by Susan E Willis
Earl Grey tea
I’m waking to the light streaming through the windows in our small but delightful room at The Treetops Hotel. I stretch my legs and glance over at Philip’s broad shoulder. My husband is wonderful, and I love him more and more each day we spend together. He grunts slightly in his sleep and I wonder if he is dreaming. Is he remembering the elephants that we watched at the watering hole last night?
It was such a long journey here to Kenya. A little over 4,000 miles but already we are loving the adventure together. Just us two without the children. It’s been a while since we spent any quality time together and when papa asked us to undertake his royal tour we willingly accepted.
I sit up slowly propping the soft pillows behind me. Papa’s health has been a concern to all of us lately. But he insisted upon seeing us off at the airport which was so like him to put his family first.
I think of the untroubled and restful day ahead with our plans to fish for trout in the stream and lunch at a nearby hotel. It will give us both time to relax after the arduous journey. There’s a soft knock on the door and I swing my legs out of bed just as Philip stirs awake. Breakfast arrives and the day begins.
We’ve returned to the hotel this afternoon. To escape the heat of the sun I’ve retired to our room to write some letters while Philip is strolling in the gardens. I sit in front of my dressing table and rub face cream onto my pink forehead. I’ve never had a happy relationship with hot sun and I always try to wear a hat: as opposed to Philip who instantly looks healthy and tanned. However, as most of our free time is spent up in Scotland, I don’t usually have this problem. I think of the breezy drizzle in the Scottish Highlands and smiling, I begin to write my first letter, ‘Dearest, Papa…’
Just as I end the letter with, ‘Your loving daughter, Elizabeth,’ there is a commotion out in the gardens. I look up to see activity at the boundary fences.
My private secretary, Martin Charteris, is striding across the grass towards Philip. I can tell even at this distance that his usual calm exterior is ruffled to say the least. Philip is shaking his head at him. I push the chair back from the desk and hurry to the window.
My husband is hanging his head to his chest. I watch him ram both his hands into the pockets of his knee-length shorts. Something is wrong and it’s serious because Philip can’t look Martin in the eye. I scarper towards the balcony doors and hurry outside into the blazing sunshine.
My first thought is of the children. I feel my stomach lurch at the thought of anything happening to Charles or Anne. The heels of my white stiletto shoes sink into the grass as I almost run towards them both. Perspiration is forming on my forehead and the cotton dress I’m wearing sticks to my back.
As I near them, Martin takes a few steps backwards away from us with his head bowed. I look at Philip whose eyes are filled with tears.
‘What?’ I cry. ‘What’s happened?’
He takes my hands in his. ‘I’m so sorry, Cabbage, but your papa died this morning.’