Victoria Holt

 Bride of Pendorric

Chapter I

I often marvelled after I went to Pendorric that one’s existence could change so swiftly, so devastatingly. I had heard life compared with a kaleidoscope and this is how it appeared to me, for there was the pleasant scene full of peace and contentment when the pattern began to change, first here, then there, until the picture which confronted me was no longer calm and peaceful but filled with menace.

I had married a man who seemed to me all that I wanted in a husband—solicitous, lowing passionately devoted; then suddenly it was as though I were married to a stranger.

I first saw Roc Pendorric when I came up from the beach one morning to find him sitting in the studio with my father; in his hands he held a terra-cotta statue for which I had been the original, a slim child of about seven. I remembered when my father had made it more than eleven years before; he had always said it was not for sale.

The blinds had not yet been drawn and the two men made a striking contrast sitting there in (he strong sunlight: my father so fair, the stranger so dark. On the island my father was often called Angelo because of the fairness of his hair and skin and his almost guileless expression, for he was a very sweet-tempered man. It might have been because of this that I fancied there was something saturnine about his companion.

” Ah, here is my daughter Favel,” said my father as though they had been speaking of me.

They both stood up, the stranger towering above my father, who was of medium height. He took my hand and his long dark eyes studied me with something rather calculating in the intentness of his scrutiny. He was lean, which accentuated his height, and his hair was almost black; there was an expression in his alert eyes which made me feel he was seeking something which amused him, and it occurred to me that there might be a streak of malice in his amusement. He had rather pointed ears which gave him the look of a satyr. His was a face of contrasts; there was a gentleness about the full lips as well as sensuality; there was no doubt of the firmness of the jaw; there was “arrogance in the long straight nose; and mingling with the undoubted humour in the quick eyes was a suggestion of mischief. I came to believe later that he fascinated me so quickly because I could not be sure of him; and it took me a very long time to discover the sort of man he was.

At that moment I wished that I had dressed before coming up from the beach.

” Mr. Pendorric has been looking round the studio,” said my father. ” He has bought the Bay of Naples water-colour.”

” I’m glad,” I answered. ” It’s beautiful.”

He held out the little statue. ” And so is this.”

” I don’t think that’s for sale,” I told ‘him.

“It’s much too precious, I’m sure.”

He seemed to be comparing me with the figure and I guessed my father had told him—as he did everyone who admired it:

” That’s my daughter when she was seven.”

” But,” he went on, ” I’ve been trying to persuade the artist to sell.

After all, he still has the original. “

Father laughed in the rather hearty way he did when he was with customers who were ready to spend money, forced laughter. Father had always been happier creating his works of art than selling them. When my mother was alive she had done most of the selling; since I had left school, only a few months before this, I found myself taking it over.

Father would give his work away to anyone who he thought appreciated it, and he needed a strong-minded woman to look after business transactions; that was why, after my mother had died, we became very poor. But since I had ‘been at home, I flattered myself that we were beginning to pay our way.

” Favel, could you get us a drink? ” my father asked.

I said I would if they would wait while I changed, and leaving them together went into my bedroom which led off the studio as did both our bedrooms. In a few minutes I had put on a blue linen dress, after which I went to our tiny kitchen to see about drinks; when I went back to the studio Father was showing the man a bronze Venus—one of our most expensive pieces.

If he buys that, I thought, I’ll be able to settle a few bills. I would seize on the money and do it too, before Father had a chance of gambling it away at cards or roulette.

Roc Pendorric’s eyes met mine over the bronze and, as I caught the flicker of amusement there, I guessed I must have shown rather clearly how anxious I was for him to buy it. He put it down and turned to me as though the statue couldn’t hold his interest while I was there, and I felt annoyed with myself for interrupting them. Then I caught the gleam in his eyes and I wondered whether that was what he had expected me to feel. He started to talk about the island then; he had arrived only yesterday, and had not even visited the villas of Tiberius and San Michele yet. But he had heard of Angelo’s studio and the wonderful works of art to be picked up there; and so this had been his first excursion.

Father was flushed with pleasure; but I wasn’t quite sure whether to ‘believe him or not.

” And when I came and found that Angelo was Mr. Frederick Farington who spoke English like the native he is, I was even more delighted. My Italian is appalling, and the boasts of English spoken here are often well, a little boastful. Please, Miss Farington, do tell me what I ought to see while I stay here.”

I started to tell him about the villas, the grottoes and the other well-known attractions. ” But,” I added, ” it always seems to me after coming back from England that the scenery and the blue of the sea are the island’s real beauties.”

” It would be nice to have a companion to share in my sightseeing,” he said.

“Are you travelling alone?” I asked.

” Quite alone.”

” There are so many visitors to the island,” I said consolingly. ” You’re sure to find someone who is eager to do the tours as you are.”

” It would be necessary, of course, to find the right companion … someone who really knows the island.”

” The guides do, of course.”

His eyes twinkled. ” I wasn’t thinking of a guide.”

” The rest of the natives would no doubt be too busy.”

” I’ll find what I want,” he assured me; and I had a feeling that he would.

He went over to the bronze Venus and ‘began fingering it again. ” That -attracts you,” I commented.

He turned to me and studied me as intently as he had the bronze. ” I’m enormously attracted,” he told me. ” I can’t make up my mind. May I come back later?”

But of course,” said Father and I simultaneously.

He did come back. He came back and back again. In my innocence I thought at first that he was hesitating about the bronze Venus; then I wondered whether it was the studio that attracted him because it probably seemed very bohemian to him, full of local colour and totally unlike the place he came from. One couldn’t expect people to buy every time they came. It was a feature of our studio and others like it that people dropped in casually, stopped for a chat and a drink, browsed about the place and bought when something pleased them.

What disturbed me was that I was beginning to look forward to his visits. There were times when I was sure he came to see me, and there were others when I told myself that I was imagining this, and the thought depressed me.

Three days after his first visit I went down to one of the little beaches on the Marina Piccola to bathe, and he was there. We swam together and lay on the beach in the sun afterwards.

I asked if he was enjoying his stay.

” Beyond expectations,” he answered.

” You’ve been sightseeing, I expect.”

” Not much. I’d like to, but I still think it’s dull alone.”

” Really? People usually complain of the awful crowds, not of being alone.”

” Mind you,” he pointed out, ” I wouldn’t want any companion.” There was a suggestion in those long eyes which slightly tilted at the corners. I was sure, in that moment, that he was the type whom most women would find irresistible, and that he knew it. This knowledge disturbed me; I myself was becoming too conscious of that rather blatant masculinity and I wondered whether I had betrayed this to him.

I said rather coolly: ” Someone was asking about the bronze Venus this morning.”

His eyes shone with amusement. ” Oh well, if I miss it, I’ll only have myself to blame.” His meaning was perfectly clear and I felt annoyed with him. Why did he think we kept a studio and entertained people there if not in the hope of selling things? How did he think we lived?

” We’d hate you to have it unless you were really keen about y

” But I never have anything that I’m not keen about,” he replied. ” Actually though, I prefer the figure of the younger Venus.”

“Oh.. that!”

He put his hand on my arm and said: ” It’s charming. Yes, I prefer her.”

” I simply must be getting back,” I told him.

He leaned on his elbow and smiled at me, and I had a feeling that he knew far too much of what was going on in my mind and was fully aware that I found his company extremely stimulating and wanted more of it—that he was something more to me than a prospective buyer. He said lightly: ” Your father tells me that you’re the commercial brains behind the enterprise. I bet he’s right.”

” Artists need someone practical to look after them,” I replied. ” And now that my mother is dead …”

I knew that my voice changed when I spoke of her. It still happened, although she had been dead three years. Annoyed with myself as I always was when I betrayed emotion I said quickly: ” She died of T.B.