Authors: Jenny Lane
Tommy waved back ecstatically, "It's super!" Simon slithered off, dusted himself down sheepishly and, without a glance in her direction, disappeared into the house. Lindsey chuckled to herself. She had won that round at least.
That afternoon, Andrew Kirkby came into the hall where Lindsey was arranging flowers. He stood for a moment watching her, thinking what a charming picture she made against the gold and bronze chrysanthemums. He coughed gently, and she spun round.
"Hello there. I've just told my cousin that if he wants to keep you he'd better give you some off-duty…He must recognise your weight in gold, because he's done just that. Can't take you to dinner tonight I'm afraid…Promised to pop into the hospital, so I'll take you for a joy ride now instead…Go and get your glad rags on."
Lindsey, rather taken aback, busied herself collecting up the leaves she had stripped and rolling them into newspaper. She was fully aware of the need for an escort in East Africa, but here in England, it was ridiculous. Much as she liked Dr. Andrew, she wished he wouldn't just take it for granted that she automatically wanted to spend all her time with him. She didn't want him to get any wrong ideas about their relationship.
Unable to think of any feasible reason to refuse, Lindsey went upstairs and hurriedly changed into her new turquoise two-piece, and redid her hair in a softer style. She would have to do something about this irregular off-duty, she told herself firmly, as she re-applied her lipstick.
She began to wonder desperately if she had taken this job near Cambrook in vain, and if she would ever get an opportunity to go there. How could she make Andrew understand, without hurting his feelings that she would prefer to be alone sometimes. Not only that, but surely she didn't have to wait for him to remind her employer that she was entitled to some time off!
"Very nice—I approve," Andrew commented when she reappeared. "Now where would you like to go?"
Lindsey wondered suddenly if she dared turn this outing to her advantage after all. "Oh, I don't know—Isn't Cambrook supposed to be quite a nice village? All your talk about, 'The Swan,' has intrigued me . . . I think I must have read about it somewhere." He looked surprised. "Oh, there's nothing much to see in Cambrook, although granted it's a quaint little place."
Lindsey felt inexplicably indignant.
"There was something about a church, I think."
"Oh yes, the church may be interesting —Okay you win. And I suppose they might just do teas somewhere there."
Cambrook was just as Lindsey had remembered it. Shafts of wintry sunlight stroked the stone walls of the sleepy cottages. The church was musty and cold, but the watery sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows left a dancing, rainbow pattern on the stone floor. She went to have a peep at the tomb where her grandparents were buried, and had a sudden pang of nostalgia. She sent up a silent prayer that they might rest in peace.
As they left the church and began to walk down the lane, Andrew slipped a casual arm around her shoulders. "You're looking a bit peaky. Simon's been over-working you, I suppose. Oh you've no need to tell me what it's like in that household. He never can keep a housekeeper longer than a few weeks at a stretch, as a rule. What with those young brats and
Mrs. P's acid tongue—to say nothing of Simon himself. Polly's well-meaning enough, but she never sees beyond the end of her nose when anything needs doing. The trouble with Simon is that he never knows when he's well off!"
"Well, he is my employer so perhaps we oughtn't to discuss him," Lindsey reminded Andrew gently, but he only laughed and squeezed her arm affectionately.
"You're a strange one, aren't you, sticking up for him. Still you're very kind-hearted, and it's more than Simon deserves…By the way, I hear the beautiful Sonia is dining with him on Wednesday. You'll be put to the test then, make no mistake. She hates any female who comes within arm's length of Simon…Correction, she hates any female, full stop! The only exception was Lucy."
Lindsey was already growing heartily tired of hearing about Miss Sonia Vincent, and couldn't help wondering just how interested Andrew was himself in that particular direction.
He kept up a steady patter of conversation, but she was so preoccupied that she didn't even hear him.
Eight years was a long time, and Lindsey realised that she would probably pass unrecognised in the village. After all, an eighteen-year-old school-girl is very different from a twenty-six year old woman. In any case, it wasn't as if she knew all that many people here now, which was a bit unfortunate in the present circumstances.
There was the oak tree on the corner with the same old wooden seat around it. How well she remembered sitting there with her father on halcyon summer days. And there was Chestnut Tree Lane, leading to her own beloved White Chestnuts. She could just catch a glimpse of the picturesque thatched-roofed alms-houses opposite. She simply had to take a look for herself…
"There's nothing interesting to see down there!" Andrew protested. "It's only a
cul de sac…Come on let's go back to the car and find somewhere for tea—I'm starving."
"Oh, but it looks just like one of the pictures you see on chocolate boxes—
Can't I just have a quick peep? You stay here if you like—shan't be long." And she broke away from him and hurried off down the lane, her heart beating rapidly.
She passed the alms-houses, and there on the other side of the lane, instead of White Chestnuts, that lovely rambling old house where she and Rob had been born, there was a large modern bungalow, just as her brother had told her. And, in place of the apple orchard, was a newly-planned landscape garden. She noted blindly that just one of the chestnuts that gave the house its name remained, but otherwise, she might have thought she had come to the wrong place. But there it was—the tree where she had swung as a child.
Lindsey had been prepared for what she saw, but even so, it was still a shock, because all the time, deep down, she had hoped against hope that Rob had made some dreadful mistake. Tears pricked her eyes.
Don't be a fool," she told herself fiercely. "You've got to get to the bottom of this mystery. There must surely be a rational explanation. After all someone round here must know what happened to White Chestnuts." Oh, if only Mr. and Mrs. Marks were at home, but each time Lindsey had 'phoned she had got no reply. She could only hope that they hadn't moved too.
"Hey, are you going to stay down there for the rest of the afternoon?" demanded Andrew impatiently.
"Coming," Lindsey shouted back. She turned and walked slowly back along the lane towards him.
"What's wrong? You look as if you've seen a ghost!"
Lindsey shook her head, but could not trust herself to speak for fear of breaking down. White Chestnuts had meant so much to her that it was like losing a dear friend. Besides, if she did not want her employer to know she was really in England on holiday, it might be best not to mention her associations with Cambrook —at least for the time being. In any case it was a pretty tall story, and she could just imagine Andrew's reaction if she said, "I used to live in an house down there, only now it's turned into that bungalow I was looking at just now." He would think she was quite crazy. It was all like a bad dream.
"Oh well, shall we see if we can find a cafe open, although I suppose it's the wrong time of the year for this village. We're probably the only visitors it's seen today." He took her arm, and they walked slowly on down the road until they came to the village green. That at least hadn't altered.
"Oh, can we stop?—Just for a moment. I'd forgotten about the pond…I've read about it," she added hastily, meeting his curious gaze. "Isn't it lovely!"
"You sound just like an American tourist. You only need your camera. There you are, that's 'The White Swan,'
I was telling you about just now, only I've got a feeling you were just being polite and knew about it all the time. Isn't that so?"
Lindsey nodded. "Yes, I've got to be truthful. I've been here before—some years back when I was a teenager. It's such a beautiful spot that I jumped at the opportunity of seeing it again."
Andrew stared at her in amazement. "Well, you're full of surprises, aren't
They stood gazing at the Egyptian geese and the pristine white swans, whose ancestors were reputed to have given the public house its name. Lindsey suddenly felt sad, as if a childhood dream had been shattered for ever, and she realised that the golden image of Cambrook that she had carried locked in her heart throughout those long years in Africa, had been partly an illusion. Now that White Chestnuts had gone, there suddenly seemed little point in remaining in England after all. Perhaps the sooner she returned to Kenya and became Gavin's wife the better.
"We'll come here for that meal one evening soon. Have you looked for long enough? You're shivering!" Andrew glanced up at the sky.
"Shouldn't be surprised if we get some snow before long.
They say we're going to have a heavy winter, but fortunately it's not been so bad up to now."
Lindsey cheered up visibly. "Oh, I do hope it does snow!" she cried fervently. She remembered snow as a far-off dream, again associated with her childhood.
Andrew laughed and took her hand. "You're just like the kids. Come on, before I freeze to death. A cup of tea might just save my life! Race you back to the car."
They arrived breathless and laughing. Andrew was a real tonic and Lindsey simply could not remain gloomy for long in his company. He was the sort of person who would brighten up the dullest day with his irrepressible high spirits.
"You've got two bright spots on your cheeks, and your hair is in danger of falling down," he informed her laughingly.
A few miles further on, they found a cafe open. There was a blazing log fire, chintz curtains, copper kettles and warming pans, and a huge tabby cat curled up in the corner. To Lindsey it was the very epitome of England—everything she had ever dreamed about.
For the rest of the afternoon, Lindsey went out of her way to be a charming and attentive companion. She felt a bit guilty, however, when she remembered poor Gavin, slaving away, impatiently waiting for her answer to his proposal. She knew she ought to make a decision soon, but something told her that she might live to regret it if she were too hasty. She still needed time to think. Perhaps she was just suffering from an overdose of premarital nerves at the present moment!
"I've really enjoyed this afternoon,
Dr. Kirkby," she said formally, as they eventually pulled up outside Balliam Point.
"Andrew's the name," he said firmly, "and, I can't go on addressing you as Miss Meredith, so if you don't tell me yours I shall just have to call you 'Merry,' like Tommy does."
Lindsey laughed, "My friends call me Lin, but it's L-I-N, I'm most particular about that."
"It suits you. Well, Lin, I've enjoyed this afternoon too, and I intend to take you out to dinner at, 'The White Swan,' just as soon as I get a free evening…Shan't take no for an answer either," and he leant purposefully towards her, but drew away quickly, as Tommy came rushing out of the house.
"Hello, here comes trouble!—No peace for the wicked."
"Uncle Andrew, come quickly," Tommy shouted frantically. "Susan's bleeding to death in the bathroom."
Lindsey and Andrew rushed to the children’s bathroom to find Susan dripping blood all over the bath from a nasty cut on her leg. Andrew staunched it quickly.
"And now, young woman, you'd better tell me what on earth you've been up to." But Susan, looking sheepish, did not reply.
"She was shaving her legs with dad's razor," Tommy announced gleefully.
"Shut up, Tommy!" breathed Susan, looking very pink in the face.
Andrew's eyes twinkled, but he managed to keep a straight face, as he cleaned up the gory bath.
"You silly little idiot! Whatever next? Miss Meredith obviously needs to take you in hand, young lady."
Susan looked sulky now. "Well, Katy Browne does it."
"Then she obviously makes a better job of it than you," Lindsey said scathingly. "Just look at the mess you've made of that towel."
Tommy snorted in disgust. "Huh, if Katy Browne jumped in the river, you'd do the same, Sue."
"Oh, just leave me alone!"
Andrew began to scrub his hands vigorously with Tommy's spaceman soap.
"Well, how's that for gratitude! Next time I get a cry from a damsel in distress, I'll ignore it."
Tommy tugged impatiently at Andrew's sleeve, "Never mind her. Come and see the model plane I've just finished."
"Have you shown it to your father? Where is he anyway?"
"In his study, writing as usual."
"Oh, well, let's go and show him all the same, Tommy. It's getting a bit crowded in this bathroom. You never know, there might just be some supper about too."
Just as they reached the hall, Simon Kirkby came out of his study.
"Ah, Miss Meredith, so you're back. There's a young fellow asking for you on the 'phone…Take it in my study if you like…Tommy, you can come and show me that plane now I've finished my article."
It was Rob wanting to know how things were. Lindsey told him briefly all that had happened since her arrival at Balliam Point.