Read With All My Worldly Goods Online

Authors: Mary Burchell

With All My Worldly Goods

WITH ALL MY WORLDLY GOODS

Mary Burchell

 

From having almost nothing in her purse, Leonora Culpane found herself transported to the heights of unimaginable wealth. But if the fortune brought with i
t
excitement, pleasure and luxury, it also brought bewilderment, doubt, and

most astonishingly

real danger, before Leonora was to win through to lasting happiness.

CHAPTER ONE

“Good-bye, Lora,
my dear.”

“Good-bye, Martin, good-bye. I expect I’d better get in now. We’re due to start in three minutes. And if I missed the train
now
—” Leonora Culpane finished her sentence with a gesture of mock horror. “I’m so excited, I don’t know what I’m doing really.”

Her companion laughed as he handed her into the train. “Which is responsible for the excitement—your father’s home-coming or the fortune?” he asked teasingly as she leaned from the window for a final word.

“Oh, Martin! Daddy, of course. Though I don’t mind the fortune thrown in, too. Who would?”

“Well, speaking from the purely selfish point of view, I hope the fortune doesn’t turn out to be anything sensational,” he told her.

Leonora smiled down at him and, even in her excitement, thought suddenly how dear and dependable Martin looked when he smiled back with that nice firm mouth of his but allowed his grey eyes to remain serious.

“Why don’t you want it to be a big fortune?” she said a little shyly, and just touched the brown hand that rested on the windowframe.

“Because it might”—he hesitated—“spoil things between us.”

“It
never
would ! You know it wouldn’t.”

He turned his hand then and clasped her fingers tightly. “No?” he said. “I hope not. But money can do some queer things, Lora.”

“Martin, you sound just like poor Aunt Sophie when you talk like that.”

“Heaven forbid!” exclaimed Martin with a laugh, and then, as the whistle blew—“Anyway, at the risk of being classed as a fortune hunter, may I kiss you good-bye?”

“Of course.” She leaned down to him at once, and kissed him shyly, but very warmly. And as he kissed her in return, she sensed suddenly that the world held other exciting things besides her father’s home-coming and the promise of a fortune.

The train steamed slowly out of Waterloo Station, Martin was lost in the blur of the crowd on the platform and, with a little sigh of happy anticipation, Leonora sank back in her corner seat.

Would her father have changed much? she wondered. Would he think
she
had changed much? Well, of course, he would. She had only been a rather delicate schoolgirl of thirteen when he had last seen her. Now she was twenty and—

Leonora was alone in the compartment and, on an impulse, she stood up and studied herself critically in the mirror.

After a moment, she addressed her reflection with ruthless brevity—

“Ordinary blue-eyed blonde. Big mouth. Rather nice eyes, of course.”

But the self-description did her very bare justice. Another observer would have seen that the “rather nice eyes” were an exceptionally dark blue, very beautifully set and fringed with thick lashes; that her face, with its intelligent width over the cheek-bones and childishly-pointed chin, was a piquant shape; and that her mouth, though wide, was generous and showed a glimpse of perfect teeth. “Ordinary blonde” perhaps did describe the actual color of her hair, but there was a springy vitality about it which gave it character.

Robert Culpane would have every reason to be pleased with his daughter.

Seven years. It was a long time, Leonora thought soberly as she sat back again. More than a third of her life. And, even before that, she had never had her father with her for more than a few months at a time.

Her mother she could not remember at all, for she had died the year after Leonora was born. Aunt Sophie used to say that it was his wife’s death which had first sent Robert Culpane wandering to what she called “queer parts of the earth.”

Whatever the reason, Leonora had seen very little of him even in her childhood, and Aunt Sophie’s rather shabby house in Tooting was the only home she had ever known.

Aunt Sophie, of course, had also had to supply the place of both parents most of the time. And if she had not been entirely successful, it was from temperament rather than intention, for she conscientiously looked after Leonora’s physical health and saw that she was properly clothed and fed.

What she completely failed to realize was that her niece needed love just as much as clothes, and sympathy just as much as food.

Aunt Sophie put common sense before affection any day, and was much more concerned with the fitness of things than with the joy of living.

Even when she was dying she had said:

“Now mind, Lora, I don’t want to be buried in the local cemetery. It’s
damp.
The headstones start sinking almost at once, and look dreadfully untidy.”

And so Leonora had dutifully seen that Aunt Sophie was buried in a nice dry corner, and hoped quite sincerely that she rested all the more quietly for it.

Leonora remembered her father as a big, handsome man, the kind of person to fire any childish imagination. Besides, he was always doing such exciting things. She was not quite sure whether it was his travelling that had produced his passionate interest in ancient civilizations, or that interest which had kept him perpetually travelling.

But, whichever it was, he used to send her long, thrilling letters, entirely different from any letters received by the other girls at school. And, during the last seven years, which he had spent in Mexico, the figures of the ancient Aztec civilization and the story of Cortez’s sixteenth century invasion of Mexico had become as real to her as everyday affairs.

She remembered distinctly that once, during his last stay at home, Aunt Sophie had said with a sniff: “Well, there isn’t much money in this digging up old bones and stones, is there?”

And her father had laughed in his good-natured way which never varied, and said: “Don’t be so sure, Sophie. There are millions of pounds of treasure trove buried in the strangest parts of the world. How do you know I shan’t turn up some of it one day?”

Leonora had been tremendously impressed at the time—Aunt Sophie not at all. But, as she grew older of course, Leonora realized that either the remark had been made in joke, or else it was just part of the careless, optimistic romanticism which characterized her rather unworldly father.

Anyway, there had always seemed enough money for Leonora’s education and upbringing, one way and another—although she realized now, with a sort of guilty gratitude, that the erratic allowance from her father had probably sometimes been supplemented from Aunt Sophie’s own small annuity.

And then, while Aunt Sophie was ill—only a week before she died, in fact—there had come an astounding letter from her father.

“Buy yourself whatever you like, Lora darling, in any shop in London, and keep the bills for me. For I’m coming home at the end of next month with very much more than the proverbial sack of gold. I’ve made our fortunes once and for all, and you shall live like a princess for the rest of your days. Seven weeks more, and I’ll be with you again, dear child, and then we’ll make the world our oyster.”

Leonora was stunned with excitement, but Aunt Sophie only said: “How exactly like Robert to suggest you should start getting unnecessary luxuries on credit. You’ll do nothing of the sort. He is just the kind to lose the money on the voyage across, and it probably isn’t much, anyway. He always did talk in that extravagant fashion.”

That sobered Leonora a little, and she read on more slowly.

“When I’ve settled everything here I shall travel up to New York and sail from there. It’s a devil of a journey from Mexico City to New York, of course, but Bruce Mickleham is going on business, and I should like to have his company.”

That was not the first time he had mentioned Bruce Mickleham, to whom he seemed extremely attached. Leonora had sometimes wondered why. She didn’t much like the sound of him, herself, for her father had once described him as, “very much a man’s man, and yet the women run after him. Not one of them cuts any ice with him, however, and to your old-fashioned parent’s way of thinking, he is distinctly brutal to them.”

Still, he seemed a good friend to her father, and that was his only importance so far as she was concerned.

It was quite characteristic of her unpractical father that she heard nothing more from him until a long and expensive cable arrived, sent the day he left Mexico City. It gave her the name of the boat by which he was sailing from New York, and contained many loving messages for her.

During the time between the arrival of the letter and the telegram, a good deal had happened to Leonora. Aunt Sophie had died, and with her had died the small annuity. If it had not been that her father was coming home—with or without a fortune—Leonora would have been really frightened about money, because there seemed to be so amazingly little.

As it was, with the help of her aunt’s grim solicitor, she gave up the house, just in time to avoid having to pay another quarter’s rent, and she sold the furniture. However, Aunt Sophie’s mahogany and horsehair ideas of furniture didn’t seem to have much value in the open market, and the sum realized was little more than enough to pay the doctor’s bill and the funeral expenses.

With alarmingly few pounds in her purse, Leonora had taken a modest room at a girls’ club, and waited anxiously for news of her father.

Her chief consolation during the weeks before the cable came was her growing friendship with Martin Velnott.

Martin had been a friend of hers for some time—in the rather remote, formal way Aunt Sophie permitted such friendships. So far as she approved of men at all, Aunt Sophie approved of Martin, but she had always arranged her own life to exclude any masculine interest, and she didn’t really think that anyone could improve on the plan.

Consequently, Leonora knew rather astoundingly little about the other sex. But she did know that she liked Martin immensely. In her heart she almost thought he more than liked her, and the thought was warming and exciting.

She did not, of course, confide in him about her financial worries. With Aunt Sophie’s upbringing behind her she would have found such a notion incredible. But she was very glad of the kindly, interested sympathy with which he treated her during those very lonely weeks between her aunt’s death and the arrival of her father’s cable.

Then, when the cable had arrived, she told Martin, in a burst of confidence, all about her father’s expected fortune and how she was going down to Southampton to meet him, and how everything was going to be perfectly marvellous for ever after.

Martin was affectionately amused and sympathetic in a way that was most refreshing after Aunt Sophie’s attitude on such matters, and Leonora had been touched and very pleased that he had come to Waterloo to see her off. It seemed to her amazingly thoughtful and sweet of him, because she knew he was due to leave London less than an hour later, in order to go north on a three weeks’ business trip for his firm.

Leonora pushed back the cuff of her little black suit and looked at her watch. Less than an hour to go now!

Opening her handbag, she took out her father’s cable and read it for the thousandth time. It was silly, of course, but somehow the words brought the tears to her eyes, because it seemed so wonderful that there was going to be someone near her at last whom she could love unrestrainedly.

She folded the telegram again, patted it lovingly, and put it back in her bag. Then she snapped open her purse and looked rather seriously at the handful of silver there.

As a matter of fact, she felt a little guilty about that, for yesterday evening there had been a handful of silver
and
three pound notes, and she knew that Aunt Sophie, at least, would have strongly disapproved of the fate of those three pound notes.

“But what else could I do?” Leonora asked herself. She had come into the club the night before to find the occupant of the next room in terrible distress. A telegram from her home in the North of England had just arrived to say that her mother was seriously ill. Could she come at once?

“And I haven’t any money at all,” she sobbed to Leonora. “It’s so hard to save on my little salary. What
shall
I do?”

Well, of course, there was only one thing to do, so far as Robert Culpane’s daughter was concerned. She produced the three pound notes and escaped as quickly as possible from the embarrassing flood of gratitude.

“After all, I’m going to see daddy for sure tomorrow,” she had told herself. “And I’m going to be so happy. Whereas she, poor dear, must be sick with anxiety even though she can go home now.”

Even so, it did give one a funny feeling to know that one’s sole worldly resources amounted to six shillings and eightpence halfpenny, and a penny stamp.

Thank heaven daddy was the kind to whom you could say at once: “Isn’t it frightful of me? I’ve spent almost everything I possess!” He would never dream of giving you an Aunt Sophie lecture.

Leonora looked out of the window again, and realized with a fresh start of joy that houses and buildings were coming into view once more. This must be Southampton itself. The journey was almost over and—

With an exclamation, she darted to the other side of the compartment. Yes, it was true! Clear-cut against the pale blue of the afternoon sky rose the masts and funnels of gigantic liners. They were lost to sight for a moment behind tall buildings, only to emerge again, prouder and more superbly challenging than before.

Leonora gazed at them, a lump slowly rising in her throat.

Seven years were as nothing. Thousands of miles were as nothing. Her father had come home.

The train drew into Southampton station and, trembling with excitement, Leonora got out.

It seemed a long, long way from the gate to the quay, and, far ahead, was that wonderful seafaring giant nosing its way into dock. Leonora could not take her eyes off it, and once she stumbled over a rough piece in the road because she wasn’t looking where she was going.

In the end, she seemed to come upon it almost suddenly. In and out among some sheds, along a platform with a corrugated tin roof, and then out on to the quay

itself—And there was the boat, towering above her like the side of some gigantic building.

It looked so still that she was seized with panic.

“Have the people come off yet? Have the people come off yet?” she said a little wildly to a man near her.

“No, no,” he assured her. “Look—here they come with the gangways.”

“Stand away there! Stand back there
please
!”

Leonora moved mechanically. Down which of those gangways would her father come hurrying? She must try to stand where she could catch a glimpse of all of them.

Ah, here came the first of the passengers.

Such greetings, such cries of welcome, such embraces. It would be her turn in a minute. Just a very few minutes. She mustn’t expect him among the first. There were hundreds more to come.

She just might have missed him, of course, in the first rush, but he would be looking for her, too. He’d be greeting her any minute now. She moved a little to get a better view of the far gangway.

The descending crowds were thinning now, breaking up into animated groups all along the quay, calling for porters, snatching at luggage, moving slowly towards the Customs shed, talking all the time.

“I couldn’t have missed him,” Leonora told herself nervously. “I
couldn’t.
He’s just been delayed a minute of two. There’s no need to get silly and frightened.”

But the minutes crept on, and nobody greeted her. Leonora shivered uncontrollably. She would not panic, She
would not.
But, all the same—what had happened?

And then the sound of a deep, abrupt voice behind her made her face round quickly.

“Pardon me, but are you Miss Culpane?”

“Oh yes—yes.” Anxiety and relief quivered in her voice as Leonora looked up at the man who had addressed her.

In the first second she thought: “Heavens, what a handsome man,” and, in the next: “But I don’t know that I like him.”

“I’ve brought you a message from your father,” the man went on. “I’m afraid it is a very disappointing one. He was prevented from sailing at the last minute, and as I was coming over on the boat, he asked me to see you and look after you until—until he can come.”

Leonora stared wordlessly at him, stupefied by the overwhelming shock and disappointment.

“But”—she stammered at last—“but, do you mean he isn’t on the boat? He—he hasn’t come?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“And—what did you say?—that he sent you to—to look after me?”

The man inclined his head.

Intense agitation and resentment surged up in Leonora. “But—who are
you
then?”

“My name is Bruce Mickleham,” he told her. “I think your father has probably mentioned me in letters.”

Bruce Mickleham! Yes, of course her father had mentioned him, but he wasn’t anyone she had ever wanted to see. Least of all like this.

“I can’t understand it.” Her voice was not quite steady, for the sense of dismay and disappointment was growing rather than abating. “He said he was sure to be on the boat—that we would be together in just a few days.
Why
hasn’t he come?”

Bruce Mickleham’s rather cold dark eyes met hers unflinchingly. She could detect no friendliness in them, no sympathy for her distress.

“He was taken ill at the last moment. It was impossible for him to sail.”

“Ill!” Leonora’s disappointment changed to anxiety again. “Seriously ill, do you mean? Why didn’t you say so at first?”

“There has not been time to say everything at once,” he pointed out coldly.

She drew back almost literally at this dry disregard for her worry. She felt angry but a little frightened too, for her affairs were entirely in this strange man’s hands.

“Is he—is he seriously ill?” she asked, more timidly this time.

“I earnestly hope not. But I cannot tell you anything very definite.”

He didn’t seem to have anything to add to that, and she was dismayedly silent. After a moment he said:

“If you will wait here for a minute I will collect my luggage.”

“Yes,” Leonora said subduedly, and wondered a little what they were going to do then.

She watched him cross the quay with long, unhurried strides, an almost frighteningly impressive figure in his heavy travelling coat. He stood talking to a porter beside a truck-load of luggage and his easy air of command exacted a quite involuntary deference from the man.

He wasn’t taking any more notice of her now, and as he and the porter, with the luggage, seemed inclined to move off towards the Customs shed, she had no choice but to follow.

It was all so different from anything she had anticipated, she thought, with a quite uncontrollable lump rising in her throat.

Her easy-going, charming, affectionate father should have been there to pet her and make her feel loved and wanted. And, instead, she had to trail along, unnoticed, beside this big, indifferent stranger.

She stood by, a little forlornly, while he dealt with the customs officials. It was a long business and, as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, she began to realize how terribly weary and dispirited she felt.

For all he cared, she supposed, she could drop down where she stood. But she was not quite right about that, for at that moment he turned to her and said abruptly: “You had better sit down on that. It’s a long while for you to stand.” And he pointed to one of the trunks which had already been examined and passed.

She sat down on it without a word, her head a little bent, and studied the thick, black writing on the label.

“Bruce Mickleham. Passenger to Southampton.”

And then, underneath: “First Class.”

The words “First Class” had always indicated a state of almost sinful luxury to Aunt Sophie’s mind, and Leonora herself was not unmoved by its implication. Bruce Mickleham must be pretty well-off, she supposed. And, glancing at the piece of magnificent overcoat which came within range of her vision, she decided that undoubtedly Bruce Mickleham was well-off.

She didn’t like to raise her head to take another look at him, so she studied the one hand she could see, instead. It was very brown, inclined to thinness, and with a certain suggestion of nervous strength about it. Rather a beautiful hand really.

“All right. That’s everything. Will you come?” He was speaking to her again.

Leonora got up, a little nervously.

“Where are we going?”

He seemed surprised.

“Well, to the London train, I suppose. Did you want to do anything else?”

“Oh—no.”

She wondered helplessly how on earth they were going to manage things when they got to London. She and her father, of course, would have gone to an hotel together, but you couldn’t exactly walk into an hotel with a strange man. At least, she was quite, quite sure Aunt Sophie would have said you couldn’t.

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