Installment One - Installment Two - Installment Three - Installment Four - Installment Five - Installment Six - Installment Seven - Installment Eight - Installment Nine - Installment Ten - Installment Eleven - Installment Twelve - Installment Thirteen - Installment Fourteen - Installment Fifteen - Installment Sixteen - Installment Seventeen - Installment Eighteen - Installment Nineteen - Installment Twenty - Installment 21 - Installment 22
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
Jaap, sitting composed and silent in the passenger seat, was thinking also. He had seen several sophisticated young women come and go in the doctor’s life. He remembered one – Juffrouw van Trott, wasn’t it? – whom he’d overheard complaining, “You’re like something from the past, Max. Frozen in time.” That particular lady was ambitious professionally and socially, Jaap had thought, with no interest in rearing children; the van den Nies ran toward large and loving families. Even the occasional girlfriend with babies on the brain seemed to see much to change in Maximilan. Jaap acknowledged his prejudice, but he thought there was no need for his boss to take a spin class, modernize the elegant townhouse in Amsterdam, get rid of his dogs, or take any of the other actions pressed on him by various acquaintances.
As they arrived at Josh Brown’s polyglot cabin-mansion, Jaap remarked, “A lovely holiday, sir, and a delightful family. Miss Tory perhaps especially.”
“Yes,” replied his employer. “I agree, Jaap. A delightfully old-fashioned girl.”
“But, Mr. Max,” exclaimed the housekeeper, “I was just thinking that yours are old-fashioned ways.” Immediately he regretted the outburst, which suggested too close an interest in private matters. Max just laughed, though, a rueful chuckle, and entered the house looking thoughtful. He automatically turned on his phone; his lovely manners ensured he turned it off when attending social events, and good sense left it off when he was driving. His mother had left a message asking that he call as soon as possible, “but no emergency,” she added. Given the time difference, he proposed to wait until morning, and slept soundly through the night.
Setting down the telephone the next day, he was glad to have Saturday free from work pressure. His mother had set a knotty problem before him. “Of course, you needn’t trouble yourself with this,” she had said, introducing the subject after a brief exchange of news. “You know Mrs. Nepala – Luisa – who came from South Africa with the De Groots? She cared for Christina from babyhood. Now she’s in Paris, with Mevrouw and Minjheer de Groot, and quite old. Christina came to visit recently, and I asked after her. I got the impression that Mrs. Nepala is elderly, not well and homesick. She left all her children behind her, and sees them no more than once every few years. And she’s quite arthritic. Dearest, I know you and Christina are friendly, but I have never been comfortable that that family behaves as they ought to their household. Christina spoke as if she was deeply concerned, but she does not seem prepared to do anything to address the situation.”
Max broke in before his mother began one of her digressions. “What is it you think I ought to do?” he asked.
“That’s just what I don’t know,” his mother declared. “But it sounds as if Mrs. Nepala would quite like to go home and spend her last years with her children and grandchildren, and I think there’s a great-grandchild or two. But the De Groots seem to have no inclination to help her get there.”
“I remember her very well, of course,” he replied. “I’ll give it some thought, and see whether I can come up with some solution. It will need to be delicately done, I can see.” He then described his Thanksgiving to a singularly interested parent – leaving out a few of the details, of course. Hanging up with the usual assurances of mutual love, he knew he would need to get in touch with Christina before drawing any plans for Mrs. Nepala’s assistance.
He felt oddly reluctant to telephone his childhood friend, who had grown up to be a convenient and amusing companion for the occasional evening out. There had never been more between Christina and him, but lately Max had felt some pressure to see more of her. As she slipped into her thirties, she seemed to be deciding to move beyond the brief romances she had enjoyed with several very eligible men. Settling down was the ‘right’ thing for a member of the adel – the Netherlands’ very minor aristocracy – to do at her age, and Max sometimes wondered if she had an eye on him as an appropriate husband. He hoped not; they were clearly mis-matched in important ways, but it would be sadly awkward to have to point that out to an old friend. Still, he remembered Mrs. Nepala fondly and wanted to help – he could handle Christina if necessary. Never one to shirk a difficult task, he found Christina’s number and dialed.
He raised the subject of the elderly nanny and housekeeper with tremendous tact. Christina confirmed that Mrs. Nepala hoped to return to her home town, now in the young nation of Namibia, formerly part of the country of South Africa. “Mother and Father no longer find her useful in the flat,” she elucidated. “But they’ve allowed her to stay on there, as the provisions in France for elderly immigrants are unacceptable for such a valued servant, after so many years. She’s never saved up any of her salary; instead she sent most of her money back to Otjiwarongo. As she’s not a European citizen, there’s no pension available. My parents would gladly pay her airfare to Windhoek, but she is afraid to travel alone, and she’s horribly arthritic. Her hands, Max, are simply frightful. I hate to look at them. And now she’s been diagnosed with something quite dreadful – I think a heart condition of some sort.”
“Why, Christina,” Max said, playing a part, “I wonder if I might assist. I have a good friend in that part of the world who has asked me to visit a clinic he runs outside Windhoek. I am planning to join him in a week or two, when I finish up here in New Hampshire. It would be a simple matter to arrange my flight through Paris, and provide Mrs. Nepala an escort.”
“Max, how much too kind of you. I must look at my own schedule and see whether I could arrange to join you. I’ve been asked to chair a gala committee for a St. Nikolaas Day ball, but I’m sure we could work out something that would allow us to travel together.”
Max murmured indistinctly, and made a mental note to try to plan his travel to encompass the saint’s day. He knew what kind of a traveler Christina was, and with an elderly patient to attend to, he had no wish to have to cater to the younger woman’s whims and demands as well. Offering his regards to her parents, he ended the conversation and began his planning in earnest.
Meticulous and well-traveled, Max was an expert at organizing his trips. However, the needs of a timid, elderly and arthritic companion added complications to this effort. He pondered the possibilities as he reviewed his work schedule and made the necessary adjustments. He considered asking Jaap to accompany him, to help ensure Mrs. Nepala’s comfort, but a woman’s company would be far preferable in public accommodations. His mother was awaiting the birth of Joke’s first child, and his youngest sister, Pleane, would be more of a nuisance than a help. Nanny Winton was of advanced age herself, and Sitska, his cook, was a nervous traveler. Idly, he pulled out a leaf of writing paper and began a bread-and-butter note to the Bird family.
Here was another complication, he thought. Tory would be the perfect travel companion, of course.
By the following afternoon, he still hadn’t thought of any better solution to his dilemma, nor even one almost as good. Wishing he could have brought one of his dogs with him to the U.S., to provide encouragement and diversion on his presumptuous errand, he headed off for the farmhouse to make his proposal. He found the family gathered around the coffee table in an atmosphere of distraction. Nonetheless, they welcomed him warmly; Professor Bird thrust a mug of tea into his hand, and Emma put a couple of cheese straws and a pumpkin custard on a plate for him. Dr. Bird, Jane and Aunt Lindy were discussing when the traffic on route 93 would be worst. Tory smiled from the rocking chair, her excuse for not rising to greet him when he entered was obvious: both Fiona and Titus were curled up on her lap.
No one questioned his arrival in the family circle, and Max was quite content to bide his time. Conversation ebbed and flowed for 20 minutes before the twins leapt up and began berating each other for delaying their departure. Tory, Max was amused to see, stayed right where she was as the bustle of departure began. “Don’t get up,” Emma insisted, unnecessarily, and swooped in for a goodbye kiss. Neil did the same, and the doctor stood to shake hands with them both. They flew out together, accompanied by Jane and their parents and Great Aunt Lindy, while Tory continued her gentle rocking.
“I am hoping for a word with you,” Max said to her. “I’ve come to beg a favor.”
“Oh, sure,” Tory said, “anything. I’m happy to help.” Max smiled at her easy agreement. “Not so quick,” he cautioned. “This is international travel and a private nursing job, not just ‘could you water the plants,’ or whatever you’re thinking.” He grinned, then; her friend Max. With sudden, devastating clarity she realized friendship was not at all what she wanted from this man. “Oh, dear,” slipped from her thoughts to her mouth, and Max looked alarmed at the real dismay he heard.
“Tory, I’d no thought of upsetting you. Of course I can make other arrangements, as my proposal distresses you.”
“Oh, no,” she exclaimed. “Not that. I was thinking of something else. Do tell – what’s your, um, proposal?”
Before he could explain, or delve further, Dr. and Professor Bird and their eldest returned to the living room. He turned to Tory to ask, “Shall I explain?”
“Max wants me to do some private nursing,” Tory told the other three, while her thoughts spun madly, returning over and over to the key idea, ‘I love you.’ The revelation having burst on her so powerfully, she was sure she would agree to whatever he asked. ‘I really love him,’ she thought again, with a feeling of awed wonder she struggled to keep from her face. “With international travel,” she added aloud, impressed by her ability – she hoped – to seem normal despite her churning emotions.
Her mother looked thoughtful, Dad unaffected, and Jane a trifle wary. “Where are you going?” Mother asked.
“A bit of background,” Max began, and gave them the bare bones of Mrs. Nepala’s story, without getting into the specifics of the De Groot family’s response to their housekeeper’s plight. “As I need to visit a friend in Namibia, I’m planning to route my trip through Paris next week, meet Mrs. Nepala there and escort her to her home. Given the exigencies of international travel, and her retiring disposition and frail health, I hoped Tory might accompany us and help ensure her comfort. We’ll be able to fly directly to Paris, but then will need the long flight to Johannesburg, and a change of planes there for the shorter flight to Windhoek, and rather a long and bumpy drive to her village. I know Luisa will be more comfortable, physically and emotionally, if there are two of us to attend to her needs, and my friends and family all have other commitments at the moment. Of course I thought of Tory, but I shall understand entirely if you’re not able to assist, especially at such short notice.”
Tory was still reeling from her sudden up-rush of emotional awareness, and Max’s words had added visions of zebras, giraffes and the sandy expanses of savannah to the images of Max and a hopeful family dancing in her head. “I’d love to help,” she agreed quickly. “I’ll talk to Dr. Bachman first thing tomorrow. Janice is usually happy to re-join the team when I’m away, and especially just before Christmas. So I’ll let you know by noon. I’ll need a visa, right?”
“I can take care of that,” Max promised, “if you’ll get me your passport information via e-mail tomorrow. The De Groots will cover your travel costs, including local currency for incidentals. I shall see to all the tickets and accommodation, and hope you need do nothing to prepare for the trip other than pack. May I propose we plan to spend three or four days in Namibia? My friend Everard will be able to arrange a brief visit to one of the national parks, where we might spot some of the more exotic wildlife.”
Everyone sat silent for a moment, mildly stunned by the rapid pace of developments, but Tory’s father continued the focus on the practical aspects of a sudden trip to a distant land. “Malaria isn’t an issue in the drier parts of southwestern Africa,” he noted, “but we’ll check on the specific areas you’re visiting and get you started on Atovaquone if necessary. Are you up to date on typhoid and hepatitis?” Tory nodded assurance, thinking of the careful entries in her travel medicine booklet.
“Winter in Paris, summer in Namibia,” her mother contributed. “Any idea when the rainy season is?” she asked Max. He smiled ruefully.
“It’s just starting,” he admitted. “And while the days will be hot, I believe the nights can be on the cool side, though obviously not as cold as Paris will be. Tory,” he said, standing and holding out both hands to her, “I can never thank you enough for your generous help, nor apologize sufficiently for asking this of you, with so little notice. You have eased my mind considerably, though, and I believe you will be of invaluable assistance to a wonderful woman, who will benefit enormously from being able, at last, to go home.”
She put her own hands into his with the trust of a child, vaguely noticing how small they looked settling into his vast and comforting grip. “I’m happy to help,” she assured him, smiling up guilelessly. “It sounds like it could be great fun, and I look forward to meeting your friend.”
At that, Max took his leave of the family, and as she heard the door close behind him, Tory dropped back onto the couch in amazement. Her mundane life seemed, suddenly, truly extraordinary. It wasn’t the sudden trip to the world capital of romance, with a whirlwind tour of a young and fascinating country as well. Instead, she was astonished to find herself deeply, genuinely in love at last. She considered the implications and suddenly realized she would need to resign herself to the life of a spinster aunt; Max had made clear that she wasn’t his type, and she knew very well indeed that he wasn’t a good match for her. She consoled herself with the thought that she could look forward to some delicious daydreams, though!
Meanwhile, back in the here-and-now, Jane was looking at her in a way that promised a serious talk, soon. Their parents having walked down the hall to settle into their shared office, looking up Namibian culture and health risks according to inclination, Tory took the initiative with Jane. “Paris,” she said enthusiastically. “I hope I get a few minutes to climb to the roof at Notre Dame.”
Jane chuckled at her little sister’s opening gambit. “You’re okay with this, Tory? Really? I’m sure he can find a travel nurse, or I can find one for him. Are you going to be okay traveling with him, for at least a week? This is one seriously mixed message, given what you told us Friday. You’re just friends; you won’t be alone with him – and suddenly you’re jauntering off to romantic Paris together, and going on a cozy safari.”
“But you can tell he’s not thinking of it as anything romantic, right?” Tory checked with Jane. “He’s so obviously just thinking about how he can get this task accomplished, and I could be anyone or no one or a robot for all he cares. He just wants someone who can accompany an old lady to the bathroom at the airport.” They both laughed then. If she had any remaining reservations, Jane packed them into her overnight case and took them with her when she and Great Aunt Lindy drove away after dinner.
Tory had packing of her own to do, obviously. First she had to pack up her ridiculous romantic notions and consign them to an emotional attic. That wasn’t possible, of course; her feeling for Max was strong. However, as a rational creature, she could tell herself that her sudden epiphany on Sunday afternoon didn’t really represent some mystical experience of true love. A few days of excitement, constant activity and family reunions, a warm fire and a couple of pretty memorable kisses, combined with an overactive imagination, had resulted in an intense surge of feeling. By Monday afternoon, she thought she could already feel it passing off. Minutes later, she could feel it returning, as strong as ever. So she redirected her thoughts to the wardrobe she needed to pack – Dr. Bachman had booked Janice to cover for her without difficulty, and encouraged her to assist Max, for whom he had developed a strong liking and respect.
So Tory turned her attention to actual packing. She needed to figure out a wardrobe suitable for winter in Paris, a hot safari with bouts of heavy rain, and several long airplane rides, and fit all of it into a carry-on. Fortunately, her hiking clothes would cover the Namibian part of the journey, and two pair of convertible nylon trouser-shorts, three technical fiber t-shirts, a wide-brimmed hat and a rain jacket squashed into the bare minimum of space. With space on her mind, she opted for sturdy sneakers instead of her hiking boots, and added several pair of socks and a couple of sports bras. She always threw a swimsuit into her suitcase – it took so little room, and she’d been caught once, in a Louisiana heat wave, without one.
Tory was never an avid follower of fashion, but when she wasn’t hiking (or biking, gardening, working...), she enjoyed dressing well. She hung her go-to outfit for long plane rides in the closet: a loose-fitting, loosely-knit dress with deep pockets in tiny checks of violet and black, black cotton leggings, a deeper purple, oversized jacket and low boots. The dress and leggings were as comfortable as pajamas but a lot more stylish, and the boots were comfortable for city walking. She could mix them up with tan tweed slacks or a gray twill skirt, and added a cream pullover and the lavender cashmere twinset Jane gave her on her last birthday. That would give her enough to create a variety of outfits for several days. She tucked in her jewelry bag, with a few pairs of earrings and a string of semi-precious beads in many colors.
Her big purse – the ‘personal item’ allowed by the airlines – held her toiletry kit, a long sleep-shirt, khaki slacks and a blue-gray sweater. It also had room for a couple of magazines, her e-reader, a ziplock bag of trail mix and a smaller travel purse, with wallet and other necessities. Finally, Tory added two spoons and a cup specially designed for arthritic hands. She had taken them, with Dr. Bachman’s blessing, from the office patient-care packages. She would have liked to add the fork and knife as well, but knew those would cause problems at security!
It seemed amazing, but just one week after Thanksgiving, she was driving down to Boston with her parents – they on their way back to Turkey, she on her way to Africa. She was to meet Max at the airport for an evening flight, and on Friday morning, they would be in Paris.