Authors: Mary Burchell
Cecile experienced many strange emotions when she learned that Gregory Picton had been appointed as one of her three trustees. Why had her father left her in the hands of such a man?
Cecile looked round the theatre at the cream and gold of the walls and boxes, the soft shimmer of the lights, the gleaming folds of the great fringed curtain which seemed to hint so enticingly at a world of magic only just concealed behind it and she drew a deep sigh of pure bliss.
It would have been impossible, she thought, to imagine any greater contrast to her life of the last few years, which had been lived in a rather gloomy country house in Yorkshire, with no one for company but a couple of elderly servants and a father who, though kind, quite often forgot that she was there at all.
And, turning to the young man at her side, she said, “I think it’s wonderful!”
“But nothing’s happened yet.” Maurice Deeping laughed good-humouredly. “The curtain hasn’t even gone up.”
“Oh, I know. But it’s all so—so
Even the people coming in look rather special and elegant, somehow.”
“We-ell,” her companion glanced round judicially, “it's quite a distinguished audience. But then the play is drawing the town. It hasn’t been on for more than a couple of weeks, but it had rave notices, even for a Lucas Manning play. Some people think it’s his best part yet. That’s his wife, by the way, in the stage box.”
Cecile looked up with interest at the fair-haired girl who had just come in and said, “She looks young.”
“She is several years younger than he, I suppose,” Maurice Deeping agreed. “But if you’re a Lucas Manning, I guess an extra year or two doesn’t affect the glamour.” And he grinned. “That’s Florian, the dress designer, in the opposite box. He dressed the show, of course. And the stunning-looking girl with him, believe it or not, is his wife.”
“Why shouldn’t it be his wife?” enquired Cecile interestedly.
“Oh, I don’t know.” Again that rather wicked grin. “She’s almost too beautiful to be anybody’s wife, don’t you think?”
Then, before Cecile could comment on that, he went on “Oh, you know who that is who has just come in on the left—”
Delighted to be glimpsing celebrities, and feeling that she really was seeing life, Cecile looked over and saw a tall, unsmiling but good-looking man standing by one of the entrances to the stalls and surveying the theatre with a faintly bored air.
“No. Who is it?”
“Gregory Picton.” And then, as Cecile looked slightly blank, “The prosecuting counsel in the Faraday case.”
"Oh—oh, yes!” She looked again, with heightened interest. “Didn’t he settle the case with a devastating piece of cross-examination?”
“He doesn’t look brutal enough somehow.”
“I expect he did to Faraday,” replied her companion with a chuckle, and then the lights began to dim.
“I don’t think he looks very
whispered Cecile, as the man they were discussing slowly made his way to a seat just in front of them.
“He doesn’t have to,” Maurice Deeping replied succinctly. And then the curtain rose and the play began.
To Cecile, whose experience of the theatre was extremely limited, it was pure enchantment. And, in an extraordinary way, it hardly seemed any more unreal than the amazing things which had been happening to herself in the last few weeks.
It had all started, of course, with the death of her father and the break-up of the very secluded, somewhat melancholy life she had lived with him. And the first hint of it had come from Aunt Josephine who, having managed the funeral with admirable efficiency, then took it upon herself to discuss the future.
Aunt Josephine was the sister of Cecile’s father and she had appeared at other times in Cecile’s life. But not often and never for very long. She therefore started with a series of pertinent questions.
Had Cecile’s father ever talked to her about his affairs, about any plans he might have made for her future?
“No.” Cecile had shaken her head. “He never talked to me about anything.
“Not about the past, either?” Aunt Josephine had asked with, Cecile thought, some sort of effort.
“About your mother, for instance.”
“Only that she died when I was quite young. When I was about four, wasn’t it?”
“No,” said Aunt Josephine.
“When, then?” Cecile was astonished and curious.
“I don’t know that it is for me to explain what your father did not choose to explain himself,” replied her aunt drily. “I imagine you will hear the whole story from his solicitors. Or as much of it as he has empowered them to tell you. You will probably be asked to go to London to see them.”
And, sure enough, though not surprisingly, since Aunt Josephine gave the impression of never being wrong, a letter arrived the very next day from Mr. Carisbrooke, senior, of Carisbrooke, Carisbrooke and Hayter, informing Cecile that he had handled her father’s affairs for many years.
Mr. Carisbrooke, it seemed, had been responsible for drawing up her father’s will, and the terms of it were such that he felt Miss Bernardine should, if possible, come to London to discuss them.
It had been a bright spring morning when she finally set off on her adventure, and the knowledge that she looked exceedingly attractive in her new black suit and white hat had imbued her with a sense of light-heartedness and eager anticipation.
Without being in the least vain, Cecile was aware that she was easy to look at, as the saying goes. One or two mild social affairs at her strict finishing school had given her the first hint of that, and a glance in any mirror would nowadays have confirmed the fact.
She was of middle height, but looked taller because of her admirable slimness, and although her quick, eager smile had a certain quality of
about it, her darkly lashed grey eyes, and the unusually beautiful upward sweep of her cheekline, imparted a piquant suggestion of sophistication to an otherwise rather innocent face.
Her hair curled naturally, and was of that peculiarly attractive coppery shade which is almost invariably accompanied by a clear, pale skin. And her nose, without being remarkable, was well-shaped with delicately flaring nostrils. Once or twice it had occurred to her that she did not in the least resemble her thin, dry, ascetic-looking father, and she supposed, though no one had ever remarked on the fact, that she must be like her dead mother.
The journey had been uneventful. No one spoke to her, though the young man opposite smiled at her once or twice. And when he lifted down her case for her, on their arrival at King’s Cross, the smile became so friendly and admiring that Cecile thought passingly, “He looks nice. And his eyes are a good, clear brown.” But then she had forgotten all about him in the excitement of actually finding herself in London.
At the quiet hotel which Aunt Josephine had firmly recommended, she had been courteously, though impersonally, received. Here she had unpacked, looked round her pleasant but featureless bedroom, and told herself that, but for her appointment with Mr. Carisbrooke the following afternoon, there was absolutely no one to say what she should do or not do that evening or tomorrow—or all the tomorrows.
It was at that point that she had wondered if being completely alone in a London hotel were quite so much fun, after all.
“But I’ll go down and have dinner,” thought Cecile, who had a healthy appreciation of good food, “and then decide what I want to do next.”
It had been early, and the dining room was almost deserted. But, as Cecile followed the waiter to a table by the window, she passed someone who seemed vaguely familiar. The man half rose, as her glance lingered on him, smiled and said, “Good evening.” And she suddenly realized it was the young man who had been on the train.
“Why, hello,” Cecile exclaimed on impulse, and paused for a moment. Whereupon the waiter also stopped and enquired.
“Did you wish to join Monsieur?” pronouncing it “Moosher,” in the best accent of the B.B.C.
“Oh, no—at least—”
“I wish you would.” The young man also spoke on impulse, it seemed. “I’m not quite a stranger, really. I knew your father quite well.”
“Did you?” She was so surprised that she allowed the waiter to set a chair for her. “But how do you know who I am?”
“I couldn’t help seeing your name on the luggage label when I took down your case,” the young man explained. “And I have heard your father speak of you.”
She was surprised and rather touched to learn that her father had spoken about her to anyone, and nearly said as much. But instead she glanced down at the menu and asked:
“Where did you meet my father?”
“At one or two scientific get-togethers. I’m a research chemist myself, though not, of course, in the same class as your father. He was brilliant, wasn’t he?”
“I suppose he was," Cecile agreed slowly. “And yet he only did it as a sort of hobby, you know.”
“Yes, I know.” Then, when Cecile had had time to order her meal, he went on, “I should introduce myself. My name is Maurice Deeping.”
“And you know mine.” She smiled at him. “Since my father spoke of me.”
“Yes. And—I want to say how sorry I was to hear of your father’s death. Although I didn’t know him intimately, I admired him greatly.”
“Thank you.” Cecile was touched and pleased to hear someone speak so of her father, for he had been such a reserved and withdrawn type that she had not thought of him as impressing anyone in quite that way.
“Does his death leave you very—well, very much alone?”
“I haven’t any close family, if that is what you mean,” Cecile explained. “But if you were speaking in the very personal sense—” she paused and considered what he had said—“I suppose I would have to say that his death was not a shattering blow. I don't mean that I wasn’t fond of him, or he of me, but I think his research was his real life-interest. Quite often I didn’t see him for days on end, except for meals. And he would have forgotten about those too if he hadn’t been reminded.”
“It must have been a lonely life for you!”
“In a way—yes. At least there is an extraordinary pleasant novelty about being suddenly free to make one’s own decisions and go where one likes and do what one likes.”
“And you can now do just that?” He looked amused.
“Well, I suppose so. Why not?”
“Oh, no reason at all,” He laughed. “Only sometimes when a man leaves a young daughter he appoints a guardian or creates a trust or something like that.”
“A guardian!” The idea was entirely repellent to Cecile. “I’m twenty. Nearly twenty-one. I don’t need any guardian!”
“Except that you are very pretty, if I may say so.” The young man’s eyes twinkled. “And pretty heiresses are apt to attract fortune-hunters, in which case a guardian is useful.”
“What makes you think I am an heiress?” She looked at him curiously.
He flushed, in what she thought was a rather nice, ingenuous sort of way, and said, “I beg your pardon! I didn’t mean to sound inquisitive. But most people who knew your father thought, supposed—This sounds rather cheeky, said to you, as his daughter—but most of us had the idea that he was a pretty wealthy chap. I haven’t the faintest knowledge of the real situation, naturally.”
“Nor have I, to tell the truth,” said Cecile candidly, and then they both laughed.
Aunt Josephine would probably have said she had already talked a great deal too much about herself to a stranger. But Maurice Deeping didn’t seem like a stranger. And he had known and liked her father. So that when he asked, with becoming diffidence, if she had any plans for the evening, she told him quite frankly that she had not.
“Then please don’t mind saying ‘no,’ if you would rather be on your own but I should be very happy to have your company, if you would care to come with me to a theatre.”
At that moment, Cecile had felt there was nothing she would care for more, and she had rushed off to change into her attractive short black taffeta evening dress, while he did some intensive telephoning to theatre agencies.
Either he was extraordinarily lucky or extraordinarily persuasive. And so it was that, half an hour later, Cecile had found herself sitting in the sixth row of the stalls at the Olympic theatre, and feeling that her new life of independence could hardly have had a more auspicious beginning.
As the curtain fell at the end of the first act, to a storm of applause, Cecile found herself clapping as loudly as anyone.
“He’s simply wonderful! They’re all wonderful,” she exclaimed delightedly. And, a little to her chagrin, the man in front turned round and gave her a faintly amused glance, as though he found such excessive enthusiasm naive.
had no reason to be put out of countenance by any counsel for the prosecution. So she gave him a level glance in return, and he looked away again immediately. Not, however, before giving her the curious impression that he had taken in every detail about her and her companion, and would be able, if necessary, to describe them in full at any time.
Then she forgot all about him, and remembered only that she was immensely enjoying her first evening in London.
The next morning, as soon as she had breakfasted, she decided to go and have a look at Mr. Carisbrooke’s office, in readiness for her afternoon appointment. This was situated in one of the quiet courts on the south side of Fleet Street, and Cecile spent a very pleasant half-hour strolling about the fascinating maze of Inns and Courts which lie in that vicinity.
Presently she made her way back to Fleet Street, and, having gazed in some awe at the imposing mass of buildings which make up the Law Courts, she enquired rather timidly of an amiable-looking policeman if one might go inside.