Sarah swallowed hard. In two minutes Serena had told her quite a lot about herself and explained her different attitudes.
“I would have liked to go back to Trinidad,” went on Serena, sighing a little, “but my parents haven't room for me and three kids as well, and besides, how would I support them?”
Sarah nodded. Serena's dilemma was quite understandable. Besides, if Jason was fond of the children, it seemed unlikely that he would allow this girl to take them to another island where he would not be able to supervise their upbringing. They were his brother's children, and from what she had gathered from the solicitors in London, he was their guardian as well.
Looking at the other woman, she realised that she must be at least twenty-five, but she looked little more than a teenager. She was very slim and boyish in appearance, and her curly hair had been allowed to grow and was a mass of ebony confusion about her small face. She was elegant but unsophisticated; a mother yet a child still.
“And what do you suggest the arrangements should be?” asked Sarah, reverting to less personal matters. “When will I have charge of the children? Where will we take our meals?”
Serena drew on her cigarette and watched a smoke ring disappear in the air above her head. “Now, let me see,” she said slowly. “The children and yourself, of course, will eat lunch with me here, in the adjoining dining room. They always eat lunch with me, so I see no reason to change that state of affairs, do you?”
“No, señora,” Sarah agreed.
“Good. As to the other, I think you'd better wait and let Jason give you your instructions. You're his employee, not mine. Although,” her eyes grew a little taunting, “I have the say-so as to whether you stay or go.”
Sarah flushed, and at once Serena leaned forward and touched her hand, like a child asking for forgiveness when it knows it has done something wrong. “Of course you'll stay,” she said, leaning back against the red upholstery. “I like you. You're my own age. It will be nice to have someone other than that bitch Irena in the house. Have you met dear Irena?”
Sarah's colour deepened. “That is Señor de Cordova's wife?”
“I … er … we met as I arrived.”
Serena grimaced. “Old cow!” she muttered, stubbing out her cigarette and leaning forward to take another from the ebony box on the table.
Sarah clasped her fingers together. She did not want to become involved in a discussion about her employer's wife. Their personal affairs were nothing to do with her. Her only concern was the children.
She was relieved when a shadow appeared in the French doorway, and they looked up to see a small, attractive Spanish girl standing there. She was dressed in a flame-coloured swirling skirt and a peasant-type off-the-shoulder blouse of white chiffon. Her dark hair was short and straight and shaped her head like a cap of black velvet.
“Serena,” she said, smiling vividly, “darling how are you?”
She came forward and smoothly kissed the other girl's cheek before turning to Sarah and giving her the benefit of her gleaming smile, which Sarah privately thought was rather too effusive.
“You must be the Señorita Winter!” she exclaimed. “But you are so young! Whatever has Jason been thinking of, Serena?”
Sarah hated to be treated as though she were a child, and that was exactly the impression which this girl was creating, so she rose stiffly to her feet and said: “The señor seemed quite prepared to give me a trial.”
The girl's laugh trilled merrily. “My dear, don't be so quick to take offence.”
“This is Señorita Dolores Diaz,” said Serena, intervening. “Her father and Jason are partners in the distillery. Dolores is a good friend of mine.”
Sarah shook hands with the other girl, but felt strangely intuitive that this Spanish girl's assumed friendship with Serena was merely a ruse to gain access to this house. But why? Shrugging these thoughts away, Sarah allowed herself to be wafted into a seat again, while Serena rang a bell and summoned the African housemaid who appeared to bring them pre-lunch aperitifs.
Sarah, who did not smoke, watched the other two girls light cigarettes, and seated together begin to discuss the coming fiesta which was to take place on the island.
“There is even to be a bullfight this year,” said Dolores proudly. “Have you ever seen a bullfight, Miss Winter?”
Sarah shook her head. “I'm afraid not. Have you?”
Dolores clasped her hands excitedly. “But of course. I have visited Spain, you understand, and in the great bullring in Madrid I saw El Cordobes.”
Recognising the name of the famous young bullfighter, Sarah nodded her understanding. “I don't think I would like to see a bullfight,” she said quietly. “I'm afraid I'm very English. I don't like blood sports.”
“And yet you hunt the fox until it is caught and torn to pieces by the hounds,” exclaimed Dolores, at once.
“Not me,” said Sarah, with a half-smile. “And we do have societies that try to prevent that sort of thing.”
“Pah!” Dolores said something in Spanish which Sarah felt sure was not very pleasant, and Serena, seeing the flashing eyes of her Spanish friend, said soothingly: “What does it matter, anyway? The subject bores me. Tell me, Dolores, are your family having guests for the fiesta?”
After a while, during which Sarah had been sitting quietly sipping her aperitif, Dolores again turned her attention to her. It seemed that the Spanish girl resented her for some reason, and Sarah hoped she was not going to have to do battle with Dolores Diaz every day.
“You are very young to have undertaken a post so far away from your home,” she said sharply. “Do not your parents object?”
“I have no parents. I was brought up in a convent, by the nuns.”
“I see.” Dolores studied her insolently. “But even so, were these sisters of the faith not concerned that you should journey so far to live with people of whom you know nothing?”
“I had contact with the solicitors in London, and Reverend Mother herself corresponded with Señor de Cordova. Also, Father Sanchez of the church here was a sponsor. What more could I ask?”
Dolores shrugged her slim shoulders delicately. “I am glad I do not have to work. I should not care to be tied to some job all day.”
“To become a teacher one must attend a college,” said Sarah carefully. “I don't suppose the señorita has done this.”
After saying these words, she felt penitent. Had all the nuns’ work been in vain? Why was she behaving like this? It could only be that this haughty Spaniard had got under her skin, and she could not help but retort. Linking her fingers behind her back, she said placatingly: “But of course your education will have been at a good public school, will it not?”
Dolores, who had been looking extremely annoyed, now looked slightly mollified, but her tones were acid, as she replied: “I had a governess from a very early age, and afterwards, as you said, I did attend a public school. But I think that travel is the greatest teacher. Why, to have history and geography unfolding before your eyes instead of in some story book is wonderful! I doubt whether you can claim, as I can, that you have travelled all over the world. You may have read a lot, señorita, and have had a college education, but second-hand knowledge can never be anything else than second-hand!”
Sarah swallowed hard. She would not be baited. She merely smiled, albeit a little tightly,