Authors: Evelyn Anthony
âYou haven't been to me before, have you?' she asked. âI'm sure I'd remember you. Are you just visiting London?'
âTill the day after tomorrow,' he said, sipping his whisky.
She had beautiful ankles and small feet. He liked a woman to be voluptuous but never coarse. It was a physical beauty that had attracted him to his first wife, Eileen. She had the translucent Irish skin, and the deep blue eyes associated with the Celtic race. She was graceful and pretty in an elfin way, and he swept her into marriage a month after they met. She was on a trip to South Africa with her uncle and aunt. Julius learnt that she lived with them in County Cork; her parents were dead. She was at teacher training college. He fell in love immediately, and for the first time. He had lost count of the girls he'd taken to bed in his teens and twenties. He hadn't wanted to marry any of them; the chime of wedding bells, however faint, sent him on a convenient trip abroad. But the shy, country-bred Irish girl filled him with a frenzy of passion and possessiveness. He roared into her life like a golden lion, and she was whirled into a huge wedding in Johannesburg, showered with diamonds, clothes, a new Bentley convertible which she didn't dare to drive, and a place in South African society that she had no idea how to fill. Julius hadn't given a damn. He let her find her own way, always protective in the background, confident that she would win hearts on her own merit. And right in his judgement, as usual. He was popular, courted because of his power and the great industry he was destined to lead when his father died, but Eileen Heyderman was loved by everyone. She had a mischievous sense of humour and a hugely kind heart, without an ounce of conceit or self-importance. He adored her. As she adored him in return, and was as disappointed as he was that their first born, a daughter, resembled neither of them.
She was a difficult, fretful baby, and a fractious toddler. As she developed, it seemed as if some wayward Irish gene had by-passed the Dutch ancestry, and produced a throw back. Stella had black hair and dark blue eyes. She was a pretty child, but the wayward streak made her troublesome and unpredictable. The coloured nannies spoiled her, giving in to every tantrum. It was Eileen who named her Stella. Julius thought it a beautiful but inappropriate name for such an unruly little girl. Had she been a son, he would have been proud of the self-willed nature and fierce independence. He didn't understand this female child, and he left her upbringing to her mother. In turn, Eileen, embarked on a succession of pregnancies which ended in miscarriage, left it to the servants. She wanted to give Julius a boy and she refused to listen to medical advice and give up hope.
And then she went full term. How careful they were, how anxious not to lose this precious baby, which both were convinced was a son and heir for the Heyderman empire. The child Stella watched them and felt herself ignored, displaced as the centre of attention in the nursery where everyone chattered about the coming baby. Instinctively, she hated this unseen thing that confined her mother to bed for days on end. The god-like figure of her father had no time for Stella at all, he hardly saw her now. In revenge for this neglect, she terrorized her nanny and the nursemaids and longed for something to happen that would stop the horrible intruder being born. As the time for the birth approached, Julius had the best gynaecologist flown out from London with his personal nursing staff. Everything his love and money could devise was done to help Eileen carry their child to full term.
At three days past the date, she went into labour. It was a little boy. It lived for a few hours and died of a congenital heart defect.
Stella saw the weeping maids and heard that she had lost a baby brother. Briefly, she exulted, and then fell into a screaming fit induced by a terrible sense of guilt. She had wished the baby dead, she had made it happen. She was uncontrollable and nobody understood why. The guilt took root and flourished. Julius, grief stricken, had still another blow to suffer.
His adored wife Eileen, only thirty-two years old, had a mental breakdown. He didn't know what to do or how to cope. Anguish for her suffering mingled with impotent rage at his own helplessness. Nothing brought her out of the pit of depression. It was a pit so deep that she couldn't bear daylight, and lay in semi-darkness, silently weeping and refusing to speak.
There were times in the early months when he drank himself into oblivion, only to reject the coward's option and try yet another doctor, another remedy. In the end, after a dreadful day when Eileen tried to saw through her wrists with a pair of nail scissors, Julius admitted defeat. After twelve months he accepted that it was neither safe nor possible to keep her at home, or right to have a daughter growing up in that atmosphere. So Eileen went into a private nursing home. Stella blamed herself for that, too.
Eileen survived for ten years. Julius visited her every day and sent flowers daily when he was abroad. He had
, because sex was a necessity to stay sane in mind and healthy in body, but he never brought any woman into Eileen's house. He was at her bedside when she died of cancer. The disease consumed her rapidly; she hadn't realized what was happening and he insisted that she wasn't allowed to suffer pain. He held her hand as she died, and closed the eyes which had filmed over without a sign of recognition for him. Then he set out, heavy in heart, but determined to rebuild his life. He buried his personal tragedy with the coffin; he respected his wife's Catholicism and refused cremation, although he loathed the idea of burial and physical decay for her.
Then he steeled himself to forget the past, with the strength of a naturally powerful will, honed and hardened by pain.
He had his business empire and it absorbed him more and more. He had married again, hoping to provide a stepmother and a family background for Stella, who showed every sign of running wild, but it was a dismal failure. His choice was a widow, a divorcee near his own age. She had hated his daughter and divorced him after five years for mental cruelty. He was always travelling and paid her no attention. She was a stupid woman, but he admitted that his endless business trips left her trying to cope with Stella unsupported. His daughter was the epitome of teenage rebelliousness. Her personality was far stronger than her stepmother's, whom she set out to torment and defy at every opportunity. After the divorce, she claimed responsibility for the breakdown to her father's face. Julius retaliated by sending her to a well-known Swiss boarding-school. He hoped that a strict regime, coupled with a good education, would tame Stella and keep her out of serious trouble. Instinctively he recognized that trouble and his daughter were mutually attractive. His attempt to find a mother substitute had cost him a fortune in the divorce settlement, and left Stella the victor in the contest. He consigned her to what he believed was a safe place, and buried himself in his business.
He had met his present wife, Sylvia, just before Stella was expelled for getting drunk and smashing up her room. She was seventeen. She was flown home in disgrace, and he had no idea how to cope with her. She was a striking girl, bold and sullen looking, with the light of the devil in those smutty blue eyes. She had stood up to him, and that took courage. Stella was never short of that. She admitted being drunk. She taunted him with her abuse of the school's trust; she had deceived them from the beginning and done what she liked. He had come close to hitting her. Instead he slammed out of the room. When he had gone, she collapsed in tears, overwhelmed by the sense of guilt and rejection that drove her from one destructive act to another. In despair, Julius had turned to Sylvia for advice. They were lovers, but there had never been any mention of marriage. She was a widow, rich in her own right. When she offered to talk to Stella, he accepted, but with little hope. Sylvia pointed out that she had brought up three children through their teens after her husband died. She might just get through to his daughter.
It took quite a time, but she displayed a stoic calm that Stella couldn't shake. She couldn't gain her confidence, but she told Julius that his daughter was a confused, unhappy girl who needed to focus on something. She needed a challenge. She was very intelligent. That, she felt, might be the key. At Sylvia's suggestion, he arranged for tutoring and entered Stella for Witwatersrand University. He was so impressed and grateful that he asked Sylvia to marry him.
She didn't tell him till afterwards, that she had gone to his daughter's room and found her passed out drunk, the night before the wedding.
He had never blamed Sylvia's practical, well-intentioned advice for what happened to Stella. She had supported him through the trauma of the years that followed. She loved him, he knew that, and in his way, he returned that love.
Sitting opposite the girl that evening, he thought of Sylvia and missed her very much. He had come for sex from this paid tart, as a means of working off his rage and frustration with the situation that had arisen, threatening his precious industry.
He needed to talk about his problems with this uncomprehending audience, because it might help him to focus. Arthur Harris, he thought bitterly, the weedy enemy of his boyhood, inheriting his power through a Canadian roughneck, marrying Christa and making her miserable. His sister. She could have had any man in the country at the lift of a finger. He hated Arthur because he had a son, even though that son was stupid and oafish. He was still Julius's only heir. Families. Jealousy, rivalry, tragedy. The bombshell that was Stella, ticking but not defused â¦
Scowling at his thoughts, he held out the empty whisky glass for a refill. The girl gave him her bright professional smile, and brushed his hand with her fingertips as she took it. He noted that the second drink was stronger than the first.
âHave you had a good time here?' she asked. She had taken her seat again, and her skirt had ridden so high he could almost see her crotch. It didn't arouse him.
âNo,' he said, suddenly angry at the invitation. âI hate this bloody country; it's cold and wet and on its last legs â¦ everyone looking for handouts, and whinging. But I had to come here. I've got a stupid bastard running my business and he's made such a balls up I've had to come over and sort it out.'
âWhy don't you sack him if he's no good?'
âBecause he's a big shareholder. And he's married to my sister. I'm going to get him out, but it won't be easy.'
He swallowed hard on his whisky. He never used his real name; she had no genuine interest, she was just going through the motions.
That had begun to irritate him, too.
âWhat kind of business is it?'
How those impersonally smiling eyes would brighten if she knew, he thought. How she'd sparkle and lean forward at the mention of that magic word.
âI deal in jute,' Heyderman said.
âOh, that's interesting.' She was too efficient to try and hurry her clients. Some of them sat with her half the night, getting drunk and talking. It was such an insult to think she was interested in their piddling business worries or their old cows of wives who didn't understand them. She was twenty-four and she had never liked men or had a moment's enjoyment out of them. She had a girl friend that she was very fond of, and they had a lovely time together, making fun of the men. Girls didn't need them for anything but money. This was a good-looking one; she supposed he'd make his mind up soon and they'd go in and she'd go through the motions. Sometimes they gave a lot more than the fee if they thought you'd had fun out of them. She put up a marvellous show, nails and teeth and all. But he was talking again, and she resigned herself and sat down with another drink.
âI've got to vote him out,' Heyderman said. He had a mental picture of Arthur, looking grey and pained, being eased off the Board, and it delighted him. âI've got to weed out his supporters and win over the others to my way.'
She'd heard this sort of monologue many times before, and she knew what to say by heart.
âWho will you put in his place, then?'
âI think I've got a man,' Julius said slowly. âI've had my eye on him. He's young, and he's bloody clever. He's got flair, this fellow. He could run the thing my way.'
He was almost talking to himself, following his train of thought.
âHe's got no financial interest in the business â I've given him a job to do, and if he brings it off, well, I think he'd fit the bill. He can have some decent share options â¦ Am I boring you?' He shot the question at her and for a moment the smile slipped and he saw the hostility in her eyes.
âYou like to talk, I'm happy to listen,' she said. âI don't have to understand it all, do I?'
She decided that this was the moment, and she stood up, smoothing her skirt over her thighs.
âWouldn't you like to come to bed, sweetie? I'm ready, if you are.'
Julius Heyderman stared at her; he looked at her deliberately, from the pretty face, past the superb figure with its film-star breasts and little waist, to the long supple legs. And suddenly he knew what she was.
As he was fond of saying, he didn't run a business worth four hundred million without knowing something about human nature.
âNo,' he said. âI wouldn't. I wouldn't touch a lesbian like you with a barge pole. Here's fifty in notes. That's for the whisky.'
He heard her screaming after him as he left the flat. Five hundred pounds for that. Thank God she hadn't fooled him. The idea of touching her turned his stomach. Some men were titillated by the idea of normal sex with a lesbian. The thought revolted him. He hated deviants of both sexes. He had long abandoned the strict principles of his Dutch Reformed upbringing, but his prejudices remained.
He would have a few words to say to Reece. It was time he checked the names in his address book. He drove back to his hotel, feeling invigorated, as if the row with the girl had purged his frustration over Arthur Harris. Harris could wait, Julius decided, ordering sandwiches and a bottle of excellent claret. He only drank whisky and the very best wine. He believed that gin and vodka rotted the gut, and poor wine damaged the brain. Good wine, he maintained imperiously, never gave anyone a hangover. He put through a call to his wife Sylvia at their house on the Cape. The manservant said she was out with friends. Julius felt deprived. He not only missed Sylvia, he missed his own beautiful sun-drenched country; with all its problems and uncertainties, it was his homeland and the only place in the world he wanted to live.