1940s Archive


Part IX

continued (page 2 of 5)

The dining room was dim, blinds drawn against the tropic January summer. Lady Cynthia sat directly opposite me and you couldn't help thinking when she glanced at you, of an English garden in twilight … a garden path with long rows of deep blue delphinium, quiet and wistful in the fading twilight. There was only the flaming brash hibiscus outside the window to remind you that this was the upside-down land below the equator.

“I'm doing it because,” continued Lady Cynthia to me, “I. …”

“If you don't care for this wine,” said Juan to Lady Cynthia, “I can give you white Bordeaux 1927 … that was a good year for white … very bad for red.”

In all the time I knew Juan, I never could decide whether he was really a little deaf, or whether he just loved sometimes to make extraneous remarks—at other times catching everything that was said.

“But,” said Lady Cynthia, “this is delicious. Chablis, no?”

Juan nodded. “1921,” he said. “Greatest wine year in a century.”

The white-gloved major-domo held before Lady Cynthia a great earthenware dish wrapped in a linen towel. From it protruded a huge silver ladle of antique design. She dipped into the deep dish and the Frenchwoman said, “Ah, the little lady clams. We love them. Does your cook prepare them à la Vendenne?”

“Partly,” said Juan, “but we call these clams à la cocinera India. Clams à la the Indian cook.”

“Ah, truly,” said the French lady after the first sip, “I can see that something has been added. An herb flavor I do not recognize.”

“Probably celantro,” said Juan. “I don't know what it is either, but it gives that delicate strange flavor. I find all manner of new herbs in my kitchen for which I know no French, even Chinese equivalent.”

“So,” I said to Lady Cynthia, “you are divorcing Buzzy …”

“Yes,” she sighed, sipping the juice from a clam shell. “I think he's been unfaithful … she's a Rumanian gypsy. She dances at a night club.”

“Therefore you want to escape civilization …?”

“What,” said Juan, “is all this about civilization?”

“I said,” repeated Lady Cynthia, “that I'd love to go somewhere that tourists don't go …”

“How about a little jungle life for a while?” I asked.

“You mean with panthers and snakes and Indians?”

I nodded and smiled.

“Yes,” she said thoughtfully, “I think I'd like that.”

Juan and the Frenchwoman took the conversation from us and it wasn't until after liqueurs were served that she again referred to the subject. She sat sipping tzuica, the prune brandy from Rumania of which Juan was so justly proud, produced in its beautiful lavenderish-purple bottle of exquisite proportions only on special occasions. I think he did it because the bottle was tall and slender and almost the color of Lady Cynthia's eyes.

“If you come for tea at the Maury tomorrow I think I can fix up a jungle trip for you that you'll like,” I promised her.

So it was that Lady Cynthia appeared promptly at five the next afternoon in the old gold-mirrored dining room of the Hotel Maury. Sandoval had come early and he had already consumed a generous quota of the tea cake known as Los Tronadores: the Thunderers—just why I couldn't say—but which was something like an icebox cake put together with papaya jam. Sandoval as usual was immaculate in white linen, his bronze Indian face in sharp contrast. His black hair gleamed wet from recent showering. He said yes, he was going back shortly to Pangoa, his village in the jungles. He was noncommittal about taking a Gringa with him. I had previously explained to Lady Cynthia that Sandoval was an entomologist, not a professional guide, but that he might consent to take her with him on some of his collecting trips. She could live at the inn of his sister-in-law, Leandra.

That day Lady Cynthia was all in the palest of pale beige, a huge sand-colored straw hat which she casually dangled from its ribbons instead of wearing, and her jewels were topaz surrounded by small diamonds. She spoke enough Spanish to carry on a conversation with Sandoval and she asked not unintelligent questions about the jungle. Were there many parrots? Sandoval said yes, also toucans and many egrets.

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