It's Not a Donkey Farm

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Chapter 14

Daria held the letter, clutching it in both hands against her chest and stared at Alfie. She had no idea how long she sat for, silent and slightly trembling, as tears slid down her cheek. Alfie reached out and laid his hand on her arm.

‘It’s from Opa.’ Daria found she could hardly speak.

‘Are you ok? Just take your time’ he said gently.

‘Yes. No. I don’t know. Oh my god.’ she said, wiping her eyes as he handed her a tissue, ‘Do you know, you are my hanky dispenser. How come you always have them just when I need one?’ and she attempted a grin.

‘As I said, I am yours to beck and call.’ His voice was tender and he gently squeezed her arm, smiling encouragingly.

Daria felt incredibly grateful that, yet again, he was just letting her be. He wasn’t pressuring her to open the letter, questioning her why she wasn’t tearing it open immediately or asking why she was crying.

She took a deep breath and held the letter out in front of her. Staring at her name in his hand writing.

‘I wasn’t expecting this. I don’t know what I thought I’d find, but...’ and Daria found she didn’t know what to say next. She looked up at Alfie, feeling totally at a loss. ‘I don’t know what to do.’

‘Just take your time, it’s ok. I can see that this must be a bit of a shock.’

‘He never wrote letters. Never. Odd postcards sometimes, from even odder places. And sometimes they just said “Hey kid, love Opa”, and that was all. Never letters. It must be something dreadful. I can’t cope with anything dreadful.’

‘Well yes,’ he said, hesitatingly ‘but you don’t know that either. It might not be dreadful. It might be something amazing.’ He held her hand.

‘I can’t open it. I can’t.’

‘You’re trembling. Would you like a brandy? I expect you’ve shocked yourself sober.’ Daria appreciated his attempt at humour.

‘Fool. But, yes. That’s a great idea. Thank you.’

She took a deep breath and then a warming sip of brandy.

‘Daria’ said Alfie and she heard the serious tone in his voice. ‘Even if this is dreadful, even if it’s going to be hard to read, just think about a few things first. To begin with, it’s another thing you’ve discovered that’s from Opa to you. And that’s amazing. A new thing from him to you. Just like the trunk in the first place. So, it’s pretty exciting as well. And how on earth did you know there would be something there? Behind the painting? And from what I can gather, he was a gentle man. Despite everything that happened to him, or maybe even because of it. If it’s bad news, or whatever you’re afraid of, isn’t he going to say it gently? Don’t forget that he loved you. How many times has Tilly said that? And she’s right. As usual.’

‘Yes. Yes, I know. Yes, I do. You’re right. I know you are’ Daria took a deep breath ‘ok, here goes. God, I feel so nervous.’

Daria tried to smile at him, but felt as if her face was jittering. So she opened the envelope and unfolded the letter, smiling at seeing Opa’s spidery handwriting again.

“My dearest, loveliest Daria” she read out loud, then lifted her head, smiling widely at Alfie ‘oh, I can hear him saying it. I miss him.’

And she just stared at her name, written by him. Then she read on, in silence. But Daria found that she was skipping bits, that she wasn’t reading methodically. In her anxiety, she felt as if she wanted to know the contents of the letter all at once. She felt impatient to know what Opa wanted to tell her and wanted it all immediately. And it all wasn’t helped by her trembling hands.

‘Wait. I can’t do it. I’m not reading this properly’ she said, a look of anguish on her face.

‘Read it out loud. That will help’ said Alfie, ‘I’ll wait in the other room if you like. If you need this as a private moment and want to be alone.’

Daria smiled warmly at him. ‘No. No need for that. But that’s a good idea. I think I’ve answered you the wrong way round. But stay.’

So she began to read aloud.

“My dearest, loveliest Daria,

“I wonder when you are reading this? And I wonder where? It is those two questions that makes this hard to begin. So I have to make a few assumptions and hope I get it right. Did you find my old trunk after I died? How strange it is to write those three last words. But if it is so, then know that even in eternity I love you. You have been one of the most important people in my life. I could not have loved a daughter more.

“I really want to know if you are at home and whether or not you have or are going to go to France. Discover the meaning of the house deeds. If you are still undecided, then let me push you from beyond the grave. Sorry, I couldn’t help that bit of melodrama! Oh, how I can see that look you used to give me when you wanted to laugh with me but didn’t know if it was the right thing to do as you disapproved as well.

“Go. Go to beautiful Ayen. We’ll be going together, I will always be with you, and let’s go get us an adventure, as I always used to say. For I promise you this. There you will meet a woman that you will love as much as I do. And she will love you. There is no doubt. She has an enormous heart and never be surprised at what she knows. She has always been wise beyond her years. A regret of mine is that I shall not be there to see you both together. And if you do not find this letter, she will eventually tell you about it.

“I don’t suppose hiding the trunk or this letter was the easiest way or the most straightforward way of doing things, but didn’t we always like guessing games and mysteries? Remember the time I gave you a clue for your birthday present? I think you were eight or nine. And that led you to another, and another, and we wove in and out of the woods and through that field full of cows that scared you. And you worked them all out until they led you right back home, to that bike I’d hidden in your garage. So, maybe I could have just given you the bike. And maybe I could have just told you stuff. But which way is better? And my life as a child and as a young man were far from normal or ordinary. Well, whose are? But I wanted to make it big for you, because it was big for me. So I hope you understand the way I have decided to tell you. I find it hard to write exactly why I’ve done it this way. You know me, the world’s greatest pen-shirker! And it’s that I wanted you to have fun as well, to enjoy yourself on the way. Which, my dearest Daria, you will have done in one way or another.

“So maybe this is a bit frivolous and unnecessary, but there are hard things for you to discover, to hear and to see. So remember what I’ve always told you, that if there is a challenge you are having difficulty overcoming, instead of feeling defeated by it start thinking about how much stronger it makes you. And be grateful for the lessons it is here to teach you. A shift in perspective changes everything. So if you’ve been frustrated by me, forgive me and laugh with me. As it always was.

“So, now I am assuming that you are already in France, even though if you’re not then this letter then will give things away. But I am actually banking on you having too much to think about to discover this. Was I right?

“This letter is not an answer to the question. Even though you want to hear a truth from me and about me, I shall not give it here. Know that that part of my life that is with you, is one free of accusation, free of the haunting questions and looks from others. You simply loved me unconditionally and I know that that love would mean you thought me innocent if I just told you. But I need you to know, really know and feel the truth. So you had to see without me around.

“So, why am I writing? A thing I never do? This letter holds a clue. The next clue. The final one.

“I want to write and write – a thing I did not expect when I began this, you can be certain of that! Because how can I say goodbye to you? You are a shining light, a beacon. And I hope you have always known how deep my love for you has been and will always be, even though there were times I wasn’t around for you enough. So be happy. Be at peace. And remember, if you’re not making waves, you’re not kicking hard enough!

“Your Opa.”

Daria laid the letter down, put her face in her hands and sobbed. She could hear his voice, see his deep, brown eyes and his smile as she read, and she thought her heart would break.

She knew that she had wanted the letter to be the answer. She had wanted Opa to wash her doubts and her questions away and make it all better again. Then she half laughed as she thought how typical this all was of him. And how brilliant as well.

‘He’s done it again’ she said as she took another tissue from Alfie, ‘he’s put me through heaven and hell since he died. And I don’t know if I love him or hate him for it. Well, I do. But you know what I mean.’

‘You wanted him to say he wasn’t a collaborator, didn’t you?’ he said quietly.

Daria nodded. ‘And because it’s all so like him that I’m really missing him all over again. Always the mad bugger.’

‘And I bet you wouldn’t have had it any other way, either.’

‘No. Yes. Whichever word it is. You’re right. I don’t know.’

‘Well that was clear,’ said Alfie, attempting to make Daria smile. Which it did.

The she had a sudden thought. ‘Hang on. What clue? He said the letter was the clue or something.’ She picked the letter up and read it again. ‘Here. He says “this letter holds a clue”. What does that mean? How? Where? I don’t understand that.’

Then Alfie picked up the envelope and peered inside.

‘Bloody hell. Look,’ was all he said and when Daria saw the huge grin on his face, she looked inside as well.

And there, at the bottom of the envelope, lay a small folded piece of paper.

‘The clue’ she said, smiling as she gently unfolded it, then read it aloud.

“it’s fourth along,

it’s pointed out,

when fruits reflect in eyes.

First chip away,

then wobble out,

and there within it lies.

Love wraps it up,

and cleanses it,

till passing time gets old.

It’s truth is plain,

but it’s not mine.

My glisten was not that gold.”

Daria turned to look at Alfie and they grinned broadly at each other.

‘What the bloody hell does that mean?’ he said.

‘God knows. I told you he was a mad bugger.’

‘So, this is a clue to what, though?’

‘Yes, what? What are we looking for? Hidden family treasure.’

‘A pirate’s booty.’

‘Stolen diamonds. He was put in prison once, you know. Smuggling diamonds.’

‘What? Seriously? When? What happened?’

‘I’ll tell you another day. Right now, I want to think about this. It’s got to be a clue to the truth. To whether or not Opa was a collaborator. And I’ve got to work it out because he doesn’t say. All he says is it’s the final one. The last clue. Oh, I don’t know. I think I’ve worked a lot out, but there’s still things Tilly needs to tell me.’

‘Like what?’

‘Well, for example. How did Oswald Mosley know where Opa lived? Oswald Mosley, for god’s sake. How does that happen? And how could Mosley have bought a house there and given it to Opa?’

‘I’d wondered about that. Certainly an unexpected connection.’

‘God, you can say that again. Look. Do you fancy going upstairs and sitting on the balcony?’

‘Shall I bring the glasses? I’ll tidy up down here first. Do you want the letter upstairs?’

It was too chilly for the balcony, so they sat up in bed with Daria’s head on his chest. Just holding each other. They had read the letter several times and each time, Daria’s eyes lingered over words that expressed his love for her. She realised that Alfie had been right. It was a gentle letter. Opa was a gentle man. And Daria’s head span with questions, as she wondered how she could even begin to work out such an obscure clue. Then she had a thought.

‘Perhaps something that Tilly still has to say will help us work out the clue. I’m too tired to think about it.’

‘I hope so. But not the too tired bit. I mean, the clue and Tilly. I can’t make head nor tail of it.’

‘You are funny’ she said, softly, ‘It’s so lovely though. Another new bit from Opa. And in his hand writing. I so loved seeing that. And just when it felt as though things are sort of coming to an end. You know, I’ve nearly found out everything. And now this. Whatever this is.’

Daria yawned and he gently stroked her hair until he could feel her relax into sleep.

*

Even though it may have been originally arranged for Alfie to go back to work that day, Daria had asked if he could join them for as long as he could. Daria knew he would make all the translating a lot quicker. But it was more than that too. And she felt thrilled when he had agreed to be around for as long as she wanted. They arrived at Tilly’s about mid-morning as arranged, and she opened the door just as Daria was about to knock.

‘A beautiful morning to you both’ said Tilly, ‘I have put coffee on for three.’

Daria smiled and kissed Tilly. They followed her into the kitchen.

‘You are a remarkable woman, Tilly. Everything Opa wrote about you was true.’

Tilly turned and looked quizzically at Daria.

‘Wrote? Ah, now I think you have a story to tell me. Alfie, carry in the tray and we will drink while Daria explains. It seems that you two may have had many adventures last night,’ Tilly said as she giggled and shuffled away to sit down.

‘I’m only translating exactly what she says’ said Alfie to Daria, ‘I’m not making any of it up.’

But Daria just laughed and followed Tilly out of the kitchen.

‘I think we both know what she’s like by now. Are you sure you envy me my relatives?’

As they sat drinking thick, hot coffee, Daria explained about her find and about how she had felt as if she had forgotten about something, was missing something somehow, all weekend. Then she pulled the letter out of her bag, asking if Tilly had known about it. Tilly gasped when she saw it.

‘Ah, little flower angel’ said Tilly, ‘I knew that he’d hidden a letter in the painting, but I never knew what he’d written. I have never even seen it. But here it is. I was to tell you about it after Gene’s story, if you had not discovered it by then. But he did not think you would look before you left England. And he knew you would bring the painting when you came to Ayen. How that man loved to play.’

Daria grinned. ‘Yes, he did. But I can’t make up my mind if he’s playing too hard this time. Sometimes I feel bombarded. Surely you do too, Tilly?’

Tilly just smiled.

‘But weren’t you ever tempted to take a peek and put it back, though? Before he took it to England? I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have allowed curiosity to get the better of me,’ said Alfie.

‘You make fun of me, Alfie’ said Tilly, waving a finger at him, ‘you are not a dishonourable man as I am not a dishonourable woman. Ah, what an addition to our family you will be.’

Alfie pulled a face at Daria as he translated and shrugged his shoulders. Daria grinned at Tilly and wondered what Ila would have said.

‘Again, I didn’t know whether or not to translate that’ said Alfie, ‘and I never know whether to feel embarrassed or not.’

Tilly laughed at that and patted his cheek, nodding.

‘Tilly, you are incorrigible, Ila is right. But somehow I think you’ve been hearing that all of your life,’ said Daria, recognising the twinkle in her eyes, ‘and I know. You know.’

Tilly and Daria sat and grinned at each other, enjoying a mutual understanding.

‘And so’ said Tilly ‘today we shall walk and talk. We need to shop and it is time you saw a little more of our beautiful village. We shall have coffee in our lovely little cafe and buy bread and cheese and whatever food you want. But first, Daria. I must ask for your permission to find out what Gene wrote. It is your letter.’

‘Oh, Tilly. Of course. Alfie, why don’t you read it out in French?’

So Daria sat and watched Tilly’s face as he read. As Daria felt she knew the letter practically by heart, she thought she knew that Tilly clutched her hands to her heart when she must have heard Opa’s ‘after I died’; that the tears in Tilly’s eyes related to the bit about Opa’s love for Tilly and the smile was for the story about Daria’s birthday clues. Daria knew that the wink Tilly gave Alfie came when she must have heard about Daria having fun and the slight frown was for the clue.

When Alfie had finished, Tilly took the letter and looked at the hand writing while she gently ran her hand over the paper, a tear sliding down her cheek. Daria went over and knelt beside her, resting her head on Tilly’s lap.

‘Ah, yes. Can’t we see him writing that, Daria? And he is making sure it’s not over. Alfie, you must never think that Gene was a man with a huge ego. Pushing from beyond the grave, as he said. Keeping his story going. No. Gene was not an arrogant man. He just had a huge sense of fun and mystery and found great joy whenever he could grab people and share new experiences with them. He was a kind and gentle man.’

Daria nodded. ‘Yes. And you never knew how things were going to turn out or even what he had in store. But somehow, he always guessed right. He always got it right and gave you just what you needed. Even though you might not have realised that you needed it.’

Daria sat up.

‘Do you want to hear the clue, Tilly? It was in the envelope.’

And when Alfie had finished reading it, Tilly rocked herself and laughed and laughed.

‘I couldn’t get it to rhyme in French, so it sounds even more bonkers’ he said to Daria, ‘I think Tilly was slightly amused by it.’

‘Ah, Gene. Forever the clown. Ah, but he hasn’t got me completely this time.’

‘Do you know what it means, Tilly?’ said Daria.

‘Yes, my flower angel. At least the first part. Not the later part. I can guess up to “Love wraps it up and cleanses it”, but I do not know what the “it” is. And I do not understand the rest. And Daria, no. Do not ask me to tell you. There is no sign that Gene wanted me to help you.’ And Tilly grinned and nodded her head at Daria.

‘I was going to ask’ she said to Alfie, ‘I should know better by now, really.’

Daria grinned at Tilly. ‘Ok. I’ll work it out.’

‘Ah, but with a little help from good friends’ said Tilly, grinning at Alfie, ‘Now. Let us go. It will rain later and I do not want to get wet.’

Daria peered out of the window at a blazing sun in a blue sky and shrugged at Alfie.

*

As Daria and Tilly walked slowly along the street, arm in arm with Alfie closely behind them, Tilly began to speak.

’You were right, Daria. You said on Friday that you thought it must have been when they took Gene away that his hair turned white. Ah, I shall never forget the day. Over six months had past and we had never given up hope that we would see him again, even though we heard nothing. Mother would get angry if anyone in Ayen spoke of Gene as if he were not alive. She would cut them dead and tell them he would be back. She refused to hear the words. We spoke of him as if he were alive, we had to. I know mother had been desperate to spend time with him. To have them live together once more as mother and son, a thing they had both been deprived of for so many years. She wanted to care for him, to be with him, to quell his restless soul and help to heal him. And she thought she’d have that when he returned after the war. And yet again, he was taken from her.

’Ah, how I heard her weep in the night and I would creep into her room and get into bed with her. I found such a comfort in her smell, lavender in the soap she made, and we would cuddle until we slept. But we never, never believed he had been killed. Murdered by those he had worked with? No, it was not possible. Ah, it is hard to let go of anger sometimes.

’Then, one evening, he suddenly turned up. Ah, but, I do not think it was suddenly for mother. Although we had had no word, I think she knew, she realised something would happen that day. I remember she was so restless, so distracted from the moment she woke. She could not settle on anything and kept sending me out to play or to my room, to get away from under her feet. She was constantly looking out of the window and would not explain why. But I kept asking what was wrong and tugging on her skirts. I did not want to leave her. Yes, she knew something was going to happen that day. And it did. That evening, I was reading in the lounge as usual and mother was cooking in the kitchen. Then I heard a crash and a scream and I ran in. It was such a shock. Such a shock. There he was, holding mother, smiling at me above her head. Then he called my name and I don’t think I have ever cried so much in my life.

’Ah, but he was so thin and carried the signs of bruises on his face. And although he tried to hide his body from us both, he had such marks. I remember how mother cried when she first saw bruises and scars. And he was thin and haggard. He looked drawn and tired to his very bones. But mother never asked what had happened. She knew he would speak of it in his own time and she warned me not to ask. So she cooked and comforted him, she bathed and soothed him and eventually he began to speak of the nightmare. Slowly and in little bits, he told of what had happened.

’My flower angel, I shall not give you the detail that Gene gave us for it chills me to say the words. He was beaten and tortured in ways you may not wish to imagine. He had no idea where he was. He was starved and he was kept alone in a small cellar. And every day he was expecting to be executed and he never knew why he wasn’t. They just questioned and questioned him, asking him for names and places and where he got his information from. They were looking for him to slip up, testing him to see if he had really been loyal to the Resistance. For he had quite a reputation that they would have to disprove. Then, one day, they just let him go.

’And he never said a word against Dareau, even though he said he knew he’d been involved. And he would not let us speak badly of him either. I was so angry with Dareau, I hated him for what he’d done to Gene. And for what he’d done to mother. Can you imagine, Daria, if two of your sons were beyond your arms? If the bitterness of one had led to the disappearance of the other? I do not know where she found the strength from, but she would greet Dareau in the street every time, even though he would turn from her. For how can you stop loving your own child? Especially when that child had been so badly mistreated by his own father? Ah, mother blamed herself. She always thought she should have been able to somehow dampen the influence of Bonner. But I know she never had the chance.

’We had seen him several times since he betrayed Gene, but he would ignore us. Oh, I can see his haughty walk now. But Gene would always say that we cannot know of the pain that drives Dareau, of what it was like to be unfortunately favoured by Bonner.

’In fact, one day he actually went to see Dareau. Mother tried to tell him not to go. She was afraid that her sons would fight each other, she wanted the violence to end. But Gene went anyway. And do you know why? He wanted to become friends with his brother. He wanted them to put the past behind them. He told Dareau that it was only the future that should count. He told him that you can’t change the wind, but you can change the sails.

’But he was rejected by Dareau. Dareau told him that he had no brother and that he would never forgive Gene for being a collaborator. I know how much that hurt Gene. How difficult it must have been for him, but he had to accept it. And Dareau spent the rest of his life ignoring Gene, pretending that Gene never existed. Mother could never completely cut ties with Dareau and Gene never wanted it that way. And Dareau’s only son, who he named after himself, learnt to carry the grudge and believe the lies.

‘Ah, what is the point of that? Why carry on with hatred and bitterness? That is no way to live. When there can be so much beauty and wonder, so much love, just for the asking. Without light, there can be only darkness.’

‘Opa used to say that a lot. I never knew what he meant until my marriage starting going wrong. Yes, I can imagine him wanting bygones to be bygones’ said Daria’ ‘and surely a man capable of that, could never be a collaborator. There’s too much evidence against it.’

‘Ah, except that Dareau said Gene approached him because Gene was guilty. Because it would be a way to reconcile himself to having betrayed so many, for having Henri and Colette killed.’

‘How does that make any sense though?’ said Daria.

‘Dareau said that if he accepted Gene, it would show that Dareau had forgiven him and why else would Gene want to befriend the man who betrayed him. Does that make sense? That is for you to decide. But does an animosity that lasts for years and years make sense? And, another thing to remember Daria, was that very hostility, that was fed and nurtured by Bonner, does it, can it run deep enough to betray an innocent brother? To expect him to be executed for his crimes? How deeply must that run and was it deep enough?’

They all walked along silently until they reached the patisserie.

’This is where the foolish baker lived, Henri Plumiérè, a bigger fool than I have so far explained to you. But later. He has not yet finished his part in Opa’s story. But let us see what has come out of the oven today.’

Later, with bags laden with freshly baked and harvested foods, they stopped for a drink in the cafe on the village square. As they sat outside, Daria looked around at the mismatched old stone buildings lining the dusty road and the village square. Old men were playing boules and a pair of mothers with young babies sat on a bench, whispering to each other. Houses were adorned with hanging baskets hinting at their future splendour of colours and the odd shop displayed their goods on the pavements.

‘This is so beautiful, Tilly. Can I hear a river?’

Tilly pointed out the houses that backed on to the river, explaining how it divided the upper and lower parts of Ayen. Upper Ayen was also on higher ground and Daria could see how different the buildings were there. Houses were bigger and Tilly explained that that was also where official buildings were.

‘And that is where Dareau junior now lives and works.’

‘Dareau? I’d forgotten he lives here. How often do you all see him?’ said Daria.

‘Ah, only whenever we happen to bump into him. He has scorned his family and now he is a lonely man. He never married, has no children so his home does not echo with the sounds of love. Old beyond his years, even though he is only a little older than Ila. He is a successful man in business, but what can all his money mean to him if he has nobody to share it with? And how does a wealthy man sleep at night when he has seen poverty at his feet? The money lives above the poorer parts of our little town and our town has suffered in its past.’

‘I think I feel sorry for him and his father and grandfather. Bonner and both Dareau’s. They never knew Opa or you or Ila or any of them. And they’ve missed out on something big there.’

‘Ah, yes, Daria. And that is why Gene went to see Dareau that day. Isn’t talking to each other always the best option? Whether between people or nations? Isn’t that how differences become acceptable and normal? And yes, that has been the loss that Dareau must bear.’

‘They are lovely houses. Splendid houses in a way. But I think if I had a choice, I’d live down here. Except they must have a gorgeous view of down here. But this...’ and Daria spread wide her arms ‘...this is a delight. I can’t think of the word I want. It’s real, but I hate it when people say that. Everybody’s own circumstances are real to them. What do I mean?’

‘I know what you mean’ said Alfie ‘I think this part of the town or village or whatever, has retained a sort of authentic, historic aspect. It’s how round here must have originally been so it’s roots are reflected in what it is today. And despite the bigger houses being architecturally stunning, in the countryside around, they do seem a bit pretentious. Almost an imposition on the landscape. Because I bet they’re not as old.’

Daria laughed while he translated what he’d said to Tilly.

‘What a clever man you are, Alfie. Yes, that sums it up completely. And I’m glad you feel the same.’

‘Those in Lower Ayen say it is a village we live in’ said Tilly, ‘we do not really think about being part of what is up there. We do not resent it, it is just meaningless. Up there, they see themselves as part of us and so they call Ayen a town. Or that is how it used to be. Things change, as they must for if something was perfect, then there would be no need for change.’

‘Absolutely, Tilly. This is a truly amazing day. Here I am, sitting outside a delightful cafe with amazing coffee and brioche in such a pretty setting, listening to profound ideas about the way we live from two people I love. What could be better?’

Then Daria quickly realised what she’d said and her hands flew to her cheeks, almost involuntarily as she could feel them burning. Her embarrassment was not helped by the giggling and rocking of Tilly sitting opposite her and she couldn’t look at Alfie at all. Then she started laughing. Partly with the mortification at her own words and she didn’t know how it would be taken. And Tilly’s laughter meant she couldn’t just pretend she hadn’t said it.

‘Tilly stop it. You know what I mean. You both know what I mean. Oh, don’t both laugh now.’

But Daria felt the laughter wash her embarrassment away. She hadn’t felt indignant and she thought that maybe her acute discomfiture at uttering that she loved both Tilly and Alfie was based on an unrealised truth. And declaring it was certainly unexpected by them all. She decided to just ignore the entire episode.

‘I am having a wonderful day. And I want to thank you both.’ Daria spoke seriously and smiled at them both.

Tilly just nodded her head while Alfie took the cue from Daria.

‘I agree’ he said, equally sincerely.

But then he gave Daria a look that made her stomach churn with delight. Unfortunately for Daria, the look was not lost on Tilly and she began her laughter and rocking all over again.

‘Ah, yes. A fine addition’ she said, ‘now let us walk around the square. I want to introduce you to Alphonse, the one very badly losing at boules. Ah, look how he twists his wrist just as he throws. He is hopeless. But Alphonse has been a friend to all the family for as long as I can remember and was a friend of Gene. Take no notice of Pierre, he is just a suspicious old man, probably because of all the affairs his beautiful young wife had before she finally ran off with a travelling salesman.’

‘Tilly. You are a gossip’ said Daria, not knowing whether to be shocked or not.

‘Nonsense. I just say what is’ said Tilly, waggling a finger at Daria.

‘Yes, you’re right. I didn’t mean it in a horrible way though. Sorry.’

‘Ah, my flower angel does not offend me. I think you too say things the way they are. What do you say, Alfie?’

‘Yet again, I did not know whether to translate. Sorry Daria’ he said.

‘As I said to Ila the other day, just tell me what she says. I don’t mind. In fact I need to know. I don’t want a fluffy version of Tilly. I need to know her.’

But before they reached Alphonse and Pierre, a car pulled up just opposite them and Tilly stopped and stared. A man got out.

‘I hoped this would not happen today. Ah, but it is so, now.’ Tilly was speaking so quietly that Daria had to strain to listen. She looked at Tilly and saw what she thought was an uncompromising look on her face. ‘Come Daria. Let me introduce you to Dareau.’

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