Authors: Jenny Lane
The situation would be totally intolerable for them both.
She picked up the thin blue air letter and read it for about the hundredth time. The words swam before her eyes.
"And now Lindsey, I have to tell you that your father is interested in purchasing
Matsa's ranch. You will remember, I told you that old Walker has recently died? Well his son has finally decided to sell out. Your father is prepared to set you and I up with a farm of our own, if we marry, and feels that Walker's place would be very suitable.
This means, my dear that I can no longer wait until your return for your answer. Tom Walker won't wait long before putting the property on the open market, because he's impatient to return to Kenya, as soon as possible…And so Lindsey, my dear, have you decided whether or not you are going to marry me…?"
The letter was so cold and clinical. Nowhere was there any declaration of love or even an indication that Gavin missed her. Lindsey had to admit that, as the days passed, she found herself thinking about him less and less and yet, surely, absence was supposed to make the heart grow fonder?
Gavin had asked Lindsey to ring him at the Hilton hotel in Nairobi. He was staying there during a business trip at this very moment, and was planning to return to the ranch on Tuesday. So that meant she would have to 'phone him by Monday at the very latest: as there was no way of contacting him once he reached the ranch.
Suddenly, with startling clarity, Lindsey knew quite definitely that she didn't want to marry Gavin, or for that matter to return to Africa. She wanted to remain here in England at Balliam Point, and to live her own life. And what of Rob? Where did he come into the picture? He had been banking on father setting him up, but father obviously had other ideas. He saw Rob as a replacement manager for the home ranch.
The moon slanted into the room dancing on the bed, as Lindsey tossed and turned far into the night. How could her father put her in such a difficult situation? And he hadn't even written to consult her. Whichever way she looked at it, she would be letting someone down but, somehow, now that she had made the decision, it was as if a great burden had been lifted from her.
Dear God, she hoped she was doing the right thing, but after all, she had always known deep down that life with Gavin would not exactly be a bed of roses.
At last Lindsey fell asleep to dream of England in
Summer, and of Simon Kirkby standing over her, giving her a perfect red rose.
Andrew was waiting for Lindsey when she returned from church the following morning. "Ah, the very lady I wanted to see…I didn't know you were church-minded."
"Then I'm afraid I must be failing dismally as a Christian." Lindsey suddenly thought of the thriving mission but in
Buruti, run by Kim and Roddy, her American friends. She had a sudden nostalgic memory of the natives dressed in their best Sunday clothes.
In her mind she could hear them lustily singing the choruses accompanied by
Roddy's guitar. She thought of Sam, the houseboy who cycled down to the hut regularly every Sunday, and of Emily, his sister whom Lindsey herself had trained to make bread and taught to read her bible. Lindsey suddenly felt as if she was letting them all down in her decision to remain in England.
"Hey, wake up, Lin—I've been talking for ages and I'm sure you haven't heard a word I've said."
Lindsey blinked and came through the clouds of memory. "Oh sorry, Andrew! What were you saying? I was miles away." Four thousand miles actually.
"I was just telling you, amongst other things, that you'll have to make the Sunday joint stretch a bit further, because I'm staying to lunch too. I've managed to wangle an invitation out of old Simon, because I'm curious to meet this brother of yours.
Should be quite a party. It reminds me of that film Sidney Poitier was in, 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."
Lindsey ran her finger along the hall table; it needed dusting.
"Well the more the merrier. I don't think Susan would have invited Rob at all if she had realised he was my brother. She still thinks he's my boyfriend. Rob only kept up the pretence to tease her, but just wait until she finds out!"
"Should prove interesting—I'll look forward to the entertainment." Lindsey laughed. "Poor Susan, she's obviously a hopeless romantic at heart. Oh well, I suppose I'd better see how things are progressing in the kitchen."
"Okay, see you at lunch time, then." He bent and kissed her cheek. "Strictly platonic—I haven't forgotten," and he disappeared into the lounge.
Lindsey was amused to see Rob riding up the drive on an antiquated bicycle. She went out to greet him.
"It's Colin's," he said by way of explanation. "Val drove me in, but I thought I'd better bring my own transport, in case my dear sister's too busy with her domestic duties to give me a lift back."
"Well the exercise will be good for you my lad. You're getting quite a corporation. It must be all that beer you're drinking." She took him into the garden at the back of the house. He propped the bike against a wall and looked about him with interest.
"Huge place this—bit bleak though."
"I like it," Lindsey said simply. "It will be a picture in spring. Look there's a clump of snowdrops under that tree, and there are plenty of other things coming along…This
isn't Africa you know. You can't expect to find poinsettias and bougainvillae springing up all over the place."
"Okay, point taken. You're prejudiced though aren't you? I mean, you're smitten with Simon Kirkby, however much you deny it, so you're bound to defend his tastes."
Her heart began to pound in an extra-ordinary manner; she was oddly disturbed by what he had said. "Don't be ridiculous, Rob. Anyway I brought you out here so we could speak in private for a few minutes. There's something I want to tell you."
"Well come on then—
Don't keep me in suspense."
"As a matter of fact, Robbie, I've got a bit of a disappointment for you. It's Gavin's last letter—the one you gave me yesterday." She told him briefly about their father's latest idea. Rob's face creased in a frown.
"I don't get it, Lin—I'd understood I'd be the one to be set up. I mean nothing was definitely promised, I know, but well, I just assumed that was what would happen…Hang it all, that means I'll have to stay and look after the old man!"
"Really Rob, you are selfish! What a motive for getting out! One of us has to look after father…Anyway I'm not sure that I'm going to accept." She somehow couldn't bring herself to tell Rob of her decision at that moment.
Rob kicked a stone onto the path. "Well you will won't you, Lin? I mean everyone in Buruti knows you and old Gavin will make it to the altar one day."
"Then they know more than I do. I've told you, I haven't decided yet. What with the bungalow and now this—as if I haven't got enough worries."
"Crumbs, I'd hardly call the prospect of getting spliced a worry—It should be a joy. Well, look Lin, supposing you did decide against it, would you ask father if he'd still buy the ranch for me? I'd throw up college this summer if he did."
"And father would throw a fit if you did that. You know how he's set on you going through with this course. Be your age, Rob! You'll just have to bear with me for a while, won't you?"
He looked thoroughly disgruntled. "Well, you're usually the one that knows her own mind. I'm surprised at you, Lin."
"Then be surprised." She happened to glance up at the house. "And now you'd better come indoors before Susan falls out of that window. I bet she's dying to know what we're talking about."
Rob grinned and waved cheerfully at Susan. "Hallo there, I've been looking forward to meeting you again. Come on down and talk to me."
Lindsey was glad of Andrew's presence at lunch, because Rob was in one of his, "mind your manners moods." Tommy and Simon were very quiet, whilst Susan flirted happily with both Andrew and Rob. The conversation steered clear of all dangerous topics until coffee, when Simon suddenly looked at Rob and said,
"And so you're in agriculture, Robin, and what do you intend to do when your course is finished?"
Lindsey waited with bated breath expecting Rob to drop a clanger.
"Oh, I haven't made my mind up yet. I'm only in my first year, but I'll probably go abroad when the time comes. After all, I don't think the prospects are very rosy in England anymore."
Lindsey could see that Simon disagreed and hoped that Rob was not about to embark on one of his lengthy political discussions.
"I see, and where are you contemplating going? Australia, perhaps, or Canada?"
"Actually Africa rather appeals to me." He caught Lindsey's warning glance. "We've a relative farming out there, already."
"But surely it's rather politically unstable at the moment?"
"Oh, that rather depends on the area you're in,
"And what does your sister think of your aspirations?"
"Oh, Lindsey knows the way I feel about Africa," Rob said.
Lindsey dropped two coffee spoons on the floor. They made a fearful clatter in the sudden silence. "I'm not my brother's keeper," she remarked to cover her confusion.
Andrew was shaking with silent mirth. He wiped his eyes and said, “So Lin, your secret is out—Lindsey's an unusual name. I like it.”
Lindsey irrelevantly wondered how Susan had discovered her proper name. That young lady was looking at Rob in total disbelief.
"You're Miss Meredith's brother, but I thought…I thought…"
"What did you think, Sue?" asked her father, mystified.
"I thought he was her boyfriend," Susan replied very red in the face. During the ensuing laughter Lindsey squeezed Susan's arm.
"Never mind, it was an easy enough mistake to make and Rob should have made it clear on the 'phone who he was." To her relief, Susan took the joke in the manner it was intended.
After a little while Robin said his courteous goodbyes. He was going to travel back to London with Valerie Marks, who had her own car. Lindsey went outside to see him off.
"Lin, I've just remembered what it was Val said about Sonia Vincent. It came back to me when I met Dr. Andrew Kirkby, because it concerned the pair of them. We were talking generally about you working for Simon Kirkby, and Val said she knew his cousin Andrew, because she'd often seen him at the tennis club with Sonia Vincent. I remember her saying they made a striking couple. I thought it was Simon she was supposed to be marrying, according to you."
"It is," Lindsey assured him. "But it just so
happens Andrew's sweet on her too. What it is to be popular."
Rob raised his eyebrows. "You'll have to introduce me to the lady. She sounds quite something."
"Yes, she is, as you say, 'quite something." "
"The mind boggles—
And now I'd better be off. I want to get back to Cambrook before lighting up time because I haven't a battery. Super lunch, Lindy. Equally as good as yesterday's. Take care. 'Bye." And with a wave he was gone on Colin's borrowed cycle. Lindsey was relieved that the visit had gone so well.
It was not until much later when Lindsey was getting ready for bed that going to the drawer where she kept Gavin's letters she discovered that it had been tampered with. On first sight everything appeared to be as she had left it, but she had placed the letters in particular order
of date and now they were mixed up and rather crumpled. Not only that, but some of her other possessions were in a slightly different position from the way she had left them.
"Oh, no," gasped Lindsey out loud. "Not my letters!" She realised how when she had first arrived at Balliam Point Susan had said, "I shall find out everything about you. You see if I don't." Well she had certainly tried her utmost to do just that.
Lindsey recalled the curious expression of satisfaction on Susan's face the previous evening and how, in the morning, she had threatened to pay Lindsey back.
Lindsey sighed. Thank goodness Gavin's last letter was still in her handbag where she had put it the previous evening. Well, Lindsey need not have worried about Rob being indiscreet, for Susan had evidently discovered practically everything there was to know about her now. Lindsey had to smile to herself, in spite of everything, when she thought of the lengths she had gone to, to prevent Rob mentioning Africa. Not only that but Lindsey realised that Susan, not knowing originally that Rob was Lindsey's brother, must have thought that she was two-timing Gavin. Nevertheless, Lindsey was rather troubled and did not know quite how to resolve the situation. Miss Susan Kirkby was fast becoming quite a problem.
“Miss Meredith, will you come into my study for a moment, please?"
It was obvious that something was wrong, for Simon was brandishing a typewritten letter, and the familiar frown creased his forehead. Lindsey suddenly longed to reach up and smooth that troubled brow.
"Miss Meredith, my publishers have written to say that they need the articles earlier than they previously anticipated. It's imperative that the typing is finished quickly—How is it coming along?"
"Pretty well," said Lindsey. "I've been working at it quite solidly in the evenings, as well as the mornings."
Simon nodded, "Yes I'm sure you're doing your best." He packed his pipe and patted his pockets for matches. Lindsey happened to have her lighter with her, and handed it to him silently. He took it in surprise, and then flipped open the silver cigarette box on his desk.
"I'm sorry, I didn't realise you smoked. Help yourself."
"Thank you," she took one feeling that she might need it. No, she reflected sadly, he didn't know the first thing about her.
"Well, can you finish the work within a fortnight?"
Lindsey gaped at him. "But I'm less than half-way through. I'll do my utmost, but I'm not a robot, Mr. Kirkby. Can't you explain the situation to the publishers? I think they're being a bit unreasonable."
His grey eyes clouded over. "Miss Meredith, publishers do not wait—I appreciate it's a tall order and so if you can't do the job in a fortnight just say the word, and I'll get on to an agency straight away."
Lindsey drew heavily on her cigarette. He really did expect rather a lot, particularly as she had been employed as a housekeeper and not as a secretary. "I'll do my best sir," was all she said.
He smiled. "Good, then that's settled. What a relief! Oh, and Miss Vincent will be coming to dinner on Wednesday. If you don't think you can cope with all the typing as well, then I'm sure
Mrs. Parker would stay a bit longer to help out."
Lindsey stubbed out her half-smoked cigarette. "I can manage perfectly well, thank you." She would too, if it killed her. She was determined to prove to Simon that she was both capable and efficient.
"Good. Well that's taken a load off my mind, and now, if you don't mind, I must get on with the final article."
Lindsey bit back a sharp retort, and marched out of the room.
By the time it came to collecting the children, the amount of paper in the waste paper basket indicated the type of day Lindsey had had, and she still had to 'phone Gavin that evening. To her surprise Andrew was waiting at the gates of Susan's school. Immediately Lindsey thought the worst.
"Andrew, what's wrong? Has Sue been playing truant again?"
"No—no calm down. I simply wanted to see you…Lindsey, I must talk to you alone."
Lindsey felt as if she simply couldn't face any more emotional upheavals. "Andrew, I'm dreadfully busy at the moment—typing crisis on, and, anyway, I've had my share of free time for at least a week, what with Rob coming. If it's anything to do with last Tuesday, then…"
"No Lin, it's not—stop jumping to conclusions…Look, can you drive over to my place tonight?"
"Andrew, I can't possibly make it tonight."
"Dash it here comes Susan—Lin it really is important, to me at any rate. Come tomorrow night then. Eight or nineish, whenever you're free."
"Really Andrew, I don't think any good can come of it."
"Don't you—not when I tell you I want to talk about your connections with Africa?" And he was gone, leaving Lindsey to stare after him, stupefied. She wondered, in amazement if Susan had sold him that piece of information too, along with her housekeeper's Christian name. Lindsey found it hard to concentrate on anything after that, and finally decided to see Andrew the following evening, even if merely to satisfy her curiosity.
Lindsey finally plucked up sufficient courage to ring Gavin at the Nairobi Hilton. Simon Kirkby said she could make a long distance call from his study. He asked no questions, but gave her a piercing look from those granite eyes that spoke volumes, before walking out. It took some time to get through, and then Gavin had to be paged. Lindsey realised this call was going to cost her the earth and that she'd have to make it snappy.
"Lindsey, at last!"
came Gavin's voice. "I've stayed in the hotel the past couple of nights, and turned down two dinner invitations—one at the Crosses! I'd almost given up hope. Darling are you all right?"
"Yes Gavin, I'm fine—and you? Good…Look Gavin I've got to be quick because the bill will be stupendous, and I'm rather short of cash at present." She reluctantly gave him her 'phone number, in case they were cut off.
"Well darling, what do you think about your father's offer? When are you returning to Africa? Almost immediately, I hope."
"I don't know, Gavin."
"Whatever do you mean, Lindsey? There are lots of preparations to make."
Lindsey took a deep breath. This was going to be even more difficult than she had imagined. "Gavin, I haven't given you my answer yet—I haven't said I am going to marry you."
There was a pregnant pause and then he said. "Lindsey, I appreciate your sense of humour. Now my dear, do I really have to propose all over again from a distance of 4,000 odd miles to get the answer I want to hear?"
Lindsey moistened her lips nervously; the palms of her hands were sweating. "Lindsey, are you still there?"
She swallowed and said quickly, "Yes Gavin, I'm here—Gavin, I'm sorry, but I'm not going to marry you."
"What did you say!" he gasped.
"I said, I'm not going to marry you, but thank you for asking me. I'm sorry Gavin but there it is…Good night and —God bless you." And Lindsey put down the receiver firmly, even though she was shaking and went into the breakfast room where she got rid of some of her pent up emotions on the typewriter.
It was almost an hour before Gavin managed to 'phone Lindsey back and by that time, she was beginning to think he had accepted her decision. Fortunately, she was able to answer the 'phone herself.
"Lindsey what did you mean by ringing off like that! I've had the devil of a job getting hold of you again. Whatever’s got into you!—Surely you don't expect me to believe you meant what you said just now about not marrying me?"
"Gavin, I've had plenty of time to think about your proposal, and I know it just wouldn't work out."
"You must be out of your mind. How can you do this to me?"
Lindsey knew he was referring to the farm, thinking more about his own future than hers.
"I'm sorry, Gavin, but surely it's better we should part now, than discover our mistake after we're married."
Gavin with no wife and no farm suddenly lost his temper.
"Lindsey you must be insane—think what you're saying, girl—reconsider. Your father will be disappointed. How can I go on being his manager when you return?"
"Oh, don't worry, I've thought about all that. I'm not returning to Africa, so you won't have to bother on that score…and now Gavin it's ridiculous for us to go on arguing in this fashion. You asked me for an answer, and I've given it to you. I'll write and explain things to father…and perhaps you'll give him my love. I'd appreciate it, if you didn't ring me here again, as it isn't very convenient, but I had hoped we could at least part on good terms and remain friends."
It seemed an eternity before Gavin spoke and when he did, his voice was strained. "I suppose, if you're quite adamant then there's nothing further to be said for the present, but I want you to know that you've upset me very deeply, Lindsey, and I know you'll have disappointed your father."
"Gavin, it is my life. I'm sorry if I've hurt you, but I do know what I'm doing."
"I wonder if you do," Gavin commented caustically and this time it was he who put down the receiver with an audible click.
Lindsey felt stunned, as she realised what she had done. Within the space of an hour, she had cut herself off from her family and therefore altered the whole course of her life. Gavin was right, of course, her father would be furious and deeply hurt, but she knew now, without a shadow of doubt, that she did not love Gavin.
She turned blindly out of the study and cannoned straight into Simon Kirkby, who took one look at her white face and marched her straight back into the room again.
"Sit down!" he commanded and poured her a stiff whisky. "Have you had bad news or something? I realised you were on the 'phone again."
"I'm quite all right, thank you," Lindsey lied, fighting to regain composure. "I must see if the children are getting ready for bed," she took a large sip of whisky and choked, as it burned her throat. He handed her a cigarette and lit it for her.
"Can't you tell me what's wrong?" he asked gently.
"Nothing's wrong," she said sharply, but her heart thudded wildly and she longed to lean against his shoulder and be comforted. She rose to her feet unsteadily. "Oh, perhaps you'll let me know what you want for dinner when Miss Vincent comes tomorrow."
He surveyed her pale, strained face and over bright eyes.
"Hang dinner!" he said violently. "Can't you see I'm concerned about your welfare?”
"I've told you, I'm all right thank you. I'm not the kind to let my private affairs interfere with my work; you can be assured of that. Your precious manuscript will be finished on time if it kills me if that's what's bothering you!"
There was an odd expression in his granite eyes as he retorted,
"Oh, don't be so ridiculous…I'm not that inhuman. Doesn't it occur to you that I might be genuinely worried about you?"
Her hand shook so that some of the whisky spilt. Silently he handed her his handkerchief. She dabbed savagely at her dress and then suddenly without a word, left the study.
As she rushed upstairs she thought she heard him calling her, but she didn't stop to find out. Reaching her bedroom she stood there fighting for control; refusing to give way to the emotions that threatened to engulf her. She knew now, without shadow of doubt, why she had refused to marry Gavin and why she had shrugged off Andrew's kisses. She was forced at last to face up to the knowledge that, deep down, she should have realised from the very beginning…She was in love with Simon Kirkby. The revelation took her breath away…And it was all so hopeless when Simon was going to marry Sonia Vincent.
"Merry, can I come in?" called Tommy, "I've got an awfully big splinter in my finger. Can you get it out?"
"Just a moment, Tommy—I'm coming. Go into the bathroom and get the TCP." They needed her, these children. She couldn't abandon them just because she had got herself into this fearful mess. There must be some solution, but for the time being she would just have to face up to the situation, painful as it might be, seeing Simon every day—knowing she loved him and unable to do anything about it. Why he didn't even think of her as a woman. He simply regarded her as a useful piece of machinery, just like her father and Gavin did. She sighed wistfully, and went to attend to Tommy.
Andrew's flat proved to be of the luxury variety, spacious, beautifully decorated, and tastefully furnished. The lounge had magnolia walls, a deep brown carpet, and tangerine velvet curtains and cushions which offset the teak furniture. "It's my mother's really," Andrew said in answer to her enquiring glance. "But she prefers to spend the winters abroad nowadays." He took her coat and gave a boyish wolf-whistle.
"Wow, Lin, you look fabulous!"
Lindsey was wearing an apricot wool dress with a brown and cream silk scarf knotted around her throat. She had swept her ash-blonde hair to the top of her head and had on more make-up than usual. She smiled.
"Thanks. Now come on Andrew, don't keep me in suspense any longer; tell me what's on your mind."
"Okay, sit down and make yourself at home—
What'll you drink?”
Lindsey perched on the sofa. "Whisky please, on the rocks—I've a feeling I might need it."
He crossed to the sideboard and began pouring the drinks. "All right, I'll come straight to the point, Lin. Why on earth haven't you mentioned that you live in Africa and that you're only here on holiday—even if it is a working holiday?"
"So that's it…I rather thought it might be. I suppose Susan told you?"
She extracted a bullet-like ruched velvet cushion from behind her back and placed it on the sofa beside her.
"Partly. She gave me some garbled story about your coming from Kenya and saving lots of letters from a boyfriend out there. She was obviously trying to warn me off for some reason. I gave her a flea in her ear."
"Well, I thought it was easier to say nothing. You see I came to England to sort myself out really….I told you I was having a trial separation from my boyfriend, didn't I? Well, I knew that if I decided not to marry Gavin, I wouldn't be able to return to Kenya without a lot of embarrassment on both sides, because he manages my father's ranch and it would mean seeing each other every day.
"I couldn't make a decision like that in five minutes, Andrew. Not something that was going to affect my whole life and that of my family. I needed to be completely detached for a time to think things out...Do you understand?" Andrew nodded. "And, you see, I didn't feel I could think straight if I were continually being bombarded with questions about Kenya—At least that was one reason for my deception."