The Nanny and the Millionaire. Линда Гуднайт
comfortable looking day bed drawn up near the French doors. Catherine settled herself gingerly, a clear indication her bones ached. ‘Thank you, my dear.’ She still spoke with a pronounced English accent for all her many long years in Australia. Her grandson’s voice had the same precision, Marissa thought. ‘I tire easily these days. Just another one of the set-backs of old age. There’s very little to recommend it.’
‘I’m sorry if you’re in pain,’ Marissa said.
‘One learns to live with it. It all comes down to acceptance.’ Catherine gestured Marissa into the armchair nearby.
It was a beautiful, large, light filled room they were in, all white, the walls, the sheer curtains, the lovely bed coverings on the antique iron and bronze bed, the silk upholstery on the armchairs and Catherine’s chaise longue. Colour came from silk cushions in an exquisite shade of blue, a collection of beautiful flower paintings in gold frames, and another fine collection of blue and white Chinese porcelain housed in a tall white cabinet. Nothing had a hard edge. It was all soft and dreamy. Marissa loved it.
Catherine noticed. She smiled, ‘You like my room?’
‘I love it!’ There was no mistaking Marissa’s sincerity. ‘There’s an absolute peace about it. It’s a beautiful retreat.’
‘I’ve always had an affinity for white,’ Catherine said. ‘I grew up in a house that had the most beautiful garden. People used to come from all over to see it. I have pictures of it somewhere I must show you. In one section of the garden all the flowers were white. Do you like gardens?’
‘How could I not!’ Marissa smiled. ‘Since they never fail to give pleasure. Gardens are very special places. They add so much to our sense of place, don’t you think?’
Catherine nodded in agreement. ‘Indeed I do.’ They spoke for a while about their favourite flowers, finding a shared taste. Catherine allowed the young woman to talk happily. Holt had told her Marissa had brought a child with her, a little boy of seven who miraculously had bonded with Georgia. The young woman claimed the boy was her half brother. Holt had somehow formed the opinion the boy was her son.
Many things happened in life, Catherine thought. Good things. Bad things. She wasn’t about to steamroll her way into this young woman’s most private areas. The full story would come in its own good time.
‘You can imagine what a job I had getting a garden going here,’ Catherine declared. ‘I had enormous help from a dear friend. He wasn’t a professional landscaper but he might well have been. We planned Wungalla’s home gardens together.’
‘And they’re magnificent!’ Marissa could see the great spreading trees outside. ‘I’ve seen the park in Ransom. The jacarandas are in bloom right now, a glorious sight. Deidre O’Connell told me you were responsible for the park, how you had it developed and the jacarandas planted.’
‘And haven’t they thrived!’ Catherine said with immense satisfaction. ‘Though I haven’t seen the park in many a day.’
‘One of my earliest memories is of jacarandas in bloom,’ Marissa confided in a dreamlike voice as though she had just suddenly remembered. ‘In those days we had a beautiful old colonial. It sat on top of a hill with 360-degree views. The house was surrounded by huge jacarandas. For the short time they were in bloom it was paradise. Then the summer storms always came to blow the blossom away like the cherry blossom in Japan.’ Unconsciously her expression had saddened, something that wasn’t lost on Catherine.
‘How old were you when you shifted house?’ Catherine asked gently. ‘This was in Brisbane?’
‘Yes.’ Marissa nodded, gathering herself. ‘I would have been eight.’ The days when she was happy; the days when her father had often declared himself to be ‘the happiest man in the world.’ Marissa kept her voice steady. ‘A few years later my mother was killed in a car accident. My father was at the wheel.’
‘And he blamed himself terribly,’ Catherine supplied in a quiet understanding voice, seeing the young woman was having difficulty going on. The traumatisation had included father and daughter. ‘I’m so sorry, Marissa,’ she said. ‘I understand the pain doesn’t go away. I lost my husband, a giant of a man, then my son, Holt’s father. I was stoic at the death of my husband. I had to carry on. I was like a mad woman after I lost my son. My only consolation is I’ll go long before my Holt.’
‘Please, don’t go, Mrs McMaster,’ Marissa found herself saying in a heartfelt voice. ‘I want us to be friends.’
Catherine’s eyes sparkled. ‘And we will be, I’m sure. I must meet this young brother of yours, Riley. That is his name?’
Someone actually believed her! Marissa’s smile lent radiance to her face. ‘Yes. He’s a lovely boy with a strong bright character. He won’t be any trouble. In fact he and Georgy appear to have formed an instant bond.’
‘So I’ve heard! Due no doubt to something angelic in Riley’s nature. Georgy has suffered as any child would suffer as you did, my dear, from the loss of a mother. Your mother and I’m sure you loved her greatly was taken from you. Georgy’s mother gave her away. Holt has been wonderful through it all. No one—and I include myself—was fully aware of Tara’s true nature. A lot was kept from us, but this abandonment was what turned Georgy into the willful capricious child she has been up to date. If yours and Riley’s influence can calm her, I’m certain we can expect better things.’
Marissa left Catherine’s bedroom feeling very much happier in herself. She had not been expecting the—from all accounts formidable Mrs McMaster—to be so kindly and so approachable. They had talked easily, their conversation covering a range of subjects apart from the gardens they both loved. It was discovered they took joy in the same things. Books, music, poetry which they both thought very neglected and what Marissa found absolutely enthralling, Catherine’s recollections of what it had felt like coming as a young bride to a strange, new country so very different from her own. It hadn’t been a case of her transplanting fairly easily to one of the major cities where she would have lived a life far more in keeping with the one she had left. Madly in love she had broken the ties of love and blood that held her to her beloved parents and her own country, to take on the daunting task of becoming mistress of a vast Australian Outback cattle station. Her family at home had widely believed given the isolation, and the ‘savagery’ of her new environment the marriage would fail.
The marriage had not only endured; it had thrived through every set-back, every obstacle—through pitiless drought, and raging floods, family tragedies, station tragedies. Wungalla to everyone’s amazement became Catherine’s passion. She was a coloniser; a woman who put down dynastic roots. Small wonder she was widely regarded as being a great lady, a true pioneer.
Marissa had found comfort in being around her. A woman of such wisdom and experience offered spiritual balm. Marissa felt in need of it. Her own happy family life had come to an end with the death of her mother. Marissa still desperately missed her. For her father after her mother’s passing there had been no glimmer of light. He must have experienced short bursts of feeling human after Riley was born she thought, impossible to be around Riley and not feel the light. Hadn’t little Georgy, abandoned by her mother, responded to that light of Riley’s slanting over her?
A few days later—extremely uncomfortable days for Marissa when she had to come into contact with Lois at dinner—Holt elected to fly Lois to Sydney himself.
‘I don’t want you having to go to the bother of organising a charter flight,’ he told her smoothly. ‘I have business I can attend to while I’m there, so it’s no problem.’ He turned his shoulders slightly as he waited for her answer.
Marissa feared there would have been an explosion only for Catherine’s gracious presence at the dinner table. Marissa had supervised the children’s tea well over an hour before, now she had joined them in the breakfast room off the kitchen, where the family ate their meals when they weren’t entertaining. The formal dining room was much too big and too grand, for day-to-day