Camellia was delighted. So much so, that she took him through the green baize door. For years, they'd gone the long way round, out through the back and in through the front, as if there were no connection between the world of sheep and the kitchen. But now, humans were reclaiming the drawing room (and with visitors!) so it seemed natural to go directly through the house. She noticed herself doing it - and wondered.
Camellia had achieved a lot. More than Stephen had expected. Half the granite slabs were exposed. Most of the carpet she had scraped up was piled in the fireplace. The rest was oozing in the middle of the room, dissolving under its own weight, sitting in a sea of spreading greenness which had already crept back across part of the cleared floor. The windows were open, there were streaks of sun and a bit of a breeze - but the smell hadn't lessened any. Stephen pretended to be interested in a set of fold-away shutters. It gave him an excuse to stand near the air. The duck, which had been sitting on the sill, quacked and jumped down outside.
"Oscar," Camellia said.
"The duck. She's called 'Oscar'." Then she laughed. It was a proper, happy laugh. "Daft, aren't we?"
“It must have been lovely in the winter when . . . " He abandoned what he was going to say and tugged at a shutter. It didn't budge. "When these worked." He looked to see what was obstructing it, couldn't see a thing, decided it must be the hinges and tried pulling at the one opposite. "Is it long since you used these? I can imagine them in front of the windows. The dark and the cold outside. A big fire and . . . . .”
“A Christmas Tree,” said Camellia quickly. “That’s just what I want - for Rosemary and the children and . . . ,” she fumbled for a name.
“Robert,” he said automatically.
“How did you know?”
Her shoulders went down and her arms tensed. She was frightened. How did he know?
Stephen let go and opened his arms.
Words fled and, for several seconds, they faced each other like animals, their bodies showing what they felt when sound couldn't.
Stephen thawed first. He looked apologetic. Tried to look sheepish. (!) It didn't work. How could it? She no longer trusted him. “But I didn’t know that I knew them. Not till you mentioned them over coffee. And then . . . ”
“You didn’t know that you knew them!” she was calling him a fraud, a liar.
“Well, of course I knew I knew them,” he said, moving away from the shutters, regretting it and not being able to go back. “But I didn’t know you did."
"You didn't know I knew my daughter?"
Stephen was perplexed.
Camellia was worrying she might faint again. It wouldn't do - but if she did - she couldn't help it. The world was going wrong.
“My . . . daughter!”
With a lurch, Camellia suddenly understood. Her voice flattened. “She’s never mentioned me.”
Never with affection, thought Stephen.
But they had come through the worst. “Remember," he said, trying to soften things. "I’ve been in America. I had no way of knowing you were in touch. And . . . well,” he wished he could bring himself to sit on one of the chairs. Perhaps right on the very edge? No. “People don’t often call their parents by name. They say ‘my Mum’ or ‘my Father’. Honestly, there was no way I could have made any connection. If you'd carried on just saying 'my daughter', I'd probably never have known. Not unless Rosemary said something. Believe me, when you said "Cressida . . . "
"And Cornellia." Camellia couldn't resist it.
He nodded. "I was as surprised as you. It was awkward. . . . it is awkward. I'll have to work out what to say to Rosemary. Do I tell her I've been here? Before her?
“Yes. I see. But we'd better tell Hugh, hadn't we. Come with me.”
For the next post - Twenty-Two
For the post before this - Twenty