‘So kind of them' said Val, who had just removed the book from its place in the hall table drawer. ‘It's not Charles's writing and it sounds more like Belinda than Charles, from the little we've seen of her, just a bit over the top. Fondest love has grown rather quickly, given that we've only been with her for two days. Talking for Charles, I suppose. Still, nothing wrong with a bit of fulsome praise. Rather sweet, don't you think, Steve?'
‘I detect a hint of sarcasm. Not the best time for it. They'll be here any moment. Put on the kettle and comb your hair, maybe in reverse order.'
They had so greatly enjoyed their first stay they had asked if they could come again. Good country air would do wonders for Charles, said Belinda's email, especially in the dry atmosphere of the farm. His lungs had collapsed after he had rushed too fast up Kilimanjaro. He was brought down, by helicopter, even faster. He had been on a ventilator for weeks and even now, a year later, his voice sounded grazed. Steve and Val did not hesitate.
‘Of course you must come' Steve wrote. ‘It´ll be such a pleasure for us. This time, we'll be here during your visit. Val and I are so looking forward to spending time with you. And, of course, to getting to know you better Belinda.'
‘Poor fellow' Steve was sympathetic. ‘Always been a physical chap. Could have happened to anyone but I wouldn't have thought he'd be the one. He's so fit'. The men had known each other for decades, shared a flat in Johannesburg before he and Val had married, forty-five years before.
‘He should have thought of altitude sickness, with all the tramping up mountains he's done' said Val. ‘Think of what it cost to rescue him. The helicopter was just the start of it. You boys should realise you're past it now. Leaping up mountains is for kids.'
The dogs were the first to herald the visitors' arrival. O'Malley, the Irish wolfhound, launched his bass bark before their car had rounded the bend by the dam and entered the drive leading to the house. He ambled out to the courtyard, followed by Cinnamon, Justice and Fluffit the Yorkshire terrier whose small legs whirled her along in the big dogs' slipstream. Steve and Val followed, reaching the scarlet Mercedes, its roof open, as Belinda was saying ‘Cover your nose with your handkerchief, Darling. The last thing your poor lungs need is an allergic reaction to dogs. Good doggies. Shoo' she said ‘shoo'.
‘Welcome back to Africa' said Val.
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