The private view was being held in a gallery near South Kensington tube station, so we didn’t have far to walk.
The gallery was filled with people, all doing that frightfully loud cocktail chat where you can’t hear yourself think. Rosalie’s mother was holding court, kissing people left, right and centre as they congratulated her on the paintings. Rosalie saw us and whizzed over.
“You’re here!” she said. “Don’t disappear off, will you? Keep Jill pinned down, Ann – there’s someone coming later who wants to talk to her.”
“Who?” I said, but Rosalie laughed, said we’d see and meanwhile why not go and look at the paintings? She shot off over to the other side of the room.
“I have no idea, before you ask, what’s going on,” said Ann.
“I think it’s Captain Cholly-Sawcutt,” I said. “He always seems to turn up when you least expect him.”
Ann said she expected I was right, and we decided that as we were at an exhibition of paintings, it might be an idea to try and see them. It was a battle to see anything at all in the crush, but as the paintings appeared to show only bits of the zebras, perhaps it didn’t matter. One had a single hoof, another had an ear and an oddly out of proportion eye. Each painting had progressively more zebra in it, until you got to the one of Susan amidst the ruins. It was still called The Decay of Beauty, and it already had a red sold sticker on it. Susan was standing next to it, being photographed by a society photographer. Next to him someone was standing with a notebook, writing down everything Susan said.
Susan saw us and waved.
“Jill! Ann!” she called. We wandered over, and the scribbling person scribbled a bit more, and then moved on to her next target.
“Who’s that?” Ann asked.
“Someone from The Tatler,” Susan said. “I’m going to be in it. They’re doing a piece on young Society beauties.”
“Gosh,” I said.
“Yes, Daddy’s thrilled,” said Susan. “Oh, I say,” she said, looking over my shoulder. “Aunt Beatrice!”
Ann and I turned round and looked, and there was a large, tweedy woman bearing down on us, clutching a pile of books.
“My dear!” she yelled. “I’m so honoured.”
“Oh, do you want to buy the painting, Aunt?” said Susan. “I’m afraid it’s already sold.”
“Don’t be so silly, Susan,” she said. “Of course I don’t.”
And she turned towards me.
“I was so thrilled when I found out you were a friend of little Rosalie’s, Miss Crewe. So very thrilled. So delighted when I found out you’d be here.”
I goggled at her. A tiny bit of me had hoped that perhaps Mummy might be the person who was wanting to see me, but no, I was going to have to make do with one of her fans.
“Look at this,” she said, and she thrust one of the books she was holding at me. The cover picture was of a particularly winsome tot, the sort that Mummy writes about. The tot had long brown curls tied up with a pink bow, and enormous brown eyes, and the artist had drawn her holding her little white hands clasped together under her chin, as she gazed out at the reader. She was surrounded by equally winsome animals, all gazing up at the tot as if she’d just been given the power to feed them for a year. The title was Emilia’s Faery Forest.
“Oh gosh!” said Ann. “Did you write this?”
Aunt Beatrice gave a modest little smile. “Yes, I did. It’s gone down frightfully well in America. It’s all down to your mother, Miss Crewe. Whatever’s happened in my life, there’s always been something in Catherine Crewe’s books that’s lifted me up. She was my inspiration, and I hope my little book can follow on in the path of her greatness. You know,” she said, peering at me intently, “her books should be made compulsory reading in all schools. They mean so very, very much. They speak great truths, but so simply.”
I couldn’t think of anything worse than being compelled to read Mummy’s books, but I am always loyal to Mummy, and so I nodded. Aunt Beatrice carried on:
“Now you’re here, you must have a copy of my book.”
Aunt Beatrice bunged a couple of books at me, and a couple at Ann, and then she galloped off to go and talk to dear old Chuffy, whom apparently she had known in the fourth remove at school.
“What are we going to do with these?” asked Ann. I shook my head.
“Hello!” said Rosalie, bouncing up to us. “Isn’t it going well? Mummy’s sold five paintings and she’s absolutely delighted. What have you got there?”
Inspiration struck me. “You have all Mummy’s books, don’t you? This’ll be right up your street. Here you are.” There was a sharp intake of breath from Rosalie when I gave her the book. “It’s all right,” I said. “No need to thank me.”
“Oh, that isn’t fair,” said Ann. “I was going to give one to Rosalie. Now what am I going to do with them?”
“Search me,” I said. “I’m going to give one to Mummy and then that’s mine gone.”
“Give me what?” said a voice. I froze. It was Mummy.
“Mummy! Mummy!” I yipped, as I flung myself at her. “What on earth are you doing here? Is something wrong? Why are you home? You haven’t finished your stint in America yet have you?”
“No,” she said. “Nothing like that. It’s good news, I hope, Jill. I have such a lot to tell you.”
Poor Mummy didn’t get much of a chance to tell me her news, because of course I had a lot to tell her, and so I did. She was delighted about Black Boy, and said she’d always had a soft spot for Dinah, and she hoped she’d now found something that made her happy, because she hadn’t had much of a life until now. I hadn’t thought of it like that, but once Mummy said, I saw what she meant. It turned out my letter hadn’t arrived in America yet, so I told her all about the job with Major Trelawney, and she was thrilled about that too.
“I do think, Jill, that you have an amazing ability to fall on your feet. If you learn all you can from Major Trelawney, you’ll be set for any number of good careers.”
“Good,” I said. “I think so too.” And then I shut up, because Mummy had wanted to tell me her news, but she hadn’t had a chance because she’d been listening to me going on like the Amazon in full spate.
“What was it you wanted to tell me?” I asked.
“Do you remember when you first had Black Boy that Martin Lowe kindly came and helped you?”
“Of course I do,” I said. “How could I forget? It was Martin who taught me to ride, and how to look after Black Boy. It was one of the kindest things anyone’s ever done for me.” Martin had been quite one of the nicest things to happen to us after we moved to Chatton, until he’d faded out of our lives when he joined the Foreign Office and was posted to America.
“When Martin’s parents heard I was going out to America, they wrote to him, and he kindly got in touch with me.”
“Oh,” I said, and I began to wonder if something I’d always hoped might happen, had.
“You see, Jill,” Mummy said, “Martin and I were thrown together rather a lot, and we found that we liked being together just as much as we had when we first met each other.”
She paused. I put on a hopeful face in the hope that I’d encourage her to get to the point.
“We do get on so terribly well, you know,” she said.
“Oh good,” I said.
“I do think it’s frightfully important that one does,” she said.
“Yes,” I said. “I agree.”
“Some decisions are desperately difficult to make,” she said.
“Are they?” I asked. “Mummy, is there something you’d like to say to me?”
“It’s been just the two of us for such a long time, hasn’t it? And we have rather become used to it.”
“Yes, we have,” I said, “But think of Basil the Birdsong Boy: ‘Every new dawn a new song’.”
I could see her frowning as she thought about this.
“You’re quite right, darling.” She paused. “Would you mind terribly if I were to marry again? Marry Martin, I mean?”
I couldn’t think of anyone who would suit Mummy, and me, better, and I couldn’t ever imagine being such a heel as to stop Mummy marrying someone who would make her happy, which I knew Martin would.
“I think it’s absolutely marvellous,” I said. “Can I be bridesmaid? And can I bring Black Boy to the church? I could make him a super flowery thing to wear round his neck. In fact I could do all your flowers.”
Mummy laughed. “I’m sure Black Boy will make a wonderful bridesmaid’s pony,” she said. “And we must invite Rapide along too.”
“Yes,” I said. “It wouldn’t be the same without him.” And I felt a bit of a pang, because of course Rapide wasn’t mine any longer, but then I told myself not to be mean, because Mummy was going to marry Martin, so she’d be happy, Black Boy would be arriving in London any day, Ann and I were friends again, and I had a wonderful new job to go to when I finished college. It just goes to show, I thought. It didn’t matter what plans you made, life turned round and lobbed masses of stuff at you you simply weren’t expecting. And I thought I rather liked it.
*** The End ***