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Authors: Mary Burchell

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BOOK: For Ever and Ever
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Leonie opened her lips to say she was nothing of the sort. But then she suddenly remembered Claire’s insistence on passing her off as a friend, rather than a girl in her father’s office. She had obviously told some highly-colored story to Kingsley Stour. Perhaps she had told it to Nicholas Edmonds too.

“I wonder,” Leonie said curiously, “just how rich do you think I am.”

“I hadn’t given the matter a great deal of thought,” Nicholas Edmonds replied amusedly. “It was merely a rough-and-ready classification, based on something I was told.”

“Did Claire tell you?”

He reflected for a moment, obviously searching his memory.

“No. As a matter of fact, I remember now. It was Kingsley Stour himself.”

“It was?” She felt somehow that this made things rather different. “He told you I was a wealthy girl?”

“I think what he said was that you both were wealthy girls. He classed you together for this purpose.

I saw no reason to query his information.”

“No, no—of course not.” Leonie bit her lip and thought hard. “So he thinks I am a rich and eligible girl too?”

“With the added advantage of no angry father in opposition,” Nicholas Edmonds observed as though to himself.

Leonie swallowed rather hard,

“It—it seems an awfully mean thing to do,” she said irrelevantly.

“What does?” inquired her companion coolly. “If you’re misjudging the young man and he truly loves your friend, there won’t be any question of your distracting his attention from her. If, on the other hand, he is a bit of an adventurer—out for the best and easiest match he can make—you will be doing Miss Claire a good turn by showing him up in his true colors.”

“It—it sounds all right in theory,” Leonie conceded doubtfully.

“It might even work in practice,” countered Nicholas Edmonds with a smile. “Think it over. You’ll have a lot of ground to make up with our young surgeon, of course, if you’ve really let him know you distrusted him.”

“In fact,” Leonie said, almost hopefully, “perhaps it’s hardly worth while making the attempt.”

But her companion seemed to think that too defeatist.

“Mankind’s capacity for being gulled is almost limitless,” he replied cynically, which, as a matter of fact, shocked, rather than reassured, Leonie.

She very much disliked the idea of “gulling” anyone, even Kingsley Stour. But if Claire were to be rescued from him, one could not, perhaps, be too nice in one’s choice of weapon. And, after that day’s experience, Leonie really thought in terms of rescuing Claire. For nothing would convince her that the Assistant Surgeon had not deliberately tried to leave her ashore, and anyone who could do such a thing could hardly be trusted to bring happiness to a girl like Claire.

Leonie intended to think the whole suggestion over very carefully before she made any decision. But events moved too quickly for that. As she left Nicholas Edmonds and strolled along the deck in the warm, Mediterranean night air, the Assistant Surgeon came up to her, with an air of friendly concern which did him, or his acting powers, great credit.

“Leonie, I want to speak to you—”

“Y-es?” She stopped, not at all sure what attitude she wanted to take up, in view of the recent conversation about playing poker.


I
can’t tell you how distressed I am.” He actually took her hand and, against all her natural instinct, Leonie let him. “It’s not only that you should have had such an awful experience, owing to my carelessness. But Claire tells me you have some idea that I arranged it on purpose. That I
meant
you to be left behind. How could you think such a thing?”

She longed to tell him just how she could think such a thing. But if she were going to take any of Nicholas Edmonds’s advice, even in the smallest degree, now was the time to do a little dissembling on her own part.

“I’m—sorry—” She looked down, finding it not at all difficult to seem confused and put out. “Perhaps I—I judged too hastily. But it was all like a nightmare, and I was so scared—and it seemed all too much to be only chance. I suppose I was still in a panic when I talked to Claire, and hardly knew what I was saying.”

“I can quite understand that.” The hand which was holding hers lightly closed warmly on her fingers now. “Don’t think I blame you. You must have been scared enough to suspect anything and anyone. But
please
clear me, in your own mind, of anything but stupidity in not making sure you were accounted for.”

It was difficult to accept the statement that
he
did not blame
her.
But Leonie made herself smile uncertainly at him and say, “Oh, it’s all right now. I’ve got over the fright. I didn’t want to think anything like that of you—” Almost without intention she let her voice trail away into wistful silence.

“Of course not.” He spoke earnestly, and his hand still held hers. “You don’t really think so badly of me, do you, Leonie?”

It was at this point that she suddenly decided to try out Nicholas Edmonds’ suggestion.

“I don’t know what I think,” she said, with a deep sigh. Then she looked out to sea, with an air of thinking unutterable thoughts, and said softly, “I wish I did.”

“Leonie!” He seemed moved by this. Considering the ambiguity of the words, almost too moved. “Do you mean that you do like me a bit, in spite of everything?”

She turned smiling eyes on him then and said, “I’ve never found it difficult to like people, Kingsley. But when you’re a girl, on your own—it’s almost more important to decide whom you trust.”

“But you must trust me! Truly you must!” He drew her slightly towards him by the hand he was holding. “I can’t bear it if you don’t, Leonie.”

“Oh, it can’t be so important as that.” She laughed softly and a little reprovingly.

“But indeed it is,” he said. And then he kissed her, and Leonie decided that things had gone far enough for one evening.

Disentangling herself—gently and not too speedily—she said, “I think you’d better go and tell Claire that I’ve decided to write off what happened today as an accident. I’m not suspecting anyone or blaming anyone, tell her. She’ll be glad to hear that from you, I’m sure.”

Perhaps he thought so, too. Or perhaps the mention of Claire reminded him that he was behaving with less than his usual tact and good sense. At any rate, he left her abruptly then, and Leonie, strolling on in the opposite direction, almost immediately came upon Mr. Pembridge.

He was leaning against the rail of the ship, smoking a cigarette, and he gave her a somewhat quizzical glance as she came up with him.

“Hello,” Leonie said, rather defiantly.

“Hello. Been bringing a difficult day to a satisfactory conclusion, I see.”

Until that moment she had hoped he had not witnessed the scene with Kingsley Stour. Now she knew he must have done, and the discovery vexed her beyond belief.

“Tactful people don’t comment on every shipboard kiss they happen to see exchanged,” she told him curtly.

“No?” He seemed to find that amusing. “Not even when they are interested to know what it implies?”

“Not even then.”

“Which means that I can mind my own business?” he suggested, still smiling at her, as though he really had the right to know what she did—and why.

She was silent, angry at his curiously possessive air towards her, and wishing she could think of something which would disconcert him, for a change.

“So you’re not going to tell me why you were kissing Kingsley Stour?” His slightly mocking voice came to her out of the warm darkness. But inspiration came to her too.

“Not,” she said coolly, “unless you also feel like telling me why you were kissing Renee Armand on the first night out.”

 

 

CHAPTER
SIX

For a few
moments sifter she had thrown her challenging remark at Mr. Pembridge, Leonie felt elated. Then a chill of misgiving invaded her, and she would have given a good deal to recall it. After all, his relationship with Renee Armand—or anyone else, come to that—was no concern of hers, even if he did choose to tease her.

Apparently he thought so too. For, after what seemed a long half-minute, he said coolly, “You’re letting your romantic imagination rim away with you.”

“I am not!” She was indignant immediately. “I did see you kiss her.”

“I think not.” Mr. Pembridge looked bored. “Possibly you saw her kiss me. But, then, Renee has known me a long time and, like most artists, is rather expansive with her friends.”

The distinction of meaning between kissing and being kissed was intriguing, and Leonie would have liked to take it up with him. But something about the Senior Surgeon suggested that the discussion had gone far enough, and suddenly she felt that she had made heavy weather of something which should have been dismissed lightly.

“Well,” she said, trying to retrieve the situation with a careless smile, “at least it’s clear that we must not inquire too much into each other’s affairs.”

“Perhaps you are right,” Mr. Pembridge agreed. Then he sketched her a mortifying casual half salute and went away on his own affairs, leaving her to the profitless—but, alas, very human—reflection that she would have handled the situation quite differently if only she might have had the opportunity to play the scene over again.

It was stupid, she told herself now, to have shown annoyance when he teased her over that silly scene with Kingsley Stour. The only possible result would be that he attached more, rather than leas, importance to the scene in consequence.

And then that rude retort about Renee Armand must have given him the impression that
she
was interested in
his
affairs. An idea which she certainly did not wish him to have.

Vexed with herself, and rather out of humor with a day which had brought more than its share of shocks and anxieties, Leonie finally went to her cabin. And later, when she lay in bed, rocking gently to the movement of the boat, she tried to think clearly and constructively about Nicholas Edmonds’ half-cynical suggestion that she should test Kingsley Stour’s sincerity towards Claire by the very simple process of dazzling him a little on her own account.

Her first tentative attempts had certainly been productive. And, partly because she felt furious with him still over the shabby trick he had tried to play her, partly because it seemed almost the only way in which she might show Claire her danger, Leonie decided that she might—she just might—play the masquerade out to its final, perhaps bitter, conclusion.

The next day, and for two more days after that, they sailed through the magic waters of the eastern Mediterranean, where nothing seemed entirely real, and even Nicholas Edmonds surrendered a little to the romantic, exotic atmosphere.

“There is nothing else quite like it,” he owned to Leonie. “I suppose the Greeks had a word for it themselves, but there is no way of really describing its languorous, insidious charm. One just has to experience it oneself. Tomorrow we shall be at Port Said, I suppose, and heaven knows there’s enough clear-cut reality about that. But today there is some sort of magic in the air. The feeling that almost anything could happen.”

In the evening, too, there was magic, and the Mediterranean Ball which was held that night was something much more glamorous than any of the usual dances held so far. For one thing, in obedience to the Captain’s order—and the hot winds that were already blowing from the Red Sea—the uniformed personnel had gone into white, which imparted a festive air to them.

“We must wear our most glamorous dresses tonight,” Claire declared happily beforehand. “I have a gorgeous white-and-gold-tulle affair. How about you?”

It seemed that Leonie, too, had provided for such an occasion. Or, rather—as she reminded herself with a faint sensation of inadequacy—Sir James had. Her flower-printed nylon dress, with its immense ruffed skirt, had stood up wonderfully to packing and only needed a little attention in one of the superbly equipped ironing-rooms which were at the disposal of passengers.

“You look lovely, darling,” Claire declared, with affectionate sincerity, as the girls inspected each other’s finery before going up to the ballroom. “I’m sure we’re both going to have fun tonight! And, oh, Leonie, I’m so
glad
that you and Kingsley are friends again.”

“I’m glad, too, if that’s how you want it,” Leonie said, smiling. “But does it really matter so much?”

“It’s always nice to have one’s friends get on together,” asserted Claire naively. “And I simply couldn’t bear the idea that you actually—actually distrusted him. Nor could he, you know. He was really upset about it, and most genuinely relieved when everything was smoothed out again.”

“I’m sure he was,” Leonie said, and she tried not to make that sound ironical.

“He really does like you a lot,” Claire insisted happily. “You wouldn’t believe how often he mentions you or asks me about you.”

“And what,” inquired Leonie curiously, “do you tell him?”

“Oh, well”—Claire laughed and colored a little, but she tossed her head a trifle defiantly, too—”as you know, I was determined that he—that everyone—should think we were old friends. So I just let him suppose that you and I were at the same finishing school together.”

“As a matter of interest—and just in case I have to substantiate this—where?” inquired Leonie.

“Paris. I suppose you know Paris,” added Claire, to whom it was evidently inconceivable that one should not know Paris.

“I spent ten days there a couple of years ago. I’ll do what I can on the strength of that,” Leonie promised with humor. “But do go on. What else have you said about me?”

“Leonie, you don’t
mind
my doing this, do you?” Claire looked anxious.

“In the circumstances, no,” said Leonie a little drily.

“It isn’t so much a question of saying things as implying them,” Claire explained engagingly. “I have not referred much to your family, because a family is always a bit complicating. I just implied that you were immensely rich in your own right.”

“Why immensely rich?” Leonie wanted to know, a good deal intrigued now by the character of the pretence. “Wouldn’t rather wealthy have done?”

“Oh—I don’t know. I think the other sounds nicer, don’t you?” Claire looked pleased with her own powers of invention.

“Much nicer,” Leonie agreed with a laugh. “It would sound nicest of all if it were true.”

“Well, I thought it would explain the fact that you are travelling on your own like this, with no strings to your plans or yourself.”

“It explains everything,” Leonie agreed, suddenly feeling gay and reckless and infinitely amused by the situation. “Suppose we go up to the ballroom now, and I promise to do my best to play the part of the girl who was born with a golden spoon in her mouth.

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