|Pilbara Thunderstorm ( Stephen Williams )|
“Yes,” he replied, not noticing her discomfort, “I inherited it from my grandfather.”
“It was empty for so many years,” she said, “Talk in the town was that it had been tied up in some dispute over the Will.”
“No,” he explained, “What happened was that it was left to his grandchildren. He didn’t trust his children. He said they were useless and lazy and didn’t want to work. But the problem was—well one of them—was that none of us were living in Australia. My mother is French and we lived for a while in the French countryside. But I’d heard stories about this house and about Australia from my father and when— “ he paused suddenly and looked away out across the tawny grasslands and the vibrant shadows of the gum trees. “Anyway,” he continued—and Lucy was sure he’d been about to say something else— “Here I am.” He pushed the salad around in his bowl and once again she racked her brains for something to say that didn’t seem forward or silly or boring. In the end it was he who spoke.
“I expect you know who I am,” he said in a low voice. He lifted his head and their eyes met. His look was bruised, somehow, almost defiant. She was taken aback. She noticed a faint streak of silver in the soft black of his hair as it fell forward over his forehead. For a mad moment, she almost reached out to smooth it away. Abruptly, she came to her senses.
“Well,” she replied, a little breathlessly, “You told me your name when you introduced yourself.”
“Yes,” he said slowly, “That’s true.” And again there was a silence. He drank his beer and rubbed his fingers up and down in the condensation left from the bottle on the wooden table, “You see,” he said, “I – ” and at that moment the phone rang. Lucy cursed the phone. But she felt she had to answer it. That was the way she’d been brought up. Her mother had always said, you never know, it might be important. But it hardly ever was.
“Excuse me,” she said. It was Jennifer. How typical, thought Lucy, frustrated. Just when we were getting somewhere.
“Luce, old thing,” said Jenny in a cheerful tone, “Would you like to come round to dinner tonight? I’ve asked the Bletchleys and Susan and a few others over. Nothing grand. Just homemade pasta. Bring a bottle of wine if you like.” For a moment Lucy hesitated. But then the thought of Sunday night alone in the cottage with Adam up in the big house, lying in his sleeping bag in some huge, empty room, the moonlight casting its cold beams across him as he lay there, awake or asleep, and the memory of the unfortunate encounter with Shane the night before decided her. She would go.
“I’d love to come,” she told Jenny, “Seven o’clock? See you then.” She went back outside. Adam had finished his beer.
“Sorry about that,” she said, “It was a friend inviting me to dinner.”
“Well,” he said, “I shall think of you as I sit on the verandah looking at the view. I hope you have a pleasant evening. Thank you so much for the delicious lunch.” And almost bowing to her, like a character from Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë, she thought amusedly, he left swiftly and she saw his tall, dark form walking with long, deliberate stride through the midday heat back up the hill to the great house.
The threatened thunderstorm did come. As always, before the first rain fell, Lucy got a headache and her depression and downheartedness, combined with the headache, encouraged her to take a painkiller and have an afternoon nap. When the rain came it was a relief. She could hear it drumming on the tin roof of her little cottage and could feel the immediate freshness as the heat and dust were washed out of the air. As she lay on the bed in the half dark of the summer thunderstorm, she thought back to the first day. She thought about the first time he had come to visit and she had brought out the best tea-set and how he had looked at the picture of her mother and left so abruptly. What was it, she wondered, that had made him leave?
She had felt, while they were sitting there so companionably, in the shade of the wisteria, that he was about to tell her about his life, about why his name was Adam Greyfallow, but he played under the stage name Montpellier, about who the woman was who had accompanied him out the night before, about what had happened to his beautiful bride. It was so typical of Jennifer to ring at the wrong moment. It was just the sort of thing she always did. She was very kind and she was very fond of her, and Lucy supposed that she was one of her best friends. All the same, she rather wished that Jennifer had postponed calling for another half hour. But then she reminded herself of all the occasions over the last few days when she had told herself to be sensible and not to assume that handsome, gorgeous, ridiculously wealthy and gifted Adam Greyfallow would be the least interested in a plain and rather ordinary school teacher from a country town where nothing ever happened.
She didn’t dress for dinner. The air was cool again after the thunderstorm and the dust was laid on the roads. She loved the way in summer how these hot days would end like this, with a quiet coolness after the rain and the sound of the cockatoos shrieking at each other as they found their night time roosts in the trees. She wasn’t especially looking forward to dinner, but it was better than doing nothing, and she didn’t think after all that had happened and all the emotions that had turmoiled within her, that an evening alone was a good idea. As she made small talk, ate Jennifer’s indifferent lasagne while complimenting her on it, and listened to all the minor dramas that the people around the table discussed with such enthusiasm and passion, the thought that went through her head was always ‘what is he doing now?’ —to be immediately followed by ‘don’t be such a goose, Lucinda Grady, he’s not interested in you and never will be’.