“THE GARDEN HAS NEVER LOOKED SO NEAT.”
“I like doing it. It was my main occupation in the castle. Mama and I took care of the plants together. The small vegetable garden provided food for us all.”
“Yes, I know. You used to be delivered cereals, eggs and other things, but never vegetables.”
Celeste then arrived at Adelle’s yard.
“We could stay here with you. Roxanne would look after the garden and I’d help her.”
Adelle gave her a kind and anxious look.
“Who knows how long we villagers will remain here.”
Celeste and Roxanne knew what she meant. Joseph had gone into details with the three of them about his telephone conversation with Mr. Harris. It seemed the latter suspected Leonard was on the verge of selling all his properties on Planet Eleven and spend his retirement years on Earth. Right now, he was on a trip on one of the nearest colonized planets and he was likely to undertake the long final voyage from there, without setting foot on these lands again.
Mr. Harris, his principal man of confidence for more than a decade, hadn’t been clearly informed of that, which had led him to bitterly vent his suspicions on Joseph that day. The only thing the soon-to-be deposed foreman – according to his own fears – was absolutely certain about was that Leonard had lately held talks with obvious potential buyers, that he hadn’t wanted his company on this trip, whose purpose he had not been informed of either, and, the clearest of all, that, once there, he’d given him phone orders to call all his daughters’ applicants to pick them up urgently. The fact that he wasn’t even going to be present at the delivery was quite vivid proof of his scarce attachment to anything related to this territory anymore, which he’d originally turned into his private medieval playground, costumes and dispersed small villages included. The villagers, whose tasks were merely to support themselves, to maintain the rustic environment Leonard liked and to take care of his guests when he brought them, were afraid a change of ownership would leave them out of place and, most probably, dispensable.
“Colonists needn’t worry,” Joseph had tried to reassure her. “This is still a sparsely populated planet. It is much easier – let alone cheaper – to relocate the ones already here than to bring new people.”
It seemed a perfectly reasonable assumption, but the changes coming were so deep it was impossible not to be nervous.
“Joseph says we’re leaving in a little while,” Celeste informed.
“Right, I’ll get ready.”
The four days at the inn had flown by for Roxanne. Almost without realizing it, the time had come to return to the castle and face her sisters’ destiny.
Once again installed in one of the backseats of the van, she glanced at Alan, who, with a serious expression, wouldn’t avert his eyes from the road, although Joseph was the one driving. They’d barely talked since that night. Apparently, Alan had taken up again his original sullen attitude, clearly for some reason related to Adelle. Since he’d inquired about her – which he obviously regretted –, Roxanne had paid attention to their behavior when they were together. Alan’s interest towards the innkeeper was so clear to her now. The woman was nice and kind to him, but it was hard to tell, due to her naturally affable character, whether there were any special feelings implied. Unwittingly – and without jeopardizing her regard for the lady –, Roxanne had analyzed the case from every angle an interested or jealous person would.
Adelle was a woman with many qualities indeed.
In the castle, they were received by a little less than infuriated Dora. The pantry was well stocked, but the absence of any kind of controller – father, mother, Mr. Harris or even Roxanne – had led them to all kinds of fears.
“This is all your fault!” she told her and Celeste as soon as they went in through the door. “Father is punishing us because of you!”
Joseph was the first to answer.
“Calm down, now. You knew we were coming today and that your fiancés will be here any minute.”
“And why should we believe you? Why hasn’t Mr. Harris come to tell us? Or Father?”
“I don’t know, Dora,” replied her brother, as understandingly as possible. “I really don’t know.”
“Are you all well?” asked Celeste, more to state Dora’s absurdity than out of real concern.
The girl in yellow didn’t bother to answer. She turned around, as arrogantly as she could, and began to climb the stone staircase.
“I’ll have a look,” said Roxanne, who didn’t trust the blonde’s leadership very much.
The other three were perfectly well. Too overwhelmed by the twirl of emotions to show rejection towards their eldest sister. They were, in fact – though they wouldn’t admit it –, relieved that she had come.
It seemed, some way or other, everybody in the territory could sense the whirl of changes.
“I’m so happy, Roxanne,” Blanche told her, as if trying to convince her. “It’s what I’ve been preparing for all my life.”
“I understand. But neither you nor I really know what you’re going to meet with.”
Leonard’s genuine eldest daughter had the look and the tone of someone who’s reflected on the matter for a long time.