Innocent Invader. Anne Mather

Читать онлайн.
Название Innocent Invader
Автор произведения Anne Mather
Жанр Контркультура
Серия Mills & Boon Modern
Издательство Контркультура
Год выпуска 0
isbn 9781472099686

Скачать книгу

the steamer Celeste neared Cordova, Sarah wondered for the thousandth time whether indeed she was being as impulsive as Reverend Mother had stipulated. After all, here she was thousands of miles away from England and the convent which had been her home all her life, with nothing to commend this man who was to be her employer but a letter from Father Dominic Sanchez, the Catholic priest on the island.

      The solicitors in London who had interviewed her on Jason de Cordova's behalf had seemed singularly out of touch with the situation on the island, and Sarah could only assume that they did not have many dealings with her proposed employer.

      But when she had read the advertisement in The Times, it had sounded so exciting and different that she had not thought before replying and offering her services. She was always acting impulsively, and in any case she had been sure there would be so many applications her own would not even be considered. But her application had been considered, and a letter had arrived for Reverend Mother, asking for her references. It appeared her convent upbringing was a recommendation in itself, and Sarah refrained from mentioning that she was not herself of the Catholic faith. She was afraid this would influence her case, for it seemed that this was a Catholic family requiring a governess, capable of teaching three infants elementary lessons. And, she had argued with herself, elementary lessons were not religious instruction, so why should she not be suitable anyway?

      It had been too good a chance to miss. The West Indies had long been a place Sarah found utterly fascinating, and to live, even for a short while, on an island there sounded marvellous. Besides, she knew she was fast losing the will to leave the convent, and that if she did not leave soon she would never leave at all. Orphaned as a baby and adopted by the nuns at St. Teresa's, Sarah had found a home so completely understanding that many times she had been tempted to become a novice herself. But her parents had not wanted it and the nuns refused to let her decide until she was over twenty-one. They had sent her to a training college in the town after she left school, and she had become an infant teacher. Then she had returned to the convent school and taught the pupils there for the last eighteen months.

      At the time she read the advertisement she had been at a crossroads. Unlike most girls of almost twenty-two, Sarah had never bothered about boys. She had never had a date, and she had never been even mildly interested in any male. The priests who visited the convent school were kind and friendly, and that was all she felt she ever needed from any man.

      Only Father Donahue had seen things differently. “Sarah, my dear,” he had said, “you've seen nothing of the world outside this town. Even the convent walls provide a barrier to you. It's my belief that you need to be taken from this atmosphere to a place so different that you'll discover for yourself whether you really have a vocation.”

      He it was who had pointed out the advertisement in The Times. And it was he who had persuaded Reverend Mother that Sarah should be freed to find her own destiny. Thus it was she was now only minutes from her arrival in Cordova and she felt as scared as a kitten. She was being accepted on a month's probation, and likewise, if she should find the work unsuitable, she would be provided with her return fare at the end of that period. She had flown to Barbados and this steamer was the last leg of the journey. It had all been immensely exciting and thrilling, and even now, with the azure blue waters of the Caribbean lapping the sides of the vessel, she could hardly believe she was here. But the sun was warm upon her shoulders, and the scenery was more spectacular than any technicolor film, so she had to believe it, and she hugged herself for a moment in anticipation. She was so glad Father Donahue had shown her that advertisement. He was right – she was naïve and inexperienced. And now she was to find life an adventure instead of a pilgrimage.

      She leaned against the rail of the steamer as the Captain skilfully negotiated the narrows of the reef, and looked across the stretch of calm water to the ant-like activity on the quay ahead of them. This then was Cordova; her home for the next four weeks at least.

      From this distance the island was like a green, fertile mound rising out of the sea, its fringing of coral beaches and creaming surf providing a lace-like fragility to the shawl of greenery. It was still comparatively early in the morning, but the glare was strong after an English winter, and Sarah drew a pair of dark glasses from her bag and placed them on her nose. Then she turned to the tall, dark-skinned Barbadian who had left his bridge and joined her at the rail.

      “Almost there,” he said, indicating the harbour. “Are you ready to face your new employer?”

      Sarah smiled. “I'm terribly nervous,” she confessed candidly. “I'm not very used to dealing with strangers, and the little I know of the family sounds quite intimidating.”

      “Intimidating? Jason? No, I don't think Jason is intimidating. The children … well, who can say? They've been allowed free licence since their father was killed. There's no one to care for them.”

      Sarah frowned. “But surely, I understand from the solicitors that the children's mother was still alive.”

      “Yes, she is.” The Captain touched his cap politely. “We'll be there shortly. I must have a word with my mate.”

      Sarah watched him go and shrugged her shoulders bewilderedly. It seemed the Captain did not wish to discuss the Cordova family, and perhaps she had been a little indiscreet asking questions. She sighed. She was not used to subterfuge of any kind. At the convent there had been no secrets and she saw no harm in obtaining the facts about the Cordova children. As she understood it, Jason de Cordova was the children's uncle and their widowed mother lived in the same house. What could be more simple than that? Shaking her head, and shaking thoughts like this from her mind, she turned again to the colourful quay alongside which the channel had been dug to take the steamers passage.

      The Captain, from his bridge, watched her interest thoughtfully. In truth he considered the girl might prove rather a responsibility on Cordova. She was so fair she could not fail to cause a stir among the dark-skinned Africans and swarthy Spaniards. Although she was not strictly beautiful she had very large and luminous eyes, black-lashed and blue as sapphires, and her hair was long and plaited and wound round her head in a classical style. It was silvery in colour and in her demure blue poplin dress with the white collar she looked more like a novice than a governess. She had told the Captain of her upbringing in England, and privately he had thought the convent a fitting background for her. What she would make of the intrigues and passions of Cordova, he did not dare to think.

      As the Celeste drew alongside, a gangplank was run out to her by several of the dark-skinned boys on the quay, and Sarah experienced a thrill of apprehension as she moved forward to disembark. Her arrival in Barbados had not prepared her for this absolute absence of order, and the hustle and bustle on the quay unnerved her.

      She looked above the heads of the jostling crowds on the docks to the town of El Tesoro climbing up the shallow hills above the harbour. Above the flat-roofed dwellings of the African population she could see, set among flowering shrubs and clematis-hung stucco walls, the villas of the white population of Cordova, and she felt a sense of relief. For a moment she had wondered whether she would ever see a white person again. Inwardly chastising herself for her lack of worldliness, she moved to the gangplank, and met the Captain again.

      “There are no customs on Cordova,” he said kindly. “Go ahead. Jason is waiting for you on the quay. He won't mistake you.”

      Walking down the gangplank, Sarah was aware that almost every eye on the quay had turned in her direction, and she blushed in confusion, and looked about her self-consciously, searching for a white face. Somewhere was this Jason de Cordova; but where?

      As she stepped on to the hard surface of the quay, she felt some of the nervousness leave her. The sound of the steel band, playing its own welcome to the steamer, reassured her somehow. Already she could feel a kind of magnetism about the place; the pull of the islands. This was where she had wanted to live and now she had her wish. The passing thoughts of hurricanes and storms, lack of civilisation and ritual magic, all swelled her determination to stay here and make a success of her work. Later, maybe, she would return to the convent and take her vows, confident in the knowledge of having lived life to the full and found the life of seclusion more worthwhile.