JUDY was at the cooker, peering into a saucepan. She looked at them over her shoulder, her eyes widening when she saw Charlie.
“Corin just called,” she said. “They left their phones inside while they sat in their friends’ garden. He said they’ll come back, but what’s the point, it’s six now, by the time they get here ” She stopped and stared at Charlie as he put on an apron and went to the sink to wash his hands.
“Tell me what to do, Mrs J,” he said. “I’m your commis chef for the night.”
Behind Charlie’s back Tom nodded at Judy, who evidently decided to keep her questions for later. She relinquished her place at the cooker.
“That’s the redcurrant sauce for the venison,” she said. “Hollandaise for the salmon there, tarragon to be added. Tartiflette potatoes ready to go in the oven. If only we knew what Andrea Gilmore is going to order . . .”
“Ceviche of halibut and the venison steak, medium rare,” Verity announced, coming back from the dining-room.
“Good choice,” Charlie said approvingly. “She wants to see he can do innovative dishes and not mess up the short-order ones.”
“Except ‘he’ isn’t here,” Judy said, remembering the melt-in-the-mouth venison Corin had made on their first night.
“Leave the steak to me,” her commis chef said, so Judy took him at his word and went to arrange the fish and its accompaniments on a plate as Corin had shown her.
There were other guests’ starters to deliver, too, of course. Following Corin’s instructions to the letter, Judy and Iris got through them while Tom dealt with the wine orders. Judy was aware of Charlie, steaks lined up, warmed plates at hand, looking very relaxed. What was the story, she wondered, behind his heaven-sent appearance in the kitchen?
“Our VIP said her steak was excellent,” Verity reported later, as she brought
back an empty plate. Charlie’s smile stretched from ear to ear and Judy blew him a kiss.
“She’d like the trio of raspberry puds,” Verity added.
Judy was in her comfort zone now, and though she said so herself the three desserts looked beautiful on the rose-patterned plate.
Andrea Gilmore had just asked for her bill when Corin and Holly burst into the kitchen. Verity came back after taking the payment.
“She wants to pay her compliments to the chef,” she said in a horrified whisper, relief flooding into her face when she saw her son.
“What did she eat?” Corin asked, throwing on his white jacket, and Verity told him before he went through to the dining-room.
Holly sat down rather heavily at the table.
“I was afraid I was going to go into labour ten weeks early the rate Corin was driving. Phew, glad we got here in time. Although it should be you, Mum, taking the credit.”
Judy swept her arm round the room.
“A team effort,” she said, “including a brilliant commis chef.”
Have you been speaking to Sandy lately?” Roberta asked. She felt a little guilty about questioning Angus but Iris seemed to change the subject now when Sandy’s name was mentioned.
“We’ve seen him!” Angus said excitedly, to Roberta’s surprise. “We got Skype! It’s like magic, isn’t it?”
“Indeed it is.” Although she didn’t think she cared for the idea of having it herself. She would always feel that she had to brush her hair and tidy the room first you didn’t have to worry about that before making an ordinary phone call.
She got up from the path to stretch her back.
“I did Sandy my hanky trick,” Angus went on, “and he showed us the view out his window.”
“That was nice.” Brilliant, in fact. Things seemed to be moving along with Iris and Sandy.
Angus looked up at her from where he was crouched down industriously watering plants with his little can.
“Sandy said to come to Switzerland for a holiday but Mummy said no.”
“Why did she say that?” Roberta asked, feeling as disappointed as if she’d been rejected herself.
But Angus had turned back to the flower-bed.
“Look, Robbie, a worm!” He plunged his fingers into the earth. He had always loved the wriggly creatures in Roberta’s garden and gave them names, maintaining that he recognised them from one visit to the next. He’d been fascinated when Roberta told him that worms were both girl and boy.
Roberta knelt down again, her knees going back into the dents in her old tweed skirt.
“Is that Wendy-and-Walter?” She stopped. In one grubby hand Angus clutched a worm and something else.
He transferred Wendy-and-Walter to his other hand and dropped a ring on to Roberta’s outstretched palm. “It’s a treasure,” he said.
Slowly, Roberta rubbed the ring against her skirt to loosen the dirt. She put it on her engagement finger and held up her hand to look at it. Sunlight caught the emerald and the diamonds on either side of it and they glinted at her. She felt very peculiar, but in a good way.
“Angus, come on.” She jumped up. “We must go and see Donnie right now. Take Wendy-and-Walter with you if you want.”
Her skirt retained the bulges where her knees had been, and had a dirty mark from the earth rubbed off the ring. She scorned wearing gardening gloves so her fingernails showed how she’d spent the morning. But she wasn’t about to waste time beautifying herself.
The ring was back on her finger where it belonged and Donnie had waited for her answer long enough.