dear tiberius; (aka nurse nolan)

Advertising Download Read Online

 

 

 

Dear Tiberius

Susan Barrie

 

Formerly published as Nurse Nolan

Harlequin Romance

 #580

 

 

 

Lucy wasn’t sure of her feelings. Sir John gave his invalid daughter, Miranda, all that money could buy -- but the child craved love. As her nurse, Lucy became the object of Miranda’s affections -- reluctantly, because her position was only temporary. She felt concerned when Sir John brought home Lynette Harling, a temperamental ballerina uninterested in the role of stepmother. But was Lucy’s concern for her patient or because of her feelings for Sir John?

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

A playful gust of wind t
ore along the terrace and was very nearly successful in lifting Nurse Lucy Nolan

s cap from her neat dark curls. As she reaffixed it firmly—taking care this time that no other freakish zephyr should deprive her of it altogether—Miranda, in her wheelchair, put her head on one side and regarded her with interest.


Has anyone ever told you how pretty you are
Nurse Nolan?

Nurse Nolan, cap once more secure, and every other item of her precise dress exactly as she herself would have approved of it, put a finger beneath her chin and appeared to consider.


Well, now, since you mention it—yes! Numerous times, in fact! Such numerous times that I

ve forgotten half of them.

Miranda giggled delightedly, and nuzzled her head against the cushion behind her.


You know,

she said,

I think you

re saying that as a kind of joke, but
I
think you

re pretty—frightfully pretty! You

ve got such nice blue eyes, the smiley kind, and your eyelashes turn upward at the tips like little curly brooms. And your nose turns upward a bit, too.


That

s retrousse,

Lucy murmured.


That

s re—what did you say?


Never mind, darling, but that

s what it is. The freckles are just freckles.


You haven

t got any freckles—or, at least,

she said with strict honesty,

not very many. And freckles are fairy kisses.


Then I must be beloved by the fairies.

Miranda continued to survey her with a warm, glowing kind of smile in her sunken, cornflower-blue eyes. They were eyes that seemed to have captured the shadows of the sea on a stormy day, but they were bright, alive and intelligent, just the same.


It

s a funny thing,

she said,

but when I really like you best is on Sunday, just before you set off for church, and not when you

re wearing that uniform.
Must
you always wear a uniform?


Oh, dear me,

Lucy Nolan murmured, the smile very evident in her own blue eyes.

And
I
was kind of kidding myself that my uniform was really chic. And unfortunately
I
can

t spend my life setting off for church on Sundays, so it

s rather awkward.


You could be like Fiske, and wear ordinary clothes.


Fiske wears black alpaca, with ruchings of lace at the neck and wrists. I don

t think that sort of outfit would become me, somehow!

Miranda giggled afresh, obviously in entire agreement, and then she caught sight of a red admiral butterfly hovering close to her face and she cried out at once,

Oh, catch it! Do, do catch it, Noly! Just so that I can look at it, and then let it go again. I don

t want to do it any harm.


No, you wouldn

t do anybody any harm, now or ever!

Or that was what Nurse Nolan thought, as she got up to catch the butterfly.

Only one person has suffered a kind of fancied hurt as a result of your arrival in this world, my poor pet, and that is the august gentleman, your father. But even he may wake up one of these days!

She carried the butterfly, fluttering wildly in her deceptively soft fingers, which Miranda declared smelled always of a mixture of antiseptics and lavender toilet soap, to the occupant of the wheelchair, and the two heads bent over it, the one with the brown curls escaping from beneath the crisp little cap, and the other with fine gold tresses stirring gently in the breeze. Then Miranda gave the order for it to be released, and she watched almost breathlessly as it skimmed away across the wide expanse of lawn in the direction of the lake.


I think I

d like to be a butterfly

she remarked suddenly, and sighed.

Lucy tucked in an end of her rug, gave a soft little flick to her cheek, and then started to propel the wheelchair forward along the terrace.


Butterflies don

t live very long,

she observed.


But they can go wherever they want to go while they are alive, and that must be fun!

Lucy Nolan made no response to this, but as she, too, followed the progress of the butterfly, and guessed that its brilliant wings had already negotiated the placid surface of the lake, and were about to be swallowed up in the piled-up woods on the opposite shore, her heart was full of a deep sympathy for Miranda

s point of view. But all she said, as the cushioned wheels of the chair made a fat, kissing noise on the flagged floor of the terrace, and a couple of pigeons flew up and took refuge on the back of an ornamental stone lion, was,

It

s time for your lunch, my child, and I hope you

ve worked up something in the nature of an appetite for it! We

ve been once around the park, nearly halfway down the two-mile driveway, and sat out here for half an hour, and if all the good air you

ve gulped into your lungs in that time hasn

t made you hungry—well
,
I

ll refuse my own lunch!


You know I

m never hungry,

Miranda said pettishly.


That

s nothing to boast about!


You

ll have to coax me, as you always do,

the twelve-year-old informed her with a hint of a mischievous smile in her eyes as she looked around at her.


As to that, my sweet,

Lucy responded,

you

ll have to begin to coax yourself, or let Fiske coax you, because after next week I won

t be with you anymore!

She felt, rather than heard, Miranda give a gasp.

You mean you

re going away?


Right first time, clever girl!


But you can

t—you
can

t
go away!

Miranda made the effort to twist herself around in her chair, and she gazed upward imploringly.

Nurse Nolan—Lucy, you said I could call you Lucy sometimes—don

t you see that if you go away I

ll only have Fiske and Abbott, and what will I
do
?
Fiske is absolutely hopeless because she

s always in a flap, and as for Abbott well, you
know
what Abbott is like!

Lucy could not help laughing at the perturbation in the young voice.


Fiske is a very worthy spinster who has adored you all your life and spoiled you consistently, and I

m sure your father considers Mrs. Abbott an excellent housekeeper, and I personally like her very much indeed,

she replied, trying to sound severe. And then, more gently,

But why have you made up your mind—as it seems you have—that I could remain with you forever? You must know, Mirry, that you

re getting better now, although it

s true
you can

t walk yet
....”

 


Will I ever walk again?

Miranda asked, in a strange hard, unchildlike voice.


Why, of course you will, darling!

But the breath caught in Nurse Nolan

s throat, for at the present time no one knew whether Miranda would ever walk again. It was
hoped
that she would, but no one could be certain.

But it may take time, and
...
remember your father has to pay me for my
services as long as I

m here, and apart from the fact that you seem to find me amusing to have around, I

m not strictly important to you any longer. That is to say, you can do quite well without me.


You
think
I can,

Miranda said, clasping her emaciated fingers so tightly together that the nails dug into the spare flesh.

But can you imagine Fiske even
trying
to catch a red admiral butterfly, let alone holding it while I looked at it? Why, she can

t bear it if a moth gets into her room! And I don

t want to be smothered by affection. Not
her
affection, anyway! And I do wan
t
to laugh sometimes, and have someone laugh with me, and enjoy
silly little jokes, and
.
.
.
and
....”
She swallowed hard.


Fiske thinks Edward Lear
is
nonsense!


Well, that

s most unfortunate, I agree,

Lucy deplored, trying to make her voice sound light and merely faintly amused.

But there are other things in life apart from Edward Lear, and at least Fiske does like poetry. I

ve heard her recite to you quite often.


Yes—Macaulay

s
Armada
!”


That

s stirring enough!

They were approaching the open French windows that admitted them to the little room off the drawing room through which they always reached the hall on these occasions, and Miranda was leaning forward and clutching the side of her chair and looking, if she hadn

t been quite so young, as if she had been stricken by disaster and was unable to think of any means to cope with it.

Lucy halted the chair outside the windows and removed the plaid rug from the small invalid

s knees, and lifted and swung her up into her arms without any difficulty whatsoever. For she was so light and fragile and almost unbelievably thin that it was like lifting a large doll and bearing her into the dim, cool shadows of the small, paneled room. As she did so two large tears welled up in Miranda

s eyes, spilled over her lashes and rolled down her cheeks.


Lucy, you

re a pig to want to go!


I
don

t want to go, darling, but
I
must. Think of
all
the patients in the world who

re just waiting for me to take charge of them.


I
don

t believe it! And my father

s rich enough to keep you forever if I need you—and
I
do need you!


You

re highly flattering, my child, but
I
don

t think your father would see eye to eye with you. In fact
,
I

m sure he wouldn

t.


I shall ask him not to let you go when he comes back to Ketterings,

Miranda said stubbornly.


I wouldn

t my dear, if I were you,

Lucy urged her gently.

In this life we have to learn to accept things, you know.

But she felt she was being brutal.

CHAPTER TW
O

Purvis, the elderly butler, c
ame forward quickly when they reached the hall, and Lucy handed Miranda over to him. This was all part of a daily ritual, when it was fine and they were able to spend part of the morning out of doors, and Purvis bore his master

s daughter upstairs to her own rooms and her own lunch, entrusting her to the care of the waiting Fiske, while Nurse Nolan washed her hands and then repaired to the dining room to wait for Purvis to return and resume his normal duties.

Except when the master was at home, there was never anyone in the dining room, but Lucy had grown used to sitting in state at the long oak table and being pressed to enjoy a little of this or that by the well-trained manservant. He knew her likes and dislikes very well by now, for it was nearly three months since she had first come to Ketterings, and usually there was a little choicely served fish or chicken, followed by a feathery-light sweet or souffle, coffee and dessert.

Purvis frequently prepared her a peach that had arrived at perfection in the Ketterings peach houses, or had ready for her a slice of pineapple or a few bloomy dark grapes.

The dining room at Ketterings was somber, with a great mullioned window inset with armorial bearings, and there was a coat of arms above the fireplace, and crossed broadswords on the walls. There were also one or two portraits that frowned down from their paneled background, and the hall of the house was hung thickly with portraits, climbing the wall beside the graceful, fan-shaped staircase, and overflowing into the long gallery.

But neither the portraits nor the armorial bearings had any link with the present owner of the house or his forebears. He had a title that had been handed on to him by his father, it is true, but the first Sir John Ash had sold newspapers in the streets of a large industrial city at a time when other boys of his age were still at school. By the time he died he was, however, not only the head of a firm of shipbuilders, but had amassed a fortune that had enabled him to bring up his son along very different lines from those that he himself had been forced to follow. The present baronet had acquired Ketterings, a lovely Elizabethan house, from the impoverished descendants of a family who had lived in it for generations, and he had taken it over lock, stock and barrel—even including Purvis, or so Nurse Nolan had been given to understand! And he had spent a great deal of money on it, especially the grounds, which were really beautiful, and in the summertime attracted sightseers who paid to be allowed to wander over them.

But the thing that astonished Lucy Nolan was that, having acquired his house and restored to it some of its former loveliness, Sir John himself came to it but seldom, and then only for the most fleeting visits. On the fourth Friday in every month his big, chauffeur-driven car arrived with him at the foot of the steps, and every fourth Sunday evening it took him away again. In between visits there was not even a telephone message—save for the short period when his daughter

s life was despaired of—and Lucy had come to the conclusion that everything that made life worth living for him had its roots ineradicably driven into the pavements of the big, bustling, thriving city where his father had started his hard climb upward.

Ships, apparently, meant everything to him—much more than a daughter whose mother had died when she was still too small to remember her! And not even when that daughter, on holiday with a school friend, had become the victim of a car crash that might so easily have terminated her short life altogether, did the father betray very much in the way of any really noticeable emotion that would have indicated that her loss would have affected him very deeply. Or even that it would have affected him at all! A daughter was a poor thing, or so it seemed, compared with a ship that could be launched triumphantly and go out across the broad seas to the other end of the world, carrying hundreds of passengers who paid fantastic sums for the luxuries the Ash-Aird Line offered them. For the Ash-Aird Line did really make ocean travel a thing without any sort of boredom or discomfort or inconvenience of any kind. And the man at the head of it, in his imposing offices that had once been not so imposing, but had provided the first rungs of the ladder for the first Sir John to get his two feet satisfactorily planted on, bent most of his endeavors nowadays to the still greater improvement of the line and the growth of his own prestige.

Or that was how it seemed to Nurse Nolan. She had had three interviews with Sir John, and three only. And on each of those he had struck her as a man it was next door to impossible ever to get to know.

It wasn

t merely that she felt sure he was
iron hard
, for there was nothing in his appearance or in his method of conducting the interviews, that would have justified that description. On the contrary he was exceedingly polite, and his voice never rose above a certain minor key, although it was at times quite noticeably incisive. He was not a particularly tall man, but he was so exceptionally spare that he gave the appeara
nce of being taller than he was,
and his face was thin and finely drawn, with tiny lines like crow

s-feet at the corners of his eyes. The eyes were quite expressionless, of the cold gray of pewter, and he had very black hair, that, but for the fact that he dealt with it determinedly with brilliantine, would have been inclined to tumble forward over one eyebrow.

Lucy Nolan, whose dark blue eyes gave away the fact that she had Irish blood in her veins, found it difficult sometimes to control the impulsiveness that was a part of her nature—and that four years of hospital discipline had only temporarily held in check—and in the presence of such a man as John Ash she was conscious of being at a loss. He never advanced any opinions, he waited for her to express hers and whilst waiting he appeared to study her without at the same time conveying to her any impression that he was even remotely interested in what he saw. She had the feeling that she was up against a curious insensibility, an imperviousness, perhaps it was, to everything but his own concerns that seemed to emanate from him, and that had the effect of numbing her wits and making her voice sound stumbling and uncertain in her own ears.

Matters she had wished to discuss with him, and which had seemed to her of vital importance, seemed all at once to lose a great deal of their importance while those dispassionate, cool eyes of his surveyed her. She felt young and inexperienced, and even trivial, as if she was an unsatisfactory witness in a court of law being subjected to a scrutiny by the judge—and not quite a human judge, either!

He displayed no concern over his daughter

s welfare—no serious concern, that is—but he surrounded her with every care. He was a meticulous and a thorough man, and at least he had not neglected to pursue every avenue that might lead to the child

s complete restoration to health. There was one man—an Austrian surgeon with a worldwide reputation— with whom he had been in touch, but whether the contact had yielded anything hopeful she had no idea, for apart from a letter that she herself had written to him a few days ago, warning him that she considered herself now more or less redundant at Ketterings, and to which he had not replied, they had had no contact since their last meeting. But Purvis, while he waited on her at breakfast that morning, had let her know that the master was expected the following day, which would be the fourth Friday in the month since his last visit to the home that saw so little of him.

So perhaps he was waiting until he arrived home to summon her to his presence and discuss the question of her leaving. And in case he made any attempt to persuade her to remain with her patient a little longer, she had quite made up her mind to resist his persuasions, not in her own interests but in the interests of Miranda. For the child was becoming so dependent upon her for companionship that the longer Lucy remained with her, the harder would it be for the small invalid when she did finally take her departure.

From her o
w
n point of view she knew that she was going to miss Miranda enormously, for in three months she had become really fond of her, and sometimes she was almost agonizingly sorry for her. And the superb comfort of Ketterings, the loveliness of its surroundings and the old-fashioned, never-failing attentiveness of Purvis were things she would never quite forget.

Today, while he served her lunch, he looked, she thought, a little downcast, and when she questioned him as to whether anything was wrong, he gave a sudden sigh and made a rather hopeless movement with his shoulders.


Nothing in particular, nurse, only Miss Miranda seems upset because she insists you are going to leave us very soon. Is that true, nurse?


I

m afraid it is, Purvis. But she can do without me now, you know. You, Mrs. Abbott and Fiske are all she needs. Between the three of you I know you

ll combine to spoil her and do all that it is possible to do for her nowadays.

The old man, who had served another family in this same house, but had never, perhaps, had quite such a fondness for any member of it as he had for his present master

s small, golden-haired, helpless wisp of a daughter, poured Lucy

s coffee carefully, and then fetched another sigh from the depths of his being.


Do you think she

ll ever be herself again, nurse?

Lucy looked up at him, a smile in the blue eyes he thought rarely attractive.


We can but hope she will, Purvis.

That night w
hile she lay in
bed, Lucy heard a car purring its way almost noiselessly up the driveway, and since there was no disturbance of any kind, and the front door opened and closed as soundlessly as the car had glided over the gravel of the driveway, she could only conclude that it was the master of the place who had come home one day earlier than was his normal custom. He had arrived at Ketterings on a Thursday, instead of on a Friday!

In the morning Purvis confirmed that Sir John was home, but Miranda, when Lucy went to her after her own breakfast, had not seen her father. She had been fed and washed by Fiske, who was secretly only happy when she was doing things for the invalid, and a queer look invaded her overbright blue eyes when she learned that Sir John was back.


Oh!

she said, looking at Nurse Nolan with her head on one side, a birdlike habit she had formed.

Then I

ll be seeing him, won

t I?


I expect so, darling,

Lucy replied.

He

s bound to want to have a chat with you.

It seemed unnatural to her that a father, after an absence from home of a whole month, should not have gone hastening to his daughter at the very earliest opportunity, but she knew that would have been quite unlike Sir John.

She purposely kept rather out of the way that day in case Sir John should wish to have a talk alone with his daughter, and she saw nothing of him herself until evening. Then, when she was thinking of making some alteration to her dress in preparation for having dinner alone in her own sitting room, the summons she had been expecting came.

Sir John would like to see you in the library. Nurse Nolan!

It was Purvis who tapped quietly at her door, and who conveyed the summons to her.


Oh, very well, Purvis. I

ll go down immediately.

She glanced at herself hastily in her mirror to make sure that her cap was at nothing suggestive of a flighty angle on her hair and that there was no shine on her nose. A quick flick with a powder puff dealt with the nose, and a face tissue pressed against her soft, full lips removed most of the traces of lipstick. In the hospital there had been a rule against lipstick that clung to her still whilst on duty, and although she felt naked without it, she used it very sparingly except when she was going out and away from her patient.

The library was in a remote wing of the house that also contained Sir John

s private apartments, and save when he was at home, the corridor leading to it was very dimly illuminated. Tonight, as he was at home, there seemed to be a positive blaze of illumination to guide Lucy

s footsteps over the rich, thick, crimson carpet, and when she reached the library door and tapped on it she felt as if the harshness of the lights had taken all the color out of her face.

Sir John

s voice called to her almost immediately to enter, and she turned the handle of the stout oak door noiselessly, and then found herself on the fringe of a vast room wherein a fire burned pleasantly on the wide hearth, for the September evenings were cool.

In front of the fire, on a thick skin rug, was Muffin, Sir John

s spaniel, with a curly black-satin coat, and large golden eyes that never left Sir John

s face when he was at home. Whether Sir John ever made a fuss of the dog Lucy had sometimes wondered, for she had never seen him do so, although its devotion to him was obvious, but he seemed to accept it as natural that it should behave like his shadow when he was at Ketterings. Tonight it lay with its nose on its paws, and its paws almost on the instep of one of his shoes as he stood beside it on the rug.


Ah, good evening. Nurse Nolan!

he greeted her, in the
s
trangely quiet voice she remembered.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

He moved forward a
t once to place a chair for her, and as she accepted it Nurse Nolan managed to absorb a few little things about him that were also very much as she remembered them—his weakness for immaculate linen, and the quiet skill of his tailor. His dark gray suit fitted him to perfection, and nothing could have been more correct and formal than the way his tie was knotted. As he lifted his wrist to glance at his wristwatch and compare it with the face of the clock on the mantelpiece, she noted how lean and virile it was, and noted the suggestion of strength in the long-fingered, well-cared-for hand attached to it.


You didn

t waste very much time. Nurse Nolan,

he remarked, something that might have been the merest suspicion of a smile in his eyes as he looked at her.

I
sent for you barely five minutes ago, and here you are!


Naturally
I
came at once, since you wanted to see me,

she replied.

He studied her for a moment longer, with that expressionless look on his face that she so well remembered, and then he turned from her and stared into the fire.


Miranda is about the same?

he observed at last, rather shortly.


Have you seen her?

Lucy asked, countering the question.


Since
I
returned last night? Yes,
I
saw her just before tea this afternoon. She seems to me remarkably fragile.


She is remarkably fragile,

Lucy agreed.

Once more, he turned to look at her. He seemed to study her hard this time.


And yet you tell me in your letter that the time has arrived for you to depart from Ketterings? And Miranda seems to be considerably upset because you propose to leave her so soon. Have you any very good reason for wishing to leave, Nurse Nolan?

Nurse Nolan felt her face flush faintly as his eyes bored into her—eyes that were still quite cold, but full of a restrained sort of curiosity.


Only the excellent reason that Miranda is as well as I think—for the time being—she is likely to be, and there is little point in her growing accustomed to having me with her, when sooner or later I shall have to leave her. And, frankly, Miss Fiske is quite capable of doing all the things I do for her at present. In fact, sometimes I feel that Miss Fiske is a little—well, unhappy, because she is not allowed to do more.


Miss Fiske

s unhappiness, or her happiness, are not of particular interest to me at the moment,

he observed, so d
r
yly that Nurse Nolan felt the color suddenly flame in her cheeks, and she felt almost too much abashed to meet his eyes.


No, I suppose not,

she agreed hastily, and then endeavored to make him recognize what it was she had been trying to press home to him.

But all I meant by that is that Miss Fiske is completely devoted to Miranda, and so entirely trustworthy that you need have no fears about her taking the utmost care of Miranda once I have gone. And there seems little object in your employing two people when one would be more than sufficient.

 


Meaning by that that you really are rather anxious to be gone yourself, and you would like us to discuss the actual
date of your departure?

There was something so coldly sarcastic in his face that she felt anger begin to stir in her, and her blue eyes darkened.

No doubt you find Ketterings rather dull, and when a patient ceases to respond to treatment that must also contribute to the dullness of a case? But as Miranda seems to have formed quite an attachment for you—


It is not only Miranda who has formed an attachment, for me—I think that poor, wistful waif of a child would tie knots in anyone

s heartstrings!

Lucy interrupted him, her voice actually shaking a little as emotion rose up in her and threatened to choke her. She got to her feet in order to confront him. Really, he was far, far less pleasant than on the three occasions when they had met before, she decided. Then she had suspected that he was merely indifferent, but now she felt certain he could be hostile—and with a kind of hostility it would be difficult to fight, because his most powerful weapon was the arctic chill he could introduce into his voice.

And it

s not because I want to go that I

ve made up my mind I must go—I

d stay here forever if I thought it would do any good
!”

 


Ah! Then that, at least, is something!


But what good would it do?

She flung out her hands rather helplessly.


It would, at least, make
M
iranda happy.

He picked up a heavy silver cigarette box from a table and offered it to her.

Do sit down again. Nurse Nolan, and don

t misunderstand anything I am likely to say. Being a young woman, you have a perfect right to find the country dull! But why do you refer to Miranda as a wai
f
?


Because that

s the way I think of her,

she admitted, declining a cigarette, and moistening the sudden dryness of her lips with the tip of her tongue.

One of his eyebrows lifted.


In some ways she is quite a fortunate waif!


Because she has every comfort, and you are her father?

He had never seen eyes so dark, and yet so blue as hers as she lifted them to his face, and for a moment they looked full at one another.

Possibly she is fortunate
,
Sir John, to be the daughter of a rich man, but I shall always think of her as—alone, somehow, and fighting her battle alone, because those who are always near to her are not in any way connected to her by ties of blood!


I see,

he said slowly, and studied the tip of his cigarette.


I expect that sounds impertinent,

Lucy remarked, at the end of a long silence.

He looked at her again. He did not answer her directly.

Would you consider staying on with Miranda as a more or less permanent arrangement. Nurse Nolan?

he asked quietly.

Not as her nurse, but as her companion and friend? One whom she can be happy to have near her? In return for a satisfying remuneration, of course!

Somehow Lucy had not been unprepared for this, but even so, she did not quite know how to answer him. She stared downward at her own hands clasped in her lap, and at her delicate, pale pink nails.


Have you been in touch yet with Dr. We
rn
, in Vienna?

she inquired without looking up.


As a matter of fact, I have,

Sir John answered, and she looked up quickly.

But it may be several weeks before he is able to spare the time to fly over here and examine Miranda.


Oh!

Lucy exclaimed. A gleam of hope shone in her eyes.

Then he really is going to examine her?


He has said that he will.


Then I will certainly stay,

Lucy informed him,

for as long as Miranda really requires me.


Good!

Sir John exclaimed, and walked away from her to the fireplace. He bent and ruffled the silky coat of Muffin, who instantly looked up at him adoringly.

There is one thing I should mention to you. Nurse Nolan. You will probably not find it so dull here in future, because I have made up my mind to do a certain amount of entertaining.

He did not look up at her, but appeared to be concentrating all his attention on Muffin.

As a matter of fact, perhaps I also ought to let you know that
I
am thinking of—

A deep, booming noise filled the air reaching them, as it seemed, from the hall, and he broke off and looked up at the clock.


Time to change for dinner. Purvis never postpones things, although he is quite well aware that you are still in here. He has so few opportunities nowadays to sound a dressing gong.


But, you were saying. Sir John...?

Lucy reminded him.

A blank expression descended over his face.


On second thought I don

t think it is important enough to mention just now.

He glanced again at the clock.

Then
I
can take it that you will remain. Nurse Nolan?


If you really wish me to,

she replied.


I do.

And then with a sudden, quite surprising smile parting his thin, firm lips and disclosing very white teeth he said,

But one thing I must not forget, Miranda is most anxious that you shall cease to wear a uniform. Nurse Nolan. Is it quite impossible that you can agree to that?

Lucy was considerably taken aback, but as he had asked her to stay on in the capacity of a companion for Miranda rather than a nurse, she decided that she could agree, at least for a few months.


It would seem that our poor, wistful waif of a child is capable of expressing her opinions,

Sir John murmured, looking at her rather oddly as he opened the library door for her.

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

Miranda was delighted w
hen the news was conveyed to her that Nurse Nolan was to remain with her. She wound her thin arms around Lucy

s neck as she bent over her the following day to loop a ribbon through the fair hair, and gave her quite a powerful hug.


It

s wonderful!

she declared.

And it

s still more wonderful that you

re going to wear ordinary clothes!

Lucy laughed.


Church-going clothes!

she elaborated.


Yes, church-going clothes!


But if that is the desire of your royal highness I shall have to go to London to pick up rather more of my wardrobe. I

ve only got a few things here that I can wear, and in any case
I
didn

t imagine I would be away so long, so I

ll have to leave you for a brief spell.

It was true that when she had obeyed the summons to go to Ketterings she had more or less

downed tools

and dropped everything, and she had certainly not imagined that the case would occupy so much of her time. She was provided with a room in her sister

s Chelsea apartment when she was not nursing, and that room housed practically all her possessions in this world.

Sir John, when he was given to understand that Nurse Nolan required leave of absence for a few days, gave permission readily. And then he took Lucy completely aback by announcing that he intended to visit his firm

s London office and offered to drive her to London himself in his own car—or rather, he invited her to accompany him in the backseat of the car while his chauffeur drove them!

At first Lucy was almost awed by the very thought of sharing the silver gray upholstered seat of the big Bentley for several hours with her employer, but that did not prevent her from feeling grateful for the invitation. And she accepted with a suitably demure expression that might, or might not, have deceived him.

Against all precedent. Sir John stayed at Ketterings until Thursday. When he and Lucy left, Miranda and Miss Fiske waved to them from the window of the room that had once been Miranda

s schoolroom, and that overlooked the driveway. And then, as they glided away through the subdued brilliance of a perfect September morning, Lucy lay back against the seat and decided that she might as well make the most of this unique experience.

They shot between the curly, wrought-iron gates that guarded the approach to the residence, and out into a winding country road bordered by high hedges alive, with rose hips, and the pink and orange flowers of the spindle tree. Beyond the hedges were brown fields where the newly turned earth was shimmering with gossamer, and beyond the fields the purple outline of the moor, with the white road cutting across it like a white ribbon unfolding itself until it reached the deeper purple distance, and the wavy line of hills.

Lucy, in her neat gray tailored suit and little hat that sat more insecurely on her brown curls than her cap ever did—the outfit that so aroused Miranda

s admiration on Sundays—was unaware that Sir John

s eyes rested on her in rather a speculative fashion, but she did know that in her heart she was deeply pleased to think that she was coming back to Ketterings, and that this departure did not mean farewell to it.

They stopped for lunch at a little hotel where the service was excellent and the food good, and Sir John ordered wine with the meal. Lucy was so charmed by the unchallengeable antiquity of the dining room, with its carefully chosen pieces of period furniture, and the view of a sleepy market town out of the window, that she was only partly attentive to Sir John

s conversation that, however, was of a purely conventional order and required no flights of imagination to follow it.

She rather gathered—or she had gathered when they were traveling side by side in the car—that he preferred long spells of silence, broken by a few observations occasionally concerning the scenery they passed through, to a bright and entertaining flow of chatter.

He set her down outside her sister

s block of apartments when they reached Chelsea, and she thanked him with real gratitude for the comfortable method in which she had been permitted to make a long journey. He rewarded her thanks with the faintest of smiles, told her that if she happened to be traveling back on the day when he himself returned to Ketterings he would be pleased to offer her transport again, provided her with a telephone number where she could contact a secretary, and then signaled to Jennings, his chauffeur, to drive on.

As Lucy watched the car move off—an impressive car even though it was now enclosed by other impressive cars making for the heart of London—she thought, with the faintest feeling of wonder, that Sir John, in whose company she had passed practically the whole of that day, would now lie back in his corner of his swift-running modern chariot and put her right out of his thoughts. If he had not done so already!

But at the back of her mind he lingered like something
she was not certain of—like something she even mistrusted a little!

 

Kathleen, her sister, h
ad just returned to the apartment after a shopping expedition, and she flung her arms around Lucy and hugged her as if she, at least, was really pleased to see her. She was a couple of years older than Lucy and was completely captivating, with something of Lucy

s own dark-haired, blue-eyed attractiveness and a great deal more of her own besides, a husband who was a barrister beginning to receive quite a lot of briefs, and her apartment, although small, was charming.


Well, darling, and how

s Tiberius?

she inquired, when they were having tea.

I

m surprised that he let you come away like this, especially if he wants you to return.


Tiberius?

Lucy wrinkled her brows.


Yes, your Sir John Ash! From the remarks you let drop about him in your letters he

s wallowing in money, but has quite a lot in common with that nasty Roman emperor. He orders the lives of everyone with whom he comes in contact, has no pity to waste on his invalid daughter, and no mercy, I should imagine, for anyone!
I
don

t know why I think of him as Tiberius, but I do.

Lucy turned the name over in her mind and decided that in a way it could fit. But was Sir John merciless? How would he react if anyone definitely tried to oppose him in any one thing that affected him closely?


But let

s not talk about him,

Kathleen continued, with a habit she had of sweeping from one subject to another.

I

m so glad you

ve arrived tonight, darling, because Clifford has tickets for the new show at the Colossus, and he was wondering what to do with the spare one. They were presented to him by a grateful client.

She grinned wickedly.

His clients are usually grateful, which is all to the good, isn

t it?


But don

t you think you

d rather be alone—just the two of you?

Lucy demurred, feeling rather too tired after her journey to view the prospect of an evening

s entertainment with unalloyed pleasure.

I

m sure you

d rather leave me behind.


Certainly not!

Kathleen declared firmly.

And after your prolonged period of incarceration in the benighted north
,
I

m quite sure that what you need is something to take you out of yourself, something to get you right away from your everlasting invalids!


A book and a good radio program—

Lucy was beginning. But Kathleen wouldn

t hear of it.


Nonsense! You

re coming with us.


But I haven

t got a really suitable dress. My clothes are practically at their last gasp, and that

s why tomorrow I

ll have to whip around and do some shopping—


Then I

ll lend you a dress! I

ve got a heavenly blue organza that was simply made to throw up the color of your eyes, and there

s an adorable sequin-studded stole to go with it that is absolutely the last word! Come with me to the bathroom now, and I

ll give you one of my new miracle face packs—not that there

s much wrong with your skin, but one can always improve matters. And I

ll set your hair, and after that you can linger for a full half hour in the bath, with a spoonful of my new French bath essence thrown in to take the weariness out of your limbs. Believe me, you won

t know yourself once I

ve finished with you!

Which was not by any means an empty boast, for by the time Lucy was dressed and standing in front of her mirror she could hardly believe that the vision that looked back at her was herself. The dress was ballerina length, and it displayed her slender ankles—in a pair of Kathleen

s sheer, cobwebby hose—to perfection. Her shoes were silver gilt sandals that felt like feathers on her feet.

When she gazed at her complexion she felt inclined to stroke it and pat it admiringly, for it reminded her of the smooth sides of a peach, lightly dusted with powder.

The thought crossed her mind that Miranda, if she saw her now, would almost certainly express the utmost ap
p
roval, and the thought made her smile rather tenderly. Dear little Miranda! Shut away in the lonely, lovely house of Ketterings. She must buy something amusing to take back to her, something that would make her laugh.

The evening was an entire success, although Lucy enjoyed the spectacle of the show rather than the subtleties of wit, and so forth, for she was in that state of mental relaxation when it was enough simply to lie back and allow her eyes to provide her with her entertainment.

During the interval she looked around her idly and then stiffened at the sight of a face she knew amongst a line of other faces in the expensive seats near to her. It was a man

s face, thin, with rather a dark skin, and slightly sardonic features. His noticeable chin looked more impressive than every by contrast with his white dress tie.

Kathleen, beside her, felt her stiffen, and whispered.

Anything wrong?


No.


That

s Lynette Harling over there, fifth along in the third row! You know, the ballerina. She

s resting now, owing to a strained ankle or something
....”

Lucy did not really need to count along the row, for the face of the exquisitely gowned young woman in the seat beside Sir John was almost as familiar to her as his was—she had come upon it so often in magazines and fashionable journals. There could be only one Lynette Harling, and there she was, with her head flung backward a little disdainfully as she, too, looked around her, and all the lights in the auditorium seemed to be concentrating their attention upon her brilliant red hair. She had dead white skin—it was almost startlingly white under the lights—and her eyes looked heavy and languid. Lucy had read somewhere that they were green as a cat

s.

Sir John turned his head and looked down
at her, and she smiled up at him, slowly, seductively. Lucy was amazed by the response in his face—it completely transformed it. The Sir John Ash she and Miranda knew was an entirely different person from the Sir John Ash who was spending the evening in the company of the famous dancer. Not only was his expression almost human, it was miraculously softened, with a look of sweetness around the usually harsh lips.

Kathleen, intrigued by her sister

s attentiveness, bent a keen look on Miss Harling

s escort, and then looked down again at Lucy

s face. Lucy looked as if she could hardly believe the evidence of her eyes.


Don

t tell me you know the man?

Kathleen whispered, scenting something unusual. Then all at once a ray of light seemed to pour over her.

My goodness!

She clapped a hand to her lips.

Don

t tell me—it isn

t—it can

t be—Tiberius...?