Hide & Seekby Sally Neary
PART 3: Resolutions & Reunions – January 1986 – Buckinghamshire, London & Lincolnshire
The early morning frost had begun to clear and the pale January sun was now shining through the clouds. I think I love the Chilterns even more on a frosty winter's day than I do in summer, thought Diana, as she galloped across the meadow. Barney was ahead of her on his beloved chestnut mare and had come to a standstill as he waited for her to join him.
She rode up to him. "I needed this ride this morning," she said. "It's my first ride for days, and I need the exercise."
"You've been too busy, sweetheart," he said smiling. "We haven't had a ride together since the day after Boxing Day – too long." They both sat still looking at the view over the valley they knew and loved so well, where Diana had grown up. It had always been their dream to eventually buy a house with land where they could keep horses for themselves and their children in this part of Buckinghamshire – and they had eventually achieved it ten years ago.
Diana looked at him. After all these years, she usually knew what he was thinking, and he shared his thoughts readily with her. But he had been very quiet since his father's visit for lunch the day before and the revelations about his mother's letters to his grandmother during the war.
"Barney, I'm getting cold – can we go back now and have some coffee?"
"Of course," he answered. "I'll race you back to Ricklesham!"
Once they had reached their farmhouse, Barney took the two horses to the stables, and Diana went into the kitchen. We are going to talk, she thought, as she watched him through the kitchen window. She made a pot of coffee and put out two mugs and a plate of biscuits on the kitchen table.
"Lovely," said Barney, as he came into the kitchen. "Let's make a point of riding together this year at least three times a week – it can be one of our New Year resolutions."
"Good idea," she smiled. "We used to ride together more often, and somehow we've got out of the habit. I would always rather ride with you than alone." She poured coffee into the two mugs and passed one to him. "Barney, darling, let's talk."
"What about exactly?" he asked, not looking up.
"You know what," she said, gently. "Your father dropped something of a bombshell yesterday, and I know it must have upset you. Let's talk about it."
"I feel angry," he said, "and that makes me feel disloyal, and I don't like it."
"Angry with whom, exactly?"
"With both of them – my mother and Granny," he leant back in the chair. "I really don't understand why my mother left Dad. As a child, I always thought that she must have missed the circus life and found living with a family in a large house too daunting. Then, there was Dummy's theory that Granny had disapproved of Dad marrying a circus girl. But my mother's letters to Granny were warm and friendly, and don't suggest there was any ill-feeling between them."
"I have never believed either of those theories," said Diana softly, looking at him. "It's quite clear from the letters that Tessie loved your father, even ten years after leaving him. So much so, that she needed to write to your grandmother and find out what had happened to him. A woman doesn't leave a man she loves because she misses a particular way of life. And as far as your grandmother is concerned," she continued, "I can't imagine her taking that attitude to your mother. It would go against everything she believed in, and she wouldn't have done anything to mar your father's happiness."
"I know that. And so why did my mother leave, and why didn't Granny tell Dad about the letters when he returned from Burma? She had the address of mother's cousin in Spain, and he could have contacted her."
"I don't know why she left," Diana said pensively. "It's a mystery. There must have been a good reason. Having said that, they had only known each other a few months before they married – it was obviously a whirlwind romance, whereas in our case, we had known each other nine years before we married, and we knew each other very well."
"That's true – we had a much stronger foundation, but nevertheless it is still difficult to understand". Barney looked thoughtful.
"In her letters, your mother made it clear she didn't want your father to know about her contact, and as far as your grandmother is concerned," Diana continued, "I can only put myself in her place and imagine that if it had been Hugo returning from a prisoner of war camp in Burma after eighteen months, I don't believe I would have told him either. Your grandmother told me that your father was in a dreadful state when he came back, and it took him at least twelve months to recover. She must have felt very protective and afraid of him being hurt even more. "
"I know, but he had the right to understand what it was all about," said Barney, clearly very upset. "My mother obviously broke his heart, and I don't understand why." He paused. "Tell me, Di, what would have made you leave me after three months, just leaving a note?"
"I can't imagine it", she replied, looking at him. "We were happy, and it was what I had always wanted. But I suppose if you had proved to be violent or unfaithful, I may have had to go."
"My father was neither violent nor unfaithful," he said firmly.
"Of course he wasn't", said Diana. "I know the kind of man your father is – he is very much like you."
"And why didn't my mother tell Granny about me?" he asked her. "It was a hugely important fact which she left out of the letters. I could have known Dad all those years ago, and never had those two years on my own."
"I expect she was afraid of losing you," said Diana quietly. "After all, she had left almost certainly before she knew she was pregnant. If your father and grandmother had known about you, they would have wanted to take you away from the circus life and give you a good education. Again, had it been Hugo," she added slowly, "I think I would have kept quiet, in fear of losing him. After all, she did a pretty good job of bringing you up on her own." She smiled at him.
"I feel so sorry for Dad," said Barney sadly. "There are so many unanswered questions, and I feel he needs to understand what it was all about, even though there is nothing now that he can do about it."
"I agree with you," Diana reached across and took his hand. "Your father said that he knew Tessie wrote regularly to her cousin in Andalusia, although he had never met her. Has it occurred to you that Neta may still be alive, and we have an address?"
"Yes, but that was over forty years ago, and she is hardly likely to be there now."
"I don't know. From what your father has said, Neta was two years older than Tessie. That means she would now be seventy-six, and may possibly still be alive. She lived in a village near Seville, and families often stay in an area like that for many years – sometimes for generations. We could do some research and try to trace Neta. After all, she is your mother's cousin, and you may have a family of cousins in Spain, for all you know."
"Yes, it's possible. Mother used to talk to me about Neta sometimes, but I know she hadn't seen her for years, and well before she ever met my father. I didn't find a contact address when she died," he said.
"We found your father all those years ago," Diana squeezed his hand, "why don't we try and find your Spanish family? Neta may be able to give your father the answers he is looking for. Darling, let's do it – what do you say?"
He looked at her and smiled. "How would you like a long weekend in Seville?"
* * *
Dinah Mannering walked into her office, looked at her in-tray and sighed. It was her first morning back in London following a three-day trip to Paris. I've hardly been in the office since the New Year, she thought, and I really must catch up. Her telephone rang and she answered it.
"It's Mr Cunningham for you, Dinah," her secretary's voice came clearly over the telephone. Shall I put him through?"
"Oh, yes please, of course." Dinah felt pleased. An early morning call from Bill... she was always glad to hear his cheery voice over the telephone.
"Morning, Di," came his familiar voice. "I am not disturbing you, I hope?"
"Morning, Bill – no of course not. I am just about to plough through a pile of paperwork, and you are a pleasant diversion," she laughed.
"Well I won't keep you for too long. You will recall I said I would be in London for a few days in January – I will be travelling up next Wednesday for two days for a conference and a few other meetings. Any chance of us meeting up for lunch, say on Friday the 14th?"
"I should think so," replied Dinah. "I will just check my diary, but I am sure I can move a few appointments if necessary for you, Bill! Yes, Friday will be fine. Where will you be staying?"
"At the Marriott in Grosvenor Square. We could have lunch there, if you like."
"Oh, yes please – I haven't eaten at the Marriott for some time. I love the Garden Restaurant there, and they do a terrific Cobb salad."
"The Garden Restaurant it is then," he laughed. "Shall we say one o'clock in the restaurant? I'll book a table."
"Great – that will suit me fine. Will mother be with you?"
"Unfortunately not. She has her art class on Thursdays, and she will be teaching. She doesn't want to let them all down."
"No, of course not. Well, it will be lovely to see you again. Lots to catch up on already," she laughed.
"See you then, Di. I will leave you to your paperwork. Enjoy!" He rang off.
* * *
Dinah walked through the reception area of the Marriott Hotel in Grosvenor Square, and made her way to the Garden Restaurant. She could see Bill in the far corner near the window, perusing the menu, and she began to walk across the room towards him.
He looked up and waved. It suddenly struck him how much she had changed in the last six months. She's dropped at least five years, he thought, watching her walk elegantly towards him. She had lost weight, probably about half a stone but it had made quite a difference, he thought, and her dark, wavy hair was longer and softer. She was wearing a very well cut dark navy suit and white silk shirt, and he was amused to see at least three pair of male eyes watch her as she walked through the room. She looks free, he thought. Yes, that just about summed it up.
She kissed him on the cheek. "Hello, Bill, how lovely to see you. It seems ages since Christmas already," she smiled.
"It does indeed," replied Bill, looking at her glowing face. "I don't need to ask you how you are, because you look wonderful."
"Yes, I am very well," she said, smiling.
"And Alastair? How is he?"
"He is very well too," she laughed. "Yes things are just fine."
"Shall we order first and then talk," he suggested. "By the way, the Cobb salad is still on the menu."
"Excellent, I'll have that then," she said.
Bill called the waiter to him. "We'll have two Cobb salads and a bottle of number 25 please, the Chablis."
"You remembered, Bill – my favourite."
"Of course – I know all my favourite ladies' taste in wine," he quipped.
"How is mother?" she asked.
"Your mother is fine, although she was a little tired after the family left at New Year. As you know, we had Jack and Sue and Snubby and Lucy-Ann to stay for four days, and she seemed to cook for England. We enjoyed having them, of course, and they enjoyed it too."
"Yes, I am glad we had a fairly quiet Christmas together this year," Dinah replied, as the waiter poured their wine. "I enjoyed being with you and mother and having chance to unwind and have a few walks. By the way, what is the news about Gus?" Snubby and Lucy-Ann had told her the story of Gus' letter to Bill on their return to London.
"Well, clearly it is not something we should discuss openly here," he said cautiously. "Just suffice to say that Barney and his father are agreeable to our proposal, and Gus and Anna will be travelling to England next week. Jack will be picking them up at Stansted Airport. Allie and I will be at the house to meet them. Can we leave it there for now?"
"Yes of course, Bill – walls have ears."
"And your New Year?" he asked. "How did the party go?"
"It was a lovely party," she smiled. "It was hosted by one of Alastair's work colleagues in London, and I met quite a few more of his friends. It was a very special evening. In fact, Bill," she paused and looked up at him. "I have some news which I may as well tell you straightaway."
"And what is that, may I ask?"
"Alastair asked me to marry him on New Year's Eve," she said softly, her eyes shining.
"And?" he raised his eyebrows.
"Well, I said yes, of course," she laughed.
"I am delighted, and I know your mother will be. Are you sure, Di?"
"Yes, I am sure," she said quietly. "I know we haven't really known each other that long – I met him a few times years ago, when he and Phil were at university, and of course at Phil and Caro's wedding, but we've really got to know each other very well since we both stayed in Newfoundland last June. I feel I've known him for years already, and our relationship is quite different from my relationship with Jim."
"I can see that," said Bill. "Has Alastair discussed it with his sons yet?"
"Yes, he told them on Sunday," she replied, "and thankfully they were delighted. In fact, Leo called me on Monday at the office to say both he and Sebastian were very pleased and thanked me for making his father happy again. I was so thrilled!"
"I am glad, because it is important his sons are happy about it. So what are your plans?"
"Well, we still plan to live in London, but we want to sell Alastair's house, which was the home he shared with Jeannie, and start afresh. We may look around Richmond on the river."
"What will you do with your flat in Holland Park?"
"Well, we are going to sell it, and buy an apartment in Paris," she replied. "We did consider buying a cottage in Cornwall for holidays and weekends, but when we come to Cornwall, we obviously want to stay with you and mother."
"I would hope so," Bill replied. He paused as the waiter arrived with their salads. "We have bags of room, and you can have the place to yourselves any time you want when we go away."
"We both love Paris, Bill – in fact it's our favourite city. I obviously need to spend so much time every month there and I am planning to try and arrange my visits around weekends so that we can both spend at least one weekend a month there."
"Sounds like a good plan," said Bill, beginning to eat his salad. "How does Alastair feel about the amount you travel?"
"He would like me to slow down, and I won't be working evenings or weekends in the future, but he knows how important my business is to me, and he is quite relaxed about it. Whereas Jim always became resentful when I succeeded, Al never does – in fact he is thrilled for me when things go well and tells me he is proud of me. He is far too big a man to feel belittled by anything I achieve. And of course he is very successful himself. We both seem to have the same level of energy," she continued, "and I hadn't realised before how important that is."
"It is indeed," agreed Bill.
"Al has actually just received a fairly significant promotion, and will be heading up the firm's international hotel business," she looked up at Bill. "It means that from this month he will be London based, although he will need to travel at least one week in four, in Europe, the US and probably the Far East occasionally."
"He is obviously doing well, and his secondment in the US was clearly a success," replied Bill. "He is a smart guy, and I think you are very well suited."
"Our two secretaries are rapidly becoming good friends," Dinah laughed. "We have asked them to work together to try and co-ordinate our diaries. When I know Al will be in the US, I will make my trips to New York then, if I can, so that we can meet up and equally to Paris when he is in Europe. I will then try and be in the UK when he is here. Weekends, of course, are sacrosanct. They will just be for us!"
"I am glad to hear it, and it sounds as if you are planning things well. And when and where will the wedding take place?"
"We thought the second half of July, because that suits us both and we can take off a couple of weeks for our honeymoon." She paused. "I would really like to get married in Cornwall, Bill, from Craggy Tops." She looked up at him. "We would like to get married in St Jude's Church, if the vicar will allow us to. Al has never been divorced, of course, and although I have, I have known the vicar for twenty years, and he knows about the circumstances of my divorce. There was never anyone else involved, and Jim and I separated quite amicably. If he won't agree, we will have to marry in the registry office and then have a blessing at St Jude's, with our family and friends there."
"Your mother will be thrilled if you can marry at St Jude's," he smiled. "When are you planning to tell her?"
"I will call her this evening, Bill, now that I have spoken to you. I just wanted to tell you in person, as you were coming to London."
"Yes, of course. But please do call her tonight."
"Bill – I would also love it if you would give me away," said Dinah. "I know you gave me away before, but I sort of feel that I came back, and it would mean such a lot to me if you would do that."
"Of course I will – I would be delighted," he smiled.
"Al plans to ask Phil to be his best man, and I would like Lucy-Ann to be my matron on honour – just Lucy-Ann and no-one else."
"A real family occasion!" Bill laughed. "Poor old Jack will feel left out."
"No he won't, because he can be chief usher, assisted by Leo and Sebastian – we are likely to have around 100 guests, including our family and friends. I want the whole family to be there," she smiled at him.
"And that leads me to another question," Bill said cautiously. "I am delighted you are so happy, and of course your mother will be. But you and I had a very private conversation in May last year. A lot has changed since then, I know, but how does this sit with everything else?" He looked at her very directly.
"You mean, my feelings for Barney?" she asked quietly. "Let me put it this way, Bill, I will always care for Barney – how could I not? He is such a lovely guy. But I remember your saying that he was never meant for me which meant someone out there was, and you were right. My feelings for him have found a kind of resting place – that is the only way I can describe it – I am in love with Alastair now and we have a really strong relationship and a future ahead of us."
"Yes, I understand that, but irrespective of circumstances which can of course change, you need to ask yourself, if all things were equal, would it still be Alastair and not Barney? I am thinking of Alastair as well as you. He has already lost one wife to cancer, and he doesn't deserve to be hurt again in any way. You understand what I mean don't you?"
"Yes of course, and I asked myself that question before I went back to New York last October," Dinah looked at Bill. "Al had made it clear how he felt and I asked myself some tough questions before we became more involved."
"That's alright then," Bill smiled. "I had to ask and there is no-one else you can discuss this with."
"No – and by the way, I have never talked to Al about Barney. After all, nothing has ever happened between us, and I thought it best not to, particularly as he will get to know him quite well in the future."
"I agree – I think that is very wise."
"Al talks quite a lot about Jeannie," Dinah continued, "and that is no problem for me. They were married for almost twenty years, and it was an important part of his life, and obviously she was the mother of his two boys. I am not seeking to fill her place – but to have a different place. I think it's important he shares his feelings with me about it – otherwise there would be a barrier between us."
"Good girl," smiled Bill, proud of her. "It is very different when you marry someone who has been widowed rather than divorced, particularly when they have children. You obviously understand that, and believe me, Alastair will love you even more for it."
"Yes – he has said that," she said softly.
"Well, Dinah Mannering – in a few short months you will not only be a very successful businesswoman but also a wife and step-mother of two young men in their early twenties. A transformation indeed!"
She smiled. "Yes, and if I can be half as good a step-mother as you have been a step-father to all of us, Bill, I shan't do too badly."
* * *
The road from St Albans to Standsted Airport was fairly clear. Jack was pleased that the traffic was not as heavy as he had expected. He had stayed with his sister, Lucy-Ann and Snubby the night before, and was now on his way to collect their old friend Gus and his wife Anna. Their flight from Amsterdam was due at 0950, and he had allowed plenty of time for delays and parking. It would not do, he thought, to be late to collect the former Prince Aloysius Torquinel of Tauri-Hessia.
It had been over thirty years since Bill had brought eleven year old Prince Aloysius, or rather Gustavus Barmilevo, as they had been first introduced to him, to stay with them. Bill had been charged with the security of the young Prince, whose uncle, as King, was currently being threatened by a small group of activists who resented his strength as ruler. Gus had been his heir, and it had been important that Gus was kept safe and not available as a potential King. As they became older, Jack and his family had realised that the entire coup on the King had been an attempt to place the young Prince Aloysius temporarily on the throne before destroying the monarchy and transferring it to communist rule.
He had remained closer to Gus over the years than any other member of the family. At the time, he had been some years older than Gus, and he knew that the Tauri-Hessian royal family had hugely appreciated the role which Jack had played in his rescue, and ultimately that of the King. Of all their adventures as children, the one in Tauri Hessia had been the most significant for Jack. He recalled the night when he had been outside birdwatching and had witnessed his sister, Lucy-Ann, Philip, Dinah and Gus being kidnapped, and had somehow managed to be a stowaway in the car and aeroplane. With the help of his beloved parrot, Kiki, he had obtained work in a travelling circus where he had made genuine friendships and tracked down Gus and his family, as prisoners at Borken Castle. Bill, of course, had come to the rescue, and between them, they had not only rescued them all, but also rescued the imprisoned King and saved his country from a major communist coup.
At the time Gus had been a very spoiled young Prince, but over the years he had learned a lot at school in England, and Jack had taken a particular interest in him and provided a guiding hand. Gus' family's friendship now with their own was a deep one, and he knew that they all wanted to do as much as they could to help Gus through this difficult period. He is a good man, thought Jack, and he is trying to do his best for the country he loves.
He had now arrived at Stansted with plenty of time to spare and parked. The Amsterdam flight was due in half an hour. Jack made his way to the terminal building and the arrivals area.
Gus was easy to spot. He was tall, dark haired and dark eyed, and he and his pretty Tauri-Hessian wife were among the first to disembark from the flight from Amsterdam. "Jack!" he cried, walking towards him, with his hand outstretched. "How wonderful to see you. It is most kind of you to collect us like this."
"It is a pleasure," replied Jack. He shook Gus' hand and kissed Anna on the cheek. He was genuinely delighted to see them.
"The car is parked not far away, and we should be in Boffame within a couple of hours," he said. "Bill and Aunt Allie are there, and looking forward to your arrival."
"We are both looking forward to seeing them too," replied Gus, placing his arm around his wife. "It must be two years since we saw them both. How are Sue and the family?"
"They are all well, thank you," replied Jack. "The rest of the family also send their love – Lucy-Ann, Philip and Dinah. They obviously all know of your arrival. I believe you also know that Dinah will be remarrying in July."
"Yes, indeed, and we couldn't be more delighted," said Gus, as they walked to the car. "I look forward to meeting her fiancÚ at some stage."
"Oh, you will, Gus," said Jack. "In fact, I know that Dinah and Alastair are hoping that you, Anna and the boys will be able to attend the wedding in Cornwall. Let's hope that this whole situation will have been resolved by then."
"We do not plan to miss it."
* * *
Jack drove into the drive of Rat-a-Tat House. He had visited before of course for New Year parties which Barney and Diana often hosted, and he regarded it as an ideal location for Gus and Anna.
Bill and Allie were waiting in the hall to welcome them. Soon, everyone was seated in the sitting-room and tea was being served.
"Bill, I do not know how to thank you for your kindness and support." Gus began.
"We are delighted to be able to help you both," replied Bill, quietly. "Barney Martin and his family, who own this house, are looking forward to meeting you both again, and you can completely rely on their discretion."
"I clearly do not plan for us to spend six months completely marooned here," said Gus. "We have to see our boys and I have to continue our business, but it is as safe a place as any as a base, and we will have complete security while we are here."
"As you know, the Home Office are fully aware of the situation and I will be kept informed of any developments if they arise." Bill smiled. "I have been retired for many years, but somehow in this job you never really retire, and you are always a marked man".
"I am sure you are still of enormous help to the British security services," said Gus. "I know that we feel completely safe in your hands."
"Well, we will do everything we can to help," replied Bill, "but the most important thing is to devise a way of flushing out your perpetrators. It is the only way we can get them."
"Bill, I know you will think of a way," Gus smiled. "If anyone can think of a way of resolving this, it is you."
* * *
He stood in the window of his hotel room, looking out over Hyde Park. It was a cold January day, although he was used to much colder winters in his native country, Tauri-Hessia. He would be returning to Zurich tomorrow on the early morning flight. He had a mission, and it was time it was implemented.
Since he had been old enough to understand, he had hated the Torquinels and what they stood for. The coup had succeeded in the end, but only after others had paid the ultimate price. Aloysius Torquinel was ostensibly a successful financier in Zurich, but he knew his aims were something quite different. He was a western capitalist and his voice was heard in all the corridors of power in Paris, London and Washington.
The mood was gradually changing in Europe, and it was looking increasingly likely that Torquinel and his supporters might succeed. Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan were determined to bring about a permanent change and rid the world of communist rule. He knew he could not fight them, but they were not his target. Aloysius Gramondie Racemolie Torquinel was his target, and his own personal project. He had to be stopped, and he had to answer for what his family had done. Yes, it was time. Once he was back in Zurich, he would implement his plan.
To be continued...