By the same author
|© Copyright 2003-2009 K S Mulholland|
Chapter 2 - Oh yes it can
(Out of Africa.)'Henry! How could you say such a thing?' hissed Priscilla into her brother's ear as her father gently eased Monique past them into the hall.
'But I didn't say anything!' protested Henry.
'Yes you did, I heard you.'
'Cilla, all I was going to say was that she's beautiful...or at least I think so,' Henry ended lamely.
'Oh...well...it certainly sounded like...'
'It sounded like what both you girls thought,' muttered Louis, coming to his young brother's defence.
'Hey guys! How about giving me some support here,' called Matthew, turning back to the three children, his hand on the sobbing girl's shoulder. 'Bring in the cases while I help Monique settle in. She's pretty jet-lagged and very tired. Where's your Mother?'
'I'm here Darling,' Rachael said, emerging from the bedroom, a brilliant smile of welcome on her face and the large carving knife clutched in her left hand.
'Are we having a roast tonight Dear?' Matthew said, his glance indicating Monique, who had suddenly ceased crying and was now staring wide-eyed at the glinting blade.
'What? Oh...Yes...No!...This knife...It...It's just a prop...Don't be alarmed Moni...It is Monique, isn't it?'
'I am Monique Bateleur,' said the girl, wiping her eyes with a trembling hand.
'And I am Rachael Davies. I'm an actress!' replied Rachael, her voice and mood-range lifting from the solemn to the triumphant. 'But then, of course, you don't need to know of such things right now,' she added, meeting Matthew's rather world-weary stare. 'Please, Monique, please come in and welcome to our...er...rather messy house...'
'Messy only for a short while,' said Grandma Black, emerging from the far end of the hall, a basket of laundry hefted on one hip. 'Bring the young lady into the living room...well the nearly fit-for-living room, and let's try to make her comfortable. Children! Take your Father's baggage into the first bedroom here and carry Monique's cases upstairs to Priscilla's room. No dallying, off you go at once!'
There was no denying Grandma Black when she assumed control and the three children set about doing as they were told, whilst the adults ushered Monique into the living room and closed the double glass doors behind them.
'What's going on?' wondered Henry, looking at the foreign labels on Monique's luggage. 'Why are we shut out?'
'All will be revealed, young fella,' said Louis, rather dramatically, tossing his head so that the tawny hair rolled across his forehead.
Lot of Mum in there, thought Priscilla, lugging a suitcase into her parent's bedroom.
Upstairs, the three gathered in Priscilla's room, depositing Monique's baggage by the bed that was to be hers.
'I wonder,' said Henry, his lips in that pursed way of his, 'why?'
Priscilla, sitting down on her own bed, regarded her two brothers. Henry was eleven. He would be coming to Hopewell Hall in another year. (If they stayed long enough in Melbourne) He was a resourceful boy, often open to mischief, yet loyal and very forthright. He had a bright, freckled face, blue eyes and the same fair hair as Priscilla. Louis was fourteen, tall and somewhat gangly, although he carried his ever-growing frame with quite some dignity. I bet he'll end up looking just like Dad did when he was a teenager, thought Priscilla, recalling photos of her father in an album now somewhere packed and awaiting emergence.
'Why what?' Louis asked whilst he prowled about the room, peering at the cases and boxes as if he almost wanted to start sorting through them. He does have such an enquiring mind, thought Priscilla, not unkindly. I wonder what he might grow up to be? Arty-farty, maybe an actor, maybe a director like Dad? Not a blonk like me?
'Why we're shut out up here and stuff's happening downstairs?' Henry muttered, picking at a scab on his knee.
'Well, chum', Louis sighed, 'there are times when we kids just don't get a look in. That is, not until the adults think we should. You know the story, "You'll be told all you need to know, and all in good time" '.
'Pisses me off!' Henry complained, looking out the window into the fading light. Then, to quickly change the subject (which was one of his specialities) he said, 'Boy! That's some tree! See how big! Must be higher than any places around here. I bet it's taller than a five story house!'
'Henry', said Priscilla, 'you shouldn't say that!'
'What? Five story house?' answered Henry innocently.
'Alright kids, we need you down here now. Front and centre!' It was Matthew's voice from below.
'We have been summonsed,' smiled Louis, striding forward. 'Now we'll see what "stuff's" happening, and who it's happening to. And Henry, I think it would be smart of you to say something before you get jumped on.'
'Like, "I didn't mean to insult you Monique. You're very welcome here. It was all a mistake. Let's be friends." That kind of thing.'
'But I didn't...'
'Doesn't matter,' answered Louis determinedly. 'You know what they'll be wanting to hear. It'll get you off the hook. Just do it.'
'Aww!' groaned Henry, lurching out the door, feeling hard done by.
Priscilla followed, a faint smile playing about her face.
Downstairs, Grandma Black was keeping herself busy folding sheets and pillowcases, whilst Rachael and Matthew worried and fussed around the small, shrunken figure of Monique; who seemed to have almost disappeared into the cushions of the only couch in the whole household worthy of the name.
'Er, excuse us Dad,' said Louis, when the three entered. 'I think Henry here has an apology to make.' It was fairly obvious, as Henry was propelled forward, that Louis had a very firm grip on his brother's shirt collar.
'I...let go Louis...Monique, I'm very sorry if you thought that I said what I think you thought that I said, which wasn't right anyway. And so I'm sorry for not having said what you might have thought I said when I didn't.' blurted Henry. And then, before anyone could speak, he continued in an almost cherubic way, 'You might have mistaken "Black" for "Beautiful". I think you're both.'
There was a very loud silence. Almost a shocked kind of silence whilst the particles of this speech slowly descended, like so many drifting snowflakes.
'And so!' Matthew Black cleared his throat, as if paving the way forward. 'Henry, you don't have to worry that you've upset our guest. It's been a long journey for Monique. She just needs a shower and a good nights' sleep, safe with us, so that tomorrow we can all talk. I have to make quite a few phone calls now, that is if the phone is available...' Here, Matthew's gaze met his wife's.
'Sorry kids, this all sounds very dramatic. I like it! Now, look at the hour!' Rachael exclaimed, peering at her wristwatch.
The children glanced around, but clocks were scarce in the living room.
'I think it's high time for reading in bed and lights out by ten,' said Rachael, 'I still have to work on...'
'Our Art...' murmured Amelia Black, ironing away furiously in the background.
Later, upstairs, the boys reluctantly said goodnight, though Henry seemed extremely curious and even Louis appeared interested. Inside the girl's bedroom Priscilla watched Monique, towelling her smokey-dark hair dry in the lamplight. Eventually Priscilla said, 'My Dad and Mum have told me that I must share my room with you. I have to do what they tell me and I don't mind all that much. I want us to be friends. So until your parents can come for you, my room is your room.'
'But that's just it!' Monique cried, lowering the towel, and again tears sprang to her eyes. 'My parents have vanished! They cannot come here for me. They are lost, somewhere in Africa!'
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