“You're staying to lunch, of course,” said Serena to Dolores.
“Thank you. I would be delighted,” Dolores smiled prettily, and Sarah compressed her lips and followed the other two through the double doors which led into the dining room.
The dining room, although smaller than the huge lounge, was a long room with a polished mahogany dining table set with place mats and shining silver cutlery. Cut glass wine glasses were set at every place, and the sun glinted on the bone china plates and dishes. As they entered the room, the three children appeared from the direction of the garden, through open terrace doors where was glimpsed the sweep of lawn and pool. Their red shirts and shorts were stained with earth and sea water, and their once-tidy hair now looked rough and uncombed. Their faces were smudged and sticky, and they looked defiantly in Sarah's direction as though expecting some horrified reaction from her.
But in this they were disappointed, for it was not Sarah who gasped in disgust, but Dolores. “Serena! Surely these children do not expect to take lunch in that condition!”
Serena gave them a cursory glance, and turning to a tall manservant who was attending to the food on a serving table, she said: “Max, take these horrors to Constancia. She'll deal with them.”
“Oh, but no!” exclaimed Eloise, and lapsing into Spanish she launched into a tirade of anger. “Tengo hambre!”
Serena shrugged indifferently. “You should have thought of that before you got yourselves in this state,” she replied easily.
Sarah bit her lip. No wonder the children were rebellious if they were left in the charge of servants all the time. Did not Serena have any interest in them at all? It did not sound as though she was greatly concerned.
“I'll take them,” she offered. “If you'll tell me where to go.”
Serena looked at her askance, and then shrugged. “All right. Max will show you then. Go along, Max. Anna can see to that.”
Sarah followed Max and the three children out of the room. They did not welcome her intervention, that much was obvious from the glances which were cast in her direction, and she wondered why they resented her so much. After all, they did not even know her!
Max led the way down the corridor, to where, at a bend, a flight of stairs led upwards. “The bathroom is to your right at the top of the stairs,” he said, smiling cheerfully. “The children will show you their rooms themselves.”
“Thank you.” Sarah viewed the three youngsters with some trepidation, and then urged them forward.
The bathroom had obviously been re-designed for their needs, for it contained three baths and three washbasins and three sets of towels. The floor was of the same mosaic as in Sarah's bathroom, but here there were no shower fitments. Two of the porcelain baths were pink and the third was blue, and Sarah thought it all quite beautiful. She shut the bathroom door and studied the three mutinous faces before her solemnly.
“Now,” she said, in a firm voice, “we're going to get something straight. I didn't ask to come here, I was employed by your uncle to teach you not only simple lessons, but some social manners as well, and having met you I can see that I'm going to have quite a job.” She looked at them all to make sure they were listening and went on: “If you considered the exhibition you've just made of yourselves down in the dining room would shock me, I should tell you that I've been used to teaching five-year-olds recently, and although Maria comes into that category, you certainly do not.” She was addressing Eloise and Ricardo now.
Eloise shrugged. “If you think I acted like a five-year-old, I will have to think of something worse to do.”
Sarah sighed. “Then tell me why. You don't know me. Why this stupidity?”
Ricardo turned his back on her and walking over to the washbasins he began taking off his clothes. Sarah watched him for a moment, wondering whether he was going to prove he was different from the other two, when something warned her he was hardly likely to have been converted so easily. Her suspicions were proved when he stripped off the last of his clothes and stood naked before her. The two girls turned away, giggling helplessly, and Sarah felt a rising sense of frustration.
“Ricardo,” she said, shaking her head, “what do you intend to do now?”
“Nada!” he replied clearly, and walked to the bathroom door as though intending to walk outside.
“Now wait a minute,” exclaimed Sarah hotly. “Put on your clothes, Ricardo. You're not very amusing.”
Ricardo shrugged and leaned insolently against the bathroom door.
Sarah looked round to find that the girls were watching her with interested eyes and wondered what her best tactics would be. She was half afraid that the girls would follow his example if she did not think of something soon. To attempt to dress him would be admitting defeat when she knew full well he was quite capable of doing so himself.
“Are you going to get dressed?” she asked brightly.
Ricardo shook his head, and Sarah managed a smile. “Very well. As you seem determined to stay that way, I shan't prevent you. However, nude males, no matter how small, do not take lunch in the dining room.”
She filled one of the basins with water from the tap as she was speaking, and seeing them exchange startled glances she squeezed out a soapy face-cloth and carried it across to him. Taking him firmly by the arm, she turned his back to her and applied the face-cloth to his grimy countenance. He resisted vigorously, but Sarah was young and strong, and quite capable of handling him. After he was clean and dry, she threw the face-cloth back into the bowl.
Then, taking him by the arm, she led him out of the bathroom and into the corridor. She did not bother to ask him which was his room. She was sure he would not tell her anyway, and it was easy enough. The heap of boys’ toys in one room confirmed her belief, and she pushed him inside firmly. Keeping a tight hold on him she closed the door.
She drew down the coverlet on his bed, and lifting his struggling body she put him between the sheets and drew them up to his chin. Tears were vying with his anger now, as his dark eyes met hers over the bedclothes. But she would not allow him to see that she felt any regret whatsoever, and merely said: “If you decide you're hungry at teatime, I'm sure if you put on some clothes, you might be fed!”
Ricardo grimaced, and said: “I hate you!”
Sarah raised her eyebrows. “I'm not too keen on you either,” she retorted, and went out swiftly, closing the door.
Then she opened it again, only a few inches, and put her head round. “Oh, and if you do decide to get up and leave this room before teatime, I've got quite a firm hand with a slipper!”
She closed the door firmly, and leant back against it for a moment. What a beginning! She had hardly been here three hours and already one of the children hated her! Stiffening her shoulders, she walked back to the bathroom. Now for the other two!
Eloise and Maria were standing where she had left them, their faces revealing their mixture of anger and fear as she entered. Sarah sighed. This was not what she wanted. She wanted the children to like her, not fear her. But just now, with Ricardo, force had been the only solution. Was that how Jason de Cordova kept order? By brute force? She doubted it. The children seemed to adore him!
“Well,” she said now, “shall we get washed and go down for our lunch? If you're not hungry, I certainly am!”
When they appeared downstairs again, minus one, Serena looked surprised. “But where is Ricardo?” she asked. “Did he not want any dinner?”
“She put him to bed,” said Eloise, glaring at Sarah. “He's not going to be allowed to have any dinner.”