"WILL YOU TAKE ONE of me? Now?"
Catherine turned away from the parapet when she heard Jamie's voice. The afternoon was hot, and she'd been lost in contemplation of the extraordinary landscape. The ground fell dramatically away below the vast palace wall to stretch for miles and miles of what was still at this time of the year a green expanse of field and meadow. Earlier she had sat outside a small bar, in a garden where every tree was covered with white blossoms. There had been a great deal of hawthorn, and several trees with leaf sprays and bunched, rather cottony flowers which Catherine had thought were rowan. Except for the white roses, they might have been in England. But here, in the garden of the enormous monastery of the Escorial, they could not be in England. This could be nowhere but Spain.
""If you'd move a little you'd get me in the foreground." Jamie lowered his voice to a whisper as he handed over his camera. "And that boy in the corner would give depth." Back home Jamie was in the school photographic society and every shot was a serious matter.
Catherine had given him the camera for his tenth birthday, six weeks ago now. Out of the corner of her eye she assessed the other boy. He was Jamie's age, and though he was leaning forward and she couldn't read the front there was something very familiar about his dark red tee-shirt.
She had to step back into the hedge to take the photograph precisely as Jamie had asked. When she had finished she handed back the camera and Jamie, his hand outstretched, walked across to where the other boy was sitting. His Spanish was better than Catherine's because he had had more practice, and he began to ask if the boy would mind taking a photograph of the two of them, of Jamie with Catherine.
"I speak English." The boy had got to his feet. He was taller than Jamie, and thinner, American, just an ordinary American boy.
Catherine wasn't surprised. He was wearing a Harvard tee-shirt, after all. Jamie stood smiling expectantly. It was obvious that he wanted a picture taken but for a still second it was as though the other boy hadn't yet spoken.
There were only the three of them in the small garden, small, of course, by palace standards. She couldn't remember seeing the child arrive. Jamie was slight for his age but this boy was perhaps tall for his, thin and anxious, even guiltily troubled. Catherine said, quite quietly, reassuringly, "Are you lost?"
Now, suddenly, he was nodding and seeming more hopeful. "I thought I could get round to the other side of the monastery."
Catherine had once lost Jamie in the Cheltenham multi-storey car park. She had been terrified. "No. The garden' enclosed. We found it quite by accident. I don't think many tourists ever get here." She wasn't entirely sure of her facts, but kept talking. "I've been to Boston so I recognised your shirt." That was before she had taken Jamie on. "I stayed in Cambridge, near Harvard Square. Mount Auburn Street. Do you know it?"
The boy looked so stunned she was alarmed. She said hastily, "Where should you be? Do you know?"
"The church courtyard, but I couldn't find a church. My father will be looking for me." He seemed to try to pull himself together.
His tee-shirt and clean white shorts were so new looking. The contrast with Jamie who was rather dusty and in clothes that clearly didn't matter, made Catherine more anxious than ever. She didn't know why.
"He'll be terribly angry. My father. He thinks I ought to speak Spanish better than I do."
Catherine saw the shadow of anxiety in the boy's expression deepen further. "Well," she said, "if he isn't here soon we'll work out a systematic plan of campaign." She didn't like the sound of the angry father. How awful, she thought, to be so frightened. At least Jamie looked at the world with trust.
"Yesterday we went to the Royal Palace in Madrid," Jamie said unexpectedly. "To see the armour. There are padded horses and tents from battlefields."
The boy didn't look any the less worried.
"We walked there from our hotel." Jamie went on. "We've been to see my grandmother and my grandfather and now we're on our way home. We're staying in the Hotel Carlos III. But today was so hot we decided to get the train here."
Catherine, not sure that Jamie was a help, tried to be reassuring. "We can walk back to the courtyard of the church. It isn't far. There's a train back to Madrid every hour so we can stay until you're found if you like."
"I live here now," the boy said.
There must have been something she'd misunderstood. Catherine had assumed he was a visitor, as they were themselves. "We live in Tewkesbury," she said. "In England. It's near where Jamie goes to school."
"I've only been here a day," the boy told her. "I might go to the American school." He looked baffled, disoriented.
Jamie took over. "I'm James Mortimer and this is my cousin, Catherine Mortimer. People call me Jamie."
To Catherine's surprise the boy shook hands with them both, standing very straight. "I'm Henry Galdos Powell."
"Not the second or third or anything? I'm James Mortimer the fifth." Her cousin paused. "All the others are dead," he said brightly.
Catherine gently chided, "Jamie." He wasn't consciously tactless, just an absorbed small boy who had once made a minutely detailed family tree with tiny stick drawings. She was never quite sure he was happy except that now, compared to this wary youngster, she saw how open he was, how naturally friendly.
Then suddenly there were other people in the entrance to the enclosed garden, standing under the stone doorway, and they were looking pleased and uncertain about what they had found. Was one of these perhaps the lost father? Catherine raised her eyebrows questioningly.
But the boy shook his head.
"Then we'll have to go out from here, then round," and she sketched a map in the air, "then back in again." She added encouragingly, "We can sit on the steps outside the church, and Jamie can read what it says in his guidebook."
Jamie was taking a last photograph. "It's a hundred years old; The guide book. I've got six from all over the place. They're useful because you can compare then and now."
Catherine passed the battered volume across to Henry, who smiled shyly and held the hard covers very carefully.
"I suppose it belonged to James Mortimer the first or second?" he asked.
"I'm not sure which." Catherine wondered how he had guessed that the books had been left to Jamie. They weren't valuable, just links with the past.
They made their way through the clipped hedges of the hidden garden and out towards the main forecourt of the vast monastery palace. It was too early in the year for enormous crowds, and this to Catherine made the fact that Henry still recognised no one among the tourists they passed somehow all the more disturbing.
"We won't leave you," she repeated, "but it might be sensible to give a message to the ticket seller or the guard." She didn't like to say that she and Jamie would eventually have to make their way back to the train. But that needn't be yet, she told herself, and they walked in a silent procession through the gateway and into the courtyard.
Outside the church they sat down in the shadow of one of the great pillars, and while Jamie named all the statues on the face of the building Catherine searched out two small packets of wrapped sweets, lemon yogurt sherbet and strawberry jam toffee. She left the sharing out to the boys.
Every ten minutes or so they shifted as the shadows of the pillars moved. It was too hot to sit for long in the direct sun, for Catherine and Henry at least. Jamie didn't seem to mind. They were discussing the metal hoop in the huge paving slabs when the boy said, "My father's here. We'd better stand up."
"Oh?" She hoped she hadn't sounded too astonished. A tall man was walking through the deeply shadowed entrance, but he was some way from the steps. He had to cross the courtyard. And he would hardly expect them to stand to attention. Other tourists were coming out of the great church door and Catherine turned as one of them, perhaps because of the American boy's tee-shirt, said an absent minded good evening. It was only then that she realised that the boys were both ramrod straight. Not just Henry, but Jamie too.
She stood up slowly. Henry's father was tall, lean, yet powerfully built. And he wasn't smiling. To Catherine, still in shadow, he seemed framed in the dusty sunlight, a dark avenging angel striding from the deepest night into the bright day. She held her head high and walked forward to join the two boys.
"Why did you run away? Julia is very annoyed. You will have to apologise." The English was perfect but the harsh voice wasn't American.
Catherine realised she was staring. To her it seemed that only fear was preventing Henry's open mutiny. She deliberately opened her satchel bag and checked that her purse and the train tickets were still where she knew they were anyway because she had seen them when she had been looking for the sweets. Then she re-fastened her bag. "Now that things have turned out so well--" Though privately appalled and not much of an actress, she showed only, she hoped, the very slightest trace of embarrassment. She went on, "--we'll get the bus to the station." She said a hurried goodbye for herself and Jamie.
From the father she attracted a thin glance of contemptuous courtesy; Henry, she thought, was now looking both relieved and dismayed at the same time.
Jamie didn't need more telling. He was too surprised to argue. They both ran out of the courtyard, across the great paved area and on to the street. They didn't stop till they were beyond the palace and near where most of the visitors' cars were parked.
"The bus!" Jamie shouted. "We can get it!" And they ran harder than ever into the main square, where providentially the bus driver noticed them, stopped, and allowed them to clamber aboard.
Jamie, utterly breathless, said, "That was clever." Catherine knew it had all been chance. She hadn'treally been running for the bus. The truth was she'd been running away from the great courtyard and the frightening and callous stranger.
"I can still see the palace," Jamie said later, as their train pulled out. "We didn't really say goodbye."
"Goodbye, El Escorial," Catherine said obediently. She was staring at their tickets, fixing her mind on reality but seeing golden dust through her lashes.
"Did you notice his camera? I could've told him about my old Hasselblad."
Catherine didn't know what she should say, but then the ticket collector reached them, and the subject was dropped.
* * * *
IN MADRID THE NEXT day was colder. Jamie decided they should take the funicular across the river. It was his trip after all. They'd walk from the bus. Jamie had worked out a route, but first he wanted to buy a postcard and Catherine waited in the hotel foyer, watching the to and fro as a large family was welcomed by the manager and her younger assistants. There were nineteen pieces of luggage, which Catherine had plenty of time to count.
As she raised her eyes from the final hatbox the doors to the street opened once again. Then, reflected in the panels of mirror glass behind the great desks, she saw with disbelief the tall unsmiling figure she had run from so precipitously the evening before. For a second she caught his sharp, cold glance and she sat down quickly at the small table where she had left her things.
He's going to pretend he hasn't seen me, Catherine told herself, magnetised by the knowledge that he was walking towards her. She gave all her attention to a folded paper map of the city. Aware that if Jamie came back he would be puzzled at her awkward behaviour she stood up to face her visitor, then almost sat right back down again as she met the searching intensity of his grey brown eyes.
Hearing once more his voice, low pitched and so perfect, Catherine had the greatest difficulty in concealing her sudden and consuming wish that he would go on talking to her forever. She wasn't at all sure that he didn't guess what she was thinking. She hoped not.
"I saw your small son out near the newspaper stand. Is he safe there? I mean, can he buy what he wants? My own son could not do so."
Catherine was so intent on listening that she scarcely took in what he said. There was the slightest pause.
"Jamie is my cousin," she explained, trying not to seem too mesmerised. "He speaks Spanish better than I do. I read better." She'd been about to challenge his assessment of Henry and she stopped, embarrassed, as she remembered their previous meeting.
"I didn't thank you," he said gravely, "for your help."
"There was no need."
"My son was reassured by meeting you when he did, and much less distressed than might otherwise have been the case."
"I'm glad we were there." It was as though her gaze was locked into his. She had to bend and pick up her bag. She could see Jamie waiting, but he was absorbed in the family and their mountain of luggage.
"Don't forget this." He picked up her guide book and as he did so an entire section fell to the floor, the rice paper thin leaves held together as though glued by the gold edging of the closely printed pages. "I'm sorry." He put the whole thing right before handing it over. "It seems so old an edition. Is it still useful?"
Transfixed, Catherine nodded, and held open the title page. "It's Jamie's. He has several. They came from his grandfather's house."
He read, "This edition 1906", then, "Property of Alexander James Mortimer, aged seven." All from the bookplate inside the front cover. "How old is he now?"
"Ten." She had made the bookplates. Jamie had added his age, the date and his address in very tiny printing.
"He is small. Though you would have been an extremely young mother." He shook his head. His gaze was very direct. "It's you who uses the book, I think. Your name is Mortimer? My son should have told you my name, but he is inexplicably nervous where I'm concerned and let you both run away."
"Catherine Mortimer." She felt a twinge of uncertainty. "Your son told us that he is Henry Galdos Powell."
"I'm Luis Galdos. Luis Galdos de Herrera. Powell was my wife's name. You understand the Spanish system?"
"Certainly." She knew she was going pink. It was only by merciful chance that Jamie wasn't here. He was quite capable of explaining carefully that children of Luis Galdos and Catherine Mortimer would be Galdos Mortimers. She said hurriedly, "Your son was perfectly polite but I could see that he was anxious about what had happened." She wondered if her tone sounded rather more critical of the father than she intended, then wasn't sure that he had even noticed. At least she hadn't suggested that Henry was frightened.
"He's been taught to be afraid of me." He glanced in her startled direction, unsmiling. "That's not meant to sound like a criticism of my wife."
They were staring at each other again.
Catherine said quietly, "No, of course not." His situation, it seemed to her, had a inevitable simplicity; for whatever reason, the boy had to live with his father.
"You said Jamie is not your son?"
"He's my cousin. His position is rather different. His parents were killed."
"You took over?"
"In a sense."
There was a shout from the far door. The foyer had a second entrance and someone was calling about a car. "I'm afraid that's me," he said quickly. Thank You again."