Hugh worried. Camellia was longing to tell someone that Rosemary was coming home. She'd tell Stephen the whole history. It wasn't that he didn't want Stephen to know about it - but the more Camellia talked, the more imminent the visit seemed. She no longer said ‘Rosemary will be coming’ but ‘Rosemary is coming’ - as she might have said about a visit the next day.
Stephen was riveted, incredulous and then embarrassed. 'Rosemary, Cressida and Cornelia' (Robert was more shadowy ‘her husband’). But it must be them. Should he say he knew them already? It was delicate. Camellia would ask questions he couldn't fairly answer. And he knew, absolutely and certainly that Rosemary wouldn't even get as far as letting her children cross the doorstep for fear that they'd catch dysentry, malaria, leprosy and the plague, diptheria, listeria, mumps, measles, salmomella and hay fever, let alone stay. She'd expect them to slip on sheep dung and break their arms, heads and legs, puncture their lungs and graze their knees. And as for their clothes . . . How could he tell her without making Rosemary's seem fussy? How could he explain how protective Rosemary was of her children without insulting Camellia? How could he admit to knowing she didn't want any 'family' beyond those she lived with every day? It was common knowledge. Everyone who knew her knew about it - because she told them. So how could he not tell Camellia? How could he leave her in hope when he knew there was none? And, looking at it coldly, if the impossible were to happen and the rift were healed, how could he explain to any of them why he had stayed silent?
Camellia, he noticed was shivering. After all, it was November, however sunny and spring-like the air had been.
“I’m detaining you,” he said, picking up the tray. "I'll take this to the kitchen, and fetch your shopping from the car. I expect you’ll be wanting to get back to work.”
“I am rather.” Directness and diffidence. Was this a glimpse of what she was like when she was young?
It took them a while to bring in the shopping. There were boxes filled with bags of flour, and packets of beans and rice, tins of fruit and huge cartons of washing powder, and cleaning liquids. Stephen wanted to carry it all but when Camellia wouldn't let him, he was struck by her strength. After all, she was used to farm work. But there were dark patches round her eyes and she sighed with relief whenever she let go of especially heavy boxes to ease them onto the kitchen table. If only he had arrived sooner, he could have helped prepare for the visit and Camellia wouldn't have been so tired - except it was only because Camellia was making herself ill that he had stayed yesterday and if he hadn't stayed yesterday, he wouldn't have come back today - and then he might never have known they were Rosemary's parents until too late.
“I was wondering,” he said, “whether I might see the drawing room again."
To continue - Twenty-one
For the post before this - Nineteen