Hide & Seekby Sally Neary
PART 4: Discoveries & Deliberations – March 1986 – Buckinghamshire, London and Seville
Diana sat at the kitchen table surrounded by paperwork. "Is that your latest book, Di?" asked Barney. He was leaning up against the fridge, still in his riding gear, drinking a cup of coffee.
"Yes, I've just finished the first draft. It's an experiment, actually," she looked up at him. "It's a new series, based on my characters from my "Mysteries" series, but ten years on, when the children have grown up and left school and university. It involves a new mystery and some old ones, but also shows how the lives of the characters have unfolded. It's meant for a different audience, really, my childhood readers, grown up."
"Good idea," smiled Barney admiringly. "Is it a bit racy?" he asked.
"No, not really," she laughed, "but there is romance and the reader is expected to read between the lines at times, when I felt it was relevant to the story. My readers have always written to me asking me to write more because they say they don't want to leave their childhood friends behind, and the characters are like much-loved friends to many of them."
"I'll read it tomorrow when I have more time," said Barney.
"You're always my best critic," she said.
"And always your greatest fan," he smiled. "How are we getting on with our research in tracing Neta in Spain?"
"Well, we don't seem to be making much progress yet," she sighed, looking up at her husband. "We've written in English with Spanish translations to at least six different offices, including the Mayor's office in Seville, the Mayor's office in Cazalle de la Sierra, and to the address in Tessie's letter itself. So far we've received just one acknowledgement from Seville to thank us for our enquiry and to say it will be investigated." She smiled. "There has been no reply at all from the address in Tessie's letter – Barney, do you think it's possible they haven't understood your Spanish?"
"Very funny," Barney laughed, "my Spanish is very reliable. My mother was totally fluent in both English and Spanish, and we spoke in Spanish as well as English when I was a child. I learned it naturally, and that was partly why I had such a strange accent when I was young."
"I liked it," Diana smiled. "I remember thinking when we first met you that your accent was very glamorous – a touch European – Spanish or Italian, with a dash of American. Somehow it suited you."
"Yes, well it wouldn't have helped an acting career, and so thankfully it smoothed itself out," replied Barney. "But speaking Spanish still feels natural."
"I think we should give it another month, and then plan to spend a long weekend or a week in Seville and Cazalle de la Sierra and do some investigation. It would actually make a nice holiday."
"Yes sweetheart, and we have agreed we will do that, but I would need to get time off, and right now there's not much chance of that," replied Barney. "We are still playing to full houses in Much Ado, and I will need to continue for a while. Maybe we can plan a visit in early summer."
"Do you think your father will want to come with us, darling?" Diana looked up at him, enquiringly.
"Yes, he does, because I've asked him," replied Barney. "He is very keen for us to try and trace Neta, if she's still alive. Apparently, he and mother had planned to visit Seville the summer after they married, but of course it never happened. She left before then. He would love to meet Neta, and I think he's hoping she can provide some answers."
"Just to remind you, it's a quarter to eleven, and you have a matinee this afternoon," said Diana.
Barney finished his coffee and placed his cup on the table. "I am just heading upstairs to shower and change and I will be off on the 11.25. Plenty of time. By the way, will Tess be home tomorrow?"
"Yes, she'll be here all day and have Sunday lunch with us. I've invited your father over to join us."
"Good, he'll love that. Have we heard from Hugo this week?"
"Sorry, darling, I forgot to tell you – he called yesterday evening, before the performance. He's still in Manchester, and the tour will then move on to York on Monday. He sounded full of beans – everything is fine."
"Good." Barney always liked to know that all was well with his children. "Is it next Sunday we are all having lunch with Gus and Anna at Rat-a-tat?"
"Yes. Dinah and Alastair are picking up Snubby and Lucy-Ann, and I suggested we travelled separately. We are meeting there at 1230.
"It should be interesting," said Barney. "From what Snubby said last weekend, there doesn't seem to be much progress yet in tracking down Gus' enemies, but he is probably as safe in Lincolnshire as anywhere." He kissed her forehead. "I'll be down shortly."
* * *
It was a pleasant spring afternoon in London, he thought. Spring in Tauri-Hessia came earlier than in England, and its summers were much warmer. He looked through the hotel window at the Park below and concentrated his thoughts. Where was Torquinel? Since mid January, he seemed to have disappeared. He knew from his contacts that he was certainly not in Zurich – he wasn't at the Torquinel family chalet in the Austrian Tyrol, not in Vienna, as far as he could tell, and there was no indication he was in London.
The more he considered the issue, the more he was convinced that Torquinel was in hiding. He is on to us, he thought, and he has gone to ground. Where would he go? Possibly America, because he knew he had contacts there, but more likely to England. And if he is here in England, he thought, drawing deeply on his cigarette, Cunningham must be involved.
He walked towards the hotel room's mini-bar, opened it, and poured himself a vodka and tonic. He added ice, and then walked over to the sofa and sat down with his drink.
It would be inconceivable for Torquinel not to consult with his British Secret Service friend Cunningham if going into hiding in England, he considered. He knew of the history of the long association with Cunningham and his family. Cunningham had been responsible for upsetting the plans to depose the King of Tauri-Hessia in the early 50s. He knew that he now lived in retirement in Cornwall. One thing was certain – Torquinel was not hiding there. Cunningham would be too smart to allow that to happen.
Somehow, they had to find a way to flush Torquinel out. His sons were at university in London and Leeds, but he had not been seen anywhere near there. Well, they had operatives everywhere, and it was only a matter of time before he appeared.
The telephone rang, and he answered it.
"I have some interesting news," a voice spoke quietly at the other end of the telephone.
"What kind of news?"
"You may wish to buy the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail this morning," the voice answered smoothly. Turn to page 4 of the Telegraph and page 3 of the Daily Mail, and then call me back."
"I assume this has something to do with our target," he answered.
"Just call me back when you're ready."
* * *
He didn't open the two newspapers until he returned to his hotel room. He sat down on the sofa and turned to page 4 of the Telegraph. The headline was small, towards the bottom of the page, but caught his eye at once, "Mannering Art dealer in Denham's Art Fraud Investigation to Marry."
The article explained that Dinah Mannering, founder of Mannering Art, who had been responsible for putting the FBI on the trail of the greatest art fraud scandal of the 20th century, was to marry. It explained the irony of the emergence of the so-called Andra treasure at the New York auction in June the previous year, Dinah's involvement in her teens in locating the treasure with her family and step-father, the former MI5 Commander, Bill Cunningham, her pursuit of Denham's, her abduction and subsequent rescue. Her wedding to English architect Alastair James, who had first alerted the Police Department in New York to her disappearance, would take place near the family home at St Jude's Church in Tregonon in Cornwall on Friday 18 July.
He put the newspaper to one side and then opened the Daily Mail on page 3. The story was given even more prominence under the headline, "Art Dealer Heroine in US Art Fraud Enquiry to Wed". The article gave much more detail about the art fraud investigation, details of the fraudsters, including Lucian Eppy, the history of the Andra treasure and then went on to detail the history of Dinah and her family, and how, as teenagers, they had been involved with her step-father in tracking down a number of criminals, both in the UK and overseas.
The article recounted how she and her family were once spirited off in the wrong aeroplane to Austria and had been mixed up with former South American Nazi sympathisers, and how posters of them had been placed around Britain until they were found. It then mentioned their part in rescuing the King of Tauri-Hessia and his heir, Prince Aloysius Torquinel, who was now a successful financier in Switzerland. The former Tauri-Hessian royal family and the Cunninghams remained close friends to the present day, the article claimed. Once again, the article mentioned that the nuptials attended by family and friends would take place near the family home at St Jude's Church in Tregonan in Cornwall on Friday 18 July at noon.
He put down the newspaper and laughed. He laughed very loudly, and then got up to pour himself a drink. "We've got him," he thought. Wherever Torquinel was, he and his family would undoubtedly be invited to the Mannering wedding, and he would not be able to resist it. He knew that Torquinel valued his connection with the former MI5 Commander and his family – the epitome of the British establishment, and he would want to be there. If he was in England, it would be so easy to do. How helpful of the Daily Mail to provide the exact time of the wedding as well as the date.
He picked up the telephone and dialled a number, smiling to himself. All they now needed to do was make their plans accordingly.
* * *
"I can't find my ear-rings, and yet I'm sure I left them on the dressing-table," said Diana, impatiently, as she began to search into her jewellery box.
"They are here in the bathroom," called Barney, handing to her two pearl earrings, as he came into the bedroom to get dressed. "Please don't lose them, Di. They were my Christmas present to you."
"I know, darling, and I love them. That's why I'm wearing them to have lunch with the former royals at Rat-a-tat," she laughed, as she placed on the earrings.
"I want to be off by 10 o'clock at the latest," said Barney, putting on his shirt. "We musn't be late, and I want to allow time for delays. That means we have twenty minutes – OK?"
"Yes, I'll be ready. I am ahead of you, anyway."
They were ready at just before ten. The dogs had been fed and settled, and the house locked up. "I'll get the car started if you're now ready," he called.
Diana was just closing the front door when the telephone started to ring. "Leave it Di," Barney called.
"I had better not," said Diana anxiously. "It just might be one of the children or Mummy. I'll have to get it." She ran back into the hall and picked up the telephone. "Good morning," said a female voice. The voice had a European accent. "I would like to speak to Barnabas Martin please."
"That is my husband. Who is calling please?" asked Diana, not recognising the voice.
"My name is Neta Sanchez, and I believe he has been looking for me."
Diana stood still for a moment in shock and murmured, "yes, he has. Are you really Neta, Tessie Lorimer's cousin?"
"I am indeed, and I am calling from Seville. Would it be possible to speak to Barney?"
"Of course. I will just get him," said Diana anxiously. She placed down the receiver and ran out of the front door towards the car. Barney was already in the driver's seat with the engine running. He wound down the window. "What's wrong?" he asked in concern.
"Nothing – but Neta Sanchez is on the telephone, calling from Seville, and she wants to speak to you," replied Diana, in excitement.
Barney didn't answer. He just turned off the engine, opened the door and ran along the drive into the hall through the open doorway. He picked up the telephone and said, "good morning, Barney Martin here."
"Barney – this is Neta Sanchez, your mother's cousin. I have received your letter – it was brought to me by an old friend from Cazalle. I am so thrilled to hear from you."
"And I am also delighted that my letter has reached you," he replied. She speaks good English, he thought.
"You have no idea what this means to me," the voice continued. "When Tessie died, I tried to contact you, but I was told you had left the circus camp. I was unable to contact you after that."
"Yes, well I left to try and find... " He stopped a moment. His natural instincts urged him to be cautious.
"I would like to meet you and your wife, Barney," said Neta. "Are you able to come to Spain?"
"Yes, we would like to, and I would like to bring my father too," he replied, "but I am an actor, and I will need to arrange for my understudy to cover for me. I will have to see what I can do."
"You have followed your father into the theatre, then, Barney," said the voice softly. "Do you also act in Shakespeare's plays?"
"Yes," Barney felt taken aback. "I am a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Would you please give me your address and telephone number, and I will call you back next week to tell you what can be arranged."
"Of course," she replied. She gave him her address and telephone number.
"I will also look forward to meeting your father, Barney. I am an old woman now, and I so much want to meet him. I have a lot to tell him," she added.
"I am sorry I have to go, but I will call you back early next week, Neta. Thank you for taking the trouble to call," said Barney, politely.
He rang off, and turned round to Diana, his eyes shining. "Well, do you think she is genuine?" she asked.
"I am certain of it," he said. "She sounded just like my mother."
* * *
"From here you take the second turning on the right," said Diana looking at the map in front of her. "Ok, here we go," said Barney, as he turned right into the narrow street. "Hopefully, we will be able to park just along here. Neta said in her telephone call there should be space." He brought the car to a standstill. "Well, here we are. Neta's house should be just across the road."
He, Diana and his father looked across. "I can see number 6, and it has window-boxes in the front windows, as Neta said," said Barno. "The ones with pink geraniums."
"It's amazing to think that it is still only late March and yet it's so warm – like an English summer's day," said Diana.
They all got out, and Barney locked the car. The three of them walked across to the house with window-boxes, and Barney knocked on the door. He felt a sense of trepidation, not knowing exactly what to expect. Well, we are here now, he thought, and we shall soon know.
They could hear someone walking through the hall, and the door opened. A small, plumpish woman stood there, her once dark hair now grey and swept up in a chignon. Her dark, almond shaped eyes were warm, and she smiled in welcome. Diana's first thought was how much she strongly resembled her daughter, Tess. She had Tess's eyes, and her face shape and features were similar.
"Barnabas, Barney and Diana – welcome," she smiled. "Please come in."
They all walked in and followed her through the hall into an attractive courtyard, which was surrounded by pots of summer flowers. There was an awning over the back of the house and a table and chairs. "Please take a seat," she smiled. "You must be thirsty after your drive. May I offer you some sangria?" She picked up a large jug of a delicious looking red/orange drink and poured four glasses. "Are you staying in central Seville?"
"Yes", replied Diana. "We are staying at the Alfonso until Monday. As well as wanting to meet you, Neta, we are having a short holiday. My husband usually has difficulty getting time off without notice."
"Of course," Neta smiled at Barney, "and you are a Shakespearian actor, like your father. Tessie would have been very proud, Barney."
"You speak very good English, Neta" said Barno. He had been very quiet during the journey from their hotel to Neta's house, wondering how the meeting would go. He had also noticed Neta's strong resemblance to Tess and her grandmother.
"I had a very good friend many years ago who was English," replied Neta. "She taught me, and I studied hard. It is essential to speak English in this modern world, even for an old lady like me in Andalusia," she laughed. "I have two sons and a daughter, and they all speak excellent English, as do their children, of course. I can't tell you what this means to me to meet you," she said, sitting back comfortably in her chair, and looking at them each in turn.
"Well, had my father not found letters written by my mother to my grandmother during the war, which included your old address in Cazalle, we wouldn't have known how to find you," said Barney. "I remember my mother talking of you sometimes when I was a child, but I didn't find an address when she died, and I left the circus camp shortly afterwards."
"I know," said Neta, sadly. "I didn't learn of Tessie's death until Christmas that year in 1948, a month after she died. I received a letter from one of her circus friends, who told me that you had left the camp to go travelling, and I had no way of contacting you. You were barely fourteen, Barney, and I was very concerned what would become of you."
"I wanted to try and find my father, actually," said Barney, warming towards this woman, who was so like his mother. "It was only towards the end when my mother was in hospital and very ill that she told me she thought my father was still alive and I should try and find him." He paused, "she was too ill to speak very much at that stage, but she said he didn't know anything about me.. All I knew was that he was a Shakespearian actor, and somewhat naively, I set off in search, with my pet monkey, Miranda, working my way round circuses and fairs to earn a living."
"And yet, you obviously did find each other," she smiled, "and you are so alike, and both so handsome!"
"I met Diana, her brother and cousin when I was fourteen during the summer after mother died, and we became great friends. It's a long story, but the following summer we met someone who used to know mother well, and he was able to give us Dad's full name and the area where he had lived. An old friend of Diana's family who was with us tracked him down, and the rest is history, as they say," Barney looked across at his father.
"How wonderful for you both," said Neta. "Fate undoubtedly played a hand, as it often does in our lives," she continued quietly. She got up, "but before we continue, you really need to see proof that I am who I say I am," she said.
"I don't think we doubt that, Neta," said Barno.
Neta walked across to a sideboard, and picked up a box and a photograph album. "I have here many letters written to me by Tessie over the years up to her death," she said, "and many photographs, mainly of Barney. She opened the faded photograph album, and turned it round to show them. "Tessie sent me a photograph of Barney every year after his birthday in October, and they are all here, up to his fourteenth birthday."
"Oh, how lovely," said Diana. "I have never seen any photos of Barney as a baby or as a young child."
"Neither have I," said Barno, looking at them. Barney looked slightly embarrassed, but looked at the album with interest. Some of the photos included ones of his mother, and photos of them together. "Our son, Hugo, looked so like Barney did when he was young," said Diana. "We named our son after Barney's second Christian name – Hugo. Our daughter Tess was of course named after Tessie and christened Teresa Beatrice."
"Tessie named you, Barney, after your father and your great-grand father, Hugo. Hugo is a Spanish name and he was Tessie's grandfather, and also my own," she added.
"I always wondered where the name Hugo came from," said Barney.
Neta turned the page of the album. "And here, Barnabas, are photos of your wedding to Tessie, so many years ago," she said softly. Barno looked at them, and reached inside the inside pocket of his jacket. "These are photographs I found with my mother's belongings after she died – you will see I have similar ones." He placed the half dozen faded photographs on the table beside her.
Neta sat back and looked at him sadly. "I had hoped to meet you the summer after you and Tessie married. Travelling was so difficult in those days in the mid-thirties, and England was in the middle of a depression, but I know you and Tessie had planned to come to Spain and meet me. I was married with two young sons at that stage."
"Yes, we did," replied Barno, "but of course, it was never to be, because Tessie left so suddenly, just leaving a note, three months after we were married. Was she unhappy, Neta? Did she write to you about any unhappiness?" He had decided to be direct, as he felt sure this woman, who had known Tessie so well, must know something of Tessie's state of mind at that time.
"No, Barnabas," Neta looked at him, her brown eyes soft and full of compassion. "Tessie was not unhappy. She loved you very much. Her marriage to you was the best thing that had ever happened to her."
"Then why did she leave Neta?" Barno looked at her searchingly.
Neta got up and picked up the jug of sangria and refilled the four glasses. She sat down again, and looked at him. "Perhaps if I start at the beginning, it would be better," she said. "As you know, Tessie was the daughter of an English circus owner, Danny Lorimer and a Spanish mother, my father's sister. Her mother, Margareta, was a dancer, and met her husband working in a circus in England. Tessie grew up in England with both her parents. All was well until her father fell ill and died when she was only thirteen. It was a disaster for her mother, as unfortunately Danny left a lot of debts, and the circus broke up. Having little money, Tessie's mother decided to come back to Andalusia with Tessie to be with her family. Tessie's mother returned to Spain in 1925."
"Yes, Tessie explained that when we met," said Barno, listening intently.
"It was extremely difficult for ordinary people in Spain in the 1920's, particularly in the south," said Neta quietly. "Conditions for Spanish women were very oppressive, rather similar to that of many Muslim countries today. They had no independence, and single women were not allowed out without chaperones. It was not unusual for women to be virtually given away in arranged marriages. Marriage was in fact a woman's only protection," she continued. "Life for Margareta with a young teenage daughter was extremely difficult. She could not have continued her life as a dancer here in Spain, and had to earn income from taking in sewing. She was in fact a very good seamstress, and she taught Tessie to sew. That stood Tessie in good stead later on," she added.
"I know my father, as her brother, looked after her and Tessie as much as he could, and Tessie and I spent a lot of our teenage years together. We were very close," she added.
"And then you must know what happened," said Barno quietly. "Why did she leave, Neta, without any explanation or discussion, just leaving a note?"
"Because she felt she couldn't stay, Barnabas," Neta's eyes filled with tears. She paused and looked at him directly. " I had to write to her to tell her that the man she married when she was eighteen, a military man, whom she had been told had been killed, had come back to Seville, very much alive. It meant that her marriage to you was unlawful."
There was a complete silence. Diana looked up at her husband and father-in-law aghast. Barney looked as if he had been turned to stone, and her father-in-law had turned pale. No words came for a moment, and he then said, "but I didn't know anything about another marriage. Tessie never said anything to me about being married before."
"I know, Barnabas," Neta said softly. "She had lived in a world here that was very different from that in England, and believe me, she planned to tell you about her first marriage when you came to Spain the following year, so that you could understand the background. Obviously, that didn't happen. Let me please explain."
"Four years after Margareta and Tessie came back to Spain, Margareta fell ill, and she knew she didn't have long to live," she continued gently. "She was afraid for Tessie. She knew that life for a young girl of eighteen alone here would be intolerable, and she was desperate for Tessie to be safe and protected. Tessie was very beautiful, and she caught the eye of a military man of some standing, who was ten years older than she was. He met Tessie, with her mother as chaperone of course, and made it clear to Margareta that he wanted to marry her daughter and offer her the security she needed."
"Tessie hardly knew him and was adamant she didn't want to marry him. She didn't love him," said Neta in distress. "Margareta was desperate, and she practically begged Tessie to accept him. She knew that the alternative for her daughter would not be pleasant. Because she loved her mother, and her mother was so ill, Tessie eventually agreed, and they were married in 1929."
"I can't believe she didn't tell me this," said Barno in disbelief. "It was a very important part of her life. If she believed her husband was dead, it wouldn't have prevented our marriage. It wouldn't have made any difference."
"Tessie was very conscious that her background was so different from your own, Barnabas, and as I said to you, she wanted to explain the whole thing when you came to Spain."
"And so, what happened, Neta?" asked Barno.
"Margareta died a few months after Tessie married. Tessie had six months of married life before her husband left for military service overseas," explained Neta. "She was protected, but not happy. The marriage was meaningless to her, but I think she accepted it," she continued.
"She then received official news that there had been an explosion and her husband had been involved and killed. She received some financial compensation from the Spanish Government."
"By then, Tessie was only nineteen," Neta continued. "I was two years older, already married and I had a young baby, my first son. Tessie decided she wanted to leave Spain and return to England. I was afraid for her, but she was determined. She had some savings, enough to last her a year, she believed. She got on a boat in Cadiz and left for England. That was in 1930."
"Tessie told me that she came back to England in 1930, following the death of her mother," said Barno. "She joined a circus and trained as a trapeze artist."
"Yes, and although it was a difficult time in England in the 1930s, it was a much better environment for a young woman than here in Spain," said Neta. "Tessa felt free, and was happy to be back in England where she had grown up, even though she had no family there." Neta paused. "Tessie had enormous strength of character, and she seemed to cope with whatever was thrown at her. Unfortunately," she added, "life was to become even more challenging."
"I met her in June 1933 up in Scarborough where I was on a theatre assignment," said Barno. "She was with the local circus there for the summer. I took her back to meet my family in Suffolk, and we were married at the end of October."
"I know, Barnabas," said Neta gently, "and she was very happy. I want you to have the letters she sent to me during that time to tell me how happy she was with you and your family."
"What happened about her first husband, Neta?" asked Barno.
"It seems he was not involved in the explosion after all, but had been taken prisoner and was a prisoner of war for three years. When he was eventually released, he returned to Seville, looking for Tessie." Neta paused. "I can't tell you how I felt when he came to me, looking for her. I was aghast."
" I told him she had left Andalusia and I didn't know where she was," she continued, "but he knew we had been close and that we would remain in touch. He was very persistent," she added, "and he guessed she may have come to England. He said he would pursue her there until he found her."
"Barnabas, you must understand that I couldn't remain silent," Neta looked at him in distress. "You had been married just three months, but I had to write to her to tell her that Rodrigo was still alive, even though I knew it would devastate her happiness with you. She had to know."
"I agree," said Barno quietly. "It would have been quite wrong to keep that knowledge a secret."
"I didn't know how she would react to the news," continued Neta, "and I certainly didn't influence her. She wrote to me two weeks later to say she had left and had rejoined the circus which she had left in Scarborough and which had now moved on. She was desperately unhappy. I didn't know what to do."
"But why didn't my mother explain all this to Dad?" interjected Barney suddenly. He had been silent throughout Neta's story. "Why did she just leave without saying anything?"
"Because she was terrified," said Neta. "She had unintentionally involved the man she loved in an illegal marriage, because she was still married. She was afraid that if the truth came out they would both go to prison, and divorce from Rodrigo or even an annulment was out of the question. Rodrigo was a devout Catholic and he would never have agreed to it. In Spain, divorce was almost unheard of in the 1930s and totally against the Church's teaching."
"But I would have stood by her and tried to help her resolve it," said Barno.
"She knew that," said Neta, her eyes full of tears. "She knew that if she told you about it you would never let her go and would try and fight it, and in the process it would destroy you. You came from an important family, and the scandal of it all would ruin your career as an actor and your family's reputation. If you had both returned to Spain," she added, "the consequences would have been grave. In Spain, in the eyes of the Church she had committed a cardinal sin." Neta looked round at them all. "There was no way out, you must understand. That is why she left, just leaving a note. It was the only way she could handle it."
"What a terrible predicament – poor Tessie," cried Diana, holding her hands to her face. "I can't imagine what she must have gone through."
"What would you have done, Di?" asked Barney quietly, watching his wife's reaction. His emotions were in turmoil, and he didn't know what to think or feel. He was trying to imagine the effect of all this on his father.
"I don't know – I have never been in such a situation. My life has been totally different, and I have never experienced anything like this, or had to make those kind of choices," said Diana, her eyes full of tears. "She obviously left because she was afraid and loved you, Barno, and didn't want to bring shame to you and your family. Life in the 1930s was very different in England than it is now," she added.
"Exactly," said Neta. She got up to replenish everyone's glass. "And then of course she discovered within six weeks of leaving that she was expecting the baby she had so much wanted. By then she was working on the trapeze with a circus and glad to have the job, but she obviously couldn't continue doing that in her condition."
"How did she cope, Neta?" asked Barno, obviously distressed.
"She explained to the circus owner that she was expecting a baby by the husband she had lost, and offered to work as a seamstress instead, making and repairing circus costumes. Her mother had trained her well, and she was very capable. Throughout her confinement, she worked in this way until after Barney was born."
"Why didn't she let me know at least about Barney?" asked Barno.
"Because she was afraid of losing him. He was, after all, all she had left," said Neta quietly. "We wrote to each other as often as we could, but in fact, I never saw Tessie again. The last time I saw her was when she left Seville in 1930. When she died of pneumonia, she was only thirty-seven – too young – but then she had carried too much."
There was a silence. Barno was the first to speak. "Well, at least after more than fifty years I now know the truth."
"What happened to my mother's first husband?" asked Barney.
"He lived, continued his military career, fought in the Spanish Civil War and eventually died in the mid-fifties," said Neta. "In other words, he outlived Tessie. She would never have been free."
"Well, thank you for telling us the story, Neta," Barney said quietly. "As my father has said, it is important that we know the truth."
"As you are here until next Monday," Neta looked round at them, "would you please join my family for lunch on Sunday? My daughter, son-in-law and two grand-daughters will be visiting, and I would like to ask my son and his family to also join us. My elder son lives in Madrid. They are your cousins, Barney," she looked at him, "and I know they would like to meet you."
"That is very kind of you, Neta," said Diana, "and I think it would be a lovely idea." Her husband and father-in-law nodded in agreement. "I would also like to bring our children to Spain to meet their cousins someday. You are Tessie's family, and you are therefore part of ours." She paused for a moment. "This news has been a huge shock to us all, but let's build on it shall we? I am sure Tessie would have wanted it."
"Yes, she would," agreed Barno smiling. "Tessie would have wanted it very much."
* * *
Barney looked through the hotel bedroom window over the courtyard garden. It was a warm spring night in Seville, warmer even than an English one in June. The lights of the courtyard displayed urns of brightly coloured flowers, interspersed with elegant statues. It was a lovely spectacle, but his heart felt heavy, not for himself, but for his parents. He had never fully understood until today exactly how much they had both suffered, and the enormity of their loss. And there wasn't a thing he could do about it.
He closed the curtains and turned round. Diana was already in bed, lying still, her hand resting across her forehead. He undressed quickly and climbed in beside her. "Tell me what you're thinking," he murmured quietly.
"I was just thinking about it all, about the irony of both Tessie's first husband and your father being prisoners of war and returning home alive against the odds, and also how that one thing changed the course of all our lives," she said softly.
"What do you mean exactly?"
"Well, if Tessie's husband had not survived, Neta would not have written to Tessie and she would have never left your father. You would have grown up with both your parents and your family, never lived a circus life, nor had Miranda and we wouldn't have even met." She turned to look at him. "You wouldn't have been in Rockingdown that day when Roger, Snubby and I met you, we wouldn't have married, nor had Hugo and Tess. Snubby would never have met Lucy-Ann in Devon that day on the beach, because it was your idea to ask him to come down and join us. In other words, everything we all have was only made possible by your parents' loss and the sacrifice Tessie felt she had to make. Life can be so cruel." Silent tears ran down her cheeks.
In answer he put his arms around her, drew her to him and began to kiss her tears away. He knew that tonight he needed to be as close to her as he could possibly be. Much later, she lay back in his arms, stroked his hair and looked at him. It was still there, it was always there and he would die for it, he thought. He had seen it in her eyes the first time he made love to her almost thirty years ago at his grandmother's house in Lincolnshire – the intensity of her love for him. He had known then that she was his, that she would always be his, that he could entrust his heart to her and she would never, ever leave him.
To be continued...