ROMANCE IN FRANCE

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Chapter 7

Jemma returned to the kitchen after phoning her mother. Carl still sat at the breakfast bar, a disconsolate look on his face. ‘What had she got herself into?’ thought Jemma, as she viewed Carl’s unhappy state.

She collected the few pots off the table and washed them up, then tried without success to find the cupboard they went into. ‘The kitchen and the child’s bedroom were the same nothing seems to have a proper place,’ thought Jemma.

Then what could you expect; Carl still sat at the breakfast bar in a world of his own. The baby didn’t seem to have anyone to look after it, and at the back of the house was a man who shut himself away from the world.

She picked Pup up off the floor where he had curled himself up into a tight ball. He lay in the farthest corner of the kitchen he could find far away from the man. Jemma cuddled his warm body to her and he wriggled with excitement, licking her hands. ‘We’ll go for a little walk in the garden Pup,’ she said, feeling comforted by his warm body. Giving him a kiss on the nose she then whispered softly into his ear. ‘I love you,’ before leaving the kitchen behind them and striding out the back door. Passing the young man who had brought them to the house, still sat at the bar, staring into space.

The stars shone brightly in the navy blue sky. By their light and the moon’s brilliant glow, Jemma could see the gardens spread out before her. The hedges were well trimmed, with stone walls around large flowerbeds, all appeared to be well cared for. The air was soft. The smell of summer flowers was a floating, tantalising aroma that awakened her senses. A feeling of romance invaded her soul and fleeting images from the silver screen filled her mind. Jemma breathed deeply, thinking of her friend Abbey, and wondered how her romance with Craig was doing. ‘Must get some paper and write to mum, and Abbey,’ the thoughts flowed softly through her head, as she wandered around the delightfully fragrant gardens, feeling at peace with the world as if she’d reached home.

Carl went to stand at the window. He watched the young girl walking around the garden. Her nose was in the air, he could see she was enjoying the fragrance of the summer garden as much as he and his brother had when they had first arrived. So much had happened in the last few years he thought, would anything ever be right again. The girl came in with the dog in her arms and he looked round at her, acknowledging her entrance but he didn’t smile.

‘Do you mind if I have a bath now and go to bed?’ she smiled tentatively at him wishing that he would smile in return, he appeared so reserved and terribly sad.

‘No, of course not I’m sure you must be tired.’

Jemma made her way upstairs to the bathroom. Finding some delightful smelling bath salts on one of the shelves, she sprinkled them into the bath. Then slid thankfully into the warm water, realising as she lay back, how much she had missed this small luxury in the last couple of days.

Before retiring to her own room, she peeped in on Alice. The little girl slept peacefully, a tiny perfect hand cradled against a pink downy cheek. Jemma pulled the covers up over her gently, feeling sorry for the child who didn’t seem to have a mother. She kissed the child’s forehead tenderly before she finally made her way to bed with a soft smile on her face.

‘Oh, this is heaven.’ She thought as she slid between the cool sheets and practically fell asleep as her head hit the pillow. Pup tramped around in a circle at the end of the bed, sniffing delicately with his nose at the new smells, before he eventually lay down with a snuffle to settle for the night.

The next morning, Jemma came awake to the sound of raised voices.

‘I don’t care who are what she is,’ said the voice. ‘I agreed to this, this, what was her name? Nanny person you! Insisted we had to have. We went through all that rigmarole. For nothing! Where is she?’ the voice sounded angry and petty.

Jemma didn’t wait to hear the response. She dressed quickly thinking as she pulled the last clean tee shirt out of her bag must try to do some washing, that’s my last clean tee-shirt.’ Popping her head around Alice’s door, she took a quick look at the child to make sure she was all right, before she took Pup downstairs. The child lay playing contentedly with the toys that were fastened to the side of her cot. Jemma ran quickly down the stairs and out the kitchen door to the back garden with Pup held in her arms.

She didn’t want Pup causing any bother. It seemed as if Carl was having enough trouble with his brother about him bringing her here as it was.’ She thought worriedly as she galloped back up the stairs with Pup to Alice’s room finding some clothes for the baby she laid them on the changing table and crossed the landing to run some water into the bath. Putting Alice into the warm water, she knelt down at the side of the bath to wash the child. They were playing happily together when Carl looked in on them.

Gazing on the calm scene of contentment, he quietly thanked God for sending him someone so sensible. ‘Are you managing all right? Did you find everything you need?’

‘Yes thanks, I think so, but I really need to sort everything out properly. It would make things easier to find.’ Jemma smiled up at him engagingly as she sponged Alice, hoping she hadn’t offended him.

‘You do whatever you consider necessary,’ said Carl. ‘You seem a sensible girl to me. There is a woman from the village who comes each day to clean, if you need to know anything ask her. Her English isn’t perfect but I’m sure you’ll overcome that.’ He walked over to the bath patted Alice’s arm gently then left.

‘Such a sad young man,’ thought Jemma, as she sat watching as he walked away he never smiles. Turning her attention back to the child she wrapped Alice in a big fluffy towel and rubbed her dry. Then it was back to the nursery, where she dressed her in a tiny pink tee shirt and pretty flowered dungarees she’d found in one of the drawers. Searching around the bedroom, she found a soft brush, with which she brushed Alice’s hair into a springy curl on the top of her head, before finally carrying her downstairs to the kitchen to meet the house cleaner.

Jemma entered the kitchen wondering what the woman was like and if they would get on and Alice began to clap her hands.

‘Yet, yet’ said Alice, holding her arms out towards the motherly woman that greeted them. The woman held out her arms to take Alice. Her face was full of smiles and she turned her smiling face towards Jemma.

‘It is the way, she say Yvette,’ she explained her accent very French. Giving Alice a kiss on the cheek and a cuddle before she placed her in the high chair, she then passed the child a piece of buttered toast, before turning the round smiling face back to Jemma.

‘Mr. Robinson, he tells me all about you this morning and the puppy Oui so petite,’ she said on seeing Pup’s small frame as he emerged from behind Jemma’s legs. His nose was in the air because he had smelt the toast and he stood straddle legged, an expectant look on his face, with his tail wagging furiously.

‘How you say, tiny Oui, and the baby Alice, you make her look so pretty this morning’ she said, smiling warmly at Jemma.

‘Thank-you,’ said Jemma, smiling back amiably at the round faced happy person that greeted her. Feeling as if she already knew Yvette who seemed to be a kind motherly sort of person and Jemma responded in kind. ‘Did Carl, tell you how I found him?’

‘Non Mr. Robinson he not says much,’ replied Yvette. There was a strange expression on her face, and she stood gazing at Jemma contemplatively shaking her head slowly from side to side.

‘It was as if she were weighing up in her mind whether to say something or not’ thought Jemma, waiting expectantly for her to say something, then realising that she wasn’t going to, she smiled warmly in return and explained over breakfast how she had found him. It didn’t take long before Jemma and Yvette were nattering away like old friends.

Between them they began sorting the house out, going through cupboards and reorganising things in general. In a couple of months everything was running as smoothly as clockwork.

In all the time that Jemma had been at the vineyard she had neither seen hide nor hair of Carl’s brother. She knew that Carl always came at meal times and took his brother’s meals to him. He would return with the dishes he had taken earlier, that sometimes to Yvette’s annoyance had never been touched.

Carl also came to take Alice to see her father each day for about an hour after tea. Jemma would wash the child’s face and hands, then change her dress for him, so that Carl could take Alice into her father clean and tidy proving to Mark that Jemma was taking good care of his daughter. Carl often thanked Jemma for her kindness to Alice. He appreciated the way she took care of the child and told her he appreciated the care she took of Alice.

In the few months Jemma had worked at the Robinson vineyard she hadn’t had a day off. With Yvette’s help she had completely taken over the running of the house, putting the cupboards into order, placing flowers in the living room and generally making the house a different atmosphere to live in, a welcoming and agreeable place inside as well as out. The only areas she hadn’t visited with her rearranging were Carl’s brother’s rooms because she had been given strict instructions to keep away from them.

Sunday was Yvette’s day off and the first few weeks of her stay Jemma had heated the meals that Yvette had prepared for them in the microwave at the weekends. In the preceding weeks she had learnt a great deal from Yvette and become increasingly adept in the culinary arts like her mother. Putting some of the things her mother had taught her together with Yvette’s help.

It was Sunday and Carl had taken Alice to see her father, while he was away Jemma set up the dining room table and prepared their meal. She then slipped upstairs with Alice when he returned with her, putting her to bed and changing into a dress while Carl went for his shower. She’d placed his brother’s meal on a tray as was usual, ready for Carl to take to his brother’s room when he returned from his shower.

Carl collected his brother’s tray and was surprised that Sunday evening when Jemma called out to him from the dining room.

‘We’re eating in the dining room tonight Carl, please hurry back so that it doesn’t get cold.’

He hurried along to Mark’s room with the tray. Wondering as he walked along the passageway to Mark’s rooms why Jemma had gone to the trouble of setting the meal in the dining room, still, ‘if the child’s gone to all that trouble, he couldn’t let her down.’ He left his brother his meal and headed back quickly to the dining room.

He entered the dining room and looked at the well-laid table in surprise. The shutters opened on the dining hatch. They made a frame around the burnished copper head as she placed the dishes in the hatchway.

Carl virtually stared in disbelief as she entered the dining room. This wasn’t the Jemma he knew. Jemma placed the dishes on the table then filled a couple of glasses with a bottle of cheap wine she had bought from the village store. After passing Carl his glass of wine, she sat at the opposite end of the table and raised her glass towards him.

‘It was my birthday this week, so I thought we could celebrate. I do hope you don’t mind?’

Carl stared at the beautiful young woman who’d gone to the trouble of preparing him a lovely meal. She sat with her glass smilingly asking him to celebrate her birthday with a bottle of cheap wine she had purchased from the village store.

He felt terrible, as if he was one of the meanest men on earth. He swallowed hard. What on earth could he say? The child looked like a woman at the moment. Even in the cheap dress, making him suddenly aware, he was a man. Carl’s heart skipped a beat as he gazed at her she really was lovely.

She had been an angel sent from heaven and he had hardly acknowledged her help or even taken much notice of her. The only thing he’d done was to concentrate on the work he had to do and try to pacify his brother. He made a promise to himself. ‘He would make it up to her somehow.’ He stood and raised his glass.

‘Jemma,’ he paused trying to smile but couldn’t quite make it, his heart was still too heavy. ‘You‘ve been like a ray of sunshine in this house. I am very grateful and at the same time, I feel unworthy of all your kindness. Please, accept my apologies. I will try to be a better employer in the future. I would also like to wish you a very, very happy birthday Jemma.’

Jemma experienced a pleasing curl of contentment in her stomach at his show of concern, the sound of her name on his lips sounded special somehow. Although he often thanked her for what she did for Alice, he didn’t often use her name.

‘Thank-you Carl, I must say that as far as I’m concerned you have nothing to apologise for, I am very happy here. I love Alice, I have a beautiful place to work and you let me keep Pup. What more, could I possibly ask for?’ She smiled gently at him, happy in his company, because even though he always seemed so sad and pre-occupied he was always kind and gentle. She had never seen him angry again, not since the day they had returned to the house.

‘Some wages,’ thought Carl, suddenly realising with a shock ‘I haven’t paid her a penny since she’s been here.’ He thought back to how long it had been and realised it was two months at least, because they were now into august. He continued eating his meal. He ate with enthusiasm, enjoying it, realising it was fresh and not one of the microwave meals they usually had.

‘Did you cook all this?’ he asked, surprised at the meal she had prepared.

Jemma smiled at him across the table. ‘He seemed a little happier for a change although he still hasn’t smiled yet.’ She answered him her voice sounding slightly worried, had she done something wrong. ‘Yes, it’s all right isn’t it?’

‘It’s, better than all right, it’s excellent.’

As he replied, a shadow blotted out the late evening sun. It had filled the room with its brightness catching the silverware as it shone through the open patio doors and putting highlights of copper and gold in Jemma’s hair, causing it to shine like molten metal.

Carl raised his head quickly, wondering what the shadow was. His brown eyes caught the dark disappearing shadow of his brother, limping as quickly as he could past the open patio doors his face dark and brooding.

Jemma caught the swift movement of Carl’s head as his sombre gaze swept past her. She turned but whosoever had appeared had now disappeared. Pup had taken to wandering around the house and she smiled at Carl enquiringly.

’Was it Pup?’

Carl shook his head. ‘No, just a bird I think,’ and carried on solemnly eating his meal. It had spoilt his mood seeing his brother. He asked her if she enjoyed her walks to the village. Saying he had seen her passing the vineyard with Alice in the pram. He tried to be polite talking about things he thought may interest her but soon ran out of conversation. His mind wandering off, wondering why his brother had been wandering round the garden and thinking about the things he had to do.

Jemma could see by the change of expression on his face that his heart wasn’t in it any-more. She began clearing the dishes away giving him the excuse he needed to go back to his work.

Obligingly helping Jemma place the dishes on the side he then hurriedly excused himself taking flight to the office.

His head slumped into his hands as he sat down in front of the desk. His mind in a desperate whirl, trying to fathom out where he could raise the money to pay the workers they would need for the harvesting of the grapes. His brother was the one who had done all the necessary financing, Carl wasn’t used to it.

Mark’s divorce settlement had cost them most of the money they had managed to accumulate in the earlier years. Sonya’s lawyer had been extremely competent and the settlement turned out to be great deal more than anyone had expected. The acquirement of Alice was the only thing they had succeeded in keeping from the marriage and that only because Mark’s wife didn’t want her.

Sonya hadn’t really wanted a child at all she had actually done her damnedest to get rid of Alice. She had played her part cleverly, gaining the jury’s sympathy. Explaining that because of her disability, she wouldn’t possibly be able to look after a child properly. Especially one so young, she must part with her only daughter. The only child she would probably ever bear, to the man who had tried to kill her because of his insane jealousy.

Carl woke from his reverie as Mark entered the office. His rooms led into the office through another door. Carl heard the door open and looked up in surprise to see his brother stood in the doorway, this was the first time he had entered the office since the accident to Carl’s knowledge anyhow. He watched his brother hobble over to the desk, dragging his bad leg his face was haggard with the pain, his breathing heavy.

‘Who’s the fancy woman Carl?’ he asked sneeringly. He stood in front of the huge oak desk and watched his younger brother’s face avidly. Resting heavily on the cane at his side, his face contorted with jealousy.

Carl stared up unbelievingly at the scarred twisted face of his brother. Hardly able to comprehend what his brother had just said. Most of the scars that criss-crossed Mark’s face had healed, leaving only the tell tale red angry marks, and his eyes shone dark and angry with frustrated jealousy.

‘Do you mean Jemma, the girl who loves your daughter,’ Carl asked bewildered. Then becoming angry and upset at his brother’s manner he said. ‘She works hard and is always pleasant.’ He hit the desk with his fist, as what his brother had implied hit him fully. ‘She’s stuck in this place morning noon and night, doing her best to look after her, and you! You! Come in here with your nasty insinuations and, before you go on about it.’ The anger he felt at his brother’s suggestion spread across his face and he stared back at Mark contemptuously. ‘It was the poor girl’s birthday this week, she, cooked the meal, and bought the bottle of wine out of her own money. I haven’t paid her a penny since she’s worked here. It feels very wrong?’ feeling disgusted with himself his brother and life in general, Carl sank back into his chair his head once again sunk into his hands. He began to feel even worse when he thought about all the wine stored in the cellars, and Mark coming and accusing her of things he knew she wasn’t even capable of thinking.

‘She doesn’t look very girlish, to Me.’ said Mark with a snarl. ‘Are you sure, you’re not having an affair with her?’

Carl stared up into his brother’s face, hardly able to believe this was the same brother he had admired and loved for years.

Mark his arms stiff was leaning over the desk, pushing his scarred face towards him. Carl felt the urge to punch his fist hard into the scarred sneering obscenity that leaned over him, but held his temper. ‘His brother was ill, out of his mind, he must be? He knew this wasn’t the brother who had taken care of him, loved him all his life? Sonya had a lot to answer for,’ thought Carl unhappily.

He stared back hard at Mark, his face registering sheer disgust. ‘If, that’s all your filthy mind can think about,’ he replied his voice sounded as if it were gravel being run over by a car. He stood up angrily his body language threatening. Pushing his angry face close to his brother’s he pointed to the door. ‘I think, you had better, leave! If you weren’t in that state,’ he left the sentence unfinished. Dismissing his brother with a look of sheer contempt, he sat back down at the desk, shut his mouth tight and bent to get on with his work.

Mark gave his brother a sullen look and returned to his own rooms despondent. He sat in the deep leather chair he had sat in for weeks; his mind had traveled backwards and forwards for what seemed to be years, reliving those terrible moments of his life surrounded by dark shadows. His brow furrowed, as once again he returned to deep contemplation of his life. What had happened between him and his brother? They had come to France, full of plans and enthusiasm, ready to turn everything around and make a go of life. He had been twenty-one his brother nearly eighteen. They had put the vineyard back on its feet by sheer graft and hard work; everything had been going well. Then he had met Sonya at a party that they had organized to promote the wine that they made. He had seen her stood by the light of the fire, a wineglass in her hand. The flickering firelight had lit her face making it a magical experience for him he had fallen in love. She was surrounded by the male species, drawing them towards her as if she was a feminine magnet, deliberately enticing them with her exceptional femininity. ‘Like some kind of siren from the sea, luring the men to their death on the rocks,’ he thought, his mind deliberately conjuring up her image. Her hair rippled down her back in shining black waves. The treacherous blue eyes encircled with thick dark lashes, leading him on, enticing him with their unspoken promises.

. He could still see her now, resplendent, the thin material of the dress had clung to her body as if it were cling film, emphasizing the voluptuous curves. Endowed with the figure of a goddess, she had known how to use it. Carl had laughed at him telling him, he was worse than a schoolboy was with his first crush. He had chased her relentlessly, making sure he was at every function she was,

Before eventually weaning the woman from the crowd of admirers that always surrounded her.She had warded him off, feeding his wanting, keeping him at arm’s length. Enthralled by his antics, she eventually capitulated gracefully giving in to his demands to have her all to himself. Working him like a puppet on a string, he sneered inwardly at himself. Remembering with regret, how she had manipulated him wrapping him around her little finger.

He had wined dined and danced her into his arms, or so he had thought. He sat now in his chair, a sardonic smile on his lips. If only he had known that it was the money, and the vineyard, that was her incentive, not him.

Carl had told him from the start, when he had first fallen for her charms, but he hadn’t believed him. Why should he listen to Carl, who was after all only a boy, what did he know. Her beauty and his need had blinded him. His mouth twisted bitterly as he derided himself, what a damn fool he was. He’d asked for everything that had happened. For months he’d stayed in his rooms feeling sorry for himself. Then because he happened to see his brother enjoying himself for once, he was trying to spoil his life too. He shook himself mentally, he had a daughter to look after, and it was time he put his life back in gear. Slowly he pulled himself up from his chair and leaning heavily on his cane returned to the office, where his brother Carl still sat at the huge desk working on the books.

Mark opened the door silently and stood in the doorway, watching Carl at work. His brother looked so tired and dejected. A feeling of self-loathing came over Mark. ’I’ve been such a selfish bastard, only thinking of myself, and what I’ve lost. He thought of all the care and encouragement his brother had given him since the accident and divorce.

Taking over the care of Alice, that was a full time job for a woman, never mind a man and then there was the vineyard, he new his brother worked hard trying to keep the vines producing. All the attention he had given him when the accident happened. ‘Why did Sonya, have to turn out to be such a bitch?’ He shook his head wearily; he had to do something.

He limped across the room and sat down in the chair on the opposite side of the desk to his brother. Putting his hand out and catching hold of Carl’s hand he felt the rough calluses beneath the skin. His brother’s hands were hard with all the manual labour he did. He gazed at Carl, his eyes sorrowful, pleading with his brother to forgive him. Carl lifted his head in surprise, as his brother took his hand, and observed the look in Mark’s eyes, they read differently. Had the old Mark returned?

‘I’m sorry Carl. I suddenly realised what I’ve been putting you through. My God, I don’t know how you’ve put up with me.’ The feeling of self-recrimination showed plainly on Mark’s face.

‘You’re my brother,’ said Carl, the sadness was evident in his voice as he answered Mark. ‘I knew you were racked with pain, from inside, and out. What else could I do? You had always taken care of me. Now it was my turn to look after you.’

‘Yes, and you have Carl. I never thought anyone could have so much patience and understanding.’ His eyes searched his brothers. ’I know you have gone through a great deal, because of me, but no more. I have to pull myself together. Again, I can only say I’m sorry Carl. It took seeing you tonight. Just for a moment there, when you were sat enjoying your meal, I saw your face, as it should be. I regret all the cares and worries I have forced upon you. Come, let me make good my words, show me the books, and let us see what can be done. They worked well into the night. Devising plan after plan, could they possibly make it work again?

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