Even now, the winding main street retained much of its placid rural character. But on the outskirts of the village, where once there had been only fields and stretches of heath, there were now several extensive housing estates. Church Close and Meadow Avenue had been developed by the Rural District Council in recognition of an age when agricultural workers were no longer content to live in tumbledown cottages with pumped water and privies at the bottom of the garden.
Parson’s Mead and some of the more fancifully named .
developments had been put up by speculative builders in canny anticipation of the time when the county town would reach maximum
expansion, and people would start looking for homes outside the Green Belt.
That time had arrived about eighteen months ago, and now all the first houses were occupied and more were going up. The village primary school was packed to capacity, and Doctor Bishop and the two overworked district nurses had dealt with more patients in the past year than during the whole of the previous years.
It was because of this rapid enlargement * of the community that, six months earlier, John Bishop had advertised for an assistant. Several young doctors had applied for the post, and the one he had chosen was Tom Caley, himself a farmer’s son and therefore particularly well suited to serve what was still a predominantly country practice.
A few minutes after Doctor Bishop had drunk his second cup of tea and gone to answer the telephone, Tom arrived. Joceline saw him dashing through the sleet from his red mini-car. He entered the house by way of the scullery where she heard him rubbing his shoes on the mat and shaking out his raincoat.
“Morning, Joss. Any tea going?’ He came into the kitchen rubbing his cold hands together, a broad-shouldered stocky young man with a crest of fair hair, blue eyes, and a friendly grin.
‘I’ll top up the pot.’ Joceline went to the cooker and lit the gas under the kettle, aware that her colour had risen.
She had liked Tom on sight and, since Christmas, they had been going out together with increasing frequency, mostly to cinemas in the town, but also to a couple of dances – a Young Farmer’s ‘hop’, and a rather grand Hunt Ball held at a mansion not far from the village.
Yet somehow, although she liked him enormously, and they had a great deal in common, it had never occurred to her that Tom might be starting to feel something more than friendship towards her.
But the night before, after bringing her home from a dance, he had kissed her. And although it had not been a passionate embrace, it had certainly not been a casual one. Thinking about it, Joceline had felt herself confronted by an unexpected and difficult decision. Either she could let things take their course, or she could tactfully make it clear that she was not ready for any serious emotional involvement. The trouble was that she could not make up her mind.
Surveying the remains of Doctor Bishop’s breakfast, Tom said, ‘Hm .
. . porridge and bacon and eggs. You certainly keep your father well victualled. I only got a kipper for my breakfast.’
Relieved by the normality of his manner, Jdceline laughed and said,
‘Now don’t pretend Mrs. Pratt starves you. She’s famous for her good cooking. That was the main reason why Dad asked her to put you up.’
‘Yes, she does me pretty well,’ Tom admitted. ‘All the same I wouldn’t refuse that last slice of toast if you were to offer it to me.’
‘Help yourself.’ Joceline poured boiling water into the teapot and carried it back to the breakfast table. ‘If you aren’t careful, you’ll start putting on weight,’ she said teasingly, watching him shake a generous spoonful of Oxford marmalade on to the thickly buttered toast.
‘Not me – I work too hard. Anyway, you don’t stint yourself, and I don’t see any signs of obesity,’ he said, eyeing her narrow waist. ‘I like you in that blue thing. How come you never have your hair pinned up, like most women do in the morning? Or do you whip out the hardware before I arrive?’
Joceline ran her fingers through her silky mid-brown hair. It had a natural tendency to flip up at the ends and, apart from a monthly trim at a salon in the county town, it cost her very little to keep it in the casual style which suited her best. Sometimes, for a change, she brushed it back from her face and fastened the ends with a Tom Jones
bow at the nape of her neck. But her pre-breakfast attention to her looks consisted of splashing her face with cold water, cleaning her teeth, brushing the tangles out of her hair and applying a light touch of rose lipstick.
‘Oh, I hate sleeping in rollers. They make me feel like a Gorgon,’ she said lightly.
Doctor Bishop came back into the room. He said, ‘That was Mrs. Ellis on the phone. She’s been up half the night with young Brian. It sounds as if it might be appendicitis. I think you’d better go out to the farm straight away, Tom.’
‘Right.’ Tom swallowed the last of the toast, gulped down the cup of tea Joceline had poured out for him, and disappeared into the scullery again.
‘What a filthy morning. I shouldn’t be surprised if it turns to snow before the day is out,’ the doctor said, frowning, as they watched the litde car splash out of the gateway.
‘Never mind. A fortnight today you’ll be basking on Tresco,’ Joceline reminded him.
He glanced at her, his grey eyes softening with affection. As well as being alike in looks – Joceline also had grey eyes, and a dent in her square chin – they had always been very close.
‘You’re a good girl, Joss,’ he said warmly. ‘Don’t think I don’t appreciate it.’
She knew what he meant. ‘Oh, Dad, don’t be silly,’ she said gently.
‘You don’t imagine I’m only pretending to like Elizabeth, do you? I think she’s a darling – and so is young Rob. Heavens, it’s nearly nine o’clock. Annie will be here in a minute and I haven’t even cleared the table.’
Annie Lane was their domestic help. She was a buxom energetic woman in her early sixties, and she had been part of the Bishop’s menage as long as Joceline could remember. For the doctor had lost his wife when his daughter was only five, and it had been Mrs. Lane who had nursed her through all the usual childish ailments and kept the house running smoothly until Joceline was old enough to take over the reins.
Although her father had demurred, Joceline had persuaded him to let her leave school as soon as she had passed her ‘O’ levels. She had always worked hard at her lessons, but she had never excelled in any subject, and had had no burning ambition towards any particular career.
So, when Annie’s husband had become a chronic invalid, requiring a great deal of attention and a special diet, it had seemed sensible for Joceline to take full charge of the doctor’s household instead of getting a job in an office in the county town. Now Annie came in only two mornings a week and Joceline spent her days happily running the house and keeping the garden in order, one ear always alert for the leitmotif of a G.P.’s establishment – the insistent shrill of the telephone.
secretary-cum-receptionist as well. But this her father would not allow.
‘You have enough to do as it is,’ he said firmly, when she had suggested it.
So a young married woman with no children supervised the morning and evening surgeries, and filed the patients’ records, and dealt with all the N.H.S. paperwork.
By the time Annie arrived, pedalling up the drive on her high-saddled creaking bicycle, Joceline had washed the breakfast dishes.
‘I hear Elsie Lamb has had her baby, then.’ Annie came puffing into the scullery, her red face even redder than usual from the exertion of riding up the hill from her cottage.
‘Yes – a boy. I wonder what they’ll call him?’ Joceline helped her to take off her mackintosh. ‘Oh, Annie dear, you’re frozen! Come into the warm and I’ll make you a cup of coffee.’
‘Just pull my boots off, would you, love? I’m getting that stout I can’t hardly manage them nowadays.’ Annie braced herself against the old-fashioned copper-now used only for soaking fresh-cut flowers –
and stuck out one solid leg with a fleece-lined boot on the end of it .
After she had put on her carpet slippers, and wrapped herself in a gaudy floral pinafore, they went into the kitchen and had a comfortable gossip for ten minutes before starting the morning chores.
It was not until Joceline went upstairs to dress and make the beds that she remembered Camilla’s letter, still unread, in her pocket.
Slitting open the envelope, she unfolded the two closely scrawled sheets of flimsy blue airmail paper, and sat down at her dressing table to decipher her cousin’s untidy hand.
‘Dearest Joss,’ Camilla had written,
‘Bless you for your lovely long letter! You can’t imagine how I long for news, stuck out here in this godforsaken place, with not another English person for miles around.
‘I was staggered by your news! Never imagined Uncle John getting married again – though I suppose he’s not really all that
old. From what you say, your new stepmamma sounds quite a decent sort. But won’t it be rather tricky, having someone else in charge when you’re used to a free hand?’
‘I’ve had a marvellous idea! When they come back from their honeymoon (somehow one can’t visualise middle-aged people honeymooning) why don’t you come and stay with me for a week or two? You’ve always said you would like to travel.
Here is your opportunity!
‘Please come, Joss. I think I shall go crazy if you don’t.
Jean-Marc is so sweet (in spite of my looking such a hag now) but he’s away all day, and the others are still furious about him marrying me. They don’t let him see it, of course, but take it out on me behind his back. His brother hardly speaks – but looks daggers! – and I’m sure his awful old aunt would poison me if she could. Yesterday I had a nap, and when I woke up she was standing over me muttering. She frightens me. There’s something evil about her.
‘If only I could get out sometimes – not that there’s anywhere to go in this wilderness! But the doctor says I must stay in bed until the baby is born. Please, PLEASE come, Joss darling. I need someone of my own so badly. Sometimes I wish I were dead, it’s so awful here. Perhaps I’ll die-when the baby comes. I have horrible dreams about it. Even Jean-Marc doesn’t understand. He thinks it’s all nerves. You must come, Joss. I can’t stand much more. Camilla.’
Joceline was so worried by the hysterical tone of her cousin’s letter that she was tempted to show it to her father before he went out on his house calls. Then she decided it would be better to wait until lunch when there would be time to discuss it at length.
No wonder Camilla had replied to her own letter so quickly. Even allowing for characteristic exaggeration, there could be no doubt that her cousin was in a very distressed state of mind – almost desperate, by the sound of it.
About eleven o’clock, when Joceline was turning out the landing linen cupboard while Annie went round the house polishing the brass door knobs, Elizabeth Randle arrived.
‘Hello, my dear. You look very busy,’ she said, coming upstairs to find Joceline squatting on the floor among piles of sheets and towels.
Tm trying to get the place shipshape for when you and Rob move in.
The trouble with this house is that there aren’t nearly enough cupboards.’ Joceline scrambled to her feet and tucked her yellow wool shirt into the waistband of her hounds’-tooth trousers. ‘Let’s have coffee and a bun. I can finish here later. Have you a lot of linen, Elizabeth?’
‘Only the bare minimum, I’m afraid,’ her prospective stepmother said ruefully. ‘Rob grows out of his clothes so fast that I never get a chance to stock up on household things.’
She was a slight dark-haired woman in her early forties, a widow with a thirteen-year-old son. They had come to live in the village a year ago and Joceline suspected that her father had fallen in love with Elizabeth the first time he met her, which had been when Rob fell out of a tree and concussed himself.
Joceline had only the dimmest memories of her own mother, and she could not understand why most people expected her to resent her father taking a second wife.
Why should he not? He was only forty-eight. . . still a very attractive man. And how could anyone be jealous of Elizabeth, with her lovely voice and engaging sense of humour?
Joceline was looking forward to the wedding- She was old enough to realise that the most devoted father- daughter relationship was no substitute for the loving companionship of marriage .
‘Did you come round for anything special, or just for a natter?’ she asked, when the coffee was made and they were settled on the sofa in the sitting-room.
‘I came to ask if you could come into town this afternoon. I’ve had a card from Bentons to say my wedding suit is ready to be collected . . .
they had to alter the sleeves, you know. Now I need some moral support in choosing a hat,’ Elizabeth explained.
‘Yes, I’d love to come with you. I have some shopping to do myself.’
They talked about clothes for a time, and then Joceline said, “I had a letter from my cousin Camilla this morning – the one who married a Frenchman she met while she was modelling in Paris. I’ve told you about her, haven’t I? Her father is Dad’s eldest brother. He’s a doctor too, but he lives out East and I’ve never seen him. He runs a sort of jungle clinic in the wilds of New Guinea.’
Elizabeth nodded. ‘I remember you telling me about him when your cousin got married so suddenly. His wife left him, didn’t she?’
‘Well, Dad says they should never have married. They were totally unsuited to each other. Uncle David was a dedicated type, and Aunt Jeannette was very pretty and gay and sociable. She stuck it out for four years, and then she couldn’t stand the climate and the loneliness any longer, and she went off with another man. I don’t think one can blame her entirely – although it does seem heartless for her to have deserted poor little Camilla.’
‘Your cousin went to school in Australia, I think you said?’
‘Yes, to a boarding school in Brisbane, and back to New Guinea for the holidays. Then when she was seventeen, she persuaded my uncle to let her come to England to meet her relations, and she lived with my grandmother in London for a couple of years. By the time darling Granny died, Camilla had established herself as a model. In fact she was doing so well that she was able to set herself up in quite a ritzy flat and run a little car.’
‘And then she gave it all up to marry this French boy?’
‘Yes, and she had only known him a few weeks,’ said Joceline, frowning. ‘But she was always wildly impulsive. If she had told us about it beforehand, I think Dad would have dashed over to Paris, and tried to stop it – or at least persuaded her to wait a bit. But we didn’t know a thing about it until I had a postcard from Cannes to say she was on her honeymoon and blissfully happy. Now I have a dreadful feeling it’s a case of history repeating itself. I’ll read you her letter, then you can judge for yourself.’
Elizabeth listened while Joceline read out the letter, omitting Camilla’s comments about her uncle’s marriage.
‘It is a cri de coeur, isn’t it?’ the older woman said thoughtfully. ‘What pan of France are they living in, Joss?’
‘Well, at first they lived in Aries, which is somewhere down south near Marseilles. But when the baby started, they moved to Mas St.
Aune, her brother-in-law’s farm. She never said why. The postal town is still Aries. Do you suppose she is just depressed because she isn’t well, or do you think things really are as bad as she makes out?’
‘Without ever having met her, it’s rather hard to say. v What does John think?’ Elizabeth asked.
‘I haven’t shown him the letter yet. Of course Camilla has always been a very volatile, temperamental person. But I’ve never known her to be as low as she sounds at the moment,’ Joceline said anxiously.
‘Well, having one’s first baby is always a bit nerve- racking – the last couple of months seem endless – and I daresay it doesn’t help to be in a foreign country and far from everything familiar,’ Elizabeth said thoughtfully. ‘I must admit a glamorous fashion model and a Provencal farming family do sound rather like oil and water – not likely to blend easily. And I believe French country people are even more hidebound and suspicious of strangers than English ones.’ She paused to finish her coffee. ‘Why don’t you go and see for yourself*
‘Go to France?’ Joceline said, astonished. Her own reaction to Camilla’s suggestion had been that it was out of the question.
Elizabeth smiled. ‘Why not? You know, I admire you tremendously for the way you run this house and look after your father. You’re going to make a marvellous wife for someone. I could hardly boil an egg when I was first married. But you are only nineteen, my dear, and you have had a rather quiet life, compared with most girls of your age. But you ought to see something of the world before some young man snaps you up.’
Two hours later, Doctor Bishop said much the same thing.
‘It would be a bit of an adventure for you. You’ve had a pretty dull time looking after me for the past three years,’ he told her, over lunch.
‘I daresay Camilla is dramatising the situation, but no doubt it’s difficult for her to adapt to such a completely different life.I was afraid it wouldn’t be long before the gilt began to wear off the gingerbread. Mixed marriages are always tricky.’
‘I don’t think there’s anything wrong between her and Jean-Marc, Dad. It’s his family who seem to be making trouble. The old aunt sounds beastly.’
Doctor Bishop filled his pipe and lit a match. ‘Great mistake to live with in-laws . . . never get on together . . . particularly the women,’ he said, between puffs. ‘I wonder why she’s been told to stay in bed. She was always too skinny for my liking, but she ate well whenever she came down here for a weekend. I wouldn’t have suspected her of being anaemic. Anyway, if you go and stay for a week or two you can find out all the facts, and perhaps help to ease matters.’
‘But won’t it cost a lot?’ Joceline asked dubiously.
. ‘I shouldn’t think so. If you’re going into town with Elizabeth, why not pop into Cook’s and find out? If you fly from London to Marseilles, you can probably get there in a day.’
That evening, Joceline reported that the return air fare to Marseilles was nearly two hundred pounds.
‘But I couldn’t expect the St. Aunes to put me up for nothing. I would have to pay them something for my food. So, if I stayed three weeks, the whole trip would cost at least three hundred pounds,’ she went on.
Doctor Bishop took out his cheque book and pen, and presently handed her one of the pale green slips of paper.
‘I was going to buy some jewellery as a wedding present, but I think a holiday in France is an even better idea,’ he said, smiling.
‘But Dad! – It isn’t my wedding,’ she protested.
‘Well, the bride’s son is getting a music centre and a fishing rod, so I don’t see why the bridegroom’s daughter shouldn’t share in the general largesse.’
‘But I shan’t need nearly as much as this, and anyway I’ve saved sixty pounds of the housekeeping money.’
‘Have you indeed! In that case I shall reduce it when Elizabeth takes over,’ her father said, laughing. ‘Legally, any savings out of housekeeping belong to the breadwinner, I believe. But as you’ve been so efficient, I’ll waive my title to it. You can spend it on clothes.
You’ll want to look smart going to France.’
‘The St. Aunes’ form isn’t on the Riviera,’ she pointed out. ‘It’s west of Marseilles, I believe. Not at all a smart area.’
That night, lying in bed, Joceline came to the conclusion that a visit to Camilla might serve a number of useful purposes besides improving her cousin’s morale.
For one thing, it would give Elizabeth a chance to take over the management of the house without any embarrassment, however slight. By the time she came home, her stepmother would have adjusted to her new role and made the inevitable alterations to the daily routine. No two women ever ran a home in exactly the same way!
Another advantage of going to France, she reflected, was that it would be a complete break from everything to which she had become accustomed, and might help her to see more clearly what she wanted to do with her future.
As yet she had no definite plans at all.
* * *
While their parents were honeymooning in the Scilly Isles, Joceline looked after Rob. She had learnt to drive as soon as she was old enough to hold a licence, and several times during the two weeks they were on their own together, she took him to school in the car and then
went on into town to buy clothes for her own forthcoming trip.
Fortunately the first crop of summer cottons were already in the shops, but as it seemed unlikely that she would require more than one new dress, she spent most of her clothes money on well-cut summer trousers and drip-dry shirts and sun-tops. She also bought a couple of warm sweaters in case springtime in Provence was not as warm as she hoped it would be.
By day, Tom was too busy coping with the practice single-handed for her -to see much of him. And as he was on night call throughout her father’s absence, he could not take her out in the evening. He did have supper with them twice, but the presence of Rob prevented him from following up that first tentative kiss.
On the day their parents came home, Rob spent the morning hosing and polishing Doctor Bishop’s car, and Joceline made a chicken casserole to leave in the oven white they went to the station.
‘Here they come!’ Rob exclaimed excitedly, when at half past four they stood outside the ticket barrier scanning the crowd pouring off the London train.
‘How brown they are. They must have had marvellous weather,’
Joceline said, waving.
‘And Dad looks ten years younger,’ she thought to herself, as her father and stepmother came hurrying along the platform towards them.
‘Oh, darlings, how lovely to see you again!’ Elizabeth hugged her son and then Joceline. Tresco was heaven, but we missed you. Next year we must all go together. How have you been getting on?’ she asked breathlessly.
‘I find I like having a brother,’ Joceline told her, with a smile. ‘But I’m not sure that Rob is so keen on an elder sister.’
The boy flashed her a shy grin. ‘Joss is okay,’ he said to his mother.
‘She doesn’t fuss about washing like you do, Mum.’
‘Which means, I suppose, that you haven’t wet your ears since we left,’ Elizabeth said, laughing. ‘Oh, it is nice to be home, isn’t it, John?’
Doctor Bishop agreed that it was. To Joceline’s relief, when they emerged into the station yard, he noticed at once that the car was shiningly clean.
‘Hello, who’s been doing up the car? It hasn’t looked so smart since it was new.’
‘I did it, sir. Joss said you wouldn’t mind,’ Rob told him.
‘That was very decent of you, Rob. I must say you’ve done a first-class job . . . much more thorough than the lads at the garage. I tell you what, if you like to give it a springclean now and again, I’ll teach you to drive it, over on the old airfield. Even if you can’t have a licence yet, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be learning. I daresay you know the basic principles already.’
‘Oh, bless you, Dad . . . Rob is just itching to drive,’ Joceline applauded him silently.
She had been a little troubled that, because he was at an allegedly difficult age, Rob might resent her father’s new authority over him.
She knew he kept a photograph of his own father in his room. And since he had been eight years old when Ian Randle had died, Rob must remember him quite clearly.
They all had so much to talk about that evening that it was nearly midnight when Joceline went up to her room where her suitcase was neatly packed for her own departure early the following morning.
But even if she had gone to bed early, she knew she would not have slept. Excitement – and a measure of apprehension – kept her tossing and turning long after she had switched off her lamp.
She had set her alarm clock for six, and no sooner had it roused her in the morning than the butterflies in her tummy began to flutter again.
‘How silly! Fm not a child, and I’m not going to the other end of the world,’ she told herself briskly.
Nevertheless it was the first time she had ever been away from home before, and even though there would be a familiar face to greet her at her journey’s end, she could not entirely dispel her nervous misgivings.
After washing and dressing, she made some tea and carried a tray to her father’s bedroom.
It seemed very odd for Elizabeth to be lying in the big bed beside him, her dark hair rumpled, the sleeve of a pretty nightdress slipping off one olive-skinned shoulder.
Joceline drew the curtains, and they both stirred.
‘Sorry to wake you so early, but Tom will be here to run me to the station soon. I couldn’t go without saying goodbye,’ she said, as her stepmother opened her eyes and yawned.
‘Wake up, John.’ Elizabeth gently rocked her husband’s arm. ‘It’s nearly time for Joss to leave.’ Then shrugging into a bedjacket, she noticed the tray. ‘Oh, morning tea – what luxury! Thank you, my dear.
I expect you’re wildly excited, aren’t you? Don’t forget to phone us the minute you’ve arrived.’
‘I half wish I wasn’t going,’ Joceline confessed. £I hope I won’t be airsick.’
‘Don’t worry,*I’m sure you won’t be. Very few people are,’ Elizabeth reassured her. ‘I like your suit. Did you buy it while we were away?’
‘Oh, no . . . I’ve had it since last spring. But I’ve only worn it two or three times.’ Joceline glanced down at her turquoise wool suit. The collar and cuffs were faced with matching slubbed silk, and she had managed to find a jersey silk sweater of exactly the same shade to wear under the jacket. The suit was more sophisticated than her normal choice of clothes. Usually she planned her wardrobe carefully and resisted the temptation to buy anything which did not link up with her existing clothes and accessories. But the suit had been one of her rare impulse buys.
‘Well, you may feel a bit nervous, but you look very self-possessed,’
Elizabeth told her.
‘I can’t believe that this time tomorrow I shall be waking up in France.
I wonder what sort of reception the St. Aunes will give me?’
‘Whatever they are like, don’t be too ready to take Camilla’s part in everything,’ her father advised her. ‘You’ve a soft heart and a quick temper, Joss. Don’t jump to conclusions before you’ve had time to see how the land lies. Camilla may be a scatterbrain, but she is three years older than you are – quite old enough to fight her own battles. So go carefully.’
Sharp at seven o’clock, they heard Tom tooting his horn; Doctor Bishop carried Joceline’s case out to the car and gave her a final hug.
‘Goodbye, lass. Take care of yourself. Have a good time.’
‘Goodbye, Dad. Goodbye, . . . goodbye.’
As the car turned out of the gateway, her last glimpse of home was of the three of them standing under the porchin their dressing-gowns, waving her on her way.
At the station, Tom bought a platform ticket and insisted on waiting with her until the London express arrived.
He had not talked much on the way, but, glancing at his glum face, Joceline had an uneasy feeling that, at the very last moment,- he might blurt out some impetuous declaration.
The train pulled in, and he found her a corner seat in the coach next to the restaurant car.
‘Don’t bother to hang about, Tom. You must be starving if you’ve only had a cup of tea. Thanks for the lift.’ She held out her hand to him.
He gripped her fingers hard. ‘I shall miss you, Joss.’
‘I’m only going for three weeks. Before you know it I’ll be back again,’ she answered lightly.
‘Be sure and let us know you’ve got there safely.’
‘Of course – but I’m not a schoolgirl, you know. I don’t need labelling and putting in charge of the guard,’ she said, trying to make him smile instead of looking so troubled and intense.
His expression did relax a little at that. ‘All the same, don’t talk to any strange men,’ he said, only half jokingly.
‘I won’t be able to after twelve o’clock. My French is strictly on the
‘ Ou est la plume de ma tante?’ level. But I’m hoping to be more fluent by the time I come back.’
‘Well, don’t you go falling in love with any French types.’
‘Oh, Tom, you must go. They’re starting to slam the doors. Goodbye.
I’ll send you lots of postcards.’ Joceline urged him into the corridor,
breathing an inward sigh of relief as he stepped down on to the platform.
But in the act of closing the door between them, Tom suddenly leapt back into the corridor and folded her in his arms and kissed her.
* * *
The plane landed at Marignane Airport, on the outskirts of Marseilles, at a quarter to three. Another airline bus transported Joceline to the city centre.
As the train for Aries did not leave until five-fifteen, she had a couple of hours to spare for sightseeing. Leaving her case at the consigne in St. Charles Station, she ventured out into the streets, and soon found herself among the crowds streaming along the bustling Canebiere, the great seaport’s central thoroughfare.
Now it was dull and overcast. But Joceline did no% notice the weather. All at once, as she strolled past the busy pavement cafes and tempting window displays, she was filled with a tingling exhilaration.
At home, the village street would be deserted. Men would be dozing by the fire, or ambling round their gardens to see how the bulbs were coming up. Children would be at Sunday School. And most women would either be resting after the washing up or bestirring themselves to lay the tea.
But home was seven hundred miles away. And here in Marseilles, the city teemed with life and gaiety. Waiters, balancing trays laden with
cafes filtres or aperitifs, scurried about among the wicker tables in the cafes. Bold- eyed matelots with scarlet pompons on their bonnets whistled and called to pretty girls perched perilously on the pillions of noisy motor-scooters; and a man with a shaggy beard and lank hair falling to his shoulders tried to sell a garish abstract painting to passers-by.
Joceline walked as far as the Quai des Beiges overlooking the Old Harbour and then retraced her route on the other side of the thoroughfare, plucking up her courage to take a seat in one of the cafes.
At first, sitting alone, waiting for a waiter to come to her, she felt self-conscious. But no one stared, the waiter understood her shy order, and presently she relaxed and even began to feel rather worldly and poised.
The waiter brought a cup of coffee, a tiny jug of real cream, and a thick wedge of gateau oozing rich filling and smothered with blanched almonds. The rectangles of sugar were wrapped in crisp white paper with the name of the cafe printed on it. Joceline put one of the wrappers in her bag to keep as a souvenir.
She stayed at the cafe until it was time to find her way back to the station, watching the shuttle of the trolley buses, and listening to the voluble French voices all around her and trying to follow what they were saying.
And as she paid her bill, excitement rose in her again . . . a feeling of being free and independent, and in the mainstream of life instead of a quiet backwater.
It was six o’clock when she reached the ancient town of Aries. As she stepped off the train, a porter in a beret and blue smock tried to take her suitcase.
‘Vous desirez un taxi, mademoiselle?’
‘Non, merci.’ Joceline shook her head, explaining in halting French that someone would be waiting for her.
She had expected to be met by Jean-Marc. But among the people standing about the station there was no sign of anyone resembling the
dark-eyed handsome young Frenchman whose photograph Camilla had sent her after she had written to say she was coming.
‘Not to worry. He must have been delayed,’ she thought. ‘He’ll turn up in a minute, I expect.’
But ten minutes later she was still standing forlornly beside her case, and as another five minutes dragged by, she could not help feeling a flicker of irritation at being kept waiting so long.
Mademoiselle Bishop?’ The deep curt voice made her jump.
Roused from her abstracted contemplation of a poster advertising
Ricard, she turned to find herself confronted by a man of such exceptional height that she had to look up to meet his eyes. He was wearing a shabby leather jacket and a broad-brimmed grey slouch hat which he made no attempt to remove as he introduced himself.
(Je suis Gervais St. Aune. Je regrette d’etre en retard. Si vous voulez me suivre …’ With a stiff formal bow, he picked up her case and led the way out of the station.
A high wind was blowing through the town, and Joceline was glad of the warmth of her tweed overcoat as she followed him to a mud-spattered jeep in the car park. After tossing her case into the back of it, he did at least have the manners to assist her into the passenger seat: He even tucked a rug over her knees, so perhaps he was not as uncouth as she had first thought.
‘Merci, monsieur,’ she said shyly.
But her diffident smile brought no response. He scrutinised her face for a moment, then walked round the front of the jeep to his own place behind the wheel.
They drove along a tree-lined boulevard with cafes and shops on either side. There were not many people about. It was growing dark, and the wind was bitterly cold. It was’ all very different from the mellow southern evening she had anticipated.
A dog ran into the road in front, of the jeep. With so little traffic about, Joceline would have swerved to avoid it. But Gervais St, Aune only cursed it under his breath. The dog missed the wheels by inches.
Beyond the shelter of the town, the wind was at gale force. lt lashed viciously at the jeep’s tarpaulin hood, and every so often a mighty buffet sent the whole vehicle veering towards the nearside ditch.
Soon they turned off the smooth tarmac highway on to a narrower road laid with uneven pave. After a few minutes of violent jolting, Joceline felt as if every bone in her body was being dislocated.
It was too dark to see the surrounding countryside. She wondered how far they had to go. There were no lights to be seen anywhere.
‘Combien de kilometres a votre ferme, monsieur?’ she shouted against the howl of the raging wind.
Twenty-five kilometres . . . that was about fifteen miles. Joceline’s spirits sank.
Presently, the cobbled road gave place to a tamped earth cart track.
On either side the long beam of the headlamps showed beds of wildly churning reeds and the glisten of choppy black water. They seemed to be passing through an area of marsh land.
‘Poor Camilla! No wonder she called the place godforsaken!’ Joceline thought, hanging on to her seat with numb fingers.
The drive seemed endless. Several times, as the jeep shot across a crude plank bridge spanning a stream, she nearly lost her hold and lurched forward.
But the man beside her made no apology for the roughness of the journey. Perhaps he was so used to it himself that he did not give a thought to her discomfort.
In the dim glow thrown back by the headlamps, all she could see of him was a hard mouth above a tough, rather arrogant chin. The rest of his face was cast into shadow by the drooping brim of his hat. .
At last, when it seemed to Joceline that she could not endure another mile of their lurching jolting progress along the rough track, a distant glimmer of light pierced the darkness ahead. But when the jeep finally drew up outside a house, she was so battered and stiff with cold that she could hardly manage to climb out.
Her case in one hand, Gervais St. Aune took her firmly by the arm, and propelled her across a paved court to the entrance to the building.
On such a wild night, no one within could have heard the sound of an engine through the screaming wind. But a few moments after he had tugged on an old-fashioned bell rope, the massive door was opened by a woman in black holding an oil lamp.
The wind swept into the house in a gusty tide till St. Aune slammed the door, and barred it with two great bolts. He said something in rapid French to the woman, and pushed Joceline along the passage to a room where a bright fire burned. There he steered her to a highbacked settle close to the hearth.
‘Prenez la peine de vous asseoir, mademoiselle. Voulez- vous prendre un peu de cognac?’ A few moments later, he put a stiff measure of brandy into her hand.
After tossing back the contents of his own glass, he asked her to excuse him and left her alone.
The heat from the crackling brushwood, and sip of the neat spirit; quickly thawed Joceline’s frozen limbs. After a while, she stood to take off her coat and survey her surroundings.
The room was a large one – probably thirty feet long and half as wide
– with white-washed walls and exposed ceiling joists. The floor was laid with curviligne tiles, unglazed, and of varying tones of terra-cotta.
A table capable of seating twenty people had chairs at either end and benches alongside. Apart from a second settle across the hearth, and an enormous dresser, there was no other furniture. The two windows, high up in the wall, were not curtained, but had screens of fine mesh, like shutters, on either side of them.
Turning back towards the cavernous fireplace, Joceline noticed a pair of huge horns mounted on the wall above it. There were also several photographs of horses and bulls.
Presently the woman in black entered. She was wearing an apron now and, after acknowledging Joceline’s presence with an unsmiling nod, she set about laying two places at the end of the table.
Joceline was not sure if this was the aunt or a servant.
Clearing her throat, she asked politely, ‘ Ou est ma cousine9 madame?’
The woman made a gesture of what appeared to be extreme exasperation, and burst into a flood of Provencal dialect. Joceline caught the phrase ‘crise de nerfs,’ but the rest was incomprehensible.
At this point Gervais St. Aune returned. He had taken off his outdoor clothes. A shirt of coarse blue cotton, open at the throat and with the
sleeves rolled up over his hard brown forearms, showed the powerful breadth of his shoulders. His trousers, belted low on the hips, were of hard-wearing khaki cloth, with a narrow black stripe down the side seams. His dark hair was cropped very short.
Joceline said, ‘I am afraid my French is not very good, monsieur. Do you speak any English, please?’
A slight frown contracted his eyebrows, and for a moment it seemed that he had not understood her question.
Then, with palpable reluctance, he said, ‘Yes, I speak English, Miss Bishop. But Camilla told us you spoke French.’
Now it was Joceline who frowned. ‘Did she? How odd,’ she said perplexedly. Then: ‘Where is Camilla, monsieur? May I go and see her?’
Again there was a pause before he answered. ‘Your cousin is sleeping,’ he told her. ‘She has been unwell today … a severe migraine. Unfortunately, it was necessary for my aunt to administer a sedative. She will not awake until the morning. Now, if you will be seated, my aunt has prepared supper for us.’ With another of his stiff bows, he drew out the chair at the table for her.
The meal was simple but good – a bowl of rich vegetable soup, followed by an omelette fines herbes, then Roquefort cheese, fruit and coffee. There was a carafe of red wine on the table, but although Gervaise St. Aune drank two or three glasses of it, Joceline said, ‘No, thank you, monsieur‘ when he offered some to her.
She did not refuse it because she disliked wine, but because, having had nothing but snacks since breakfast, she was afraid that, on top of the brandy, it might make her lightheaded.
He made no attempt to converse with her while they ate, and though there were many questions she would have liked to ask, Joceline decided to repress her curiosity for the time being.
But it seemed very odd that Camilla should have consented to take a sleeping pill tonight of all nights. And where was her husband, Jean-Marc?
Covertly observing her host-and pondering his curious unwillingness to admit his excellent command of English – Joceline noticed there was nothing crude about his table manners. And although he gave the impression of being a man whose livelihood demanded hard physical labour, his hands were clean and well kept, the nails pared short, but not broken or ingrained with grime.
The wind was still battering round the house and, while she was drinking her coffee, Joceline ventured to say, ‘I had expected it to be much warmer here than in England. Do you often get these storms,
‘It is the mistral,’ he said, with a shrug. ‘It comes from the north, down the valley of the Rhone. It has been blowing for several days. It will not last much longer.’
His reference to the mistral prompted his aunt to make a comment.
She was sitting behind them, by the fire. Evidently she had had her own supper earlier in the evening.
‘Tante Madelon says we will try to make your visit as comfortable as possible, bat we cannot offer many refinements,’ Gervais explained.
‘The Camargue is not a region which appeals to most foreigners. But no doubt your cousin has warned you of our rough ways?’ he added, on a sardonic note.
‘I am country bred myself, monsieur,’ Joceline answered evenly.
‘Please tell Madame that I am grateful to her for allowing me to visit
Camilla. I know life is always busy on a farm. I will try not to be a nuisance to you.’
A gleam of amusement lit his eyes at her careful evasion of his question. And he translated her remarks to his aunt, he continued to appraise her in a way that was curiously unnerving.
‘Do you ride, Miss Bishop?’ he asked presently.
‘No, I don’t. This time she did not look at him, but kept her eyes on her coffee cup.
‘You share your cousin’s fear of horses?’
‘No, I’m not afraid of them … I didn’t realise Camilla was. I shouldn’t think she has ever had much to do with horses. Perhaps having a baby makes her more nervous than usual.’
‘Perhaps,’ he said indifferently. ‘But here we are born to the saddle.
She will have to learn after the child comes.’
‘But they aren’t going to live here permanently, are they?’ she asked, in surprise. ‘I thought it was only a temporary measure.’
‘Your cousin has intimated that she does not wish to live here?’ he asked, rather sharply.
‘Oh, no . . . she has never mentioned their future plans. I simply assumed they would have a home of their own.’
‘You think it is the woman who should choose where to live, Miss Bishop? Here, it is the man who makes such decisions.’
His tone stung her to retort, ‘In England decisions are usually mutual.’
She-saw his face harden, and remembered, too late, her father’s counsel to be tactful and reserve judgement.
‘But this is not England, mademoiselle,’ he pointed out curtly. ‘And since your cousin has chosen to marry a Frenchman, she must learn to accept our customs now.’
Joceline bit her lip. Already the man’s whole attitude confirmed Camilla’s claim that he disapproved of his brother’s precipitate marriage.
‘Yes, naturally,’ she answered stiltedly. 1 am sure Camilla wants to fit in here. She has never had a proper home before, you know. But I expect that, as your brother doesn’t work on the farm, it might be more convenient for them to live nearer his job.’
‘My! brother is young,’ he said austerely. Too young to take a wife’ –
his tone implied. ‘Like all young men, he is restless. But the Camargue is in his blood. This is something outsiders can never understand. I think it is likely he will wish to return before long. No Carmarguais can live in the towns for more than a year or two.’
‘I see,’ she said flatly. And her heart sank. From what little she had seen of the place, she felt sure Camilla could never be happy in such surroundings. They did not even have electricity. At present the room was lit only by the fire, but the two lamps at either end of the dresser were old-fashioned oil burners.
By now it was past eight o’clock. In response to a murmur from his aunt, Gervais rose to his feet and stepped over the bench where he had been sitting.
‘We retire early at Mas St. Aune, Miss Bishop. And no doubt you are tired after your journey. Tante Madelon will show you to your room.’
Joceline collected her coat, scarf and gloves from the settle.
‘Goodnight, monsieur. Thank you for meeting me at the station,’ she said with cool politeness.
In the flicker of the firelight his dark face had a hewn bronze cast.
Behind him, his shadow stretched up to the ceiling, silhouetting the authority of his height and wide shoulders. Beside him, Joceline felt dwarfed.
‘Bonne nuit, mademoiselle’ There was a subtle inflection in his voice which made her think that he had reverted to French deliberately.
Then with a nod of dismissal, he moved past her to replenish the fire.
The bedroom they had allotted to her was even more starkly functional than the main apartment. It contained a narrow bed, shrouded by green mosquito netting, a sturdy pine chest of drawers, and a wash-stand bearing an old-fashioned basin and ewer and a china soapdish. Underneath was an enamel slop pail.
Perhaps because there was a large crucifix on the wall over the chest, the little room struck Joceline as being very like a convent cell.
Her enquiry as to the whereabouts of the lavatory led to another battle with the raging wind. By the time she returned from the privy outside the house, she was shivering with cold again.
Madame awaited her return and conducted her back to the bedroom by way of the narrow passage that ran the full length of the house. As they passed the closed doors on either side, Joceline wondered which was Camilla’s room.
‘Bonne nuit,’ the Frenchwoman said brusquely. With her grey hair screwed back in a tight bun, and her black dress reaching to her ankles, she looked like a nineteenth-century prison wardress. In the dim light of her oil lamp, her gaunt face showed no expression.
As she left the room and closed the door behind her, it would not have surprised Joceline to hear the key being turned.
WHEN Joceline woke up the next morning, she was almost immediately aware that something was different. Then, sitting up and searching for the opening in the folds of the mosquito net, she realised it was the hush which was hew to her. The mistral had spent its fury.
Everywhere was quiet.
Slipping out of bed, she padded to the window and unlatched the shutters and pushed them open. Instantly the dim little room was flooded by sunlight so bright that it dazzled her sleepy eyes.
Peering at her watch on the wash-stand, she found it was only half past six. But as she had been obliged to go to bed two hours earlier than usual, it was not surprising she had woken early-and after a surprisingly good night too! Her room might be Spartan in other respects, but there was nothing wrong with the mattress. Being stuffed with feathers, like the duvet which had covered her, it was much warmer than a modern sprung mattress. She had fallen asleep within minutes of climbing into bed.
The water in the ewer was rainwater, and therefore wonderfully soft.
With the shutters drawn together, Joceline washed herself from head to foot. After cleaning her teeth, she carefully emptied the basin into the-slop pail, and mopped up the splashes on the tiled floor with her shoe-polishing duster. It was fortunate that she had brought several coat-hangers, for there was no wardrobe or cupboard in the room.
Only a row of pegs on the wall.
Unpacking her suitcase, she laid most of her clothes in the chest of drawers. With a few books and a photograph of her father arranged on top of it, the room began to look a little more homely. She put her toilet things neatly at the back of the wash-stand, and stowed her suitcase and shoes under the bed.
While she was dressing in a shirt and a pair of trousers, a bird began to sing somewhere outside. It was a sound she had heard several times on the radio, but never at first hand. But surely it could not really be a nightingale? Not at seven o’clock in the morning?
When she opened the shutters again, it was still necessary to shade her eyes. And the landscape she saw was so unexpected and strange that she drew in a breath of astonishment.
As far as she could see, and beyond, a great flat open plain lay exposed to the fierce morning light.
To Joceline, who had lived all her life in a countryside sheltered by hedges and woods and gentle hillsides, it was like finding herself set down in the middle of a desert. She had never seen such an infinity of space before; and it was totally different from her preconceptions of southern France. Silent and bare, the great plain stretched away into the distance, with here and there the glitter of water, but no trees to relieve its vast emptiness.
Although it seemed unlikely that a farming-household would not yet be up and about, there were no sounds of activity when she quietly opened her door.
Finding the main door open, she concluded that Gervais St. Aune and his aunt were busy in the cowsheds and decided that there could be no harm in taking a short walk Before breakfast. Presumably Camilla was still sleeping off the sedative.
The courtyard at the front of the building was shaded by a group of plane trees, but after she had been out in the open for about ten minutes, Joceline began to wish she had a hat on. Smoked glasses were not sufficient protection from the glare.
Eating half a bar of chocolate left over from the previous day’s journey, she wandered along a dusty track bordered on either side by
marshy pools and mud flats overgrown with purple samphire. There was no breeze, but the still air had a salt tang, as if the sea was not many miles away.
She had been walking for about half an hour when the track changed direction and she noticed, a small herd of black cattle grazing on the other side of a scrubby thicket of juniper bushes.
As she passed them, about a hundred yards away, they lifted their heads and stared at her. Then they started to amble towards her.
Accustomed to taking short cuts through fields full of cows and bullocks, Joceline took little notice of them. Cattle were always inquisitive. She was much more interested in a booming sound from a reed bed which sounded as if it might be the call of a bittern.
Then one of tfye herd gave a bellow, and she saw him pawing the ground and snorting. With a sharp thrust of panic she realised that these were not docile English beasts, and that at any moment the one with the swinging head was going to charge her.
At home she could have sprinted for the hedge, or even swarmed up the nearest tree. But here there was no cover at all. With a ghastly vision of what was about to happen to her, she looked wildly around for some protection from those brutal horns and hooves.
And then, as the whole herd began to stamp and bellow, a man on a horse came thundering along the track in a cloud of grey dust.
The bull had begun its charge when the horseman reached her.
Without checking his mount, he grabbed her outstretched arms and jerked her up and across the horse’s withers. With her arms nearly wrenched from their sockets, and all the breath knocked out of her lungs, she hung face down, like a rag doll, while he gripped the belt of her trousers and galloped on.
It all happened so fast that it was not until they were half a mile up the track, and her rescuer had dismounted and set her on her feet, that she knew he was Gervais St. Aune.
And as she realised how narrowly he had saved her, if not from death, then certainly from terrible injury, her legs seemed to buckle under her, and she thought she was going to pass out.
Seeing her sway, he broke off his furious tirade and shot out a hand to hold her upright. And after a moment or two her giddiness passed off, and she pushed her hair out of her eyes, and drew in a long shuddering breath.
“Th-Thank you, monsieur. I’m sorry. I d-didn’t realise . . .’ she stammered, trying to pull herself together.
For a moment he looked as if it would give him a great deal of pleasure to shake her until her teeth rattled. His fingers bit into her arm with painful force.
Then, with a visible effort, he leashed his temper and let her go.
He said, speaking English now, ‘You said you were bred in the country. Don’t you know a bull when you see one?’
No one had ever spoken to her with such scorching contempt before.
Her face flamed with mortification.
‘I-I thought they were bullocks,’ she explained, in a shaking voice. ‘In England we don’t let bulls wander about loose like that.’
This is France, Miss Bishop!’ he said curtly. ‘If I had not been , riding this way, you would have been gored . . . perhaps killed. Why are you out here at this hour?’
‘I was only having a look round. I didn’t mean any harm.’ ,
That is no excuse for stupidity,’ he told her, with a lash in his voice. T
do not care to have my animals disturbed by foolish young women who use neither their eyes nor their sense.’
This was going too far, Joceline thought. She had said she was sorry .
. . she had been willing to admit herself at fault. But she was not going to stand being browbeaten.
‘Really, Monsieur St. Aune, I don’t see how I could be expected to know that you allow a herd of savage bulls to roam wherever they please,’ she answered him stiffly:
‘They are not dangerous, unless they are provoked.’
‘I didn’t provoke them!’
‘You should never approach them on foot. They don’t like it.’
They don’t like it!’ she expostulated. ‘How do you think I felt? I was petrified, I’ve lost my sunglasses . . . my shirt is ruined . . . and all you care about is how your beastly bulls feel!’
He glanced at her torn shin sleeve. ‘It can be mended,’ he said impassively. ‘You had better wear my hat to ride back.’
He unfastened the thong which was knotted under his chin, and held the hat out to her.
Joceline glared at it. ‘No, thank you.’
‘Jake it, Miss Bishop,’ he ordered. ‘My aunt is a busy woman. She is already much engaged with Camilla. She has no time to nurse another invalid, and you would not enjoy un coup de soleil.’
And with that he clapped it on her head, and turned away to his horse which was cropping a clump of rough grass at the edge of the track. It
was a white horse, bridled but not saddled. Gervais led it back to where she stood.
‘Up with you,’ he said briskly. And, grasping her by the waist, he swung her on to its back. Then he vaulted up behind her. ‘Allons, Cesar!”
To avoid passing the bulls, they rode back to the farm by a direct route across the pools and reed beds. Cesar was not a large animal, but he was stocky and muscular and seemed untroubled by the extra weight on his back.
But for Joceline, the ride was one of the most uncomfortable experiences in her life. Even if she had not just had a row with him, she would have found it embarrassing to be in such close physical contact with a man she hardly knew. But seated as she was, side-saddle fashion, it was impossible to avoid leaning against him.
She was intensely aware of the hard wall of his chest against her back, and of his right arm holding her in place. Now she was glad he had made her wear his hat, for the brim did at least conceal her high colour from him.
When they reached the farm, his aunt came hurrying out of the house.
Clearly she had already discovered Joceline’s absence, and when she saw her torn shirt and dishevelled appearance she flung up her hands in consternation and demanded to know what had happened.
(Rien . .. rien. N’avez crainte, ma chere. Tout va bien,’ Gervais reassured her. He dismounted, and helped Jocelyn down.
When Madame St. Aune learned that their guest had been charged by a bull, she looked almost as angry as her nephew, had been. But after giving vent to a pithy denunciation of foreigners in general – and English girls in particular! – she shrugged her black-clad shoulders and marched off into the house.
‘No doubt you are anxious to see your cousin. I expect she will be awake now. Her room is next to your own,’ Gervais said briskly, when she had left them.
‘Thank you.’ Joceline handed back his hat and walked across the courtyard, conscious of his eyes on her back.
After she had changed her shirt, she brushed her tumbled hair and put on lipstick, beginning to feel more composed. But it still seemed grossly unfair that Gervais and his aunt should blame her for a mistake which any newcomer might have made. Anyone would think she had risked her neck deliberately.
At first, when she tapped on the door of the neighbouring room, there was no reply. Then she tapped again, and a faint voice called,
Camilla was lying on her back in a huge double bed with an ornately carved headboard. Her mosquito net had been furled back, the shutters were still closed and the light filtering through the slats filled the room with a strange greenish gloom.
‘Hello, Camilla. How are you?’ As Joceline moved towards the bed, she was shocked by her cousin’s appearance. Camilla had always been thin, but now she was positively emaciated. Her bare arms, lying lax outside the covers, were like pale sticks, and her cheeks were pitifully hollow.
At the sound of Joceline’s voice her eyes flew open.
Jossi Oh, Joss, is it really you? I can’t believe you’re here at last.’ She struggled into a sitting position. ‘If you knew how I’ve longed for you to come.’
As Joceline bent to hug her, she burst into tears and clung like a frightened child.
‘Don’t cry, silly goose . . . don’t cry/Joceline held her close and gently patted and soothed her until at last the outburst slackened.
Tm sorry . . . what a damp reception for you,’ Camilla said shakily, trying to muster a smile after she had mopped her eyes and blown her small straight nose. ‘I asked for you as soon as I woke up, but Madame said she couldn’t find you.’
‘I wept for a walk.’ Joceline thought it best not to mention her misadventure. ‘Here, let me plump up your pillows. Shall I open the shutters a bit? It’s rather dismal in here.’
‘Yes, do – it’s like lying in a crypt. I hate this room. It gives me the creeps. Thank God the mistral has stopped. It’s been blowing for nearly a week. It was driving me mad.’
While Joceline was letting in the sun, Madame reappeared with a breakfast tray. She put it on the table by the bed and went out again without speaking.
‘Old dragon!’ Camilla said, grimacing. ‘When I’ve had the baby, she’ll expect me to wear black too. Well, I’m damned if I will. The minute it’s born, I’m going straight back to Aries. I wish I’d never come to this horrible place.’
‘Why did you?’ Joceline asked, filling two cups with coffee.
‘They made me,’ Camilla said resentfully. ‘I was wretchedly sick at the beginning, and then I had a fall and nearly miscarried.’ Her soft mouth began to quiver again. ‘I almost wish I had. We were so happy at first. But since the baby started everything has gone wrong. They hate me and I hate them, and – oh, it’s hopeless!’
Joceline broke and buttered a crisp bread roll, still warm and moist from the oven. But when she offered it to Camilla, her cousin shook her head.
‘No, thanks – they give me indigestion. I only have coffee in the morning. I don’t eat much at all. The food is awful . . everything reeks of garlic.’
‘Where is Jean-Marc?’ Joceline asked. ‘Is he away for long?’
‘Yes, a whole dreary week,’ Camilla said, with a sigh. ‘You know he works for a farm machinery firm? They’re exhibiting at ah agricultural show in Lyon, and he’s in charge of the stand. He won’t be back till next Sunday.
That’s why Gervais met you k the station. What was he like to you? I hardly ever see him now. He speaks through the window sometimes, but he never comes in here.’
‘He wasn’t exactly cordial,’ Joceline said dryly. ‘I gather he’s wedded to his bulls.’
‘Oh, they’re all bull-mad in the Camargue. The bull is like some sort of god,’ her cousin told her scathingly. ‘That’s why Madame and Gervais were so furious at Jean- Marc marrying me. They thought he would come back to the mas after he’d been out in the world for a year or so. They were letting him have his fling, you see. They never dreamed he would marry a foreign girl – though even a girl from Marseilles would be a foreigner to them. All Camarguais are incredibly insular. People from other parts of France call it un pays enferme.’
“Why did you tell them I spoke French?’ Joceline asked.
‘Oh, well, they weren’t very keen on you coming . . . Gervais said he hadn’t got the time to take you about and interpret for you. So I told them you could manage by yourself. I don’t expect you to spend the whole three weeks closeted in here with me, sweetie. If they let you borrow the jeep, you can go and see Aigues-Mortes and the ruins up at Les Baux.’
Joceline rather doubted her ability to drive the jeep, but she let the suggestion pass. ‘How come Gervais speaks such good English?’ she queried.
‘He went away himself … years ago,’ her cousin said vaguely. ‘Then Madame’s husband died, and he came back here to take over. But he and Jean-Marc are quite different in every way. Jean-Marc doesn’t want to come back. He prefers the outside world. But they simply refuse to accept that , . . they want him to be a gardian like all the St.
Aunes before him.’
‘What is a gardian?’
‘A herdsman … a cowboy,’ Camilla explained.’Gervais is called a
manadier because he owns the place. But Jean-Marc would only be a
gardian – and what sort of a life is that for us? It’s bad enough here in the summer, but in winter the place is like a wilderness. And you’ve seen the loo and the kitchen!’
‘The loo . . . not the kitchen yet. It does seem very primitive. Even the parlour isn’t exactly cosy. Oh, I nearly forgot. I’ve brought you a present. I’ll go and get it,’ said Joceline.
She returned a few moments later with a gift-wrapped box in her hand.
This may be bringing coals to Newcastle,’ she warned, as she gave it to Camilla.
‘Darling, how sweet of you!’ Her cousin untied the ribbon and folded back the pretty, silver-striped paper ‘Oh, Joss – you angel!’ she exclaimed, when she saw what the box contained.
‘Well, you may prefer French cosmetics now. But I remember you always used to use Revlon, and those are some of their new lines. I thought they might not be available in Aries yet.’
‘I shouldn’t think so for a moment. In spite of the summer tourists, it’s not the most brilliant shopping centre. And I haven’t been to Marseilles since before Christmas. Pass me that mirror, will you, sweetie. I must try this gorgeous amber lipstick.’
Joceline fetched her the hand glass from the dressing- table, and watched her carefully painting her lovely mouth. She had chosen that particular shade of lipstick because she had thought it would complement her cousin’s natural auburn hair and large long-lashed hazel-green eyes. But now she noticed with a pang how dull and lank her cousin’s hair had become. Instead of enhancing her looks, the lipstick seemed to accentuate Camilla’s fine-drawn appearance, and the shadows under her eyes.
No one, seeing her now, would recognise her as the beautiful, vital girl whose face had so often appeared in the glossy fashion magazines.
‘What possessed her to marry a Frenchman without knowing anything of his background?’ Joceline wondered perplexedly.
The morning passed quickly, for it Was nearly two years since the two girls had last seen each other and they had plenty to talk about.
Shortly before noon, Gervais suddenly appeared at the window.
‘Good morning, Camilla. How are you feeling today?’ he asked, looking in at them. His shirt was spattered with mud, his face streaked with dust and sweat, and his battered grey felt sombrero pushed back off his forehead.
‘Oh, Gervais . . . you startled me,’ Camilla said stiffly.
A moment before she had been smiling and relaxed. Now her pale face had an oddly apprehensive expression. She looked, thought Joceline, like a child caught out in some misdeed.
‘I am sorry. It was not my intention. I came to ask Miss Bishop if she would have any objection to eating with the rest of us. It will save my aunt preparing another tray,’ Gervais explained coolly.
Joceline slid off the end of the bed. ‘Is it time for lunch now, Monsieur St. Aune?’
‘Not immediately. We have to wash ourselves. If you will come in about ten minutes, I will introduce you to the others. He moved out of sight.
‘What others?’ Joceline asked her cousin.
‘His men,’ Camilla explained. There are about a dozen of them. One or two have their own cabines out on the plain, but most of them sleep in the bunk house and have their meals here. But I really don’t see why you should be expected to eat with them. They’re a rough lot.’
‘I don’t mind. I don’t want to make extra work,’ Joceline said easily.
‘Madame must have her time cut out, cooking for so many people.
Does she do all the housework herself?’
‘Why not? She’s as strong as a horse. She thinks scrubbing and slaving over a stove is a woman’s natural function,’ Camilla said caustically. ‘Oh, what a nuisance, I wanted you to lunch with me. She could easily have brought another tray.’
‘Never mind. I’ll come back directly afterwards,’ Joceline promised.
Nevertheless, in spite of her desire to cause as little inconvenience as possible, she found it a daunting experience to enter a room full of strange Frenchmen, and to feel herself the cynosure of a dozen pairs of curious dark eyes. She was relieved when Gervais came forward and performed a brief mass introduction before leading her to the chair at the far end of the long table.
‘But isn’t this your place?’ she asked diffidently, When he had pulled the chair out and was waiting for her to seat herself.
‘You will find it more comfortable than the bench. Allow me to present my bayle-gardian’ – indicating the man nearest to her on the other side of the table. ‘Marcel Roget. . . Mademoiselle Bishop.’
Monsieur Roget was considerably older than any of the other herdsmen. Small and wiry, with grizzled hair and a lined weatherbeaten face, he was evidently some kind of foreman.
Joceline smiled, and murmured, ‘Tres heureuse,, m’sieur.’
Then she sat down, and everyone else took their places.
The food, which consisted of a mutton stew with new potatoes, thick slices of fried bread and a vegetable resembling spinach, was dispensed by Madame St. Aune.
She “ladled the succulent meat out of an enormous earthenware
daubiere, and the plates were passed from hand to hand along the table, the gardians helping them- selves to the side dishes.
With the exception of Gervais, they were all wearing their hats. They ate and drank with the lusty appetites of men who had been working hard since sun-up but, as the meal progressed, Joceline could not help wondering if they were always so taciturn, or if the presence of a stranger put a constraint on them. Their silence made her feel uncomfortable, and she kept her eyes on her plate, intensely conscious of being an interloper.
When she had finished her meat and vegetables, Joceline followed the French custom of mopping up the remaining rich gravy with a piece of dry bread. But even this seemed to be a blunder. As she put the bread in her mouth, she felt Gervais watching her, and glanced up to find a glint of cool derision in his eyes.
It was a look that told her as clearly as any words that she could not expect to ingratiate herself merely by aping Gallic table manners.
But that had not been her motive at all! She had simply wanted to be polite, and had thought that by leaving the gravy she might have given offence.
At this point, a gardian sitting near the centre of the table suddenly gave a loud exclamation. Unbuttoning one of his shirt pockets, he produced a pair of sunglasses.
‘Could these belong to the young lady, patron?’ he asked, in French.
Gervais lifted an eyebrow at her. ‘Are they the ones you. lost this looming?’
Joceline nodded, and the glasses were passed along to her.
‘Merci, m’sieur,’ she said gratefully to the young herdsman.
The glasses were good ones, given to her by Elizabeth. She had not expected to see them again. And then, to her mortification, Gervais proceeded to explain how she had come to lose them.
In order that she should understand most of what he was saying, he described the incident in standard French, speaking more slowly than usual. And when the gardians heard that she had mistaken their wild black bulls for a herd of docile bullocks, a great roar of amusement went up. Only Madame St. Aune pursed her lips and failed to join in the merriment.
In any other circumstances, Joceline would have taken the joke in good part. But since it was perfectly obvious that Gervais had recounted the episode with the deliberate intention of making her feel an idiot, it took all her control to force a sheepish smile instead of showing the chagrin she felt.
Her face suffused with hot colour, her hands tightly clenched in her lap, she watched the men heaving with laughter, their brown faces creased with hilarity.
Their guffaws she did not mind so much. What really stung was the mocking grin on the face of the man beside her. And she knew then that she had not been mistaken in sensing hostility in his manner from the moment he had met her at Aries station.
It seemed Camilla was right. The St. Aunes did not welcome outsiders.
* * *
For the first four days of her stay at Mas St. Aune, Joceline spent all her time in Camilla’s room. She ate with the gardians at noon and at six o’clock, but that was her only contact with them. As soon as the evening meal was over, she politely excused herself and returned to her cousin.
As a guest in an English household, she would automatically have volunteered to help with the washing up and other light chores. But with Madame St. Aune she felt that any such offer would probably be taken as an affront and coldly rejected.
Having someone to talk to made a world of difference to Camilla. She quickly regained much of her former animation, and even her appetite improved slightly.
But Joceline could not help feeling that the isolated farm, with its primitive sanitation and lack of any hot water system, was a most unsuitable place for her cousin to have a baby. She did not mention her misgivings to Camilla, but resolved to tackle Jean-Marc on the subject as soon as he came back from Lyon at the week-end.
After lunch on Friday, Camilla fell asleep. She had complained of sleeping badly the night before, and Joceline suspected that she was beginning to panic about her confinement.
For a while she sat watching her cousin’s wan face, and wondering about the man who had swept Camilla off her feet and brought her to this strange and desolate backwater. He must be very different from his brother, she reflected with a grimace.
Yet in her career as a model, Camilla had met scores of attractive men. What was so special about Jean-Marc? The world well lost for love was all very romantic in theory, but her cousin was not the type of girl who could change her whole way of life for love, or any other reason. She had always lived in big cities. The country was not he^
element. She needed shops and restaurants and theatres as an orchid needed the moist warmth of a hot-house. Lovely clothes and feminine chit-chat were two of her essential pleasures. How could she ever adapt to this wild bleak place where life was hard even for women bred to its rigours?
After Camilla had been sleeping for some time, Joceline felt that she must get out into the open and stretch her legs. She was not used to an inactive life and, at home on a warm afternoon, she would have been busy in the garden or swimming in the nearby river. For spring in Provence was as hot as England in July.
During the day the main door of the mas was left open, framing a view of the flagged courtyard, the patch of shade under the dusty plane trees, and the limitless plain beyond them.
As she stepped out into the sun, she heard shouts and the whinnying of horses from somewhere beyond the outbuildings. Wondering what was going on, she walked round the end of the barn and found herself near two large adjoining corrals. Several gardians and a number of
children were sitting on the topmost rail, watching some activity inside the enclosure.
Careful not to attract their attention, Joceline moved to a spot where she could also watch. Inside the corral, Gervais and one of his herdsmen were saddling a restive young horse.
Having secured the girth, the gardian walked away and climbed on to the rails with the rest of the audience. As soon as he was out of the way, Gervais pulled his grey hat low on his forehead and hooked one foot into the curious cage-shaped stirrup.
He had not been in the saddle a second before the horse seemed to go berserk. Ears flat and eyes rolling, it leapt into the air and came down with a jarring impact that made Joceline wince and gasp.
She had never watched a horse being broken in before, and it seemed to her incredible that anyone could sit out such frenzied bucking and plunging around the corral.
But Gervais stuck to the animal’s back like a burr. The earth swirled up from the savagely-lashing hooves, and the children clapped and cheered from their perch on the rails, and the gardians yoicked and spat out the flying dust.
The duel between horse and rider lasted for perhaps five minutes, and Joceline could not help feeling an unwilling admiration for the man’s endurance. Then, just when it seemed the animal was tiring of its antics, it suddenly slewed sideways and a cry of warning went up from the watching men. But, a second before the horse rolled on to its back, Gervais jerked his feet out of the stirrups and hurled himself clear.
If he had been a split second slower, his leg would have been crushed under the horse. As it was, he landed on his back. But he was up on his feet in an instant, apparently unhurt.
If there had been time to judge his reaction, Joceline would have expected him to be angry at this ignominious end to the contest. But as he dusted himself down, he exchanged good-humoured badinage with the grinning gardians and then strolled across to the horse, now standing quietly by the rails, and patted its steaming neck before it was led away by another man.
It was while a second horse was being saddled that he caught sight of Joceline in the background, and swung himself over the rails and came towards her.
‘You wish to speak to me, Miss Bishop? Is anything wrong?’
She shook her head. “Camilla is sleeping. I heard the noise and came to see what was happening. Do you mind my watching, m’sieur?’
‘Not at all … if it entertains you. We call this a deorandage.’ He stood with his feet apart, his hands on his hips, his hat pushed back on his head. He was still breathing hard from his exertions, and his rough blue shirt had burst open exposing a muscular chest as tanned as his lean dark face.
He said, his lip curling slightly, ‘Your cousin dislikes these affairs.
.She has even persuaded my brother not to take part.’
Joceline let this pass without comment. ‘How long does it take to break the horses?’ she enquired, with polite interest.
His shoulders moved in a shrug. ‘The pure-bred Camarguais is never broken. They can be taught to do what we require of them, but no man can ever tame them completely.’
She could not resist saying, ‘Not even you, Monsieur St. Aune?’
His dark eyes narrowed and glinted. ‘I have never tried, Miss Bishop.
I value my own freedom too highly. Excuse me now, if you please.’
He strolled away to drink from an earthenware flagon before swinging up on the rails to watch the next contest.
* * *
That evening, as Joceline was leaving the table after supper, Gervais said, ‘I am driving to Aries tomorrow, Miss Bishop. Perhaps you would enquire if your cousin has any commissions for me? I shall leave early . . . before she is awake.’
‘I will ask her now, m’sieur,’ Joceline went to Camilla’s room and relayed his message.
‘Oh, yes, there are several things I need. I’d better jot them down.’ Her cousin reached for a pale blue leather writing case with her initial stamped in gold on the cover.
Lined with moire silk, and fitted with a gold pen and pencil, it had probably come from Smythsons in Bond Street, or some other expensive stationer. Like all Camilla’s possessions – the Lady Puxton jewel case she had brought back from a trip to New York, and her shagreen travelling clock and turquoise-studded pill box – it looked strangely incongruous in the homespun setting of the farmhouse bedroom.
‘Soap. . . face tissues . .. English cigarettes,’ Camilla murmured. ‘ That will make Gervais scowl. He doesn’t approve of women smoking.’
‘Well, I think you should try to cut down. It may not be good for the baby,’ Joceline pointed out.
‘Oh, don’t you start lecturing me, Joss,’ the older girl retorted pettishly. ‘I get enough black looks from them. Look, it will take Gervais ages to get everything I want. Why don’t you go into town with him? He’ll be there all morning. It will give you a chance to see
the Alyscamps and St. Trophime and so on. This first week has been hideously dull for you, stuck in here all day and every day.’
‘I came to keep you company,’ Joceline reminded her. ‘But perhaps if you have a long list, it would be better for me to handle it – that is, if Monsieur St. Aune has no objection.’
When she returned to the living-room to ask him, Gervais received the suggestion with patent reluctance.
But after some seconds of frowning consideration, he said, ‘Very well, Miss Bishop. We will leave, at eight o’clock.’
Since her arrival at the farm, Joceline had worn slacks and shirts. But the following morning, she put on a summer dress, a cool-looking shirt waister of leaf-printed Dacron voile with long sheer sleeves to protect her arms from sunburn.
‘At this rate, I shall go back to England as pale as when I arrived,’ she thought ruefully, while she was dressing.
Gervais was already at the table the following morning when, at half past seven, she joined him in the living- room. He rose as she entered, and appraised the dress and her pale sheer tights and strapped sandals.
But if he approved of her appearance she could not tell.
His own clothes were those he always wore, a freshly laundered blue shirt and pale khaki tight-fitting trousers. But today, instead of heavy rubber working boots, he wore shorter leather ones, well polished.
As soon as she had finished her coffee and rolls, he led the way out to the jeep which he had already brought round to the courtyard.
His aunt watched them leave from the doorway. But she did not respond to Joceline’s farewell smile and wave.
They had been driving for about ten minutes, when Gervais said suddenly. Tell me, Miss Bishop, what is , your metier? You are also a mannequin, perhaps?’
‘Good heavens, no! – Whatever made you think that?’ she asked, in astonishment.
He shrugged. It was my aunt’s suggestion. Camilla has never spoken of your occupation.’
‘So he and Madame have been discussing me. I wonder what they said . . . nothing favourable, that’s certain,’ Joceline thought wryly.
Aloud, she replied, ‘I suppose you could describe me as a housekeeper, m’sieur.’
‘Une femme de charge? he asked, with a lifted eyebrow.
‘Yes, I look after my father. He is a doctor.’
‘I see,’ he said, glancing at her. ‘So how is it you are able to come to France? There are servants to manage during your absence?’
‘My father has just married again. Otherwise I could not have come.’
‘And when you return you will continue to arrange the menage?’
‘Oh, no, my stepmother will do that. I shall find myself another job, but I haven’t decided about what kind yet. I have no training for anything except housework.’
‘You have an advantage over your cousin. She seems to know nothing of such matters,’ he remarked, in a caustic tone.
‘Well,-most girls don’t nowadays. They learn by trial and error,’
Joceline said lightly. ‘Camilla will soon pick it up when she has a
home of her own again. It’s bound to be more difficult for her – being a foreigner here, I mean. But I’m sure your brother understands that.
A French girl would have the same problems if she started married life in England.’
‘Our women have an instinct for these things,’ he said repressively.
Joceline felt a spasm of irritation. ‘Our women – what a typical expression,’ she thought impatiently. ‘He speaks as if they were still Victorian chattels. They obviously are in these parts, poor things.’
However, before she could think of a suitably trenchant riposte, something happened to distract her attention.
The track was skirting the edge of a shallow etang, its calm surface broken by clumps of feathery reeds and small muddy islets.
Suddenly, on the far side of the mere, a great flock of birds rose up from the glittering water and soared into the bright morning sky in a cloud of rose-red wings.
It was the most startling and beautiful spectacle Joceline had ever seen, for a moment before the flat landscape had seemed to be deserted.
‘Oh, how lovely! What are they?’ she exclaimed.
Gervais braked the jeep and switched off the engine.
‘Flamingoes,’ he told her, as the throng of birds swirled higher into the air, the sound of their wings like the rushing of wild sea breakers. ‘We call them les fleurs quivolent. . . the flying flowers.’
‘Flamingoes in France? – I thought they were tropical birds. And so many of them . . . there must be nearly a thousand up there.’ She scrambled out of the jeep for a better view.
‘They live only in the Camargue,’ said Gervais, when the flamingoes had streamed away westwards. ‘You are interested in birds, Miss Bishop?’Joceline climbed back into the passenger seat, and smoothed her skirt over her knees. ‘Well, no – not in the ordinary way. But flamingoes are exceptional, aren’t they? The nightingales, too. They seem to be as common here as our sparrows are at home. Have you been to England, Monsieur St. Aune? Camilla tells me you have travelled.’
‘I have passed through London,’ he said briefly, restarting the motor.
‘You speak the language very well,’ she remarked, with cool politeness.
‘It was one of my studies at university in Lyon.’ His dark eyes mocked her for an instant before he let in the clutch. ‘Does that surprise you, Miss Bishop?’
‘Surprise me? – Why should it?’ she queried evenly.
The jeep was in motion now, and he did not look at her again. But she saw his hard mouth twist with sardonic amusement.
‘You have done your best to conceal it, but I am aware of your opinion of me,’ he informed her dryly. ‘You don’t like me, do you?’
She had not bargained for so direct an offensive as this, and it caught her unprepared.
‘I hardly know you, m’sieur she answered stiffly. Then: ‘But I am not so naive as to suppose that all Frenchmen have the charming manners one is led to expect from them.’
He swung the wheel to avoid a deep rut in the track, and Joceline had to cling to her seat to save herself from lurching against him.
His teeth showed white against his tan. ‘My apologies, mademoiselle.
I regret the roughness of our roads. I hope you do not suffer too much discomfort,’ he said with silky urbanity, his accent deliberately exaggerated.
She flushed and made no reply. But it was in that moment that she realised with disturbing clarity the effect he could have on women if he chose to exert himself. And he knew it too, she thought, with sharp dislike.
They drove the Vest of the way in silence, approaching Aries through the suburb of Trinquetaille and crossing a bridge over the Rhone to reach the narrow winding streets of the old city.
Gervais parked the jeep outside a cafe in the Boulevard des Lices which seemed to be the principal thoroughfare. After the stillness of the plains, the traffic seemed very noisy. It was stiflingly hot. The air smelt of dust and exhaust fumes. Joceline could feel the heat of the pavement burning through the soles of her sandals.
‘Would you like something to drink?’ he asked, gesturing at the tables under the awning.
She nodded. ‘Yes, please.’
He steered her to a vacant table, and ordered two glasses of Ricard.
Joceline would have preferred lemonade, but the pastisy diluted with water, was unexpectedly refreshing. She sipped hers slowly. Gervais drank his at once, and tossed a note into the saucer.
‘You are sure you can manage alone?’ he asked, standing up again.
‘I think my French is equal to some simple shopping,’ she answered composedly.
‘In that case I will meet you here at noon. Au revoir, mademoiselle.’
He strode away down the street, leaving the jeep where he had parked it.
Joceline watched him until he was out of sight, his height and his
gardian clothes distinguishing him from the townsmen, most of whom were on the short side.
‘He walks as if he owned the place,’ she thought, with a slight grimace, as his narrow-hipped long-legged figure finally disappeared round a corner.
But as she finished her pastis at leisure, she could not help wondering about him. It seemed strange that a man who had been to university and travelled should be content with the rough raw life of a Camarguais stockbreeder.
It took her about an hour to complete her shopping. Then she returned to the cafe and asked if she might leave her basket while she went to see the Alyscamps.
It was quiet and a little cooler in the long poplar-shaded avenue with its rows of massive tombs and, here and there, the ruins of an ancient chapel. The atmosphere of the past was very strong. It was easy to imagine Romans in flowing togas walking there, and to conjure the rattle of chariot wheels. Joceline had the feeling that if she closed her eyes for a moment, she might open them to find herself back in the ancient world.
Returning to the centre of Aries, she found the streets even busier than before. Evidently, as at home in England, Saturday was the day when country people from miles around came into the city to buy and sell produce, and meet friends and talk business.
The cafe was packed when Joceline found her way back to it. She hung about for some minutes, until a gardian and his family vacated a
table, then relaxed gratefully into one of the comfortable wicker chairs and asked for a citron presse.
It was only half past eleven, but she was quite happy to rest at the cafe for half an hour before Gervais returned.
When he did, he was not alone. There was a girl with him. A small dark beautiful girl with golden skin and a mass of silky dark hair framing her oval face. His fingers encircling her rounded bare arm, Gervais introduced her to Joceline.
‘Miss Bishop . . . Mademoiselle Durance. Miss Bishop is Camilla’s cousin, Celie. She is visiting us for a short time.’
Joceline stood up and held out her hand. ‘How do you do,
The French girl smiled, her full pink lips parting to show pretty teeth.
Her long pointed nails were painted the same shade of pink, and her hand felt soft and boneless. She was wearing a sleeveless pale pink blouse, and a navy pleated skirt. Her waist was tiny, and the top of her shining head barely reached Gervais’s shoulder.
‘I have asked Celie to have lunch with us, Miss Bishop,’ he explained.
They passed through the interior of the cafe to a small walled yard at the back where half a dozen tables were shaded from the glare by fringed umbrellas. Creepers, planted in Provencal pots, clung to the white-washed brick walls, and water dripped from the mouth of a gargoyle into a mossy stone basin below.
This is your first visit to France, Miss Bishop?’ asked Celie Durance, when they were seated. Her voice was soft and light, and she spoke English with hardly any accent.
‘Yes, it is.’ Joceline was puzzled by her. The streets outside were full of pretty girls – but not girls like Celie. Everything about her – the expensive simplicity of her bag and shoes, her exquisite scent, and immaculate grooming – spoke of Paris. What was she doing in a place like Aries . . . with a man like Gervais St. Aune?
‘How is your cousin now? I have met her only once, when she and Jean-Marc had their appartement in the Rue Gambetta. She is still in bad health?’ the French girl inquired. She took off her sunglasses. Her eyes were not brown, but deep hazel, with lashes so long and thick that Joceline thought they must be false ones.
‘She is a little better this week, I think,’ Joceline replied. ‘You live in Aries, mademoiselle?’*
‘We have a house in the city for the winter months, but in the spring I join my father. He is a manadier like Gervais, you understand. Our place is not far from Mas St. Aune. But our herd is Spanish, and Gervais breeds only the little Camarguais bulls, don’t you, mon cher?’ This was said with a teasing inflection and a flutter of the incredible lashes. Joceline had the impression that the remark referred to some long-standing private joke between them.
However, before he had time to respond, the waiter came to enquire what they wished to eat.
The earnest discussion which followed was conducted in French, and though Celie took part in it, Gervais made no attempt to consult Joceline.
She wondered if he had met the other girl by chance, or if he had intended to have lunch with her, and that was why he had seemed so reluctant when she, Joceline had asked if she could come with him.
After the waiter had taken his order, Celie opened her bag and produced a cylindrical gold cigarette case.
‘You smoke, Miss Bishop? No?’ She flicked open the . case and took out a cigarette.
But before she could put it to her lips, Gervais laid his hand on her wrist and shook his head at her.
‘Not now . . ..you will spoil your lunch.’
She pouted at him. ‘Oh, you are as bad as Papa.’
But it was clear that she did not really mind his intervention.
The waiter brought their hors d’aeuvres, and as he arranged the dishes on the table Joceline thought wryly of the soggy sardines, lumps of beetroot and cold boiled potato, and sad lettuce leaves which were expected to titillate the appetite in small provincial restaurants at home.
Here, the central platter was a careful arrangement of finely sliced
saucisson d3Aries with a mound of glistening black olives in the centre. Other dishes contained transparent rounds of cucumber, tiny mushrooms, shredded celeriac in real mayonnaise, and firm juicy tomatoes cut into concertina shapes with slices of hard-boiled egg slipped into each incision.
‘You have completed your shopping, Miss Bishop?’ Gervais enquired as they began to eat.
‘Yes, thank you. I spent most of the morning at the Alyscamps. It was cooler under the trees.’
‘You find our climate too hot, I expect,’ Celie said sympathetically.
The remark made Joceline wish she had had a chance to wash her hands and attend to her face before they sat down to lunch. She had a
discomfiting feeling that her nose was shiny and that she needed fresh lipstick.
‘Me, I adore the hot weather,’ the French girl went on blithely. ‘To be all day in the sun … to ride for miles and see no other person … ah, this is what I most enjoy.’
‘If that is so, I am surprised you spend so much time in Paris, Celie,’
Gervais said, in a dry tone.
She laughed. ‘Paris also pleases me,’ she conceded, sipping her pastis.
‘But I always return, do I not?’ She laid a hand over his, and added with engaging coquetry, ‘I go to Paris to arrange myself. You don’t like me to look pretty, mon cher?’
Gervais lifted her hand and touched her knuckles with his lips. ‘You were born so,’ he told her lightly.
Her tawny eyes sparkled.
‘Vraimeni?’ she asked delightedly.
He replaced her hand on the table, his expression one of lazy amusement.
‘Bien sur, ma mie. Now proceed with your lunch, if you please.’
This exchange astonished Joceline. That any other man should respond to Celie’s mischievous flirting would not have surprised her at all, But for Gervais to do so amazed her. She would have expected him to disapprove of such light-hearted pleasantries.
Their relationship puzzled her. Obviously they had -known each other for years, very likely since childhood.
At first, when Gervais had restrained Celie from smoking, it had appeared that his attitude to her was that of an elder brother. But now she was not so sure.
The ‘ma mie‘ was probably significant. It might mean anything from
‘dear’ to ‘my love’ – depending on the nuance. But precisely how Gervais had used it she could not tell.
The hots d’oeuvres were followed by gigot en croute – a leg of lamb which had been baked inside a shiny brown crust. With it came real
petits pois cooked in butter, a frothy puree of potatoes, and a bottle of dry Cotes du , Rhone rose.
The heat, the delicious food, and the wine made Joceline feel increasingly drowsy. But by the time the table had been cleared and they were waiting for their coffee to seep through the aluminium filters on top of the cups, she was thinking longingly of a deck-chair somewhere in the shade with no need to move until sunset.
Celie’s vivacity was unflagging. Most of her conversation was directed at Gervais, but from time to time she made a smiling remark to Joceline. Evidently she did not share the St. Aunes’ antipathy to foreigners.
At last Gervais signalled to the waiter.
‘Why don’t you visit us tonight?’ Celie suggested, while he was waiting for the bill to be presented. ‘Papa tells me he has not seen you for nearly a month. Perhaps Miss Bishop would like to come also,’
she added. ” ‘It’s very kind of you, mademoiselle, but I think I should stay with Camilla as she has been alone most of the day,’ Joceline said, grateful for her friendliness.
The French girl nodded understanding. ‘Ah, yes. I had not considered
. . . and Jean-Marc is in Lyon, riest- ce pas? Naturally you will not wish to leave her. But you will come, Gervais?’
‘Not tonight, Celie.’
She looked disappointed, but did not try to make him change his mind. ‘Then perhaps tomorrow I will visit you. It is too long since I have seen Tante Madelon.’
‘You know you are always welcome, petite.’
Outside the cafe, Celie said goodbye and sauntered off down the street, her lovely face and figure attracting considerable masculine attention, Joceline noticed. – Even Gervais watched her for some moments^, before turning away and putting on his broad-brimmed hat.
If it had not been for a chance meeting on the way, they would have probably returned to Mas St. Aune in unbroken silence. But, half way back to the farm, Gervais stopped the jeep to get out and speak to the driver of a similar vehicle going in the opposite direction.
He was gone only a few minutes, arid Joceline paid little attention to the grey-haired elderly man in the other jeep. She assumed he was another manadier. But a few minutes after Gervais had re-started the engine and they were bumping on their way once more, he said casually, ‘That was the doctor. He has been to see your cousin.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ Joceline exclaimed. ‘I would have liked to speak to him.’ She twisted in her seat, but already the second jeep was a quarter of a mile away, its outline obscured by the cloud of dust behind it. ‘Oh, you should have told me,’ she said vexedly.
‘For what purpose? He has no English. He told me your cousin’s condition is satisfactory,’ Gervais answered levelly.
‘But if he speaks no English, how can Camilla talk to him?’ she asked, frowning.
To her surprise, she had discovered that, after a year of marriage to a Frenchman, her cousin’s command of the language was very little better than her own.
‘The doctor usually comes at a time when my brother is present,’
Gervais explained, with a shrug. ‘Naturally, if I had realised you wished it, I would have presented him to you. But you have no cause for concern. He is a man ofgreat experience in these matters. He will give her every necessary attention/ ‘Does he approve of her being at the farm?* She saw his right eyebrow lift. ‘Do I infer that you do not, Miss Bishop?’
Joceline bit her lip. ‘I would be happier if she was going into hospital… or was at least within reach of one. If anything were to go wrong—’
‘Why should it?’ he intervened coolly. ‘She is young and well looked after. The doctor foresees no complications.’
‘But she is so thin … so listless,’ Joceline protested. ‘If she will not eat, we cannot force her,’ he said, with a slight shrug..
‘She isn’t used to French cooking … the garlic, and things cooked in oil.’
‘Nor are you, Miss Bishop, but you seem to find our cuisine acceptable. Or do you only appear to do so?’
‘No, I think your food is excellent,’ she said evenly. ‘But that is hardly the point. Camilla is pregnant and—’
‘The point, as you put it, is that your cousin refuses to adjust herself to her life here,’ he cut in bluntly. ‘You will not help her by encouraging this attitude. Already my brother indulges her more than is wise.’
‘Presumably he loves her,’ Joceline said coldly. ‘Most men do pamper their wives at a time like this. I expect he’s worried about her. But perhaps, not being married yourself, that is something you wouldn’t understand.’
‘One does not have to be married to understand women,’ he said dryly.
‘What your cousin needs, mademoiselle, is to feel the curb now and then. My young brother allows her too much rein. Women are like horses – they go better with firm handling.’
‘You do have a high opinion of us,’ Joceline said tartly. ‘If that’s your outlook, I am not surprised you’re still a bachelor, Monsieur St.
‘You do not agree?’ he asked, on a derisive note. *You would prefer a complaisant husband?’
‘I’m afraid I don’t think of marriage in those terms. But I certainly would not marry a man who did not credit me with some intelligence.’
‘To recognise that women are creatures of instinct is not to deny their intelligence,’ he responded equably. ‘You are very young,
mademoiselle. Perhaps you are not yet aware of your own temperament. When you have more experience, you will realise that it is a woman’s nature to submit. One cannot reverse the natural order of life.’
‘Times change,’ she countered frigidly. ‘Don’t you think your views are rather passe?’
They were now within sight of the mas, its whitewashed walls reflecting the brilliant afternoon light. The north wall, built to withstand the rage of the mistral, had no windows, so that from a distance it looked more like a’ desolate byre or granary, rather than a house.
Gervais slowed the jeep to negotiate a particularly rough stretch of track. After an interval, he said, ‘Times may change – the essential relationship between a man and a woman does not alter, Miss Bishop.
But even if you dispute that opinion, you will surely agree it is a little late for your cousin to regret her marriage.’
‘She doesn’t regret it! She loves your brother,’ Joceline exclaimed impatiently. ‘But how can you expect her to be happy when you and Madame so obviously dislike her? You don’t give her a chance.’
The line of his mouth hardened, and she saw” the muscle tighten at his jaw.
‘Are you suggesting that my aunt and I have been unkind to her?’ he demanded curtly.
Joceline’s shoulders sagged. ‘I might as well hit my head against a wall,’ she thought despairingly. ‘I shall never get through to him.’
Aloud, she said, ‘No, of course not, m’sieur – you must know I didn’t mean that. But I think you could make more allowances for her.
Camilla is a sensitive person. Knowing that you don’t like her distresses her very much, and it must put your brother in a difficult position, too. To go on resenting their marriage does no one any good.
Surely the best course now is to accept it, and try to help her adjust herself?’
The jeep bounced over the plank bridge crossing the stream a hundred yards from the mas. Instead of driving up to the courtyard, Gervais followed the track leading round to the back of the outbuildings.
There was no one about, and the corrals were empty.
After he had switched off the engine, he stripped off his leather gloves and tossed them into the back of the vehicle.
Turned towards her, his forearm resting on the back of his seat, he said, ‘Help her? In what way, Miss Bishop?’
Now the jeep was at a standstill, it was like sitting in an oven.
Somehow the silence of the deserted barn and bunk-house seemed to intensify the heat.
Joceline licked her dry lips, longing for a cold drink. ‘Oh . . . in various ways,’ she said huskily.
She was conscious of her wilted dress, and hot face. Her hands felt sticky, and there was a trickle of moisture coursing down her back between her shoulder blades. Most of all, she was aware of his eyes on her, and of nearness, his strong brown fingers only inches from her left shoulder. All at once, she realised that she was tensed because if he moved his hand he might accidentally touch her. And, absurdly, she was afraid of his touch. There was something about him that was different from other men. She could not define it, but she felt it, and it made her nervous.
‘For example?’ he prompted.
‘Well, I think what Camilla misses most is feminine companionship.
Perhaps now that Mademoiselle Durance will be near, you could encourage a friendship between them. I imagine her interests are very much the same as Camilla’s.’
Gervais gave a short hard laugh. ‘ Mais certainementl – an inspired suggestion.’
The note of sarcasm puzzled her. ‘I don’t understand—’ she began.
‘There are many things you do not understand,’ he told her crushingly.
‘You have been here one week – how should you comprehend the complexity of this situation? Let me give you some advice,
mademoiselle. Confine yourself to keeping your cousin amused for the duration of your visit. Soon she will have the child to occupy her.’
The snub made Joceline’s cheeks flame. ‘I was only trying to help,’
she said defensively.
He swung one long leg out of the jeep, then paused and ‘.gave her a look she could not read.
‘No doubt,’ he said sardonically. ‘And you were correct in supposing that Celie and your cousin have much in common. Celie Durance is the girl my brother would have married if he had not gone to Paris last year.’
‘YOU’VE been a long time. I expected you back two hours ago,’
Camilla said peevishly, when Joceline went into her room.
She was out of bed, sitting by the window in a flowing pale green satin-de-lys peignoir with short lacy sleeves. The? baby was due in six weeks’ time and nothing could disguise her advanced stage of pregnancy. But she still made a lovely picture, Joceline thought.
There was such grace in the poise of her head on her long slender neck, and the colour of the peignoir accentuated the rich auburn of her hair, the whiteness of her delicate skin.
‘Yes, I’m sorry we’re so late . . . I didn’t realise Gervais intended to lunch in Aries. I’ve brought all the things you wanted.’ Joceline dumped her basket on the bed, looking forward to changing her clothes and having a wash. ‘The doctor has been to see you, I hear.
We passed him on the way back.’
‘Horrid little man . . . he’d been eating atoli. Great blasts of garlic –
revolting!’ Camilla said, with a shudder. ‘Listen, I must have my hair washed before Jean-Marc comes back tomorrow. You’ll have to help me, Joss. I can’t manage it myself any more. Go and ask Madame to heat some water, will you?’
‘Wouldn’t it be better to do it in the morning?’ Joceline suggested. ‘It will take a long time to dry, Camilla.’
‘No, no … I want it done now, in case he arrives early,’ her cousin insisted.
‘Very well-: I’ll go and change my clothes.’
In her own room Joceline sat on the side of the bed for a moment. She had left the shutters closed, so the atmosphere was relatively cool. It would have been pleasant to relax for half an hour. The rough journey
to Aries and back, and her clash with Gervais, had drained her vitality.
But if Camilla’s hair was to be thoroughly dry by bedtime, there was no time to relax at present. Resisting the temptation to lie down, she began to take off her dress, then her slip and stockings.
After Joceline had laved her face and arms with water from the china ewer in her own room, and put on a clean shirt and slacks, she felt considerably refreshed.
Madame St. Aune was not in the living-room or the kitchen. Joceline concluded that she must be resting in her room and, rather than disturb her, decided to heat the water herself. The huge black wood-burning range was alight, with a stockpot simmering on the pan over the baking oven. But the sink under the window had no taps, so presumably the water had to be drawn from a pump or well somewhere outside the house.
^Taking one of the buckets from beneath the sink, Joceline went out of the back door and saw the pump at one side of the yard. As she began to work the handle, someone came whistling round the corner and she looked up to see one of the gardians – the one who had found her sunglasses on her first day at Mas St. Aune.
Wondering why he had not gone to Aries as all the other men seemed to have done, she smiled at him. ‘Bonjour, m’sieur.’
Evidently he was equally surprised to see her. He stopped short, looking slightly embarrassed. He was younger than any of the other
gardians, probably about her own age, or even a little less.
‘Bonjour, mademoiselle’ After a momentary hesitation, he put down the tack he was carrying, and came over and indicated that she should stand aside and he would pump the water for her.
When the pail was full to the brim, he said in French, ‘This is too heavy for you, mademoiselle. I will carry it in for you.’
Apparently he was familiar with the kitchen as he did not put down the bucket, but transferred the water to a blackened cauldron, and lifted that on to the grille over the fire. Then he opened the door at the front of the range, threw in some more sticks, and used a long-handled poker to stir up the flames.
‘Thank you very much,’ Joceline said gratefully. ‘I thought everyone has gone into town this afternoon.’
‘Not me, mademoiselle.’ There was a pause while he stood awkwardly shuffling his feet and looking everywhere but at her. Finally he said,
‘My name is Raphael.’
His bashfulness surprised her, for he was a good-looking boy, not tall but well-built, with thick black curly hair and a bit of a swagger in his walk. She would have thought he was rather a heart-throb among the girls in the locality.
She gave him another smile, and said, ‘Mine is Joceline.’
‘Joceline . . . that is pretty,’ he said shyly. ‘You enjoyed your visit to Aries with le patron, Mademoiselle Joceline?’
‘Yes . . . it’s a beautiful old city.’
‘You remain at the mas until the young Madame’s son is born?’ he asked, his manner more relaxed now.
She shook her head. ‘No, I can’t stay as long as that. Two more weeks, and then I must go home to England. Is everyone hoping the baby will be a boy? It may be a little girl.’
‘Here the firstborn is always a son,’ he told her solemnly. Then the sound of a door closing somewhere along the passage made him add quickly, ‘I must go now. I have work to do.’
He need not have departed so hurriedly, for no one came into the kitchen. And Joceline would have liked to go on talking to him in order to practise her French. She had found that listening to the
gardians‘ talk at meal times had brought back all the French she had learned at school, and subsequently half forgotten. And she had even picked up quite a number of Provencal words and phrases.
‘If I was staying here for two or three months, I believe I could become quite fluent,’ she thought, as she waited for the water to heat.
After shampooing Gamilla, Joceline washed her own hair and then wrapped a towel round her head and set about winding her cousin’s hair on to large rollers.
‘I can’t think why Gervaise doesn’t install a generator. It’s ridiculous not having electricity. I can’t use my dryer or my razor. It really is too maddening,’ Camilla said irritably.
‘Generators are very expensive. Perhaps he can’t afford one,’said Joceline.
‘Oh, nonsense – he has plenty of money. He could afford to modernise the whole place if he weren’t so tight-fisted. Where did he take you for lunch? To some tatty little bistro, I suppose?’
‘It wasn’t a smart restaurant, but the food was first class. Actually there were three of us. He brought a girl called Celie Durance along.’
‘Oh, yes, I met her once. A little dark thing . . . very well dressed. I thought she was rather sweet,’ Camilla said casually.
Clearly she had no idea that her in-laws had hoped for a match between Jean-Marc and Celie.
What exactly had Gervais meant by saying that Celie was the girl his brother would have married? Joieline wondered. If he had not walked away immediately afterwards, she would have asked him to be more explicit.
But surely, if Jean-Marc had been betrothed to Celie, he would have told Camilla about it. Probably the truth of the matter was that the families had wanted the marriage, but the couple concerned had not.
Certainly Celie did not give the impression of a girl suffering from blighted love. There had been no trace of pique in her voice when she had enquired about Camilla’s health.
‘According to Jean-Marc, the Durance place is the last word in modernity,’ said Camilla. ‘They have electricity, hot and cold water on tap . . . everything to make life comfortable. Celie’s father even sent her to a finishing school in Paris. He isn’t a diehard traditionalist.
He sounds quite civilised.’
‘But I gather he breeds a different type of bull, so perhaps his manade is more prosperous,’ Joceline said, clipping a neat pin curl in place at the nape of her cousin’s neck.
‘Yes, the Durances send their bulls to the corrida at Nimes. Gervais will only breed for the course libre.’
‘What is the difference?’
‘The corrida is a proper Spanish-style bullfight,’ Camilla explained.
‘But in the course libre the bull isn’t killed. It has a red rosette fixed between its horns, and young men called razeteurs have to try and pull the rosette off/Jean-Marc used to go in for it, but he doesn’t now, of course. I made him promise to give it up. It’s all very nice being a local hero for a year or two, but I don’t want my husband to wind up
with a game leg or a hole in his ribs: Actually the bulls get most of the kudos. I suppose Gervais has told you all about Le Sanglier, the greatest bull of all time!’ she added, on a satiric note.
Joceline shook her head. ‘No, he’s never mentioned him. But, apart from today, I haven’t had a great deal of conversation with Gervais.’
‘He will!’ her cousin prophesied. ‘Breeding a bull like Sanglier is the highest ambition in life. Incredible, isn’t it?’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ Joceline said mildly. ‘I imagine farmers in England feel the same about rearing a prize pig or cow with a record milk yield, or whatever their speciality happens to be. Everyone has their particular pipe-dream. Yours used to be having your picture on the front of Vogue,’ she reminded Camilla, with a smile.
‘I’ve still got that cover somewhere,’ her cousin said reminiscently. ‘It was a Patrick Lichfield photograph, and I was modelling a marvellous black Otto Lucas hat.’ Suddenly her mouth twisted and her eyes filled with tears i if I went back now, no one in London would recognise me.’
‘Oh, rubbish – of course they would, silly,’ Joceline said hastily. ‘In a couple of months from now, when you’ve got your waistline back, you’ll be as glam as ever.’
‘Will I? Do you really think so?’ Camilla asked tremulously. ‘Some women never get their figures back. Oh, if you knew how I hate being like this! I can hardly bear to look at myself.’
‘Now that’s just being foolish, Camilla,’ Joceline said firmly. ‘You don’t bulge nearly as much as some people, and it’s only for a little while longer. Do cheer up, darling. This time tomorrow Jean-Marc will be home, and I’m sure he thinks you look lovely – bulge or no bulge.’
* * *
Jean-Marc St. Aune arrived home soon after lunch the following day.
His first act, after leaping out of his car, was to seize his aunt in a hearty embrace and swing her feet off the ground. Surprisingly, the senior Madame St. Aune seemed pleased by this boisterous reception.
Although she remonstrated with him, her usually dour face was wreathed in smiles and he set her down and gave her a smacking kiss.
Next Jean-Marc wrung Gervais’s hand and clapped him on the shoulder, Finally, he turned to Joceline.
‘And this is the little cousin from England. I am delighted to meet you at last, mademoiselle. You must forgive me for being absent when you arrived . . . but it was a matter of business, you understand. Now that I am a husband – and very soon a father! – it is important for me to advance myself.’
Smiling, he bowed over her hand and kissed her fingertips. ‘Now, if you will excuse me, I must go at once to my wife.’
After he had dashed into the house, Madame St. Aune followed, murmuring something about the poor boy looking thin and needing a good meal.
‘As Jeannot and your cousin will no doubt wish to be alone for a time, perhaps you would care to come riding with me, Miss Bishop?’
‘Riding? – But I can’t ride,’ she reminded him.
‘Then I will teach you,’ he said calmly. ‘If you are not afraid to try?’ he added, a hint of challenge in his voice.
So that was the motive for his surprising invitation. He wanted to test her mettle. No doubt he was counting on her to make some excuse.
Obviously, he did not really want her company.
‘It’s very kind of you. I should like to have a lesson,’ she said pleasantly. ‘I’ll just go and change my clothes. I won’t be long.’
If Gervais was startled by her acceptance, he did not show it. He merely said, ‘I’ll saddle the horses,’ and walked off towards the corrals.
‘Oh lord, I wonder what I’ve let myself in for?’ Joceline thought, with a prickle ox apprehension, as she went indoors.-‘
Then she comforted herself with the reflection that although it might amuse him to alarm her a little, he would hardly be likely to cause her to break any bones. Perhaps, if she kept her head, she might even acquit herself quite creditably.
When she joined him outside the corrals, Gervais had already saddled Cesar, his own mount, and was adjusting the stirrup leathers on a second horse.
For the first time, Joceline noticed that the saddles on . both horses were quite different from the type used in England. These had an arched cantle at the back, and a very high pommel in front. The space between these projections not being very wide, a rider was more or less wedged into position.
‘Don’t worry, Miss Bishop. Aristide is an amiable creature. He won’t take a dislike to you,’ Gervais said blandly, as if he guessed she felt less sanguine than she was trying to appear. ‘Put your foot in the stirrup, grip the pommel, and I will help you to mount him.’
After she had accomplished this preliminary manoeuvre without catching her leg on the cantle or pitching off the other side, Gervais made another alteration to the length of the stirrup leathers.
‘Perhaps you have noticed that here we do not ride with our knees bent,’ he said, glancing up at her. ‘For a long day’s work with the bulls, it is better for the legs to be nearly straight. There is something I must fetch from the house. You don’t mind if I leave you for a moment?’
Joceline shook her head, but her hands tightened on the pommel and she hoped Aristide would not take it into his head to make any sudden movement.
When Gervais returned he was carrying a grey slouch hat like his own. But the one in his hand was smaller, and obviously new.
‘A souvenir of the Camargue for you, mademoiselle,’ he said, handing it to her. ‘I hope it is the correct size for you.’
‘Oh, th-thank you,’ she stammered, in surprise, as he turned away to swing himself up on Cesar.
Gingerly releasing her hold on the pommel, she took off her sunglasses and put the hat on her head. It fitted perfectly and the wide brim shaded her eyes much more effectively than the glasses. He must have bought it in Aries the day before, she thought.
Gervais brought Cesar close to Aristide and leaned out of his saddle to show her how to hold the reins.
‘Now, you are ready to start, Miss Bishop?’
She nodded. ‘Please . . . won’t you call me Joceline?’ she said, on impulse. ‘After all, we are distantly related.’
He gave one of his enigmatic looks. ‘Very well, if you wish it.’
Then he slapped Aristide on the rump, and both horses setoff.
It did not take Joceline long to adjust herself to the horse’s leisurely gait, and the cantle curving snugly round her hips made her feel more secure than she would have done on an ordinary hacking saddle.
Presently, she began to relax and enjoy herself*
Gervais rode alongside, but did not appear to be keeping much of an eye on her. Whistling softly, he was scanning the arid landscape, the reins held lightly in his left hand, the other thrust into his trousers pocket.
After about fifteen minutes of ambling sedately along a track, they turned off across a wide expanse of dry alluvial earth largely overgrown with samphire, and Gervais nudged Cesar into an easy canter.
Aristide promptly followed suit, and for a moment Joceline tame perilously close to losing both her balance and the reins. But she managed to hang on, and by gripping with her knees, to stop herself lurching about like an insecure sack of potatoes.
Nearing a shallow gaze, Aristide slowed down of his own accord. As he stepped through a fringe of reeds into the water, Joceline caught Gervais eyeing her with a gleam of amusement.
‘Were you hoping I would fell off, Monsieur St. Aune?’ she asked lightly.
He lifted an eyebrow. ‘Not Gervais?’
She repeated his own reply. ‘Very well, if you wish.’
He reined Cesar closer till the two horses were only a few feet apart.
‘You will not fall off Aristide. A child could ride him safely.’
‘I suppose you began .riding as soon as you could walk?’
‘Before I could walk,’ he said, with a shrug. ‘I was seven years old when my father let me ride with the gardians in my first abrivado.
That is when the selected bulls are driven to the ring where a contest is to take place. Now they more often go by truck, but on special occasions, if the ring is not too far from the pastures, an abrivado is arranged.’
As they reached dry ground again, Joceline saw that about a quarter of a mile away, several gardians were rounding up a scattered herd.
She said, ‘Camilla mentioned a bull called Le Sanglier. Why was he so famous?’
Gervais grinned suddenly, his teeth flashing white against his tan.
‘You should ask Marcel Roget! As a young gardianou, he won one thousand francs merely for touching Le Sanglier’s forehead. There has never been a cocardier with such courage as the old Boar.’
For an instant, as he spoke of the bull, his expression held a warmth and humour curiously at variance with the habitual hardness of his mouth, the arrogant authority of his manner. Joceline was reminded of the moment during lunch the day before, when he had told Celie Durance she was lovely. There were some chinks in his armour, it seemed.
Ahead of them, the gardians had brought the cattle together and were driving them southwards. Each man had a long-handled trident balanced across his shoulder for use if the beasts were refractory. But for the moment they were moving in an orderly group, their ebony hides glistening and steaming, each powerful head crowned by a sharp pair of upward-branching horns.
About ten minutes later, after they had passed the herd, another rider came into view.
‘Celie,’ Gervais said laconically.
Joceline wondered how he could tell. At that distance, it might have been anyone.
But he was right – it was Celie. Her black hair streaming, her body crouched low over her horse’s neck, Celie came racing towards them at such a breakneck gallop that Joceline thought for an instant that the animal must be bolting with her. But when it seemed that the French girl was going to thunder straight past them, she suddenly swung the horse off its headlong course, careered in a wide circle and came up alongside Gervais, reining in so sharply that her horse reared up on its hind legs.
It was a spectacular display, made all the more remarkable by the fact that Celie was riding without a saddle.
Joceline gasped in mingled alarm and admiration as the horse pawed the air with its forelegs, then came down, curveting and tossing it’s long white mane.
But Gervais said sharply, in French, ‘I have told you not to do that, Celie. You will kill yourself one of these days.’
She laughed at him. ‘Would that make you sad, mon vieux?’
‘It would make me angry to see a good horse injured,’ he told her sternly. ‘Even if you come to no harm, you will ruin his mouth with your circus tricks.’
‘Quelle betise! It does not hurt him. It amuses him,’ she said carelessly. Then, after acknowledging Joceline with a nod, ‘Are you on your way to our place?’
Gervais shook his head. In English, he said, ‘No, it is too far. Joceline has not ridden a horse before today. We will rest for a few minutes
under the trees, and then we must return.’ He indicated a small group of parasol pines which cast a patch of shadow in the otherwise shadeless landscape.
Celie rode ahead of them. Although she was dressed like a gardian in a blue flower-patterned shirt and buff trousers with the distinctive black braiding down the side seams, there was nothing boyish about her. Indeed the masculine outfit seemed to accentuate her femininity.
When they reached the trees, she waited for Gervais to dismount, then crooked her right leg across her horse’s withers and held out her arms in readiness to be lifted down.
As he set her on the ground, she kept her hands on his shoulders and said cajolingly, ‘Don’t be cross with me. I won’t do it again if it worries you.’
Holding her narrow waist, he gave her a little shake. ‘Eh bien, I forgive you this time.’ Then he turned away to help Joceline down.
As he did so, Joceline saw a rather curious expression cross the French girl’s lovely golden face; a look, swiftly veiled, which suggested that his answer had vexed her in some way.
But perhaps she had only imagined it, for as they sat down under the pines, Celie produced a little pocket mirror and asked him to hold it for her while she tidied her windblown hair. Kneeling beside him as he lounged against one of the trunks, she began to comb out the silky tangles.
‘I see you have bought a gardian’s hat, mademoiselle she said, glancing at Joceline.
‘You should wear one too y petite,9 Gervais told her. ‘It is not good for you to ride without some protection.’
Celie laughed arid shook her head. ‘You forget . . . I have the blood of the fil de vent in me.’
Gervais looked lazily amused. ‘Celie likes to believe that she descended from the children of the wind – the gypsies,’ he explained to Joceline.
‘But it is true – you know it is true,’ she insisted earnestly. She turned to Joceline again. ‘Every year, the gitanes come to the Camargue for the Feast of Sara. It is a great occasion, you understand . . . there is music and dancing and everyone is very gay. Many years ago, when my grandfather was a young man, he also danced at la fete. It was there he met his wife, a beautiful gypsy girl. From the moment they saw each other they knew it was un coup de destin.’
‘How romantic!’ Joceline said, smiling.
‘Not when you know the rest of the story,’ Gervais commented drily.
‘The gypsies do not approve of mixed marriages. Paul Durance was lucky to escape a knife between his ribs. And he did not keep Mercedes long. She had a child, but as soon as her people returned the following year she deserted him and the baby. A gitane can never settle to our gorgio way of life – not even here in the Camargue.’
‘Yes, it was very sad,’ Celie agreed, with a sigh. ‘Her tribe would not take her back, so she threw herself in the sea and was drowned, la pauvre. My poor grandfather was desole.’
‘Not too desole to marry again,’ Gervais reminded her cynically. ‘Or to have three more children. But perhaps that was another coup de destin?’
Celie tossed her head, her dark eyes flashing. ‘It is not amusing – it is tragic,’ she retorted, in French. ‘How can you understand? You have never been in love.’ And she snatched her mirror out of his hand, and jumped to her feet and turned her back on him.
But not before the others had seen the shimmer of tears in her eyes, and the trembling of her soft full lips.
It was an awkward moment, and Joceline could tell that Gervais was inwardly cursing himself for causing it. No doubt, if he had been alone with Celie, he would have apologised and tried to comfort her.
But, with an outsider present, he merely said, ‘It is time to go back.’
The two St. Aune horses were tethered to a juniper bush, but Celie had not bothered to picket her mount, and it had wandered off to crop a stretch of swamp grass. When she whistled, it came trotting across to the pines.
To help her mount, Gervais laced his fingers and made a stirrup for her. She was up in a flash, and as she collected the reins there was no sign of her distress a few minutes earlier.
‘Do you always ride, bareback?’ Joceline asked her, as Gervais went to untie Cesar and Aristide.
‘Bareback? Oh, you mean a dos nuo? No, not always. It makes no difference,’ the French girl said, with a shrug. Today I must ride through an etang and lift my legs – – so!’ She drew up her knees to demonstrate. ‘This is not possible with a saddle.’
Gervais brought the horses up, and held Aristide’s head while Joceline mounted. She muffed her first attempt, jarred her knee on the cantle with a force that made her wince, and very nearly toppled over backwards. Feeling a fool, she tried again. This time she cleared the cantle but landed in the saddle with a thump that made the horse shift its stance and blow through its nostrils as if to say ‘Who is this clumsy female?’
‘Sorry, Aristide.’ Instinctively, she stretched a hand to pat the horse’s neck, then caught Gervais’s eye and reddened, expecting derision.
But for an instant there was an expression on his face which was new to her and, before she could interpret it, he had turned away to swing with easy grace into his own saddle.
Celie rode a little way with them, then said goodbye and departed in the same neck-or-nothing manner in which she had come.
‘She rides magnificently, doesn’t she?’ said Joceline, as they watched her go.
‘Celie does everything well,’ Gervais replied repressively.
They rode back to the mas in silence, and with a brief word of thanks Joceline went into the house.
As she passed Camilla’s room, Jean-Marc opened the door and invited her in. Her cousin was sitting up in bed wearing a new bedjacket of apricot crepe de chine.
‘Isn’t it pretty? Jean-Marc bought it for me in Lyon . . . and these too.’
She showed Joceline a pair of turquoise ear-clips and an expensive ombre silk scarf.
‘And for you also a small gift, mademoiselle. ‘ With a smiling bow, Jean-Marc presented her with a box containing another silk scarf.
‘Oh, how kind of you – thank you,’ she said, surprised and rather touched that he should have thought to bring something for her.
After half an hour’s acquaintance with him, she no longer wondered what had possessed Camilla to marry him. What puzzled her now was that he and Gervais should be so utterly dissimilar – not only in appearance, but in every way. An inch or two shorter than his brother, Jean-Marc St. Aune was endowed with such striking good looks that, had they met in any other circumstances, Joceline would have expected him to be a rather conceited and objectionable young man.
Instead, as she quickly discovered, he was one of those cheerful friendly people who are liked, regardless of their looks, simply because they are such pleasant and relaxing company.
Most important of all, his manner towards his wife was so patent a blend of pride and tenderness that, watching them as he sat on the side of the bed with his arm round Camilla’s shoulders, Joceline found herself oddly moved.
Indeed it was only then that she realised how close she had come to accepting Gervais’s view that the marriage was foredoomed to disaster.
* * *
One afternoon, towards the end of her second week at Mas St. Aune, Joceline was sitting on the bench in the courtyard, writing a letter home, when Jean-Marc returned from Aries soon after four o’clock.
‘Hello . . . you’re back early today. Camilla is still asleep,’ she told him, putting aside her writing pad.
‘She did not sleep well last night. These last weeks of waiting are very hard for her. She is exhausted, pauvre petite,’ he said frowning. ‘You do not find the heat troublesome, Joceline?’
‘No, I like it. But then I’m not having a baby or doing any work.’
Jean-Marc went into the house and reappeared a few minutes later with a bottle of Ricard, two glasses, and a jug of water.
‘You will take some pastis?’ he asked, sitting down beside her.
Joceline nodded. ‘But a very weak one for me, please.’
She watched him pour it out. Diluted with water, the pastis became cloudy. The first time she had tasted it, she had found it rather unpleasant. But now she had come to like the sharp acid-drop flavour.
Jean-Marc lit a cigarette and rested his shoulders against the sun-baked wall behind them.
He said, ‘I have been hoping to talk to you alone. This situation … it is not easy to know what is best to be – done. You have seen how it goes between Camilla and my family. I would welcome your advice.’
‘To be honest, I think you made a mistake in bringing Camilla here,’
Joceline said frankly. She too, had been impatiently awaiting a chance for a tete-a-tete, and now that it had arrived she saw no point in mincing matters.
‘What else could I do?’ he said, with a harassed gesture. ‘It was never my intention to bring her. For myself, I ‘ would have preferred to stay in Aries. But as soon as it was apparent to other people that Camilla was enceinte, she refused to leave the appartement. She would not even go out to buy food. She is ugly . . . people stare at her, she says.
When I tell her this is absurd, there are scenes and tears. For one month she was alone every day, speaking to no one. It was not good for her, mademoiselle. So you see I had no choice in the matter.’
‘But she told me she had a fall”, and that you brought her here because the doctor ordered her to stay in bed with someone to look after her,’
Joceline said blankly.
Jean-Marc sighed and rubbed a hand across his eyes.
‘It is true there was a fall,’ he agreed, in a weary tone. ‘But it was not serious – merely a slight injury to the wrist. There was no question of the child being endangered. It is by her own choice that Camilla remains in her room here. The doctor would prefer that she led a more active life.’
‘I see,’ Joceline said slowly. And she could not help feeling angry that her cousin should have deliberately misled her.
Jean-Marc dropped the stub of his cigarette and ground it under his heel. ‘Perhaps they are right. . . perhaps it was wrong of me to make her my wife,’ he said, on a note of despair. ‘She is so beautiful, so talented . . . and now she is very unhappy. I cannot give her the life she should have – a big house, a fine car, all the refinements to which she is accustomed.’
‘You love her – that is the most important thing,’ Joceline said gently.
‘Is it?’ he answered gloomily, ‘I thought so at first, but now … I don’t know. We are from different worlds. We should she make so many sacrifices for me when I can give her so little in return? I shall never be a rich man.’
‘Well, if Camilla had wanted a wealthy husband, I expect she could have had one,’ Joceline pointed out matter-of-factly. ‘I think you underrate yourself, Jean-Marc. Most women don’t mind making a few sacrifices for love, you know. Camilla isn’t feeling herself just now.
I’m sure, once the baby arrives, .matters will improve.’
‘I hope so,’ he said doubtfully. ‘But I fear it will be a long time before my aunt and my brother resign themselves to our marriage. They do not mean to be unkind, you understand. It is that they regard me as a boy. But I am a man now, and must choose my own life.’
‘Your brother seems to think that, if you hadn’t married Camilla, you would come back to be a gardian. Would you?’ Joceline asked.
He shrugged. ‘Perhaps . . . who can say? It is true I would not wish to live in the north, in Paris par example. But the Camargue is only a small pan of the Midi, and for me the life here is not as important as it is for Gervais.’
‘What about Marseilles? Does your company have a branch there? Or would you hate living in a city?’
‘Pas du tout, Marseilles I like. You think Camilla would be happy there?’
‘I think she might be. It seems quite a gay, sophisticated sort of place.
I don’t honestly think she’ll ever settle here, Jean-Marc, and even Aries is rather a one-horse town by Camilla’s standards.’
‘One horse?’ he queried, looking puzzled.
‘Oh, it’s an American expression. It means a small quiet place where nothing exciting happens.’
‘Oui… je comprends. Alors, you would advise that, when the child is born, I should take Camilla to Marseilles?’
‘Well, that’s up to .you,’ she said cautiously. ‘It won’t help for Camilla to be happy if you are not. Would it be possible for you to work in Aries and live in Marseilles? It isn’t far by train.’
‘No, that is true,’ he agreed. ‘Perhaps tomorrow I will go to Marseilles and see some appartements. It may take some time to find a suitable place.’
This instant acceptance of what had been intended as a tentative suggestion made Joceline say hastily, ‘I shouldn’t do anything in a hurry, Jean-Marc. Even when the baby is born, it will probably be several weeks before Camilla feels really fit again. And, if you do decide to move to Marseilles it’s sure to upset your family. If I were you I wouldn’t mention the idea until you have thought it over and definitely made up your mind.”
‘Yes, you are right – it will be best to say nothing until the matter is
fait accompli.’ He smiled and laid a hand over hers for a moment.
‘Thank you for your help.’
Joceline began to wish she had not committed herself.
‘Really it is not my business to express any opinion,’ she said guardedly.
‘Mais au contraire . . . Camilla has no other family. Why should you not speak?’ he countered. ‘It has been a great comfort to her to have you with her at this time. Perhaps if my mother had been alive . . .’ He shrugged and spread his hands. ‘My aunt is a good woman, but she does not understand young people.’
‘What happened to your parents, Jean-Marc?’
‘They were killed in a car crash when I was a baby. I do not remember them but for my brother . . He made an expressive gesture.
‘So your aunt brought you up, and your uncle took over themanade?’
‘Yes – and that also was a bad time for Gervais. My uncle did not like him and they had many quarrels. It was because of my uncle that Gervais left us for three years.’
‘Why was that?’
Jean-Marc grimaced. ‘My uncle had a weakness.’ He flicked a finger against the bottle of Ricard. ‘One day they quarrelled and he struck Gervais – so!’ He mimed a back- hand blow across the face. ‘After that it was impossible for them to live together, and–‘
‘You talk too much, mon frere,’ a voice said sharply from behind them.
Startled, they turned to find Gervais in the main doorway. He must have entered the house through the kitchen, and could have been standing there for several minutes. Clearly he was annoyed at finding himself the subject of their conversation.
His brother’s frowning displeasure made Jean-Marc flush and look uncomfortable.
‘I will see if Camilla is awake now,’ he said, getting up. Then: J’ai avais oublie . . . there are two letters from England for you, Joceline. I collected them from our box this morning.’
‘Oh, thanks – it’s about time I heard from my family,’ Joceline tried to sound at ease but she, too, was embarrassed.
One of the letters was from her father, the other- addressed in an unfamiliar hand – she took to be from Elizabeth. She put them both in her bag to read later on.
When Jean-Marc had gone indoors, Gervais took his place on the bench.
He said, ‘You must forgive my brother for boring you with our family history. I am sure it is of no interest to you.’
‘At least he does talk to me as if I were an intelligent human being . . .
not someone from another planet,’ Joceline shot back, with unexpected heat.
His black brows lifted in sardonic interrogation. ‘Is that how I seem to regard you?’
‘I think you disapprove of me almost as much as of Camilla.’
He folded his arms across his chest, and lounged against the hot whitewashed wall with an indolent ease which, curiously, seemed
somehow to emphasise the reserves of strength and stamina in his long lean form.
‘What did you expect?’ he asked lazily. ‘A flirtation between us, perhaps?’
She flushed. ‘Certainly not!’
Gervais’s firm mouth curled with unkind amusement. There is no reason to be embarrassed. Naturally, coming to France, you hoped for an adventure. It is dull for you here. You are bored and disappointed.’
Joceline’s colour deepened, and she looked away. This was a new form of attack, and she wasn’t sure how to deal with it.
Before she could answer, he said, ‘What’s this? You have hurt yourself?’
Today, instead of a shirt and pants, she was wearing one of her sleeveless cotton shifts. On the inside of her right kneecap there was a dark discoloration where she had knocked it against the saddle on the afternoon he had taken her riding.
‘It’s nothing . . . only a bruise,’ she said, trying to hide it.
He straightened and leaned towards her. ‘Let me see.’
‘I’ve told you – it’s nothing,’ she objected, tugging at her hem.
‘Ciel! It is not immodest to show me your knee,’ he exclaimed, on a note of impatience. ‘I have seen them before, you know.’
% Joceline bit her lip and reluctantly displayed the purplish mark! ‘It doesn’t hurt. I banged it on the saddle on Sunday.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me? I could have given you a salve to put on it.’
‘It wasn’t necessary,’ she said stiltedly.
‘The mark here . how did that happen?’He touched her slim bare forearm where a faint scar showed above her wristwatch.
‘An accident when I was small – but I’m sure it is of no interest to you,’
she added, echoing his own phrase.
His dark eyes narrowed and glinted in a way that made her quickly jump up and collect her writing things together. ‘Excuse me – I’m going in now.’ A tightness in her throat made her voice a pitch higher than usual.
In her haste to get away, she dropped her black ballpoint pen. Gervais stooped to retrieve it for her.
‘Oh, thank you.’ She took it, and turned away towards the door.
‘Joceline . . .’
She paused, and looked unwillingly over her shoulder. ‘Yes?’
His face still wore the expression which she found so oddly unnerving – and now he was smiling faintly.
‘You are wrong if you think I have not noticed that you are an attractive girl,’ he said, with an appraising glance. ‘Naturally I am aware of it, and if you were older and more experienced. . . .’ He finished the sentence with a gesture. ‘But you are very young and not, I think, as mondaine as you wish to appear. So it is best if we do not complicate an already difficult situation, don’t you agree?’ And with a casual nod, he walked off in the direction of the corrals.
For some moments after he had gone Joceline stood staring after him in much the same state of stupefied physical shock as if someone had
suddenly douched her with icy water. She could hardly believe she had heard what he said correctly.
Then anger and scalding resentment boiled up inside her, and she whirled through the house to her bedroom, and locked herself in.
The gall of the man – the insufferable unforgivable arrogance! To actually have the nerve to suggest she was piqued because he hadn’t made a pass at her… oh, he must have egomania!
* * *
Gervais was missing when the gardians gathered at supper time.
Jean-Marc asked where he was, and Madame St. Aune said he had ridden over to Mas Durance and would not be back until late.
As Joceline took her place at the table, she felt mingled relief arid vexation. She had been dreading sitting next to him, and had even considered pleading a headache to avoid it. But, having nerved herself to face the ordeal, it was an anti-climax to find she would not see him until the following day.
Her mind was so taken up with what had happened that it was not until she went to bed that she remembered the two letters from England. The second one was not, as she had thought, from Elizabeth.
It was from Tom Caley.
With a twinge of guilt, Joceline realised how little she had thought of him since her arrival in France.
It was rather a dull letter – chiefly about the weather they had been having, and some engine trouble with his mini-car. He said everyone missed her, and signed himself simply ‘Tom’.
Yet, reading it through again, she was filled with a sharp ache of homesickness – a longing to be back in her own pretty cosy room instead of here in this outlandish French farmhouse.
Dear Tom, she thought affectionately – what a nice safe reliable person he was. You knew where you were with Tom; you could relax with him.
Presently she turned down the oil lamp, opened the shutters, and climbed into bed through the opening in the mosquito net. But it was a long time before she fell asleep. Her hands clasped under her head, she lay thinking of Tom, and of the future.
The trouble with me is that I’m an anachronism, she reflected ruefully
– a girl with no objective but marriage. All I really want to do is to go on as before, running a home. If I take a job it will only be a stop-gap, something to keep me occupied until the day I’m Mrs. Somebody.
Why wait? – Why waste time? Why not become Mrs. Tom Caley?
All right: so you aren’t madly in love with him? she apostrophised herself restlessly But what is love? Must it always be heady and irresistible? Isn’t it more important for two people to be suited to each other? Look at Camilla and Jean-Marc: they were ‘in love’, but how long would it last if they failed to find a solution to the problem of harmonising their totally different backgrounds? Whereas she and Tom had everything in common. They might have been made for each other.
* * *
In the days that followed, Joceline saw very little of Gervais. They met at lunch and supper, not at any other times. But although she maintained an appearance of unruffled composure, every time they sat down at table together Joceline inwardly burned with mortification at the memory of that afternoon in the courtyard.
As her holiday drew to a close, Camilla tried to induce her to prolong her visit.
‘Just till the baby is born . . . please, Joss,’ she wheedled. ‘It’s not as though you had to go back next weekend. You’re free to stay as long as you like.’
Jean-Marc was also persuasive.
‘In two weeks there is the Feast of Sara. People come from all over the world. Surely you would not wish to miss such an important event?’
Joceline wavered, then shook her head and stood firm.
‘No, I must go back as I planned.’
‘But I need you,’ Camilla wailed. ‘Oh, Joss, you can’t desert me at a time like this. I can’t stand being alone again all day. Surely it isn’t too much to ask? I wouldn’t leave you if you were in my shoes.’
‘Now it’s no use working yourself up, Camilla. The baby isn’t due for four weeks yet. It may be a little late arriving. First babies quite often are, I believe. I can’t possibly stay all that time/
‘I think you’re mean,’ her cousin retorted childishly. ‘I could understand it if you had a job or something. But you’re a free agent.
You, just don’t want to stay. It’s so hot and dull and hateful here. If you don’t like it, how do you think I feel?’
Her eyes brimmed with tears, and Jean-Marc jumped up to comfort her.
But Joceline had foreseen this situation, and was determined not to submit to emotional blackmail. Since she had learned that it was not on doctor’s orders that Camilla spent her days lying in bed, being
waited on, she had felt a good deal less sympathetic towards her cousin.
For twenty-four hours Camilla sulked until finally Joceline lost patience with her.
‘Look, it’s time you pulled yourself together,’ she said, with unwonted bluntness. ‘You aren’t being fair to Jean- Marc. He’s worried stiff about you.’
‘Well, you obviously aren’t,’ the older girl muttered huffily.
‘I’m concerned about both of you,’ Joceline answered quietly.
‘Frankly, I don’t think you’re trying to make the best of things, Camilla.’
‘What do you expert me to do?’
‘For a start you could join the family meals. It’s absurd to shut yourself away like this.’
‘What – and be gawped at by all those men?’ her cousin expostulated.
‘Don’t be so silly. They’ve all got very good manners. Hearing them talking would help you to pick up more French. You ought to be fluent by now.’
‘Well, I’m not,’ Camilla said tartly. ‘And if you’re going to start taking
their side you might as well go home tomorrow. I have enough to put up with without you turning against me too.’
Joceline tried to reason with her, but it was useless. Nothing she could say would make Camilla change her mulish determination to remain in self-inflicted purdah.
In the end she began to cry again, flaring at Joceline to stop badgering her.
If the mas had been on the telephone, Joceline would have scandalised Madame St. Aune by booking a call to England and asking her father for advice. Perhaps she should stay after all? Then she remembered Doctor Bishop’s counsel on her last morning at home: Camilla may be a scatterbrain, but she is three years older than you are … quite old enough to fight her own battles.
‘And I certainly haven’t improved the situation in the time I’ve been here,’ she reflected wearily.
* * *
The next afternoon, two days before she was due to return to England, she was cleaning her white sandals in her room when she heard a cry which made her rush to Camilla’s bedroom.
But her cousin was sleeping so soundly that, when Joceline burst in, she did not even stir.
Puzzled, the younger girl bent over her for a few moments. Had she called out in her sleep? Camilla did not appear to be dreaming. Her breathing was shallow and regular, her eyelids did not flicker.
Joceline tiptoed back into the passage and closed the door softly behind her. Odd! She was positive she had not imagined the cry.
Then, as she was on the point of returning to her room, she heard another sound – a low moan which seemed to come from the far end of the passage.
Hurrying to the kitchen, she was horrified to find Madame St. Aune sprawled on the tiled floor in front of the dresser.
Joceline thought she was dead and, for one panic- stricken instant, had no idea what to do. All the men had ridden off after lunch. There was no one to turn to for help.
Then, pulling herself together, she went down on her knees and forced herself to touch one of the woman’s rough bony hands.
Seconds after her fingers detected a pulse, Madame gave a stertorous groan and opened her eyes.
When, an hour later, Gervais returned to the mas, Joceline was so relieved that she did not wait for him to come indoors, but ran out to intercept him on his way to the corral.
‘Oh, thank goodness you’re back,’ she exclaimed. ‘There’s been an accident. I think the doctor should be fetched.’
He swung himself out of the saddle. ‘Camilla is hurt? What happened?’
‘No, no . . . it’s your aunt. She fell in the kitchen. Her ankle is badly sprained, and she hit her head. I think there may be concussion. She was unconscious for several minutes”.’
Leaving Cesar to make his own way to the corral, Gervais strode across the courtyard.
‘Where is she?’ he asked tersely, stripping off his gloves.
‘In her room, on the bed. It happened about an hour ago.’
His eyebrows shot up. ‘You lifted her?’
‘No, I tried, but she was too heavy. I had to make her hold on to me and then more or less drag her, I’m afraid. She couldn’t stay lying on
the floor. But I wouldn’t have moved her if I had thought any bones were broken.’
At the sight of her nephew, Madame St. Aune struggled to raise herself to a sitting position, and burst into an agitated explanation of what had happened.
‘Doucement… doucementy ma chere’ Gently but firmly Gervais made her lie down again.
In spite of Madame’s protests,’ Joceline had insisted on removing one of her black cotton stockings, and raising the injured ankle on a pillow and applying cold compresses. It was very swollen but, as yet, showed no sign of discoloration. Nevertheless Joceline knew that even a doctor would not always immediately distinguish a severe sprain from a fracture.
She pointed this out. ‘I think it should be X-rayed,’ she added worriedly.
Gervais glanced at her, but made no comment. He examined the place where his aunt had hit her head on the corner of the dresser as she fell.
Then, after a few words of reassurance, he signalled Joceline to leave the room with him.
Outside, in the corridor, he said, ‘Do not look so concerned. There is no great harm done.’
‘I hope not,’ she answered doubtfully. ‘How long will it take to fetch the doctor?’
‘That will not be necessary. My aunt has an excellent constitution. A few days in bed is all that is required,’ he said confidently.
‘But she knocked herself out… a blow on the head can be serious,’
Joceline protested. ‘Surely, to be on the safe side—’
He cut her short. ‘I have some experience in these matters.’
‘But you aren’t a doctor,’ she replied bluntly.
He said, with studied patience, ‘Every manadier must have some medical knowledge. Sometimes there are accidents which require attention immediately. If one waited for a doctor, a man might die.
Believe me, my aunt is in no danger.’ He turned away and walked down the passage.
With an effort, Joceline controlled her exasperation and followed him.
As he opened the kitchen door and stood aside for her, she said, ‘Very well, it’s your responsibility. But I think it will be at least a week before she can get about again. Who is going to run the house?
Camilla certainly can’t.’
He closed the door and leaned against it, his arms folded across his chest, ‘I had hoped that you would offer to take charge,’ he said coolly.
Joceline gaped at him. ‘But I shan’t be here. I am going home the day after tomorrow.’
‘You could postpone your departure, could you not? Your return is not a matter of urgency?’
‘Well, no – not exactly,’ she began.
A glint of challenge lit his eyes. ‘You do not feel equal to the task?’ he asked, in a mocking tone.
Joceline stiffened. ‘That isn’t the point. Surely there is someone who would help – one of the gardians‘ wives perhaps?’
Gervais straightened and strolled away from the door. From the other side of the big scrubbed deal table, he said dryly, ‘You do not imagine I spoke seriously, do you?’ His glance travelled over her in sardonic appraisal. ‘I don’t wish to hurt your feelings, but—’ He moved his shoulders in an expressive shrug.
She said, on a spurt of anger, ‘Are you implying that I couldn’t manage?’
‘Are you suggesting that you could?’ he countered ironically. Then, with a flicker of impatience in his expression: ‘Oh, come, be reasonable. You may oppose my views of everything else, but even you will admit there can be no dispute in this instance! I was teasing you, ma fille:
It was that patronising ‘my girl’ which made her lose her temper.
Without stopping to think, she said, ‘You underestimate me,
monsieur. I could run this house on my head – and what’s more, I’ll prove it to you! And when I have, and Madame is on her feet again, perhaps you’ll have the grace to admit you were wrong.’
For a moment, after she had flung the reckless words at him, Gervais showed no reaction. Then a slight smile curved his firm mouth.
‘Very well … if you insist,’ he agreed blandly. *We will see what you can do.’
And with that he crossed to the yard door, and went outside and left her alone.
His footsteps had scarcely died away when she realised just how neatly he had led her into making a fool of herself. No Wonder he had smiled and capitulated – the whole exchange had been a calculated manoeuvre to make her overplay her hand. And how he would make her writhe when she had to retract her rash statement! For of course
she could not possibly manage the house. Three meals a day for a dozen hungry gardians . . . mountains of washing up, every drop of hot water having to be pumped and heated on that antiquated range . .
. oh, no, it was out of the question!
HER cousin was already awake when Joceline went to rouse her.
She said briskly, ‘I’ve changed my mind, Camilla. I’m going to stay on for a bit.’
‘Oh, Joss, do you mean it? How marvellous! You’re an angel. . . I
knew you’d come round.’
‘You don’t understand – something’s happened. Madame St. Aune has had ah accident.’ Joceline sat down on the bed and explained what had been going on while Camilla had been asleep.
‘Oh, well, it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good,’ the older girl said cheerfully. “Jean-Marc can wire Uncle John first thing in the morning. He’d better tell them to expect you when they see you.’
The unabashed selfishness of her attitude made Joceline feel like shaking her.
‘You do realise that it isn’t going to be easy for me?’ she pointed out, rather sharply.
‘Nonsense . . . you’ll manage beautifully. It’s right up your street.’
Camilla yawned and stretched her thin white arms^. *Now we can have some decent English food instead of oily French stuff. That mess we had for lunch was quite revolting. You’d think with all the cattle about the place we’d have steaks, not endless mutton.’
Joceline bit her lip in exasperation. ‘Now listen, Camilla,’ she said firmly. ‘I can’t possibly manage unless you agree to help. You don’t seem to grasp how hard Madame works all day. Unless you promise to co-operate, I’ll have to tell Gervais I can’t cope. He doesn’t believe I can anyway. I’m not too confident myself. But I’ll try – if you’ll pull
your weight. If not, I’ll go home as planned. I mean that. I’m really serious.’
Her tone was so earnest that Camilla looked slightly discomfited.
‘What do you mean . . . pull my weight? I can’t do any housework,’
she said suspiciously.
‘No, of course not – I didn’t mean that. But if I’m to cook for the
gardiansy and .nurse Madame, and keep the place reasonably clean, I shan’t have time to prepare special trays for you. You’ll have to eat with the rest of us.’
‘I won’t,’ her cousin said flatly. ‘I can’t… it isn’t fair to ask me.’
Joceline did not argue with her. ‘Very well,’ she replied composedly.
‘Then I can’t stand in for Madame. Now I’d better go and see how she is, and tell Gervais he’ll have to second one of the gardians‘ wives.’
And before Camilla could resort to tears again, she walked out of the room and quietly closed the door.
She found Madame St. Aune attempting to undress herself. At first, when Joceline made to help her, the old woman angrily objected, her gaunt face flushed with affronted modesty.
But with new-found determination, Joceline. politely insisted, repressing a smile at the agitated manner in which Madame made it clear that nothing would induce her to remove her chemise and drawers. Her nightdress was a voluminous cotton garment with a high neck and long sleeves.
After she had made her as comfortable as possible, Joceline went to the common room to lay the table for the men’s supper. What to give them was no problem as they always had bread and salad, with cheese and home-made saucisson. It was the preparation of acceptable midday meals which was going to be her greatest difficulty.
She was in the kitchen, grinding coffee beans, when the door opened and Camilla came in. She was wearing a sleeveless scooped-neck dress of sherry-coloured linen, gold kid slave sandals and several narrow gold bracelets.
‘Well, I’ve dressed,’ she said, in an ill-used voice.
Joceline jumped up and hugged her. ‘Mm . . . you smell heavenly.
Thanks, Camilla. It won’t be as bad as you think – honestly. Would you like a cup of coffee or anything?’
‘Yes, but not in here. It’s stifling.’
‘I’ll bring it to your room, then. Jean-Marc should be back pretty soon.’
‘I don’t know what he’ll think about you making me get up,’ Camilla said, as she went out.
Twenty minutes later he came home. First he went to Camilla. Then he visited his aunt’s room. Finally Joceline heard him coming towards the kitchen.
‘Joceline, do you think it is wise to insist that Camilla dines with us?’
he began, at once. ‘I am sure you would not wish to distress her. She is very sensitive, you know.’
Joceline was buttering some thinly cut bread for Madame St. Aune.
‘Not if you disapprove,’ she said, looking up. ‘But I think it would be good for her.’
He rubbed the back of his neck, his good-looking face a study of indecision. ‘Perhaps you are right. . . I don’t know.’
Joceline found herself thinking: ‘Gervais was right. You should take a firmer line with her.’ Then, remembering how strongly she had contested his brother’s opinions on the drive back from Aries that day, her lips compressed and she flushed.
It was at that moment that Gervais himself returned by way of the back door. He greeted Jean-Marc, tossed his hat and gloves on to a chair, and said, ‘The men are riding in now. Do you need any assistance, mademoiselle?’
T think I can manage, thank you,’ Joceline answered, without looking at him. ‘You’ll attend to the wine, I presume? I don’t know where it’s kept.’
‘Yes, certainly.’ He passed through into the passage, and Jean-Marc followed him.
Knowing that it would take the gardians some time to unsaddle their horses and to wash themselves under the pump, Joceline poached an egg and heated some milk.
To her dismay, when she took in Madame’s supper tray, Gervais was in the room. As she entered, he broke off what he had been saying, and rose to his feet.
Conscious of his eyes on her, Joceline approached the bedside. She said, in hesitant French, ‘I hope this is to your liking, Madame. If you would prefer something else, I shall be happy to prepare it for you.’
To her surprise, the tray was accepted quite graciously. Madame did not go as far as to smile, but she nodded and said ‘ Merci… merci,’ in a manner much less brusque than her usual one.
Joceline said, in English, to Gervais, ‘I think she would be more comfortable if you could make some sort of frame to take the weight of the bedclothes off her foot.’
He nodded. ‘Yes, I will attend to it after we have eaten.’
‘Oh, and there’s one other thing.’ She met his eyes squarely this time.
‘I’ve managed to persuade Camilla to join the rest of us tonight. It will be rather an ordeal for her, so I’m sure you’ll try to smooth over any awkwardness.’
‘Naturally,’ he replied, without expression.
‘Thank you,’ Joceline moved to the door, and he followed and opened it for her.
‘It seems there are going to be some radical changes in our regime for the next few days,’ he said, on a note of amusement.
‘Perhaps. Have you told your aunt that I am taking charge until she’s well again?’
‘Not yet. I will tell her in the morning – if you have not changed your mind by then.’
Before she could answer, he disappeared into his own room.
Most of the gardians had already taken their places at table when Jean-Marc shepherded Camilla into the common room. There was a shuffle of boots es they noticed her and stood up, and a concerted rumble of gruff voices saying,’ Bon soir, madame.’
Then, to Joceline’s relief, they all sat down again and began to talk among themselves. Although it was natural for them to be interested in the beautiful red-haired girl who had stayed in seclusion for so long, there were none of the curious stares which had made Joceline feel- so self-conscious during her debut among them.
Camilla sat in the chair at the head of the table, with her husband and brother-in-law on either side of her, and Joceline next to the younger man.
As soon as they were seated, Jean-Marc launched into an account of his day in Aries. Since nothing of great note had occurred, it was painfully obvious that he was going into trivial details simply to distract attention from Camilla. When he could think of nothing else to say, he passed the ball to Joceline by asking about his aunt’s fell.
After this topic was exhausted there was an uneasy hiatus for several minutes.
It was Gervais who rescued the conversation. Turning to Camilla, he began to make himself So agreeable that, at first, §he was visibly disconcerted. Her wariness did not last long. Soon she was smiling and chattering as if there had never been a moment’s constraint between them.
Joceline watched in fascination. Then, perversely – since she herself had asked him to be nice to her cousin – she began to feel increasingly irritated. There was a difference between being decently pleasant to someone, and deliberately setting out to charm them – which was what Gervais seemed to be doing. Couldn’t Camilla see that he was using a skilful technique on her? Apparently not.
When supper was over, Jean-Marc wanted Camilla to go back to bed.
‘You must not tire yourself, mignonne,’ he said solicitously.
‘But it’s so hot in our room. I’d like to sit outside for a while.’
‘Very well, if you wish – but not for too long.’
‘I must make something to protect Tante Madelon’s ankle,’ Gervais said, getting up.
Joceline had not drunk all her wine, and after they had gone, she sat thoughtfully sipping it for some minutes. Then, shrugging aside her rather troubled thoughts, she set about clearing the table.
‘May I help you, Mademoiselle Joceline?’
Startled, she nearly dropped a stack of plates. ‘Oh . . . Raphael. I didn’t hear you come in.’
‘I am sorry. I did not mean to alarm you,’ the young herdsman apologised. ‘You will allow me to assist you?’
‘It’s very kind of you, but I can manage. You’ve been working hard all day.’.
‘I am not tired. It will be a pleasure,’ he said gravely.
‘Well, if you insist. . . thank you.’
After he had helped to carry the dirty dishes into the kitchen, Raphael volunteered to dry them for her. Joceline was surprised, for she would have thought he regarded it as women’s work, and therefore beneath his male dignity.
Although she sometimes had to ask him to repeat himself, or to explain a Provencal idiom, they were able ta talk fairly freely. She learned that he was the son of an Aries bistro proprietor. But his grandfather had been a gardian, and the hunger for the hard free life of the Camargue had come out in Raphael. His ambition was to be a famous razeteur, and already he had won enough money to buy himself a motor-bike and a transistor radio.
‘I will show you, mademoiselle.’ Throwing down the dishcloth, he dashed out of the open door to fetch his treasure from the bunkhouse.
When he came back, he put the transistor on the table and twiddled the knobs until he picked up a programme of pop music.
*Ah – le go-go!’ he exclaimed, with a grin. He bent his knees and began to swing to the beat. ‘You also like to dance, Mademoiselle Joceline?’
‘Yes, very much,’ she said, smiling at the way the music had instantly dissolved the last traces of his shyness.
Expertly dancing round the table, he beckoned her to follow suit.
After a brief hesitation, she did.
They were dancing with their backs to the door when the music suddenly stopped.
‘I am sorry to spoil the fun, but you appear to have forgotten that my aunt is not well. This noise may disturb her,’ Gervais said crisply, as they both turned surprised faces on him.
He had spoken in English, but, although Raphael didn’t understand the words, he evidently grasped their meaning. With a muttered apology, and a contrite glance at Joceline, he grabbed the transistor and hurriedly disappeared.
‘It wasn’t on very loud,’ Joceline said defensively, when he had gone.
‘I doubt if Madame could even hear it.’
Gervais ignored this. ‘Why was he in here?’ he asked.
She pushed back a loose lock of hair. ‘He was helping me to wash the dishes. I like him. He seems a nice boy.’
He lifted an eyebrow. ‘Boy?’
‘He’s under twenty, I should think.’
‘He is nineteen,’ Gervais informed her. ‘But here we mature early. He is a man, petite – and, to him, you are a woman,’ he added, with a tinge of irony.
Joceline felt a queer little tremor go through her. ‘What is that supposed to mean?’ she asked stiffly. .
He shrugged. ‘If you make yourself pleasant to him, he will assume you want him to make love to you.’
Her face flamed. ‘Oh, really! – what nonsense! I’m sure it wouldn’t even occur to him. He’s not a bit like that. He’s rather shy.’
Gervais smiled in the way that always made her temper simmer.
Tt occurs to all men,’ he answered dryly. ‘If at first he seems diffident it is only because you are a foreigner, and a guest here. It is certainly not his nature. He is a young man of considerable experience. Perhaps you do not realise that, in France, English girls have the reputation of being less circumspect than our own jeunes filles.9
‘In that case you don’t have to worry,’ she retorted frostily.
‘I did not say I believed it. I was merely warning you that Raphael may think so.’
Joceline began to put away the cutlery. ‘If he does – which I doubt -1
can easily disillusion him.’
‘It would be wiser to avoid that contingency.’ There was an edge of impatience in his voice.
Just then Jean-Marc came in. ‘Camilla is going to bed now. She asks if you will brush her hair, Joceline.’
Blessing him for his timely interruption, she said, ‘With pleasure . . .
will you excuse me Monsieur St. Aune’ – and had the satisfaction of seeing a glint of anger in Gervais’s eyes. Obviously he would have had a good deal more to say if his brother had not made it easy for her to escape.
‘What’s come over Gervais tonight?’ Camilla asked, sitting by the open window in one of her frothy negliges, while Joceline stood behind her wielding two brushes. ‘He was actually nice to me. What have you been saying to make him so much less dour all of a sudden?’
‘I haven’t influenced him. He’s just been giving me a lecture on unseemly behaviour.’ Joceline told Camilla about the episode in the kitchen.
‘Well, one can see his point. I know it’s madly dull for you here, but it really doesn’t do to encourage youths of that type,’ her cousin commented.
‘But I wasn’t “encouraging” him,’ Joceline protested. ‘And what do you mean . . . youths of that type?’
‘Oh, sweetie, don’t be obtuse. You must admit that gardians are not the sort of people one would mix with at home.’
‘Aren’t you forgetting that Jean-Marc would probably have come back to be a gardian if he hadn’t met you?’
‘That’s quite different,’ Camilla replied indignantly. ‘The St. Aunes are manadiers. Personally, I think it would be much better if the men didn’t come in the house at all. If they must eat with us, they might at least learn to take their hats off.’
‘It’s their custom to keep their hats on. Why can’t you accept them as they are, Camilla? As people, they’re much more worthwhile than all those drawling young men you used to know in London.’
‘What an extraordinary thing to say! Really, Joss, you do have the most odd ideas. You never used to be like this . . . always arguing, and being difficult. I can’t think what has come over you. You’ve changed since you first arrived here.’
‘Have I?’ Joceline said lightly. ‘I don’t feel different. By the way, may I borrow your little travelling clock? I shall have to get up very early to make some bread before the men come in for breakfast. There’s only one loaf left. Madame must bake every day.’
‘Good heavens, what a frightful chore,’ Camilla exclaimed in horror.
‘Do you know how to make bread? I wouldn’t have a clue.’
‘Oh, yes, it’s not difficult – although mine won’t be as good as Madame’s.’
It was a quarter to five when the alarm buzzer on Camilla’s clock woke Joceline up the following morning. Resisting the temptation to laze for ten minutes, she tumbled straight out of bed, and opened the shutters to let in the dim grey half-light of the new day.
As she washed and dressed, a rooster began to crow somewhere outside. But the rest of the world was Still. asleep, and it would be another hour before the gardians. emerged from the bunkhouse.
In the old days, so Jean-Marc had told her, the women of a mas household had had to provide six meals a day, starting with petit beurre af sunrise, and ending with the gros repas in the evening. But nowadays only three meals were required.
Before going to the kitchen, Joceline quietly opened the door of Madame’s bedroom. A night lamp was alight on the clothes press and, when she peered through the mosquito net, she saw that the Frenchwoman was sleeping quite peacefully, her white hair released from its tight daytime knot and braided in a thick plait. Her face, in the unguarded repose of sleep, looked unexpectedly benign.;
Turning back towards the door, Joceline drew in her breath. She had not noticed there was someone else in the bedroom.
His arms folded, his chin sunk on his chest, Gervais was sleeping in an upright chair in the corner.
‘He’s been there all night,’ she thought, in amazement, noticing the book and newspaper lying on the floor beside him, and the used plate and wineglass.
As she watched, his body jerked, and she thought he was going to wake up. But although his head lifted slightly, he did not rouse.
Perhaps he was dreaming or perhaps the spasmodic movement indicated that he was not sleeping properly at all, but had merely fallen into an uneasy doze. She wondered if she should wake him, so that he could have a couple of hours’ decent rest before riding out with the herdsmen. Her hand went out to his shoulder, hesitated, and drew back. She decided to leave him undisturbed.
In the kitchen, she had some difficulty in getting the fire to burn. But at last it was drawing satisfactorily, and she scrubbed her hands and looked for yeast and flour.
She had never made more than two or three small loaves before, and kneading sufficient dough to last the household a couple of days was tiring wrist-aching work. She put half the dough into tins, and half on baking trays, and left it to rise for an hour.
By then some water was hot, and she filled a pail and went to scrub the common room floor. As she started this task, she made a mental note to ask Jean-Marc to bring her a pair of rubber gloves.
Soon after six the bread was safely in the ovens’, and a large pot of coffee was simmering on the hob. Joceline poured herself a cup of it, and decided to sit down for five minutes. Already she felt tired and limp. After three weeks of inactivity, her muscles had lost their tone.
Suddenly, the kitchen was filled with the saffron gleam of sunrise.
She went to the back door and opened it. Northwards, the land was still shrouded in flat grey stillness. But the eastern sky was beginning to glow with colours – a glorious melange of primrose, apricot and rose, all streaked with pearl and gold.
Joceline walked outside to the stream where the wild irises grew. As the sun rose higher, the morning mist slowly dissolved, giving glimpses of shining water and purple samphire.
Then, out of a bank of haze, came three white horses. Their long tails streaming out behind them, manes tossing, they came . . . and were gone again. Unshod, they made so little sound that they might have been phantoms, or visions conjured out of the wreathing mist.
And then she knew Camilla had been right. She had changed.
Gradually, without being consciously aware of it, she had been falling in love with this place . . . this strange wild pays enferme.
At first she had seen it only in relation to her cousin -as an impossibly desolate background for anyone like Camilla. Now, sunrise on the Camargue was something she would remember all her life.
She returned to the kitchen to find Gervais helping himself to coffee.
He had shaved and changed his shirt: If she had not known, she would never have guessed how uncomfortably he had passed the night.
Refreshed by her stroll to the stream, and forgetting their altercation the previous evening, she smiled at him. ‘Good morning. It’s going to be a lovely day.’
‘Good morning,’ he answered, with a bow. ‘You seem in excellent spirits. How long have you been at work?’
‘Since about five. Can I get you something to eat?’
‘Thank you, no. Coffee is all I require for the present/
‘Aren’t you dreadfully stiff after sitting on that chair all night?’ Then, as he raised an eyebrow, she explained, ‘I looked in on Madame when I first got up.’
‘I see. Yes, I am a little stiff’ – flexing his shoulders – ‘but it will not last.’
Joceline was not sure what prompted her to say, ‘You are very fond of her, aren’t you?’
He said offhandedly, ‘There was a slight possibility that the injury to her head was more severe than it appeared. I considered it best to keep watch. But her pulse is good, and there is no sign of fever, or of difficulty in breathing. I do not think there is any further cause for anxiety.’
‘Oh, good . . . I’m very glad.’ Joceline moved to the dresser where the table knives were kept. Before opening the drawer, she turned to face him again. T-I think I owe you an apology. I was . . . annoyed when you wouldn’t call the doctor. I should have realised you were just as concerned as I was . . . probably more so. I’m sorry, Monsieur St, Aune.’
For a moment he did not answer, but stood watching her with the enigmatic expression which usually presaged a crushing or ironical reply. She began to regret her impulse.
Unexpectedly, he smiled. ‘I thought we had agreed to dispense with formality? Can you milk a cow, Joceline?’
‘No … no, I can’t,’ she said blankly.
‘Then I will do it for you. Listen! – Olympie is becoming impatient.’
‘Oh, dear, I’d forgotten about the milk,’ Joceline exclaimed in dismay, as it dawned on her that a mournful lowing sound from somewhere outside the call of a cow accustomed to being milked at this hour. ‘I can’t make butter either,’ she added worriedly.
‘N’importe – one of the men can attend to that for a few days. It is heavy work unless one is accustomed to it.’
He went off to milk Olympie, leaving Joceline rather stunned by this sudden softening of his manner towards her.
Joceline liked the little doctor, and believed him when he assured her she need have no fear – all would be well.
On the subject of Madame’s ankle, he pursed his lips and expressed the opinion that it would be at least a week before .she would be fit to resume her duties.
For lunch, Joceline made three giant cheese and onion tarts, and prepared some courgettes to be fried in batter at the last moment.
Making pastry had always been one of her fortes, nevertheless she breathed a sigh of relief when the tarts came out of the oven perfectly cooked with the filling evenly browned.
No doubt the gardians would have made allowances if the food had not turned out well, but she did not want her efforts to be received with good-natured tolerance. She wanted very badly to acquit herself so ably that they would all be genuinely impressed.
Judging by the speed with which the wedges of art disappeared, the men found her cooking very good. She had expected part of the third tart to be left over. But when the meal was over nothing remained but a few crumbs.
Yet, as she washed the dishes, Joceline felt curiously deflated.
‘He might have said something,’ she thought glumly. But although several of the gardians had complimented her, Gervais had left the table without even glancing at her.
* * *
For three days Joceline worked harder than she had ever done in her life. With a few modern aids she could have got through the chores in half the time; but at Mas St. Aune the only labour-saving device was an enormous mangle with wooden rollers and an ornate cast-iron stand.
At home, she sent all the household linen to the laundry. But here everything had to be rubbed by hand, and pressed with flat-irons heated on the top of the stove.
The first time she used them, Joceline burnt her wrist and scorched a pillow-case. And as Jean-Marc twice forgot to buy a pair of rubber gloves in Aries for her, by the time he did remember them her hands had already lost their smoothness and were stained with vegetable juice.
At night she tumbled into bed feeling utterly exhausted. And there were moments during the day when she could have wept, her muscles ached so painfully. But whenever Gervais was around, she bustled about, humming and looking cheerful, and even to Camilla she did not admit how hard it was to keep up with all there was to do.
One evening, Gervais said he was going over to Mas Durance, and asked if she would care to accompany him. It had been an exceptionally hot day, and Joceline was as limp as a rag. Just before supper she had had a quick all-over wash in her room, and put on a clean frock and some bright lipstick. She did not look noticeably jaded, but she felt much too tired to be sociable.
‘I don’t think I will, if you don’t mind. I want to wash my hair tonight, and I have some letters to write,’ she told him casually.
He gave her a keen look. ‘You are pale. The work of the house is too hard for you?’
‘Not a bit,’ she answered swiftly. ‘I like having plenty to do. Are you dissatisfied with anything?’
‘I have had no complaints from the men,’ he answered, without expression. ‘
To Joceline’s consternation this cool response hurt her so much that she had to turn quickly away to hide the tears which suddenly stung her eyelids.
It was only because she was over-tired, she told herself sharply, later on. Really she did not care a hoot for his opinion . . . did not expect or want him to praise her. But he might have had the justice to admit she was managing much better than he had anticipated.
In spite of her physical fatigue, she found it impossible to sleep that night. With the shutters closed, the atmosphere in her room was oppressively hot. With them open, brilliant moonshine made it almost as light as by day.
Towards midnight, she got up and re-made her rumpled bed, and dabbed cooling eau-de-Cologne on her temples and wrists. Leaning on the window ledge, listening to the nightingales pouring out their lovely liquid notes, she felt the same ache in her throat that she felt down by the stream as the sun rose. Only now the etangs were lakes of molten silver, and even the salt marshes shimmered under the moon.
She was still at the window when Gervais came home. She thought he had already returned and, as he neared the house, she drew back into the shadow of the wall so that he would not catch sight of her.
As he rode over the bridge across the stream his tall figure moving in rhythm with the horse’s leisurely gait, something stirred at the back of Joceline’s memory … a fragment of a poem learned years ago at school.
On a starred night, Prince Lucifer uprose. Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend …
She stifled a laugh. Well, perhaps not ‘the fiend’. But Prince Lucifer –
oh, that was Gervais exactly. The arrogant bearing . . . the satanic brows and dark eyes . . . the well-cut cynical mouth. Perhaps, if his ancestry could be traced back five hundred years, he might be descended from the fierce black-browed Lords of Les Baux. It was easy to imagine someone very like him riding down from the great stone fortress in the Alpilles, with a company of men-at-arms, scarlet banners fluttering in the wind.
On a flight of fancy, of a kind she had not indulged in for several years, Joceline finally fell asleep. But when she woke up next morning and remembered where imagination had led her, she was both angry and ashamed of herself.
‘Adolescent nonsense!’ she muttered aloud, brushing her thick smooth hair with unnecessary vigour.
And when Gervais came into the common room while she was setting the table for breakfast, she gave him a short ‘Good morning’ and went on with what she was doing.
‘There were gypsies camping by the Albaron road last night. Some of them may call here on their way to Saintes Maries de la Mer for the
fete. You need not be alarmed. They will not steal anything. If you
care to give them milk and a few vegetables, they will tell you your future,’ he informed her.
Tm afraid I don’t believe in fortune-telling. I think it’s all nonsense,’
Joceline answered abruptly.
‘It would be polite to listen, even if you do not believe,’ he remarked dryly.
She altered the placing of a knife.’ I’m sorry … I didn’t mean to sound rude,’ she said, without looking at him.
‘What kept you awake last night?’
She flashed a startled glance at him. ‘You saw me?’
‘I saw a movement at your window. Do the mosquitoes trouble you?’
‘Not particularly. But it was rather hot. Did you have a pleasant evening at Mrs Durance?’
‘Very pleasant – Celie is an excellent hostess. You will probably see her this morning. She said she would ride over to visit Tante Madelon.’
Celie arrived about ten o’clock. She spent half an hour with Madame St. Aune, then came out to the courtyard where Camilla was poring over a copy of the French Vogue. Joceline was having five minutes’
The day before, Jean-Marc had brought home a gay canvas reclining couch with a fringed canopy so that his wife could sit outside without burning her delicate skin. She was lying on it now, a silk scarf draped over her legs, her face and arms shaded by the canopy.
Within a few minutes, she and Celie were engaged in an earnest discussion of the latest fashion trends, so Joceline went indoors to make coffee for them, and a tisane for Madame St. Aune.
When she came back, they were still on the subject of clothes., Celie was describing the spring collection at Givenchy, her tawny eyes sparkling with reminiscent pleasure as she used her supple pearl-tipped hands to sketch the flow of the new season’s lines.
patching her, Joceline found it difficult to credit that her animation and gaiety were assumed, and that under the surface she cordially disliked Camilla – as surely she must if she had expected to marry Jean-Marc herself?
‘What a pity you cannot visit us. I would so much like to show you my new dresses, she said presently.
‘But I would love to come,’ Camilla exclaimed eagerly.
‘You would? Oh, but when I suggested it to Gervais last night, he said driving in the jeep might upset the baby. N He said you did not wish to go out until after it is born.’
‘What nonsense – I’m aching to get out. There has simply been nowhere to go,’ said Camilla, with a fine disregard for the fact that, until recently, she had refused even to set foot outside her bedroom.
‘Alors, why not come tonight when Jeannot returns from Aries? He and Papa can enjoy their usual argument about the corrida and the
course libre, and I can show you all my pretty things from Hermes and Henry a la Pensee.’
‘That would be marvellous, Celie. I can hardly wait,’ Camilla agreed excitedly.
Joceline said, ‘Do you think you should, Camilla? It will be a very rough ride and you haven’t been out for so long.’
‘Oh, don’t fuss, Joss. We can drive slowly. It will do me good.’
‘You also must come, mademoiselle,’ Celie invited Joceline.
But Camilla said quickly, ‘I’m afraid Joss will have to stay with Madame. She can’t very well be left alone at the moment, and I heard Gervais tell Jean-Marc he was going to Aries tonight.’
‘Ah, oui … I had forgotten poor Tante Madelon. I understand you are staying here until she has recovered, mademoiselle?’ Joceline nodded.
‘Which reminds me . . . I must go and attend to the lunch. Will you excuse me, please?*
In spite of the hot weather, rich vegetable soups were served several times a week at Mas St. Aune. Today Joceline had attempted a soup a Voignon which she hoped would he equal to that made by Madame.
In the kitchen, she lifted the lid of the large earthenware marmite and dipped a tasting spoon into the creamy concoction of Spanish onions, stock, butter and cheese.
It certainly tasted pretty good, she thought with satisfaction, adding an extra pinch of black pepper to it.
As she was cutting squares of bread, to be fried and sprinkled with grated Gruyere, she wondered why her cousin had been so anxious to exclude her from the visit to Mas Durance. It was true that Madame could not be left alone, and she would have refused the invitation, if she had been given a chance to do so. But from the hasty way Camilla had chipped in, it was clear the older girl did not want her to go with them.
Celie had left her horse in the corral, and took her departure by way of the kitchen.
‘ Oui! It is so hot in here,’ she said, with a moue of disapproval. ‘You must find it very tiring, n’est-ce pas?
‘A little,’ Joceline admitted. ‘I’m told your house is very modern.’
‘Yes, with us there is Velectricite, but I do not myself attend to the cooking and rough work.’ She looked at the marmite on the stove.
‘What do you make today?’
‘Onion soup,’ Joceline told her.
‘I may taste?’
‘But this is excellent,’ the French girl pronounced when she had sipped a little from the ladle. ‘Gervais said you—’ She coughed, her hand to her neck as if the hot soup had scalded her throat. ‘Gervais said you cooked very well.’
‘Oh, did he?’ Joceline answered evenly, trying to sound suitably gratified.
But it was all too clear that poor Celie had almost dropped a brick –
and what Gervais had actually said had been something derogatory.
There had been an unmistakable note of surprise in the French girl’s comment on the soup, and that artificial cough had given the show away completely.
A few minutes later, Joceline heard Madame tinkling her hand bell.
And by the time she returned to the kitchen Celie had gone.
‘I wonder what Gervais did say?’ she thought, rather bitterly.
Suddenly she felt so tired and disheartened, she could have cried.
Just before lunch time, Camilla looked in. ‘You’ll have to set my hair this afternoon, Joss. I can’t go out with it like this.’ And without waiting for a reply, she went off to tidy herself for the meal.
Joceline, who had just gashed her thumb on one of Madame’s razor-sharp steel knives, said something pithy under her breath. She had been hoping to have the afternoon- to herself, and to spend part of it catching up lost sleep. Now, as well as a hair-do, Camilla would probably want a manicure.
The marmite was too heavy for Joceline to carry, so when the
gardians began to assemble in the common room, she went to ask Raphael to bring it through for her.
His smile, and his eagerness to help, were balm on the pin-pricks of the morning. Disdaining the use of oven cloths, Raphael lifted the hot
marmite with his bare hands. Joceline’s exclamations of concern seemed to amuse him.
‘My hands aren’t pretty like yours, mademoiselle,’ he told her, with a shrug and a grin.
When he had set the pot in its place at one end of the table, he showed her his calloused palms, as toughened as rawhide.
When the marmite was opened, and the gardians smelled the rich aroma of onions and cheese, there were appreciative murmurs.
‘At least you can’t fault me on this, Prince Lucifer,’ Joceline thought; as she began to fill the bowls and pass them to the men on either side of her. When everyone else had been served, she ladled soup into the last bowl and sat down to enjoy it herself.
But, as she swallowed the first hot spoonful, her whole body stiffened. In horrified disbelief, she took another. The flavour was revolting – not of onions, or cheese, but of something quite different.
Something she could not place.
Slowly lowering her spoon, she looked along the two rows of herdsmen. There was no sign of disgust on their faces. They seemed to be eating even more hungrily than usual. Only they were not talking. No one was saying a word.
Then she saw that, at the far end of the table, next to Gervais, Camilla was going through the motions of drinking soup, but not actually doing so. And, as Joceline watched her, her cousin caught her eye and gave her such a daggers look that Joceline flinched and went white.
For one appalling moment, as she realised it was not only her own soup which tasted vile, her humiliation was almost past bearing. She felt like crawling under the table.
Instead, she took a deep breath and said, in her careful French, ‘I must apologise, messieurs. This soup is not fit to eat. Please don’t take any more.’
Slowly, one after the other, the gardians laid down their spoons. They did not look at her. Some of them crumbled rolls, some helped themselves to butter or filled their wine glasses. But although their expressions remained-politely blank, most of their weather-beaten faces had reddened beneath their tan. Raphael’s swarthy face was almost purple.
Joceline pushed back her chair and stood up. Perhaps they thought she was going to dash out of the room, as one or two did give a quick glance then.
She said – and somehow her voice came out steady — Tm sorry . . .
very sorry. If you will wait a few minutes, I will find you something else to eat.’
‘It doesn’t matter, petite. We will do very well with what is here.
French bread and Saint-Gervais is a good enough meal for anyone,’
said Gervais, in an easy tone.
And from his place at the head of the table, he gave her a smile of such warmth that her heart seemed to turn over inside her.
At this, the tension relaxed. With their ready Provencal humour, the men began to see the funny side of die situation, and to recall culinary disasters perpetrated by their own womenfolk.
Camilla, however, was not amused. As soon as the men had gone, and the two girls were alone, clearing the table, she gave vent to her indignation.
‘Really, Joss! – I’ve never been so hideously embarrassed. How anyone who claims to be so efficient could do such a thing. What they must think, I can’t imagine!’
‘I’m sorry. It wasn’t deliberate,’ Joceline said flatly. ‘I still don’t know what went wrong. I can’t understand it.’
‘It was soap, of course – a whole bar, by the taste of the stuff. I only had one spoonful, but that nearly made me ill. How could you be so careless?’
‘Soap? Oh, but that’s ridiculous. How could any soap have got in the soup?’
‘That’s what I’d like to know,’ Camilla said acidly. ‘I suppose you weren’t thinking what you were doing, and you mistook it for butter or something. What other explanation can there be? It certainly didn’t
jump into the pot by itself.’. ‘But the soap here is nothing like butter, and I made it most carefully. Fm not an absent-minded person.’
‘My dear girl, it’s no use arguing,’ her cousin retorted impatiently.
‘The fact is there’s soap in the soup. One doesn’t even have to taste it.
The beastly stuff smells soapy.’ She picked up a bowl and sniffed it, pulling down her mouth. ‘Ugh! It’s even worse now it’s gone cold. Did you give any to Tante Madelon?’
‘No, I made her a mushroom omelette.’
Camilla shrugged. ‘I expect Gervais will tell her. I suppose we should be thankful it wasn’t something poisonous. As it is, I expect some of the men will be sick this afternoon. Several of these bowls are nearly empty.’
‘Oh, no! – do you think so?’ Joceline said distressfully.
‘I shouldn’t be surprised,’ Camilla winced, and pressed her fingers to her temples. ‘Now I’ve a headache coming on. I’d better go and rest for half an hour. You can do my hair later on.’
As Joceline washed up the dishes, she still could not fathom how soap could conceivably have got into the soup. Then, scraping half an inch of congealed sediment from the bottom of the marmite, she was astounded to find a piece of string in it.
Rinsed free of its sticky coating, it proved to be made up of several lengths of fine cotton twisted together, and now fraying undone at either end. It reminded her of the soft white tufts on her candlewick bedspread at home.
Candlewick! – that was the answer. Not soap … an old-fashioned wax candle. There were two or three dozen of them in a box in the general stores cupboard.
‘But I haven’t been near that cupboard since yesterday morning,’ she thought perplexedly. ‘Which means the soup wasn’t ruined by accident. It was done deliberately. But by whom . . . and for what possible reason?’
At first the only answer to these questions seemed to be: by Madame St. Aune … for spite. But somehow, now that she was more intimately acquainted with Madame, Joceline could not believe her guilty of such a mean trick. She was a dour and inflexible old person. But she wasn’t malicious. And she would never wilfully ruin good food.
Besides, if Madame were the culprit, she would have had to have done it early in the morning, when Joceline had been busy in other parts of the house. The soup had still been all right at eleven. Joceline had tasted it then, and so had Celie.
Celie. She could have done it. She had been in the kitchen when Madame rang the bell, and gone four or five minutes later when Joceline went back there. It would have been the work of seconds to dart to the stores cupboard, grab a candle and thrust it deep into the soup.
But since Celie did not appear to call at Mas St. Aune very often, how would she know where the candles were kept? And what could her motive have been? An inane practical joke? It did not seem very likely.
Joceline was still pondering the mystery, when through the window over the sink, she saw Gervais riding in. He dismounted at the corral, hitched Cesar to a corner post, and came striding towards the back door.
‘Where is Camilla? Can’t she dry the dishes for you?’ he asked, on entering the kitchen.
‘She has a headache. She’s resting.’ Joceline took her hands out of the suds, and wiped them on a towel. In her abstraction over the soup, she had forgotten to wear rubber gloves. Her hands were pink and swollen from being immersed in hot water. The sodden plaster on her thumb was beginning to peel off.
‘And you also must rest this afternoon. Five hours last night was not enough. Leave that now, and go to your room. The work can be finished later, when you have rested,’ Gervais ordered decisively.
‘I can’t… I promised to do Camilla’s hair. She and Jean-Marc are going to Mas Durance this evening. Anyway, I’m not really tired at the moment,’ Joceline answered untruthfully.
But, as she reached for the dishcloth, he caught her wriit and shook his head. ‘You will rest now, ma fille. Camilla’s hair will do very well as it is. What’s this on your thumb? You are hurt?’
1 cut myself . . . it’s nothing much.’
Still holding her wrist, he drew her to a chair by the table. ‘Sit down. I will apply a new emplatre.’
She knew better than to argue with him now. If she refused to do as he wished, he was quite capable of marching her along to her room like a recalcitrant child.
‘So Camilla is visiting the Durances tonight,’ he said, ripping off the old plaster. ‘I don’t approve, but I suppose I cannot forbid it if Jeannot does not object. Did Celie invite you also?’
‘Yes, but I refused. You are going to Aries, I believe? I’ll stay with Madame and go to bed early.’
Gervais went to the drawer where some first aid equipment was kept.
Returning with scissors, lint and plaster, he made a neat job of dressing her injured thumb.
‘Your hands were not like this when you came here,’ he said, glancing at her face. *You don’t regret your offer to deputise for my aunt?’
The colour rose in her cheeks, and she looked away. ‘Are you asking me to admit you were right and I was wrong? After what happened at lunch, I can’t very well deny it, can I?’
‘Ah, yes . . . the soup,’ he said, on an odd note.
To interpret that tone she would have to look at him, which was something she preferred to avoid. Being near to him had always made her uneasy. Today the effect of his closeness was stronger than ever.
every nerve in her body felt taut.
She said in a stifled voice, ‘It was good of you to take it so magnanimously. But I suppose it was only what you expected anyway?’
‘Do you care for my opinion?’ he asked dryly. ‘I had the impression you did not give a sou for it.’
She did look at him then, and there was a gleam in his narrow eyes which made her breath catch in her throat.
But before she could answer, Camilla came into the kitchen. ‘My head is better now. Are you ready to do my hair, Joss?’
‘Unfortunately Joceline has a headache. I have given her orders to rest for a couple of hours,’ Gervais said, over his shoulder.
‘But my hair—’ Camilla began.
‘Must wait,, madame,’ he cut in sharply.
Then, with a hand on Joceline’s arm, he marshalled her out of the kitchen and along the passage to her room.
At the door, he said, ‘Don’t try to slip out, because I shall be here in the house and I will hear you.’
And with that, he left her.
All through that long hot silent afternoon, Joceline lay on her bed in the shuttered room. She did not sleep. She did not think about the soup, or Camilla’s hair, or the koning she had meant to do, or the unprepared evening meal.
Suddenly, such things were unimportant. All that concerned her now was the terrifying realisation that she was in love with Gervais St.
* * *
About four, she rolled off the bed, and washed and put on clean clothes.
In the kitchen, she found a pencilled note.
I have arranged for someone to visit my aunt tonight. You are free to dine at Mas Durance if you wish . There was no signature. ‘Well, do you feel better?’ Camilla asked, rather tartly, when presently Joceline took her a cup of coffee.
‘Yes, thanks, much better. Gervais has already left for Aries, I gather?’
“Yes, he went off some time ago. Apparently he’s laid on an invalid-sitter, so you can come with us now if you like.’
Joceline shook her head. ‘No, I don’t think I will. I just don’t feel like it.’
Camilla shrugged. ‘Suit yourself.’ Clearly, she was still in a huff about her hair.
However, her manner thawed when Joceline offered to give her a quick dry-set, and by the time Jean-Marc came home she was all ready to set out, and in one of her sunniest moods since Joceline’s arrival.
About eight o’clock, when the evening meal had been eaten and cleared away, and one of the gardians‘ wives was gossiping with Madame St. Aune, Joceline wandered out to/ the little stream, and stood gazing across the miles of sun-baked plain.
As Gervais had gone to Aries early, perhaps he would return soon, she thought, with a thrust of excitement.
Then she frowned, and kicked at a pebble near her feet.
‘Don’t be a fool,’ said the rational part of her mind. ‘If you once start mooning about him, you’re really sunk! The best way to deal with this thing is to try not to think about it. It isn’t love, silly girl – it’s infatuation.’
Lost in her thoughts, she did not hear Raphael approaching. When he touched her arm, she shied like a nervous colt.
‘I am sorry. I did not mean to frighten you. I wondered if—’ The young gardian paused, shuffling his boots and looking self-conscious. ‘I wondered if you would like to come swimming,
‘Swimming? Where?’ she asked blankly.
‘At the sea … it is only a few miles. It does not take long to get there on my motor-bike. But perhaps you do not care for the sea?’
‘Oh, yes, I love it,’ she said, smiling. ‘I swim all summer at home.’
‘Then you will come?’ he asked, more confidently.
Joceline hesitated. She could not go for a walk because of the bulls and she had nothing of interest to read. There was a pile of ironing to be done, but that would only occupy her hands. It was mental distraction she needed. The thought of an evening at the beach was irresistible – and swimming would tire her out and make her sleep well.
‘I’d love to come, Raphael,’ she told him. ‘Will you wait while I fetch my things and tell Madame?’
Apart from enquiring what time they expected to return, Madame St.
Aune made no comment when Joceline looked in to tell her where she was going.
After changing her dress for a shirt and denim pants, Joceline rolled her swimsuit in a towel, and unearthed her thick Shetland sweater, in case it was cool on the back of the bike coming home.
Raphael was already astride his machine when she joined him at the rear of the bunkhouse. He made sure she was comfortably settled on the pillion before stamping on the starter.
‘Hold tight, mademoiselle,’ he shouted, as the engine zoomed into life.
And it was only then, with her arms clasped round his middle, and the strong violent scent of his pomade assailing her nostrils, that Joceline remembered Gervais’s warning about him.
If you make yourself pleasant, he will think you want him to make love to you. He is a man – and, to him, you are a woman.
THEY reached the sea at about a quarter to nine. The sun was already sinking to the horizon, but it would be light for some time yet.
As they climbed to the crest of the windswept sand dunes, Joceline wondered how this part of the coast had escaped the tourist invasion.
The beach was one of the best she had ever seen, but there was not another soul in sight.
She changed into her swimsuit in a hollow among the dunes. Raphael was already sporting in the shallows when she ran across the sand to join him.
For a moment, the look in his eyes when he saw her in her low-backed dark blue suit stirred a prickle of disquiet inside her.
Then, with a boyish grin, he splashed a shower of water at her, and she told herself not to be silly.
They raced and floated and duck-dived for half an hour. The water was wonderfully warm, and as clear as blue glass. When at last they returned to the beach, Joceline felt completely revitalised.
That was heaven!’ she exclaimed in English, sinking on to her towel.
Then, as Raphael looked enquiring: ‘ Merveilleux … superbe, n’est-ce pas? Ah, oui … as you say in English – fab?’ Joceline laughed and nodded, wondering where he had picked lip that expression. From
‘pop’ programmes on his transistor presumably.
Raphael moved his towel closer to hers and sat down. Rummaging in the saddle-bag which he had detached from the back of his machine, he produced a bar of chocolate and gave it to her.
‘Oh, lovely! I should have brought some rolls. I could eat a horse.’ She broke the bar in halves, and handed one of them back to him.
He shook his head. ‘No, the chocolate is for you only. I have cigarettes.’
For a while, there was silence between them. Joceline, sat with an aim round her updrawn knees, eating the chocolate and watching the little foam-edged waves rippling and rushing over the hard wet sand at the water’s edge.
Raphael lay on his back, his eyes closed, lazily smoking a rank French cigarette.
She had almost forgotten he was there, when suddenly, he jerked into a sitting position, and said abruptly, ‘You have a boy-friend in England, Joceline?’
His sudden movement, the question, and the feet that he used the intimate tu instead of the more formal vous, rekindled her earlier misgivings.
‘I am not betrothed, if that is what you mean,’ she said, keeping her face towards the sea.
‘But there is someone you like very much?’ – She thought of Tom. If she had not left home, she might have been engaged to him by now.
Dear Tom … so kind, so safe, so suitable. She could have been very happy with him … if she had not come to France.
‘No – no one special,’ she answered, without expression. .
Raphael pinched out the end of his cigarette and buried it in the sand.
‘Me, I have had lots of girls – but there has been nothing serious, you understand. I shall not marry until I am thirty or more.’ He sounded so young as he said it that she turned her head and smiled at him. ‘If you wait too long, there won’t be any pretty girls left. Arlesiennes are supposed to be the prettiest girls in France, aren’t they?’
‘Oh, yes, they are pretty – when they are young. But soon they grow fat and bad-tempered,’ he said, with a shrug. ‘Our girls are not like you and the young Madame.’
‘What do you mean?’ she asked curiously.
Again he shrugged his brown shoulders. ‘When our girls have a husband, they do not care how they look.’
‘If my cousin and I had to work as hard as most gar- dians‘ wives, we wouldn’t have much time for our looks either. Anyway, you won’t always be good-looking, Raphael. You may get fat yourself one day.’
He laughed. ‘Perhaps – but not yet.’ Then his face became serious again. ‘But you, I think, will always be beautiful,’ he told her.
Joceline wasn’t sure how to deal with this. Was it a ‘line’ – something he told every girl? If it was, it must be very effective. He had said it as if he really meant it.
‘Thank you,’ she answered lightly. ‘Tell me, what do the gardians think about Monsieur Jean-Marc marrying a foreigner?’
The enquiry seemed to surprise him. ‘But naturally we think he is very fortunate,’ he said, in a tone which suggested there could not be any other opinion. Then, ‘Ah, you have heard that Madame St. Aune hoped for a marriage with Mademoiselle Durance, hein?’
‘Isn’t it true?’ Joceline queried.
‘Oh, yes, it is true . . . and it is also true that, before he went away to Paris, Monsieur Jeannot did seem to fancy Mademoiselle. But he could never have kept her in order. She is a wild strange creature, that one! They say she has gypsy bipod in her. Monsieur Jeannot is too nice a fellow to handle a girl like that if she played him up. Anyway, she never cared for him. It is the patron she hopes to catch.’
‘Gervais?’ Joceline exclaimed, in a shaken voice.
Raphael laughed and shook back his curly black forelock. ‘You didn’t know? It is the joke from here to Aigues-Mortes. Will she rope him or won’t she?’
She sifted a handful of sand between her fingers. ‘What do you think will happen?’
‘Oh, she’> sure to get him in the end,’ Raphael said carelessly. ‘She’s an eyeful – one can’t deny that. And her father can afford a large dot.
Besides, she won’t give the patron any trouble. He’ll soon show her who is the boss. Bulls, horses or women – he likes a bit of the devil in them. A tame filly wouldn’t suit him.’
It was growing dusk, but the sand was still pleasantly warm. It was not physical cold which made Joceline shiver.
‘Why doesn’t he offer for her, then?’
Raphael brushed dried sand from his hairy legs. ‘I daresay he wouldn’t marry at all, if he didn’t need sons to follow him. Why should he indeed? A man like Monsieur doesn’t need a ring in his pocket to persuade a girl to be nice to him.’
Joceline scrambled to her feet. ‘I’m going to get dressed now.’
She draped her towel round her shoulders, and walked away to her changing place. The sea was amethyst now, the horizon veiled in twilight. The soft hushing of the waves was like the whisper of sad voices.
Raphael was carefully combing his hair into place when she joined him behind the line of dunes. He wiped the comb on his thigh, stuck it in his hip pocket, and buttoned the collar of his shirt.
He said awkwardly, ‘I am sorry if I upset you, mademoiselle. I should not have spoken as I did. It was not a proper thing to say to a young lady like yourself. But I didn’t mean to give offence.’
But it had not been the way he expressed himself which had caused her to get up and leave him. It had been the image of Gervais as a professional bachelor, a man who only wanted a wife to perpetuate his line and acquire a sizeable dowry.
‘It’s all right, Raphael … it doesn’t matter,’ she said, in a husky voice.
He had brought a piece of plastic sheet to wrap round their wet bathing things. As he took her bundle from her, he felt how cold her hands were.
There is a bistro on the Albaron road. We can stop there and have some coffee and something to eat. It is not far out of our way,’ he said, as she climbed on the pillion.
The bistro was a ramshackle building, set down in the middle of nowhere, but apparently doing a brisk trade in spite of its isolated position. A dozen Camargue horses were hitched to the rail outside the entrance, and there were a couple of trucks parked round at the back. A shabby caravan drawn by an even shabbier car had been left near the single petrol pump at the side of the premises.
‘Gitanes!’ said Raphael, jerking his head at the caravan.
And just at that moment a fiddler struck up inside the bistro, and the babel of voices and laughter were muted for some seconds until people began to clap and sing to the music.
The place was crowded to bursting point. Holding Joceline’s hand, Raphael shouldered his way to the zinc- topped counter, and shouted in the ear of a gardian seated on one of the stools there.
The man glanced over his shoulder at Joceline, and promptly stood up and offered his place to her.
‘Merci, m’sieur.’ She too had to shout to make herself heard above the din.
The gardian smiled and bowed, and moved away.
As well as coffee and rolls, Raphael ordered two glasses of cognac.
When she shook her head and signalled that she did not want a drink, he insisted it would help to warm her up. But the atmosphere was so close from overcrowding and cigarette smoke that very soon she had to take off her sweater.
While the father of the gypsy family played his fiddle, an old wrinkle-faced woman was moving among the tables, coaxing the customers to have their palms read. Two pretty black-eyed teenage girls were flirting with a couple of young gardians, and half a dozen grubby children were playing about under the tables. How they all crowded into one caravan, Joceline could not imagine.
Although most of the men present were herdsmen, there was one group round a corner table who were obviously not Camarguais.
Scruffy, unshaven and well on the way to being tipsy, they looked a rather sinister crew. As Joceline was studying them, one of them gave her a leer which made her blush quickly and turn away.
When she asked Raphael who they were, he gave them a scornful glance and said they were workers from the rice-fields.
Jean-Marc had told her about the bitter hostility, which sometimes flared up into brawls, between the herdsmen and the men of the rice combines.
In recent years large areas of the Camargue had been ploughed and irrigated for rice production. The mana- dierls and gardians were
afraid that, if much more land was taken over, there would not be enough pasture left for their herds of bulls. To make matters worse, the waste water from the rice-fields had killed off much natural vegetation, and the fish in several etangs. And the immigrant workers employed by the powerful rice combines were men of a very different stamp from the proud, reserved but innately courteous gardians.
As Joceline finished her coffee, she noticed that it was’ nearly half past ten – half an hour later than the time she had said they would return. She pointed this out to Raphael, and he at once tossed back his cognac and asked the bistro proprietor for a packet of cigarettes.
As he was paying for them, one of the rice workers lurched against the counter next to Joceline and loudly demanded another litre of wine.
It was the man who had leered at her and, instinctively, she shrank from him.
Perhaps, if she had not done so, he would have paid no attention to her. But her involuntary recoil lit a gleam of malicious amusement in his close-set bloodshot eyes. Leaning towards her, he said something she did not understand.
But Raphael understood, and his young face was taut with anger as he growled at the older man to leave her alone.
What followed was like a nightmare to Joceline. The talk and laughter suddenly died away. All eyes were fixed on Raphael and the rice worker.
But for the intervention of the proprietor, the fight would have started on the spot. But, restrained from immediate combat by men around them, the two adversaries were persuaded to settle their quarrel in the yard outside.
With an eagerness which horrified Joceline, everyone surged through the doorway to watch the affray.
Except in films and on television, she had never seen men come to blows before. The brutal reality sickened her..
‘Oh, please . . . can’t you stop it? You must!’ she pleaded with the burly proprietor.
But he only shrugged and shook his head. They are always fighting, mademoiselle. It does no good to interfere.’ „
For five or six endless minutes, the combatants were evenly matched.
The rice worker was. bigger than Raphael, but not j3i such good condition.
And then, when it seemed they would go on savaging each other as long as their endurance lasted, a jeep came hurtling along the road, and stopped with a scream of brakes a few yards away from the ring of excited onlookers.
When Gervais thrust his way into the centre of the circle, Joceline was so overjoyed to see him that, if she had not been hemmed in by gypsies, she would have darted forward and flung herself into his arms.
With a sob of relief, she saw him drag Raphael off his opponent and heave him backwards. As the young man staggered and collapsed, Gervais swung round to tackle the rice worker. The stillness that fell on the watchers was even more pregnant with tension than the earlier silence in the bistro.
Unwisely, considering the dangerous mien of the man who now confronted him, the rice worker made a clumsy swing. An instant later, he was sprawling on the rough ground:
—Gervais cast an eye over the audience until he spotted two of the man’s companions. He said tersely, ‘Get him out of here.’
Then his eyes searched the ring of faces until he caught , sight of Joceline. As he moved towards her, the people beside her edged away. In the yellow glow of light from the bistro windows, his face was set in a mask of angry contempt.
Without a word, he gripped her urgently by the arm, and propelled her across the roadway towards the jeep.
‘B-but what about Raphael?’ she stammered.
He bundled her into the vehicle without replying. Then he strode round the bonnet, and slid in behind the wheel. In a swirl of dust, the jeep roared off into the night.
By the time they reached Mas St. Aune, Joceline had managed to control the convulsive tremors of nervous reaction. But she still felt profoundly upset, and dreaded the scene which undoubtedly lay ahead.
But when they entered the hall where a lamp was burning, she saw that although Gervais’s mouth was still set hard, his eyes no longer glittered with cold menace.
In his normal quiet voice, he said briskly, ‘You had better go straight to bed. I will take Madame Calvet home now. The others are not back yet.’
This was such an anti-climax after the scalding tirade she had expected that Joceline could only gape at him.
Presently, from her room, she heard the jeep departing again. Not long afterwards, Camilla and Jean-Marc returned.
Joceline heard her cousin say something about wishing they lived in a lovely house like Mas Durance, and their bedroom door closed.
The murmur of voices through the wall went on for. about twenty minutes. Although she was now in her nightdress and short cotton dressing-gown, Joceline did not turn down her lamp. She knew she would never get to sleep without speaking to Gervais about the fight and clearing Raphael of blame for it.
She was in the-kitchen, drinking a cup of strong coffee to fortify her, when she heard the drone of an engine.
At the last moment, as steps approached the back door, she almost lost her nerve and fled.
‘It’s you … I thought I told you to go to bed,’ Gervais said, frowning, when he saw her sitting at the table.
She swallowed, her mouth dry. ‘I had to speak to you . . . to make you understand what happened.’
‘We can discuss it in the morning. It’s nearly midnight. Our voices may disturb the others.’
‘Oh, please – I can’t possibly sleep with all this on my mind. I know you’re furious. Please listen, it won’t take long.’
As he hesitated, silently scrutinising her, she was suddenly very conscious of how she was dressed. Her robe was perfectly decent and, in her anxiety about Raphael, she had not thought of putting on day clothes again. But now, with his dark eyes on her, she wished she had.
‘Very well, if you insist,’ he said, at last. ‘But I think I can guess what happened without a long exposition. It is not the first fracas of this kind that young fool Raphael has had. I have overlooked them before.
But not-this time. There is no place on my tnanade for hot-headed louts. He will have to find work elsewhere.’
‘Y-you mean you intend to dismiss him?’ she stammered, aghast.
‘Certainly I do. I have warned him a number of times. If he chooses to ignore my orders, he must take the consequences.’
‘But that isn’t fair … it wasn’t his fault at all. If … if you had been there, you’d have fought that awful man too. You did anyway – it was you who knocked him out.’
‘I struck him because it was the only way to bring the melee to an end,’
Gervais said austerely. ‘But I can assure you I don’t start fights – no matter what the provocation. Violence achieves nothing.’
He paused a moment to strip off his worn leather jacket. ‘Every Camarguais is concerned about the incursions by the rice-growing combines,’ he went on, his tone even sterner. ‘But brawls between our men and theirs are senseless and futile. If Raphael can’t see a rice workers without going berserk, he’s in need of a sharp lesson.’
‘You don’t understand,’ she protested. ‘It was my fault. They fought because of me.’
The angle of his jaw seemed to sharpen. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked curtly.
The other man spoke to me. I don’t know exactly what he said, but it was obviously something offensive. Raphael told him to go away, and he challenged Raphael to make him. Surely that would have provoked even you?’
His eyes blazed. The look on his face made her flinch.
He said, through set teeth, ‘He should never have taken you there.
Your own good sense should have told you the type of place it was.’
Joceline’s chin came up. ‘Most of the men there were gardians. I have reason to know that they have excellent manners.’
That is not the point at issue. You seem to forget that I had already warned you not to consort with Raphael.’
‘I remember very well,’ she countered stiffly. ‘And you were wrong about him, m’sieur. Until we went to the bistro, I was having a very pleasant evening.’
He came round the table in two strides, and caught her roughly by the shoulders.
‘Were you indeed!’ he said harshly. ‘You will not do so again -1 shall see to that! As long as you are under my roof, you’ll respect my wishes, ma fille. Now go to bed. The matter is closed. We will not refer to it again.’
And with that he stalked out of the door, and disappeared into the night.
* * *
Both he and Raphael were missing from the breakfast table next morning. Joceline had not the courage to ask any of the other men if Raphael had got back safely.
She was afraid Camilla would notice the signs of her wretched night.
But her cousin was much too taken up with the opulence of Mas Durance to remark the dark shadows under the younger girl’s eyes, the tell-tale pink- ness of her lids.
‘It’s absolutely charming, Joss. Straight out of House&i Garden,’ she told her enthusiastically. ‘If this place was like Mas Durance, I wouldn’t mind living here. And really there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be made equally nice. All it needs is to be completely done over by someone with decent taste.’
‘And money,’ Joceline said dryly.
‘Gervais has money. Celie says our bulls are the best Camarguais stock in the whole delta. He must be quite wealthy – although one would never think so. Heaven knows what he does with his cash.
Even Jean-Marc can’t understand why he is so tight with it.’
‘Celie has no brothers, has she? How old is Monsieur Durance?’
‘Getting on . . . well over sixty; He must have married rather late in life. But he’s a tremendous charmer still. . . reminds me of Maurice Chevalier. Unfortunately he had a mild coronary last year. Celie is rather worried about him. He will overdo things.’
‘So Celie has more than her looks and a large dot to recommend her.
One day she will own the whole property,’ Joceline thought. ‘Perhaps that’s why Gervais won’t spend money on this place. He’s counting on a merger.’
A wave of repugnance went through her – not at him, but at herself, for even considering him capable of such a despicable design.
‘If I really loved him, I wouldn’t even have thought that,’ she told herself shamefully. ‘I would trust him and believe in him implicitly.
But if this feeling isn’t love, why does it hurt so much? Why does my whole life seem to have turned upside down? Why do I dread the thought of going back to England?’
During the morning, Madame St. Aune insisted on getting up.
‘No, no, child -1 am tired of lying here. Having nothing to do depresses me,’ she said obstinately, when Joceline tried to persuade her to stay in bed for at least one more day.
And although her ankle was still not completely better, she was determined to resume her duties.
‘Well, you can’t possibly scrub and clean, Madame, I will continue with the rough work,’ said Joceline firmly. ‘I don’t like being idle either.’
Unexpectedly, Madame’s face softened. ‘You are a good girl, Joceline. I must confess that when you first came here, with your city clothes and painted nails, I did not think much of you. But you have proved yourself a good worker. You will make a capable wife. It is a pity Camilla is not more like you.’
‘She loves your nephew, and she is bearing him a son,’ Joceline said quietly. ‘There is more to being a wife than knowing how to cook, Madame.’
The old woman pursed her thin lips. ‘That may be so, but it is the duty of a wife to provide her husband with good food. When they lived in that appartement in Aries, the poor boy was half starved. I have never seen him so thin. He is not like Gervais, you understand. He was always as hardy as a young boar. But as a child Jean-Marc was not strong. You would not think it to see him now, but until his seventh year, he suffered terribly from asthma, pauvre petit. Many are the nights I sat with him. Sometimes he would turn so blue, it was frightening to see him. Alors, I will show you a photograph.’
From one of her drawers, she produced a faded dogeared snapshot.
‘That is my late husband,’ she exclaimed, indicating the florid-faced man with a grey moustache who stood at the back of the group.
Madame herself was seated on a chair in the foreground, her arm round the shoulders of a scrawny boy who was leaning affectionately against her knee.
‘Voila . . . you see how frail he was? He was ten years old at that time, but one would think he was no more than eight,’ Madame said, clucking her tongue.
But Joceline was looking at the face of the older lad who had posed a little apart from the other three.
‘As hardy as a young boar, perhaps – but still only a half-grown boy,’
she thought, with a strange pang. ‘Why isn’t your arm round him too, Madame? Why does he stand apart, scowling, and looking aggressive? Did your care for Jean-Marc leave no time for him? Did he have to be tough and hard because no one gave him any tenderness?’
Later in the morning, when she was sweeping under her bed, a shadow fell across the window.
‘Raphael!’ she exclaimed, in surprise. ‘Oh, Raphael, your poor face!’
‘I’ve had worse than this, mademoiselle.’ In spite of a bad black eye and contusions on both sides of his jaw, the young gardian managed to grin. Then, keeping his voice low, he said, ‘I went to the kitchen to speak to you, but I see the old girl is about again. I’m sorry for what happened last night. It was a bad business. I expect you to be angry with me. But I couldn’t permit that canaille to insult you.’
‘I am not angry, Raphael – but the patron is furious. Have you seen him yet?’
‘Yes, he hauled me out of bed before sun-up. I thought he was going to black my other eye for me. He says the next time I fight, he will kick me out.’
‘The next time . . .? Last night he said he was going to dismiss you today.’
‘Did he?’ Raphael grimaced. ‘Oh, well, I suppose he cooled off during the night. He’s got the devil’s own temper if anyone disobeys his orders. But he’s always fair, and he let me explain what happened.
Someone is coming. I’d better clear out. He said I was not to speak to you any more.’
In the second before Camilla entered the room, he quickly dodged out of view.
After she had finished turning out her own room, Joceline went along the passage to the door of Gervais’s room. It was the one part of the
mas she had neglected during her spell as Madame’s stand-in.
She had intended to clean it several times, but something had always held her back. Now the urge to see inside was irresistible. Somehow she felt that in Gervais Vroom she might find the key to the things about him which puzzled her. As he always left the door closed, she had never even had a fleeting glimpse in there. Absurdly, as she turned the doorknob, she felt like Bluebeard’s bride about to pry into the forbidden chamber.
In size and shape the room was identical to that occupied by Camilla and Jean-Marc. But instead of a vast double bed taking up most of the space, there was a narrow single bed pushed close under one of the windows.
Lying in that position, she thought, would be almost like sleeping out of doors.
The window wall and two others were of whitewashed rough plasterwork, like those in all the other parts of the house. But the fourth wall was hidden by shelves packed with hundreds of books. In places, these were interspersed with photographs of horses and cattle,
and views of the Camargue landscape. On the wall opposite hung a striking oil painting of a herd of white horses galloping through an etang.
Reminding herself that she had come in ostensibly to clean, Joceline began to sweep the floor. But there was so little fluff and grit to brush into the metal dustpan that she concluded Gervais had been attending to the cleaning himself.
He could mend too, apparently. A blue cotton shirt with the distinctive small white flower pattern hung over the back of a chair. A reel of black thread pierced by a needle was on the seat. When she examined the shirt, she found two buttons had been neatly attached with black thread, but the other four were sewn on with grey cotton.
On the table beside his bed lay a half-finished seden – a type of lariat which the gardians made by plaiting hair from their horses’ manes and tails.
Behind it, in a leather folding frame, were two photographs. One of a young man and woman with their arms round each other’s waists. The man was very like Gervais, but not as tall. The woman was a feminine replica of Jean-Marc. Obviously they were Gervais’s parents.
The second photograph was a full-length portrait of Celie. In a clinging chiffon evening dress which revealed every curve of her lovely little figure, she was standing by a window curtained with rich brocade – a window in the Durances’ winter house in Aries perhaps?
She looked so enchanting, with her. lips parted in a rather mischievous smile, and her tawny eyes sparkling, ‘ that it was hard to see how any man could resist her, even if she were not the only daughter of a wealthy manadier.
‘Perhaps Gervais really loves her. Perhaps he hasn’t asked her to marry him because he thinks she is still in love with his brother.
Perhaps he doesn’t know she has never cared for Jean-Marc, that it is him she loves,’ Joceline thought, feeling as if an icy hand was clamped round her heart.
Indeed the photograph seemed conclusive proof that Gervais was in love with Celie. Men did not keep pictures of girls by their Ijeds unless the girls meant something special to them.
She was gazing at the photograph when she heard booked footsteps in the passage. Before she could collect her cleaning gear, Gervais appeared in the doorway.
He was so clearly annoyed at finding her there that even before he spoke her cheeks were hot.
‘It isn’t necessary for you to clean this room. I prefer to do it myself and have my belongings undisturbed,’ he told her, in a chilling tone.
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I haven’t moved anything.’ He stood aside, holding the door, waiting for her to leave.
Joceline grabbed the broom and dustpan. But, on her way out, she halted and said in a low voice, ‘I’d like to thank you for reconsidering your decision about Raphael.’
‘You have spoken to him?’ he asked curtly. ‘Er . . . no. No, I saw him from the kitchen window.’ The lie made her colour deepen. ‘As he was still about, I assumed you had changed your mind.’
Did he believe her? His lean brown face was unreadable.
Then, as she turned and went into the passage, he said, ‘Is it so important to you whether he goes or stays?’
‘Naturally, it would have upset me to feel responsible for him losing his job here.’
‘Then I hope you will use more discretion from now on,’ he said repressively. And stepped back and closed the door on her.
Jean-Marc came home that evening with a letter from Doctor Bishop in his pocket.
‘My dearest Joss (her father had written)
‘I see no reason why you should not stay with Camilla-‘ until the baby arrives – and perhaps for a further month until she is fully recovered. Naturally we miss you, but as I gather you have not made any decision about the future, would it not be a good idea to continue to improve your French?
‘From what you say, you are becoming quite fluent now, and knowing another language is always a great asset. It might lead to an interesting job when you do return. As I expect you have spent most of your money, I have arranged a transfer which you can draw on at the bank in Aries.’
The rest of the letter gave news of domestic and village affairs, and there was a postscript from Elizabeth.
As Camilla had read all the previous letters from her father, Joceline could not very well refuse to let her see this one. But she knew that, in doing so, she was committing herself to staying on as her father proposed.
As she anticipated, as soon as her cousin had read the letter, she said,
‘There you are, you see? Your father thinks you should stay with me.’
‘Yes, but the St. Aunes may feel otherwise. It is their house,’ Joceline reminded her.
‘It would be very ungrateful of them to want to get rid of you after all you have done while Madame has been in bed.’
‘They didn’t ask me to cope. I volunteered. Probably they would rather have got Madame Calvet to take over.’
‘They would have had to pay her,’ Camilla said acidly. ‘You’ve saved them money, sweetie. Now promise you’ll stay for at least a month after the baby arrives, and then I can relax and feel easy.’
‘Very well – if they have no objections,’ Joceline agreed. But knew that, from a selfish point of view, to stay was deliberate folly. The longer she remained at the mas, the more she would be hurt, and the harder it would be to leave.
Surprisingly, Madame St. Aune was in favour of her extending her visit.
‘You are welcome to stay, child,’ she said. ‘Indeed I shall be glad of your help when the time of confinement arrives. There is always so much washing to be done, and I am not as young as I was. Sometimes I look forward to the day when Gervais has a wife to take charge here.
I have had a hard life. I should enjoy a few years’ rest before I die.’
This encouraged Joceline to ask, ‘Why doesn’t Gervais install an electric generator, Madame? It would mean much less work for you.’
‘So he has often told me. But I have managed without it for forty years, and I am too old to change my ways now,’ Madame replied.
‘No doubt everything will be altered when he takes a wife, but for the present I prefer the traditional methods. And Gervais has many calls on his money without buying modern gadgets for me. He will not admit it, but I know he has helped the parents of the crippled Laurent child, and he also supports the widow of Henri Lemaitre, and pays for the son to study music in Paris. I tell him he is too generous, but he will not listen. He is just like his father, and would give the shirt off his back without hesitation.’
From her tone, it was clear that she regarded this facet of his nature as a fault rather than a virtue. Probably it was marriage to a man with a weakness for pastis which had made her a bit of a skinflint, Joceline reflected.
She wondered how Gervais would react to the news that she would not now be leaving immediately after the Feast of Sara.
* * *
Next day, something which looked like a giant caterpillar was to be seen edging its way along the rough track half a mile from the mas. It was actually a line of gypsy caravans and carts. With the annual ceremony now only two days hence, every route across the Camargue was thronged with dark-skinned pilgrims on their way to pay homage to their patron at Les Saintes Maries de la Mer on the coast.
‘Nowadays some of them arrive in high-powered cars,’ Jean-Marc told Joceline, before he went off to Aries. ‘They are a mixed lot. Some are famous circus artists, some have to beg for a living. Before the war they came from all over Europe. But the Iron Curtain has put a stop to that. Mostly they come from Spain now.’
That evening, Joceline was washing up while Madame brushed and bearded a pailful of mussels for lundi the following day, when a gypsy fortune-teller arrived at the backdoor.
Madame invited her in, offered her a glass of wine and sent Joceline to fetch Camilla and Jean-Marc.
Camilla was eager to have her soft white palm read. The gypsy told her she would bear a fine boy, and later have another son.
‘You have a talent, you madam, and if you use it wisely you will be happy and make much money,’ she forecast. ‘The past is dead. Now you must think of the future,’
‘A gift? I wonder what she means?’ Camilla said, intrigued, when her husband had translated for her.
Next, the gypsy read Madame’s hand. While she was doing so, Gervais came into the kitchen.
At the sight of his aunt earnestly attending to the clairvoyant’s mysterious prophecies, his firm mouth twitched with amusement. But he lounged against the dresser to hear What she had to say.
‘Now it’s your turn, Joceline,’ said Jean-Marc, when his aunt had learned that she would live to a great age and be greatly respected by all who knew her.
Joceline shook her head. ‘No, I’d rather not, thanks.’
‘Oh, do – it’s fun,’ Camilla urged.
And Madame and Jean-Marc also pressed her to- take her turn.
Then, as she was on the point of reluctantly submitting to the rigmarole, Gervais said to the gypsy, ‘The young lady from England does not believe in the gift of foresight, grand’mere.’
Joceline thought this would offend the old woman, but she only chuckled and beckoned the girl to sit beside her. . ‘So you are a sceptic, my pigeon,’ she said, with a twinkle. ‘You are wise for your years. There are many who profess to tell the ‘future, but most of them are charlatans and rogues. But I, Maria Pesarosa, have the true gift. In the years to come you will remember my words, and believe! Give me your hands, child.’
Joceline put her hands into the wrinkled and rather dirty ones of the gypsy. Instead of launching into her patter at once, as she had done with the other two women, old Maria studied them in silence for several minutes.
Joceline shifted uncomfortably. She disliked being the cynosure of attention, particularly when Gervais was one of the people watching her.
At last, the gypsy looked up. Tour mother died when you were a child, and now another has taken her. place. You are no longer needed there. It is time to choose a man and begin a new life.’
‘But that’s true, Joss – how uncanny!’ Camilla blurted excitedly after Jean-Marc had softly repeated the words in English.
The gypsy scowled as if the interjection had disturbed her concentration. Her grasp tightened, and she closed her hooded lids for a moment.
‘I see two men in your path,’ she said, at length. ‘One man is of a different race, and there are many barriers between you. If you choose him, you will suffer great sorrow – but also be blessed with great joy.
There is another man, across the sea. With him the way will be smooth. If you wish for a life of peace, you must choose this man.’
Her lips drew back in a smile, showing a few yellowed teeth. ‘But it is the stranger, the dark stranger, who can lead you to the fires of spring.
Think well before you choose, little daughter. I know what your choice will be, but I will not tell you. When the line of fate is forked like the tongue of a snake, you alone must decide which path to follow.’
After the gypsy had gone, with some money, a bottle of wine and a parcel of cheese in her basket, Camilla said, ‘Yours was the best fortune, Joss. How on earth did she know about your mother dying when you were small, and Uncle John marrying again?’
Joceline shrugged. ‘A lucky guess, perhaps, or she may have pumped someone about me. They do, I believe.’
‘I wonder what she meant by “the fires of spring”?’ said Camilla.
‘It is a gypsy expression meaning the heights of passion and ecstasy/
Jean-Marc explained, with a smile.
‘Heavens! – how exciting. Well, the man who could lead you there is obviously a Frenchman, Joss. Perhaps you’ll meet him at the fete‘ her cousin teased.
‘Don’t be silly,’ Joceline said brusquely. ‘You surely don’t believe all that rubbish? I certainly don’t. It went in one ear and out the other.’
‘Are you sure?’ asked Gervais from the dresser.
She flickered a glance at him. And what she read in his eyes made her clench her hands under the table.
‘Does he know?’ she thought, turning hot. ‘Does he know how I feel about him?’
‘Of course I’m sure,’ she replied, in a brittle voice. ‘It was aU
nonsense. I didn’t swallow a word of it.’
He shrugged his broad blue-clad shoulders. ‘It is easy to be influenced by what these old gypsy women say, and girls of your age are full of romantic ideas. But I doubt if you will meet your future husband at the fite – or anywhere else in France,’ he said, at his most sardonic.
‘The man from England is the one for you, petite.’
‘Is there a man in England?’ Camilla asked, laughing. Joceline forced her stiff lips into a smile. ‘Oh, several,’ she answered flippantly.
But the cold hand was clenching her heart again. For she knew what Gervais had meant was that if she had any romantic ideas about him, she had better forget them at once.
NEXT day, on the eve of the fete, Camilla said, *You know, I’ve been thinking about what the gypsy told me – and I believe she was right! I
have a talent, and it could be a money-spinner. Jean-Marc will never be rich. He’s not the go-getting type. So it’s up to me to hit the jackpot.
I can’t think why this idea didn’t strike me before.’
‘You mean something to do with fashion?’ Joceline asked her dubiously.
Her cousin shook her head. ‘No, not fashion – interior decoration.
Remember I was telling you how attractive Mas Durance is? Well, the gardians have their meals in an outside cookhouse. The common room is used as a drawing room. It’s all done out in English country house style . . . William Morris chintzes, needlework rugs and so on.
Celie says English furnishings are terribly chic here at the moment.
So as soon as we move to Marseille, I am going to open an exclusive decor boutique. Camille et Cie . sounds rather good, don’t you think?’
Joceline blinked at her. ‘Aren’t you forgetting you’ll soon have a baby to look after?’
‘Oh, we’ll get a nursemaid for him,’ her cousin said airily. Then, at the look on the younger girl’s face – ‘Now it’s no use giving me a lecture on maternal duty, sweetie. I’m just not cut out to be a besotted mum.
And after being cooped up here for months, a long stint of washing nappies and fussing with bottles would send me right round the bend.
I’ll be fond of the baby – naturally. But I can’t pretend I want to devote
all my time to him. Actually I think most small infants are rather repulsive. That shocks you to death, I suppose?’
‘I expect you’ll change your mind when you see him … or her,’ said Joceline mildly.
‘Perhaps, but I very much doubt it. Anyway it’s quite possible to be a good mother and have a career as well. Lots of women do it.’
‘But you don’t know anything about professional decorating, do you?
And what about the business side . . , keeping accounts and balancing the books and whatnot?’
‘Oh, Jeannot can do it in the evenings, until I can afford a clerk. As for the decorating part, I’ve always had excellent taste and an eye for off-beat colour schemes. I did out my London flat, and everyone said it looked marvellous.
‘Yes, it did,’ Joceline conceded. ‘And I daresay you could do well. But what about money, Camilla? You can’t start a business without capital.’
Her cousin looked smug. ‘I have some money. Not much, but enough to rent a shop, and buy stock and generally keep things going until the lovely fat fees start rolling in.’
She put her hands on her stomach. ‘This child never stops kicking. I wish he would hurry up and be born. Now that I’ve had this brainwave, I want to get started on it.’
‘Have you discussed the idea with Jean-Marc yet?’
‘Oh, yes – didn’t you hear us through the wall? We were talking half the night. He’s over in Marseille, looking at a flat he’s heard about.’
Soon after lunch, he returned. The two girls were sitting in the courtyard. Seeing how hot and dusty he looked, Joceline went indoors to make him a lemon drink.
When she brought it outside, Camilla was bubbling with excitement.
‘He’s found the very place for us, Joss. Not a flat. A house near the Canebiere. It’s one of those tall narrow buildings with three floors.
The ground floor can be my showroom, the basement will do for storage, and we can live on the top floors.’
‘What sort of condition is it in?’ Joceline asked Jean- Marc. ‘And what about the rent? Is it reasonable?’
Jean-Marc looked rather worried. ‘The condition is not so good,’ he admitted, with a frown. ‘But Camilla insists that we must be in the centre of the city, and this is the only place we can afford. In the best
arrondissements, the rents are very high. This house is not expensive because it has not been painted for a long time, and there are many repairs to be done. But I have searched Marseille several times now, and I think we will not find anywhere else near the elite shops and cafes.’ ‘What about the suburbs?’ Joceline suggested. But Camilla said impatiently, ‘No, no – we must be somewhere fashionable. That’s vital. It doesn’t matter if the house is shabby, cher. It can easily be renovated. From what you say, it sounds an ideal place for us. When I’ve smartened it up, the landlord himself won’t recognise it.’
‘But there is the matter of the prix, mignonne,’ her husband reminded her anxiously. He turned to the younger girl. ‘The rent is low, but there is what we call a prix – money which must be paid for the keys,’
he explained. ‘The prix is ten thousand francs. We do not possess so much money. Camilla will need her savings to finance the boutique.’
‘You’ll have to ask Gervais to help us,’ Camilla said, with a shrug. ‘It’s the least he can do. He never pays you a centime from the manade.’
‘I do not work here now, cherie. Why should he give me money? He permits us to live here and pays for our food.’
‘I should jolly well think so,’ Camilla retorted indignantly. The place belongs to both of you. It’s not his exclusive property.’
‘But it is,’ Jean-Marc corrected gently. ‘He is the eldest son, and therefore it is his inheritance. And it was Gervais who built up the herd in the first place. Without his work there would be nothing.’
‘You could borrow the money from a bank,’ Joceline put in.
Camilla; said irritably, ‘We don’t want to start off in debt. It’s absurd to go to a bank for such a small amount. I’m sure Gervais could easily afford it. If you won’t ask him, Jean-Marc, then I’ll have to speak to him myself.’
Seeing her soft mouth beginning to tremble, her beautiful eyes brim with tears, he said hastily, ‘Don’t cry, ma mie. It is not good for the baby when you upset yourself. I will ask Gervais for the money. I am sure he will give it gladly.’
‘You promise?’ she insisted tremulously. ‘We need it at once. If we delay, someone else may get the house.’
‘Don’t worry – we shall not lose it. I will telephone the owner tonight, and tell him we have decided to take it. I cannot go to see him again until the fete is over. But if I promise to pay the prix one day next week, he will be satisfied, cherie.’
Joceline was so angry with Camilla for forcing his hand by putting on a show of distress that she had to go into the house to prevent herself remonstrating with her.
It was perfectly obvious that Jean-Marc did not want to appeal to his brother, and it wasn’t fair of her cousin to use emotional blackmail. If only he would take a firmer line with her. He was much too indulgent.
If he wasn’t careful, he-would find himself thoroughly henpecked. To work off her annoyance, she gashed her hair. When she went outside again, to dry it in the sun, Jean-Marc „ was alone. ‘Camilla is sleeping now,’ he told her, a forced smile replacing the troubled expression which had been on his handsome face before he caught sight of her.
They made small-talk for several minutes, and then Joceline said,
‘You know I’ve Hardly spent a bean since I’ve been here. I have some-money to spare. I wish you and Camilla would let me help with the prix.’
‘No, no, you are very kind, but I could not permit it,’ he said, flushing.
‘Do not concern yourself, please. I have thought of a way to get the money.’
‘You mean . . without asking Gervais?’
The colour deepened under his smooth olive skin. ‘I know I promised Camilla I would do so, and perhaps it . seems strange to you that I am reluctant. It is not that I fear he would refuse. He has always been most generous to me. But I am no longer a youth. I am a man, and a husband. I must-what is the expression? – shoulder my responsibilities?’
‘I think it’s a very natural attitude,’ she said, her opinion of him rising.
‘But if you don’t go to Gervais, how will you get it, Jean-Marc?’
He avoided her eyes. ‘There is a way,’ he said evasively. Something clicked in Joceline’s memory . . . something Camilla had told her weeks ago about the course libre, and the young men called razeteurs who won money by snatching rosettes from between the horns of fierce bulls.
Jean-Marc used to go in for it, Camilla had said. But I made him promise to give it up. It’s all very well being a local hero for a year or two, but I don’t want my husband to. wind up with a game leg or a hole in his ribs.
‘You aren’t thinking of winning the money, are you?’ she enquired, with a searching look.
At his startled glance, she knew she had guessed correctly. ‘Oh, no, you mustn’t,’ she said anxiously. ‘Suppose you were injured? You can’t take the risk, Jean-Marc. It isn’t worth it.’
He smiled at that. ‘But there is no risk, petite. It is very rare for a
razeteur to be injured. A scratch perhaps . . . a few bruises . . . But nothing serious, I assure you. And I am not inexperienced, you know.
I have played the bulls before, many times. There is a big event in Aries, three days from now. With good luck, I will win enough money to pay the prix and also buy some furniture.’
‘And with bad luck, you may find yourself in hospital,’ Joceline countered bluntly. ‘You’re out of practice. There is some risk – there must be. Oh, please, be sensible, Jeannot. Camilla would be terrified for you.’
‘I shall not tell her . . . and neither must you,’ he said firmly. ‘This is not your affair, little Joss. Please give me your word you will say nothing.’
Joceline bit her lip. ‘I underestimated him,’ she thought. ‘He is not as strong a character as Gervais – but he is a Camarguais . . . proud and independent. And he’s right. . . it isn’t for me to interfere.’
Aloud, she said reluctantly, ‘All right, I promise. But I think it’s crazy, Jean-Marc. Why on earth don’t you go to your bank and ask them for a loan? People do it every day. That’s what banks are for.’
He looked discomfited again. ‘Unfortunately I do not have an account at any bank. I do not earn a great deal, and lately it has been difficult to save money. And for a loan, one must offer some security.’
‘I should think your name would be sufficient security.’
‘My brother’s name – yes. Not mine,’ he said, with a dry mouth.
‘But if you tell Camilla that Gervais has given you the money, she will thank him and give the game away.’ ‘No, because I shall ask her not to mention the matter to him. Here, it is not comme il faut for women to discuss such things.
And nothing Joceline could say would make him alter his mind.
* * *
The gardians rode in early that day. As she helped prepare the evening meal, Joceline saw them sitting on the benches outside the bunkhouse, busily burnishing tack and polishing their saddles.
Madame St. Aune had spent the afternoon carefully goffering a beautiful lawn and lace fichu to wear over a long black silk dress the following day. Even the horses, rolling in the dust in the corrals, seemed to sense that something special was afoot.
But now, for Joceline, anticipation was marred by worrying about Jean-Marc. She began to have a frightening premonition that, if he took part in the cocarde at Aries, something dreadful would happen to him.
Just before supper, he caught her alone in the passage, and said, ‘I have told Gervais our intention. He says we are mad, but he cannot prevent us. For the present I shall not tell Tame Madelon. After the
fite perhaps . . And before she could beg him again to change his mind, he hurried away.
Later, Joceline wandered out to the stream. For the first time since the wild night of her arrival, the sky was overcast, and thunder was rumbling in the distance. But it was even hotter than usual. The air was oppressively still, and not a leaf stirred.
Presently, she went to sit on the edge of the plank bridge, taking off her sandals and rolling up the bottoms of her trouser legs so that she could dangle her feet in the water.
Everyone else was still busy preparing for the fete. But having already ironed dresses for herself and Camilla, she had nothing else to occupy her. She would set her hair at bedtime.
She had been on the bridge for about ten minutes when, with a tingle of apprehension, she saw Gervais come out of the mas and walk directly towards her.
‘What does he want?’ she wondered. And, remembering the night before, and his barbed comment on her – ‘fortune’, her face burned.
But how could he have guessed she was in love with him? What had she said or done to reveal her feelings? And, if he was so omniscient, why didn’t he see that Celie loved him?
As he came near, she said casually, ‘Will it be wet tomorrow, do you think?’
He shrugged. ‘Perhaps … it often rains for the fete. But with luck the storm will pass over during the night.’
‘Oh, I hope so. It would be a shame for it to be ruined by downpours.’
He made no response to this; and, as Joceline could not think of anything else to say, she swung her feet out of the water and began to dry them on her handkerchief.
‘It is unusual for you to leave your food. At supper you ate almost nothing. Is there something on your mind?’ he asked suddenly.
She reached for her sandals. ‘I just wasn’t hungry tonight.’
‘You are worried perhaps by this foolish notion of your cousin’s?’
‘Worried? No, not at all,’ she answered, fastening her buckle.
‘You have encouraged her in this?’ he asked sharply. ‘
I haven’t had anything to do with it. It’s entirely Camilla’s idea.’
As she rose to her feet, intending to go towards the house, he stepped forward and barred her path.
‘We will go for a short walk, I wish to talk to you.’ If she moved to pass him, would he instinctively give way? She found she was not prepared to risk it. ‘Your wish is my command, Monsieur St. Aune,’
she said, with saccharine sarcasm.
His hard mouth curled. Je vous demande pardon. I should have asked if I might enjoy the pleasure of your charming company.’ He snapped his heels together and bowed.
Joceline gritted her teeth, and began to walk very fast a long the track on the far side of the stream. She might have spared herself the effort.
Gervais out-strode her with ease.
Wishing the rain would come and cool the heavy atmosphere, she slackened to a normal pace. ‘So you have decided to extend your visit here,’ he said at length.
‘With your aunt’s permission – yes. Naturally I shall be a paying guest from now on. I hope you have no objection?’
‘For you to stay until the child is born – pas du tout. But then I think it best for you to go home.’
Joceline flinched. ‘I’m sorry you find my presence such a trial,’ she said, in a small stiff voice.
His hand clamped down on her shoulder, forcing her to halt and face him. The thunder was nearer now. A strange sulphurous light had fallen upon the flat landscape. The air felt charged with electricity …
as if it only needed a single crack of lightning for the whole arid delta to become a roaring inferno.
‘Don’t be a fool. You know that is not what I meant,’ Gervais said, in a tone of savage exasperation. ‘Can’t you see what will happen if you stay? Your cousin will use you . . . she will make herself dependent on you. First it will be the child . . . and then this mad project in Marseilles. She has no French. How can she conduct abusiness? And this house they propose to rent. Do you imagine Camilla will work to make the place fit to live in? No, you will do that, ma fitie. You will scrub and cook and care for the baby for her. Diable! Don’t you know her yet? Can’t you see how selfish she is?’ – He had hold of both her shoulders now, and the grip of his strong brown fingers seemed to burn through her thin cotton shirt.
‘How dare you! Let me go!’ she demanded. ‘I don’t care what you think, Monsieur St. Aune. You may rule half the Camargue – but you don’t rule me.’ She jerked her pinioned shoulder, trying to break free.
A vicious fork of white lightning split the sky. Less than thirty feet from where they stood, a juniper tree exploded in dazzling sparks.
It was over in seconds – but it could have killed them both. And, when it was over, she was in Gervais’s arms.
Had he moved? Had she? Or had some primitive reflex made each reach blindly for the other in a moment of danger? Locked in his arms, her face pressed against his rough shirt, Joceline neither knew nor cared.
Then thunder crashed overhead, and the fast heavy drops began to fell. Two minutes later, they were caught in a blinding deluge.
There was no point in running for shelter. In seconds, they were both soaked to the skin, and the dusty track had dissolved into a grey morass.
His shirt and trousers clinging to his lean lithe body, Gervais took her by the arm and steered her back towards the mas. Without his support, she would have lost her footing more than once. And although his grasp kept her upright, she was soon plastered in mud up to the knees.
The cloudburst was already beginning to slacken when they squelched their way to the back door.
‘Heavens! What a mess you’re in,’ Camilla exclaimed in horror, when her cousin staggered into the kitchen. ‘Your sandals are ruined .. . and your hair! You look half drowned.’
Joceline was too breathless to answer. But she knew what a sight she must look. Her hair was streaming, her nose and chin were dripping, and her clothes felt like cold poultices.
‘Fetch her robe de chambre and a towel, if you please,’ Gervais said to Camilla.
He pushed Joceline on to a chair and went down on his haunches to take off her oozing sandals. Jean-Marc was assisting his aunt to fill a hip-bath. ‘We watched you coming and knew you would be in a mess,’ he said, with a sympathetic grin. ‘What were you two doing out there? You must have known the storm was near, Gervais.’
His brother ignored this remark. Tossing the sandals into a bucket, he pulled Joceline to her feet again. Before she had guessed his intention, he had picked her up and stood her in the kitchen sink.
This filth must come off before you can bath,’ he-said briskly, beginning to sluice her coated legs and feet.
The bath made ready, Madame and Jean-Marc retired. Camilla, returning with Joceline’s night-clothes and a towel, raised her eyebrows and looked rather shocked. But she made no comment on the scene. When her feet were relatively clean, Gervais lifted Joceline down.
‘Now into the bath,’ he ordered. ‘I will clean myself in the men’s quarters.’
When he had gone, she peeled off her sodden garments and stepped into the old-fashioned tub. Relaxing in the warm water, she closed her eyes and relived those moments in his arms. Then she remembered their angry exchange before the lightning struck, and what he had said about Camilla. It was true, of course . . . Camilla was a self-centred person. But considering her background – the neglected childhood, the years in Australian boarding schools – wasn’t her selfishness forgivable?
What Gervais failed to realise was that, in spite of her beauty and poise, Camilla was basically insecure, she reflected wearily. But if she was grasping as he made out, she would never have married his brother. From a material point of view, she must have had many better offers. And even a city-bred French girl might find it hard to settle to life on the Camargue.
‘But I could settle . . . oh, I could settle easily,’ Joceline thought, with painful longing.
She was dry and dressed, and rubbing her hair when Gervais rapped on the door and asked if she was decent.
She pushed the hair out of her eyes. ‘Yes . . . you can “come in.’
He was in clean clothes and espadrilles. His wet black head had the sheen of a raven’s wing. He said, ‘I will do that for you.’
And before she could object, she was enveloped in a large dry towel, being vigorously dried, like a dog. She emerged from this treatment tousled, red-faced and gasping.
‘You had better have a glass of cognac. We don’t want you taking a chill.’ He fetched two glasses and a bottle.
Bereft of her last shred of dignity, Joceline said with a snap. ‘You don’t have to treat me like a child, m’sieur.’
Gervais filled the glasses, and slid one across the table to her. ‘Drink it, ma mie. It will calm your nerves.’
The casual meaningless endearment made her clench her fists. ‘My nerves are calm. I don’t want it,’ she flared rebelliously.
He moved around the table, picked up the glass and held it out to her.
‘Drink it!’ he said, very quietly, holding her eyes.
But although his voice was soft, his expression impassive, her defiance wavered and she felt a queer thrust of panic.
The neat spirit burned her throat and made her cough. ‘May I go now?’ she asked him icily. ‘Yes, go to bed. We shall be up early in the morning. Sleep well, petite,’ he added, with maddening bland- ness.
She gave him one withering look, and turned on her heel.
As she reached the door, he said in the same silky tone, ‘What did you think I would do if you disobeyed? Treat you like a woman, perhaps?’
And, as she let the door shut behind her, she heard him laugh.
There was intermittent thunder and rain until about two in the morning. But when Joceline woke up next day, the sky was clear. She had overslept. It was nearly six o’clock, and the house was astir.
Most of the gardians, resplendent in black velvet jackets, best hats, and checked moleskin trousers, set out for Les Saintes Maries de la Mer soon after breakfast.
At nine, Madame St. Aune went off in a smart little trap with the
bayle-jgardian and his wife. And at eleven, the last to leave, Camilla and Joceline climbed into Jean- Marc’s car.
Gervais had not been seen all morning. When Camilla asked where he was, Jean-Marc explained that his brother and two other men had ridden out early to inspect the herd, and must have been delayed by some mishap.’
‘But they will arrive in time for the procession,’ he said confidently.
On the way, he explained the origin of the festival. The saints from whom the coastal town got its name were Marie-Jacobe, sister of the Virgin, and Marie-Salome, the mother of James and John.
With Lazarus, and his sisters Martha and Mary Magdalene, they had been cast adrift from the Holy Land with a boat without sails or provisions. Miraculously, after surviving terrible storms, they had landed safely on the wild coast of the Camargue, and spread the Gospel throughout Provence,
‘But today is the day of Ste. Sara le Noir, their black servant. She has not been canonised by the Church, but the gypsies and all Provencals venerate her,’ Jean-Marc told them earnestly.
Normally a quiet little town, on this Sunday in late May, Les Saintes Maries de la Mer was overflowing with colour and noise and activity.
Ringed round by gypsy encampments, like a besieged citadel, its
streets were packed with thousands of sloe-eyed Bohemians,
gardians and tourists.
Volleys of firing from the shooting galleries punctuated the babel of voices speaking half a dozen languages, and the strumming of Spanish guitars. There were stalls selling hot crisp beignets, professional strong men in chains, Spanish flamenco dancers, roulette wheels, candy-floss sellers and, everywhere, dusky-haired children begging for a few centimes and then darting off to spend them on sticky sweetmeats.
As they did every year at the fete, the St. Aunes had arranged to lunch in the private room of a restaurant with Celie and Monsieur Durance and the family of another manadier.
Getting from the car to the restaurant was such a struggle against the milling tide of people that Camilla was soon close to tears.
‘You didn’t tell me it would be like a Southend Bank Holiday,’ she wailed, clinging to her husband as he shouldered a way through the jostling throng.
‘You should not have come this year, mignonne,’ he said, when at last they reached the Restaurant. ‘You know, I would gladly have stayed at the mas with you. The fete is not important to me. I have seen it so many times.’
‘I wanted to come,’ she said petulantly. ‘I hate being left out of things.’
With the exception of Gervais, the rest of the company were already assembled upstairs, drinking aperitifs.
When Joceline saw Celie, her own pale blue linen shift seemed very ordinary.
Celie was wearing a traditional Arlesienne costume. Her dress, with its long tight sleeves and flowing skirt, was of heavy mimosa silk.
The close-fitting bodice was almost entirely concealed by the snowy ruffles of an exquisite white lace fichu. Her silky black hair was piled high, and she wore an enchanting little headdress of black velvet ribbon and lace perched on top, like a crown. Round her slim golden throat was a narrower black velvet band bearing a tiny jewelled gold cross.
The luncheon consisted of fennel-flavoured snails with garlic butter, a wonderful bouillabaisse, and a cold orange souffle. Joceline sat between the two adolescent sons of the Colbert family, and watched Celie flirting with the eldest son at the other end of the table.
Probably there was no significance in the coquettish smiles she was giving him, but Joceline could not help feeling that it was strange behaviour for a girl who was supposed to be passionately in love.
When the luncheon ended, Gervais was still missing.
Camilla felt so drowsy that the proprietress of the restaurant invited her to rest in her room for an hour.
‘I will stay with her.-You go with the others, Joceline,’ Jean-Marc insisted. ‘If I can, I will persuade her to go home early,’ he added, in an undertone. ‘You won’t mind returning with the Rogets? Or perhaps my brother will escort you.’
The square in front of the twelfth-century fortress-like church was crammed with pilgrims all through the hot afternoon.
About four o’clock, the bells began to ring out – the signal that the relics of the saints were about to be lowered from their sanctuary above the high altar. It was impossible to squeeze inside and watch this ceremony as the church was already jammed with devout gitanes.
But, presently, the tiny black statue of Ste. Sara was borne outside into the sunlight and, surrounded by an escort of mounted gardians, carried down to the blue Mediterranean.
And among her guard of honour, tall and erect, riding like a prince, was Gervais.
The procession surged towards the beach to cries of ‘ Vive Sainte Sara!’ Joceline was swept along with it, like a leaf caught in a mill-race.
She saw the statue taken into the water, still surrounded by men on horseback, and then a priest pronounced a benediction and the whole cavalcade reformed to return Black Sara to her crypt.
Having lost sight of the rest of the luncheon party, Joceline moved about in the crowd for a while, looking for a familiar face.
She had just decided to return to the restaurant to see if Jean-Marc and Camilla were still there, when she spotted Gervais riding by.
There was a thick press of people between them, and she did not try to attract his attention. But, as she watched him, he reined in his horse and bent to speak to someone she could not see.
Then Celie came into view, her yellow dress vivid in the sun. She was being lifted by a brawny gypsy who set her on the little leather pillion at the back of Gervais’s saddle.
She thanked him with a pretty smiling bow, arranged the folds of her skirt, and said something to Gervais. He grinned at her over his shoulder, his teeth very white against his tan. As Cesar nudged his way among the people, a small cheer went up at the sight of the tall bronzed manadier with the lovely tawny-eyed Arlesienne holding his shoulder.
‘Prince Lucifer . . . and his princess,’ Joceline thought, with a sharp thrust of pain.
Suddenly, the heat and the milling bodies were unendurable. Her vision blurred by stinging tears, she edged her way back to the restaurant.
‘Pardon, messieurs … pardon, madame … merci.’
Jean-Marc and Camilla had gone, but Madame and the Rogets were there. They also were leaving early. When Joceline asked to go with them, they were astonished.
‘But later there will be dancing, child. After dark everywhere is gay,’
‘I’d rather go home, if you don’t mind. It’s so hot, and I’m tired.’
Joceline’s voice was husky, her face drained of colour.
‘As you wish, of course. Perhaps tomorrow you will stay. Tomorrow is the day of les Saintes and the contests in the arena.’
‘Yes . . . perhaps tomorrow, Madame.’
But tonight Gervais may ask Celie to marry him. There will be wine, and music, and a moon. they will dance together, close in each other’s arms, and she will smile as she smiled at Luc Colbert…and then, very late, they, will slip away to the beach and – oh, stop it, stop it! Why must you torture yourself? Don’t think about them. Put them out of your mind. You always knew it was madness… from the very beginning…
* * *
Next morning, however, Joceline found that, short of claiming to feel ill, it was not easy to escape attending the second day of the
festivities. When she mentioned to Jean-Marc that she would be quite happy to keep Camilla company while he went off with the others, he was quite affronted.
‘No, no – it is my duty to stay with her. How could I enjoy myself without her?’
‘Well, I think I ought to stay too. Supposing the baby started? You would have to go and fetch the doctor and she would be left alone,’
Gervais, coming along the passage where they were talking, overheard this.
He said, ‘Surely that is not very likely? The child is not due for ten days yet.’
‘No, but it might arrive early,’ she answered, avoiding his eyes. ‘First babies frequently do, and the excitement yesterday—’
‘In that event, my aunt will be here to take charge. She is attending only the religious ceremony. She will be back in good time should the need for her attention arise. Certainly you must attend the fete today,
petite. It is a remarkable event. Something to remember all one’s life.’
Her grey eyes met his for an instant. Had he chosen the words deliberately? Were they meant as an oblique reminder that she did not belong here? That, for her, there would never be another Feast of Sara.
‘Very well, I will come,’ she said stiltedly.
‘Four passengers are too many for Roget’s carriole. I will take you myself in the jeep. Young Raphael can bring Cesar,’ he said, to her dismay.
On his instructions, she was ready by ten o’clock. The blue shirt-she had worn the day before was too crumpled to be worn a second time.
And someone, probably a child with an iced lolly, had marked the front with a sticky pink smear.
Today, as she climbed into the jeep, she was wearing a sea-green cotton skin, splashed with deeper-toned flowers, and a short-sleeved pale turquoise shirt of Dacronlawn.
‘You came home very early yesterday,* Gervais remarked, when the
mas was half a mile behind them. ‘My aunt says you complained of the heat. Was that the real reason?’
‘What do you mean?’ she asked warily.
‘I did not see Raphael during the evening. Perhaps he also found the heat too much for him.’
‘You aren’t suggesting that we arranged a secret rendezvous?’
The possibility did occur to me.’
‘I’m sorry to disappoint you. I haven’t spoken to- Raphael since . . .
since you made it clear you did not approve of our friendship.’
He did not pursue the subject, and-they drove several miles in silence.
Covertly glancing at him, Joceline saw that, under his close-shaven tan, the muscles of his jaw were tensed and hard.
But somehow she sensed that the grimness of his expression had nothing to do with her or Raphael. Something else preoccupied him.
And with that frown line between his dark eyebrows, he did not look like a man with a private and particular reason for celebration.
For the past sixteen hours she had been so absorbed in her own unhappiness that she had temporarily forgotten Jean-Marc’s intention to enter the course libre. But now that worry reasserted itself.
She said, as casually as she could, ‘Your brother used to be a razeteur, I believe. Was he a good one?’
Gervais roused from his thoughts. ‘Yes, he performed quite well. He was never of the first rank, but he made some good razets in his time.’
‘Isn’t it rather a dangerous business? Almost as risky as proper bullfighting?’
His reaction to this was startling. As coldly as if she had offered him some personal affront, he said, The course libre is a sport. One cannot compare it with “proper bullfighting”, as you put it. It disgusts me to see fine beasts humiliated and tormented by imbeciles in silk stockings and fancy suits. I would never submit my bulls to such cruel indignities.’
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, taken aback. ‘I really know very little about it.
But the Durances breed for the corrida, don’t they?’
‘Yes,’ he agreed curtly. ‘And so do a number of other manadiers. But the Spanish taureaux never have the courage and agility of true Carmarguais cocardiers. What others do is their concern. But I respect my animals too much to send them to a shameful death for the amusement of people who would be afraid to confront a fierce dog.’
He looked so fierce himself as he said this that Joceline decided it was not a good time to pursue her original enquiry. She had intended find out, in a cautious round-about way, what risk Jean-Marc would be running if he entered the arena at Aries.
She said quietly, ‘Yes, I would never want to see a Spanish bullfight.
It must be a sickening spectacle.’ Then she relapsed into silence for the rest of the journey .
They lunched at the same restaurant as on the day before. But this time she was placed next to Luc Colbert, and Gervais sat beside Celie.
Today, the French girl was wearing modern clothes – an understated tunic of matt ivory silk, which emphasised the contrast of her pale amber skin, and blue-black hair. A huge square-cut topaz glowed on her right hand, and her shoes and bag were of real crocodile skin, doubtless from Hermes in Paris.
Luc Colbert flirted as outrageously with Joceline as he had with^
Celie the previous day. And, although she secretly thought him a rather objectionable young man – he had a small girlish nose, and not enough chin – Joceline deliberately played up to him in order to keep her attention off Gervais and Celie.
Towards the end of the meal, Luc caught her hand and held it under the table. As she could not free it without force, she had to endure the pressure of his hot moist fingers until everyone had finished their coffee.
He stuck to her like a leech all afternoon, even in the crowd surrounding the procession of the Saints to the sea.
The two carved and painted figures of Ste. Marie- Jacobe and Ste.
Marie-Salome, carried in a miniature boat and lavishly strewn with carnations, were taken into the water in a ceremony similar to that attending Ste. Sara.
Afterwards, Luc took Joceline down to the church crypt where Black Sara’s sorrowful face was lit by the eerie glimmer of hundreds of candles.
The crypt was full of gypsies, kneeling in prayer. Fortunately, Joceline had brought a white silk scarf to cover her head, and if she had been alone, she would have stayed for a time to watch babies in arms being held up to touch the elaborately robed little statue.
But, having acceded to her request to see the crypt, Luc was anxious
to return to the gaiety of the streets, where , he could slide his arm round her waist and murmur extravagant flatteries.
She was thankful when it was time to make their way to the arena where the traditional games were to be held. She was even more relieved to discover that he was taking part in these sports, and would not be sitting next to her.
Instead, she sat beside Monsieur Durance, who told her that the games were probably derived from the jousts held in mediaeval times.
‘You will not see finer horsemanship anywhere in the world, Mademoiselle Bishop. Ah, what it is to be young. Many are the times I have ridden in the jeu du bouguet. But now, alas, I am too old for such amusements,’ he said ruefully.
Gervais was one of the riders taking part in this particular event. He came hurtling across the arena on Cesar, snatched a posy of flowers from Celie’s outstretched hand, and successfully evaded the gardians who tried to wrest it from him until an outburst of clapping and cheering signified that he was entitled to retain the favour.
This was repeated several times, with different groups of horsemen racing madly round the dusty ring in pursuit of posies offered by other pretty girls.
Later, there were branding and roping contests and, finally, a cocarde in which about a dozen young men in white shirts and trousers and
black string ties attempted to outmanoeuvre a spirited Camarguais bull.
They made their razets separately, standing clear when it was not their turn to make a bid for the scarlet rosette and the two white silk tassels strung between those sharp branching horns.
The bull was a noted cocardier, and none of them succeeded in taking his rosette. When all had tried and failed, and he was captured and led away, his ovation was louder and longer than any which had gone before. Clearly, while the onlookers admired the speed and nerve of the razeteurs, it was the bull who was the hero of the hour.
No sooner were the games over than Joceline found herself beleaguered by Luc again. She knew she was partly to blame for pretending to like him at lunch. But she had certainly not intended to give the impression he seemed to have read into her behaviour.
As long as they were with the others, she did not like to give him too pointed a set-down. But she hated the way he fixed his eyes on her mouth and nudged her knee under the table in the packed pavement cafe where they had all repaired for refreshments.
People were already dancing in the streets, and Monsieur Durance invited her to take a turn with him. Then she danced with Luc, who clasped her embarrassingly close to him, and after that with Gervais, who held her at arm’s length, and who was obviously only doing his duty.
Presently, he insisted on taking her to try her luck at one of the roulette wheels.
‘Perhaps Mademoiselle does not share your enthusiasm for gambling, Luc,’ Gervais put in, from the other side of the table.
But Joceline said brightly^ ‘Oh, I would like to have a flutter.’
Once she was alone with Master Luc, she could make it clear that the evening wassnot going to end as he evidently anticipated.
Hgr polite but firm rebuff when he attempted to hold her hand again led to an increasingly heated exchange, and ended with Luc saying offensively that everyone knew what English and American girls were like. It was a pity she had not been so prudish earlier on.
‘Yes – a great pity!’ Joceline retorted witheringly, and marched off and left him.
It was then about ten o’clock, and she wandered about on her own for an hour, eating delicious hot beignets and watching the sideshows and flamenco dancers.
Apart from beggars and fortune-tellers, the only person who spoke to her was Raphael.
He was with a group of youths and girls, and he stopped to say,
‘Mademoiselle Joceline! – Are you enjoying the fete?
‘Yes, very much. Have a beignet?’ she offered, smiling.
‘Thank you.’ He dipped into her bag. Then, noticing there was no one with her, ‘You have no escort? You should not be alone in this cohue.’
‘I am quite safe. The others are not far away,’ she said, with a vague gesture towards the end of the street.
Then his Mends became impatient, calling to him to come on, and with a grin and a wave he disappeared into the crowd.
It was soon after the encounter with Raphael that she noticed the couple locked in a passionate embrace in a shop doorway. The place was closed, but the light in the window was on and it caught the gleam of a ring on the girl’s hand as she caressed the back of the man’s
neck. It was an unusual ring – a very large square-cut stone in a raised modern setting.
Joceline stopped short, staring. And then the girl gave a low laugh and disengaged herself. It was Celie Durance. But the man with her was not Gervais.
Joceline heard her say, ‘Not here, man brave. It is too public. Let us find somewhere more secluded,’ and the man gave a chuckle and said,
‘Avec plaisir, ma belle:
Monsieur Durance was still at the table in the pavement cafe when Joceline returned there. So was Monsieur Colbert, but there was no sign of Gervais.
The two men rose when they saw her, and Monsieur Colbert beckoned to one of the scurrying waiters.
‘What would you like to drink, mademoiselle? Where is my son? He is not with you now?’
‘No . . . we lost each other in the crowd,’ Joceline said lightly.
It might have been only her fancy, but she thought Monsieur Durance repressed a smile.
‘Gervais was becoming worried about you. He thought you might be .
. . tired,’ he told her. ‘He went off to look for you about half an hour ago. No doubt he will return shortly.’
When he did, there was a glint in his eyes which made. Joceline quail.
Oh, God! He’s seen Celie, she thought in a kind of terror.
With incredible self-control, he said pleasantly to her, ‘Are you ready to go home now, Joceline? It is not late, but we have a long drive.’
‘Yes, I’m ready whenever you are,’ she said, jumping up.
They said goodnight to the others, and Gervais slipped his hand under her arm as they set out for the place where the jeep was parked.
He did not speak, but she could sense the white-hot fury smouldering inside him.
‘You fool!’ she apostrophised Celie. ‘You little fool to play around, when you could have someone like Gervais.’
The drive back to Mas St. Aune reminded her of the night of her arrival, when they had lurched and jolted through the mistral, and he had been a brusque, unfriendly stranger. But tonight the Camargue was at peace, the placid-surfaced etangs reflecting a pearly moon and uncountable stars.
Tonight, it was Gervais’s anger which made the jeep bounce and leap as he drove too fast for the rough track.
Joceline clung to her seat, in an agony of helpless compassion for him. She knew so well how he felt – and it must be a hundred times worse to be in love with someone like Celie than to know your love was hopeless from the beginning.
The lights in the bunkhouse were on when at last they reached home, but the mas itself was in darkness.
By now, Joceline knew the layout of the kitchen so well that she could easily find her way to light the lamp.
‘Would you care for some coffee?’ she asked uncertainly, as the flame cast a glow over the room.
He had only just come indoors, and he shut the back door and leaned against it.
‘What happened between you and Luc?* he asked her tersely.
Her row with Luc seemed an aeon ago. Events since then had put it right out of her mind.
‘N-Nothing happened,’ she stammered blankly. ‘We – we had a slight difference of opinion and parted company.’
‘First Raphael, then Luc Colbert. You are not very wise in your choice of escorts. Next time you may find yourself in difficulties.’
‘He’s using me as a scapegoat!’ she thought, in dismay. ‘He has to lash out at someone, and I’m the only one available. If I lash back, he’ll really blow his top.’
Aloud she repeated evenly, ‘Shall I make some coffee, or are you going straight to bed?’
‘To the devil with coffee!’ He came away from the door with a kind of lunge. ‘I have had enough of your indiscretions, ma fille. First you involve yourself with Raphael, and have to be rescued from a brawl.
Now, today, I see you making sheep’s eyes at that young flaneur, Colbert. What is it you want? Something exciting to tell the girls at home when you return? Une histoire of the Frenchman who swept you off your feet? Perhaps this will do’ – and he caught her against him, and kissed her hard on the mouth.
– As, at last, he let her go, Jean-Marc burst into the kitchen. He was in his pyjamas, and much too agitated to notice anything unusual.
‘Ah, Joceline – come quickly, please. You must go for the doctor, Gervais. The baby is starting to be born!’
CAMILLA’S daughter made her debut at sunrise. She weighed six and a half pounds, she had a golliwog’s mop of black hair and, after one loud protesting yell, she closed her mouth and went to sleep. So, not long afterwards, did Camilla.
But for the two other women in the house, there was no such respite after the long busy night.
Joceline cooked an omelette for the doctor. He had been attending a badly burned gypsy child when Gervais finally found him, and had arrived at the mas only just in time to deliver the infant.
Then she prepared breakfast for the gardians. Some of them were patently disappointed when, they learned the baby’s sex. But Jean-Marc was delighted with his daughter. He spent most of the morning tiptoeing in to take another peep at her, gazing at the crumpled red face with a curiously moving expression of pride and awe.
To Joceline’s infinite relief, he appeared to have forgotten about the
eocarde in Aries that afternoon. And, even if he did remember, she felt sure nothing would induce him to leave Camilla at the present time.
It was not until after lunch that she was able to rest in the sirn on the-bench outside the back door. Strangely, she did not feel so ^tired now. She had flagged a little during the early hours of the morning, but there had been too much to do for her to yield to her fatigue then.
When the moment of birth was imminent, Madame St.
Aune had Wanted to shoo her from the room. But Camilla had clung to her hand, and begged her to stay.
Joceline was glad she had stayed. Now she understood why her father never looked irritable when he returned from delivering a baby –
although he sometimes grumbled beforehand if he was called out five minutes after going to bed, or just as he was sitting down to Sunday lunch.
She remembered he had once said to her: ‘You know, Joss, I’ve helped to bring hundreds of infants into the world, and they’re not much to look at when they’re brand new. But it’s the one job which never becomes routine. It’s always a miracle.’
And then he had cleared his throat several times, and started slapping his pockets to find his pipe, in the way he did when he was afraid she might think him a sentimental fuddy-duddy.
Perhaps, at sixteen, she had. She could recall a phase when any expression of deep feeling by older people was excruciatingly embarrassing.
But whatever she had thought then, now she had seen it for herself, and her father was right – it was a miracle. One moment the baby was just a mysterious unseen entity and then, suddenly, it was there … a tiny unique human being.
By mid-afternoon, Camilla was sitting up in bed in her prettiest wrap, putting on lipstick, and demanding something more filling than chicken consomme.
‘Oh, the bliss of having a flat turn!’ she said, when Joceline brought her a poached egg. Tomorrow I must start exercising to get myself properly in trim again.’
‘We must also consider names, mignonne, Jean-Marc reminded her.
‘We were so sure she would be a boy, we have never discussed names for girls.’
‘What about Sara . . . after Ste. Sara la Noir?’ Joceline offered tentatively.
Her cousin tilted her head. ‘Yes . . . yes, I like Sara. It’s one of those pretty-or-plain names. I think it’s mad to choose one which will be unsuitable if she grows up to be rather hideous.’
‘I don’t think that’s very likely, not with you two for parents,’ Joceline retorted, laughing at her.
‘Well, at least I shall make sure she’s decently dressed,’ said Camilla.
‘Really, I’m rather pleased she’s a girl. Boys’ clothes are so dull . . .
nothing but grey flannel for years. What do you think of Sara, darling?’
‘I think it is a charming name, and most appropriate,’ Jean-Marc agreed fondly. ‘Perhaps Sara Leonie? That was. my mother’s name,’
he explained to Joceline.
‘Sara Leonie St. Aune – yes, that sounds terribly chic,’ Camilla decided, pleased.
Gervais did not see his niece until shortly before supper that night.
Joceline was in the room when he tapped on the door and asked if he might have a look at her.
‘How are you, Camilla?’ he said, approaching the bed with one of his rare and charming smiles.
‘Oh, I feel wonderful thanks. What do you think of our offspring?’
Camilla waved a hand towards the cradle. ‘Perfectly hideous, isn’t she? But I suppose she’ll improve in time.’
As Sara Leonie had been tightly swaddled by Madame, all that was visible was her little beetroot face and shock of dark hair.
Gervais looked down at her, and his lips twitched. ‘I must admit that she does not, as yet, seem to favour her beautiful mother – but nevertheless there is something engaging about her,’ he said, after a moment.
This uncharacteristic gallantry .made Camilla glow. ‘We are calling her Sara Leonie after Jeannot’s mother. I hope you approve.’
‘Yes, Jeannot has told me. I think it is an excellent choice.’ He handed her a sealed envelope. ‘Here, when a baby girl is born, it is the custom for the head of the family to make a gift towards her dot. But as it is becoming less common for parents to arrange their children’s marriages, and a dot is no longer so important, no doubt you and my brother will use the gift as you think fit. Now I must leave you to rest.
Bonne nuit, belle-soeur.’
As soon as he had gone, Camilla ripped open the envelope.
Two thousand francs!’ she exclaimed delightedly. He isn’t as mean as I thought.’
tit’s very generous of him,’ Joceline said quietly, in a Voice not perfectly steady.
‘He never looked at me,’ she thought. ‘He didn’t even give me one glance. I might as well have been invisible.’
And, remembering what had happened in the kitchen last night, before Jean-Marc burst in, her heart began to thud against her ribs and she had to hurry out of the room.
Soon after supper, she went to bed. But tired as she was, she could not sleep. She lay on her back, with her hands clasped under her head, trying vainly to rationalise Gervais’s extraordinary outburst.
Could she have been wrong in assuming that his anger was caused by seeing Celie with that other man? Was it possible he really had been enraged by her unwise behaviour with Luc? But why should he be so concerned if she chose to make rather a fool of herself? He couldn’t be jealous . . . could he?
A wild hope stirred inside her, and died away. No, of course he could not be jealous. The root of jealousy was love . . .and that was simply wishful thinking.
She rolled on her side, and buried her face in the pillow. When she closed her eyes, she could still feel the pressure of his lips. Why had he kissed her like that … roughly, fiercely, as if he wanted to punish her? He was not an intemperate man. At first, she had thought he had no strong emotions. He had seemed so “stony and cold-blooded.
But last night he had kissed her with an unleashed passion which ought, she supposed, to have terrified her.
What had the old gypsy woman said? But it is the stranger, the dark stranger, who can lead you to the fires of spring.
‘And he did!’ she thought, beginning to tremble. ‘Last night, in his arms, I wasn’t afraid. I wanted him to kiss me like that. I didn’t want to resist… I wanted to yield. I wanted it never to end.’
* * *
For two days, she saw him only a meal times, when he virtually ignored her.
With the feast of Sara over, and the excitement about the baby dying down, Joceline felt like a child in the weeks after Christmas. There was nothing to look forward to any more, and no hope of anything unexpected happening.
When Jean-Marc went to pay the prix on the house in Marseille, he took her with him for the day.
‘As Camilla cannot see it for herself, I would value your opinion before the deal is settled,’ he told her.
The house was not quite as dilapidated as she had expected, and it did have definite possibilities. There was a walled yard, full of rubbish, at the rear which could quite easily be converted into an attractive paved garden with creepers in Versailles tubs. Sara Leonie could lie out in her pram there, kicking her legs. At the moment the poor little scrap could hardly move her limbs at all. Madame St. Aune kept her so tightly swatched in a shawl that she looked like a miniature Egyptian mummy.
Joceline had hoped that the advent of the baby would lead to a more cordial relationship between her cousin and Madame St. Aune.
Certainly Madame had admired Camilla’s fortitude during her
accouchement. And the next day she had produced several exquisitely made little garments, which must have cost her hours of painstaking work* so fine were the stitches, so delicate the shirring and lace edging.
‘Fancy her making these! They really are charming – and yet her hands look so rough and clumsy,’ Camilla had remarked, in astonishment.
But unhappily the truce had not lasted long. Camilla’s adamant refusal to nurse the baby had been received by Madame first with shocked disbelief, and then voluble outrage.
Now the hostility between them was worse than ever. And, as yet, Madame knew nothing of the projected move to Marseilles.
‘You must tell her soon, Jean-Marc,’ Joceline said worriedly, as they drove back to the mas after their day in the city. ‘It isn’t fair to keep her in ignorance much longer.’
‘Yes, I know. I will tell her tonight. But I am afraid she will be greatly distressed,’ he answered glumly.
He broke the news to his aunt in the kitchen, immediately after supper. Madame heard him out in silence, her gaunt face revealing nothing of her inward feelings.
‘But Marseilles is not for, and we shall often come to see you, ma chere,’ her nephew concluded, in a strained tone.
There was a painful silence for some seconds. Jean- Marc glanced at Joceline, mutely appealing for her to say something to ease the tension.
But before she could think of anything – and really there was nothing to say – Madame pressed a hand to her mouth, and hurried out.
She shut herself in her room, and remained there all evening. When, later, both Jean-Marc and Gervais spoke to her through the door,There was no response. ‘You don’t think . . .?’Jean-Marc began, paling.
‘Don’t be a fool,’ Gervais told him, in a curt undertone. ‘Naturally she is upset. You have been the centre of her life. It is always hard for a woman to give up a son – but she will get over it.’
There was no trace of bitterness in his tone. He was simply stating a fact. Joceline marvelled that his aunt’s undisguised favouritism had bred no resentment in him. ( It was shortly after this that Sara Leonie began to cry. So far, she had seemed to be the type of placid somnolent infant who only made her presence felt when she was hungry or wet or uncomfortable.
But tonight, for no apparent reason, she howled and howled, and refused to be pacified. Perhaps she sensed that the people around her were under a strain. 1
Joceline changed her, and gently patted her back, and then tried giving her a few extra ounces of milk in case she was hungry. Sara Leonie drank it, her blue eyes baleful. Then she started to bellow again, with the loud nerve-shattering roars peculiar to very small babies.
‘Oh, God . . . I can’t stand much more of this,’ Camilla exclaimed distractedly, her hands pressed over her ears. ‘What is the matter with her? Is she ill?’
‘Just cross, I think. She’ll tire herself out in a minute,’ . said Joceline hopefully.
She was right. A few minutes later, the baby’s screams suddenly stopped, and she slumped in an exhausted doze. But not for long. Half an hour later, a fretful whimper heralded another outburst.
‘If you like I’ll have her in my room for the night,’ Joceline volunteered, when she could see that her cousin would soon be in hysterics too. Jean-Marc carried the cradle along the passage. ‘It is very good of you, Joss. Poor Camilla is not yet strong enough to manage on her own, you know. You do not think perhaps we should call the doctor?’
‘Goodness, you Can’t call the doctor every time she yells,’ she told him, smiling. ‘If there was anything seriously wrong, she wouldn’t be bawling so vigorously.’
She had half expected that the uproar would bring Madame St. Aune out of her room. But it appeared that the old woman had washed her hands of them all – including her great-niece.
Soon, Sara Leonie slept again, and this time peace reigned until her next bottle was due at ten o’clock. Afterwards, Joceline went to bed.
But she took the precaution of leaving the lamp burning low.
As the mas had no refrigerator, every bottle had to be prepared separately. When Joceline padded to the kitchen to make the baby’s two o’clock feed, there was a sliver of light showing under Gervais’s door.
What was keeping him awake? she wondered, with a heavy heart.
After the second night bottle, the baby slept for a short time, and then woke up in another tantrum.
Joceline struggled out of bed, changed a wet nappy and gave her a cuddle. ‘Hush now . . . you’ll wake the whole house,’ she murmured soothingly.
When the door opened, she expected to see Jean-Marc. But it was Gervais who walked in and said, quietly, ‘What is the trouble?’
Startled, and instantly conscious that she had no robe over her pink cotton nightie, Joceline said, ‘I don’t know.’
He held out his hands. ‘Let me try.’
She passed the infant over, and quickly shrugged into her robe and tied the sash.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, he handled the little bundle much more competently than his brother did. Jean-Marc was still nervous of dropping her.
Held by Gervais’s strong brown hands, she looked secure.
He propped her against his shoulder, supporting her fuzzy head and speaking softly in French. Perhaps she liked the deeper voice. Almost at once, her crying faltered.
‘Thank you. You seem to be quite an expert,’ Joceline murmured when, five minutes later, he laid his sleeping niece back in her cradle.
He straightened, and gave a slight shrug. ‘I am used to young animals.
I hope you will not be disturbed again. Goodnight.’
Next day, Madame St. Aune behaved as if nothing had happened.
Whatever anguish she had suffered during the hours alone in her room, no trace of it showed in her face or manner. She went about her work in the brisk methodical way she always did.
During the afternoon, Celie rode over. She spent an hour with Camilla, then strolled out of the back door to find Joceline whitening a pair of sandals.
‘Now the baby is born, I suppose you will soon be returning to England?’ she asked, one hand in her trouser pocket, the other holding a cigarette.
‘I don’t know. Camilla may want me to help with the move to Marseilles.’
‘I see.’ Celie blew a smoke ring and watched it drift and dissolve in the hot bright air.
Joceline remembered the first time they had met in Aries, and how she had taken an instant liking to her.
‘How wrong one can be about people,’ she thought wryly.
Aloud, she said bluntly, ‘Why did you put that candle in the onion soup?’
The French girl gave her a startled glance. ‘A candle? I don’t know what you mean.’
Joceline said in French, using a succinct idiom she had picked up from the gardians, ‘Oh, come off it, please! I am not an imbecile.’
Then, in English, ‘You must have known I would guess who had done it. If it gives you any satisfaction, you succeeded in making me look and feel very foolish. But it’s forgotten now, so you might as well admit it. I shan’t tell anyone else.’
Celie’s fawny eyes narrowed. She dropped her cigarette, and ground the stub with the heel of one of her expensive riding boots.
‘Yes, I did it,’ she said, with a shrug. ‘And if you wish to know why, it was because I was sick of hearing about you . . . how capable you were, how hard you worked.’
‘Gervais told you that?’
‘He spoke of nothing else all evening,’ Celie informed her scathingly.
‘It was so boring I could have hit him.’
Suddenly she looked like a tigress, her golden eyes fierce and predatory. ‘But don’t raise your hopes, cherie,’ she purred, with an unpleasant smirk. ‘I know what is in your mind. I have seen the way you look at him sometimes. But there will not be another English bride at Mas St. Aune. You are wasting your time, if that is your little plan.’
‘You mean you want him yourself?’ Joceline stated calmly.
‘Yes – and he wants me,’ Celie snapped. ‘We are two of a kind, Gervais and I. He may like you better than your cousin, but you could never make him desire you. You are an outsider here. You cannot even ride a horse.’
‘If you love him, why were you kissing someone else at the fete on Monday night?’ Joceline asked, without expression. ‘Don’t trouble to deny it, Celie. I saw you in the shop doorway, near one of the shooting galleries.’
The French girl was visibly shaken. Her eyes dilated, and she drew in a hissing breath.
‘You have told Gervais this?’ she asked sharply.
‘No . . . it isn’t my business. But someone else may have done. Any number of people must have seen you.’
‘He would not believe it,’ Celie retorted defiantly.
‘Probably not. He seems to be under the impression that you are in love with his brother.’
‘Oh, pouf! – that one! I never wanted him. It was only Madame who planned a marriage between us. Jean-Marc is a handsome boy – not a man, like Gervais. It is Gervais I want for my husband.’
She flung off across the yard to the rails where her mount was tethered.
Joceline followed her. ‘But does he want you? – that’s the point,’ she remarked, with an edge in her voice. ‘I don’t think you love him, Celie. I don’t think you know what love is. You want him as you might want a jewel or … or a beautiful dress. You want to flaunt him as a conquest. . . not to care for him and make him happy.’
The French girl untied her horse and jerked impatiently at its head.
‘And what do you want, mademoiselle?’ she demanded, with undisguised venom. ‘You deny that you also would like to be Madame Gervais?’
‘No … I love him with all my heart,’ Joceline answered her quietly.
‘But I know he cares nothing for me. All I hope is that he never marries you.’
Celie’s laugh had a note of hysteria in it. ‘”I love him with all my heart,”‘ she mimicked in a high brittle voice. ‘I will tell him for you,
cherie. It will make him laugh.’ A strange look came over her face, a look of cunning and malice.
‘You are right! You will never have him,’ she said softly, viciously.
Then she spat out a word of command, and sprang out of the way.
The horse reared up and trampled the air with its fore-legs, ears flat, eyes rolling, its lips curling back from its teeth.
Joceline flung up her arms to ward off the lashing hooves, staggered back, tripped and fell to the ground. Above her, against the blue sky, the excited white horse pranced and squealed. Frozen with terror, powerless even to scream, she lay sprawled in the dust, waiting for the hooves to crash down on her.
Then someone did scream, and a man’s voice barked an order, and people were running, and strong hands were gripping her armpits, dragging her out of danger.
‘Nom de Dieu! Quel horreur! Are you all right, mademoiselle? Are you hurt? Did that mad brute kick you?’
She opened her eyes to find Bertrand, one of the gardians, bending anxiously over her. Raising her head, she saw Gervais struggling to control the plunging horse.
By the time he had calmed the animal down, she was back on her feet, rather dazed and shaky at the knees, but otherwise only slightly bruised.
The disturbance had brought several gardians racing to the scene.
Gervais told Robert to put the horse inside the corral.
Then he turned, and she saw his face.
Celie was nearer to him, babbling an incoherent explanation. She looked ghastly as if she might faint.
Gervais did not even glance at her. He came straight to Joceline. ‘You are not hurt?’ he asked her tersely.
She shook her head. ‘No, I’m fine. I-I’m sorry, Gervais.’
‘Sorry!’ he expostulated huskily. And then, in front of them all, he caught her roughly in his arms and crushed her against him. ‘Thank God you are safe! If I had lost you, petite . . .’
When, some time later, Joceline found it was becoming difficult to breathe, with her face pressed so tightly against his shoulder, she made a small sound and his hold on her slackened a little.
Being in his arms was heaven, but suddenly, at die thought of looking up at him, she was overwhelmed by shyness.
She said, with an unsteady laugh, ‘Aren’t you going to force me to drink some cognac?’
‘In a moment perhaps – but first. . .’ He tipped up her chin, making her meet his eyes.
This was a new Gervais … a man whose smile held no mockery, whose dark eyes were ardent and tender.
He kissed her lightly on the lips. ‘Now, if you really insist on cognac .
. .’ He dropped his arms to his sides, leaving her free.
It was then that they both remembered how this happened, where they were, and the people watching. But the gardians had discreetly slipped away. And Celie had also disappeared.
‘She did it deliberately,’ Gervais said, through set teeth. ‘I heard her.
She meant to kill you.’
‘Oh, no – no, she didn’t mean that. She lost her temper. She didn’t know what she was doing. She was horrified afterwards, Gervais.
You didn’t see her.’
‘I’ll teach her to curb her temper, he said, grim-faced. ‘She has run wild all her life, but not any more. Where is she? Where did she go?’
‘No, Gervais, please . . . please don’t punish her,’ Joceline begged him.
‘Nothing happened. I’m safe . . . let her go. Please, darling … for me?’
He looked down at her pleading face with a puzzled expression. ‘I don’t think you understand what happened, ma mie. She has trained that horse to attack. If ‘I hadn’t been near, you would be dead now – or cruelly maimed. You have never seen a person savaged. I have. I do not care to recall it.’ His tanned face was tinged with grey.
Clutching his arm, she said, ‘Yes, I know what could have happened, Gervais. But she didn’t mean to kill me -I know she didn’t. It was an impulse, a – a moment of madness. She would have stopped it if she could. I heard her screaming for help. Oh dear, I feel rather odd. I think I’d better sit down.’
He scooped her up in his arms, and carried her into the house. In her room, he laid her gently down.
‘You are badly shocked, mon coeur. You must rest and be quiet. I will bring you une soporifique to make you^ sleep.’
She caught his wrist. ‘No, don’t go.’
He sat down on the side of the bed, and held both her hands.
‘You know this is madness?’ he said quietly.
‘You mean you wouldn’t have told me if it hadn’t been for . . . the accident.’
‘I don’t know. Perhaps . . . perhaps not. I should not have told you, but I -1 couldn’t stop myself.’
‘You haven’t been very explicit,’ she pointed out, smiling. ‘I’m still not quite sure what you mean.’
His eyebrows were drawn together. ‘I love you. I want you for my wife. But my life is here, in the Camargue. I cannot live anywhere else. I cannot compromise, Joceline. I am not like young Jeannot. The delta is in my blood.’
‘But I’m not like Camilla,’ she objected. T love it here. I don’t need a gay city life. Yes, I know how bleak it must be in the middle of winter. I’m not a child, Gervais. I have no illusions about it. Haven’t I shown I can work? Haven’t I proved myself?’
A pulse-was beating at his temple. ‘You are only nineteen,’ he said gravely. ‘You have scarcely begun to live, Joss.’
It was the first time he had ever called her by her pet name, and it filled her with a piercing happiness. She sat up on the bed, and slid her arms round his neck.
‘If you don’t want me, I shall never really live at all. I shall go back to England and be the doctor’s poor old spinster daughter whose life was blighted by a Frenchman.’
H^ gave an unwilling laugh, his arms closing round her. ‘One can never reason with a woman. And what will your father say if you
marry this Frenchman? Perhaps he will refuse his consent. You must have his permission.’
‘He will have to come here and-inspect you,’ she answered lightly.
‘No, that would not be correct. I must go to him,’
‘He’s bound to be rather stunned, poor dear. What little I’ve written about you hasn’t been exactly flattering. I’m afraid I’ve made you out to be rather an ogre . . . un monstre comme le Marquis de Sade,’ she explained, with a sheepish grin.
‘Charmant,’ Gervais said dryly, but his eyes were amused.
‘Well, you have been pretty beastly to me, darling. When the gypsy told my fortune, you said it was nonsense. You said I wouldn’t meet my husband in France. I should marry an Englishman.’
‘I thought you had a fancy for young Raphael.’
‘Oh, Gervais, how absurd! He’s only a youth.’
‘And you are a woman of the world, heinV he said, with gentle raillery.
Her colour deepened. Shyly, her heart racing, she reached up to kiss him. As her lips brushed his cheek, she heard him draw his breath/
And then his mouth was on hers, and heaven was here and now.
A long time later, he said thickly, This is not con- venqble, petite. I should not be making love to you here, in your room. Come, let us go to tell my aunt. This will please her very much. She has always liked you.’
He moved to the window, and opened the heavy greenshutters.
Outside, in the dazzling sunlight, nightingales were singing. The Camargue shimmered in a haze of heat.
They called it un pays enferme . . . Sara’s kingdom … a strange empty land of black bulls and white horses and rose-red flamingoes … a desert ravaged by the mistral and scorched by the southern sun.
But now, for Joceline, it was home … the country of her heart.
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