She spun round, hugging herself again, unable to prevent the surge of freedom she suddenly experienced. Whatever problems she might have to cope with here, she felt sure she had done the right thing in coming. Until this moment, she realised, she had never known what it was like to be really free, free to eat when she liked and sleep when she liked and act as she liked. For although she was employed as a governess they did not own her spirit as the sisters at the convent had seemed to do, and there was no one to whom she felt she owed her existence. She would support herself, and be independent!
With great daring she stripped off her clothes and stood for a moment studying her reflection in the long wardrobe mirror. Until now, she had never considered herself attractive to men, but suddenly she realised that she was twenty-two and a woman, and that there was more to life than she had ever dreamed.
Smiling at her thoughts, she wrapped the massive orange bath-towel sarong-wise round her body, and marched into the bathroom to take a shower.
Constancia was a pleasant-faced pretty girl of obviously mixed parentage. Although she was more Spanish than African in features, her hair was as tightly curled as Romulus's, and she had a rather squat nose, but Sarah took an immediate liking to her.
Sarah had bathed and was dressed now in a loose shift of a honey-beige colour which she had made herself, and she had combed out her long hair and rewound it in the coronet of plaits. She wore only a coral lipstick for make-up and looked young and fresh and ready for anything.
“La señorita es muy hermosa,” said Constancia admiringly, and Sarah, understanding this simple phrase, replied:
“Thank you. I feel rather nervous.”
Constancia smiled. “You speak Spanish?” she asked haltingly.
“Only very little,” admitted Sarah. “Do you understand English?”
Constancia's teeth were very white as she laughed. “Si, I understand English. But I do not speak well.”
“I think you do very well,” remarked Sarah, and then glancing round the room to see that everywhere was tidy, she said: “I only brought a change of clothes in my bag with me. When will my suitcases arrive from the ship?”
Constancia spread wide her hands. “Eh, eh,” she said, rolling her eyes. “That lazy pig, Abraham Smith, will send them when he gets round to it. Do not worry, señorita. If they have not arrived by … lunch … they will be sent for. The señor will not forget.”
“Thank you,” Sarah smiled. “Shall we go?”
She followed Constancia out of the room and along the corridor to the head of the stairs. As they went down, Sarah was relieved to see that the hall below was empty. She did not desire another encounter with her employer's wife for the moment. It was nearing lunch time and she wondered what the arrangements for meals would be. If there was to be a schoolroom perhaps she and the children would eat there. She expected she would be shown their rooms later.
She began wondering what the children's mother would be like. She hoped she would be far different from her employer's wife. That aspect of the situation had not occurred to her either, and it seemed that her only thoughts had been of whether she would like it here and not whether they would like her.
They passed along a marble-tiled corridor at the foot of the stairs leading to the opposite side of the house from that which the Señora de Cordova seemed to inhabit, and Sarah breathed a sigh of relief and began taking a more concentrated interest in her surroundings. There were several statuettes of saints which they passed, and a magnificent portrait of the Virgin and Child which caught her interest. That this was a Catholic household she was left in no doubt, and she wondered whether they were expecting her to be a Catholic and whether it would present any problems. Deciding not to worry about something which had not as yet happened, she stiffened her shoulders, and prayed that Serena de Cordova was a pleasant Spanish female of middle years, with no pretensions to intrigue whatsoever.
At the far end of the corridor, when Sarah was beginning to wonder how much farther they were going, Constancia stopped before a white door, and tapped gently.
“Si,” called a voice, and Constancia smiled encouragingly at Sarah.
She pushed open the door, and said: La Señorita Winter, señora,” and ushered Sarah into the room.
As the door closed behind her, Sarah found herself in a spacious lounge, overlooking the terrace at the front of the house, and beyond to the fruit trees visible in the gardens. The ceiling was high and arched, and the plain cream walls were a background for the scarlet leather armchairs and ebony furniture. The french doors stood open admitting a cool breeze, and Sarah for a moment was so absorbed in her surroundings that she did not take a great deal of notice of the woman on the low couch.
And then, transfixed, her eyes met those of Serena de Cordova, and she hardly suppressed the gasp of pure astonishment that almost escaped her. Serena de Cordova was of mixed blood, a very beautiful woman, but the complete antithesis of any of Sarah's speculations. It seemed to Sarah that for a brief instant time stood still as she stared at the mother of the three children she had met earlier, and then gathering her composure, she said:
“You must forgive me. But nobody prepared me for this!”
Serena rose to her feet. She was almost as tall as Sarah and was dressed in a green satin pyjama suit, a long cigarette holder with a cigarette smouldering at its tip between her fingers.
She studied Sarah for a moment in silence, and then she said:
“Well, at least you're honest. Didn't Jason explain?”
“He – well –” Sarah ran a tongue over her dry lips. “To be honest, I mistook him for somebody else. We didn't speak of you or the children on the trip up from the harbour.”
Serena indicated an armchair and said: “Sit down, please.” She drew on her cigarette. “You found Jason quite unconventional, I gather.”
Her English was almost faultless and Sarah wondered how she had come to have such a good education if she had been born here on the island.
“Yes, I suppose I did.”
Serena smiled. “Don't concern yourself. Jason can be as correct as any Englishman if the situation demands it. Now, tell me about yourself. Have you had much experience with young children? I should warn you, my children are quite uncontrollable by anyone except Jason, and he doesn't have the time to spend with them.”
“I've already encountered the children,” said Sarah, relaxing under the other woman's casual manner. “They seemed to resent my coming here. Have they had previous governesses?”
“No. You're the first. Eloise, as you'll have been informed, is eight now, and can't read or write. She's quite sharp at picking things up orally, but the written word means nothing to her,”
“Have you tried to teach the children yourself?”
“Me?” Serena sounded flabbergasted. “Good lord, no! I'm no schoolmistresss!”
Sarah wanted to ask her what she did with herself all day, but it would have sounded impertinent. And yet, coming from a household where every member was supplied with tasks to be performed every day, Serena's life sounded quite empty and pointless. “I see,” she said.
Serena lounged back on to the couch and picked herself a handful of grapes from a nearby fruit bowl.
“Jason has been spending a little time with them,” she said, munching the grapes speculatively. “But they're getting too old to be left to run free all day long. Not that there's much else for them to do here.”