As Jason walked round to join her, the front doors opened and three children appeared at the top of the steps. They were all dark-haired and olive-skinned, the two girls wearing their long hair in plaits, and they were all dressed alike in red and white striped shorts and red tee-shirts. They looked remarkably clean and smart, and Jason half-smiled as he studied Sarah's reactions.
“Make the most of it,” he said, dryly. “You'll rarely see them in this condition. I left orders that they should be here to meet you on my return – that's the explanation.”
Sarah moved her shoulders deprecatingly. “I hope in future you'll often see them tidily turned out,” she remarked. “Am I to understand that they usually run wild?”
Jason grimaced. “You might say that,” he agreed smoothly. “Shall I introduce you?”
The children descended the steps slowly, eyeing Sarah cautiously. They had never had a governess before, but they knew children who did, and they were unimpressed.
The youngest, Maria, lost her composure and flung herself exuberantly at Jason, chattering furiously in Spanish, and Jason said: “No, Maria, speak English. This lady has come to improve your English among other things, and I want you always to speak English in her presence, right?”
Maria made a face at Sarah, and Sarah gave Jason a startled glance. But he shook his head slightly and stood Maria on her feet. She guessed he meant that she should take it slowly with them, and with a sigh, she turned to the others. “Now,” she said, taking their hands, “you are Eloise and Ricardo.”
The children were silent, turning mutinous faces to Jason, and Sarah felt the first trepidation about these children. She did not know what she had expected, but used as she was to being liked instinctively by young people, she was unprepared for this antagonism. Particularly as they did not even know her yet!
They quickly released themselves from her hands and as Maria had done, flung themselves upon her companion. Watching them, she wondered again who he could be. He certainly did not act like a paid employee, and yet he dressed like one of the Africans. It was all most disturbing, and she was curious to have it explained to her.
“Come,” said Jason, at last. “It's time we were going into the house. It will soon be lunch time and Miss Winter needs time to shower and freshen herself.”
The children looked up at him. “Can we go now?” asked Ricardo.
“No. You may go to your rooms until lunch is ready.”
The children stared at him, and Eloise began to talk in Spanish again, and although Sarah could not understand all she was saying it was obvious it was something very rude, and Jason looked angry. He resorted to Spanish at last, and told them they were spoiled and unpleasant sometimes, and they must learn to do as they were told.
Sarah understood a little Spanish, and could speak it in like manner, but she did not expect to be able to talk with the children, for they spoke too fast and in this mood would not alter their speech to assist her. She foresaw quite a battle in the next few days.
As they mounted the steps to the house, Jason said: “Would you prefer to have a shower before meeting the children's mother?”
Grateful for his understanding, Sarah nodded. “May I?” she asked eagerly. “I do feel hot and sticky now.”
Jason nodded his head, and led the way into the house, into the wide marble hall which Sarah admired silently. The outside of the house had been beautiful, but this was very impressive. The wrought iron rail of the staircase wound into the upper regions of the house, and the scent of flowers was everywhere. There were great vases and bowls of them placed on every available table and in every corner the gentle perfume of roses mingling with the more exotic fragrance of oleander and hibiscus. The colours, too, were startling against the mosaic of the floor and the light panelling of the walls.
Sarah's curiosity about her companion was heightened when a Negro manservant appeared through an archway behind the staircase and said: “May I show the young lady to her room, señor? And the señora is waiting to see you.”
Jason's face darkened for a moment, and as he looked at Sarah, his fingers sought the line of the scar on his cheek. Then, as if becoming conscious of his action, he drew his hand away, and bowing politely, he said: “Allow me to introduce myself, señorita. I'm Jason de Cordova.”
Sarah's face suffused with colour. She was astounded. This man then was her employer, the man who had contacted Reverend Mother; the man she had thought to be merely an employee!
A cool, amused voice broke into her reverie, and she looked up in surprise. A small but startlingly beautiful figure had walked through another archway which led to the apartments to the right of the huge hall. She was dressed in an elegant silk dress of various shades of purple which suited her dark colouring to perfection; her small dainty feet were encased in very high-heeled sandals and on her fingers and wrists and round her throat sparkled a veritable fortune in diamonds.
“My dear,” said the voice, tinklingly but icily, “I can see from your expression that you thought my husband was one of his own employees!” Sarah blushed anew in confusion and embarrassment, and the woman went on: “It's quite understandable, of course. He dresses like a peasant because he is a peasant, aren't you, querido?”
SARAH did not dare to look at Jason. She had never felt so de trop in all her life, and she would never have believed that such hate and passion could be conveyed in one simple sentence. The woman was obviously waiting to see what reaction her remark had had, and Sarah sought about wildly in her mind for a reply. But what was there to say?
To her relief, Jason himself spoke, but not to his wife. “Romulus, take Miss Winter to her room, please. And have Constancia go to her in half an hour to bring her down to meet Señora de Cordova. Señora Serena de Cordova.”
“Yes, señor.” They had spoken in English and Sarah moved swiftly to follow the manservant up the stairs. She had not been introduced to the woman down there in the hall, but just now she had no desire to be so. There was a bewildered feeling in her heart and stomach, and she needed time to digest the events of the last few minutes. It had been startling enough to discover Jason de Cordova's identity, without the advent of his wife and her revelations. The children had silently disappeared at the sound of Señora de Cordova's voice, and Sarah thought she did not blame them. In truth that was what she had wanted to do. How could any woman speak to her husband like that? And in front of a stranger? It was inhuman.
Romulus looked rather compassionately at her as he led her into her room which was along the left hand passage at the top of the flight of stairs. The passage was lined with portraits of earlier members of the Cordova family, but Sarah had taken little notice of them. She was too absorbed with her thoughts, and with the feeling of apprehension which had descended on her.
After Romulus had taken his departure, she looked round her room with pleasure. Unlike the rather austere quarters she had occupied at the convent, this room was positively luxurious, with a thickly waxed floor strewn with woollen rugs which she suspected had been hand-made here on the island. The rugs were in vivid colours which complemented the light Swedish furniture and the orange and yellow curtains The adjoining bathroom which Romulus had told her was for her personal use was just as luxurious, with a deep step-in