Authors: Barbara Cartland
NO TIME FOR LOVE
Larina Wilton finds out that she has a month to live, and she decided
, who was in Italy.
Although he had dedicated much of his life to the pursuit of women, Wynstan Vanderfeld was unprepared for his first sight of Larina Wilton in the temple of Aphrodite. Half convinced that she is an adventuress intent on making capital from her friendship with his dead brother, the wealthy American is unaware that Larina fears she will die in 21 days.
Larina never dreamed such exquisite rapture could be hers. To have fallen in love with so strong, so handsome a man
and to have that love returned. It was unbelievable! But as magical as it was, their love was utterly hopeless. Larina alone knew why. It was the secret she would keep at any cost.
arina Milton, walking up Wimpole Street, remembered that the Barretts had lived there.
Instantly her imagination carried her into the sick-room where Elizabeth Barrett had lain year after year thinking she was an incurable invalid.
Then suddenly Robert Browning had come into her life and everything was changed.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,
I love thee to the depth and breadth and heighth
My soul can reach.
Larina quoted the lovely words and wondered if she would ever feel like that about a man.
‘Supposing,’ she thought, ‘a man like Robert Browning appeared now at this moment and asked me to go away with him to Italy? Would I accept?’
The idea made her laugh, then she thought she would never have the courage that Elizabeth Barrett had shown.
he gave a little sigh.
“There are no Robert Brownings for me,” she told herself. “I have to be practical. I have to find work.”
Her mother had so often chided her for day-dreaming, for letting her imagination carry her away from the mundane affairs of everyday life into a fantasy world where she could forget everything else.
The word seemed to repeat itself over and over again in her mind and she knew it was going to be difficult.
Women of her social position did not work; they sat at home with their parents until they got married; then they kept house having plenty of servants to do the menial tasks.
But those were women, or rather ladies, who had money, and a sudden fear of the future made Larina tremble.
She had known they were spending their last penny on her mother, but nothing had mattered except that she should get well.
But even money had failed to save Mrs. Milton, and when she died Larina’s whole world crashed around her.
She had not even contemplated during those long months in the Sanatorium what it would be like when she was alone.
She had been buoyed up with the hope that her mother would live, convinced that her prayers would be answered, optimistically confident about the future.
It had been a Fool’s Paradise, another fantasy from which she had been brought back to earth with a bang.
Deep in her thoughts Larina realised that she had walked past the number she was seeking, 55, and she had already reached 73.
She turned back to retrace her steps, and once again almost irresistibly she thought of Robert Browning walking as she was, up Wimpole Street, towards the Barretts’ house.
There would have been a look of excitement on his face and he would have walked quickly because he was so anxious to be with Elizabeth again.
‘—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!
and, if God choose,
but love thee better after death.’
Elizabeth must have written that, Larina thought, because death was always very near her and therefore inevitably in her thoughts.
How could she be so sure that she would survive death? How could she know that wherever she might be she would still be thinking of Robert and loving him?
There was no answer to this question and now Larina had found number 55 and was walking up the steps with their iron railings on either side of them.
She stood looking at the door in an ugly shade of dark green, with its heavy brass knocker and wide-mouthed letterbox.
‘It is a waste of money for me to come here,’ she thought. ‘It is sure to cost a guinea, perhaps two, and I can ill afford it.’
Should she go away?
She felt so well, there could be nothing wrong with her. But Dr. Heinrich had made her promise that when she had been home for a month she would have herself examined by Sir John Coleridge, physician to the Royal Family.
“There is, I believe, absolutely no danger that you might have contracted tuberculosis from your mother,” he had said in his broken English.
“I kept to all the precautions which you insisted upon,” Larina replied. “I have never been with the other patients, except out of doors.”
“You have been very good, Miss Milton,” Dr. Heinrich approved, “an exemplary visitor, if I may say so. Very unlike some of the relatives who often make my work very difficult for me.”
“I shall always be grateful for your kindness to Mama.” Larina told him.
“If only she had come to me sooner,” Dr. Heinrich said with a sigh. “It upsets me, Miss Milton, more than I can ever tell you when I lose a patient. But in your mother’s case, her lungs were far too infected when she arrived here for my treatment or for even the magnificent air of Switzerland to effect a cure.”
“Mama was quite young,” Larina said almost as if she spoke to herself. “I thought that would tell in her favour.”
“It would have,” Dr. Heinrich replied, “if she had come to me at least a year sooner. Then I should have had a hope of keeping her alive.”
He paused and then he said:
“I am going to be frank with you, Miss Milton, and tell you that your mother did not help me as she should have done. If a patient has the will to live, if he or she stubbornly clings to life, then that is often far more effective medicine than anything a Doctor can prescribe.”
“Mama missed my father so desperately,” Larina answered. “They were so happy together. She told me once that losing him was like losing half of herself. She felt she had nothing left to live for.”
There was a little throb in her voice which made the Doctor say in a different tone:
“Now we have to think about you. Have you any idea what you are going to do?”
“I will go back to London,” Larina replied. “After my father died my mother leased a small house in Belgravia. It has been let, but it is actually free at the moment.”
“I am glad to hear that,” Dr. Heinrich said. “We have all grown very fond of you, Miss Milton, and I did not like to think about you alone with nowhere to go.”
“There is no need to worry about me,” Larina answered with an optimism which she did not in fact feel.
At that moment however she had no idea that all the money her father had left had been spent. That was a shock waiting for her when she arrived back in England.
“There is one thing I want you to promise me,” Doctor Heinrich said.
“What is that?” Larina enquired.
“A month after you have been home in London you will consult my friend, Sir John Coleridge, and get him to give you a check-up. I shall take every possible test before you leave. At the same time, let us be frank, you have been living for nearly twelve months with people who are all infected with what we have to admit has been an almost incurable disease.”
“Surely they will find a cure one day for consumption?” Larina cried.
“There are experiments taking place all the time,” Dr. Heinrich replied. “I may say without conceit that the most successful treatment up to now has been my own. It is not always looked on with favour by my more orthodox colleagues but a number of my patients leave here with improved health.”
“Everyone speaks of you in the most glowing terms.”
“At the same time I have my failures and your mother unfortunately was one of them. That is why you must promise me that you will be overhauled not only in a month’s time, but again in perhaps six months.”
He saw Larina’s expression and added:
“I do not want to frighten you. There is, I am absolutely convinced, virtually no chance that you could have caught consumption from your mother or anyone else, but in my experience precaution is far better than cure.”
“I promise!” Larina said.
“Sir John will tell you after his examination when he wants to see you again and you must do as he tells you.” Larina nodded.
It would, she thought at the time, be very ungracious and ungrateful of her to argue with Dr. Heinrich after he had been so kind.
Because her father had been a Doctor, Dr. Heinrich had taken her mother and also herself at very cheap and generous terms which the other patients in his expensive Sanatorium might well have envied.
Little though it was, it was more than they could afford; but whatever it cost, it had been the only chance Mrs. Milton had of survival.
With an effort Larina put out her hand now towards the bell on the right hand side of the door. As she did so she saw there was a notice above it which read:
‘Bell out of order—please knock.’
So instead she lifted up the heavy brass knocker and gave two rat-tats on the door.
For a moment there was no sound. Then she heard footsteps on what she guessed was a marble floor and a moment later the door opened.
She had expected to see a servant, but instead a man wearing a conventional black frock coat stood there. He had a high stiff collar and a well-tied black cravat in which there was a tie-pin consisting of a large pearl.
“I have an appointment with Sir John Coleridge,” Larina said nervously.
“You are Miss Milton? I was expecting you. Come in.”
“Are you Sir John!”
Larina entered and closed the door behind her.
“My secretary has gone out for her luncheon,” he said, knowing she must think it strange that he should open the door himself, “and the servants are ill with influenza, a fashionable complaint at this time of the year!”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Larina said apprehensively.
Sir John led the way across the Hall into a room which looked out onto the back of the house.
It was a typical Doctor’s consulting-room and all too familiar to Larina.
There was a big, impressive, leather-topped desk, with a hard, upright chair in front of it. A couch against one wall was half-concealed by a screen, and a book-case was stacked with medical tomes.
There was a table with a number of unidentifiable instruments on a clean white cloth.
“Sit down, Miss Milton,” Sir John said, seating himself behind the desk and opening a folder which contained, she saw, a letter from Dr. Heinrich.
Sir John picked up a pair of spectacles and placed them on his nose, then lifting the letter read it carefully.
“Dr. Heinrich informs me that your mother has died of tuberculosis,” he said. “He has asked me to examine you to make sure there is no chance that you have contracted the disease.”
“Dr. Heinrich examined me before I left the Sanatorium,” Larina said, “and every test was absolutely clear.”
“That is what he says in the letter,” Sir John said with just a note of reproof in his voice as if she had anticipated what he was about to tell her.
“I am sorry to hear that Dr. Heinrich could not save your mother,” he remarked after a moment.
. “He did everything that was humanly possible,” Larina replied.
“And who should ask for more, even from a Doctor?” Sir John remarked. “Very well, young lady, undress behind the screen. You will find a garment you can put on. Then lie down on the couch and let me know when you are ready.”
Larina did as she was told.
She took off the plain, inexpensive gown she had bought before she went out to Switzerland and laid it over the chair which stood beside the couch.
Her petticoats and underclothes followed.
It did not take long, and she slipped her arms into the shapeless white linen hospital-gown which was lying at the end of the couch.
“I am ready!” she said as she lay down, her head on the small hard pillow.
Sir John walked with heavy footsteps across the room and pushed the screen aside so that there was more light from the big window.
“You are nineteen, I believe, Miss Milton?”
“Nearly twenty,” Larina answered.
Sir John had already inserted the ends of his stethoscope in his ears, so it was doubtful if he heard her.
‘Nearly twenty!’ Larina thought to herself. ‘I have done so little in my life and I have so few qualifications.’
The only thing she could really say in her favour was that she read a lot.
Her father had encouraged her to read the books which interested him and were mostly on ancient civilisations and, as her mother often pointed out, not much use when it came to living in the world today.
“Instead of learning about the ancient Greeks and Romans,” Larina told herself, “I ought to have been studying shorthand and learning how to type.”
The large, noisy typewriters she had seen in offices and which had been used by her father’s secretary were a complete mystery to her.
Now she thought how foolish she had been not to take the opportunity of at least trying to understand how it worked.
She had been just seventeen when her father died and was still having lessons with teachers who came to the house.
“I am not going to have a Governess living with us,” her father had said firmly. “And I do not approve of girls going to school and getting independent ideas. A woman’s place is in the home!”
It would have been a very nice idea, Larina thought to herself, if she had a home to be in.
“Turn over, I want to listen to your back,” Sir John’s voice said.
She did as she was told and felt the stethoscope against her skin.
‘I wonder what this is going to cost me,’ she thought. ‘It is just a waste of time and money!’
“You can dress now, Miss Milton.”
Sir John moved away from her pulling the screen back into position as he did so. Larina got down from the couch and started to put on her clothes.
She wore a very light corset. There was no need for her to have tight laces with which to pull in her waist. It was in fact less than the standard eighteen inches.
But she was well aware that the rest of her figure from a fashionable point of view was much too thin.
“You must eat more, darling,” her mother had said to her in Switzerland. “Do you really think such long walks are good for you?”
“I cannot just sit about doing nothing, Mama,” Larina answered, “and I love walking. The mountains are so beautiful and I only wish you could come with me along the paths through the woods. They have so much mystery about them. They make me think of all the fairy-tales I have ever heard.”
“How you used to love them when you were a child!” Mrs. Milton had replied with a smile.
“I remember you reading me a story about the dragons who lived in the very depths of a pine-wood,” Larina answered, “and I still believe it!”