Unknown by Unknown

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put that right and allow you an extra sum for expenses.” He smiled, his plump, swarthy cheeks ballooning each side of well-shaped teeth. “I do not ask for a prompt decision. In three years you can earn three thousand pounds. Consider it well, my son.”
    “Thank you, sir.”
    Rodrigo watched the passing trees, nodding appreciatively at a clean, wide cross-path. The Portuguese planters were less meticulous, but capable of great admiration for what they deemed unnecessary labour.
    “Mr. Caswell is a fine manager. He gets things done. You find him a hard master?”
    “Occasionally, but he generally turns out to be right.”
    “There is no . . . trouble between you white men?” The enquiry was suave, unpointed, except for the hesitation.
    “Trouble? No, why should there be?”
    A shrug. “One woman, four suitors. She is refreshingly unsubtle, that girl, and too young for a man like Caswell.”
    The car shuddered over an exposed root. Sweat gathered in the palms of Roger’s hands and under the open revers of his collar. For the first time in his adult life he knew a murderous impulse; he wasn’t quite sure against whom.
    Two full minutes passed before he was able to say: “Mr. Caswell dislikes women. He’s tried all ways to get Phil to leave the island.”
    “I believe that,” Rodrigo assured him. “However the girl attracted him, his duty would come first. But once the duty is done, once the girl has chosen to stay . . .” He snapped his fingers. ‘Tell me, my boy, have you heard him coaxing the young lady to go since she is installed close to him? No? I thought not. Is it your opinion that he still dislikes women?”
    “He speaks to her as if she were a child!”
    “You are deceived? I am not.” He gave a throaty laugh. “No man could dwell within yards of an appealing young woman in this climate and these conditions without being aware and desirous. Not even cold-blooded Mr. Caswell. There was an incident yesterday afternoon when this girl . . . but never mind.” Rodrigo laughed magnanimously. “She is able to take her pick. Who will blame her if she prefers the manager to his employees?”
    Further comment from Roger was unnecessary. Astartes hummed an airy tune which nicely filled in till they reached the abrupt termination of the road, and when they parted he held out a moist hand and reiterated his earlier invitation. Roger returned thanks and a blank smile, and politely waited till the mule procession was out of sight.
    He was half-way back to the waterfront before he could think clearly, and by that time the guttural insinuations had grown a thin skin of unreality.
    Still, like the worm that curls at the heart of a peach without apparently damaging the fruit, during the following days the talk with Rodrigo sometimes made itself felt and caused him restlessness and dissatisfaction.
    Roger slid back into his groove, but derived less and less pleasure from contemplation of the future. When Phil taxed him with being morose he blamed the appalling heat, yet he still asked her up for tennis.
    One Saturday, when she appeared with her racquet, looking sweet in crisp white shorts and a silk shirt, he linked an arm in hers and persuaded her to walk through the bush to the rocks that overhung the beach. He dropped down in the shade of a tree, tugging her hand and patting the springy turf beside him.
    “It’s too soon after lunch to play. Talk to me, Phil.” He touched the racquet which lay across her knees. “Did Caswell give you this?”
    “No. Julian’s spare was too heavy. Matt got this for me from Lagos. It’s warping already.”
    “Aren’t we all?” Quickly, he amended, “Not you, Phil, because for the time being you’ve got all you want.” His fair skin darkened, but whatever he had been about to add remained unsaid. Instead he pulled his mouth into a grin and raked through his lank, wheaten hair. “Lord, I need a haircut! Don’t you long for shops and hairdressers and parties?”

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