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Under the Waves

Chapter Text

The gentleman was having breakfast in bed in his hotel room, wearing cotton pyjamas. While he talked to his wife on the telephone, his eyes wandered from the newspaper next to him to the framed picture of a little girl in school uniform on the nightstand.

‘Oh, I agree with you, my love,’ he said. ‘She must have driven like mad. We had supper here yesterday and I told her to take it leisurely. The last term at university must have been strenuous enough…But what can I do? She’s twenty-four now and…Oh yes, I agree, she’s still quite a child…Boris is her only friend, I believe…Yes, he’s well. He behaved so nicely at teatime yesterday…didn’t bark once…Today? Well, I promised Josie I would take her for a walk on the beach and then have luncheon with her at the port…But she telephoned me ten minutes ago and called it off…She’s feeling rather poorly now….Oh no, no, only tea and lemonade…Too much sun, I presume, she drove all the way with the top down…Yes, she’s staying at that young ladies’ boarding house. It’s a five-minute walk from here…Don’t worry, Anne dear, the landlord and the landlady are Italian and very active in the local parish, for the benefit of their fellow countrymen in this village…Their morning room is lined with ex-votos and statues and an enormous oil painting of the Pope…Josie and Boris are in good hands.’

He shifted in the pillows, sipped coffee, nibbled toast and lit a cigarette while his wife talked on the other end of the line. ‘So when are you and your parents leaving Deauville?’ he then asked. ‘Oh, in two weeks…? That’s a pity…Will I see you in London then or are you going straight back to Turnbridge Wells…? Ah, I see…Please write to me, love…I miss you, I really do…Yes, I’ll tell Josie again to drive safely…Give my love to your Mama and your Papa…Bye, dear.’

***

The garden was full of people having coffee after luncheon. The man in the light-grey summer suit was talking to Baron von Tettnigg in fluent German. The old Austrian was lively now, happy to be able to converse in his native language and to relate many interesting facts about Vienna. ‘I’ve been there twice,’ Maurice then remarked in English. ‘Have you, Clive?’ ‘Once,’ Clive sighed. ‘Only once. And it rained the whole time. But it was lovely all the same.’

‘I’m looking forward to meeting your daughter, Mr. Durham,’ the nobleman said. ‘She must be remarkable. I hope she is feeling better now.’

‘She was a bit poorly yesterday,’ Clive explained. ‘And she told me on the telephone this morning that she would rest a bit today. She may have supper with me tonight, though.’

‘That’s lovely,’ the old man exclaimed. ‘Would you and your daughter do me the honour of joining me at my table? You as well, Mr. Hall? Miss Olson would very much like to meet you. But I say, she’s very late. Wherever has she gone?’ He looked around in distress and then relaxed. ‘Ah, there she is.’

The same waitress that had been on duty two days earlier was all grins and badly suppressed chortles while she was talking to a tall woman who had just stepped into the garden. The woman was dressed in a sand-coloured linen suit with a braided belt and wide trousers, and high-heeled patent leather shoes. The enormous lace-edged collar of her blouse was folded over her jacket, exposing her long neck. Her short, light-blond curls were largely hidden by a wide-brimmed hat in the same colour as the suit. When the waitress walked off, she turned around to scan the tables, still myopic but now with painted eyelids behind her old glasses.

‘Josie,’ Clive said when she stopped next to him. ‘I wasn’t expecting you today, dear. Do sit down.’

The old man got up and kissed her hand, which made her cringe. He had a moustache. ‘Miss Durham,’ he mumbled. ‘How lovely to meet you. Your dear father told me many things about you.’

Maurice got up and shook hands with her. ‘Good afternoon,’ he smiled. ‘It’s good to see that you are feeling better.’

The old man invited her to sit down next to him, which she accepted with a grin. Now she was opposite her father and his old friend from Cambridge. When drinks were ordered, she chose a cup of coffee and a glass of marc.

While the four of them talked about the weather and the food that was served at this hotel, she took a cigarette from a mother-of-pearl case and rummaged through her bag. She gave Maurice a look and he picked up his lighter, but before he could rise to bend over to her, Clive stalled him by making a sound that probably meant ‘no’. The old man found a box of matches, struck one, waited until she had put her cigarette in an amber holder and then gave her a light. She mumbled ‘thank you’ and let her clear, brown eyes meet his.

All four of them were smoking now, the Austrian nobleman puffing peacefully on a cigar and Josie occasionally coughing drily and modestly into a lace handkerchief. ‘Good heavens, where is Boris?’ Clive then asked. ‘I left him with the landlady,’ she smiled. ‘She’s quite fond of him.’

Some butterflies darted through the garden. ‘That’s a peacock...and that one over there is a brimstone,’ Maurice pointed out. There was no band playing today.

Five minutes later, Miss Olson arrived, tall and with freshly bleached blond ringlets and dressed in a dazzling shocking-pink gown with asymmetric sleeves. ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ she said to her lover. ‘I was at the hairdresser’s and I completely forgot the time…The reception clerk told me that Dr. Leblanc is waiting for you in the lobby.’

‘He’s early,’ Baron von Tettnigg grumbled. ‘I’m sorry, dear gentlemen, but I have to leave now. I can’t keep the good man waiting.’ He got up and turned towards Josie. ‘Well, Miss Durham,’ he smiled, ‘I’d much rather have you administer pills and potions to me than him…Perhaps next time.’

‘I’d be delighted, sir,’ Josie smirked, accepting a kiss on her hand.

Miss Olson gently took her lover by the arm and smiled at Josie. ‘Oh, that’s Freddy all right…I hope you get to have fun here, Miss. Not many college girls your age about, I’m afraid…Well, see you all later.’

The couple walked off. Josie leaned back in her chair, crossed her legs and lit another cigarette. Her eyes were on Maurice, who was leafing through a minuscule notebook.

There was silence now. Clive yawned discreetly into his handkerchief. ‘I have to go down to the post office to send some wires,’ Maurice then said. ‘I’m most dreadfully sorry.’

‘But you will be back for supper, I hope?’ Clive asked.

Maurice got up, shook hands with him and gave Josie a nod. ‘Yes, I’ll be there.’

***

The sun was setting when they met again at the Baron’s table in the garden. Presently, they were joined by three or four American lady friends of Miss Olson’s, all dressed in colourful cocktail garments. There was champagne, laughter, smoking, little food or much food that got little attention.

The girls got tipsy and called Maurice a hell of a smart-looking man. ‘You Irish by any chance?’ one of them asked. ‘Black hair and all…’ ‘My maternal grandmother was from Galway,’ Maurice said.

They listened to his stories about his business trips to Baltimore and Pittsburgh and squealed.

‘You got your rouge on all wrong, hon,’ a red-haired girl said to Josie. ‘Swing by in the morning and I’ll show you how it’s done…Hey, careful now, don’t spill your ashes on your new pants, sweetie.’

Maurice was the first to leave. ‘I’m jolly tired,’ he said. ‘Thank you very much for a lovely evening…Gute Nacht, Herr Baron, es war mir eine Ehre*…Goodnight, Miss Olsen, bye-bye gals, cheerio Clive, old sport…and have a safe trip to Milan, Josie. Drive carefully and make sure you learn a lot from the professor and give my regards to Boris.’

The girls were informed that some friends were waiting in their cars outside to take them to a cocktail party in the next village. Miss Olson went with them. The old man said he’d retire and expressed his hope that he would see the charming young prospective doctor again soon. Then he shuffled to the hall with difficulty.

The father and his daughter were the only ones left at the table. It was a mess of half-eaten salmon canapes, chicken bones, champagne glasses, napkins smudged with lipstick and cigarette ends.

‘I’ll walk you to the Casa degli Angeli now, dear,’ he said. ‘You’re not looking well, my princess. You must rest and I’m sure Boris misses you.’

‘Yes, Papa, thank you,’ Josie murmured.

 

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* Loosely translated: 'Good Night, Baron, it was an honour [to dine with you].'