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Dorothea Benton Frank For Peter Toward the Sea The wind is an empty place. You enter expecting something softened b
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THE NIGHT OF THE BULLS Anne Mather
It was only desperation that had brought Dionne back to the Camargue, that remote, still little-known part of southern France that had been so important -- and so tragic -- a part of her life three years ago. Back she had to come to the Mas St. Salvador, and to Manoel, who hadn't wanted her before and who had even less reason to want her now. Back to Manoel's old grandmother, who had been fond of her, to Manoel's mother, who had hated her; to Yvonne, who was by now certainly his wife. How could she face them all? It was only the thought of Jonathan, who needed her and was more important to her than Manoel, that would get her through. For only Manoel could help her and Jonathan now...
CHAPTER ONE IN early April the mistral blows down the valley of the Rhone, gathering its chilling blast from the ice-clad slopes of Haute Provence, to howl its stormy way across the untrammelled marches of the Camargue with a shrieking vengeance. Then, neither man nor beast attempts to challenge its dominance, and only the brave heads of irises and daffodils, growing wild among the reeds, dare to suggest that spring is coming to the estuary. But when the spiteful wind departs, with a suddenness which is in itself unnerving, the warmth of the sun is more than enough to banish the remembrance of ice- covered wastes where seabirds have striven desperately to find food, following in the tracks of the wild white horses whose hooves break up the packed ice. The whole delta comes to life, colourful as it is never colourful in high summer when the heat of the sun parches the marshes to cracked stretches of mud-flats, and there is life and activity everywhere. Placid lagoons and blue marshes teem with wildlife, the cheeky reed-warbler, clinging to the tall grasses, the brightly coloured plumage of the bee-eater, darting down to catch some insect skimming the surface of the water, and the almost exotic grace of the flamingo, walking the lagoons with regal elegance. This was the time of year Dionne knew so well. This was the time when she had come to Provence, to this especial corner of France which had come to mean so much in her young life. And now she was coming back, and there was the same twisted tugging of her emotions troubling her as there had been when she had left here so precipitately three years ago. But how could there not be ... in the circumstances? The Caravelle tilted suddenly and she sank back in her seat, gripping the arms tightly, feeling nausea welling up inside her. She had to remind herself that she was still aboard the aircraft coming in to land at Marignane, and despite her vivid recollections of the Cam- argue, she knew there was no welcome waiting for her there. A young man seated across the aisle from her leaned towards her anxiously. She had been aware of his speculative stare from time to time during the
flight, but she had discouraged any attempt he might have made to be sociable. She wanted no involvement with any man. But now he sensed her rising panic, the near hysteria that enveloped her when she seriously considered what she was doing. Touching her arm lightly, he said: 'Pardon, mademoiselle, but are you ill?' His accent was unmistakably French, and she wondered how he had known that she was English. Unless he had heard her talking to the stewardess, perhaps. Struggling up in her seat, inside the securing strap of her safety belt, she managed a faint smile: 'Thank you, monsieur, but I'm all right. The - the landing always unnerves me.' 'Ah!' The young man nodded understandingly, and she was struck by the clearcut lines of his profile. He really was a most attractive young man, and Clarry would say that she was a fool for repulsing every young man who showed an interest in her. But Clarry was not here, she was alone, and she had more than enough to cope with at the moment. So discouraging any further conversation she transferred her gaze to the window, seeing the tarmac of the runway seemingly rushing up to meet them. She closed her eyes, and there was a slight jolt. The plane's undercarriage took the weight; they had landed. Dionne unfastened her belt, ran a questing hand over the smooth chignon in the nape of her neck, and rose to her feet, gathering her belongings. From the brilliance of the sun on the tarmac, she did not think she would need her coat and she slung this over her arm, grasping the strap of her travelling bag. 'May I be of assistance, mademoiselle?' It was the young man again. Most of the other passengers were disembarking, wishing the stewardess goodbye, disappearing down the flight of steps to the formality of the airport buildings, but the young man had obviously waited for her.
Dionne smiled a dismissal, shaking her head, and without a backward glance walked swiftly down the aisle to the exit. The air outside was incredibly warm and sweet-smelling, and not even the roar of a jet overhead could wholly dispel the poignance of the moment for her. Then, shaking sentimentality aside, she ran down the steps and walked towards the Customs building. It was soon over. The officials smiled at her warmly with the inconsequence of Frenchmen faced with an attractive female, and she emerged feeling flushed and a little more confident to face what was ahead. She looked about her, unable to dispel a faint surge of excitement. The air smelt so deliciously of the perfumes of the flowers mingled with the tang of the sea, while the heat of the sun was warm upon her back. She wondered where she would find the car which she had hired in advance and which was to be awaiting her here at the airport. There were plenty of cars about as well as the buses waiting to take passengers into Marseilles. The young man from the plane emerged and walked casually across to join her. Dionne bit her lip rather impatiently. She hoped he was not going to prove a nuisance. When he spoke to her again she turned to him with an expression of exasperation marring her smooth forehead above eyes which were an amazing shade of sea green. 'Yes, monsieur?' 'You are being met, mademoiselle?' he queried, and Dionne hesitated only a moment before nodding. After all, it was only a distortion of the truth. 'Then you do not require a lift, mademoiselle? 'Thank you, no.' Dionne moved a few paces away, continuing to scan the cars parked by the kerb in an effort to find the one belonging to Inter-France Travel. There seemed a constant stream of cars coming and going, the glare of the sun glinting dazzlingly on paint and chromework. Fumbling in her bag, Dionne drew out dark glasses and slid them on to her nose. They were huge squares of polaroid glass and successfully hid her expression. She hoped the young man would take the hint and disappear
about his own business, but presently he was beside her again, saying: 'I think you dropped this, mademoiselle.'' Dionne spun round ready to make some chilling rejection of his supposition and then gasped in surprise as she recognized her hotel reservation in his hand. 'Oh - oh, thank you,' she said awkwardly. 'I - I must have dropped it when I took out my sunglasses, Thank you.' The young man smiled. 'It was my privilege, mademoiselle,' he responded politely. 'However, I could not help but notice you are intending to stay in Aries. A beautiful city. I live quite near there myself.' Dionne caught her breath. 'Really,' she exclaimed. 'I see.' She glanced round swiftly. 'I agree. It is a beautiful city.' The young man frowned. 'Are you sure I cannot give you a lift, mademoiselle?' 'Oh, no!' Dionne moved a deprecating hand. 'I - well - actually I've hired a car. It should be here ... somewhere.' The young man listened attentively and then scanned the waiting vehicles with a practised eye. 'Come,' he said. 'I think I know where we might find your transport, mademoiselle.'' It seemed he knew what he was talking about, and as he took charge of her cases Dionne had no alternative but to follow him. In no time at all he had found the small Citroen, introduced her to the attendant, and in the process discovered her name, Dionne thought to herself rather uncharitably, and had thrust her cases into the boot. 'Perhaps we shall meet again, mademoiselle,' he remarked lightly, as she bade him goodbye and thank you. 'I am often in Aries and I should be most happy if you would allow me to buy you dinner one evening.'
Dionne smiled vaguely, allowing his invitation to go by without comment. After all, it was reasonable that he should assume she was merely a tourist in the area. He could not possibly be aware of the real reasons behind her visit, reasons which were scarcely accept^ able even to herself. She drove away with his saluting silhouette visible in her rear view mirror and wished with a desperate feeling of inadequacy that she had been only a tourist after all. She drove west from Marseilles, and then turned north, following the road to Aries across the great Plaine de la Crau. This was a rather desolate area, bare and uninviting, and only in places was some attempt at cultivation being made. She remembered that once Manoel had told her that in legend Hercules was supposed to have come up against a race of giants on this plain and had called on Zeus to help him. The god had rained down rocks and stones and saved the hero from death, but ever afterwards the area had been littered with the rubble from the battle. Manoel! A quiver ran through her. For the first time since leaving London she had allowed thoughts of him to invade her mind and it was devastating what even a thought could do to her. She stretched out a hand searching for her handbag and finding it. Extracting a pack of cigarettes, she put one between her lips and lit it with trembling fingers. She did not smoke much, and only when she was under strain, but right now she needed something. It was after six by the time she reached Aries, and she felt travel-stained and weary. She drove straight to her hotel, checked in, and after refusing anything but a sandwich, which they agreed to send to her room, she went straight upstairs to take a shower. Afterwards, she dressed in a silk housecoat and seated herself by her window overlooking one of the small squares to eat her sandwiches and drink some of the excellent coffee which the proprietress had thoughtfully provided. A breeze stirred the branches of the plane trees, and several youths cavorted about on bicycles beneath the windows, but it was very peaceful and relaxing, andDionne allowed her taut nerves to slacken. There was no point
in maintaining such a rigid control on herself. The chances of meeting Manoel by accident were very slim indeed, and when she did see him it would be on v her terms, not his. If he agreed to see her ... She thrust the half-eaten plate of sandwiches away, as memories came to pain and disturb her newly found peace. What if he reused to see her? He might very well do so. After all, he was not to know the truth, of that she was determined. She poured another cup of coffee and held the cup between her two hands, cradling its warmth against her palms. She must go over in her mind what she had to say to him. It would not do for her to be disconcerted by any question he might ask. She must have her story so clear in her mind that she would not make any mistakes. She sank back in her seat, replacing her empty cup in its saucer. Reaching for her handbag, she extracted a leather wallet and opened it. From inside she withdrew several photographs, looking at them tenderly. The small boy whose image gazed out at her with trusting sincerity touched a chord inside her and she felt the unaccustomed prick of tears behind her eyes. It was a long time since she had allowed herself the luxury of crying. She wondered what he was doing now, whether he was behaving himself for Clarry. On impulse, she bent her head and touched the pictured lips with her own. 'Good night, Jonathan,' she whispered huskily, before putting the photographs back in the wallet and securing it in the larger of her two suitcases. Just in case, she thought regretfully.
In the morning she was awakened by the brilliance of the sun forcing its way through the curtains at her window. For a moment she couldn't remember where she was and she wondered why Jonathan's cot was not in its usual place beside her bed. But then as consciousness returned with pressing awareness the reality of her surroundings enveloped her.
Thrusting the depression which seldom left her aside, she slid out of bed and went to the window, drawing aside the curtains and losing down on the square. Some children were playing in the little formal garden in the centres, chasing a ball and shrieking with delight. The sight caused a sharp pain in the region of her heart and she drew back from the window and went into her bathroom. Later, dressed in close-fitting navy trousers and a shirt-necked white blouse she surveyed her reflection in the dressing-table mirror. She looked cool and slim and businesslike, the dark hair in its chignon accentuating the air of maturity she was endeavouring to assume. But in spite of all her efforts, the upward tilt of her lovely eyes and the generous sweep of her rather sensuous mouth betrayed her youth and uncertainty. With a feeling of helplessness, she went down to the dining- room. After breakfast, she drove into the centre of Aries. It was not a large place, but it was a market town and in consequence its mornings were filled with activity. She found herself tempted by the delicious array of seafoods available on the stalls, but resisted the inducements of the stallholders to buy. Instead, she parked the Citroen and walked round the shops, filling in time until lunch. She had decided to telephone the Mas St. Salvador at lunchtime in the hope that she would be able to speak to Manoel, who perhaps came home for lunch. She had no desire to speak to his mother, or his father either for that matter. This concerned herself and Manoel, and Manoel alone. After posting a card to Clarry assuring her of her safe arrival, she found herself becoming increasingly agitated as the morning wore on. It was annoying to feel so emotional about the whole affair, and somehow she must calm that emotionalism before she saw Manoel. It would not do for him to see how stupid she was. She refused to speculate upon his reactions to her arrival. No doubt he was married to Yvonne now, and had commitments of his own. He might even refuse to see her. Certainly if Yvonne had anything to do with it, he would. And in any case, why should she suppose he might lend her money on the
strength of a relationship they had had three years ago, and which he obviously did not consider binding? She drove back to the hotel soon after twelve and entered the reception hall almost reluctantly. She had noticed a public telephone booth in the hall for use by the patrons and she walked across to it determinedly. She wanted to get the call over before her courage wavered. Although she had written the number down she could remember most of it without difficulty and with trembling fingers she lifted the receiver and asked the operator for her call. By the time she heard the ringing tone at the other end of the line her palms were moist with sweat and tiny beads of perspiration were standing on her brow. The receiver was lifted at last and a woman's voice said: 'Oui? Mas St. Salvador. Qui est-ce?' Dionne's voice cracked, but she managed to say faintly: 'Madame-St. Salvador?' l
Non, c'est Jeanne! Vous voulez Madame St. Salvador?'
'Non, non!' Dionne's tone was urgent. 'Er - Monsieur St. Salvador, Monsieur Manoel St. Salvador, est- il la? Jeanne hesitated a moment, and then she replied: 'Non, mademoiselle, il est en Avignon.' Dionne's heart sank to the pit of her stomach. Manoel - in Avignon! For how long? She thought quickly. She could go on asking Jeanne, who she knew to be the old housekeeper, questions, but whether or not she received answers was doubtful. Already she could sense reserve in the old woman's voice and a desire to know who should want to speak to Monsieur Manoel. With a thudding heart, she said: 'Merci,' and rang off, finding to her dismay that she was shaking all over.Emerging from the phone booth she found the hotel manager in the hall and he regarded her anxiously, noting her pale cheeks and over-bright eyes.
'Is something wrong, mademoiselle?' he queried solicitously. Dionne managed to shake her head with what she hoped was casual composure. 'No - no, nothing,' she replied swiftly. 'It's a beautiful day, isn't it?' 'Beautiful,' he echoed, nodding, and she fled up the stairs to her room. As she changed for lunch into a cotton shift in a rather attractive shade of lemon which Clarry had made for her Dionne tried desperately to assimilate her position. She combed and secured her hair again in the chignon, touched eye-shadow to her slightly olive lids, and applied a colourless lustre to her mouth, but she did all these things automatically. She had somehow not planned beyond the phone call. If she were to ring again and Manoel should not be there a second time, the family would begin to become suspicious of her motives and she dared not risk that. But how else could she contact him? She could not possibly drive all the way to Avignon on the off-chance of meeting him. She descended to the dining-room with a distinctly hollow feeling in her stomach that had little to do with food. She ate little, even though the fish soup was delicious, and refused anything more than some fresh fruit afterwards. She enjoyed the coffee; it was invigoratingly strong, and as she sipped it she sought about in her mind for a reason to drive out to the manade itself. Leaving the restaurant, she crossed the reception area to the wide entrance to the hotel, looking out on the shaded square with thoughtful eyes. There were not many guests staying in the hotel. It was early yet for tourists in Aries. They would come later, in May and June, when the festivals began, when the gypsies gathered for their own particular celebrations . .. Dionne pressed a hand to her suddenly churning stomach. It was all so bitterly familiar, and so unfair somehow that she should have had to come back here at this particular time of year. She touched her fingers to her lips feeling again the dryness of salted bread and the thirst for red wine poured from earthenware pitchers. She could hear the excited noise, the music, the
uninhibited thrill of being part of a ritual that had taken place for hundreds of years . . . With tightly clenched fists she turned back into the hotel. It was no use. She had to go through with it, however painful and ugly it might be. For Jonathan's sake. She spent the afternoon in the hotel, much to the manager's amazement. He had obviously written her down as a tourist, and that she should not be out sampling the tourist's places of interest was clearly an enigma to him. Several times she caught him watching her from the doorway of the lounge and she deliberately pretended not to notice so that she would not embarrass him. In the late afternoon, when the shadows in the square were lengthening, she left the lounge and made her way to the telephone booth again. Her knees trembled slightly, and she had difficulty in co-ordinating her movements. But she reached the booth at last and lifted the receiver. A female voice answered the call again, and Dionne's spirits sank. But it was not Jeanne. It was a girl's voice, a voice Dionne vaguely remembered. Manoel had had a sister, a young sister - Louise. 'Excusez moi,' she said, hoping her accent would not sound too English, 'mais je veux parler avec Monsieur Manoel St. Salvador.' 'Manoel?' The girl sounded surprised. 'Qui est la?' Dionne hesitated. How could she tell the girl her name without creating the kind of situation she most wanted to avoid. 'C'est une amie de Monsieur St. Salvador,' she prevaricated. The girl uttered an exclamation. 'Mais etes-vous anglaise?' Dionne pressed her lips together. She had not thought her accent was so bad, but then it was several years since she had used French. What could she say?
If she denied it the girl would know she was lying, and if she agreed her position would be even worse. 'Ce n'est pas important,' she replied, and for the second time she rang off, despising herself for her cowardice. Leaving the booth, she went upstairs to her room and stared at her reflection in the mirror of the dressing-table. Her eyes were troubled now, their green depths haunted by the anxiety she was suffering. What was she going to do? She was in the process of changing for dinner when there was a tap at her door. 'Mademoiselle! Mademoiselle!' The voice was feminine and Dionne crossed the room to the door, wrapping her housecoat closer about her. A maid waited outside. 'There is a telephone call for you, mademoiselle,' she explained with a smile. 'Unfortunately, you will have to take it downstairs -in the hall.' Dionne gripped the door handle tightly. 'Are - are you sure it's for me?' she asked faintly. 'Mais certainement, mademoiselle. It is a man, mademoiselle !' 'A man!' Dionne shook her head bewilderedly. 'Oh, oh, very well, I - I'll come down. Give me a minute to put some clothes on.' As she thrust her legs into close-fitting cream pants and a chunky jade green sweater that accentuated her extreme slenderness she sought about in her mind for an explanation. Surely if that had been Louise she could not have recognized her voice so quickly! And even if she had, how could she have known where she was staying? Her legs trembled as she ran downstairs to the phone, but when she picked up the receiver the voice that said: 'Mademoiselle King?' was most definitely not Manoel's. It was much lighter, much younger, and infinitely less disturbing.
'Who - who is that?' she asked, jerkily. 'Henri Martin, mademoiselle. We met yesterday, on the plane.' Dionne sagged against the wall of the booth. 'Oh - oh, Monsieur Martin,' she breathed huskily. 'I - I didn't know your name.' 'I know. But I was lucky enough to learn yours. Tell me, have you settled into your hotel? Is everything satisfactory?' Dionne heaved a sigh. 'Oh, yes, yes, everything's fine,' she replied dejectedly. 'Why are you ringing?' He sounded disconcerted. 'Why am I ringing, mademoiselle?' He chuckled. 'But of course you know. I want to ask you if you will dine with me this evening.' Dionne straightened. 'I'm sorry, that's impossible.' 'Why? Why is it impossible?' Dionne shrugged her slim shoulders. 'I - I'm tired. I don't feel much like dining at all, monsieur.' He uttered an exclamation. 'Ah, but I am desolated, mademoiselle. Surely you must eat!' Dionne bit her lip. 'I'm sorry.' 'Tomorrow, then.' 'I don't know what I shall be doing tomorrow.' That at least was true. 'You are wrecking my ego,' he commented lightly. 'Please, lunch, then.' 'Some other time,' said Dionne firmly, and rang off.
Leaving the booth, she walked slowly back up the stairs to her room and once there she did not bother to change, but flung herself on the bed, a well of bitterness rising up inside her. She felt completely alone, and not even the knowledge of Clarry and Jonathan waiting for her so confidently in England could dispel the desolation she was feeling. Deciding she could not bear the idea of facing a meal in the restaurant, she collected her handbag and went downstairs again and out into the square. The shadows of the street lamps cast pools of light on the shadowed streets, but it was very warm and she found the melting softness of the darkness like a balm to her troubled heart and mind. Tomorrow was another day! She had a cup of coffee and a pastry in a small bistro on the banks of the Rhone and then walked in the direction of the Arena. She had been to the Arena several times with Manoel, watching the spectacle which could bring nausea to the most hardened stomachs. The famous bulls of the Camargue were worthy opponents for their human counterparts and while Dionne had turned away from the bloody killing, so cruel somehow in the heat of the afternoon, she had been fascinated by the men who diced so casually with death. Some of the most famous bullfighters from Spain crossed the border to take part in the corrida in the arena at Aries, and pit their skills against the sturdy black bulls that could inflict such cruel wounds with the flick of deadly horns, while amateurs from all around continually appeared to challenge the professionals, each more willing than the last it seemed to tempt the ultimate fate. Dionne had watched Manoel in the corral at the mas with the bulls, and had stood in frozen immobility as he made passes that in the arena would have aroused the excited shouts of 'Ole!' Those were times when she had hated him for subjecting her to such an agony of anxiety and she had run away, only to have him follow her, tumbling her to the ground and kissing away her indignation in a way that made her forget everything but her need of him ... A pain twisted in her stomach. How swiftly those months had gone by, how sweetly had each day been the culmination of her wildest dreams, and how tortuous had been the parting when it inevitably came.
She returned from her walk about nine o'clock, the solitary stroll having had a calming effect on her heightened senses. She felt pleasantly tired, and she refused to consider any more the probabilities and possibilities of the morrow. It was hopeless trying to speculate on anything so nebulous. She entered the reception hall of the hotel slowly, her bag slung carelessly over one shoulder, her hand raised to tuck an errant strand of black silk behind her ear. She thought the hall was deserted at first, but as she crossed the wide expanse of green carpeting a man rose from a chair positioned at the foot of the stairs and stepped to block her path. Dionne halted, her gaze sweeping up over mud- splattered knee-length boots and grey suede trousers, noticing inconsequently the man's height and leanness and the intense darkness of his face in the shadows. For a moment he remained motionless and a twinge of apprehension feathered along her spine, and then he stepped into the light and she fell back a pace, a hand pressed to paling lips. 'Hello, Dionne,' he said, his voice, with its unmistakable accent, lacerating her with incisive harshness. 'Might one ask why you are here and why you wish to speak with me?'
CHAPTER TWO DIONNE stared at him disbelievingly, unable to accept for a moment that this was not some crazy hallucination brought on by her intense longing to see Manoel St. Salvador again, a longing which until this moment had existed only in her subconscious. But this was not the Manoel she remembered. Her recollections of him were acute, and this cold-eyed stranger bore little resemblance to the warm-blooded man she had known and loved. The features were the same, and yet not the same. They were arranged in the same order, grey eyes below dark brows, arrogantly carved cheekbones, a full and sensual mouth, dark sideburns growing down to his firm jawline. But he was leaner than she remembered, and the grey eyes were more deeply set in their sockets and tinged with bitterness. Deep lines etched nose and mouth, and he had a slightly bored and jaded air. His body was leaner, too, although the muscles of his chest rippled beneath the soft suede of his short jacket, and the strong thighs strained against his taut-fitting trousers. Now she shook her head helplessly, aware that this moment had come upon her unannounced and unprepared and she could not cope with it. What possible hope of compassion could she expect from the cruel- looking man who was regarding her with something like hatred in his eyes? How could she begin to believe that she might ask anything of him? How could she have imagined so foolishly that the passing of the years should not have laid as much experience at his door as at hers? 'Well, mademoiselle?' It was the cold detached voice of a stranger, and Dionne turned away, unable to stand the accusation in his eyes. But what was he accusing her off? Why did he regard her with such obvious distrust, such aversion? Was the memory of the past so distasteful to him? 'I - I - how did you find me?' Dionne's words were scarcely audible. Manoel uttered an impatient exclamation. 'Is that important? Why are you here? What do you want of me now?' He stepped towards her, swinging her
round to face him, his hand a cruel pain on her shoulder. 'So! Do not turn away, Dionne! Or is the sight of me so repugnant to you?' Dionne quivered in his grasp and his gaze raked her face grimly and then travelled down the slim length of her body in the chunky green sweater and cream pants. His hand on her shoulder softened and his thumb probed the fragile bones at her throat before his jaw tightened and his hand fell away. 'Well?' he said again. 'I repeat - why are you here?' Dionne swallowed a choking breath. 'I - I came to see you. I -1 didn't know who else to turn to.' Manoel's eyes darkened. 'You are in trouble?' He glanced round impatiently. 'We cannot talk here. You have a room?' And at her nod, he said: 'We will go there!' 'No!' The word was torn from her and she faltered desperately, 'No - I mean - we couldn't go there. It's small - a bedroom, no more!' 'So? And what do you imagine I intend to do in this room of yours? Swing you about, little cat?' His mouth twisted harshly. Dionne shook her head helplessly. How could she explain that she wanted no remembrance of his presence in that small bare room to haunt her through the long lonely reaches of the night? "There - there's a lounge here,' she stammered. 'If - if it's not occupied . ..' She thrust open the door on to darkness that enveloped her like a shroud. She moved quickly into the room, switching on the lamps, illuminating the emptiness. Manoel's expression was grim. 'Very well, it will do. Now—' He followed her into the quiet room, closing the door and leaning back against it, his whole being emanating the kind of strength that she had only begun to remember could annihilate any defence she might erect. 'Now, Dionne, what is it? What is wrong? Why do you need my help?'
Dionne moved about the room restlessly, unable to stand still under that piercing examination, unable to find words to say what she wanted to say. And presently he tired of her restiveness and said intensely: 'Pour I'amour de Dieu, Dionne, I am not a patient man! Say what you have to say and be done with it!' His eyes narrowed. 'What is it you want? Money?' Dionne halted abruptly and stared at him, her lips quivering. 'Why should you imagine I want money?' She was stung by the cynicism of his tone. 'Is that not what everybody wants?' he inquired carelessly. He snapped his fingers. 'If that is what this elaborate charade is about, then continue with it no longer. Such performances bore me!' He straightened, looking at her contemptuously. 'What puzzles me is why you should imagine I might give you money!' Dionne stared at him, her tongue straying to the corner of her mouth. 'Am I to take it from your remarks that you refuse to help me?' she inquired tersely, summoning all her composure to confront him squarely. Manoel returned her gaze insolently, forcing her lids to fall defensively over the jade green eyes. She found it incredibly difficult even after all this time to sustain a measure of confidence with him, and she was afraid her eyes might mirror a little of what she was feeling. There was a poignant kind of pleasure in just looking at him, but with the looking came memories which she had previously never allowed to enter her conscious mind. She knew every facet of that lean strong face intimately, she had kissed the firm skin of his cheek and felt the sensual curve of his mouth against her body, driving all coherent thought from her mind. Despite the passage of years it was impossible not to be affected bysuch recollections. He hooked his thumbs into the belt of his pants which circled his narrow hips. Without bothering to answer her question he said: 'Tell me something, why do you need money?' Dionne squared her shoulders. 'It's a personal matter,' she said. 'Besides, as you so obviously are opposed to helping me, I don't see that it matters.'
'I do not recall stating categorically that I would not help you,' he drawled, his eyes watchful. 'You are too quick to take offence, Dionne. You cannot expect to come back here after three years and expect things and people to be the same now as they were then.' Dionne pressed the palms of her hands against each other. 'I don't expect anything of the sort,' she said carefully. 'I realize life goes on, nothing stays the same. The reason I am avoiding unnecessary complications is so that this situation should not impinge upon your privacy—' Manoel swore violently, moving towards her menacingly. 'Do you imagine you can come here without impinging upon my privacy, as you put it?' he demanded furiously. 'Good God, woman, we are human beings, not automatons! Anything you do would be bound to effect what has gone before and what is to come after!' Dionne trembled in the grip of his angry emotions. 'You don't understand,' she said chokingly. 'I had to come to you! There was no one else I could turn to!' 'And you need money?' He was controlling himself with difficulty, his shoulders hunched, his eyes glittering with suppressed violence. 'Yes.' Dionne managed to articulate with difficulty. 'How much money?' Dionne swallowed hard. 'Two - two hundred pounds,' she faltered. His brows drew together. 'Two hundred pounds? What is that? About twenty-five hundred francs?' 'Something like that,' Dionne nodded. Manoel chewed his lower lip for a full minute, and then he said: 'Two hundred pounds, eh?' His eyes travelled insolently down the length of her slim body, coming to rest almost tangibly on her parted lips. 'What is it you need this money for, Dionne? You are pregnant, perhaps?'
'No!' Dionne stared at him in horror. 'No! How could you suggest such a thing?' Her voice broke, much to her chagrin, and she had to take several deep breaths to calm herself. 'Why?' he asked now, his grey eyes raking her body mercilessly. 'Why should I not assume such a thing? Is it such an uncommon occurrence in your country? Are men there any different from anywhere else? I think not. You are a beautiful woman, Dionne, you always were. How many nights have I lain awake remembering exactly how beautiful you were when you lay in my arms?' His lips twisted cruelly. 'Surely some other man must have known the delights we shared—' Dionne's hand shot out before he could move and stung sharply across his cheek, and then with a little moaning cry she thrust past him, opening the door as though the devil himself were at her heels and fled up the stairs to her room. Inside, she closed the door and turned the key, leaning back against it shakingly. But there was no sound of pursuit, no angry banging at her door, only the panting sound of her own breathing that took many long minutes to return to normal. And when it became obvious that no one was going to follow her, she flung herself face downward on the bed, dry-eyed and utterly bereft.
It was with great reluctance that Dionne rose the next morning. She had slept badly and dark lines rimmed her eyes so that she went down to breakfast in dark glasses to avoid the inevitable comment from the friendly manager. Over breakfast, which consisted only of several cups of strong black coffee, she tried to take stock of her situation. If only Clarry were here, she thought longingly, although Clarry would not approve of the way she was going about things. Clarry was all for telling the truth and shaming the devil, but in this instance Dionne could not agree with her. How could she confess to Manoel St. Salvador the real reasons behind her need for money? What
reaction might he make to her confession? What small amount of compassion need she expect from him after his abasement of her last night? But what will you do if he doesn't come back? a small inner voice chided her. How will you manage? Will you sacrifice Jonathan's chances of good health I for the sake of pride ? Dionne rose jerkily from her seat. Such thoughts did not bear thinking about. She had to go on. She had to I humiliate herself before Manoel St. Salvador, and if the ultimate was required of her she must give it - for Jonathan's sake. But what then? Her thoughts ran on. What then? What if, confronted with the truth, he wanted the child? What possible redress would she have? She, who had only her teacher's pay to support her, and Manoel with his vast estate in the Camargue, the vineyards in the upper Rhone valley, wealth of a kind she had not even dreamed about. Who would win such a battle? She had no need to doubt the answer. Her palms moistened. Had she been a fool to come here? To ask Manoel for money? Wasn't she taking an appalling risk anyway? Would he be content to supply her with the money and not investigate its uses? A sickly feeling rose in her throat. But who else could she turn to? Apart from Aunt Clarry she had no one. Friends were good, of course, but none of them could afford to lend her, let alone give her, that amount of money. And how else was Jonathan to recover from that horrible racking cough that kept him awake nights and Dionne awake, too, listening to him, praying for a way to take him out of that damp climate into a warmer, dryer place where he could regain his strength? Tears pricked her eyes. Two hundred pounds meant so little to the St. Salvadors; two thousand pounds was a mere drop in the ocean, as she had learned to her cost. They had been keen enough to give her money three years ago, why couldn't they give her so much less now? She made a helpless little gesture. She should never have torn up that cheque, but how was she to know she would ever need anything from them?
Heaving a shaking sigh, she emerged on to the steps of the hotel. It was another beautiful morning, the sun glinting on the spire of a church in the distance. A group of riders went by, their horses' hooves clattering on the cobbles of the square. There were some children amongst the riders, controlling their mounts with the skill that came naturally to them. These horses were not white but grey, but they had the thick switch of tail that was common to the horses of the Camargue. Dionne watched them until they were out of sight, and then kicked a foot disconsolately. What was she to do? Wait all day and see if Manoel returned this evening? Or go out and look for him? If she waited until this evening and he did not come, that would be another wasted day. She sighed. But how could she know where to look for him? She knew the way to the Mas St. Salvador, of course. She had been there many times. But it was private land, and she would be a trespasser now. She had no doubt that Manoel's mother would take the greatest delight in having her forcibly ejected if necessary. But she could not hang about the hotel all day just waiting. Already her nerves were stretched to screaming pitch and the only balm for her senses was action, action of any kind. With decision, she went back into the hotel. In her room she changed from the dress she was wearing into slim-fitting navy slacks and a long-sleeved shirt blouse in a rather attractive shade of magenta. Her hair was secured in the rather severe chignon she had adopted and she hoped she looked businesslike. There was no point in dressing decoratively. No one was likely to be impressed by her appearance at the Mas St. Salvador. After filling up the Citroen's petrol tank, she drove out of the town, following the dusty track that wound its way between the river and the marshes, never out of the sight and sound of water that sucked greedily along its length. Overhead, a flight of terns and mallards, startled by her passage, shrieked noisily, while in the distance the pink plumage of a group of flamingoes shimmered like a mirage above the water. They were wading in the shallow waters of an Stang, those lakes that teemed with water life of every kind, food for the thousands of birds that made the estuary their home.
Patches of colour among the tall reeds revealed themselves as clumps of marsh samphire, and sea lavender whose fragile little flowers seemed incapable ofsurviving in such an area. Further on she saw the sight that had once filled her with excitement, which had caused the adrenalin to course along her veins with palpitating haste: the black bulls of the Camargue. There were about a dozen of them, grazing together on the grassy mounds that grew out of the marshy soil. They raised their heads as she drove by, but showed little interest in her progress. Their horns were curved menacingly, and she realized these were Spanish bulls. Her fingers tightened on the wheel; they bore the Double S brand on their flanks of the St. Salvador herd. It could not be far now, she thought unsteadily. She was obviously already on St. Salvador land. Further on a group of horses shied away from the road into a copse of plane trees, and almost hidden amongst the trees she saw the unmistakable colouring of a gypsy caravan. Dionne pressed her foot on the brake and drew the car to a halt, staring curiously at the caravan. Despite its neglected air, there was something vaguely familiar about it, and then she realized what it was. This was Gemma's caravan. The one she and Manoel... She halted her wayward thoughts and pulling on the handbrake slid out of the car. What was Gemma's caravan doing here? Why had it such an abandoned look? Surely She had not got another caravan. Unless she no longer needed it. The idea came unbidden but convincingly to her mind, and Dionne thrust her hands deep into the pockets of her trousers. Surely it was not possible. Gemma had been old, of course, but such an active woman, such a vital person. She could not be dead! Could she? Dionne halted at the edge of the road. The land around the caravan was swampy and she was only wearing shoes that were entirely unsuitable for walking in mud. Besides, it was obviously deserted. The curtains at the grimy windows were drawn and dirty and there was no sign of life whatsoever.
Shaking her head, Dionne went back to her car and slid behind the wheel thoughtfully. Gemma's caravan, her home that she had taken such pride in, that she had kept sparklingly clean, left to rust and rot. She looked back at the caravan again, and a lump came in her throat. Was Gemma dead? Was that indomitable spirit quenched for ever? Was that part of the reason for Manoel's bitterness? She rested her arms on the steering wheel, staring unseeingly into space. Gemma had seemed the kind of person who would live forever, the only one of the St. Salvador clan who had shown her nothing but kindness. She had had an agelessness about her that defied the passage of time, and the realization that she was no longer there to support her made Dionne wish she had never embarked upon this journey. She looked about her desperately. What was she going to do? Turn back now, or go on and risk confronting Manoel's wife, the girl who had never made any attempt to hide her dislike of the English girl, andwho Manoel's mother had considered so suitable because her father's property marched with that of the St. Salvadors? Starting the engine abruptly, she forced herself to think about Jonathan. It was for his sake she was here, and if it meant suffering humiliation then she would have to suffer it alone. The land to either side of the road was less marshy now, and in the distance a grove of trees shielded a cluster of houses. Small reed-fringed lakes sparkled iridescently in the sunlight, but in spite of her proximity to civilization there was no sign of human life. She might have been alone out in the vastness of unlimited space. She drew the car to a halt again, and climbed out on to the bonnet, shading her eyes and staring into the distance. Vaguely something stirred out there on the horizon, and she strained to see what it was. The movement materialized into men and horses, the famous gardiens of the Camargue who patrolled their herds of cattle and horses as they had done for many, many years.
As they drew nearer, Dionne could see that they were driving a herd of cattle before them, strong black fearsome beasts that caused Dionne to scramble down from her perch and seek the comparative anonymity of her car. The St. Salvador mas, which is the Provencal name for a farm, bred Spanish bulls for the corrida, and not the smaller, less muscular beasts of the Camargue, used mainly in the course libre. On her previous visit here, Dionne had learned that the corrida displayed the kind of savagery that made one wonder how far civilization had progressed since the days of gladiatorial battles in the arena in Rome, whereas the course libre was a gentler, if no less dangerous, sport where the bull survived to fight another day. But in spite of that, it was the Spanish bulls which were the most highly prized, and Manoel's father, as the head of his household, could rightly be called a manadier, a rather grand title in this area. Certainly these finely bred cattle looked the fiercest Dionne had ever seen, and everyone was warned, from the moment they set foot in the area, to treat them with the utmost respect and never to underestimate their unpredictability. The herd surged by, scarcely giving her a second glance, but the gardiens regarded her curiously, obviously wondering who she was and why she was here on St. Salvador land. One of the older men reined in his horse and approached the car, taking off his wide-brimmed hat that so closely resembled that of a cowboy's in the western states of America. Dionne had recognized none of the men and was taken aback that one of them should address her. 'Bonjour, mademoiselle,' he said politely. 'Qu'est-ce que vous voulez?' Dionne smiled more confidently than she felt. 'Er - ou est Monsieur Manoel?' she inquired casually. The man frowned. 'Le patron, mademoiselle? II n'est pas ici.' Dionne bit her lip. 'Non, pas le patron, monsieur, mais Monsieur Manoel?'
'Monsieur Manoel est le patron,' retorted the man with dignity. Dionne stared at him disbelievingly. Manoel was le patron, his employer! Then where was Manoel's father? But of course she could not ask such a leading question so she made a helpless gesture and said: 'Pardon! Je ne connais pas bien la jamille.' The man's frown deepened. 'Vous etes anglaise, mademoiselle, oui?' Dionne inclined her head. 'Oui. Vous parlez anglais? The man's lips parted in a wide grin. 'Un peu, mademoiselle, un peu.' Dionne ran her tongue over dry lips. 'Very well, monsieur, do you know where Monsieur Manoel is?' The man glanced about him, turning in the heavy saddle. His eyes were the lightest blue that Dionne had ever seen, diluted by the wind and weather, his gnarled hands and face the colour of mahogany. 'He could be anywhere, mademoiselle,' he said at last. 'There is much to be done at this time of the year. You wish I should tell him you await him at the mas?' 'Oh, no.' Dionne shook her head too quickly and the old gardien regarded her suspiciously. It was obvious now that he considered her an intruder particularly as she did not wish her presence here to be made known to his employer. 'I - I have to go back to Aries,' Dionne added lamely, unconvincingly. 'You - you may tell your patron he can find me there.' 'Bien sur, mademoiselle.' The old man inclined his head with controlled politeness, and realizing he was waiting for her to make some move to leave, Dionne started the engine again and thrust the gear into reverse. But she took her foot off the clutch too tardily and in consequence the small vehicle jerked backwards, its wheels sliding on the uneven surface and causing them to skid to the side of the road and into the ditch that flanked it.
'Damn!' Dionne pressed her lips together tightly, refusing to panic, and thrusting open her door she climbed out to inspect the damage. It was nothing serious, only her offside wheel was stuck in the mud, but without assistance she didn't quite see how she was going to extract herself. She looked across at the gardien and he patted his horse and it trotted slowly over. 'You have a rope, mademoiselle?' Dionne controlled her annoyance with difficulty. She was strongly tempted to retort that she did not normally find it necessary to equip herself with a rope when she went out for a morning drive, but pettiness would help no one. So she shook her head vigorously, staring fiercely at the offending wheel, almost as though she believed her force of will power would be sufficient to make it lever itself out of the ditch. The gardien climbed out of the saddle slowly. There was a passiveness about him which was in itself infuriating. It came from long hours spent out on the open marshland, communing with the earth and the sky. 'I have a rope, mademoiselle,' he said calmly, unwinding a length from the pommel of his saddle. Dionne's relief was such that she was able to banish the inevitable comment that sprang to her lips. Instead she smiled rather tightly, and said: 'Where does one attach it to the car?' The gardien raised his brows lazily, and then bent to tie the rope to the front fender. This done, he straightened, surveying her flushed appearance. 'The wheel, mademoiselle; you will direct it - so?' He showed her what he wanted her to do. 'Of course.' Dionne opened the car door and as he attached the rope to the horse and climbed back into the saddle, she began to push. It was hard work, and she was sweating by the time the car began to edge its way back on to the packed
surface of the road. The task was almost completed when she heard the sound of horse's hooves. Glancing round nervously, she saw a lone rider approaching them. At first she thought it was a boy, but as the rider drew nearer she saw the mane of golden- brown hair tossed over one shoulder and she realized it was a girl. She straightened apprehensively as the girl reined in her mount beside them, but she was unprepared for the excited exclamation: 'Dionne! Dionne, it is you! What in the world are you doing here?' Dionne stared at the girl in astonishment, her momentary withdrawal banished by the absolute pleasure in the newcomer's voice. 'Louise,' she said slowly. 'Good heavens, I hardly recognized you. You were a child when when I left.' The girl laughed infectiously. 'I was fourteen, Dionne. I'm seventeen now. What are you doing here? Are you coming to the mas to see Grand'mere?' Dionne felt dazed. This was a contingency she had not planned for. Louise's enthusiasm was so genuine, and she scarcely knew how to reply to her. Turning to the gardien who was climbing back into his saddle after untying the rope, she thanked him warmly, giving herself a moment to think of what excuse she could give Louise. But as the old man rode away, something Louise had said pierced the confused reaches of her mind. 'You - you said Grand'mere?' she questioned, in astonishment. 'You mean you mean Gemma?' 'Of course.' Louise's smile disappeared. 'You surely did not intend to leave without seeing her?' Dionne shook her head helplessly. 'I - I saw the caravan,' she murmured. 'I thought—' She shrugged. 'Never mind, I - look, Louise, this isn't a social visit.' She made a helpless gesture. 'Surely you are not too young to realize that I would not be a welcome visitor at the mas.' Louise's eyes clouded. 'Grand'mere gets very few visitors,' she said sadly. 'But why are you here, Dionne? I thought Manoel went to see you last night.'
Dionne frowned. 'You know about that?' Louise shrugged. 'But of course,' she said, with typical continental inconsequence. 'I recognized your voice on the telephone. It was I who told Manoel you must be here.' Dionne pressed her hands to her sides. 'And does - does everyone know this?' Louise grimaced and kicked at the scrub grass beneath their feet. 'Oh, non, not everyone. Just Manoel and me.' Dionne bit her hp. 'Tell me something, Louise,' she said. 'Is - is your father no longer at the mas?' 'Papa is dead!' Louise spoke regretfully. 'He died two years ago. Manoel is in charge of the manade now. This is his farm, these are his bulls.' Dionne shook her head in amazement. 'I never guessed,' she murmured, almost to herself. Then: 'Does your mother still live with Manoel?' Louise nodded. 'Of course. And Yvonne.' A knife twisted in Dionne's stomach. 'Oh, yes, Yvonne,' she agreed tautly. Louise stared at her for a long moment. 'You are looking thinner, Dionne. How have you been? Are you still teaching?' Dionne compressed her lips. 'Oh, yes,' she said dully. 'Yes, I still teach. And you? Are you finished school?' 'Manoel wants to send me to a school in Switzerland, but I don't want to go. I love it here. I can see no possible reason for him to send me away. Just because he finds life so impossible.' She flicked a glance in Dionne's direction. 'You know of Yvonne's accident, of course.' Dionne's attention was riveted. 'No,' she denied swiftly. 'What accident?'
Louise shrugged. 'She was gored by a bull. She is paralysed from the waist down.' Dionne gasped in horror. Louise said it so chillingly, so carelessly. Almost as though she considered the accident was nothing more than Yvonne's due. 'But how terrible!' Dionne spread her hands. 'When - when did this happen?' Louise shrugged again. 'Soon after you left, I suppose. Is it important?' 'You don't think so?' Dionne was horrified. Louise played with the reins of the bridle. 'Yvonne asked for all she got,' she said coldly. 'She was angry with Manoel, and she thought she could annoy him by teasing his bulls.' She gave a characteristic movement of her shoulders. 'No one can play with bulls!' Dionne tugged at a strand of silky hair that had come loose from her chignon. No wonder Manoel looked so much older, so much more experienced. What a terrible time it must have been for him! Now Louise touched her arm lightly. 'It's good to see you again, Dionne. I mean that. But why did you want to see Manoel? I thought - we thought—' She halted abruptly, biting her lips. 'Are you staying long in the Camargue?' Dionne fingered the rim of the car door absently. 'I don't know, Louise. It - it depends.' Louise sighed. 'Did you come out here to see Manoel?' Dionne hesitated and then she nodded. 'Yes. Where is he?' 'Actually he is away today,' replied Louise, frowning. 'At the vineyards.' She stared at the other girl for a long moment. 'What happened last night?' 'What do you mean?' Dionne pretended not to understand.
'Between you and my brother? Dionne, you know what I mean. He came home in a terrible temper! Not even Yvonne dared to question him. Only I guessed you must have had a row.' Dionne made a wry face. 'I must go, Louise. If Manoel is not here, there's no point - I mean - I have no reason to go to the mas? 'And Grand'mere? Do I tell her I've seen you?' Dionne slid behind the wheel of the car. 'I can't stop you, of course,' she said. 'But perhaps it would not be kind, in the circumstances.' 'Oh, Dionne!' Louise clenched her fists, leaning on the bonnet of the car. 'Why are you so secretive? Why have you come back after all this time? Surely you must have known what it would do to Manoel to see you again now!' Dionne started the car's engine. 'I'm sorry, Louise. I'm sorry if you think I'm secretive. And I would have liked to see Gemma.' Her voice broke, and she shook her head. 'Good-bye.' 'Good-bye, Dionne.' Louise straightened and then ran a few steps to catch up with her again. 'May I come to see you at the hotel before you leave?' Dionne's fingers tightened on the wheel. 'I don't think that would be a very good idea,' she said. 'Au revoir.' Louise raised a hand in farewell, and Dionne reversed on up the track until she came to a wider point where she could turn the car. Then she drove swiftly away, the lump in her throat threatening to choke her.
CHAPTER THREE AFTER dinner that evening Dionne went up to her room to write to Clarry. She needed to do something, some normal thing that had little to do with the Mas St. Salvador and its unhappy associations. All day she had thought about Yvonne's accident until her head ached with the futility of trying to guess at the other girl's feelings. How terrible, she thought compassionately, to be paralysed, possibly for life! She forgot Yvonne's maliciousness of the past; all she remembered was her skill on horseback, her superb physical condition, all destroyed in the space of a few careless minutes. And Yvonne was not the kind of person to accept her fate without constantly railing against it. Dionne took out pen and paper, but she made no attempt to write. Unbidden came thoughts of Manoel and of the hopelessness of his position. He was such a virile man, so strong and vital. Did Yvonne vent her wrath on him? Was that why he wore that look of Strain, that weary jaded air that had torn Dionne's heart? She cupped her chin on her hands tightly, willing the tears that pricked her eyes to go away. She ought not to have come here. She ought not to have allowed Clarry to persuade her that she owed this to Jonathan. What good would it do if nothing came of it except to leave Dionne feeling worse than she had ever done before she knew what had happened here? Her lips softened. If only things could have been different, she thought desperately. If only she and Manoel had never been parted. Surely what they had shared had meant something to him. Theirs had seemed such a strong relationship and yet it had been severed so swiftly. Even now it was impossible not to feel the exquisite pain of that separation, made all the more poignant by what came after. And Gemma, that indomitable old woman with her store of superstitions and religious beliefs, she had played her part, too, encouraging them to take what was theirs by a rite as old as the medieval origins of the white horses of the Camargue.
But they had had no second taste of happiness. She buried her face in her hands. Life was so terribly unfair. Just when heaven seemed to be within one's grasp it was snatched away with a callousness that could corrode one's very soul! With a choking breath, Dionne rose from her chair and walked to the windows overlooking the quiet square. The shadows were lengthening as the sun sank down the sky, but there was an inviting softness about the air and she longed to be out of the hotel, free of the restrictions of her small room. On impulse she walked to the door and went down the stairs and out into the cool evening air. She was wearing only a simple gown of aubergine jersey which accentuated the violet shadows around her eyes. It was a long gown which Clarry had run up for her in the course of an evening for a Christmas party Dionne had been invited to attend. Needless to say, she had not gone to the party, but the dress had seemed suitable to bring away with her for evenings such as this. Outside the hotel, she hesitated, undecided where to go now that she was here. The few people who were about seemed to be in groups of two or three and only she was alone. She began to walk towards the main thoroughfare, deciding she might buy herself a coffee at one of the open-air cafes. She would feel less conspicuous in a crowd. A car cruised along beside her as she walked, and two amorous French youths hung out of the window calling to her, asking her name and where she was going. They invited her to join them, persistently chiding her when she ignored them until she felt red with embarrassment. Then, to her annoyance, the car halted and one of the youth jumped out in front of her. 'Ah, mademoiselle, chere mademoiselle,' he chanted, 'ne voudriez-vous pas venir avec mes amis et moi— 'Will you please get out of my way!' Dionne was forced to halt as he blocked her path.
'Oh! Anglaise! Mais si belle anglaise, eh?' He glanced approvingly at his friends and another of the youths thrust open the door of the car invitingly. Dionne was vaguely disturbed. The street was almost deserted at this point and she was afraid they might attempt to abduct her forcibly. They had obviously been drinking and were not entirely responsible for their actions, but that didn't make it any easier for her. 'Will you please allow me to pass?' She endeavoured to keep the tremor out of her voice, but the youth before her advanced towards her amorously. Frightened now, Dionne backed away and came up against a man's hard frame. Immediately she panicked, turning to him and beating her small fists against his chest, imagining for a moment that it was another of the youths. But the man who thrust her trembling body aside was neither amorous nor youthful. He was tall and lean and violent, and he grasped the frilled shirt front of the youth who had dared to molest her and thrust him backwards into the car so that the boy lost his balance and banged his head against the roof of the vehicle. Dionne was scarcely aware of the explosive epithets the man used to press home his point, but the car shot away soon afterwards, its tyres throwing up a cloud of dust. Only then did the man turn to her and her knees turned to water as she realized who her saviour had been. Manoel regarded her contemptuously for a moment, and then he said: 'Oh, come on! It's over now. I should just like to know what you think you are doing walking the streets alone at this time of the evening!' Dionne gathered her composure with difficulty. 'I - I was out for a walk, that's all. Surely one can go for a walk without being the object of ridicule!' She put up a trembling hand to her hair, unknowingly provocative as she lifted its heavy weight from her warm neck. 'I -1 thank you - for what you did.' Manoel made an impatient gesture. 'It was nothing. I just dread to think what would have happened if I had not come along!' His jaw tightened and he looked at her almost angrily. 'Dionne, this is not England, and looking as you do—' He broke off abruptly, reaching into his pocket for a case of
cheroots and placing one between his teeth. He lit it carelessly and then said: 'Come! I am here to speak with you.' Dionne looked at him tremulously. 'Louise told you I drove out to the mas, of course.' He inclined his head. 'Why not?' His eyes narrowed. 'You did not go to the house.' Dionne lifted her shoulders. 'How could I?' Manoel studied the pale oval of her face for a moment and then strode abruptly ahead, making no further comment, and Dionne was forced to follow him, wondering where he was going. She did not have to wonder long. Parked in the square before the hotel was a huge dust-covered Citroen station wagon that dwarfed all the other automobiles. Manoel swung open the passenger side door. 'Get in,' he advised briefly, and Dionne complied, chiefly because her legs no longer felt strong enough to support her. Manoel walked round the bonnet to slide in beside her, and Dionne studied him surreptitiously. Dark and saturnine, he looked intensely masculine in black pants tucked into knee-length black boots, and a dark blue shirt opened at the neck to reveal the strong brown column of his throat. A medallion was suspended from a slender chain about his neck, almost hidden in the hairs of his chest, but Dionne knew what the medallion signified. It was the emblem of Sara, the dark servant girl of the legend of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, worshipped and sanctified by gypsies from all over Europe, whose feast days were the Mecca for those nomadic people to pay homage, and once that chain had been about her neck. Her heart palpitated alarmingly, and she looked away from the compelling warmth of his brown skin. She had the almost uncontrollable desire to put out a hand and touch him and her breath came in jerking gulps as she endeavoured to suppress such wanton impulses.
Manoel flicked his wrist and the engine roared to life, and the heavy station wagon moved away from the kerb. She wanted to ask where he was taking her, but suppressed her curiosity also. It was enough for the moment that she was with Manoel, and she did not want to spoil it by trying to find answers to questions that could only lead to hostility. He drove out of town following the road north-eastwards towards Les Baux. They passed through the sleepy village of Fontvieille and not until they were in the foothills of the rocky range of which Les Baux was so much a part with its grey ruined castle and crumbling towers did he draw the car to the side of the road and roll down his window. 'Bien,' he said interrogatively. 'What are you thinking now?' Dionne moved her head in a negative movement. 'Nothing,' she answered truthfully, unable in that moment to assimilate any sane and sensible image in her mind. His closeness was unnerving and with a fumbling gesture she thrust open the door and slid out, shivering slightly as the chill of the air enveloped her. It was much cooler here than in the confines of Aries, the wind whistling eerily across the plain, salt-tinged and invigorating. Manoel climbed out too and for a moment they stood just looking up at the black mass of the rocky range with the brilliance of starlight beginning to pierce the satin mass of the sky. Then he looked down at her and her shivering became apprehension and not cold. 'Why did you come to me?' he demanded, in a strangled voice. 'Why had you to come back here now!' His eyes glittered strangely and she moved away from him, her feet sliding on the uneven surface of the road. 'You know why,' she replied quietly. Manoel uttered an expletive. 'No,' he ground out fiercely, 'no, I don't know! You say you want money and yet you refuse to tell me why. You expect my help, yet you refuse to behave as though by helping you I had any rights!' Dionne looked over her shoulder at him. 'Don't make it so difficult!' she cried helplessly. 'Once you were not unprepared to offer me money!'
Manoel's expression darkened. 'What do you mean by that?' Dionne shook her head. 'Does it matter?' She kicked disconsolately at a stone. 'Why did you bring me here? Why did you come back? Are you going to help me?' Manoel stared at her impatiently and then raked a hand through his thick dark hair which grew low on the back of his neck. 'I came - because I have an invitation for you,' he muttered grimly. 'Gemma wants to see you!' 'What?' Dionne's eyes widened incredulously. 'But - how does Gemma know - I'm here?' 'How does Gemma know anything?' His eyes darkened. 'Oh, God, I expect Louise told her. Does it have any importance? Will you accept?' Dionne took a deep breath. 'I - I think not. Your mother does not want me there. What good would it do? Besides, your wife—' Manoel caught her wrist in a cruel grasp. 'My wife? What wife? I have no wife - yet!' Dionne's breast rose and fell in tumultuous haste. 'Well, Louise told me about Yvonne, and the accident. She - she said that Yvonne lived with you at the mas— Manoel glared down at her, his eyes cold and piercing. 'Yvonne does live at the mas. She's a helpless cripple! Her mother is dead. Where else could she live? But she is not my wife.' Dionne trembled violently, moving her head from side to side as his grip tightened, making whimpering little sounds. 'My - my wrist,' she cried faintly. 'You're breaking my wrist!' Manoel looked down almost dazedly at the slender flesh purpling in his grasp and uttered an imprecation. 'Dieu, Dionne, I am sorry,' he groaned huskily, raising her wrist so that he could examine the damage. Her hand struggled in his like a bird and his eyes darkened with passion. Dionne felt
the presentiment of danger and with a tortured gasp she dragged herself away from him, putting the width of the car between them, rubbing the numbness away with her other hand. 'I - I think we ought to go back,' she said unsteadily, and Manoel turned his back on her, cupping his neck with his hands in an utterly weary attitude. Dionne watched him, unable to tear her eyes away, and presently his hands fell to his sides and he straightened his shoulders before turning back to her. Without looking in her direction he slid back behind the wheel, and Dionne took the few trembling steps which brought her to the passenger's seat. She got in carefully, avoiding touching his thighs, smoothing the lpng skirt over her slender legs. But he scarcely gave her a glance. She expected him to drive away, but although his hands rested on the steering wheel he made no attempt to start the engine. Instead he spoke, his voice clipped and hard. 'If you agree to come to the mas to see Gemma, I will supply you with the money you need for your so-secret purpose.' Dionne drew an uneven breath. 'You can't be serious!' 'Why not?' Dionne moved helplessly. 'It would only cause trouble - my going there! You know your mother would hate it. She - she hates me! And as for Yvonne ...' Her voice trailed away miserably. He turned to look her way then, his eyes glinting in the shadowy interior of the car. 'Perhaps I find the prospect of your having to run the gauntlet of my mother and Yvonne rather appealing,' he observed chillingly. Dionne pressed a hand to her stomach. 'You couldn't be so cruel!' 'Couldn't I?' He shrugged his broad shoulders. 'You will be surprised what I can do.' 'Manoel, please!' Dionne appealed to him, her eyes wide and luminous. 'This can only cause pain and suffering to everyone! You don't want that, surely!'
'Why not? It might be a diversion.' He switched on the interior light suddenly, illuminating the smooth contours of her hauntingly lovely face. Then he bent his head and lifted her left hand as it lay in her lap. It was slim, long-fingered, and without adornment of any kind. Dionne did not attempt to draw her hand away and presently he allowed it to fall back on to her knees. 'Tell me something,' he said harshly. 'This man you need the money for, does he love you?' Dionne gasped. 'There is no man!' Manoel's eyes grew sceptical. 'So you need this money for yourself?' Dionne flushed. 'Yes.' 'Why? For what reason? You say you are not pregnant, you say you are not in trouble of that kind. So what is it? What can it be?' 'Oh, Manoel, please! Stop torturing me like this!' Dionne's voice broke, and she smoothed her fingers across her cheeks, wiping away the ready tears that threatened her composure. Manoel's mouth tightened and a muscle jerked in his cheek, and then without another word he switched off the light and started the engine. They drove back to her hotel in silence and only when the station wagon drew to a halt outside the hotel did she speak again. But she had to say something, and she knew he was aware of his dilemma, just as much as she was. 'What are you going to do?' she asked unsteadily. Manoel's lips twisted. 'That rather depends upon you, doesn't it?' Dionne smoothed the sleek chignon in the nape of her neck. 'You intend to go through with - with what you said? You are forcing me to come to the mas!'
He lay back in his seat indolently, his long slender fingers beating a rhythmic tattoo against the steering wheel. 'If you want my help - yes.' Dionne hunched her shoulders. 'Very well, then. When?' His eyes narrowed to slits. 'You'll come?' 'Have I any choice?' She raised her gaze to his. His mouth moved contemptuously. 'It seems not. You must need this money very badly, Dionne. I cannot believe you are the only person involved. There are deeper reasons for such sacrifice on your behalf.' Dionne opened the car door. 'May I go now?' 'A moment.' His gaze raked her thoroughly. 'I will come for you the day after tomorrow. Tomorrow I have to go to Nimes. I regret the delay, but no doubt you can stand it. If it is so important to you!' Dionne's mouth worked emotionally. He could be so blatantly insolent if he chose, and his harsh words tore her to shreds. How could she have believed he found her anything more than physically disturbing? It was obvious from his attitude that he considered her little better than a capricious female, intent only on selfish pursuits. She pushed open her door and slid out before he could say anything more, and he leant across to slam the door behind her before putting the big car into gear and driving savagely away. Dionne entered the hotel slowly feeling utterly exhausted. She was absorbed with the desolation of her emotions, wondering with despairing spirits however she was going to get through the next two days until she saw him again . ..
In fact the following day was not the barren waste she had expected it to be. No one could remain completely immune from the warmth of spring sunshine, the flowering shrubs, the beds of flowers burgeoning with colour, and Dionne's spirits lifted somewhat.
She wrote to Clarry in the morning and then went to post her letter. She mentioned that she had contacted Manoel and that she hoped to have some good news in a few days, but that was all. She could hardly tell Clarry that Manoel knew none of the facts of the case, or that she had no intention of telling him these facts, and if her conscience pricked her a little she silenced it with the knowledge that in his present frame of mind Manoel was totally unfitted to be told the truth. It was quite possible that armed with such irrefutable evidence as Jonathan's appearance, for example, he would take an intense delight in depriving her of her son . .. That Jonathan was his son, too, was not relevant. But it was, her inner conscience told her. In the circumstances, Manoel had every right to be told the truth! It was as well that an unexpected visitor awaited her when she returned to the hotel, or her day might have deteriorated into purgatory. As it was, she was almost relieved to see Henri Martin's uncomplicated countenance. He was seated in the reception area waiting for her, and his face took on an expression of anxiety when he saw her crossing the hall towards the stairs. 'Mademoiselle King!' His ejaculation startled her and she swung round in surprise. 'Why, Monsieur Martin,' she exclaimed. 'What are you doing here?' Henri Martin spread his hands in typically continental fashion. 'I have come to offer myself as your escort for lunch, Mademoiselle King,' he confessed. 'I realize I am taking a liberty by coming here, but perhaps you will find it in your heart to forgive me.' Dionne sighed. Although her initial impulse had been to reject him something made her hesitate. Maybe it would be a good thing to get out of the hotel. Away from associations that plagued her mind until she had no peace whatsoever. Henri Martin was at least divorced from her personal affairs.
'That's very kind of you, Mr. Martin,' she said now. 'I - I'd like to accept, if I may. But you'll have to give me a few moments to change.' She indicated her casual slacks and shirt blouse. Henri Martin's face mirrored his delight. He really was a most handsome young man, she thought detachedly. Dressed in an expensively tailored grey lounge suit, his linen white and immaculate, he was quite unique in this part of the world where most of the men wore the casual kind of clothes Manoel St. Salvador had been wearing the night before. But then Manoel suited those kind of clothes, even though on the rare occasions when she had seen him in formal evening attire he had looked quite devastating, and his gypsy darkness, inherited from his grandmother, was further enhanced by the garb of a gardien. 'I shall be delighted to wait as long as you like,' Henri asserted now, and Dionne exchanged a smile with him before hastening up the stairs to her room. When she came down again dressed in a short- skirted dress of apple green linen, she looked absurdly young, and she was glad of the severity of her hairstyle to divert his attention. They lunched at a large restaurant in the centre of Aries where Henri was obviously well known, and Dionne paused to wonder what his occupation might be. They ate kidneys skewered on sticks with tomatoes and small whole mushrooms laid on a bed of fresh salad, and although she protested that she was not very hungry she did full justice to the meal. She was young and healthy, after all, and Henri's company was so undemanding after Manoel's. After lunch, Henri suggested a trip to the upper Rhone valley to see the vineyards, but Dionne demurred. Nimes was in the upper Rhone valley and she had no desire to run into Manoel while she was in Henri's company. Besides, if she did run into Manoel, he would probably think she was following him, and although the idea might appeal to her in some ways, it was definitely an irresponsible notion.
Instead, they drove to Les Saintes Maries de la Mer and spent a pleasant couple of hours walking on the beach. Dionne learned quite a lot that afternoon. She learned that Henri's family owned a large store in Aries with branches in Avignon and Marseilles, and that Henri had been to Paris, studying accountancy and economics to equip him for his eventual role as chairman of the company. In consequence, to a large extent his time was his own, and Dionne thought she ought to feel flattered that he had taken such an intense interest in her. No doubt the fond mamas in Aries considered Henri Martin quite a catch, and like Manoel's parents would not approve of his associating with a penniless English schoolteacher. For herself she made little explanation, allowing Henri to assume she was in Aries purely as a tourist, although she realized as the afternoon wore on that it was extremely likely that Henri knew Manoel and his family. The St. Salvador mas was, after all, a large and prosperous concern, and the vineyards in the Rhone valley might very well produce wine sold in Henri's father's stores. But for once Dionne refused to consider the consequences of either Manoel learning of her association with Henri, or Henri learning the real reasons behind her visit to Aries. In a detached kind of way she was enjoying herself. It was years since she had allowed herself to relax with a man, but Henri was so charming and kind that she found she could talk to him. They discussed books and paintings, and current trends in the theatre, and she was amazed when he informed her that it was almost five o'clock. They drove back to Aries in Henri's sleek continental sports car and when he drew to a halt outside her hotel, he said eagerly: 'When may I see you again? This evening?' Dionne looped the strap of her handbag round her fingers. 'No - not tonight, Henri,' she replied slowly. 'And not tomorrow either. I - I have plans for tomorrow.' Henri's face lost some of its animation. 'Then when?' Dionne sighed. How could she make arrangements when she didn't even know how long she was staying?
'Perhaps you could ring?' she suggested tentatively. 'Yes, that would be the best thing.' Henri hunched his shoulders. 'Oh, very well, if you think that's best. But you will come to the phone, won't you?' Dionne's lips parted. 'Of course. I - I've enjoyed myself tremendously this afternoon. Please don't think I'm making excuses. I'm not.' Henri relaxed somewhat. 'All right. All right. I will ring. The day after tomorrow, oui? Dionne nodded, and then slid out of the car as his hand strayed along the back of her seat and touched the hair at her nape. 'Good-bye,' she said quickly. Henri's lips twisted. 'Au revoir, Dionne.' He raised a hand, and the sports car purred smoothly away. In her room, Dionne threw down her handbag carelessly and stretched. She had not been lying. She had enjoyed herself in a purely superficial way. Henri aroused no disturbing elements inside her, and she could be natural with him. She realized, of course, that he was attracted to her, but she was used to the casual admiration of the opposite sex and she saw his involvement as nothing more than a natural reaction to her femininity. She was quite unaware that she possessed something more than mere good looks to enthrall a man's interest. Stripping off her clothes, she had a cooling shower and then put on a silk bathrobe and lay down on her bed. She felt tired, but that was not surprising in the circumstances. She had not slept well since her arrival at the hotel, her mind too active to relax completely. But the sea air that afternoon had made her eyes sleepy and she closed them reluctantly, allowing inertia to creep over her. She slept, and when she woke it was dark outside. She felt chilled to the bone and slid off the bed in search of her watch. She found it on the dressing table where she had left it when she went for the shower. She was horrified
to discover it was almost midnight, and she shook her head disbelievingly. She had slept for almost six hours! Opening her bedroom door quietly, she listened for a moment. There was no sound from downstairs and, shrugging, she closed the door again. She might just as well go to bed. There was obviously no point in dressing now.But once she was between the sheets she felt wide awake. Moonlight shone through her windows, flooding the room with light, while from a distance came the hypnotic sound of a guitar strumming the kind of plaintive melody that moved the senses. She slid out of bed with a heavy sigh and padded to the window, looking down on the shadowed square. The plane trees moved their leaves in a faint breeze, moonlight turning their trunks to a ghostly greyness. A large car was parked in the square, a dusty grey station wagon, partially concealed by the trees. And even as Dionne watched a man detached himself from the shadow of the trees, a tall dark man, his hair silvered by the pale light. He was dressed in dark clothes, the clothes of a gardien, his waistcoat unfastened, the sleeves of his dark shirt turned back to his forearms. He looked up suddenly, his eyes searching the darkened windows of the hotel, and Dionne drew back tremblingly to rest against the wall, a hand pressed to her throat. It was Manoel! Manoel here, outside the hotel, walking up and down with unnerving persistence. She dared to take another look. He was leaning against the bonnet of the station wagon now, lighting a cheroot, the match illuminating momentarily the harsh planes of his face. Then he left the cheroot in his mouth and rested his hands on the dusty surface of the vehicle, his shoulders hunched in an attitude of absolute defeat. Dionne caught her breath, a tightness in her throat. Why was he here at this time of night? What had possessed him to drive all this way just to park outside the hotel? What terrible motives had driven him from his bed to this lonely square? She pressed her arms about herself feeling a sickness, a nausea that had nothing to do with hunger, at least not hunger of a physical kind. Why had
she fallen asleep earlier? Why couldn't she have gone to bed at the normal time and thus avoided seeing something she should not have seen? She turned back to the window and then blinked rapidly. The station wagon had gone. The square was deserted. She had been so absorbed with her own misery she had not even heard the engine . . .
CHAPTER FOUR THE next morning Dionne was awake very early, and took coffee in the restaurant long before any of her fellow guests were up. But she was nervous and distrait, and remaining in bed had been impossible to contemplate. She had dressed in a plain blue cotton dress which had seen better days, and which would not look out of place at the mas. She had no wish for Madame St. Salvador or Yvonne to think she was trying to draw attention to herself and was completely unaware that she could wear almost anything with elegance. But time went by and Manoel did not appear and Dionne began to get agitated. She had thought he would come early, but as the clock crept round to half past ten she began to wonder whether he was coming at all. Her heart pounded and she paced the reception hall restlessly, wishing he would appear. Was he making her wait deliberately in the hope of gaining some kind of an advantage? she thought uncharitably, and then walked to the door once more and looked out on, the square. Monsieur Lyons, the hotel manager, appeared. 'Is something wrong, mademoiselle?' he inquired with his usual solicitude for his guests. Dionne made a deprecatory gesture. 'No - no, nothing's wrong, Monsieur Lyons. I'm waiting for someone, that's all.' 'Ah!' The manager looked confidential. 'A young man, perhaps.' He smiled. 'Would you like some coffee, mademoiselle? I can easily ask Maurice to prepare some.' Dionne hesitated. 'Would you? Oh, that would be wonderful!' She was enthusiastic. She needed something to calm her nerves. 'Mais certainement, mademoiselle,' Monsieur Lyons beamed. 'I will arrange it at once.' 'Thank you,' Dionne smiled, and the manager hastened away.
A few minutes later he was back with the tray and he indicated that Dionne should go into the lounge. She did so and he placed the tray on the low table in front of her. 'Voila, mademoiselle!' He looked suitably pleased with himself. Dionne thanked him and the manager departed about his business. She poured herself some coffee and was just about to drink it when she became aware that someone was standing indolently in the doorway watching her. She looked up jerkily, straight into Manoel's grey eyes, and her heart skipped a beat as her cup clattered back into its saucer. 'So?' he said, advancing into the room. 'Are you ready?' Dionne took a deep breath. 'Do you realize it's nearly eleven o'clock?' Manoel shrugged. 'What of it?' Dionne seethed, anger momentarily banishing all other emotions. 'I've been waiting for you since nine o'clock!' she said fiercely. 'I though you intended taking me to the mas this morning.' 'So I do.' He was infuriatingly indifferent. 'But it's - it's almost lunchtime!' 'So? We will have lunch at my home.' 'Oh, Manoel!' Her lips trembled and she had to bite them hard. 'Don't make me do this!' Manoel's expression hardened. 'I would suggest you go and change, mademoiselle,' he remarked, ignoring her appeal. 'A dress is not suitable attire for what I have in mind. Put on some trousers!' Dionne rose obediently to her feet, noticing inconsequently how attractive he looked. In grey suede trousers that fitted the taut muscles of his thighs
like a second skin, a grey suede waistcoat embroidered with black thread, and a red silk shirt, he looked every inch the French nobleman. There was hauteur in the line of his strongly shaped head and arrogance in his clipped tones. Henri, in his elegantly pressed suits, could never command such presence, and Dionne found her antagonism melting beneath the compelling forceful- ness of his personality. Without another word she left the lounge, running up the stairs to her room swiftly. Tearing off the blue dress, she stepped into close-fitting cream pants and a blouse of purple Tricel jersey. She left the top two buttons unfastened, checked that her hair was secure in its chignon and ran downstairs again. Manoel was in the process of helping himself to his second cup of coffee while Monsieur Lyons, the hotel manager, was talking deferentially to him. Dionne controlled her indignation. Manoel had a nerve, sitting there drinking her coffee, while he ordered her to go and get changed. When she entered the lounge the plump little manager turned to her politely. 'Monsieur St. Salvador tells me you are to go to his manade today, mademoiselle. It will be a thrilling experience, I am sure.' 'Yes.' Dionne sounded less than confident. Manoel had risen to his feet at her entrance and was watching her with lazily intent eyes. Then he finished his coffee, dropped the cup back into its saucer and walked towards her. 'Much better,' he remarked approvingly, and Dionne felt a hot flush stain her cheeks. Manoel bid good-bye to the manager and they walked outside. The sun was hot on their shoulders. It was a beautiful day, and in other circumstances the prospect of a day out would have appealed to Dionne tremendously. As it was she was taut and strung up, unable to relax. Two horses were secured to the railings of the hotel and there was no sign of the station wagon. Dionne turned questioningly to Manoel and he inclined his head slowly.
'You are disappointed?' he inquired indolently. 'You thought perhaps to ride in the station wagon?' 'You know I did,' exclaimed Dionne crossly. 'It's years since I've ridden a horse!' 'Three years, to be exact,' remarked Manoel deliberately, and she looked away. The two horses were not alike. One was a white Camarguais mare, small and squat, revealing its placid nature. The other was also a mare, but black and fiery, exactly the kind of mount Dionne would have expected Manoel to ride. Three years ago he had had a black stallion, and as though in answer to her unspoken question he said: 'This is Consuelo. Caspar was her sire.' Dionne made no comment, and Manoel unfastened the white mare's reins. 'This is Melodie,' he said, patting the horse's nose before offering his hand to enable her to mount. But Dionne wanted no contact with him, and grasping the pommel she levered herself unaided into the broad saddle. Manoel viewed her for a moment, as though assessing her ability, and then with a characteristic shrug of his shoulders he mounted the black mare, controlling it expertly. Dionne waited for him to move, and when he flicked Consuelo's reins and she walked elegantly across the square, Dionne dug in her heels and motioned Melodie to follow. Although it was a long time since she had ridden, the quiet mare was easy to handle and all her previous experience came flooding back to her. Manoel had taught her to ride and the thoroughness of his tuition remained in her mind. The two horses passed unnoticed down a shady avenue although Manoel nodded to several people and spoke on occasion. Dionne rode half a length behind him, and not until the houses gave way to open country did he half
turn in his saddle and say ironically: 'Bien? You are finding it difficult?' Dionne shook her head. 'Not difficult at all.' 'Good.' His eyes slanted mockingly. 'Then perhaps you will ride with me. I am not an Arabian prince who demands subservience from his womenfolk!' Dionne made what she hoped was a gesture of resignation and urged Melodie forward to join him. Manoel regarded her impatiently. 'Could we increase the pace, do you suppose? Or is that asking too much?' Without answering, Dionne dug in her heels again, urging her mare into a canter, and Melodie surged ahead. There was marshland to their left now while in the distance glimmered the waters of an etang. There was the unmistakable tang of salt in the air and Dionne was exhilarated by the sense of freedom she was experiencing. The sun was warm on her back, the brilliant blue marshes were alive with birds of every kind, swimming and swooping and making their own particular sounds; Melodie's solid little body moved rhythmically beneath her thighs, and her spirits rose excitedly. There was a closeness to nature about this area, an earthiness that disturbed her terribly, and waves of remembrance began to wash over her. This was not the first time she had ridden here with Manoel, but when she had ridden with him before their relationship had been part of the closeness to nature, part of the primitive force that drove all living creatures to find fulfilment with another of their own kind. She turned to look back at him. He had been allowing Consuelo to trot calmly behind her, but now, as his eyes met hers he deliberately urged the black mare on and she galloped past Dionne and across the marsh to the lagoon beyond. Dionne hesitated only a moment, and then she gave Melodie her head and the little mare galloped excitedly after her more muscular cousin. It was a wonderful experience, galloping across endlessly open spaces without a sign of habitation in sight. Their only companions were a herd of black cattle, and they were some distance away and ignored their progress. Salt water splashed up on to Dionne's legs and arms and she was glad she had had the presence of mind to wear boots instead of shoes.
The horses slowed as they entered a deeper lagoon, wading across its depths with complete disregard for their riders. Dionne was tempted to draw up her legs, but Manoel didn't, and she followed his example. She had no desire to lose her balance and fall into the lagoon. Even so, the blueness of the water and the sand beds beneath were enormously inviting and she thought how wonderful it would be to swim. They had left the road which she had followed in the Citroen, taking a more direct course across the marshes to the Mas St. Salvador, and Dionne found this route infinitely more appealing. Here there was no sign of land reclamation, of rice fields or tourists. It was completely unspoiled and beautiful, and to Dionne it was the most beautiful place on earth in that moment. Manoel slowed his mount and turned to look at her enraptured face, waiting for her to come abreast of him before speaking. 'Are you still disappointed?' he asked, leaning across to adjust her stirrup. Dionne shook her head, unable to suppress her pleasure in the morning, and Manoel looked at her searchingly for a moment before straightening and reaching into his pocket for his cheroots. Lighting one, he said: 'You're not finding it too tiring?' He narrowed his eyes against the glare of sun on water and looked at her again, his gaze flickering over her slim legs astride the white mare's broad back. 'You're not uncomfortable?' Dionne shook her head again. 'I expect I shall be stiff tomorrow, but . ..' She took a deep breath and expelled it on a sigh. 'This is all so beautiful, I haven't even thought about myself.' Manoel drew deeply on his cheroot, exhaling the pale blue smoke into the air above their heads. Then with harsh incisiveness, he asked: 'Why did you do it, Dionne?' Dionne caught her breath. 'Why - why did I do what?' 'Why did you go away without even telling me you were leaving? Don't you think I deserved to be told?'
His eyes raked her mercilessly, and Dionne moved hotly under that penetrating regard. She had been at peace for the first time since her arrival in the Camargue, and yet with one sentence Manoel was capable of destroying that peace with savage competence. Now she sought for words to answer him. 'Surely your mother made everything plain to you,' she said tautly. Manoel uttered an expletive. 'I am not talking about my mother! I am talking about you! I want to know why you chose to make a fool of me! I want to know where I went wrong - why after what happened between us that last night you should—' 'Oh, stop it, stop it!' Dionne put her hands over her ears, trying to silence the violent tone of his voice. 'What's the point of raking up the past? You chose your way, and I chose mine. That's all there is to it!' 'No, damn you, it is not!' Manoel caught the bridle of her horse as she would have urged Melodie forward. 'I agree, nothing can change what is past, but I demand to know why you agreed to take part in the ceremony when you must have known—' Dionne tried to wrest the bridle from his grasp, endeavouring to peel off his fingers and finding instead her own fingers imprisoned within them. The coolness of his flesh against the heat of hers was a tangible force, an exquisite flame that bound them together in this world of sun and water and sky. 'Dionne!' The urgency of his voice stirred her terribly, his eyes pinioning her in a look that penetrated the depths of her soul. Dionne couldn't get her breath. It wasn't fair that he should treat her like this, using his undoubted sensuality to seduce her into a state of mind where she would blurt out the truth and in so doing destroy herself. With a superhuman effort, she tore her fingers out of his grasp, and digging her knees into Melodie's sides she startled the small mare into instant action.
She surged out of the still waters of the deep lagoon and as soon as her hooves encountered the firmer surface of the marshes she raced away, Dionne clinging desperately to her shaggy mane. She heard Manoel call her name angrily, and then she was too absorbed with trying to remain on Melodie's back to hear anything else. For all her size, Melodie could move incredibly quickly and this was her terrain, her land, the land she was used to, and she refused to respond to any restraint Dionne tried to make. But before Dionne had time to feel really frightened the black mare appeared alongside her and Manoel reached out to grasp her reins powerfully. Gradually Melodie responded to the enforced pressure and her pace slowed until Manoel was able to draw both horses to a standstill. Only then did Dionne begin to tremble, as much from the look in Manoel's glittering eyes as from reaction to her wild flight. He swung down from his saddle, and for a moment Dionne thought he was going to tear her down, too. Then he turned to the sweating mare, soothing her with gentle words, stroking her nose until she calmed and nuzzled at his hand. Dionne watched him nervously, feeling chilled herself as realization of how near she had come to being thrown swept over her. She had behaved carelessly and foolishly and she wished Manoel would say something instead of just looking at her with contempt in the depths of his grey eyes. Somehow his attitude was worse than his anger and resentment bubbled irresponsibly up inside her. After all, he had been to blame. He had goaded her into behaving so arbitrarily. Manoel turned from the white mare at that moment, smoothed Consuelo's flank and swung himself back into the saddle. Then he looked across at Dionne. 'If you had lamed the mare . .he said, leaving the sentence unfinished, hanging in the air between them. Dionne's fingers tightened on the reins. 'Yes? What would you have done?'
Manoel's lips twisted. 'I think you know.' Dionne quivered with indignation. 'You think you're so all-powerful, don't you?' she burst out, sounding absurdly childish. Manoel shrugged, running a hand through the thick vitality of his hair, smoothing his fingers down to the nape of his neck. 'Don't try my patience too far, Dionne,' he advised her tolerantly, infuriating her still more by his assumption that she was in the wrong. He swung Consuelo's reins and the black mare turned obediently, but Dionne made no attempt to rally Melodie. Instead, she sat perfectly still, staring mutinously into space. 'Would you like me to attach a leading rein?' he asked, his black brows raised with sardonic derision. Dionne put down a hand to pat Melodie's neck. The mare was calm now, but she flinched beneath that light touch and Dionne felt a sense of recrimination. Looking up, her green eyes challenging his, she said: 'That won't be necessary.' Manoel shrugged, and digging in his heels he set Consuelo cantering away from her. Dionne followed more slowly, walking the mare through the reedchoked pools, noticing the clumps of wild rosemary, whose sweet perfume mingled with the more pungent scent of juniper. It was all so remote and beautiful and yet she could no longer think only of her surroundings. In the space of a few minutes the calm had been broken and she was intensely aware of the man who rode a few yards ahead of her, strong and arrogant on his black mount, no longer young and ardent with a love of life, but hard and experienced, lord of all he surveyed. They rode on in silence for a while, Dionne purposely keeping behind Manoel's horse to avoid conversation. From time to time he glanced round at her, but she averted her eyes and could not tell what he was thinking. The sun was climbing up the sky and it was becoming very hot and just as she was beginning to wish they would soon be there she saw the sloping roof of a small cabane in the distance.
Cabane was the name given to the homes of the gardiens who worked on the mas, but nowadays these dwellings were far superior to the one-roomed huts, made from reeds and rushwood, that used to serve. This particular cabane, however, was of the older variety with a thatched roof sloping to wide eaves. It was obviously deserted, Dionne saw as they drew nearer, and she wondered why Manoel was riding towards it with such directness. Reaching the space of flat, fertile ground in front of the cabane, Manoel dismounted, patting Consuelo's neck before stretching with indolent grace. Then he turned as Dionne approached, and said: 'Get down! I am thirsty and I think we both need a rest.' Dionne remained where she was and Manoel put his hands arrogantly on his hips. 'Do you want me to drag you down?' he inquired grimly. 'Or will you do as you are told?' Dionne compressed her lips. 'This is not the mas. You told me you were taking me to the mas!' Manoel made an impatient gesture. 'We are going to the mas, but later. Right now I am hungry. Aren't you?' Dionne looked at the deserted cabane with some trepidation. 'We - we can't get anything to eat here,' she persisted, aware of the erratic pounding of her heart. Manoel grasped Melodie's harness, staring at Dionne fiercely. 'For God's sake,' he swore, in a strangled tone. 'I'm not going to seduce you! I haven't brought you here to make love to you!' His eyes darkened. 'Get down, and we'll eat!' He released the mare abruptly and turned away and on trembling legs Dionne slid to the ground. The two mares grazed side by side on the rich turf, and Dionne turned towards Manoel. He was walking towards the cabane and as she watched he opened the door and disappeared inside. With a helpless shrug of her slim shoulders, Dionne
crossed the grass and came to the door of the building, peeping in nervously. It was dark inside the cabane after the brilliance outside, but as her eyes accustomed themselves to the light she saw Manoel was at a scrubbed wooden table, cutting into a thick curl of French bread. Although the cabane was not in use it was spotlessly clean and she could only assume that it was used for occasions like this by casual visitors. Manoel looked up and saw her, and she leaned against the doorpost defensively. The derision in his eyes was almost more than she could bear. His hands handling the knife were tanned a deep brown, narrow- fingered and masculine, and she wondered with an inescapable feeling of inevitability what it would be like to feel those brown hands on her body again. Once she had been able to touch him whenever she felt the need to do so, and that had been often. Then, his arms had closed around her with possessive strength, making her wholly aware of his need of her. Beside the bread there was some cheese, a slab of butter, and a bottle of wine, and Manoel indicated that she should come in and help herself. There were two plastic beakers and Dionne poured some wine into one of them, drinking thirstily, aware of the incongruity of doing so. Her eyes over the rim of the beaker surveyed the cabane appraisingly, noticing the blackened pan which stood beside an empty fire grate and the cramped sleeping quarters at the far end. No spring mattresses here, just a hard board on which a straw pallet could be laid. There only was the one room, and she was amazed to think that people actually lived and brought up their children in cabanes such as this. Manoel finished cutting the bread and threw the knife aside, reaching for the wine. Like Dionne he drank thirstily and then wiping his mouth on the back of his hand he nodded through the window to a well at the back of the building. 'The water's fresh,' he said carelessly, 'if a little brackish, but it's cool for washing if you feel the need.' He poured more wine. 'I shouldn't advise you to drink it unless you want a gastric stomach, but then perhaps you would rather make your own decision about that.' His tone was ironic, and Dionne's fists clenched into balls. He was deliberately trying to antagonize her.
Ignoring him, she spread butter on some of the delicious French bread and cut herself some cheese. In truth, she wasn't particularly hungry, but she had no intention of letting him know that. Manoel regarded her steadily for a moment and then with a shrug of his broad shoulders he disappeared outside and she was alone. She managed to swallow the bread interspersed with gulps of wine perched on the edge of the table, her legs swinging idly. She wondered where Manoel had gone. The wine had gone to her head and she was beginning to feel distinctly muzzy and she decided she would feel better outside. As she reached the door of the cabane she encountered Manoel about to come in, and he stood aside politely to allow her to pass. Outside, she walked carefully round to the rear of the building and finding a bucket drew some water and sluiced her face thoroughly. It was well she had worn the minimum amount of make-up, she thought, as she dabbed her face dry with her handkerchief. In these conditions no one could pay much attention to cosmetics. She felt better after the wash. It was very hot, though, and she unfastened another button of her blouse, lifting the thick coil of hair off her neck in an unconsciously provocative movement. And then she became aware that Manoel had come out of the cabane again and was standing watching her. Immediately her hands fell to her sides and she stood looking at him unguardedly, her breath coming in jerky gulps. Manoel continued to look at her for several minutes and then he walked indolently across the rough turf between them to halt only inches from her. Dionne held her head up high, refusing to allow him to see how disturbed he was making her, and his eyes narrowed coldly. 'Why do you wear your hair in that unbecoming knot?' he demanded harshly. 'As I recall, you always used to wear it loose.' Dionne quivered. 'I don't see what my hairstyle has to do with you!'
Manoel stood at his ease before her, his thumbs hooked into the low belt on his narrow hips. 'Do you not? And if I choose to make it so, what do you intend to do about it?' Dionne buttoned her blouse again. 'Please, Manoel, don't let's start another argument!' His expression hardened. 'Is that what you would call our earlier confrontation? An argument?' He shook his head. Dionne sighed. 'I wear my hair this way because as a teacher of some thirty-five children I need to appear perhaps a little older and a little more experienced,' she said, deciding it would be better to make some explanation than risk his anger. 'You're not in the classroom now, Dionne.' His eyes probed hers, dropping to the low V of her blouse. Dionne turned away, unable to stand up to these emotional hostilities. 'Please,' she said again, 'we should be going, shouldn't we?' She was intensely aware of him behind her and she had the awful conviction that if he should touch her she would make an absolute fool of herself. But Manoel seemed to tire of baiting her, and she heard him move away, whistling to his horse. Immediately she sagged. Always after reaching some emotional deadlock with Manoel she felt this intense feeling of anti-climax, and she smoothed her damp palms down the sides of her trousers weakly, wondering what it was she wanted him to do. It was useless pretending that the nearness of him did not disturb her intensely; so far as she was concerned the feelings she had had for him three years ago were as strong and destructive as ever, but she had known that long before she left England. That was why she had been so reluctant to come, so reluctant to test the strength of her suppression of those emotions in the face of such an onslaught as Manoel's presence caused to her nervous system. But she had consoled herself with the thought that Manoel would now be married, happily married, with perhaps a child of his own, and therefore totally immune from physical desire. But Manoel was not married, even though it seemed little more than a formality, and he was certainly not the
uncomplicated man she had known. He was harder, more experienced, less willing to accept anything on its face value, but for all that infinitely more attractive, and she wanted him now just as she had wanted him then ... He was mounted now, and waiting impatiently for her, and she pulled herself together and walked across to her horse. It was not so easy to climb into Melodie's saddle now. The hard ride and their subsequent rest had served to stiffen her muscles and she had the greatest difficulty in swinging her leg over the animal. She scrambled into her seat with undignified clumsiness, and hunched her shoulders tiredly. Manoel swung Consuelo's reins and the huge mare stepped delicately over to her. 'Are you all right?' he asked, his eyes less interrogative than before, an expression of genuine concern on his face. Dionne looked up with resignation. 'Of course,' she countered. 'Why shouldn't I be?' Manoel's lips twisted. 'Stop fighting me, Dionne,' he advised her quietly. 'At least try and behave like a civilized human being at the mas!' Dionne stared at him angrily. 'What do you mean by that?' Manoel's gaze flickered over her. 'My mother and Yvonne will be watching us - watching our reactions to one another. I don't intend to give them food for speculation!' Dionne's mouth felt dry. 'Then perhaps you shouldn't have brought me here!' she retorted. Manoel's eyes narrowed. 'Don't try to fight me at my own game,' he said contemptuously. 'Just remember what I have said!' With a movement of his wrist, the black mare moved away and Dionne had, perforce, to follow him. The land was less marshy now. They were nearing the mas. In the far distance Dionne could see the surrounding protective belt of trees and in
front of these, corrals and outbuildings. They saw a herd of cattle, mostly young bulls, being driven to another grazing area by a group of gardiens who raised their hats pol« itely when they saw le patron and considered Dionne with undisguised interest. She shivered when several of the bulls sheered away from the group towards them, but Manoel gestured her to stay where she was and he rode out to meet them, swinging them back into the herd. He was an expert horseman, but Dionne's heart was in her mouth as the heavy beasts lowered their horns menacingly before submitting to authority. When Manoel rode back to her a few minutes later Dionne avoided his eyes. She had no wish for him to see how terrified she had been. It was simply another example of the agony she was bound to suffer when she left the Camargue again, and not even Jonathan could entirely console her for that.
CHAPTER FIVE THE Mas St. Salvador was approached between corrals and a small, rough arena where Dionne had once watched Manoel perform with his bulls. Plane trees spread their wide leaves beside the track, providing avenues of shade from the heat of the afternoon sun, while nearer the house there were tamarisks and cypresses. Because of the fertility of the soil around the mas Madame St. Salvador had been able to cultivate a small garden near the house where she grew vegetables and plants. She was a keen gardener, that much Dionne remembered, although her recollections of Manoel's mother were always tinged with bitterness. There seemed to be no one about when they dismounted in the yard before the building and Dionne looked about her with interest. The mas was typical of buildings in the Camargue, one-storied and squat, but it was larger than most, its rambling width having been added to over the years. The windows were tall and narrow, shutters bolted back against the walls now, but in winter, when the mistral blew down the valley, they were warmly and securely fastened. Dionne glanced at Manoel, who had led the horses across to a water trough at the far side of the yard and was now returning to her with long lazy strides. He stopped beside her, looking down at her piercingly. 'Well?' he said. 'Is it as you remembered?' Dionne nodded, scarcely trusting herself to speak, and Manoel put a hand beneath her elbow and guided her up the shallow step into the narrow passage that ran from front to back of the mas. The touch of his flesh against hers was too much at this time, and she moved quickly, freeing herself, so that an ironic gleam appeared in his grey eyes. It took a few moments to accustom her eyes to the darkness of the passage after the sunshine outside, and it struck her as chill. Then Manoel was opening a door to his left and propelling her, not very gently, into the huge kitchen. Despite the heat of the day, a fire burned in the wide grate, and Dionne's eyes were drawn to it first. Then she realized there was someone else in the room. A woman, in her late fifties, was in the process of boning a
ham, helped by a young girl, little more than fifteen years old. Dionne recognized Madame St. Salvador at once, although she, like Manoel, looked much older than she remembered. The older woman's eyes darted compulsively to Dionne as Manoel urged her into the room, and she said, with forceful impatience: 'So you've brought her, then?' She spoke in English and Dionne suspected that this was because she wanted the girl to understand every word that was said between her and her son. Manoel made an indifferent gesture. 'So it would appear,' he observed dryly. Madame St. Salvador wiped her hands on a damp cloth and spoke to the young girl who had been assisting her, dismissing her abruptly. Then she approached Dionne, her eyes wary. 'Why have you come here?' she demanded, shocking Dionne by the suddenness of her attack, and Manoel put out a deterring hand. 'You know why she is here, Maman,' he asserted firmly. His mother gave him a scornful glance. 'Oh, oui, I know why she is here, at the mas! But I want to know why she has come back to the Camargue! I want to know why she thinks that just because she was your mistress, she has any right—' 'Sois silencieuse!' Manoel uttered the words harshly and yet distinctly, and his mother lapsed into glowering resentment. 'Maintenant, where is Yvonne?' He glanced round. 'Is she resting?' His mother looked as though she was not going to answer him and then the look in Manoel's eyes changed her mind. 'Of course she is resting,' she muttered mutinously. 'You know she always rests after lunch. You are later than we expected, as I am sure you know.' Manoel moved negligently towards the door. 'Then we will go and see Gemma,' he said, his eyes flickering to Dionne's pale face.
Madame St. Salvador shrugged her bony shoulders. She had always been a thin woman, and with greying hair accentuating the gauntness of her features she looked almost emaciated. 'As you wish.' Dionne swallowed with difficulty. Manoel's mother had not changed one bit. She still hated her as much today as she had ever done. But it was hard to take, particularly as her nerves were already taut and every minute spent in this house made her feel worse. She looked at Manoel, searching for some sign of his feelings in his face, but apart from a muscle jerking just above his jawline he seemed completely unmoved by the tensions in the room. 'Come!' He addressed himself to Dionne now and she moved rather jerkily towards the door, glad to escape from Madame St. Salvador's presence. Outside, in the narrow passage, Manoel moved towards another door further along, but Dionne caught his sleeve impulsively. 'Please, Manoel,' she pleaded, 'please don't make me go on!' Manoel hesitated. 'Why? What did you expect from Maman? Her good wishes? A welcome, perhaps?' Dionne bent her head. 'No! Never that!' She looked up. 'Can't you see she hates me? Everyone here hates me!' Manoel did not dispute her tremulous statement even though she thought he might. Surely if he hated her so he would have refused to give her the money. Unless he considered it was worth the sacrifice in order to make her suffer these agonies of humiliation. Turning away from her, he tapped lightly at the door, and a frail voice called: 'Entrez!' Manoel opened the door and stepped into the aperture, his face taking on an entirely different expression. Dionne heard a familiar, yet weakened, voice say: 'Ah, Manoel, c'est toi! Tu as apporte Dionne?'
Manoel nodded, bending his head to pass under the low beamed doorway. 'Elle est la. Voyons, Dionne.' Dionne moved reluctantly through the doorway and into the shadowy room. It was a large room, with panelled wooden walls hung with impressionist paintings of the Camargue, done by Demetre, the gypsy artist Gemma had helped so much. Rugs adorned the polished wood floor and the furniture was large and cumbersome, most of it very old. An enormous fourposter took up a great deal of the space that was left and propped up on a mound of pillows in the centre of this great bed was a small dark-haired old lady with eyes still as bright and inquisitive as Dionne remembered. This was Gemma, Manoel's grandmother of the gypsy blood, from whom he had inherited so many facets of his character, as well as the raven's wing darkness of his hair and the penetrating brilliance of his eyes. Of all the St. Salvadors Dionne realized that Gemma had changed the least, and she wondered how she had been persuaded to leave her caravan and return once more to the mas which she despised. Dionne hovered in the doorway and the bright bird's eyes turned irritably in her direction. Then Gemma indicated that she should come to the bed and Dionne moved towards her nervously. 'Hello, Gemma,' she said unsteadily. 'How are you?' For several minutes the old woman just stared at her and Dionne moved uncomfortably beneath that intent appraisal. And then Gemma turned to her grandson, nodding her head with some satisfaction. 'Bien!' she said. 'I am obliged to you, Manoel. You may leave us for a while.' 'Oh, but—' began Dionne, only to be silenced by a look from Manoel's grey eyes, and with lithe grace he crossed the room to the door and went out with a casual salute of farewell to his grandmother. Dionne watched the heavy door close behind him and pressed the nails of one hand into the palm of the other. Then she looked back at the bed and at the indomitable little woman who sat in its centre so regally. Gemma had
once told her that she had the blood of royalty in her veins and looking at her now Dionne wondered how anyone could doubt it. Gemma regarded her impatiently, and then said: 'Find somewhere to sit. Here - on the bed - beside me. Now . .she flicked a finger towards Dionne's pale cheeks. 'So you have come back to us.' Dionne lifted her shoulders imperceptibly. 'For a short while,' she conceded. 'To see Manoel?' 'Yes.' Dionne did not look up, concentrating on the leaf motif that formed a pattern on the quilt. 'Why?' Gemma was like Manoel; sharp and to the point; like his mother had been, only Madame St. Salvador had been different somehow. 'I need some money.' Dionne answered her truthfully. There was no point in prevaricating with Gemma. Sooner or later she would get the truth out of her, and Dionne was only afraid she might not have the strength to withstand other, more personal, questions. 'I see.' Gemma lay back on her pillows, her eyes narrowed thoughtfully. 'And why come to Manoel? After what happened, I should have thought he would be the last person you would turn to.' Dionne heaved a sigh. 'There was no one else to ask.' 'And you think asking Manoel is fair?' Dionne shrugged. 'I don't know.' 'Why do you need money? Are you in trouble?' 'No, not trouble exactly.' Dionne looked up into her gnarled old face helplessly. 'Look, Gemma, this is between Manoel and me - no one else. I'm sorry, but that's the way it has to be. If he thinks that by bringing me here - to you - he can—'
Gemma interrupted her hotly, her dark eyes flashing fire. 'I demanded that you be brought to me,' she stated arrogantly. 'When Louise told me you were in Aries—' 'Louise told you?' 'Of course. You don't imagine Manoel . . .' Gemma made, an impatient gesture. 'No, Louise was responsible. Surely you know Manoel better than that, Dionne. You should!' Dionne's cheeks burned hotly. She got up from the bed abruptly and walked jerkily across the room to the narrow window. 'You - you haven't told me why you're living at the mas. Why you've abandoned the caravan!' Gemma watched her for a few minutes and then uttered an expletive. 'I had a fall - several months ago. These doctors - they are so afraid of death themselves that they insist on protecting everyone from its relief! They insisted I be brought to the mas and kept under observation!' She clenched her small fists. 'Had it not been for Manoel I would never have permitted it. As it was . . .' She spread her palms. 'So I am here - with her!' She pointed unmistakably towards the kitchen where her daughter-in-law, Manoel's mother, was working. 'I see.' Dionne turned back to lean against the window frame. 'You ought to be company for one another now that — now that Manoel's father is dead.' 'Albert?' Gemma twisted her lips, looking remarkably like her grandson for a moment. 'You know Albert and I never had anything in common. How could I have anything in common with his widow? That tight- lipped, cold female who only did one good thing in the whole of her life!' 'Which was?' inquired Dionne curiously. 'She bore Manoel!' Gemma gripped the coverlet tightly. 'Manoel! The son I should have had. The real fruit of my loins! Oh, yes, I would do much for Manoel!'
Dionne's colour deepened and she bent her head awkwardly. Only Gemma could talk like this without sounding theatrical. As it was Dionne found her throat aching with the suppression of emotion, and she moved across to the dressing-table to finger a brush whose handle was made of mother-of-pearl. 'Louise told me about Yvonne,' murmured Dionne, her back to the bed so that Gemma could not see her expression. 'Did she?' Gemma sounded disinterested. 'Yes.' Dionne turned to lean against the dressing- table. 'It must have been terrible!' Gemma sniffed indifferently. 'For Yvonne, yes,' she conceded ungracefully. Dionne shook her head. 'But she was always so active! So full of energy! It must have been a ghastly blow!' 'I imagine it was.' Gemma lay back on her pillows wearily. 'But how did it happen?' Dionne persisted. 'Louise said she was tormenting the bulls - because - because she and Manoel had had a rowGemma closed her eyes. 'I believe that was how it happened,' she said tiredly. 'But - but why would she do such a thing? Surely no argument with Manoel—' Gemma held up a hand, her eyes still closed. 'I'm very tired suddenly,' she said. 'Please to go.' Dionne sighed and put the hairbrush down on the dressing-table and walked towards the door. But as she reached out a hand to the handle Gemma opened her eyes again and Dionne could have sworn she wasn't tired at all, but pretending. 'I want to see you again,' she said sharply. 'When will you come?'
Dionne gasped. 'But - but I have to go back to England!' 'Why? What is so urgent there? A man?' 'No!' Dionne tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. 'No, but I do have a job—' 'Nonsense! You're just making excuses! Manoel will arrange it. Send him to me before you go.' Dionne shook her head helplessly and then as Gemma's eyes closed again she went out through the door, closing it quietly behind her. In the passage she hesitated, and then she heard voices coming from the kitchen and knew she had to go there to find Manoel. Reluctantly she opened the door and entered the room. Despite the fact that Manoel and his mother were there, it was to the occupant of the wheelchair which stood in the middle of the tiled floor that Dionne's eyes were drawn. The girl who sat so proudly in the wheelchair was Yvonne Demaris, the girl Manoel's mother had so desperately wanted him to marry. Yvonne, surprisingly, had not changed a lot in spite of the accident. She had always been a good-looking girl, with a mane of golden-brown hair that was presently caught up in a pony tail. Her features had always been narrow, her face long, her eyes an indeterminate shade of blue-grey. But there was hostility in her eyes now, just as there had been in Madame St. Salvador's, and the fingers plucking nervously at the rug which covered her knees betrayed her inner excitement. Dionne marvelled at the strength of character of Gemma. Obviously neither of these two women had wanted her here, but their opinions had been overruled by that autocratic old woman whose word had always stood for much more than anyone else's, except perhaps Manoel's.
For a few agonizing seconds no one spoke, and then Manoel broke the enforced silence. 'You have been dismissed from the presence?' he inquired mockingly. Dionne nodded. 'I suppose you could put it like that.' She bit her lip and looked at the other girl. 'Hello, Yvonne. I - I was sorry to hear of your accident. But you're looking well.' Yvonne raised her dark eybrows and glanced briefly at Manoel's mother. 'Why should you feel sorry, mademoiselle?' she asked coldly. 'I am quite sure the news of my disablement delighted you!' Dionne flushed. 'You're quite wrong. Anyone would feel distressed to hear of such a thing!' And then with spirit, she added: 'However, I'm glad to see it hasn't blunted the sharpness of your tongue, Yvonne!' Yvonne's lips parted indignantly. 'How dare you? Coming here, talking to me like that, you—' 'Pour I'amour de Dieu!' Manoel raised his eyes heavenward. 'Enough of this petty bickering! I will not have it!' He looked at Dionne. 'Sit down! My mother has made coffee. We will have some before we leave, oui?' Dionne did not see that she had much choice in the matter and she moved obediently to sit on the wooden settle by the fire. Despite the warmth of the day outside the kitchen was quite cold and she was glad of that cheerful blaze. Madame St. Salvador moved reluctantly to the stove, taking out cups and saucers and placing them deliberately noisily on to a tray. Yvonne caught Manoel's arm, speaking to him swiftly in their own language, using a patois which Dionne could not hope to understand and therefore excluding her from their conversation. Manoel listened intently to what she was saying, his hands thrust casually into the waistband at the back of his trousers, his head bent towards the girl. Dionne, watching them, wondered why, as they were so obviously going to get married, the ceremony had not taken place before this. Louise had told her it was three years since Yvonne's accident and her presence here, at the mas, showed that nothing had changed between them.
Her heart twisted. What were Yvonne's chances of recovery? Would she ever be able to live a normal life again, a normal married life? Would she ever be able to give Manoel a son to carry on the line of St. Salvadors? Dionne sighed. If she had had any faint doubts about not telling Manoel about Jonathan the situation here precluded them. Yvonne's condition would always stand between them, and no matter how unkind Yvonne had been to her in the past, she could not destroy her hopes for the future. Madame St. Salvador brought her a large cup of steaming, aromatic coffee. It was strong and black and was exactly what Dionne needed after the events of the afternoon. Manoel lit a cheroot and moved away from Yvonne's chair, his gaze flickering over Dionne with disturbing appraisal. Then Dionne remembered what Gemma had said. 'Your - your grandmother wishes to see you before we leave,' she said awkwardly. 'I forgot to tell you.' Manoel hesitated a moment and then strode out of the room. Left alone with Madame St. Salvador and Yvonne, Dionne felt reasonably apprehensive. Manoel's mother gave Yvonne some coffee and then looked across at Dionne. 'When are you leaving?' she asked abruptly. 'You mean - when am I going back to England?' 'Of course.' Dionne ran her tongue over her dry lips. 'I - I'm not sure. In a few days, I suppose.' Yvonne looked at the other girl's bare fingers, and then at the magnificent solitaire diamond on her own finger. 'You're not married, then? Or betrothed?' Dionne shook her head. 'No.' Madame St. Salvador came towards her. 'Did you come back here to cause trouble, mademoiselle?' she demanded angrily.
Dionne was taken aback. 'No. No, of course not.' She bit her lip before going on. 'I didn't want to come here, to the mas! That - that was Gemma's doing, as I'm sure you know.' 'Gemma!' Manoel's mother uttered the word disparagingly. 'That woman has been the cause of all the trouble between Manoel and his family! She has done her best to ruin his life!' 'Gemma is his family, too,' Dionne pointed out quietly. Madame St. Salvador lifted her head. 'She is not family! She is a gypsy, a lazy gitana, fit for nothing but pilfering and horse-stealing! A careless, irresponsible old woman who thinks she can rule our lives by her own laws!' Her fists clenched fiercely. 'But she is getting old, old, do you hear? And she will die soon! Then we'll all be free of her - of her incantations and superstitions, her stupid beliefs that have cast a pall of misery over this household!' Dionne drew back from her in disgust. 'She's an old woman, yes,' she said distinctly. 'But she is not irresponsible! You must know she was a princess in her tribe, and if Manoel's grandfather hadn't fallen in love with her and brought her to live here, at the mas, she would have married the chief of the tribe!' 'Allons, done!' Madame St. Salvador sneered. 'What tale is this she's been telling you? So she married my father-in-law, but her love for her family was so great that as soon as her husband was dead she abandoned them and went back to the Romany life!' Dionne rose to her feet. 'You don't understand; she hated being confined! She hated living in a house, having the same scenery outside her windows day after day, year after year! And by the time her husband died her son was already married... to you.' Madame St. Salvador thrust her face close to Dionne's. 'At least my husband knew his position and kept to it, mademoiselle! He despised his mother just as much as I do!'
'Do you think I don't know that?' Dionne snapped, her own anger aroused by Manoel's mother's condemnation of the woman Dionne had once cared for deeply. 'You made her life a misery! A living death! You with your petty rules and regulations, your proud plans for Manoel's future! You never cared for his happiness, only that he should further your ambitions for power!' 'How dare you?' Madame St. Salvador was incensed, and even Yvonne was leaning forward in the wheelchair, her eyes bright with vicarious enjoyment. 'You - you troublemaker! Coming here with your pretence in researching gypsy lore, your academic qualifications! Trying to blind my son with your intellectual talk when all you really wanted was to get into bed with him!' She took a deep breath. 'And that senile old chienne encouraged you. Poor fool, don't you know she would do anything to spite me; even arrange a socalled marriage ceremony between the two of you to make what you were doing seem right and decent to my son!' Dionne gasped, drawing the collar of her blouse together with trembling fingers. 'You are a malicious liar!' she cried, and then fell back aghast as Madame St. Salvador's hand stung painfully against her cheek. 'God in heaven! What is going on here?' Manoel strode angrily into the room, his gaze going first to Dionne standing in horror with a hand pressed to her stinging cheek and then to his mother, who was gripping the edge of the polished wood table in an effort to support herself. 'Get her out of this house!' Madame St. Salvador cried fiercely. 'She has been saying the most vile things to me! How could you bring her here knowing how she felt about - me - about everything!' 'That's not true!' Dionne's indignant exclamation was lost in the storm of weeping that Manoel's mother suddenly succumbed to, while Yvonne spoke reproachfully to Manoel in the patois she had used before, casting angry glances in Dionne's direction. She wheeled her chair close to the woman
who was going to be her mother-in- law, putting an arm around her, comforting her with soft remonstrances. Dionne stared at the three of them; Madame St. Salavador sobbing bitterly into her handkerchief; Yvonne trying apparently unsuccessfully to comfort her; Manoel, an exasperated expression on his face, obviously trying to decide who was telling the truth; and with a broken ejaculation she brushed past them all, rushing out of the room to the comparative privacy of the yard outside where only the hens and an inquisitive sparrow shared her mortification. She stood just outside the door of the building taking great gulping breaths of air, trying to still the wild beating of her heart. She had never been so humiliated, not even on that occasion three years ago when Madame St. Salavador, had told her, in no uncertain terms, exactly where Manoel's duty lay. Then there had been hope to fortify the lonely nights to come. Now there was none, and she felt desolated. She walked on unsteady legs across the yard to lean on the fence of a corral where several of the sturdy white horses used on the mas were confined after their morning's work. Bales of hay had been thrown into the corral for them and they were eating and rolling in the dust with complete disregard for anyone or anything. Dionne envied them. How simple their lives were compared to hers. All that was expected of them was a fair day's work in return for which they were fed and housed and when necessary, mated. She scrubbed a hand across her cheek, wiping away the solitary tear that refused to be suppressed. She should never have come here, she told herself again, as she had told herself so many times before. She should never have allowed Clarry to persuade her that Jonathan should not be denied this chance to get completely well again simply because she could not afford it, when his own father had unlimited wealth. Some things were worth more than money, and she shivered uncontrollably when she considered how she would feel if Manoel's mother ever got control of Jonathan. And it could happen, she thought sickly. She was so absorbed with her own misery that she was not aware that anyone had come out of the house and crossed the yard to her side, and
consequently she started violently when Manoel said: 'Dionne!' in a totally different voice from the one he had used in the house. She shrank away from him and he muttered an impatient exclamation. 'Dionne, for God's sake!' A muscle worked in his jaw and his eyes were dark with emotion. 'Stop looking at me as though I was about to beat you! I'm not. I'm only sorry you had to - take - what you did!' Dionne's breath came in jerky gulps. 'Is that supposed to be an apology for what happened in there?' she demanded shakily. Manoel's eyes narrowed. 'I apologize for nobody. I'm only telling you what I feel.' Dionne made a little shaking movement with her head. 'You - you St. Salvadors! Exactly who do you think you are?' She quelled a sob that rose in her throat. 'I didn't want to come here, and I certainly didn't want the kind of confrontation with your mother I had, but at least I don't imagine that I'm immune from blame!' 'Do you think I do?' Manoel's eyes glittered. 'Yes!' Dionne nodded. 'Yes, yes, I do. You - you've treated me like - like a puppet - ever since I arrived, making me dance to your tune because you had the upper hand. Well, no more! I'm through with the whole rotten business! You can keep your money! I don't want it!' 'Dionne!' He ground out the word furiously, but she turned away, running across the yard to where Melodie was standing, waiting patiently. Ignoring his commands to leave the horse alone, Dionne swung herself up into the saddle and digging in her heels set the animal cantering away before Manoel had chance to stop her. He flung himself into the saddle of his own horse, and Dionne felt a quivering thrill of apprehension. She knew she could try Manoel so far and no further, and right now he was nearing the end of his tether.
But she didn't stop to consider the consequences, giving Melodie her head and galloping swiftly across the plain stretch of grassland that fronted the mas. The white mare sped across the turf, but this time Dionne was in control and the wind through her hair was clean and invigorating after the close confines of the farmhouse and its accompanying atmosphere of hate and suspicion. She could feel the wind tearing the pins out of her hair, sending it streaming out behind her like a scarf of black silk, but she didn't care. It was wonderful to feel free again. But inevitably, as they splashed through a shallow etang Manoel's black mare began to gain on them, and soon she was alongside and Manoel was reaching purposefully for her reins. Dionne sheered away, almost unseating him, and as she turned to glance back at him Melodie turned again, throwing Dionne sideways out of the saddle. There was an awful moment when she was in the air, and then she landed, but softly, in the squelching mud of marshy ground. Her immediate reaction was not one of pain or even of feeling winded, but rather a depressing realization that her cream pants and purple blouse would be ruined. She lay there for several moments, too annoyed to get up, but suddenly Manoel was beside her, sliding down from the black mare's back, dropping to his haunches to stare down at her anxiously. 'Dionne,' he exclaimed huskily. 'Are you all right? Have I hurt you?' Dionne looked up at him bemusedly, propped on one elbow, the revers of her blouse parting to reveal the creamy curve of her breast. 'I'm dirty, that's all,' she answered helplessly, her antagonism dissolving beneath the concern in his eyes. She shook her head so that the curtain of her hair fell about her face. 'I guess it was a crazy thing to do. I'm sorry, Manoel.' 'Oh, Dionne!' Manoel got abruptly to his feet, raking a hand through his hair with violent compulsion. 'For God's sake, get up!'
Dionne looked up at him, very much aware of him, of his strength, of his disturbing personality, of her aching need of him. With deliberation, she said: 'Help me up, Manoel. Unless you're afraid of getting your hands dirty.' Manoel turned, his expression controlled, holding out a hand to her automatically. Dionne put her hand into his, feeling his skin burning hers even though his flesh was cool. He drew her up easily, and then released her, turning to grasp Consuelo's bridle with mechanical movements. Dionne's throat constricted. Even the back of his head disturbed her, and she had the strongest impulse to slide her arms around him from behind, pressing her body close against his. But then sanity returned and she forced herself to think about Jonathan and the terrible risks she was taking by just being near Manoel. For a few moments she had been in danger of making him do something that would have made him despise her even more than he did already, and for what? A whim! A moment's urgency that had temporarily dismissed all other considerations. As though in control of himself again, Manoel turned at that moment, his eyes taut and angry. 'Are you ready?' he demanded, and she nodded slowly. 'Good. Then shall we ride back to the mas?' 'To the mas?' Dionne was horrified. 'I don't want to go back there!' 'You intend entering town in your condition, then?' His voice was cold, indifferent. Dionne glanced down at her mud-stained garments and put up a hand to her untidy hair. 'I - er - I'll have to, shan't I?' Manoel hesitated and then he heaved a sigh. 'We will go to the cabane,' he said decisively. Dionne trembled. 'All right.' 'Bien! Allons!'
Manoel mounted Consuelo and held Melodie's bridle as Dionne scrambled into her seat. Then without another word he dug in his heels and sent the black mare cantering gracefully across the marsh. It did not take long to reach the cabane, but Dionne was scarcely aware of the passage of time. Outside the thatched roof dwelling she washed in water from the well while Manoel went into the cabane to get a drink. The mud soon dissolved from her hands and arms and she longed to take off her blouse and rinse her neck and shoulders. But of course she couldn't do that, so she contented herself with unbuttoning her blouse and splashing cooling water on to her throat so that it ran down with chilling fingers over her warm body. She was staring concentratedly into space, lost in her thoughts, when Manoel emerged from the cabane and came across to her with his lithe pantherlike tread. Immediately, confusion swept over her, and she drew her blouse about her in embarrassed silence while Manoel glared at her fiercely. 'What in the name of God are you doing?' he demanded savagely, his eyes lingering on her creamy throat rising from the opened neck of the blouse. 'I was hot,' explained Dionne defensively. 'I was just trying to cool myself.' Manoel surveyed her flushed cheeks with disturbing intensity. 'You can't treat the open plain as a bathroom,' he snapped shortly. 'Anyone could come upon you out here! How would you react to that idea?' Dionne's fingers trembled as she tried rather unsuccessfully to button her blouse. 'You would say something like that, of course,' she accused him unsteadily. 'Well, you've come upon me, so what are you going to do about it?' Manoel's eyes darkened suddenly. 'What do you want me to do about it?' Dionne's fingers were stilled by the look in his eyes, and she knew in that instant that she had gone too far this time; she had taken the fatal step towards the unknown.
Trying to dispel the tension that had fallen on them, she moved swiftly, and would have put the width of the well between them. But he was quicker and before she could escape, Manoel's hand shot out, fastening on to the soft flesh of her upper arm, drawing her inexorably towards him, his arms sliding round her slim waist. Dionne struggled, but it was useless against his superior strength, and he pressed her unyielding body back against his so that she could feel every hard muscle of his chest and arms and thighs, and it was an exquisite torture. Then he bent his head and pushing her hair aside, his mouth found the soft nape of her neck, burning her flesh with its intensity. 'Don't! Manoel, please, don't!' she moaned, turning her head desperately from side to side. His mouth moved up the side of her neck. 'Why?' he asked thickly against her skin. 'Why shouldn't I take what is mine, and you are mine - you know it as well as I do!' And with rough expertise he twisted her round in his arms and his mouth sought hers. Dionne pressed her lips together tightly. This was madness, she must not respond, but she had invited it. Manoel grew impatient, and one hand slid up her throat to her lips, forcing them apart, lingering against her tongue. Then his mouth found that parted sweetness, devouring her with hungry passion. Dionne's body lost all resistance and became soft and pliant, moulding itself to his. She clung to him convulsively, her hands sliding up his chest to grip the dark thick hair that grew low on his neck, caressing his nape. But when his hands slid beneath her blouse, against her bare flesh, seeking the soft warmth of her skin, Dionne fought for sanity. They were alone here, miles from habitation of any kind, and although the prospect of his lovemaking made coherent thought a mockery, she had to fight for self-preservation; for Jonathan as well as herself. With a superhuman effort, she tore herself away from him, taking advantage of his relaxed hold on her, and fastening her blouse she walked swiftly away to the cabane, striving for control.
When she finally turned, Manoel still had his back to her, but as she watched he moved, bending to the well, and sluicing his face and neck with water. He ran his damp hands through his hair, and then straightened, flexing his muscles tiredly, before turning towards her. The expression on his face shredded her emotions. There was such a wealth of bitterness, of grim loneliness in his face. Without speaking, he strode to the black mare and swung himself into the saddle. He came back to where Dionne stood, looking down at her contemptuously now. 'Get on your horse!' he commanded harshly, and Dionne hesitatingly complied. Without another word Manoel dug in his heels and rode away, leaving her to follow him. He rode well ahead of her all the way to the outskirts of Aries and made her dismount some distance from the hotel. She looked up at him puzzlingly, and his mouth twisted. 'I don't want to come into town,' he told her coldly. 'Besides, I am sure you will have no difficulty in finding your way back to the hotel. If you do, you can always ask someone. Any man would be willing to oblige, I'm sure!' And without waiting for her retaliation, he rode away, leaving Dionne feeling worse than she had ever done in her whole life.
CHAPTER SIX IT was the following morning before Dionne tried to make sense of her troubled situation. For the whole of the previous evening and well into the night she had been too numb with grief to feel anything but frozen immobility, and although she had eventually slept, her sleep had been punctuated with tortuous dreams of Manoel snatching Jonathan away from her, of his mother hiding the child away where Dionne could never reach him. In the morning she sat, haggard-eyed, at her dressing-table, staring at her reflection in the mirror as though trying to find inspiration in the unhappy lines of her face. But all she kept remembering was Manoel's face when he had turned to her at the cabane, the scorn and bitterness which had been so much worse than actual accusation. Why did he blame her for acting as she had? Did he think her the kind of woman who taunted a man into action and then withdrew with callous disregard for the man's feelings? Didn't he realize it had been just as agonizing for her as for him? She had not wanted to draw back; all her senses had cried out for a satisfaction they had not received. She cupped her chin on her hands, resting her elbows on the edge of the polished wood. Fleeting glimpses of the past came back to torment her and she saw again the inexperienced girl she had been when first she came to the Camargue three years ago ... She had been on the point of finishing her teacher training course and had jumped at the chance of three months in France. As it had turned out almost all the three months had been spent in Provence. She had spent an initial period in Paris and then after hiring an old car had driven south. She spent ten days exploring the chateaux of the Loire Valley and had then continued through the wine-growing areas to Provence. It was May, and the weather was idyllic - not hot enough to bring out the swarms of irritating mosquitoes that frequented the area nor cool enough to require anything more than the lightest of garments.
The area around Aries and Les Saintes Maries de la Mer was crowded with gypsies and tourists, all there for the celebrations that took place every year to commemorate the landing in Provence of the three Marys who later gave Les Saintes Maries their name. But it was the servant of the saints, the dark-skinned Sara, to whom the gypsies paid homage, and although she was never canonized in Rome, she was regarded as a saint among the Romany peoples. There were many legends about her, as Dionne was soon to learn, but at that time she had merely found the whole gathering quite exciting. Armed with a camera and notebooks to write down her impressions, she had driven to Les Saintes Maries one sunny morning at the beginning of her stay and literally run into fate. The old car she had hired had been unreliable at best, and when the steering locked and she had ended up in the ditch, thankful to be still alive, she had found herself on the fringes of a gypsy encampment. A rather handsome young man had helped her out of the ditch, and had taken her to meet his grandmother, insisting that she could not possibly refuse such an invitation. Of course, the young man had been Manoel, and Gemma had been his grandmother. It was only later that she had discovered, quite by accident, that Manoel was only a quarter gypsy, and three-quarters Provencal aristocracy. But to begin with their relationship had been such that she had not dared to question the happiness she was experiencing. Every day had been a new delight, and encouraged by that rather formidable old lady, his grandmother, they had spent most days together. She had not learned until later that Manoel's parents had been away and that was why his time at the gypsy encampment had never been questioned. But even after Monsieur and Madame St. Salvador had returned and Dionne had begun to realize exactly what was expected of him and how impossible her position was Manoel had continued to see her, refusing to allow anyone or anything to part them. Dionne had met his parents, she had met Louise, his fourteen-year- old sister, and she had been chilled by his parents' cold attitude towards their only son.
Later, she had met Yvonne Demaris, and betweenthem, Madame St. Salvador and Yvonne, they had made it plain that Manoel was expected to marry Yvonne, it had been arranged since they were children, and nothing and no one, particularly not some little chit from England, was going to prevent it. But Manoel's parents had planned without considering Gemma, and she was not a force to be lightly dismissed. As the long hot days sped by, she remained in her caravan, on the edges of the St. Salvador estate, engineering meetings between Dionne and Manoel, knowing that sooner or later she would have her way. But although Dionne loved Manoel desperately, she could not become his mistress. And curiously, although he must have known he had the power to break down her defences, Manoel did not force his demands upon her. And she loved him all the more because of his restraint even though it must have placed a terrible burden upon him. Their lovemaking had reached a point where they had only to touch to be instantly aware of their need of one another, and Dionne had dreamed that some day Manoel might defy his parents and run away with her. Gemma, of course, with her innate cunning understood their situation better than anyone. She had watched their relationship develop and she knew exactly what was to happen. In July, when the festival of the corrida was being held in Aries, she invited the gypsies of her tribe to a gathering at Mas St. Salvador. Dozens came, much to the disgust of Manoel's parents, but there was nothing they could do to stop it. Manoel's grandfather had left his son in charge of the mas, but it belonged to his wife, Gemma, until she died. There was much feasting and excitement, of course. Nights of wine and dancing and music that aroused Dionne and Manoel as it was intended to do. Manoel had gypsy blood in his veins, after all, and the long summer days had tanned Dionne's slender limbs, making her as golden and tantalizing as a witch. He could not leave her alone; he was madly in love with her, and their relationship was reaching crisis point.
Gemma could not have been more pleased. Manoel was the focal point of her world, her beloved grandson, blood of her blood, heir to Mas St. Salvador, and she refused to consider him marrying a cold, calculating virago, which was her description of Yvonne Demaris. On the afternoon of the procession in Aries, Manoel took Dionne to the bullfight in the arena. It was a scorchingly hot afternoon and the smell of death was in the air, mingled with the sweat from many heated bodies. It was an afternoon when nature made one aware of the primitive needs of the blood and Dionne was intensely conscious that her time in Provence was running out. Manoel seemed aware of this, too, and exhibited a recklessness that she had never seen before. When the roars of the crowd at the corrida turned to jeers of scorn at the ineptitude of one of the matadors, Manoel left his seat and leapt down into the arena to take his place. He took the matador's cape and Dionne had to watch in terrified immobility as he made passes that excited the crowd to wild hysteria, shouting and urging him on, eager for the kill. But Manoel did not kill the bull; he diced with death for many long minutes, but when he left the arena was unblemished by the brilliance of blood on sand, and the bull stood tired and panting, confused by what had occurred. Dionne was confused, too, and before Manoel could return to his seat she rushed away and he found her outside, sick and trembling. When he comforted her, she turned away from him, unable to forgive him for frightening her so. They returned to the gypsy encampment despite Dionne's protestations, and Manoel confronted Gemma with what he had done. But Gemma just laughed and chided Dionne for being so faint-hearted as to imagine that Manoel had not known exactly what he was doing. Even so, Dionne was shaken by what had occurred, proving to herself conclusively that without Manoel life had no meaning. That evening was the culmination of the festivities at the encampment, and the music was wilder and yet more poignant than Dionne had ever heard it. In her receptive frame of mind the violins seemed to reach out and tear her
emotions to shreds, and she was scarcely aware that people were regarding her strangely, touching her clothes, the black silken sheen of her hair, murmuring to themselves in a language which was both compelling and musical. But gradually, as the evening wore on, she began to realize that this evening was different from others she had spent at the camp. The music and dancing, the general air of excitement, seemed to be building up to a climax, and somehow she was part of that climax, but in what way? She was soon to find out. As the flames of the camp fire cast shadows across the baked earth, Gemma appeared dressed in the ceremonial robes of the phuri dai, or matriarchal leader of the tribe, and as an uncanny hush descended on the gathering Dionne realized that this was what they had been waiting for. Manoel was by her side and she looked up at him nervously, pleading with her eyes for some explanation. Manoel's eyes were soft and caressing, and yet the light of passion burned in their depths. 'I love you,' he said huskily. 'Trust me!' The exact details of what happened next were to remain blurred in Dionne's mind. So many things seemed to happen at once, and not until she and Manoel exchanged portions of salted bread did she begin to realize that this was a ritual marriage ceremony they were taking part in. At first she was afraid, confused by the excitement, by the music which had begun again and which was wilder now and more stirring to the senses, by the pressing throng of gypsies all eager to see for themselves what was going on. But as she and Manoel drank rich red wine from the same cup and he placed the slender gold chain holding the medallion about her neck his eyes sought her forgiveness and she felt her anxieties fade away. This was Manoel; the man she loved; her husband now, by gypsy law ... The feasting and dancing were to go on long into the night, but Dionne and Manoel left much earlier. Gemma had had her caravan prepared for them, and looking back now Dionne realized that they had both been carried along on the tide of enthusiasm and excitement that the gypsies generated. But it had been a natural progression and the remembrance of their night together caused the blood to rush to her cheeks. Even now, she could feel the smooth
length of Manoel's hard young body against hers, and the urgent passion of his mouth pressing her down among the soft silken covers of the bed... She buried her face in her hands. If only she had known what was to happen next, she thought agonizingly. If only she had realized that it had all been a charade, played for her benefit, to give Manoel that which he wanted most in a way that seemed both right and beautiful. And when Manoel left her next morning, before she woke, to return to the mas, that was the last she saw of him. She expected him to return to her throughout that long day and possibly take her to the mas and confront his parents with what had happened, but Manoel did not come back and by evening Dionne was frantic. She had no one to turn to. Gemma, her only possible ally, had departed with the rest of her tribe early that morning, apparently leaving the caravan for their use, but now Dionne was beginning to have doubts. What if Gemma had known it was all a hoax? What if she had disappeared to avoid the inevitable unpleasantness which was to follow? By nine o'clock Dionne was convinced she had been merely used; a pawn played in a game by Gemma for Manoel's satisfaction. Hadn't Gemma always said she would do anything for Manoel? Hadn't she known that Manoel wanted Dionne desperately? It was nauseating and humiliating, and Dionne tore off the slender gold chain which Manoel had placed round her neck the night before, staring tearfully at the small emblem of Sara. She wanted nothing of his to remind her of her foolishness. The sound of a horse's hooves brought her dashing to the window, peering out into the moonlit darkness. But the lone rider was not male; it was Madame St. Salvador, and she demanded to be let in. Dionne could do nothing but stand aside and allow her to enter, even though the woman's very presence spelled disaster. She viewed Dionne's tear-stained cheeks contemptuously and then pronounced that she had come on Manoel's behalf. She explained that her son was ashamed of himself and was finding it difficult to find words to tell Dionne how he now felt. Apparently he had told his parents everything that had happened, and while they could not condone what he had done, they felt that as he had come to them and asked their forgiveness it showed that he clearly knew where his duty lay. He was betrothed to Yvonne, they had been betrothed since they
were children, and his involvement with Dionne could be forgiven and forgotten. Surely Dionne herself had realized that these ritual weddings were merely pretty exhibitions, and not to be taken seriously by the participants. At first Dionne had been too stunned to think coherently, or maybe she would have probed more deeply into Madame St. Salvador's motives for saying such a thing. But the truth was, Manoel's mother was merely voicing the doubts she herself had had all day since it became obvious that Manoel was not to return. And although she protested, it was a half-hearted protest, easily disposed of by the older woman. The final humiliation however, the final rejection so far as Dionne was concerned, was Madame St. Salvador's production of a cheque in Manoel's own handwriting, made out to her for two thousand pounds, payable at his English bank. It had given Dionne immense satisfaction to tear that cheque to shreds in front of Manoel's mother, even though she had the feeling that by so doing she was actually doing what Madame St. Salvador wanted. After that she just wanted to get away, and she left the following afternoon on a flight from Marseilles. She was numb with grief, for not even knowledge of Manoel's defection could rid her of the memories of their time together. He had been such a wonderful lover, and to know that she would never see him again was agonizing. Of course, when she was back in England and the first agonies of humiliation had been stilled she began to imagine that he might come after her, that he might get her address from her hotel and look for her in England. She imagined he might regret his summary dismissal of their affair, but it was not to be. It was as though that period in France had never happened, and Aunt Clarry couldn't understand why her niece, who had written such enthusiastic letters home from Provence, should suddenly have taken such an aversion for the place. When Dionne discovered she was pregnant she was distraught. Her frame of mind was such that she could see no future for herself or the child and without Clarry's intervention something terrible might have happened. As it was, her aunt eventually got the truth out of her and through her Dionne
began to think coherently again. After all, she was young and resilient, with all her life in front of her, and this was something that had happened to many other women. Of course, she would not tell Manoel, on that she was adamant. Why should she? He had no claim on the child. He had abandoned her as effectively as if she had never existed, and she wanted nothing from him. Her aunt was wonderful. She agreed that Dionne should keep the baby, and when Jonathan was born he was as loved and spoiled as any child could be. Dionne got a teaching post and her aunt took care of the baby while she was at work. It was not so bad. They hadn't a lot of money, but they were by no means destitute. It was only when Jonathan became ill that Dionne began to realize what Manoel could have done for him had he been aware of the child's existence. Then, a few weeks ago, the doctor had told her that the child needed a break away from the dampness of the British climate and Clarry had told her gently but insistently that she owed him this much. Tears pushed themselves from Dionne's eyes and for the first time she allowed them to fall unheeded down her cheeks. What a fiasco this trip had been; an unnecessary waste of funds that were badly needed! She should have known that it was madness to come here — and ask Manoel for anything after what had happened. Even so, she had been unaware until her arrival that Manoel had his own problems, but not even they could wholly account for the bitterness she had suffered at his hands, and she could only assume that although he had dismissed her from his mind unseen he found her physical presence disturbing. After all, three years was a long time ... Now Dionne rose from the dressing-table, drying her eyes with a weary hand. What was she to do? She couldn't stay here now, not after she had thrown Manoel's offer of money back in his face. Whatever provocation she had had nothing could change that, and after the incident at the cabane she would be foolish to stay anyhow. He had proved, most effectively, she thought, that he was just as capable of destroying her self-will now as he had ever been and what a ghastly mockery it would be if she allowed history to repeat itself.
An urgent tapping at her door set her heart pounding heavily. 'Yes?' she called. 'What is it?' 'Le telephone, mademoiselle!' called the maid's voice. 'Will you come down?' Dionne's heart leapt and then subsided again. Of course! It would be Henri. He had said he would telephone today. It was gratifying to know that he was so eager. It was barely nine o'clock in the morning and already he was calling. Or were his motives as calculated as Manoel's had been? Either way, it didn't really matter. She had no intention of getting involved with him. Even so, she could hardly refuse to speak to him when she remembered the pleasant afternoon she had spent in his company a couple of days ago. It would be most ungrateful not to answer his call, so she said: 'I'll be down in a minute,' and thrusting aside her negligee she reached for her trousers. Henri's voice was light and excitable. 'Dionne? Oh, it is so good to hear your voice again. How are you?' Dionne replied politely and Henri uttered an exclamation : 'You sound so gloomy,' he said. 'Does my call cause you this - how shall I put it - depression?' Dionne sighed. 'No, of course not, Henri. It's kind of you to ring. But I'm afraid I shall be leaving soon.' 'What? Leaving? Leaving Provence?' He sounded disappointed. 'I'm afraid so. I - er - I have to return to England.' 'But why? You have been here less than a week!' 'I know. But - well, I have to get back.' Henri clicked his tongue. 'And when are you leaving?'
'I - I'm not sure. Today - tomorrow perhaps. It depends when I can get a flight.' 'Then it must be tomorrow, Dionne. At least allow me one more day of your company.' Dionne hesitated. Despite her desire to put as many miles as she could between herself and the Mas St. Salvador, her heart was weak enough to succumb to the prospect of one more day within driving distance of Manoel. It was stupid, irresponsible even, but the idea of leaving so precipitately caused an actual pain inside her. 'All right,' she said now, in answer to Henri's invitation. 'All right, I'll try and book a flight for tomorrow.' She despised herself for her weakness, but it was done now and Henri was delighted. 'What would you like to do?' he asked eagerly. 'I am free for the whole day. Would you like to go sightseeing? To the vineyards? To Les Baux? To Nimes, perhaps?' Dionne quivered. 'No - no, not there,' she said quickly. 'Couldn't we - I mean - would it be possible just to go to Les Saintes Maries? We could have lunch there and after lunch we might - swim?' Henri sounded enthusiastic. 'Of course. If that is what you would like, Dionne. I hardly dared suggest something so delightful. When can you be ready?' Dionne glanced at her watch. It was a little after nine. 'Give me an hour,' she said. 'I haven't had breakfast yet, and I want to phone the airport.' Henri agreed and rang off and Dionne emerged from the kiosk feeling a little better. Now that the actual time of her departure had been delayed by a day she could relax a little. She breakfasted in the restaurant and then went up to her room to change into something suitable. She decided trousers were the most suitable thing, but she donned her lemon bikini underneath to avoid the
inevitable difficulties of changing later. Then, after applying a light make-up, she went downstairs again and rang the airport. There had been a cancellation on a flight the following afternoon and she took it. As she emerged from the kiosk again she encountered the hotel manager. He smiled his usual warm smile and on impulse Dionne told him she would probably be leaving the following afternoon. 'Oh, mademoiselle, I hope nothing is wrong,' he exclaimed. 'There is no trouble at home, is there?' Dionne shook her head. 'No, but I'm afraid I have to get back.' She smiled. 'But I have enjoyed my stay here, and I shall certainly recommend your hotel to my friends.' The manager was suitably gratified with this news, and Dionne went on her way feeling the usual hollow feeling she experienced whenever she seriously considered what she was doing. Henri arrived soon after ten and they drove the few miles to Les Saintes Maries. Already there were several tourists about examining the twelfth-century church where, in the chapel, the relics of the Maries are kept, and Dionne was regretful to note that the small town was becoming rather modern and commercialized. There was a caravan site there now which she had not seen before and several hotels which dispelled its illusions of historical significance. Even so, the meal they enjoyed at one of the popular restaurants was delicious, and afterwards they left the car and walked along the beach past a few holiday- makers enjoying the warmth of a sunny afternoon. They found a quiet spot near some rocks and Dionne spread her towel and stretched out lazily, not yet bothering to shed her trousers and short-sleeved ribbed sweater. Henri had cast off his jacket in favour of a casual cardigan which was presently draped over one shoulder, and he lounged beside her, regarding her rather anxiously. 'Is it absolutely necessary that you return to England tomorrow?' he asked suddenly, taking her hand in both of his and caressing her fingers.
Dionne drew her hand away, but gently, and propped herself up on her elbows. 'I'm afraid so,' she answered, glancing at him before turning her attention to the plume of smoke from a ship on the horizon. Henri sighed. 'But why? You are on holiday. Surely you can wait another few days.' Dionne compressed her lips. 'It's not as simple as that. I have - well commitments, at home.' 'What commitments can you possibly have?' he jeered kindly. Dionne frowned with concentration. 'Henri, you know absolutely nothing about me. I could be married for all you know.' 'You wear no ring.' 'That's no guarantee. Lots of girls in England don't wear their rings all the time. There's no law that says one has to.' Henri studied her tilted profile. 'And are you? Married, I mean?' Dionne hesitated. 'No.' Henri relaxed and leaned towards her. 'There you are, then. Now - couldn't you stay? Just to please me?' 'No, I can't.' Dionne shook her head firmly and then got to her feet. 'Shall we swim?' The suddenness of her change of subject surprised Henri, but with reluctant acquiescence he agreed. Quite unselfconsciously Dionne stripped off her pants and sweater and Henri stood regarding her admiringly. 'Beautiful!' he muttered huskily, and with an inconsequent gesture Dionne turned and ran into the water, splashing herself as she did so. Henri watched her for a moment longer and then he disappeared behind the rocks and when he emerged he was wearing white trunks that accentuated his tan. He joined
Dionne in the water and for fully half an hour they swam and dived and ducked one another, Dionne's hair floating about them like seaweed on the surface. When they finally emerged, the sun felt pleasantly warm on their backs and Dionne towelled herself and her hair thoroughly before seating herself again. Henri's hair took much less towelling and he flung himself on his stomach on his towel beside her, looking down into her flushed face with disturbing intensity. 'Oh, Dionne!' he whispered, and she hastily sat upright, avoiding his amorous gaze. 'Please, Henri!' she said tautly. 'Don't spoil everything.' Henri uttered an expletive. 'Why am I spoiling everything? I thought you liked me!' 'I do.' Dionne linked her fingers round her updrawn knees. 'I do like you, Henri. But I don't want to get - well - involved. Not in that way. I'm sorry if I've given you the wrong impression—' 'What is it you want of me, then?' His voice, young and petulant, made her realize he was not as mature as he would have her believe. 'You allow me to buy you lunch - to bring you here where we can be alone - and then you say you don't want to be involved! What do you think I am?' Dionne stared at him unhappily, a twinge of apprehension feathering along her spine. 'Henri, please—' she began, but he ignored her, jerking her unexpectedly towards him so that she lost her balance and fell against his chest. His lips sought hers and she turned her head from side to side, trying to avoid his mouth, pummelling at him with her fists, trying to force him to release her. But her agitation only seemed to excite him and he held her closer, his breathing hot and urgent. Dionne was just beginning to feel really angry when suddenly Henri was dragged away from her and a callous blow to his stomach and another to his jaw caused him to groan and stagger back to measure his length on the sand.
Dionne scrambled to her feet, overwhelmingly conscious of the scarcity of her attire, to meet the cold, penetrating censure in Manoel St. Salvador's eyes. 'Put on some clothes!' he snapped shortly, and turned away to haul Henri to his feet. Henri was recovering slowly, moaning as he pressed a protective hand to his injured stomach. His eyes widened disbelievingly as he recognized Manoel, however. 'Manoel!' he was reproachful. 'C'est moi, Henri! A quoi pensez-vous?' Manoel's jaw tightened. 'Not now, Henri. I am in no mood for pleasantries!' 'C'est evident!' muttered Henri, rubbing his tender jawline. 'I do not understand you, Manoel! What have I done wrong? Do you know Mademoiselle King?' Manoel's eyes were bleak. 'Oui! I know Mademoiselle King!' he agreed coldly. Henri shook his head in a perplexed fashion, looking curiously towards Dionne. But Dionne was too busy pulling on her sweater and pants over her damp swim- suit to notice him.When she was dressed Manoel took her arm in a vice-like grip and with an abrupt nod in Henri's direc- tioniie marched her swiftly along the sand to where the dust-smeared station wagon awaited them. He swung open the door and thrust Dionne inside before sliding in after her and immediately starting the engine. The heavy vehicle did a close semi-circle of a turn, and then moved bumpily across the uneven shoreline to the road, and Dionne sat stiffly in her seat wondering how and why he was here at all. . .
CHAPTER SEVEN IT was hot in the car and Dionne's damp swimsuit was clinging to her most uncomfortably. Manoel was driving with intense concentration, and although she badly wanted to know where he was taking her, the grim unapproachable expression on his face precluded such a question. But she shifted stickily in her seat and the jerky movement caught his attention. 'Sit still!' he advised harshly. 'You will only make yourself more uncomfortable by shuffling about!' Dionne looked at him mutinously, her initial gratitude at his intervention giving way to resentment. What right had he to interfere in her affairs no matter what she did? Surely after what happened yesterday it had been reasonable to assume that she would never see him again. Why was he here? Why had he come looking for her? What did he want of her now? 'Where are you taking me?' she demanded, annoyance giving her the courage to speak. Manoel cast a contemptuous glance in her direction. 'I haven't given the matter much attention as yet,' he retorted crisply. 'I imagine you would like to get out of that wet swimsuit and dry yourself thoroughly, wouldn't you?' Dionne's eyes widened. 'What do you mean?' Manoel's lids narrowed his eyes. 'Stop jumping to conclusions, Dionne! Just because you seem prepared to make yourself easy game for any man doesn't mean—' 'How dare you?' Dionne was incensed. 'How dare you say such a thing to me!' Her voice broke ignominiously. 'Oh - oh, I hate you, Manoel!' Manoel's fingers tightened on the wheel, and with an abrupt swing he brought the station wagon across a stretch of mossy turf to the very edge of a shallow etang. A clump of plane trees shaded the station wagon, throwing its interior into cooling shadow, but Dionne thrust open her door as soon as
they stopped and climbed out with alacrity, putting some distance between herself and its occupant. But Manoel did not move, and she was left feeling rather ridiculous at the edge of the marshy stretch of blue water. And it was hot. The sun burned down on her head with unseasonable strength, and eventually she was forced to seek the shade of the plane trees. Only then did Manoel emerge from the station wagon, a cheroot between his teeth, a rough length of towelling in his hands. 'Here!' he said, thrusting the towelling towards her. 'It's not very glamorous, but at least it's clean. I keep it in the car for occasions when I feel like submerging myself after a particularly sweaty job. Go on! Take it. It's not contaminated!' Dionne pressed her lips together and then leaning forward caught the end of the towelling reluctantly. 'What am I supposed to do?' she inquired heatedly. 'Strip off in front of you?' Manoel took the cheroot from his mouth. 'When I require that kind of stimulation I prefer to watch a professional!' he remarked cruelly, and turning away went back to the station wagon. Dionne hesitated only a moment and then kicking off her sandals she shed her outer garments, and stood for a moment hesitating in the lemon bikini. Away to the left a shimmering lagoon beckoned and on impulse she plunged through the shallow etang to the cool waters beyond. It was glorious submerging her heated limbs and the stickiness she had experienced in the car all dissolved. She splashed about for several minutes, looking towards the distant station wagon, but Manoel seemed indifferent to her actions and eventually she had to get out. But as she waded towards the reeds that fringed the lagoon the sound of splashing behind her caused her to swing round in alarm. Several feet away, its curved horns lowered menacingly, pawed one of the sturdy black bulls of the Camargue.
Dionne was petrified for a moment, unable to even think what she should do. The bull was alone, which was unusual, and she could only assume it had left the herd without the gardiens noticing it. It was a Spanish bull, broad and muscular, bred for the corrida and not for any peaceful purposes. Visions of herself lying gored and mutilated, her blood staining the waters of the lagoon, flooded her mind, and an awful sense of inevitability overtook her.On trembling legs she backed slowly away from the animal, trying not to make any unco-ordinated movements which might startle it into action. The creature watched her with its beady eyes, snorting and switching its tail as insects came to irritate it. It took a couple of steps into the lagoon, swaying its head from side to side, and Dionne lost her nerve. She no longer tried to be calm, but turned and splashed clumsily to the edge of the water and then ran swiftly through the marshy etang. She heard the splashing noises behind her and knew that the bull was wading through the lagoon and following her, but she dared not look back. And then she saw Manoel running towards her from the station wagon, a heavy stick in his hand, splashing through the mudpools with careless regard for his soft suede boots and trouser-clad legs. He passed Dionne and yelled: 'Get into the back of the wagon!' and on trembling legs Dionne complied, scrambling in through the rear door on to the rough wooden surface that was strewn with ropes and tackle, and smelled strongly of horseflesh. The bull had been sidetracked by Manoel's appearance, and had halted some distance from the station wagon, snorting and pawing the ground angrily. Dionne knew it was getting ready to charge and all Manoel had to defend himself was the stick in his hand. She watched the scene despairingly, willing Manoel to turn and make a dash for the car. But Manoel seemed almost relaxed now, speaking softly to the animal in his own language, almost coaxing its good humour. The bull continued to snort, swishing its tail, swinging its head, but less aggressively now, and Dionne felt a cold sweat break out all over her body. Eventually Manoel backed away from the bull, and when he reached the back of the station wagon Dionne thrust open the door to allow him to climb inside. She was trembling violently by now and he took one look at her
shaken face before grasping her shoulders and wrenching her close against his hard body. 'Dear God, never do that to me again!' he groaned, in a strangled voice, and buried his face in the softness of the hair on her nape. He was trembling too, she could feel it, but the hands that slid round her bare waist were firm and cool and hard and almost cruelly possessive. 'What in hell were you thinking of?' he muttered against her throat, and then his mouth parted over hers, cutting off any coherent answer. Dionne was beyond resistance. Her own agony at seeing Manoel out there, at the mercy of the bull, had destroyed her defences, and she clung to him urgently, arching her body to his, unbuttoning his shirt and pressing herself against his warm, male-scented skin. He bore her back against the roughness of the floor, but she scarcely noticed the discomfort. He was kissing her hungrily, one hand caressing the skin of her waist, one leg imprisoning her legs, reducing her to a warm and pliant being more than willing to submit to his every demand. This was Manoel; the man she loved; the father of her child; the other half of herself, and no matter what he had done in the past she loved him still. But this time it was Manoel who drew back, dragging himself away from her to sit in a hunched position, his legs drawn up, his elbows resting on his knees, his head bent so that his hands cupped the back of his neck. 'Oh, God!' he said, in a tortured tone. 'Oh, God, Dionne, I want you!' Dionne lay where he had left her, her lips bruised from the savagery of his lovemaking, her hair a cloud of darkness about her. 'Manoel,' she murmured achingly, but with a violent curse Manoel thrust open the door of the station wagon and sprang out, taking long gulping breaths of the warm sweet air. Then he moved, lifting her clothes and the towelling which she had dropped so carelessly beside the etang and threw them into the back of the vehicle. He turned away and walked some distance from the station wagon to lean
against a tree, seeking for his cheroots in his pocket. The bull had long since disappeared and they were alone in this watery wilderness. Dionne forced herself to move, and became aware of the discomfort beneath her. She had been lying on a curl of rope and the skin of her back felt taut and sore. She rubbed herself dry with the towelling, taking off the bikini and eventually pulling on her pants and sweater. She felt much more comfortable now and she climbed out of the vehicle and wrung the excess water from the scraps of lemon cotton. Manoel turned as he heard her close the rear door of the station wagon and came slowly back to her, grinding his cheroot out beneath the heel of his boot. His eyes flickered over her intently, and then he strode swiftly round to the driving seat and slid behind the wheel. Dionne pressed her lips together, and then with a shrug she did likewise, climbing in beside him rather unsteadily. Manoel did not immediately start the engine. He rested his elbows on the steering column and stared unseeingly into the distance. Then he said: 'I could kill you!' in a perfectly normal tone. Dionne gasped and pressed the back of her hand to her mouth, and he looked sideways at her, his eyes narrowing speculatively. 'What did you expect?' he demanded contemptuously. 'Coming back here just as I was beginning to accept the inevitable; destroying what small peace of mind I had achieved!' Dionne shook her head. 'I'm sorry. But I didn't know - it would be like - like this!' 'Didn't you?' His lips twisted. 'Or didn't you really know exactly how I would react?' Dionne flushed hotly. 'How could I know that?' 'How could you not?' Manoel glared at her angrily. 'After all that has gone before! We were lovers, Dionne; do you think I can forget what it was like
-holding you in my arms - making love to you?' He ran a hand round the back of his neck, flexing his muscles wearily. 'Do you think I haven't lain awake nights imagining the warmth of your flesh, the softness of your skin, the very scent of you?' He heaved a heavy sigh. 'And do you think I haven't imagined you in some other man's arms allowing him to touch you as I touched you?' Dionne uttered a cry, putting out a hand helplessly. 'No man - no other man has ever touched me!' she exclaimed chokingly. Manoel's eyes ran over her almost insolently. 'How can I believe that when twice I have found you at the mercy of members of my sex? Have you lived the last three years in a convent?' Dionne bent her head. She ached with love for him and she badly wanted to tell him the real reason why she was here, but these were the dangerous moments. These were the moments when she must be on her guard against confessing something which might destroy her. After all, no matter how she might attract him physically, and there was no doubt that she did attract him in that way, he was going to marry Yvonne and there was no place for Jonathan in that household even if she could be persuaded to let him go. 'Please,' she said now. 'Please take me back to the hotel. I - I have packing to do. I'm leaving in the morning.' 'You're what!' He was obviously astounded by her statement and she repeated it quietly. 'But you can't!' he exclaimed grimly. 'You haven't got the money - and besides, Gemma wants to see you again.' 'Well, I'm sorry, but I'm afraid she's going to be disappointed,' said Dionne, between tight lips. 'I - I've booked my flight.' 'Cancel it!' If she had not known him better she would have said there was agony in the depths of his grey eyes. 'No!' Dionne wet her dry lips with her tongue. 'No, I can't.'
'Dionne!' He slid a hand along the back of her seat, under her hair, gripping the nape of her neck with cruel fingers. 'Dionne, you can't do this to me!' 'Do what?' Dionne found it difficult to articulate. 'You know!' he groaned. 'Please, I'm asking you, don't go - yet.' Dionne swallowed noticeably. 'I - have to.' 'Why? Who is waiting for you in England?' His eyes darkened. "There is some man! You are lying to me!' 'No, you're wrong. There's no man.' Dionne's eyes pleaded for him to believe her. Manoel stared into her face, his fingers still encircling the nape of her neck. 'Where do you five, then? You once told me you shared your aunt's house. Do you still?' 'Oh, yes, yes!' Dionne took short jerking breaths and Manoel studied her silently, obviously trying to decide whether or not she was telling the truth. 'And this two hundred pounds,' he said huskily. 'This is for your aunt?' Dionne wrenched herself away from him. 'If it makes you happy that I should say yes, then all right - yes, I want it for my aunt!' Manoel caught a handful of her hair making her wince as he twisted it round his fingers. 'Oh, Dionne,' he muttered thickly, 'how can I let you go?' Dionne's long lashes fell over her eyes, veiling their expression from him. When he spoke to her like this she could almost believe he loved her and that everything that had gone before was a tragic mistake. But Jonathan was real enough, and she must not jeopardize his future for a whim. 'Tell me something,' she said quietly, and his brows drew together in a deep frown. 'Why have you and Yvonne - waited so long to get married?'
Manoel's expression darkened and he released her abruptly as though the recollection of his fiancee brought him to his senses. For a moment she thought he wasn't even going to bother to reply, but then he said: 'Yvonne is paralysed. She has been paralysed since three months after you left. She has had various operations. They all took time. She is due to have another in a few weeks. Already there are some signs of improvement and the surgeons believe that this final operation will enable her to walk again. Oh, she may never run or dance or play games again, but she has every chance of being able to live a - full and - reasonably active life.' 'I - I see.' Dionne understood what he meant. Yvonne would be a normal woman again; she would be able to have a normal marriage; and bear him the sons he needed to carry on the St. Salvador line. 'Do you,' Manoel said now in a tortured voice, 'do you really see anything beyond your own selfish pursuits?' Dionne caught her breath. 'This conversation is getting us nowhere, Manoel. You'd better take me back to the hotel.' Manoel clenched his fists for a moment and then without a word he started the engine and drove smoothly back to Aries. They did not speak on the journey; each was occupied with their own thoughts, and when Manoel stopped outside the hotel it took great stamina for Dionne to turn to him and say: 'Thank you, and good-bye.' Manoel looked as though he was about to say something and then changed his mind. He didn't speak. He merely thrust open the door for her and after she had alighted he drove savagely away.
Dionne had a telephone call from Henri that evening. He wanted to apologize for his behaviour, he said, but whether it was a sincere desire to put things right, or whether the fact that Manoel St. Salvador was involved
had something to do with it, Dionne could only guess. But she let him off lightly and then returned to her room to pack her cases. About nine-thirty there was a knock at her door. Dionne was surprised and a little apprehensive. Shecouldn't imagine who it might be, and unless it was Manoel she wanted to speak to nobody. But it was not Manoel. A feminine voice called: 'Dionne? Dionne? Can I come in?' Dionne went to the door and opened it wide. 'Louise!' she exclaimed in surprise. 'What are you doing here at this time of night?' Louise grinned and held up an envelope. 'I came on a delivery trip,' she said lightly. 'Manoel asked me to give you this.' She glanced round the empty bedroom. 'Can I come in?' Dionne took the envelope with fingers that were not quite steady and then gathered herself quickly. 'Oh - oh, of course,' she exclaimed. 'Come on in. I'm afraid I've nothing to offer you, though.' Louise smiled. 'Never mind. I just want a chance to talk for a while. Are you packing?' She frowned. 'Does Manoel know?' 'Yes, to both questions,' replied Dionne, with assumed brightness, thrusting the envelope into the pocket of her slacks to be opened later. 'Do sit down. Have you come all the way into town alone?' Louise nodded. 'Well, I can drive, you know, and Manoel makes sure that all the automobiles are in excellent condition and not in any danger of breaking down en route.' She sighed. 'Now - why are you leaving so soon? Can you not stay on for a few days more? I know Grand'mere is expecting to see you again.' 'Yes, I know that, too, and I'm sorry. But it's impossible. I have to get back.' Dionne bit her lip, searching for something else to say. 'I can't get over how grown up you are. You seemed such a child before.' Louise laughed. 'Thank you. But seriously, Dionne, I didn't come here to talk about myself. I want to talk about Manoel.'
Dionne coloured. 'I don't think you should,' she said unhappily. 'Why? Aren't you interested?' Louise was watching her intently. Dionne's colour deepened. 'Maybe,' she murmured awkwardly. 'Has he told you why he and Yvonne aren't married yet?' Dionne shrugged. 'A little.' 'He came after you today, didn't he?' 'After me?' Dionne frowned. 'What do you mean?' 'This afternoon. I came here to see you. The manager told me you'd gone out with a young man and he thought you had said you were going to Les Saintes Maries. When I went back and told Manoel he left like a thundercloud.' 'I see.' Dionne's lips trembled a little. 'I wondered - that is - yes, he found me.' 'If you ask me, Manoel was as jealous as hell—' began Louise, but Dionne turned away, pretending to interest herself in putting sweaters into the suitcase. 'It's been a very warm day,' observed Dionne uncomfortably as an uneasy silence fell between them. 'Yes.' Louise crossed to the bed and perched on the edge, looking down at the other girl's bent head. 'Tell me, did Manoel tell you how Yvonne came to have the accident?' Dionne sat back on her heels. 'Oh, Louise! Please! It's nothing to do with me.'
'You know that's not true.' Louise's dark eyes were troubled. 'Anyway, I'm going to tell you, so you might as well listen. It was after Manoel was up and about again—' 'Up and about again?' Dionne interrupted her. 'Up and about again - from what?' Louise frowned. 'From his accident, of course. Oh, no, I should have realized. You wouldn't know about that - in the circumstances.' She sighed thoughtfully. 'Well, Manoel was thrown from his horse. He broke his thigh. He was in agony for some time, and then of course he was confined to the mas, and that didn't suit him at all.' Dionne stared at the younger girl with intent eyes. 'Go on. What happened then?' 'You're interested now, then?' Louise teased, and then her teasing vanished as she saw the genuine concern on Dionne's taut young face. 'I'm sorry. Of course, I'll go on. Well, as I said, it was after Manoel was up and about. They had a terrific row about something. I never did discover what it was. But the next thing that happened was that Yvonne went out to the corrals with a whip.' 'Oh, no!' Dionne stared at her in dismay. 'Oh, yes. Yvonne can be very cruel when she chooses. Unfortunately the bulls that were corralled in the yard ready for a buyer who was coming that afternoon were restless, and two of them escaped.' Louise bit her lip. 'You can't imagine what it was like. The screams! The bellowing of the bulls!' She shook her head. 'Manoel saved her life. But she didn't deserve to live!' 'Louise!' 'Well, it's true. If you'd seen the weals on the backs of those poor animals—' Her voice broke emotionally.
Dionne felt sickened. It was worse than she had imagined, and she put an arm round the trembling girl, and said: 'It's over now, Louise, and Yvonne has certainly paid for what she did.' 'Do you think so?' Louise looked up at her swiftly. 'Do you really think she's paid?' 'Don't you?' 'No.' Louise's pointed face was mutinous. 'No, I don't. She's got what she wanted. She's at the mas. Things couldn't have happened more suitably for her.' 'What do you mean?' 'Well, her mother dying like that, just after Papa. Her own father couldn't look after her, not without assistance, and Maman was glad of the company of Yvonne to divert her attention from her own grief. But no one asked Manoel what he wanted! No one suggested that now that Yvonne was paralysed their betrothal was a fiasco!' Dionne bent her head. 'Somehow I don't think Manoel would abandon her because of that.' 'No; nor do I. But that's not to say he shouldn't!' Louise's impassioned young voice rose. 'Dionne, can't you see, Manoel mustn't marry Yvonne. She's evil. Can't you see she'll do to him what she did to those animals! Oh, not with a whip. She's far more subtle than that. But it all comes to the same thing in the end. Can't you see she blames him for what happened? If they hadn't had that row it might never have happened. Dionne!' She caught the other girl's hands. 'Dionne, don't go. Stay and fight for Manoel. Forget about the past; think about the future!' Dionne withdrew her fingers. 'Louise, you're being overly dramatic!' she began. 'Am I? I don't think so.' Louise sniffed childishly.
Dionne shook her head. 'It was kind of you to tell me this, Louise. Don't think I don't appreciate it.' Louise heaved a sigh, and then an idea struck her. 'I say, Dionne, you know I told you Manoel was wanting me to go to Switzerland for a year: well, how would it be if I asked him if I could come to England instead. Oh, not to live with you - I wouldn't be so presumptuous, but maybe to stay nearby so that we could see one another—' Dionne's heart missed a beat. 'I - I don't think that's a good idea, Louise. Not - not right now.' Louise looked disappointed. 'But why?' Dionne spread her hands. 'I - well, I shall be working—' she began inadequately. 'But not all the time, surely? I mean - there'd be evenings when we could see one another. And occasional week-ends. Oh, I realize you'll have your own friends, but I'd love to see you sometimes ...' 'Oh, Louise!' Dionne shook her head. 'I - I don't think it's possible. Louise hunched her shoulders. 'I thought you liked me.' 'I do, I do,' Dionne hastened to assure her. 'Honestly, Louise, it's nothing like that. It's just that - well, when I leave here I want no lingering connections with your family .. 'With Manoel, you mean.' 'All right, with Manoel,' Dionne agreed. Louise got to her feet. 'I don't see why. Besides, I wouldn't talk about Manoel if you didn't want me to.' Dionne shook her head again, and Louise's face drooped. Dionne felt horribly guilty. By refusing Louise's spontaneous offer of friendship she felt
she was destroying something worthwhile. But how could she see Louise in England when sooner or later Louise would be bound to discover that she had a son? Louise walked to the door. 'I'd better go. It's getting late.' 'Yes,' Dionne nodded uncomfortably. Louise opened the door. 'I'm sorry if I've embarrassed you.' 'You haven't embarrassed me,' Dionne took Louise's hand impulsively. 'And - and I'm sorry, too.' Louise shrugged. 'Pas du tout. Au revoir, Dionne.' 'Au revoir.' Dionne smiled, but after Louise had gone and the door was closed behind her the ready tears coursed down her cheeks. It was not until she returned to her packing that the envelope crackled in her pocket, reminding her of its presence. She tore it open with trembling fingers and a slip of paper dropped out and fell to the floor. She bent and picked it up reluctantly. It was a cheque made out to be paid by an English bank for two hundred pounds.
Dionne had arranged with the hire car company that she should drive the Citroen to Marignane and leave it there with their representative. It was a satisfactory arrangement all round and saved her the trouble of making her way to the airport by other means. She was carrying her cases out to the car the next morning when the telephone in the kiosk in the hall rang noisily. Monsieur Lyons appeared to answer it, but presently he called her. 'It is for you, mademoiselle,' he explained. 'From England.'
'England?' A chill of foreboding touched Dionne's heart and she almost snatched the phone from Monsieur Lyons. Putting it to her ear, she said breathlessly: 'Yes, yes, this is Dionne! Who's that?' 'Dionne? You're there? Oh, this is Mrs. Reynolds.' Mrs. Reynolds was Aunt Clarry's neighbour and Dionne felt her anxieties crystallize into real fear. 'Yes, Mrs. Reynolds? What's wrong? Has something happened?'. Mrs. Reynolds voice was soothing. 'Now don't you go getting in a panic, Dionne,' she said. 'It's nothing serious, love. But your aunt's had a bad fall in the garden and she's broken her leg. She's not in hospital or anything, but of course she's not capable of taking care of the little boy—' It was terrible when Aunt Clarry had a broken leg, but Dionne felt an overwhelming sense of relief. 'Of course not,' she said, the relief evident in her voice. 'But it's all right, Mrs. Reynolds, you can tell her I'm coming home this afternoon. I'm already getting ready to leave. I'll be able to look after Jonathan myself.' Mrs. Reynolds chuckled. 'Oh, she'll be so relieved, Dionne. Well, I'll go, then. See you later.' 'Yes. Yes, of course. And thank you for ringing.' 'That's all right, Dionne. 'Bye.' 'Good-bye.' Dionne replaced the receiver and as she did so she became aware that a shadow was darkening the small kiosk, and even as this realization came to her a hard hand curved round the soft flesh of her upper arm, dragging her almost violently out of the kiosk to confront the man outside. She gasped as Manoel thrust his dark, handsome face close to hers and said harshly: 'Who the hell is Jonathan, you little liar?'
CHAPTER EIGHT DIONNE fell back a pace and Manoel was forced to release her. There were people in the hall and they were already regarding them curiously, and with an exclamation Manoel said: 'I've got to talk to you. But not here. Your room!' Dionne glanced round tremulously. 'I - I don't have time, Manoel. I have to leave for the airport.' 'I'll take you to the airport.' 'No. No, I have to take the car and leave it there.' 'To hell with the car! Dionne, I warn you .. .' Dionne turned away, trembling. 'Why are you here? I thought - when you sent the cheque—' 'Damn you, I couldn't keep away!' Manoel touched her neck with his fingers, his flesh lingering against hers, uncaring that they had several interested spectators. 'God, Dionne, you can't do this to me!' Dionne wet her dry lips. 'I've got to go, Manoel.' 'Yes, I know. Back to England - to Jonathan!' Manoel's fingers tightened on her neck. 'I won't let you go.' Dionne caught her breath. 'What will you do?' she whispered fiercely. 'Set me up here in Aries in the traditional way Frenchmen have with their mistresses?' Manoel's fingers bit into her neck savagely for a moment and she could have cried with the pain, but then his hand dropped away. 'I don't deserve that,' he muttered vehemently. 'Don't you?' Dionne could not look at him. To look at him would be disaster. She could not bear the agony she knew she would see in his face.
'Dionne, please, I'm asking you for the last time. This Jonathan: is he the reason you need the money?' Dionne hesitated and then she bent her head. 'Yes,' she said at last. 'Yes, it's for Jonathan.' 'Mon Dieu!' Manoel raked a rough hand through his hair. Dionne stiffened her shoulders. 'Can I go now?' Manoel stifled a curse. 'Yes. Go! Go, damn you!' he muttered savagely, and without another word he strode past her out of the hotel.
It was raining when the plane landed at London Airport and Dionne shivered as she crossed the tarmac to the airport buildings. She took the bus into the terminal and then caught another bus out to Brentford. Aunt Clarry's house was one of a row of terraced houses and while the front was not very inspiring, the back had the advantage of overlooking the school playing field. Dionne dropped off the bus at the end of the street and made her way up to number fifty-three. As she walked along the street she saw the lace curtains at the windows twitch slightly and she thought rather wryly that no one would need to be told she was back. No doubt everyone was speculating on where she had been and why. She found her key and opened the door of her aunt's house and immediately there was the scurry of footsteps and a door opened at the end of the passage. A small boy appeared looking sweet and adorable in pale blue pants and a blue and white jumper. He was so like Manoel it tore her heart; the same grey eyes, the same nose, the same mouth, and Manoel's dark hair, except that Jonathan's was inclined to curl. Jonathan shouted: 'Mummy!' in an excited squeak, and almost tripped over his feet to get down the hall to her side.
Dionne's lovely mouth curved in a smile and she went down on her haunches and swung him into her arms. 'Hello, darling,' she breathed huskily, cuddling him close, loving the feel of his small hands in her hair, around her neck, clinging to her with such warmth and confidence. 'Have you been a good boy for Auntie Clarry?' Jonathan's eyes widened importantly. 'Auntie Clarry's got a poorly leg,' he pronounced carefully. 'Come see!' He caught her hand and dragged her down the hall into the living-room where Clarry Meadows was seated on the couch, her leg encased in plaster, resting on a stool. Dionne looked at her with half-amused tolerance. 'What have you been doing to yourself?' she exclaimed, going forward to kiss her cheek warmly. 'Honestly, I can't leave you alone for five minutes!' Clarry managed a shamefaced grin. 'I know. I'm a silly old woman, aren't I, Jonathan?' Jonathan went to climb on to the couch beside his aunt, and Clarry went on: 'How are you? That's more to the point. I'm sorry if I had to drag you away sooner than you expected.' 'No, you didn't do that. I was leaving anyway,' said Dionne, trying to quell the rising tide of despair that was growing inside her now that the momentary relief that her arrival had given her was vanishing. Clarry's face darkened. 'You don't look so well, now I've got a chance to look at you. Did you see Manoel? Did you get the money?' Dionne heaved a sigh and flung off her coat, throwing it carelessly over a chair and flinging herself into another. Jonathan scrambled off the couch and came to sit on her knee instead, and she allowed him to climb over her willingly. 'Yes,' she said, at last. 'Yes, I saw Manoel, and yes, I got the money.'
Clarry compressed her lips. 'But it was bad?' 'Yes, it was bad,' agreed Dionne, through tight lips. Clarry sighed. 'Well, never mind now. You're back home again. You can tell me all about it when it's not so painful. Go and put the kettle on. Mrs. Reynolds was here until a few moments ago, but when she saw you coming up the street she slipped out the back way. I think she thought we'd prefer to be alone for a little while. I think she's left everything ready for tea, though.' Dionne nodded, and with an effort got herself up out of the chair. Clarry was right. She was home now, and there was no point in indulging herself to the point of desperation. Far better to do the everyday things that had to be done and allow time and her mind's natural processes to breach the wounds she felt were almost too great to bear at this moment. During the next few days Dionne made a determined effort to behave naturally. The fact of Aunt Clarry's disablement helped somewhat in that it gave her so much to do that she had little time to mope about and she fell into bed each night exhausted. She had contacted the school and spoken to the headmaster, explaining that as her aunt was ill she would have to take care of Jonathan herself. He was most understanding and agreed to appoint a temporary replacement capable of being removed when she was ready to return to work. Naturally the loss of income presented difficulties, but Dionne was determined not to spend any of the money Manoel had given her on anything other than its real purpose. When Clarry was better they might all get away for a while. Two hundred pounds was quite a lot of money, and with their savings ... But for the moment it was sufficient to exist from day to day, praying that sooner or later she would be able to put those agonizing days in Provence to the back of her mind. Jonathan himself seemed a little better. He still had the racking cough, but as warmer days presented themselves he began to improve. He seemed to be growing so quickly, and Dionne realized with a sense of loss that he wouldn't be a baby much longer. Soon he would be able to walk everywhere
they went instead of using the pushchair and soon he would start asking why, when all the other children had daddies, he did not. Clarry's leg healed slowly. She could manage to get about on crutches after a while and although she was unable to help with Jonathan she insisted on sitting in the kitchen, peeling vegetables on a stool or drying dishes. It was quite a novelty for Dionne being at home all the time, preparing the meals, doing the housework, looking after Jonathan herself. Apart from school holidays, and even then her aunt had always played her part, she had never had complete charge of the child, and taking him about with her, going shopping or to the park, was quite a satisfying experience. She knew that Jonathan attracted the admiring attention of other mothers and she hugged this knowledge to her. It helped to make up for so many of the things they would never have. One afternoon they had been further than usual, to a park some distance away, and were walking home, Jonathan relaxed and sleepy in his pushchair, when the bonnet of a car cruising slowly along beside her attracted her startled attention. It was rather a grand car, a sleek Mercedes limousine, its glittering paint and chromework eloquent of its elegance. Dionne walked a little faster, trying to ignore the car but the car cruised a little faster, keeping abreast of her. She glanced round swiftly and discovered to her relief that there were plenty of people about. Probably she was imagining that it should be following her. She cast a curious glance into the interior of the car, but apart from the chauffeur there seemed no other occupant and she gave the man a hard look before turning between two rows of houses and successfully evading its pursuit as this was only a footway. All the same, the experience had unnerved her a little and for several days she went no further than the shops. From time to time, she pondered the supposition that Manoel might have found out about Jonathan and was possibly considering kidnapping the child, but this was in her more imaginative moments and she determinedly thrust such thoughts aside, putting them down to too much television. Gradually she forgot the incident in the normal problems of everyday living, and only the thoughts of Manoel himself remained to torment her mind.
The weather was getting much warmer and one afternoon Dionne took Jonathan to the Zoo. He loved seeing the animals and he was getting to an age when he could appreciate such things. He ran about excitedly, exclaiming over the various species, eating icecream, and generally behaving like any other toddler on an outing. It was only when they were in the bus going home that he started to cough, his small face contorted with breathlessness. Dionne wished desperately that she could suffer these attacks for him, they left him so weak and helpless somehow. She was so absorbed with her own anxieties over Jonathan as she pushed his chair up Beldrum Terrace that she did not notice the grey limousine parked outside number fifty-three until she was almost there. And then her heart began to pound with heavy thuds and an awful sense of inadequacy overwhelmed her. Who could it be but Manoel? How had he found her? Why was he here? She looked down at the drowsy child. Had Manoel come for his son? She had the impulse to turn and run and never come back, but Jonathan was drowsy after his bout of coughing and what he needed more than anything else right now was his supper and bed. She could not possibly subject him to any more exhausting experiences today no matter how scared she might be. She entered the house reluctantly. She could hear voices in the living-room and she was in the process of taking off Jonathan's outer garments when Aunt Clarry came out of the living-room and closed the door behind her. Dionne looked up at her with agonized eyes, and Clarry shook her head, leaning heavily on her crutches. 'It's not Manoel. I guessed you'd think it was,' she said. 'But Manoel is here, in London, and he wants to see you.' Dionne rose from attending to Jonathan, holding him in her arms protectively. 'Who is here, then?''A man. I think he's Monsieur St. Salvador's chauffeur.' 'A chauffeur!' Immediately Dionne recalled the incident with the limousine in the high street and her nerves tautened. If the man had seen her with
Jonathan what had he told Manoel? And why was Manoel in London anyway? Wetting her dry lips, she looked down at the sleepy child in her arms. 'Clarry,' she began, 'he's tired. He should be in bed. Do you think if I take him upstairs you could cope tonight?' 'Of course.' Clarry nodded. 'I understand. Come along, take him up now. You can bring him a drink later. From the looks of him I don't think he needs anything else. Has he been coughing?' 'Yes, but not too badly. He's just tired. He's had a wonderful afternoon. We both have!' Her voice trailed away a trifle apprehensively, and Clarry reached out and squeezed her arm. 'Stop worrying so!' she admonished gently. 'But suppose Manoel has found out about Jonathan . ..' Dionne began, and then broke off abruptly at the look in Clarry's eyes. 'Do you mean he doesn't know?' Clarry was flabbergasted. Dionne's cheeks burned. 'No.' 'Dionne! But - but all these weeks you've been back and you've never mentioned it. I thought it was too unbearable to talk about.' 'It is - at least - Clarry, try to understand! If I'd told Manoel about Jonathan he might have wanted the child. Had you thought of that?' Clarry hesitated, obviously still absorbed with what she had just learned. 'But why should he want the child? Would his wife want another woman's baby?' 'He's not married!' Dionne gave a helpless sigh. 'Clarry, I haven't talked about it because - I - I couldn't! Now - now it might be too late.'
Clarry shook her head. 'I don't know what to say, Dionne. I thought - you knew I thought you were going to tell him about the child.' She frowned. 'And wait - how did you get the money unless ... unless...' Dionne began to climb the stairs, carrying Jonathan, who was almost asleep now. 'I'll tell you later,' she said tautly, and Clarry stood for a few moments at the bottom of the stairs, just looking up after her, before attempting to negotiate the stairs herself. In Dionne's bedroom where Jonathan slept, she laid the child on her bed and then confronted Clarry's slightly accusing stare. 'We can't talk now. Surely you can see that,' she pleaded. Clarry made an expressive gesture. 'Dionne, I know it's none of my business, but it seems to me you've a lot of explaining to do. If you asked Manoel for money without telling him about the child, what on earth did he think you wanted the money for?' 'Oh, Clarry! Not now!' Dionne ran worried fingers through the silky darkness of her hair. Clarry looked down at the sleeping child. 'I'm not at all convinced he shouldn't be told anyway,' she said. 'What? After what happened?' Dionne was horrified. 'Have you forgotten how he let me come back here without so much as an inquiry to find out whether I was okay? Surely I have the right to keep Jonathan's existence to myself!' 'And what about Jonathan? What rights does he have?' 'What do you mean?' Dionne was trembling a little now. Clarry sighed. 'I don't know, Dionne. I don't know. I'm an old woman and I see things differently from you, I suppose. But I sometimes think it's hard on a man, being blamed for a child's conception when he doesn't even know the child exists!'
Dionne turned away. 'Are you going to tell him, then?' Clarry uttered an exclamation. 'Oh, Dionne! Do you have so little confidence in me that you could think I would do such a thing without your permission?' Her lined face was creased with concern and Dionne felt contrite as she turned to face her. 'No! No, of course not,' she exclaimed. 'I'm sorry, I guess' I'm just upset and tired. I didn't mean to sound unkind.' Clarry gave a slight smile. 'It seems to me we're both tired,' she said. 'And you mustn't waste any more time here talking to me. We can talk later. Go down and see this chauffeur. He'll be getting impatient.' 'And what should I do?' 'What about? Going to see Manoel?' 'Yes.' 'Well, do you want him to come here?' 'No!' 'Then you have your answer.' Clarry raised her eyebrows. 'The child will sleep now. Go - if that's what he wants.' 'But I can't go like this. I need to change—' 'Well, go and see the chauffeur first, and ask him to wait.' 'All right.' Dionne went slowly downstairs again and went along the passage to the living-room. The man who rose to his feet at her entrance was older than she had expected, but it was the man she had seen once before in the limousine. 'Good evening, mademoisellehe said politely. 'You must be Mademoiselle King, oui?'
"That's right.' Dionne swallowed hard. 'I understand Monsieur St. Salvador wishes to see me.' 'That is correct, mademoiselle. He is staying at the Savoy Hotel and wishes me to transport you there.' 'I see.' Dionne hesitated a moment and then went on: 'Do you happen to know why Monsieur St. Salvador is in London?' 'Why, of course, mademoiselle. He is here with Mademoiselle Demaris.' With Yvonne! Dionne almost shouted the words in choking incred-ulity. But she managed to control herself and turned awa^, endeavouring to gather her scattered senses. That Manoel should be here, in London, with Yvonne, and yet still expected to make contact with her was both humiliating and unacceptable. What did he think she was? After what had happened surely he knew it was an impossible situation. Turning back to the man she said quietly: 'Perhaps you could give your employer a message for me.' The chauffeur frowned. 'You are not going to see le patron, mademoiselle?' he exclaimed in disbelief. Dionne shook her head. 'No.' 'But Monsieur St. Salvador was most insistent, mademoiselle.' Dionne took a deep breath, forgetting for a moment what she had said earlier. 'Then why isn't he here, then?' she demanded. The chauffeur moved uncomfortably, twisting his peaked hat in his hands. 'He is at the hospital, mademoiselle. With Mademoiselle Damaris.'
'At the hospital? Of course!' Dionne allowed her breath to expel slowly. Why hadn't she thought of that? Yvonne was here for treatment. But that didn't alter anything. 'I'm sorry,' she said, realizing the man would bear the brunt of this. 'I'm sorry, but it's impossible.' The chauffeur moved to the door. 'If you say so, mademoiselle,' he accepted quietly. 'I had better go. Au revoir, mademoiselle' 'Good-bye.' Dionne saw him to the door and watched as he turned the huge car in the narrow street and drove away. Then she went inside again and closed the door, leaning back against it weakly. As she straightened she saw Clarry coming slowly down the stairs and went forward to help her. There was a puzzled frown in Clarry's eyes and Dionne sighed. 'I'm not going to see Manoel,' she explained before Clarry could voice the question. 'He's here with Yvonne, the woman he was going to marry. She she had an accident a couple of years ago and injured her spine. But hopefully she's soon going to be able to walk again.' Clarry leaned heavily on Dionne as they walked down the hall. 'That's why they're not married, I suppose?' 'That's right.' Dionne helped her into a chair in the living-room. 'Shall we have some tea? I'm rather thirsty.' Clarry looked up at her doubtfully. 'You don't think Manoel will come here, then?' 'Heavens, no. He's here with Yvonne, haven't I just said? He probably thought of me as a diversion for a boring afternoon.' Clarry shook her head. 'I don't feel you're telling me the whole truth, Dionne. What happened when he saw you in France? Was he pleased to see you? Did he ask a lot of questions?'
'Yes, he asked a lot of questions and no, he wasn't pleased to see me.' 'Dionne!' Clarry looked imploringly at her. 'Do you really know what you're doing?' 'Of course I do. What do you mean?' Clarry shook her head. 'It seems to me there's more to this than meets the eye. If he wasn't pleased to see you, why did he give you the money? To get rid of you?' Dionne flushed. 'Oh, yes, I suppose so.' 'Then why is he here now? Wanting to see you? That doesn't quite add up.' Dionne pressed the palms of her hands together. 'It's a long story, Clarry. Can't we leave it? Just for now?' 'We've left it for five weeks, Dionne. Don't you think that's long enough?' Dionne sighed. 'Oh, all right, I suppose so.' 'So why don't you sit down and tell me exactly what happened?' Dionne hesitated and then with a heavy shake of her head she dropped down into the chair opposite. 'All right,' she said. 'All right, I'll tell you exactly what happened. I saw Manoel, I told him I needed two hundred pounds, and he immediately jumped to the conclusion that either I needed it because I was pregnant or because of some man!' 'That wasn't exactly an unreasonable assumption,' Clarry pointed out. 'Maybe not. Anyway, I wouldn't tell him why I wanted it and in the end he agreed to give me the money if I would go to the mas to see Gemma.' 'His grandmother?' 'That's right.'
'But I thought she lived in a caravan.' 'She did. But she seems to have had some kind of stroke and the doctors, and Manoel, have insisted that she lives at the mas. Anyway, I went to see her and I saw his mother - and Yvonne.' 'You say Yvonne had an accident. What sort of accident?' 'A bull gored her.' Dionne's young voice was almost as expressionless as Louise's had been when first she told her about the affair. 'My God!' Clarry was shocked. 'How terrible!' 'Yes, wasn't it?' Dionne studied the pale ovals of her nails. 'Well, anyway, that's about it. I got the money, as you know, and here I am.' Clarry bit her lip. 'And Manoel didn't mention - what happened before?' Dionne rose abruptly to her feet. Her face was strained. 'What do you want me to say?' she demanded chokingly. 'Yes, of course he mentioned what happened, but it's all in the past now, and there's no point in raking it all up.' Clarry touched her arm tentatively. 'Go and make the tea,' she suggested gently. 'I'm just an inquisitive old woman!' Dionne hesitated a moment longer and then she left the room. It was no good. She couldn't discuss her feelings for Manoel even with Clarry. There was no way of saying in prosaic terms the kind of mental and physical torture she suffered every time she allowed thoughts of him to invade her mind. A persistent knocking at the door at about twelve o'clock that night awoke Dionne from an uneasy slumber. Blinking, she leaned over and tried to make sense of the luminous dial of her alarm clock, but as the knocking continued she slid hastily out of bed, pulling on a dark blue quilted dressing-gown. Whoever was at the door was determined to be heard and she didn't want Jonathan to be awoken at this hour.
Aunt Clarry was unaware of the commotion. Dionne could hear her heavy breathing as she passed her door and she ran down the stairs shivering in the chill of this unearthly time of night. Reaching the door, she lifted the latch and allowed it to open to the length of its chain. This was a security measure Aunt Clarry had adopted. The dark shadow of a man was outside and for a moment Dionne was tempted to shut the door again, but Manoel stepped into the shaft of light shed by the gap and she gasped in amazement. His face was dark and grim and he looked impatiently at the chain. 'May I come in?' he inquired harshly, but Dionne knew that his request was merely a formality. She felt sure that if she refused he was quite likely to break the chain, or the door, or both. Deciding not to antagonize him further, she nodded silently and pressing the door forward again she released the chain and drew the door wide. Manoel stepped forward abruptly, and taking the handle from her unresisting fingers closed the door securely behind him. 'Now,' he began angrily, but she shook her head, raising her finger to her lips. 'Come into the living-room,' she whispered, and with an impatient exclamation he followed her down the passage into the room at the end. It was a comfortable room, a lived-in room, and Dionne's eyes darted about desperately, searching for evidence of Jonathan's existence. But then Manoel had her by the shoulders, swinging her round to face him roughly. 'Well?' he demanded harshly. 'Why didn't you come?' Dionne backed away from him. 'If you mean the summons you sent this afternoon I should have thought it was obvious,' she replied, in rather uneven tones. 'Why? Why is it obvious?'
Dionne gasped. 'You're in London with Yvonne. Your chauffeur told me that. What do you think I am? Some kind of temporary replacement?' 'Why, you—' He bit off an epithet, raking a hand through his thick hair. In a dark lounge suit and a blue shirt and matching tie he looked more attractive than ever and her heart plunged sickeningly at the realization that soon Yvonne would be his wife, able to see him at all times of the day and night, having the right to his name and his bed.'Do you realize I've spent the last four hours at a business dinner chafing with the desire to get away and see you simply because you refused to come and see me for the only free hour I had—' He broke off, unbuttoning his jacket and running a hand round the back of his neck, tautening his silk shirt against the broad muscles of his chest. Dionne made a helpless gesture. 'I don't see that it matters. Your affairs are nothing to do with me.' 'I'm beginning to believe that,' he muttered huskily. 'Oh God, Dionne, you've no conception of the agony I've suffered these last weeks since you went away—' Dionne trembled violently and sank down weakly into a low chair, her blue housecoat parting to reveal the slender length of leg beneath. She drew the gown together swiftly at the deepening penetration of his eyes, and said quickly: 'I - I don't think you should talk to me like this.' 'Why not? It's the truth.' Manoel came to stand before her, legs slightly apart, disturbing sensuality in every movement of his body. 'Manoel, please!' Dionne bent her head. 'Why - why have you come here at this time of night? It's madness!' Manoel bent forward, putting one hand on either of the arms of her chair, so that she had to lean right back to keep away from him. 'Yes, it's madness,' he agreed, his eyes probing the length of her with almost insolent appraisal. 'But it was always like that - between us. Wasn't it?' Dionne was finding breathing difficult. 'What do you want of me?'
Suddenly, in the uneasy awareness that had fallen between them, Jonathan began to cry. It was a plaintive, penetrating sound, the kind of sound he made when he was frightened, and obviously their voices, hushed though they had been, had disturbed him. Manoel straightened abruptly, an incredulous expression on his lean dark face. Dionne rose to her feet, ready to go to the child, and he turned to look at her with impassioned eyes. 'Who is that?' he demanded fiercely. 'Who is crying?' Dionne hesitated only a moment, and then she said quietly: 'Jonathan.' 'Jonathan!' Manoel raked his hair violently. 'God Almighty, that cry - that baby - it's yours?' Dionne nodded slowly, and Manoel's lips twisted tortuously. 'You mean to tell me you have a child - a baby?' Dionne took a shaking breath and nodded again, and Manoel uttered a stifled curse. 'You - you bitch!' he muttered chokingly, and without another word, he stumbled from the room and she heard the sound of the front door slamming behind him echoing chillingly round the house.
CHAPTER NINE IN the days that followed Dionne went about in a nightmarelike state of unreality, scarcely aware of what she was doing. It was as though all hope for the future was gone and no amount of bracing advice from Clarry could dispel the despair that enveloped her. Manoel was gone, and this time he would not come back. But gradually, as the days went by, Dionne began slowly to recover her spirit. After all, there was still Jonathan, and it was not his fault that his parents had made such an unholy mess of their lives. About three weeks after the disastrous night of Manoel's visit, Dionne had an unexpected caller. Clarry had had the plaster taken off her leg two days before and as it was a nice afternoon she had taken Jonathan with her to visit a friend who lived a short bus ride away. Dionne herself was clearing out some cupboards upstairs and sighed impatiently when there was a knock at the front door. But she went to answer it unsuspectingly and stepped back aghast when she found Yvonne Demaris on the threshold. But this was not the wheelchair-ridden young woman of her visit to Provence; this was Yvonne walking again, slim and elegant, her clothes an open advertisement for some expensive couturier. Yvonne's hps curved contemptuously when she saw Dionne's dust-daubed slacks and shabby smock, and then said: 'I want to talk to you, Dionne. Can I come in?' Dionne stood her ground. 'I don't think we have anything to say to one another, Yvonne,' she asserted, more calmly than she felt. Yvonne narrowed her eyes. 'Oh, I think we have. I'm sure you'll be interested in what I have to say.' Dionne shook her head. 'I have work to do—' 'It can wait.' Yvonne put one elegantly-clad shoe in the doorway. 'Aren't you interested in the fact that Manoel is very ill - possibly dying?'
Dionne's face whitened as though Yvonne had struck her. 'You're lying!' she gasped. 'Am I?' Yvonne raised her eyebrows mockingly. 'Are you sure?' Dionne swallowed hard. 'If Manoel is - is almost dying - why are you here? Why aren't you with him?' Yvonne sniffed delicately. 'I do not intend to stand here on the doorstep, Dionne. Are you going to ask me in, or are you not?' Dionne hesitated and then she stood aside abruptly and with a slight, triumphant smile Yvonne stepped past her and walked down the hall. Dionne noticed that she walked rather slowly, but there was no trace of a limp. Obviously the surgeons had done their job well. In the living-room, Yvonne looked about her withdistaste. 'Do you live here?' she inquired insolently. Dionne's young face was taut and anxious. 'Please!' she exclaimed. 'What are you here for? What has happened to Manoel?' Yvonne seemed in no hurry now to go on. She looked around the room with scornful appraisal and her eyes alighted on Jonathan's toys heaped in one comer. She stared at them disbelievingly for a moment and then turned to Dionne in amazement. 'Those toys? There is a child in this house?' Dionne wondered whether she should answer her, but she knew Yvonne's character well enough to know that she was unlikely to go on unless Dionne answered her questions. So she said: 'Yes,' in a rather taut voice. Yvonne's eyes grew speculative. 'I understood you lived alone - with your aunt.' 'I did - I do-that is—'
Yvonne ran her tongue over her lips and a sudden smile tilted the corners of her mouth, but it was not a pleasant smile. 'So it's you! You have a child!' she exclaimed. Dionne's colour burned her cheeks. 'That's right.' Yvonne shook her head in amused incredulity, and then she laughed scornfully. 'So that's it!' she pronounced triumphantly. 'That's what Manoel found out that night! That's what sent him straight back to France to practically kill himself in the arena! The fact that after all that has happened - you have a child! Oh, that's irony, Dionne, don't you think so?" Dionne was trembling in the grip of emotions she didn't know she possessed, emotions that made her want to grasp Yvonne by her elegantly coiffured head and scratch her eyes out for the mockery she was exhibiting. 'I don't know what you're talking about—' she began huskily, but Yvonne shook her head. 'Do not try to draw the wool over my eyes, Dionne! I know Manoel only too well. He is an idealist, the kind of intolerant male who can accept nothing less than perfection in his women! What a terrible shock it must have been for him when he found that the woman he was prepared to give so much up for should turn out to have feet of clay!' Dionne was confused. 'What do you mean? Where is Manoel? You say he has injured himself - in the arena?' Yvonne raised arched eyebrows. 'Yes. That is what I said.' 'But how? I mean - Manoel knows the bulls - how could he take such risks?' Yvonne shrugged indifferently. 'I am not particularly bothered about Manoel.' 'But I am!' Dionne was almost frantic with anxiety. 'How can you be so cold? I thought you were in love with Manoel—'
Yvonne's lips tightened. 'So did I - once. I know better now. Besides, who would want to marry a man who might be crippled for life?' Dionne's eyes were agonized. 'Oh, God!' she breathed faintly. Yvonne's eyes narrowed suddenly. 'Do not look so distraught, Dionne. Manoel does not want us either. I fear he demands more than either of us have to offer.' Dionne put a bewildered hand to her head. 'Why did you come here, Yvonne? Why did you want to tell me that Manoel had been injured? What possible pleasure can you gain from such a situation?' Yvonne made an eloquent gesture. 'My dear Dionne, I didn't come just to tell you about Manoel, although your anxiety comes rather sweetly to my ears. No - I came here to find out what had gone wrong - what had destroyed the romantic idyll that began three years ago. Now - now, I know.' 'You know nothing!' Dionne could barely get the words out. 'You - you're evil! You don't give a damn for anybody but yourself. When you were confined to a wheelchair Manoel didn't abandon you!' 'Didn't he?' Yvonne looked venomous. 'My dear girl, Manoel abandoned me most effectively the day I had the accident, but of course you wouldn't know that, would you? You probably only know what Louise could tell you - that Manoel and I had a row and I attempted to get even with him by beating his precious bulls!'"' 'You - you mean you were arguing because Manoel was threatening to leave you?' Dionne could scarcely contain her curiosity, but Yvonne seemed not to notice. 'Of course,' she said now, preening herself before the mirror above the fireplace. 'Manoel is part gitano after all, and his grandmother, the old witch, always played on that. She made him believe that he couldn't marry anyone else even if he wanted to, because he was already married to you! He didn't know about his mother getting that cheque and disposing of you. He still had
ideas of coming to England to find you and bring you back. He was almost out of his mind with jealousy when you disappeared!' 'What?' Dionne couldn't take it in. 'But - but that day after the ceremony - he - he didn't come back. Only his mother came. Why didn't he stop her if that's how he felt?' 'How could he? He was in hospital with a broken thigh. I should have thought Louise would have told you that.' 'The accident?' Dionne swallowed hard. 'You mean - the accident happened that day?' Yvonne was beginning to look bored. 'Of course. He came back to the mas to tell his parents what had happened and I was there, too. They were furious, of course. Afterwards he was thrown from his horse only a few hundred yards from the house. One of the gardiens said the saddle fastening was loose.' Her lips curved into a reminiscent smile, and Dionne had the distinct impression that Yvonne had had something to do with that. But that was in the past. It was the present now, and Dionne knew that Yvonne had unwittingly changedthe course of her life. On her way to the door Yvonne turned and said: 'So there "you are, then, Dionne. The whole sordid little melodrama. What a pity there isn't to be a happy ending. But having a baby rather precludes that, doesn't it?' Dionne clenched her fists into balls. 'It rather depends whose baby it is, don't you think, Yvonne?' she said carefully. Yvonne halted. 'What do you mean?' Dionne shook her head. 'Oh, nothing,' she said. 'Are you leaving?' Yvonne hesitated, obviously struck by the unexpected light behind Dionne's eyes, but at last she walked to the front door. Dionne opened it politely and Yvonne went through. Her hired car was parked at the gate, but Dionne didn't wait to see her get into it. She closed the door and pressed herself back
against it shakily. If what Yvonne had said was true then there were so many possibilities opening up before her incredulous eyes. But then she remembered what Yvonne had said about Manoel's accident and her immediate excitement gave way to apprehension. What if Yvonne had not been exaggerating? What if Manoel really was at death's door? Could his careless actions in the arena have been the result of finding out that Dionne had a child, a child he thought was some other man's? It was all incredibly, wonderfully possible, but first she must find out how he was. Her brain raced as she walked back to the living- room, unconsciously planning ahead. She would go to Provence. Even if Yvonne was wrong, even if Manoel no longer cared about her, even if the knowledge of his own son meant nothing to him, she must still go. She must tell the truth now or five with her doubts for the rest of her life. By the time Clarry returned with Jonathan she had rung the airport and booked a seat for herself on the next day's flight to Marignane, and was busy packing some of hers and Jonathan's clothes into a suitcase. This time Jonathan would go with her. This time there must be no mistakes.
Dionne booked into the same hotel in Aries and she saw Monsieur Lyons' eyes widen interestedly when he saw Jonathan. But he contained his curiosity and welcomed her back without question, assuring her that either he or his wife would be willing to take care of the child if she wished to go out in the evenings. Dionne thanked him. She might be glad of their assistance in that way. But first she had to find out where Manoel was and whether he was fit enough to have visitors. She hesitated about calling the mas, not wanting to draw attention to her presence in Aries, and phoned the hospitals instead. She drew a blank, but at the last she was told that Monsieur St. Salvador had been a patient there for a time but he was now back home. Home meant the Mas St. Salvador and Dionne cringed from the task ahead of her. Not only would she have to confront Manoel, but she had to confront his mother first.
Although she asked for details of Manoel's injuries, at the hospital, in this they would not help her. Possibly they thought she was a member of the press looking for a story, but whatever their reasons they refused to discuss their patient. So she was left knowing only that he was no longer at death's door. She eventually decided to hire a car and drive out to the mas the following afternoon. She would take Jonathan with her, and pray that she was not letting herself in for heartbreak. It was rather an unnerving journey, following the uneven track, and Jonathan, drowsy in the back seat of the car, fell asleep long before they arrived. It was his usual time for a nap and the unaccustomed journey the day before had exhausted him. Dionne glanced round at him tenderly as his downy head nodded, and presently he tipped sideways to stretch on the back seat. At last she arrived at the mas, but the place seemed deserted. Dogs barked to herald their arrival, but there was no sign of human life. She supposed she ought to be feeling grateful that Yvonne was no longer there to harass her, but her racing pulses would not be stilled and her knees shook uncontrollably as she climbed out of the car. She decided to leave Jonathan asleep in the car. He would come to no harm here in the yard and it would be easier confronting Madame St. Salvador without the child. But although she knocked long and heavily at the door no one came to answer it, and eventually she tried the handle and when the door gave inwards she entered with some misgivings. She was in the passage she had been in with Manoel and to her left was the kitchen where he had taken her. On impulse she opened the kitchen door, but the room was deserted, and only a fire burning merrily in the grate bore witness that it was not too long since someone had tended it. She was emerging from the kitchen when a man's angry voice called: 'Qui est-ce? Ou etes-vous? Dieu, repondez-moi!'
It was Manoel's voice, coming from a room further down the corridor, and Dionne tensed violently. On trembling legs she traversed the corridor until she reached the door of his room and then tapping gently she opened it and went slowly in. Manoel was in the process of getting out of bed, but at her entrance he flung the covers swiftly over his nakedness and stared at her as though he couldn't believe his eyes. 'Hello, Manoel,' she murmured nervously. 'How - how are you?' Manoel ran a hand over his tousled hair, grown thick now and longer since his illness so that it curled down the back of his neck. 'God!' he muttered disbelievingly. 'What the hell are you doing here?' Dionne closed the door and leaned back against it. 'Is - is that any kind of a greeting?' she inquired unevenly. Manoel uttered an angry epithet. 'Look, Dionne, I didn't ask you to come here. I don't even know how you come to be here at all. For God's sake, go away and leave me alone!' Dionne's breathing quickened. 'Don't talk to me like that, Manoel. I - I've been so worried about you—' 'Oh, spare me that, at least!' Manoel flung himself back against the pillows. 'I have.' Dionne advanced a little way towards the bed, noticing what a bare room this was. 'How are you? You - you had an accident, I know that much. I want to know how you are.' 'Do you?' His grey eyes were cold and angry. 'Well, I'm fine. And if it wasn't for the fact of those damn fool doctors filling me full of drugs I'd have been up and about by now.' Dionne shook her head. 'But what happened? How did you do it?' Manoel's jaw tightened. 'I was gored, nothing more, nothing less!'
'Oh, Manoel!' Dionne felt sick. 'Why did you do it?' 'Do what? Get gored? I didn't exactly choose my fate, you know.' 'Didn't you?' Dionne bent her head, then she looked up again, her eyes imploring. 'Where is the scar?' 'There!' With deliberate cruelty Manoel pushed down the covers below his waist so that Dionne could see the ugly row of stitches which showed white across his flat brown stomach. 'Oh, Manoel!' She stared at them in horror, imagining what it must have been like when it was first done, when the flesh hung torn and bleeding. Manoel regarded her expressionlessly for a long moment, taking in the attractive picture she made in pale blue cotton slacks and a low-necked ribbed sweater with long sleeves. Then Dionne could stand it no longer and with a helpless shrug of her shoulders she ran the few steps to the bed and dropped to her knees beside it, burying her face against his brown shoulder. She felt him stiffen and his hands go up to push her away. But the low-necked sweater allowed his hands to touch her skin and his flesh lingered against hers for a moment before he uttered a strangled exclamation and dragging her up on to the bed he pulled her down on top of him, his mouth against her throat. 'Why have you come?' he groaned shakenly, and then he rolled over, pressing her back against the covers and parting her mouth with his. For several minutes she couldn't reply, she just clung to him as though she could never bear to let him go again, and Manoel felt his self-control slipping dangerously low. It was so intimate here in this sun-shadowed room, and he had wanted her too long not to be aware of his own needs. His mouth lingered on hers, his hands hard against her soft skin, the urgency of his own desire mounting within him.
With a supreme effort he propped himself up and looked down at her, but she made no move to slide from the bed and he said rather thickly: 'We've got to talk.'" 'Mmm.' Dionne traced the line of his scar with her finger and he caught her hand and held it aside firmly. 'Dionne, listen to me, be sensible. God, do you think I want to be? But do you know what you're doing?' His eyes darkened. 'Hadn't you better tell me why you're here?' Dionne gave a deep sigh and then with an effort she slid from the bed and he lay back on the pillows feeling a tremendous sense of loss at her going. She smoothed her hair and then said quietly: 'Answer me one thing, Manoel: why did you come to see me in London?' Manoel's expression grew harder. 'Surely you know why.' 'No, I don't know why. I thought - I mean - for three years I thought you had abandoned me—' 'Yes, I know. Yvonne told me.' Manoel sat upright, hunching his shoulders. 'And of course I would have told you that night - if - if we hadn't been interrupted.' 'I know that now. Yvonne told me two days ago that you had finished with her. That's why I'm here.' Manoel's eyes were remote. 'Why? To take up where we left off? You forget - you have other commitments now.' 'And you don't want me with those other commitments. Is that it?' Dionne stared at him steadily. Manoel raked a hand through his hair. 'Oh, God, I don't know what I want any more. I thought I couldn't bear it when I found out about the child, but now, with you here, I'm wondering if I can bear it if I let you go!' His lips
twisted. 'What an admission, isn't it? Particularly as you've never before made any attempt to see me. Until you wanted something, that is.' Dionne hesitated a moment, and then she said: 'Will you wait a moment? I I have something to show you.' Manoel frowned. 'What is it?' 'Wait and see.' Manoel bent his head. 'Very well. I'll wait.' Dionne gave him one last look and then slipped out of the door. The corridor was still deserted and she gave a thought to wonder where Madame St. Salvador might be but then her own emotions overcame all other considerations. Jonathan was still in the back of the car where she had left him, but he was already awake and beginning to whimper a little. His face brightened, however, when he saw Dionne and she lifted him into her arms tenderly. She carried him into the house. He still walked rather slowly and she was eager now to show Manoel his son. When she pushed open Manoel's door he was out of bed and had put on a pair of dark blue suede pants, and was in the process of fastening the laces of a white silk shirt. He swung round as she entered and when he saw the child in her arms he said hoarsely: 'For God's sake, Dionne, what do you take me for?' But Dionne put Jonathan down on the floor and he stood looking about him with adorable speculation. Then she said: 'Look at him, Manoel. Look at him, please. Does he remind you of anyone?' Manoel turned slowly and looked down from his great height at the child. He stared at him for a long moment, and then he looked at Dionne. Dionne felt her nerves stretch to screaming pitch at the penetration of that stare, and then Manoel was down on his haunches beside Jonathan, producing a silver
case from his pocket, attracting the little boy's attention with the shiny article. For several minutes he held Jonathan's attention, bringing a smile to his small face, allowing him to show the row of small white even teeth, the cleft in his cheek, the dancing mischief to his eyes. Then he straightened and when he looked at Dionne she felt as though her heart was being squeezed tightly and painfully. 'Why didn't you tell me?' he demanded fiercely, one hand curving round the back of her neck, drawing her towards him. 'I wanted to,' she breathed huskily, still not sure that everything was going to be all right. 'You do know who he is, don't you?' 'Yes, goddamn you, my son!' swore Manoel passionately, against her neck. 'I once said I could kill you, and right now I believe it. Dionne, Dionne! Why didn't you tell me?' 'How could I?' Dionne touched his cheek with gentle fingers while Jonathan toddled curiously about the room, content so long as Dionne was within calling distance. 'You were so remote, and besides, I thought you were ashamed of what you had allowed to happen, remember?' 'Oh, yes, my mother has a lot to answer for.' Manoel trembled slightly against her and she said quickly: 'You shouldn't be out of bed!' Manoel half-smiled, and it was the most wonderful smile she had ever seen on his lips. 'I agree,' he murmured huskily, causing the hot colour to sweep up her throat. 'Where are Louise and your mother anyway?' asked Dionne softly. 'I saw no one when I arrived.' 'Louise is out and my mother's not here. She's gone to stay with a cousin in Cannes. I -I couldn't stand her around after I got back.'
'Oh, Manoel!' Dionne pressed herself close to him and he said huskily: 'She'll improve, you'll see. But why couldn't you have told me about the boy when I came to your aunt's house?' Dionne bit her hp. 'I didn't know you'd finished with Yvonne. I -I was afraid if you knew about Jonathan you'd want to take him away from me.' Manoel shook his head heavily. 'Instead of which, I've lost the first two years of my son's life,' he murmured quietly. Dionne pressed her lips to his throat. 'We could have other sons,' she suggested gently, and Manoel caught a handful of her hair in his fingers. 'Undoubtedly we will,' he said, his touch urgent. 'But first I want to know everything about this particular St. Salvador.' He bent down to the child again, obviously finding him absolutely fascinating. 'But why did you need money for him?' he asked suddenly, looking up at her. 'He's all right, isn't he?' Dionne smiled at the anxiety in his voice. Kneeling down beside him, she said: 'Jonathan had a bad attack of bronchitis a couple of months ago and it left him with some congestion. Oh, it's nothing too serious!' she exclaimed, as Manoel's eyes darkened at this news. 'But the doctor thought he would benefit from some time in a warmer, drier climate. I was going to take him away as soon as I got back. But Clarry, my aunt, had broken her leg, and it was impossible.' 'I see.' Manoel held the small boy between his hands and Jonathan regarded him curiously, obviously wondering who this stranger might be. But he didn't struggle to be free and seemed to find the broad gold watch on Manoel's wrist more than adequate compensation for this enforced captivity. Manoel got to his feet, swinging the child up into his arms, holding him with somehow ease of possession. Then he looked again at Dionne. 'I hate to talk of prosaic things,' he said softly, 'but you've got to marry me in church now, you realize that?'
Dionne watched them, feeling the prick of tears behind her eyes. 'I have no objections,' she murmured quietly, and Manoel tugged a strand of her hair. 'And soon,' he continued, his voice thickening a little. 'I want my wife - and my son.' Jonathan was tugging at the slender chain about Manoel's neck and Manoel managed to lift the chain and take it off, dropping it securely about Dionne's throat. Dionne turned away. It had all been too much for her to cope with and she felt an awful presentiment that she was going to cry. Manoel seemed to sense her tension, for he swung the child to the ground and while Jonathan toddled off he caught her shoulders, drawing her back against him. 'Je t'adore,' he murmured huskily against her ear. 'I love you. I always have, and I guess I always will.' Dionne rested back against him for a moment, loving the feeling of his hard body against hers. 'I couldn't bear it if anything happened between us now,' she breathed chokily. Manoel touched the side of her neck with his mouth. 'Nothing will part us now, I promise you,' he replied compellingly. 'But Yvonne—' 'What about Yvonne?5 'Will she come back to the Camargue?' 'Probably, why? You're not jealous of her, surely?' Dionne half smiled, shaking her head. 'Oh, no. Ac-tually, I suppose I should be thanking her. Without her intervention I probably wouldn't be here.'
'What do you mean?' Manoel turned her to face him and with faltering sentences Dionne explained about Yvonne's visit to her aunt's house. 'Poor Yvonne!' he said at last. 'If only she had known what she was giving me!' Dionne touched his mouth with her fingers and his lips turned into her palm. 'Is Gemma still here?' she asked softly. Manoel smiled gently and nodded. 'I imagine she is having her afternoon nap. She'll be so pleased to see you. She was .determined that we should be together again. She tried to keep you here before, you know that.' 'I know so many things now,' said Dionne, with a sigh, and then looked down at Jonathan who was tugging her skirt. 'Do you think Louise could find somewhere for Jonathan to sleep tonight if we decided not to go back to the hotel?' Manoel's lips curved rather possessively. 'I feel she will have to,' he said, his eyes on her mouth. 'Because I certainly don't intend to let you go ...'