Separate Bedrooms

By: Anne Weale

On the morning of her marriage to a man whom she liked but did not love, Antonia Marlowe, the daughter of an Englishman who had spent most of his life in Spain, sat in her marble-floored bedroom in a great house in Valencia, and contemplated her wedding night with a sudden shiver of apprehension.

At the time of her engagement two months earlier, marriage to Cal Barnard, the dynamic young English industrialist, had offered a tempting escape from the increasing unhappiness of her life since the death of her adored father. But now that the moment had come to commit the rest of her life to someone who, in many ways, was still a stranger, she was filled with doubt and trepidation. She sat at her dressing-table, while the most skilful hairdresser in the third largest city in Spain arranged her hair for her wedding and her mind went back to the day she had first set eyes on the man who had never yet kissed her with passion, but who by tonight would be her husband.

Although she had been born in Valencia and grown up there, Antonia was very much her father’s daughter. From her beautiful, frivolous, easily influenced mother, Dona Elena, she had inherited only her large eyes and slender figure. Her hair was fair like her father’s, and she had his temperament. This, since his death, had made it very difficult for her to bear the restrictions of her life in the house which, when she was born, had belonged to her Spanish grandparents, and which now was ruled by her mother’s domineering sister, Tia Angela.

It was Tia Angela who had decided to sell the Finca de la Felicidad, a weekend house on the side of a mountain some sixty miles south of Valencia. It was an old farmhouse which John Marlowe had bought and restored, and furnished in the English manner, making it cheerful and homely, unlike the mansion in Valencia which was gloomy and formal.

Antonia had been aghast when her aunt announced this decision. The finca was Antonia’s favourite place, the scene of all her happiest memories, and the only house where she felt completely at ease.

Although to John Marlowe the pleasures of life in his adopted country had far outweighed the disadvantages, one thing to which he had never accustomed himself was the habit—perhaps a legacy from the Moors who had ruled Spain for many centuries—of excluding the sun, even in winter. At the finca he had had many of the windows enlarged and, except in the two hottest months of July and August, the shutters had not been kept closed or only slightly ajar as was the case with the houses in the nearby village.

Antonia had grown up sharing his preference for rooms filled with light, and she found the funereal dimness of the family mansion infinitely depressing. At the finca she felt a different person, and the prospect of losing her haven had been another painful shock in a year which had already brought her much grief.

She knew it was no use appealing to her mother to contest her aunt’s decision. Dona Elena was incapable of standing up to her strong-willed elder sister.

Antonia suspected that her aunt had decided the finca must be sold for the spiteful reason that she had never liked her English brother-in-law and had been jealous of her sister’s devotion to him. She had never been able to bully him, but now that he was dead she could bully his daughter whom she had always considered to have had far too much freedom.

Without spoiling its rustic charm, John Marlowe had installed many luxurious features which made the finca a property worth a great deal of money. Only someone of wealth could afford such a place and, to Antonia’s relief, prospective buyers were few and those who looked did not buy.

But one day one of her uncles, a widower who was the managing director of a large manufacturing company, announced that an English businessman whom he knew and liked was interested in the finca, and he had invited Senor Barnard to spend a night or two there on his way from Alicante to Valencia.

Thus the following weekend, with Tio Joaquin and her mother, but not Tia Angela who disliked the country, Antonia set out for what might be one of her last visits to the house she loved.

They set out early and arrived about eleven, dropping Antonia and the luggage at the house before going on to visit a former servant of the family who was now gravely ill.

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