No Time For Love (Bantam Series No. 40) (3 page)

BOOK: No Time For Love (Bantam Series No. 40)
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Then two weeks after he had left her mother became really ill and Larina could think of nothing but her.

Her grief, the tears she shed every night when she was alone, the long journey home alone, the empty house to which she had returned, made it difficult to talk to Elvin in her thoughts, as she had meant to do.

And yet his letters were a source of joy so that she watched for the post and was quite unreasonably disappointed when she did not hear from him.

He had written his first letter to her before he left the Sanatorium and she had received it after he had gone.

It was not a long letter because writing tired him, and she knew he was summoning all his strength for the journey.

He thanked her for all she had meant to him, for the happiness they had shared together, and he finished with the words:

‘Never forget that I shall be thinking of you, Larina, that I am near you and if you want me you have only to call and I shall be at your side. Perhaps I shall come back to the Sanatorium when my mother no longer needs me and then we can be together again. You have meant more than I can ever say. God bless you and keep you.’

The next letter was only a few scribbled lines written in the train. Then there had been several after he had reached New York.

He told her that his mother was thrilled to see him and that he was glad that he could be with her because she needed him so badly.

Elvin’s letters gave Larina courage even while every day that she was alone in London made her feel more helpless and more lonely.

It had taken her some time to clean up the house after the tenants had left it. She had found it both dirty and untidy.

She was glad in a way that her mother could not see how badly they had treated the things she treasured, how shabby the curtains, carpets and cushions had become in a year.

Larina began to think that one way she could help keep herself would be to take a lodger. It would be easy to rent to someone her mother’s bed-room and perhaps the Drawing
-
Room.

She even began to consider whether two lodgers would not be feasible, if she slept in the Study behind the Dining
-
Room.

Every time she wrote a cheque for the rent or for her food, she realised how very little there was left in the Bank until she knew she could no longer procrastinate and that it was absolutely essential that she should do something practical about her future.

Sir John had charged her two guineas and she thought as she put the gold sovereigns on his desk that it was a big price to pay for what he had to tell her.

But now that she had reached home she thought that in one way her troubles were over. There would be no need now to find employment, no need to let the rooms, no need to accept strange lodgers.

What was left in the Bank would provide her with enough food for the twenty-one days that remained of her life.

Even to think of it made a quiver of fear run through her.

‘Elvin would despise me for being afraid,’ she thought, ‘but I am, I know I am! I do not want to die! I do not want to find out about the unknown! I want to stay here on earth!’

Suddenly she picked up her hat from where she had laid it down and put it back on her head.

She knew what she was going to do. She was going to tell Elvin what had happened. She was going to send him a cable. It would be expensive, but did money matter at the moment?

Only Elvin would understand—only Elvin could comfort her.

She turned from the mirror and as she did so a sudden thought came to her.

Elvin had said that if she called for him he would come to her.

She would ask him to come, and she was quite sure that he would keep his promise.

Larina ran down the stairs. There was a light in her eyes that had not been there before.

“I will ask Elvin to come to me,” she said aloud.

Slamming the front door behind her she began to run down the street towards the Post Office in Sloane Square.

 

CHAPTER TWO

T
he funeral cortege drew up outside the brown stone building in Fifth Avenue.

The first carriage contained the three Vanderfeld brothers.

The horses wore black crepe on their head bands and the coachman a wide crepe band around his tall hat.

The three Vanderfeld brothers led by the oldest, Harvey, started climbing the long flight of steps to the front door.

On every third step a footman in knee breeches and with powdered hair stood shivering in the pouring rain, a black armband on his crimson livery coat.

Harvey Vanderfeld walked into the large marble Hall where the chandeliers were made of Venetian glass, the Gobelin tapestries came from France, the heavily carved gilt chairs from Italy, and the rugs from Persia.

He walked in his quick characteristic way, passing the waiting flunkeys into the great Drawing-Room, where more footmen were waiting to serve drinks. The Company were to assemble there before they proceeded to luncheon served on gold plates, in the Mediaeval Dining-Room.

The Drawing-Room was furnished with Louis XIV cabinets, Italian and Dutch pictures and Aubusson carpets. The walls were white, picked out in gleaming gold and the Genoese velvet curtains were decorated with a profusion of tassels and silk fringes.

“Champagne or Bourbon, Mr. Harvey?” the Butler asked.

“Bourbon!” Harvey Vanderfeld replied and immediately lifted a glass to his lips.

His relatives started to file into the room, the women in gowns heavily embellished with crepe; black veils which they had now pushed back from their faces fell over their shoulders and down their backs.

“It was a beautiful funeral!” a middle-aged woman gushed at Harvey Vanderfeld.

“I am glad you thought so, Cousin Alice.”

“And your address, it is magnificent! You were more eloquent than I have ever heard you. There was not a dry eye in the Chapel of the Crematorium.”

Harvey Vanderfeld preened himself a little. Then as more relatives of every age came pouring through the double mahogany doors, he said to his brother Gary who was standing beside him:

“I want to speak to you. Come into the Study.”

They left the Drawing-Room and walked past several other large Salons to the Study where the walls were covered with leather-bound books which no-one opened. There was large, rather consciously masculine leather furniture and the pictures of horses were by Stubbs.

The brothers had left the Drawing-Room each with a glass of Bourbon in his hand, and finishing his, Harvey Vanderfeld walked to a side-table in the corner of the room to replenish his glass from a decanter.

“It went off well, Gary!” he said.

“Very well, Harvey. I have never heard you speak better!”

“I hope the Press got it all down.”

“I am sure they did, and anyway there were copies at the door for those who wanted them.”

“Good! I thought the Stars and Stripes draped over the coffin was a pleasant touch, and Mama’s long cross of lilies was most touching!”

“You must tell her so,” Gary suggested.

“I am quite sure that Wynstan has gone upstairs to do that. I am sorry she could not have been present.”

“It would have been too much of an ordeal for her even though she is better.”

“I am aware of that, but there is always something especially poignant in a mother’s grief.”

“I think the whole country will be grieving with you tomorrow, Harvey, when they read the newspapers.”

“If Elvin had to die it could not have been at a better moment than now,” Harvey Vanderfeld said, “on the eve of an election when a great number of people have no wish to see Theodore Roosevelt elected for a second term in the White House.”

“There are however a large number who admire the strong hand he is taking over the disorders in the Caribbean countries. His policy of extending American power is popular.”

“Yankee Imperialism!” Harvey sneered. “If I am elected as President I shall stop all that nonsense! What we should do is look after ourselves at home, not poke our noses into foreign countries which are of no importance to us.”

“No need to canvass me, Harvey,” Gary replied with a smile. “I have heard you too often on a platform.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” Harvey agreed.

He was outstandingly handsome but he was thickening about his body and walked like a man older than his thirty-six years. He had however a smile which proved an invaluable vote-catcher.

Gary at thirty-three had already begun to grow fat with too much luxurious living. He also however, had a charm which was inescapable and which was so characteristic of all the Vanderfeld brothers that they had been nick-named by the press, ‘The Princes Charming’.

Harvey was the most ambitious and most ruthless. He had fought his way to power, and his stupendous fortune was at the moment being utilised in the most extravagant and most expensive election campaign the United States had ever seen.

He was completely confident that he would beat Theodore Roosevelt and the whole Vanderfeld clan had rallied behind him, eager to find themselves in the White House.

The Vanderfelds were of Dutch origin, and the first member of the family had come to America in the 17th century to live in New Amsterdam, as New York City was then known.

In the following centuries the family fortune was founded to increase with every succeeding generation until the ‘House of Vanderfeld’ was looked on in America almost as if it were Royalty.

The huge mansion on Fifth Avenue was only one of their properties. They had a house at Hyde Park on the Hudson River, Gary had recently built himself a marble palace at Newport, and there were ranches, plantations and Estates scattered all over America.

Their mother, Mrs. Chigwell Vanderfeld, had lived in the house on Fifth Avenue ever since she had been widowed, and Harvey’s wife, a quiet, unassuming woman, had not attempted to take her place.

It was Mrs. Vanderfeld who decided what should or should not be done by her children, and who was undoubtedly responsible for the good looks of her family as well as their ambition.

She had been a Hamilton and her ancestors had come out from England, but not, as the Vanderfelds always said scornfully, in the overcrowded ‘Mayflower’ which must have been as large as Noah’s Ark.

The ship which had brought their great-great
-
grandfather from his native Scotland was his own, and he had filled it with a crowd of retainers, their families and their children, so that there was no room for anyone else.

Mrs. Vanderfeld was proud of her Scottish descent, but even more proud of the fact that she came from Virginia, and had been brought up in the middle of the peach country among the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Like the Vanderfelds, the Hamiltons had made a fortune, but then they had been only too willing to give up their railway contracting and gold-mining so as to have time to spend their money.

Mrs. Vanderfeld’s father had never worked. All his life he enjoyed the life of a country gentleman, administrating his Estate, which was centred round a large roomy house, its pillars, porch, marble Hall and curling staircase an adaptation of English Georgian.

When his daughter said she wished to marry Chigwell Vanderfeld he had not been overpleased. He had hoped that she would find a husband among what had been left by the Civil War of the gentlemen of Virginia.

He had however little say in the matter. Sally Hamilton was far too self-willed and head-strong to listen to any opposition where her heart was concerned, and she had in fact been extremely happy with her multi-millionaire husband who never stopped working.

Money however was not what she required for her sons: she wanted power, and she made up her mind with a cast
-
iron determination that Harvey would be the next President of the United States.

It was a determination with which he readily concurred.

“As I have just said,” he remarked to his brother, “this funeral could not have come at a better time. Elvin was of course practically unknown to the public or the Press, but I think now he will be fixed in their memory as someone very exceptional, a brother of whom any man could be proud.”

Gary did not reply. He had already heard Harvey say almost the identical words in the carriage when they had left the cemetery.

He walked across the room to pour himself another drink, and as he did so the door opened and the Butler came in carrying a silver salver.

“A cable has just come addressed to Mr. Elvin,” he said. “I thought, Mr. Harvey, I should bring it to you. It might upset Mrs. Vanderfeld if she saw it.”

“Of course,” Harvey replied. “Do not take her anything that might be distressing. I have already told one of the secretaries to collect the names of everyone who sent wreaths. I will deal with the letters to express our appreciation. It would be too much for Mrs. Vanderfeld.”

“Much too much, Mr. Harvey!” the Butler agreed.

He held out the salver as he spoke and Harvey picked up the cable which lay on it.

He looked at it for a moment, then remarked:

“Mr. Elvin Farren?”

“That was the name Elvin used when he was abroad,” Gary explained from the side of the room. “You know we decided that he should not use the family name, since you did not wish the Press to know that he was in a Sanatorium.”

“Yes, yes, of course I remember now,” Harvey said. “And they never did discover where he was.”

“He was of no particular interest to them until he died,” Gary said.

There was no sarcasm in his voice. Gary was far too easygoing and good-humoured to be sarcastic.

Harvey opened the cable as the Butler went from the room.

“I see this comes from England,” he remarked. “I thought Elvin had been in Switzerland.”

“He was,” Gary replied.

There was silence then suddenly Harvey ejaculated:

“My God! This cannot be true! There must be some mistake!”

“What is the matter?” Gary asked.

“Listen to this,” Harvey said in a sharp voice and read aloud:

“It has happened to me—Stop—I am frightened—Stop—Please keep your promise and come to me—Stop—Your letters my only comfort.

Larina”

Harvey’s voice ceased and he stood staring at the paper as if he doubted the sight of his own eyes.

Gary reached his side and looked down at the cable.

“What does it mean?” he asked.

“What does it mean?” Harvey shouted. “Are you crazy? Can’t you understand what I have just read out to you? It is perfectly clear to me!”

“What is?” Gary asked.

Harvey walked across the room in an agitated manner as if he could not keep still.

“That this should happen at this moment! Just now! It would have been bad enough at any time, but on the eve of the election—!”

“I do not know what you are talking about,” Gary said. “Who is this woman? I have never heard of her.”

“Does it matter whether we have heard of her or not?” Harvey asked. “She has heard of Elvin all right, and I suspect she has heard of me too. It is blackmail, dear boy! Blackmail—and we will have to pay it!”

“For what?” Gary asked.

“For her silence—for those letters. Do not be half-witted, Gary! It is obvious that Elvin has put her in the family way and she is having a baby.”

“Elvin?” Gary exclaimed. “He has been ill—desperately ill—for years!”

“With consumption, Gary! We all know what consumptives are like sexually, although I did not think it of Elvin.” He put up both his arms towards the ceiling and cried: “How could he have done this to me at this moment?” Gary bent to the floor to pick up the envelope in which the cable had arrived.

After a moment he said a little tentatively:

“Whatever Elvin may or may not have done, it appears to me that she does not know who he is. Otherwise why should she address him as Farren rather than Vanderfeld?”

Harvey was still for a moment.

“There is some point in that,” he said slowly. “If she does not know, there is hope!”

He appeared suddenly to make up his mind and walked across the room to tug at the bell-pull.

The door opened almost instantly.

“Yes, Mr. Harvey?” the Butler enquired.

“Ask Mr. Wynstan to come here immediately!” Harvey said. “If he is not in the Drawing-Room he will be with Mrs. Vanderfeld.”

“I’ll tell him you want him, Mr. Harvey,” the Butler replied in his grave voice.

He closed the door and Harvey once again walked agitatedly across the thick carpet towards the Regency desk and back again.

“I cannot believe it!” he said. “I cannot credit my brother, my own brother, could treat me in such a manner!”

“Elvin cannot have intended to involve you personally in this,” Gary said, with just a hint of a smile on his lips.

“But I am involved!” Harvey replied. “You know that as well as I do! Can you imagine what the papers will make of it? It will be a front-page scandal, and how the Republicans will love it! I can just imagine Theodore Roosevelt enjoying every word and making full use of it in his campaign.”

“There must be something we can do,” Gary said feebly.

As if it might give him inspiration he finished off his drink in one gulp and went to the side-table to pour himself another.

The two brothers were silent until a few moments later the door opened and Wynstan Vanderfeld came in.

At twenty-eight Wynstan was so good-looking that, as his sister Tracy had told him often enough, it was ‘unfair on women’!

Tall, broad-shouldered and with square-cut features, he was the Cosmopolitan of the family and had spent in the last seven years of his life more time abroad than he had in America.

“Wynstan,” someone once said, “is traditionally American, overlaid with English and under-sprung with French!”

But Tracy had summed it up more aptly when she said:

“Wynstan is the entire creation of Mama without any help from Papa!”

He certainly was unlike his brothers, Harvey and Gary, in that his body was slim and he had the look of an athlete.

He was in fact an outstanding Polo player, had won many horse races, and at College had made his name on the baseball field.

As he came into the room now it was noticeable that he had a twinkle in his eye as if his brothers, like all his other relatives amused him and he found it difficult to take them seriously.
“Hudson tells me you need me urgently,” he said. “What has happened?”

In answer Harvey held out the cable. Wynstan took it from him and noticed in surprise that his brother’s hand was trembling.

He read it carefully and then the twinkle in his eye was even more pronounced as he said:

“If it means what I think it means—good for Elvin! I am glad he had a little fun before he died.”

Harvey let out a sound that was like the roar of a lion. “Is that all you have to say?” he stormed. “Do you not understand what this will mean to me? This is dynamite, Wynstan! Dynamite to my cause and to the election!”

His voice seemed to ring round the room as he continued:

“You know as well as I do that my whole campaign is based on the cries: ‘Clean up America!’ ‘Keep out of Foreign Affairs!’ ‘Strengthen and support family life which is the foundation of our great Nation!’ ”

Carried away Harvey declaimed the words and Wynstan gave a little laugh.

“Stop tub-thumping, Harvey!” Wynstan said. “Let us talk sensibly!”

“That is just what I am trying to do,” Harvey replied.

“It does not sound to me as if this girl, whoever she may be, is trying to threaten your position. She addresses herself to Elvin and pleads with him to come to her.”

“Well, he cannot do that!” Harvey snapped. “And what do you think she wants from him except money?”

Wynstan looked at the telegram again.

“Perhaps you have missed that sentence about the letters,” Harvey suggested. “ ‘My only comfort your letters.’ What does that mean except that she damned-well thinks she can put a big price on them!”

“It is possible that that is what she intended,” Wynstan admitted. “At the same time she says: ‘Please keep your promise’. Now what promise could Elvin have made to her?”

“I suppose that he would marry her if she had a child,” Gary interposed.

“He cannot do that either!” Harvey said harshly.

“That is true!” Wynstan agreed. “But if she is having Elvin’s child, she may have some claim on his Estate.”

“My God!” Harvey ejaculated. “I had not thought of that! Do you know what Elvin is worth?”

“I have a vague idea,” Wynstan replied. “Father left his fortune, which we all know was considerable, divided between the four of us, after Tracy had been provided for.”

“The money does not really matter,” Harvey said quickly with an effort. “What is absolutely essential is that there should be no scandal, such as would be inevitable if Elvin’s illegitimate child pops up from nowhere and asks to be taken into the bosom of the family!”

“I can see the complications,” Wynstan said quietly.

“Well, if you can see that, do something about it!” Harvey shouted.

Wynstan looked at him in surprise.

“Why me?”

“Because this blasted woman is English and you are always messing about in that country. You ought to know how to keep her quiet.”

Harvey stopped speaking and gave an exclamation. “That’s it! That’s it exactly!” he said. “You must keep her quiet at any rate until the election is over. Then we can fight her every inch of the way.”

“A very noble sentiment,” Wynstan remarked.

“Now don’t come the gentleman over me!” Harvey said angrily. “This is a situation where we have to take off our kid-gloves to fight a blackmailer.”

“Who said she was a blackmailer?” Wynstan enquired.

“I say she is one, and that is what she damned-well is!” Harvey answered.

“I did point out,” Gary said, “that she addresses the cable to Mr. Farren. If she had known Elvin’s real name, do you not think she would have used it?”

“That is a very good point, Gary,” Wynstan said.

“It does not matter what she calls him,” Harvey said impatiently. “If she is having Elvin’s child, or pretends she is

for personally I do not believe he was capable of producing one—then she will fleece us down to the last cent. You can be certain of that!”

“I think you have overlooked one thing,” Wynstan said in a quiet voice.

“What?” his brother asked.

“Knowing Elvin as I did, and perhaps I knew him better than either of you, I do not believe he would have been interested in the type of woman you are describing.”

There was silence for a moment then Harvey said: “That’s all very well. We know what women are like when they get their hands on a rich man. Elvin was a child in many ways. Against a woman who had deliberately set out to get him he would not have stood a chance.”

“Perhaps you are right,” Wynstan said reluctantly. “What do you want me to do?”

BOOK: No Time For Love (Bantam Series No. 40)
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