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Authors: Peggy Gaddis

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Enchanted Spring

BOOK: Enchanted Spring
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Return to Love
Peggy Gaddis

Avon, Massachusetts

To the People of
“Midvale”
Who have not forgotten the lovely meaning of the words:
“Friend and Neighbor”

Contents

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Copyright

One

“OH, MISS, you
do
look beautiful,” said Hulda, who had been Carey’s nurse and who was now her maid.

“Do I, Hulda?” Carey’s voice was full of anticipation, her smoke-gray eyes shining a little. “It’s terribly important that I look
very
beautiful tonight, Hulda. My dearest enemy and best hated rival is making a pass at my man.”

“As if you cared about one man more or less, Miss!” scoffed Hulda. “You that’s got dozens of ‘em hanging around you all the time.”

Carey laughed and turned away from the mirror, reaching for the white fox jacket that Hulda was holding. She carried it in a careless hand as she went out, saying over her shoulder:

“Ah, but it’s the man the other girl wants that I always like best, Hulda!”

As Carey reached the head of the stairs, she heard the front door open and saw her father come into the house. The butler was waiting to take his coat and hat and that of the man who accompanied him. One glance told Carey the man was young, shabby, and a stranger to her.

Silas Winslow looked up at the sound of his daughter’s footsteps on the stairs and his tired, rather haggard face brightened a little as it always did at sight of her.

“Hello, baby,” he greeted her. Then a little of the warm eagerness went out of his face as he saw her silver-sprinkled tulle frock, the luxurious fox jacket she was trailing so carelessly. “Oh, you’re going out?”

“Well, naturally,” Carey answered glibly. “Being a debutante of the current season — I’d be an awful drip if I were sitting home twiddling my thumbs, and the season just three weeks old. Now wouldn’t I?”

She felt the dark eyes of the tall stranger on her. There was something in his cool, steady regard that made her oddly uncomfortable. Perhaps it was the complete lack of admiration. She wasn’t accustomed to a coolly critical regard in the eyes of otherwise attractive young men.

“Of course, baby, of course,” her father agreed, kissing her cheek lightly. “I was hoping you were dining at home because I’ve brought a guest I wanted you to know. Joel, this is my daughter, Carey. Joel is the son of my old friend, Doctor Hunter — you’ve heard me speak of him, Carey.”

“A couple of thousand times at least,” Carey returned, meeting the young man’s critical gaze with her pretty chin tilted at a slightly defiant angle. “How do you do, Mr. Hunter?”

“It’s
Doctor
Hunter,” her father corrected. “Joel is following in his father’s footsteps. He’s just completed some special work here at Bellevue and is leaving for the old home-town tomorrow.”

“How nice,” Carey said politely, but with such a complete lack of interest that Joel Hunter’s eyes glinted a little.

“Beg pardon, Miss Carey,” said the butler politely. “The car is here.”

“Thanks, John.” Carey turned to her father, who was frowning a little.

“You’re not going to a party alone?” he protested.

“Of course not, Pops,” laughed Carey and stood on tiptoe to drop a butterfly kiss on his cheek. “I’m picking up Ronnie at his place. He hasn’t a car and it’s snowing like the dickens outside. It would be pretty silly for him to call for me.”

Silas nodded. “I suppose so,” he admitted reluctantly. “Of course I don’t suppose it would make a lot of difference if I said that I don’t care a lot for Ronald Norris?”

“Afraid not, Pops,” Carey assured him blithely. “He’s really a lot of fun — you’d be surprised.”

She turned towards the door and, to her startled resentment, Joel Hunter said, “I’ll see you to your car, Miss Winslow.”

Carey stared at him almost haughtily. “That’s not at all necessary — ” she began.

But Joel had slipped his hand beneath her elbow and was steadying her down the snowy steps, saying, “I suppose not. But let’s just say I’m an old-fashioned guy who believes that chivalry isn’t quite dead.”

As the chauffeur swung open the car door and a soft gush of warm, perfumed air swept out to them from the car’s interior, Joel held Carey back a moment to say, “This isn’t exactly the opportunity I hoped to have for a serious talk with you, Miss Winslow — ”

Carey looked her amazement. “But what on earth?”

“The state of your father’s health, of course,” answered Joel. “Surely you have stopped long enough, even in the excitement of your debut year, to realize that your father is on the verge of being a very sick man?”

Carey, who adored her father, felt a little clutch at her heart. “I — I — don’t believe you,” she stammered helplessly.

Joel’s hand dropped from her elbow and he took a backward step. “Sorry. My error,” he said grimly. “I thought you might be just a bit human under that surface glaze. But I see I was wrong.”

He turned towards the steps and Carey cried out sharply, “Come back here! Don’t you dare say a thing like that and then just walk away. What’s the matter with my father?”

“Overwork — nerve-strain — business worries — the pace at which the average successful New York business man drives himself!” Joel’s eyes were cold and accusing. “His heart is in bad shape. If he doesn’t ease up on the strain, he’s going to pieces. Is that explicit enough?”

Carey’s face was as white beneath its artful make-up as her frivolous dress and the soft white jacket. “What — what can I do about it?” she whispered.

Joel looked her over from the top of her dark curls, held in place by a spray of gardenias, to the tips of her gold-strapped sandals with their amusingly jewelled heels, missing not one iota of the cost of her loveliness.

“What can you do about it?” he repeated after a moment. “I really couldn’t say. After all, he’s
your
father, not mine.”

He turned and went back up the steps, leaving Carey to stand there in the snowy street, down which a bitter wind howled suddenly. She shivered and became conscious of Harris, the chauffeur, still standing expectantly beside the open door of the car. She let him help her into its fragrant depths, told him to stop at Ronnie’s place, and sank back against the pearl-gray cushions as the big car purred away from the curb.

She was badly shaken by the things Joel Hunter had said. She and her father had been good friends since she could remember. But this last year had been such a hectic one — trips abroad; visits to schoolmates, one in Honolulu, one in Maine, and another out west on a cattle ranch; she hadn’t seen a lot of her father the last year or so. And now Joel Hunter told her her father’s health was precarious — Suddenly she gave her shoulders a little shrug and dismissed the shabby, dark-eyed young man from her thoughts. But throughout the evening she kept finding herself thinking of him again and again. And each time she realized the direction of her thoughts, she liked Joel Hunter less.

After all, she told herself with growing resentment, what business was it of Joel Hunter’s if she was sometimes too busy for Father? The big house on East Sixty-third Street was competently staffed, beneath the argus eye of Mrs. Shallenberger, the housekeeper, who would certainly see to it that everything her father could possibly want was provided for his comfort. Her father neglected? She sniffed at the thought.

Ronnie Norris, with whom she was dancing, looked down at her, his handsome face touched with a slight frown.

“Of course, if you’d rather talk to yourself than me, I suppose it’s quite all right,” he told her a trifle grumpily. “But if I am really as boring as all that, maybe you’d rather be alone?”

Carey relaxed a little in his arms and gave him her most dazzling smile. “Was I talking to myself? That shows what bad manners I’ve got — I’m sorry. Somebody ruffled my temper and got away with the last word, and ever since I’ve been thinking of perfectly devastating things I might have said — if only I’d thought of them in time.”

Ronnie’s handsome brow cleared. “Oh, well, if it’s like that — ” he forgave her handsomely.

They danced in silence for a minute and then someone cut in. A little later she saw him dancing with Ann Paige. That annoyed her and made her set her teeth hard. Ann Paige was a debutante of two seasons ago who hadn’t managed to snare herself a husband, despite the fact that the Paige fortune was large and Ann its only heir. Ann was dumpy and wouldn’t let anyone teach her how to dress; and she was known as the worst conversationalist in the world, a matter of ridicule among the gay, fresh young things of the present season, as well as others of her own season.

Carey watched Ronnie smiling down at Ann who was all but visibly bubbling with excitement at the attentions of the very handsome if penniless Ronnie. Carey knew perfectly well that Ann would marry Ronnie at the drop of a hat if she only had the chance; but Carey was smugly sure that she wasn’t going to have the chance, for Carey had her own plans about Ronnie. She was going to marry him herself at the end of the season. And she could feel just a bit sorry for Ann because Ann was going to feel very unhappy about not landing Ronnie for herself.

Two

SHE WENT to tea with Ronnie the next afternoon. One of the engaging things about Ronnie was that he made no bones whatever about his penniless condition. He confessed frankly that he had been brought up to expect a lot out of life; expensively educated to do nothing more than play golf and polo — with borrowed clubs and ponies, of course. And then the uncle who had paid for all his expensive and useless upbringing had died and left an estate that brought in a little over five thousand dollars a year. That was the sum total of his income.

“So what could I do?” Ronnie had asked Carey soon after they met. “I played good bridge, fair golf. I danced well. I was the answer to a country hostess’s weekend prayers for an extra man. So I follow the only profession for which I’ve had any training — professional houseguest.”

Carey had liked his frankness, and had excused as amusing his failure to attempt to make a living. The fact that Ronnie had a habit of knowing just where one could pick up “the most fascinating bargains” in everything from grand pianos, motor cars and country estates, to costume jewelry and imported house linens was accepted as an asset by his friends. They were too polite to reason that he undoubtedly acquired some very nice commissions for such knowledge. As long as he was witty, agreeable, well-bred, well-tailored, and always available, his various hostesses were perfectly willing to provide bed and board; while his affluent friends furnished his amusements and his little luxuries.

He and Carey lingered over tea until a gray-violet dusk closed over the world and the street lamps glowed like jewels. And then as they came out of the hotel, Ronnie said casually:

“Too bad you’re not in the market for a new car. I know where an unbelievable bargain can be picked up for practically a song. An imported affair, of course — special built job — you’d be very becoming to it. It’s the only one of its kind in the country — and, believe it or not, it can be had for ten thousand. Isn’t that ridiculous?”

Carey looked at him with faint suspicion. “If it’s all that, why does the owner want to sell it?” she demanded.

Ronnie chuckled. “She’s an ex-showgirl. Her husband is sixty and insanely jealous. They’ve only been married a few months and he hasn’t yet made his new will. And I told you that this is the only car of its kind in the country, so — ” He lifted elegantly tailored shoulders in a little shrug.

“I get it. The ex-showgirl would like something less conspicuous for her comings and goings.”

Ronnie laughed. “She hasn’t had it long enough for it to have acquired any evil repute,” he assured her, amused. “It was only delivered a week ago. She took one look at it and knew she’d rather have a Ford or a Chevrolet — something not quite so noticeable, something in which she would feel at home.”

BOOK: Enchanted Spring
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