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Authors: Susan Barrie

Air Ticket

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AIR TICKET

Susan Barrie

 

Could their new love compete with the old?

After lonely years of raising her daughter, Caro was free to begin a new life. Her quest for change led her to Switzerland—and to tentative bliss in marriage to the handsome Dr. Lucien Andreas.

Her happiness was threatened, however, by constant reminders of Lucien’s first wife, Barbara. He’d cherished her and been shattered by her death.

Caro’s love for Lucien had barely begun to flourish. Was it destined to wither in Barbara’s shadow?

 

CHAPTER ONE

“What a lovely wedding!”
everyone said after it was all over. “And what a
beautiful
bride!
I
wouldn’t have missed it for anything!”

Caro wouldn’t have missed it, either, although when the organ was thundering forth the bridal march from
Lohengrin
and Beverley and her very new husband appeared in the aisle with the sunlight streaming upon them through the stained-glass windows, she experienced such a rush of emotions, that it was almost unbearable. Beverley looked so young, with her grandmother’s lace veil streaming out behind her and a sheaf of wax-white lilies clasped in the crook of her free arm.

So Caro all at once became cold with awe, with admiration, and satisfaction. For Beverley was her only daughter—and at nineteen she was safely married to a man she adored, who adored her and who could keep her in comfort for the rest of her days.

At the reception afterward Beverley said, “Mummy, you looked so odd when David and I started to walk down the aisle. You looked as if you were going to cry.”

Caro smiled her devotion at the radiant apparition in front of her, and just then she did not look in the
least like crying. She looked far too proud. “Well, it’s a mother’s privilege to shed a few tears when the first of her offspring makes up its mind to depart from the nest. And in your case you represent the first and the last of my offspring—don’t forget that!”

Beverley squeezed her arm affectionately. “You don’t look old enough to have a married daughter, mummy. What are you going to do with your life now that you haven’t got me to slave for?”

And that, Caro recognized, since there was no one apart from Beverley for whom she need slave or plan or concern herself seriously in any way, was the question that only she herself could answer.

When the newly wedded pair had departed in a state of bliss and a shower of rice and rose petals for their honeymoon, she returned alone to the empty flat where only a few hours before a condition of the utmost disorder had prevailed. There had been mountains of tissue paper and dress boxes cluttering up not only the bedrooms but also
the main living room and the hall; and suitcases—all of them completely new and very expensive—had been stacked in the hall in such a state of solid congestion that in order to get from one part of the flat to the other one had had literally to climb over them.

But now the suitcases were gone, and there was not even a wisp of tissue paper left. Mrs. Moses, who had been Caro’s daily help for five years, had cleared away. Everything looked so starkly bare and painfully tidy that Caro was conscious of a feeling of dismay until she caught sight of the note Mrs. Moses had pinned to the satin pincushion on the dressing table in her room. And in addition to the note there was a glass of long-stemmed, fragrant violets close to one of Beverley’s teenage photographs. The note ran:

Cheer up, ducks, and don’t let it get you down! It’ll seem strange at first, but you’ll soon get used to being on your own, and I’ll be in at five tonight to see about your meal. The violets are with love.

Annie Moses

The tears brimmed like the sudden rising of a well to Caro’s eyes. What was it Mrs. Moses had said to her only the night before, when they were washing the supper things together in the kitchen? Beverley had gone to bed early, and David was at his stag party, and already the little flat had seemed strangely quiet after feverish weeks of preparation and almost constant entertaining.

“Miss Bev ought to be mighty proud of her mum, that’s what she ought! Done everything for her, you have, ever since she was tiny and that poor husband of yours got himself drowned in his submarine. But
I
doubt whether she appreciates what you’ve done. And all out of painting them there miniatures, and going at it like steam, as you might say! Not much rest for you—nor for your poor eyes, neither!” And with that she’d glanced sideways at the slender figure in the flowered housecoat that made her look so absurdly young.

In order to prove to Mrs. Moses that there was nothing wrong with her eyes, however, Caro had removed her glasses and smiled at her.

“What
I
want to know,” Mrs. Moses had persisted, “is what are you going to do with yourself when Miss Bev’s gone? You ought to take things a bit more easy—get out more and enjoy yourself instead of fiddling about with them brushes. After all, you’re only young once.”

“You seem to forget that I’ve a daughter who is just about to become a married woman herself,” Caro had reminded her.

“Rubbish!” Mrs. Moses had exclaimed. “To look at you two together it would be easy to take you for sisters—except that you’re not at all like one another. And what I say is, it’s up to everyone to have a life of their own, and you don’t just want to develop into a baby-sitter when Miss Bev starts having her children.”

But Caro knew that when Beverley started having her children they would be handed over to the care of a competent nanny. David, too, had decided ideas, and among them would be one that would provide him with the society of his young and beautiful wife as much as possible; he would be antagonistic to anything that took her away from him.

Unless financial disaster overtook them at the outset of her married career, Beverley would never have to make herself responsible for small sticky hands being washed before a meal, teeth being brushed at bedtime and bathwater brought to just the right temperature, in the way her mother had done—and enjoyed doing.

So there would be no question of Caro’s being a useful grandmother. She had made up her mind that she would never thrust herself upon her married daughter.

She changed out of her ultrasmart wedding attire and into her flowered housecoat, and made herself a cup of tea. She felt intensely alone as she sat sipping it, and was half-frightened because this was only the beginning, and there might be many years ahead.

She was only thirty-eight—and what was thirty
-
eight in this modern world in which she lived? In her grandmother’s day, or even her mother’s day, she might have found it easier to reconcile herself to the idea of growing old gracefully in the secure little backwater her years of hard work had provided her with.

But never in the sixteen years of her widowhood had she felt so utterly deflated. She caught a glimpse of herself in the little white-framed mirror above the kitchen sink, and for an instant it did strike her that hers was not the face of a woman who might very shortly becomes grandmother. It was a young face still—Mrs. Moses had been right—and even the poise of the sleek dark head was young. She took off her glasses and stared at herself hard in the mirror.

Without the glasses she was younger still, and there was nothing really wrong with her eyes. They felt tired sometimes, but that was due to too much application.

She heard the sound of Mrs. Moses’ key grating in the lock of the front door.

“I’ve got it!” Mrs. Moses announced as she set a basket down on the well-scrubbed table. “Me and my old man have thought up the very thing for you, Mrs. Yorke, dear. You’ve got to go and get yourself an air ticket!”

“An
...
air ticket?” Caro echoed.

“Yes.” The daily help hung her coat on the door and tied an apron around her capacious middle. “You know—fly off somewhere where you’ve never been before, and have a bit of an adventure! Forget things—forget Miss Bev, too, for a few weeks—and enjoy yourself. Go right away!”

 

CHAPTER TWO

Caro had been trying
to catch a glimpse of the face of the man just in front of her on the other side of the aisle. She wasn’t at all sure why she was so curious to see that particular face, but from her rear view of the sleek well-held head and the impeccably tailored shoulders, she had the feeling that it should prove interesting.

The air hostess had approached him more than once and talked to him in her well-trained voice,
w
hich had elicited a response in an equally well
-
trained and faintly amused masculine voice. But it wasn’t an English voice, Caro thought.

She looked downward out of the window at the carpet of cloud above which they were flying, and she knew a half-formed wish that instead of touching down in Zurich they might go on for hours with nothing but th
a
t magic wilderness of blue space all around them.

It made her feel free with scarcely a thought even for Beverley. Beverley was probably having a wonderful time somewhere down in the heel of Italy, with no knowledge at all of her mother’s impetuous decision to act upon Mrs. Moses’ advice. And if any letters came from
Beverley, Mrs. Moses would forward them to Caro.

She had picked Zurich as a starting-off point because she had never been there before. Mrs. Moses had been firmly of the opinion that Istanbul would be a definite prelude to adventure. She had read in a guidebook that the women of Turkey had once worn veils but now wore them no longer, and that she considered to
be a sign of advancement. But Caro had pointed out to her that Zurich was described in another guidebook as the richest city in Europe, and the Paris of Switzerland.

Caro smiled almost tenderly when she thought of Mrs. Moses and the violets on her dressing table. And then she allowed her handbag to slide off her lap so suddenly that most of its contents spilled about her feet. She bent to pick them up, but her gold lipstick rolled away down the aisle, and so did the little silver pencil that Beverley, when she was only thirteen, had given to her on her birthday.

The air hostess recovered some of the things, but it was the man on the other side of the aisle who handed over the lipstick. For the first time Caro saw his face, an extraordinarily good-looking face, although there were a few faint threads of silvery hair at his temples.

“I hope you’ve recovered the lot?” he asked when she had gratefully accepted the lipstick.

Caro quickly checked the contents of her handbag.

“All except a small silver pencil,” she said.

The search began afresh, and again it was the dark man who found it. It had rolled beneath his seat, and as he passed it over she saw him glance at it and at the childish inscription on the side of it: “To mummy with lots of love.”

Caro felt herself flushing as his eyes, with a touch of amusement in them, studied her. Her own eyes, unprotected by her tortoiseshell glasses, which as the result of a sudden last-minute decision she had left behind in her flat, grew noticeably almost embarrassed.

“I didn’t want to lose it,” she explained, “because my daughter gave it to me when she was very young.”

“I see,” he said.

“It’s a purely sentimental souvenir.”

He made no reply to this, but she thought that the amusement in his eyes increased for a moment, and then he turned back to the book he had been reading more or less steadily since the flight began.

Very soon afterward they began to lose altitude. The red light flashed on, warning all passengers to fasten their seatbelts. Then the air hostess was smiling, the door was open, and Caro found herself and her light luggage waiting for a taxi to convey her the rest of the way to her hotel.

A huge cream-colored limousine with a smartly liveried chauffeur was waiting for the dark man who had recovered Beverley’s pencil. As he was about to step into it and the chauffeur was still holding the door open, he turned his head and caught sight of Caro. She was wearing a neat tailored suit, and the round collar of the light blouse beneath
i
t gave the impression of youthfulness. For the first time she was feeling forlorn and wondering why she had picked
Zurich as a place to escape to, and her gray eyes gave away the fact.

The dark man touched his hat and turned to her.

“I wonder if
I
can give you a lift anywhere?”

“Oh!” Caro stared first at him and then at the splendors of the cream-colored car. “If it won’t—if it won’t be taking you out of your way...?”

“Where do you want to go to?” he asked, smiling. She gave him the name of her hotel, where she had booked only for a couple of nights because the charge was extremely high and she hoped to find somewhere else cheaper when she knew her way about. He promptly stood aside for her to enter the car.

Caro realized that this was a very expensive car indeed. Her new son-in-law, David, had rejoiced over his acquisition of a new Jaguar sports car just before his marriage, but this, she had recognized from the hood, was a Rolls-Royce. The man who appeared to own it was producing a thin gold cigarette case from his pocket, which he snapped open and offered to her.

“No, thank you,” she declined with her quick, shy smile. “I don’t smoke.”

“Is this your first visit to Zurich?”

“It’s my first visit to Switzerland.”

“In that case you’ve quite a lot to see. Are you staying long?”

“I don’t know
...
Only a couple of nights in Zurich.”

“Zurich is quite an attractive city,” he admitted. “You can have a good time here if you like shops and
so forth, and if you want pastoral peace the mountains are right on your doorstep. My personal preference if I were a newcomer like you, would be for
the
mountains, but that—” with a more open smile at her “—is because I was born and brought up among them.”

“And you live in Zurich?” she asked.

“No.” He looked lazily out of the window at a smart black coupe that passed them at speed. “I live farther south, also on a lake, but a more beautiful one than this, I think. A place called Oberlaken.”

“And that, I believe, means ‘above the lakes’?”

“Quite right. You must have been brushing up on your German in preparation for this visit.”

“No

My German is practically nonexistent; I think I saw it in a guidebook. And this visit is such an unexpected affair that I made hardly any preparations for it at all.”

“Indeed?” he murmured.

“It’s more a
...
a kind of running away,” she explained, and then realized that such an explanation might strike him as odd, particularly as they were drawing in toward the curb and the imposing facade of her hotel.

He smiled in a quizzical fashion as he looked down at her.

“You’ve chosen rather a good time of the year to run away,” he told her. “In another week most of the blossom will be out, and spring is the perfect time here. I hope you’ll decide it was a good place to run to.
Adieu, madame
!

That afternoon
Caro set out to explore Zurich. She was entranced by the goods displayed behind thick plate-glass windows in the Bahnhofstrasse and wished she were the possessor of unlimited means.

She yielded to temptation sufficiently to buy herself a gauzy sequined stole that would go very well with one of her few evening dresses, and a bottle of exciting perfume. And when she went down to dinner that night she was wearing the stole over her cloudy black net dinner dress.

She was surprised, when she glanced up occasionally from her table near the center of the room, to find that eyes were watching her, and although some of them were feminine, others were masculine. She was conscious of a distinct sensation of shock that anyone should consider her worthy of even a moment’s study. For many years now she had thought of herself only as Beverley’s mother, so that the idea of herself as a woman who was still only thirty-eight was almost like an intrusive thought.

Why, in less than a year she might be a grandmother!

But that didn’t prevent the waiter from taking her under his wing and being especially attentive to her, and the
maître
d’hôtel
himself from making sure that the waiter’s attentiveness was of an order that could not be improved upon. And before she left the dining room she was beginning to be seriously embarrassed by the growing warmth and appreciation in the eyes of a young man near to her who could scarcely be any older than David, her son-in-law, and she thought how shocked Beverley would be if she could see him
watching her. And a much more elderly man with a monocle concentrated the latter upon her with so much persistence that she was glad to retreat to a small inner lounge that seemed to be full of ladies playing solitaire and doing embroidery and knitting, where she felt much more at home.

One of the ladies, an elderly German baroness, instantly got her to help to wind a hank of wool while she attempted to find out what were Caro’s plans and exactly where she had come from and why. It was she who suggested to Caro how she should fill in her time while she was in Switzerland.

“You must go up into the mountains,” she said.

I can give you the name of a very comfortable little hotel where I spent almost the whole of last winter. Then you must see Lucerne and Oberlaken.”

“Oberlaken?” Caro found herself catching her up rather quickly. “How does one get there?”

The baroness suggested that she hire a car, and also knew of a hotel in Oberlaken that would not be too expensive.
Two days later Caro hired a car, and as she left Zurich she had an unaccountable feeling that every movement she made from now on would be in accordance with some deeply laid plan that she herself had had nothing to do with devising.

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