Authors: Isobel Chace
SINGING IN THE WILDERNESS
Stephanie had thoroughly enjoyed working for her father in Persia, until he was ordered home under strange circumstances. Surprisingly she was instructed to stay and continue working for the new man who was arriving to take over.
Things became rather difficult when the
new man” turned out to be the man Stephanie had just fallen in love with at first sight!
and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness—And Wilderness is Paradise enow!
of Omar Khayyam (translated by Edward Fitzgerald)
Stephanie Black had never thought of herself as beautiful. On the contrary, she had long ago made up her mind that she was destined to be the practical support of her impractical father, a role that her delightful mother had never thought of as her own and was only too glad that her only daughter should take over as soon as she was old enough to do so.
Accordingly, Stephanie had looked after her parents’ home from a very early age and, as soon as she had been old enough, she had taken a secretarial course and had begun to look after her father in his work as well. Desmond Black worked for an international company specialising in telecommunications and other similar products. He had never risen very high in the firm—Stephanie had sometimes thought that he had never wanted to—and nobody had been more surprised than himself when the company had landed a contract in Iran and he had been sent out to Isfahan to co-ordinate the work of laying the cables and supplying the necessary equipment.
Stephanie had gone with him. She had enjoyed the few weeks she had spent so far in Persia. There had been very little work to do and she had come and gone from their temporary offices as she had thought fit, languidly typing a few letters for her father whenever he had asked her to do so.
It hadn’t occurred to her that her father should have been doing more. It takes time to settle in, he had told her, and she had believed him. At least, at first she had believed him, but as the days turned into weeks and
they seemed to be getting no further forward, she had become more and more concerned.
‘We’ll be here years if we don’t get started soon,’ she had reproached him.
‘You enjoy yourself while you can,’ he had answered. ‘I know what I’m doing! Surely you don’t doubt me, do you?’
Frankly, Stephanie did, but she was enjoying herself
too much to try to prod him into further action and had done a little less herself, and then hardly anything at all, until, in fact, that very morning when the blow had fallen. Her father was to return to the United Kingdom on the first available flight and, worse still, she was to stay on and work for his successor until the contract was fulfilled.
‘But I’ve never worked for anyone else but you!’ she had protested, more than a little upset by her father’s grey face and—could it have been relief that the work had been taken out of his hands
‘Maybe, love, but officially you work for the company, not for me. As you know what’s going on, it’s reasonable that you should stay on with the next fellow. You’ll probably like having more of a challenge than I was able to offer you.’
‘I don’t know that I can work for anyone else!’ Stephanie looked at her father with something very like panic in her hazel eyes. ‘It hasn’t been like working at all being with you!’
‘That’s probably why I’m being sent home,’ her father had returned gruffly. ‘Will you keep on the apartment
‘How can I? The new man will want it. It wasn’t hired by the company for a mere secretary, but for the boss! I’ll get a room somewhere—if I have to stay. But I’d much rather go home with you, darling!’
But her father had been unexpectedly firm about her staying on in Persia. ‘Your mother and I will have to learn to manage without you some time,’ he had said heavily. ‘We depend on you far too much. Why, good heavens, Stephanie,
could have made a better job of getting this contract started than I have! The equipment hadn’t arrived and I should have made a fuss about it sooner, but I was sure it would turn up in time—Oh well, no good crying over spilt milk, my successor will probably listen to you when you advise him to do something instead of letting things slide. I’ve been rather tired, though, recently. To be honest, I’m glad to be going back to England.’
All of which had only served to make Stephanie more than a little guilty. It was true that she had suggested that her father should have been more active, but she hadn’t nagged at him until something had been done. She had
been only too glad to follow his example and do next to nothing herself!
‘They can’t force me to stay!’ she had repeated under her breath.
‘No, dear, they can’t. But I can, and I’m going to. It’s time you had a life of your own, and you like it here. It won’t be for long, but it will give us all the break we need. You’re my daughter, Stephanie. I already have a wife and it’s time we got to know each other all over again.’
Stephanie had been hurt. ‘But Mother doesn’t want to know—’
‘Because you’ve done it all for her. A marriage is between two people and they have to make it work themselves. Not even their children can carry the burden for them. We’ve put upon you too much in the past, but you have your own life to live. It isn’t right that you should try to live your parents’ lives for them. I should have seen it before and perhaps I did, but I’ve always hated changes and having to make decisions that affect other people. It will do you good to get away from us for a bit and allow us to stand on our own feet without you. Will you stay for my sake?’
There had been nothing else to do but to give way. Yet now that she had time to think and to realise that she was going to be left behind in Persia, completely on her own, she acknowledged to herself that she was scared stiff. She had never worked for anyone else but her father, just as she had never lived anywhere but with her parents, looking after their comfort and cushioning them from the harsher realities of making ends meet and seeing that the bills were paid on time.
What would they do without her? Common sense told her they would muddle through somehow, but her whole being revolted at the chaos they would make between them of their daily life. Her father would never get to work on time, and her mother, charmingly vague as always, would turn night into day and sleep away the daylight hours without making any attempt to reduce the piles of washing-up that would await her in the sink.
Stephanie sighed, making an effort to put her parents out of her mind. Her father had been surprisingly effective on her behalf since he had made his decision to leave her behind in Isfahan. He had arranged for her to have a smaller apartment in the same block where the company hired all its employees’ accommodation, and had insisted on packing up his own things while she went out and spent her last afternoon of freedom before her new boss arrived.
‘Buy your mother a small souvenir that I can take with me,’ he had bade her, pressing a few notes into her hand. ‘She’ll like to know you thought of her. I’m afraid she’ll take it rather badly that you haven’t come home with me.’
‘I’m still willing to come,’ Stephanie assured him, hope rekindling that she might be able to persuade him after all.
‘Your work is here,’ he had insisted. ‘Be off with you, my dear, and make the most of the last few hours you’re officially working for me. Your next employer may not be so generous in giving you as much time off as I have. Not if he wants to keep his job,’ he had added with a touch of bitterness. ‘It always was beyond me, if the truth was known.’
And Stephanie had been unable to comfort him, because she had known that it was beyond him for the first day they had taken possession of the office the company had made available to them. Her father had been afraid of the problems the new telecommunications network had thrown up and, like the proverbial ostrich, he had hidden his head in the sand and hoped they would all go away while he was looking the other way.
In the end she had obeyed his wishes and had gone out, leaving him to do his own packing. The day was brighter than her mood and, for once, her surroundings failed to delight her. The first time she had seen Isfahan, she remembered, she had been overcome by its beauty. It was not only the buildings, magnificent as they were, it was something in the air, something even in the way the inhabitants walked and talked with an elegance not achieved elsewhere. Today, though, she scarcely noticed where she went, and was rather surprised to find that she had walked as far as the Maidan, the huge square where the Persians had once played polo in the days when Isfahan had been the capital city of the country.
Stephanie walked the whole length of the square, ignoring the covered maze of the bazaar at the end where she had come in, preferring to seek a gift for her mother at the other end where the Royal Mosque was situated and where there were a number of shops selling handmade artifacts of various types, all of them distinguished by the delicacy of which the Iranian is master.
She chose a nicely glazed pottery bottle decorated by a long-tailed bird in muted shades of grey and pink and blue. The owner of the shop wrapped it for her in a piece of paper, taking elaborate care to fasten it with string so that she could dangle the package from her fingers. When he had done, he bowed her out of his shop as if she had been visiting royalty and she didn’t notice that at the same moment someone else was trying to come in. They met in the narrow doorway, jammed up against each other. The man took a quick step backwards, put both his hands beneath Stephanie’s elbows and lifted her bodily out of the shop and on to the pavement outside.
Breathless, she became aware of his height and the solid impact of his body against hers. He had very bright blue eyes that sparkled in the sunshine and a mop of auburn hair that stood on end above an intelligent, bony face that appealed strongly to her. She found herself smiling up at him, her eyebrows raised in astonishment at his extra inches and the ease with which he had disposed of her.
‘Goodness!’ she said.
He grinned at her, his eyes amused. ‘You were on your way out, weren’t you?’ he reassured himself.
‘Yes, I was, though rather less precipitately. If you’ve broken my—’
‘I haven’t broken anything.’
She felt her mother’s bottle with cautious fingers. ‘No,’ she agreed, ‘but I’m beginning to know how the ball feels in a Rugger scrum.’
He laughed. ‘How does it feel?’
She made a face at him and shrugged her shoulders. Nobody, but nobody, had taken such a liberty with her since she had been a small child and had appealed to every man who came to visit her parents to swing her right off the ground by her hands. She had grown out of
such pleasures, of course she had, but she had been surprised to discover that there was still a childish bliss to be discovered in the helpless sensation of being swept off one’s feet.
He took her package out of her hand, hooking the string round h
s fingers and tucked her hand through his arm. ‘What now, honey
Have you any more shopping to do?’
She made a tentative motion of withdrawal, but, when he didn’t seem to notice, she changed her mind and spread her fingers on the fine texture of the cloth of the shirt he was wearing.
‘I thought you were going inside?’ she reminded him demurely.
‘That was before I met you,’ he returned, his gaze openly admiring her hazel eyes, the thick, dark lashes that surrounded them and which contrasted sharply with the pale gold of her hair, and the sweet, full lines of her mouth. ‘What are you doing in Isfahan
She hesitated before answering, wondering who he was. She had never met anyone before who had given her such an instantaneous sensation of delight as this huge man. If she had been a child again, she would have yelled at him ‘More! More!’ exactly as she had then when she had wanted to be swung off her feet again. But she wasn’t a child, and she had no business to feel like that.