The Grand Tour

Nine­teenth-cen­tury Greece is the set­ting for Ali­son Carter’s evoca­tive com­plete story.

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

An at­mo­spheric story by Ali­son Carter

CHAR­LOTTE RAINGER laid the let­ter down. Her friend Jane Law­son wrote monthly from Eng­land, usu­ally about the de­mands of fam­ily and home. This time, Jane had a favour to ask. My daugh­ter Ara­bella has set her heart on travel. And you will know from my past letters that Ara­bella can rarely be shifted from any pur­pose.

Ara­bella Law­son seemed, from Jane’s de­scrip­tions, to be a stub­born child with a love of ad­ven­ture. Ara­bella was al­ways sulk­ing about not be­ing al­lowed to read such and such a novel, or was re­cov­er­ing from a sprained wrist af­ter climb­ing a tree!

Now that she was eigh­teen, Ara­bella de­sired to make the Grand Tour of Europe.

I know what you will say, Jane wrote. She is fe­male! But such tri­fles don’t de­ter my daugh­ter. “What about Un­cle Harold in Paris, in that em­bassy, and your friend in Greece, Mama?” she says.

Char­lotte looked about her. The villa was in­con­ve­nient for guests. Rhea, her house­keeper, would have ex­tra work to do if Char­lotte agreed.

It was 1831, and Char­lotte was the widow of an English civil ser­vant who had been sent to the town of Dero­fina on the Aegean soon af­ter their mar­riage. She and her hus­band, John, had lived well in this bustling coastal town, and em­ployed a staff. Char­lotte re­called par­ties and trips to the beaches.

But her hus­band’s in­vest­ments at home had done poorly, and when he’d died sud­denly she had been told gen­tly by his lawyer that to re­main in Greece was wis­est if she wanted a com­fort­able life. “Here, one can live on next to noth­ing.” “I have next to noth­ing?” Char­lotte had asked, pale in her mourn­ing gown. She was but in her mid-thir­ties then. The lawyer had laughed. “Dear me, no, Mrs Rainger. You will never want for any­thing, plus you have the warm cli­mate here and the sea. I rather envy you.”

Char­lotte took his ad­vice and stayed. She’d grown used to the place. At the time of his ill­ness she and John had silently given up on the idea of chil­dren, so she had only her­self to con­sider.

Grad­u­ally she re­duced her staff and by now she em­ployed only Rhea.

Char­lotte wrote back re­luc­tantly to Jane, say­ing she would have Ara­bella if she could be taken as far as Athens, from where she would con­trive to fetch the child. Her hope was that this silly idea of a girl mak­ing the Grand Tour would per­ish in the plan­ning.

“Mrs Rainger, you need tea?” Rhea put her head around the door, smil­ing her gap-toothed grin. “No, Rhea. You can go to your room.” “Well to­day?” the house­keeper asked in her heavy ac­cent.

“Quite well.” Char­lotte waved a dis­mis­sive hand.

Rhea van­ished. Her foot­steps shuf­fled out on to the ter­race, a sound so fa­mil­iar that Char­lotte barely reg­is­tered it. Rhea was a widow, too – a tiny, wrin­kled crea­ture all in black, as was the lo­cal cus­tom.

She was ec­cen­tric, tend­ing to chat to her­self as she cooked, and she swept the villa and the ve­ran­dahs with zeal. Her cook­ing had slowly but steadily re­verted af­ter John’s death to what Char­lotte called “peas­ant Greek”, which would be a con­cern if the Law­son girl did come.

Char­lotte didn’t care what she ate, but if Ara­bella came to the Villa Daphne then things would have to change.

It would be an up­heaval if Jane’s child ar­rived. She would want en­ter­tain­ing, and Char­lotte never went to par­ties any more among the Bri­tish, or gave sup­pers. But to refuse Jane would be ad­mit­ting to how re­duced her life had be­come.

****

Another let­ter came just as sum­mer reached its broil­ing height. The mail must have been de­layed be­cause it had been writ­ten more than a month pre­vi­ously, and it an­nounced that Ara­bella would reach Athens by sea on July 18.

To­day was the 15th. Char­lotte tried not to be ir­ri­tated by the news, but it threw her into dis­ar­ray, and an hour later she was per­spir­ing heav­ily as she hur­ried back from town. She had man­aged to se­cure a car­riage in which to fetch the girl.

Did Jane not un­der­stand that not ev­ery­one had car­riages and horses wait­ing for trips here and there? The trip across to Athens would take most of a day, and she would have to reach the city in good time be­cause Ara­bella’s present paid com­pan­ion was to sail back to Italy.

I have a cousin near Bari, the let­ter said, who has been kind enough to tour that part of Italy with Ara­bella. Ara­bella’s letters say that she is thrilled by what she in­sists on call­ing her Grand Tour. Af­ter a month in France, Switzer­land and Aus­tria in the pa­tient com­pany of my hus­band’s aunt, she made her way to Rome by way of Mi­lan and the gal­leries of Florence. By now she will have seen Naples and trav­elled by coach to Bari.

Char­lotte, when I think of you in our school­girl days, and your spirit of fun, I know that Ara­bella will adore you!

Char­lotte climbed into the car­riage, winc­ing at a twinge of rheuma­tism in her knee, and con­tem­plated the hot jour­ney.

Jane seemed un­aware that peo­ple change. The girl of f if­teen, chas­ing a hen around the Law­son Suf­folk es­tate and pinch­ing pies from the pantry, was now a widow of forty-f ive, try­ing to sur­vive in an ad­verse cli­mate and among for­eign­ers.

ARA­BELLA was im­me­di­ately recog­nis­able at the port off ice. The girl was the im­age of her mother – tall and lanky, brown-haired. “Mrs Rainger! Ahoy!” The girl had picked up her skirts and was ac­tu­ally run­ning!

“I am so glad to meet you!” She kissed Char­lotte, their bon­nets crash­ing to­gether. “We al­most died at sea – the storms!”

“How dread­ful,” Char­lotte said, re­ar­rang­ing her bon­net. “Were you very ill? I dis­like sea travel.”

“I was very sick in­deed, and so was the silly woman Papa en­gaged to get me across from Italy. I had a won­der­ful time!”

“Well, I am glad to have you here,” Char­lotte said. “I must warn you, how­ever, that I live qui­etly.” Ara­bella blinked. “I see.” “We will f ind some­where to rest in the shade be­fore we go on.” Char­lotte looked anx­iously about her. “Where should we leave your bag­gage? They tell me Athens

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