You would hardly have noticed Mr Santes at all had it not been for the queenly haughter of Mrs Santes.
She breezed from place to place with a kind of lofty tetchiness, and there wAs about her a kind of restlessness which no amount of attention would readily appease. She gave the impression of one who was usedto having in her train ,a retinue of underlings to cater for her smallest whim.
They were not there now however, and only Mr Santes came in the majesty of her wake . A small fattish many in his mid fifties ; a harassed look on his face, and when you looked at him he gave you that self pitying smile as if even he was sympathizing with you for his own preposterousness.
Mrs Santes was never without him. But it was Mrs Santes who took your attention completely - she commanded it. She eclipsed him in every way. He was like a moon orbiting her gravitational pull ; he was trapped in his orbit and seemed resigned to his fate . He had a round face set on a round body and his natural disposition you might have assumed to be jovial . His subservience to Mrs Santes was complete however and his own psyche seemed to lost in his apparent devotion to her .
But there was something so hideous about Mrs Santes that almost everything about her seemed as if it was over done .
I noticed her at breakfast that first morning in the hotel .
We were staying in one of those hotels the Portugese government had converted from the ruins of castles and monastries. They were fashionable and ranged from the comfortable to the luxurious Their rated varied accordingly . This particular hotel was one of the more expensive of the line.
We usually travelled iin a party of four .Our holiday ethos seemed to be to treat ourselves to one holiday of sloth for the year. The rest of the time we lived in penury . I was never sure which holiday I preferred afterwards ; the ones where the acccomidation was more Spartan or the more grandiose.;both had their ups and downs .
The hotel was perched atop a cliff , where in former times it was utterly impregnable against invasion from the Atlantic. Its ramparts extended for a half mile aroundre was a the grounds and the walk which was vertiginous was not for the faint hearted. There was a sheer drop of some four hundred feet to the Atlantic swell at its steepest . It was as foreboding as it was dramatic. On a calm day you could hear the rolling waves ; some rolling uninterrupted for a hundred miles crash against the cliff , with the rumble of thunder.
Over the millenia the waves had carved a labyrinth of grottos into the cliff face . Some of these had been developed as tourists attractions , flitted out with lighting systems to display the magnificence of the stalactites and the haunting carvings of nature.
Boat trips were arranged form the hotel to visit the grottos. It was recommended that you travel on low tide and in a westerly wind .
The decoration was quitea triumph in its balance of modern comfort blending with a maritime antiquity;modern in the bedrooms , yet retaining that sense of a former time of adventure and heroic bravado . The ghosts of swashbuckling sailors echoed in these wide corridors and the portraits of these noble sons of the empire looked down at you with a sense of sneering triumph. The menace on their warrior faces seemed uncannily undead and they seemed almost ready to set sail on the next tide .
There was a sense ofboth the military and royalty, in the big oak winding staicasees opening out ontomassive landings , from which the corridors extended to each point of the compass.
The breakfeast room looked out on the Atlantic. You could eat outside under the awnings , which they drew down when the weather was more clement . Otherwise you breakfeasted inside as we did the first morning we saw Mrs Santes.
She was anything but ordinary. What struck you first was the hair . It stuck out at various angles and there weren two different layers , giving the impression that it was a badly disguised wig.
It reminded me of the thatched cottages in the west of Ireland when a new thatch was being put down. - I couldn’t get rid of the image .
At first I was inclined to think it was something to do with a quirky sense of humour , but a second glance at her imperious demeanour suggested that she might not be at all the humorous or quirky type.
We had befriended a waiter who with the true hospitality of his race , and enhanced by my overtipping him perhaps ,was a constant sourse of information , most of if uninvited and quite useless. But he had warmed to us and treated us as his confidantes.
He was also a little ,shall we say dainty ,
He had evidently taken a fancy to me not only on acccount of my philanthropy ; there was more of the romance ,( so to speak ) ,about it.
I was oblivious to this and it caused some amusement among our little group of four .
His name was Eduardo , and he had that constant hang- dog look about him. He seemed to always be on duyty and I suppose that is where he acquired his personal arsenal of information about the guests.
We were in the bar later that first evening , when I saw Mrs Santes swishing by. Eduardo had just brought out the drinks.
- ooh that seniora she much trouble .. Ohh much trouble!!- he was in a state of much distress
Why particularly I asked though it somehow did not at all surprise me .
- Why . Why ? Senior .. Plis ..I tell you..First Eduardo he bring the suitcase to number 104 , then she decide no she want the sunshine in the morning not the evening , so Eduardo he have to bring back suitcases to number 206, then she decide the sun is too high in the early morning so , he have to bring the cases back again.! Eh ?.. No Senior … multo trouble - he said a little petulantly , and went on.
- and then last night Eduardo he bring her champagne , the best one in hotel , she dint like , she say it is too much gas .. Eduardo he get real mad.. But don’t say nothing.
Ohh !! Senior very difficulty for Eduardo .
He seemed to be addressing the substantial part of his complaint to me . Ah yes , I thought . I had got a handle on this woman , and I said to Marie with unconcealed triumph
- see what we get for mixing above our station .But Eduaedo went on
-a h! yes senior .. - and ..senora..- this signalled that the confidentiality he was about to betray was of special importance , and turning to Maria ..his voice dropped to a whisper
- ..today she tell the manager too much of noise at the pool.
- why doesn’t he ask her to leave Eduardo - I asked
- oh no senior !! No no .. !! - he said a little shocked as if Id said something blasphemous
- yes vamous her capice !! Vanoose !!
- No no ! .. Senior Santes .. They very rich people .. Multo multo rich..
He not say any thing .. I tell you .. Last winter .. In all December the Santes they come .. No one else in the hotel.. Only Santes .. He must open the hotel.. So no senior , the manager - he say nothing..
I suppose this explained to some degree her arrogant ill manners . But now it fascinated me even more to watch her. She was strident where she could have been assertive and destructive where she could gave been critical. It was evidently the way she lived and always had; with that heedless disregard for others which an ancestry in supremacy had bestowed upon her.
The best way to describe Mrs Santes would be to recall her coming into the breakfast room that first morning.
I have described the hair do , and I do not exaggerate, It was hideous . Maria kept telling me not to stare , but I couldn’t avoid it . The thatched cottage thing. M aria said that was the fashion , so I left it at that , but couldn’t avoid looking at it; like passing a traffic accident.
She came in to the room in a sort of ceremonial suddenness. Like the mother of the wayward daughter in the opera barging on stage , as the music in the pit ended the previous little drama. Mrs Santes came into the breakfast room with that same suddenness .
She stopped at self service counter which ran the length of the breakfast room table. She cast a disdainful eye as if affronted at the menial task of serving herself .She then came along linen table adorned with hams , cheeses , pineapple , strawberry, and an extravagant array of fruits, cerials, fruit jusices.
She plucked and poked at this and that disdainfully,, She had that look ofbarely concealed intolerance which she made no effort to suppress.
At the end of the table there was a magnum of champagne in an ice bucket. In so much as she was capable of allowing emotion her eyes lit up at this. I didn’t believe her eyes could possibly have ever lit up as her face seemed as starched as the linen.
Badly botoxed I had guessed . But she seemed sufficiently distracted by it that you might have even thought it had won her approval.
She had on her plate a few slices of this and that., but she set aside her plate now and filled two flutes of champagne and proceeded to a table where a small little man rose immediately and went to fetch her plate. This was Mr Santes. I had beeen studying him for some time as he sat alone at the table . He was so like a mellon with a cherry on top and cocktail sticks for kegs. I had , rather unkindly made a couple of such creations ; exchanging the cherry for a baby tomato, to get the effegy. Just then Maria came along and I said;
- Guess who
She looked at the figurines , then scanning the room she spotted Mr Santes coming back to the table
- Funny , very funny -she trailed off.
She too was now staring at Mrs Santes
- Don’t stare - I said .
Somehow we were expecting some sort of drama. Her lofty countenance seemed to command one .
But nothing was to prepare us for what was to follow.
She put her hand bag on ther floor and out of it crawled a creature which at first glance looked like a rat. Then it appeared he was some enfeebled animal posing as a miniture dog .
-don’t gape , I teased m as she was always scolding me for doing.
But neither of us could look away now as Mrs Santes took a saucer , put it on the floor and poured some champagne into it.
The other diners were all riveted to the scene ,
The dog looked about the room with a peevish yawn. He scanned the diners with obvious -displeasure, then reluctantly to the coo-cooing of Mrs Santes he looked at the saucer, went over sniffed and waddled away .He scrutinized the diners again now with open contempt., sniffed the air , sniffed the floor , the handbag bag then with supreme effort as if he were complying with a regretted promise he’d regretted he turned his attention to the saucer of champagne and began to slurp dutifully.
The other diners were in a varying states of revulsion . shock and perplexity at such a gross thing of shock and vexation, One woman put her hand to her mouth and lunged for the door, some of the guestspolitely got up and left.
We stayed to watch the performance through. I didn’t want to miss the second act and I felt sure ther e wss going to be one
- God ! Said Marie .
-I don’t know if I can eat.
- Hmm.. I see what you mean.
I was thinking how it was that wealthy people get away with things like thaht, if it were someone else it would have been seen as a monstrous thing , but with Mrs Santes it was indulged,
- I could mention it to the manager - I said .
-don’t bother . Ill just have some coffee.
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