Authors: Amanda P Grange
Tags: #Man-Woman Relationships, #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General, #Titanic (Steamship), #Love Stories
And then his words came back to her.
My mother is sick
, he had said. She had not believed him. But to her chagrin she realized that he had been speaking the truth.
‘I’d hoped you’d give better game,’ he said under his breath, when he had evidently recovered from his surprise. Out loud he went on, ‘But I suppose I should be pleased, for my mother’s sake, if not my own.’
Emilia did not know what to make of this speech.
‘I knew you’d come to your senses. It was just a matter of time,’ he continued.
She coloured even more deeply, as she realized he thought she had come to sell him her stateroom.
‘I have done nothing of the kind,’ she returned. ‘That is, I was never out of my senses. That is not why I am here.’
‘No?’ he asked her disbelievingly. ‘Do you make a habit of bursting into other people’s staterooms for no particular reason? Come now, Miss Cavendish, admit it. You have seen the sense in accepting my offer and you are here to talk terms.’
‘I am here to do nothing of the sort,’ she retorted. ‘I am determined to keep my stateroom. My godmother would be most disappointed if I did not.’
‘Then why are you here?’ he asked her.
She was about to blurt it out when she suddenly felt a qualm. She had entered the stateroom on impulse, intent on telling the elderly lady that her doctor was a charlatan and that there was no reason why she could not take a stroll on deck if she wanted to, but now it seemed an impertinence. In fact, it seemed uncomfortably like interference. Nevertheless, she had to say something if she was to wipe the infuriatingly mocking smile from Mr Latimer’s lips, and the truth was her best option. She took a deep breath, flexing her hands unconsciously by her side, then said, ‘I came to tell your mother that her doctor is a fraud.’
He looked startled. Then his eyes narrowed. ‘Did you indeed? That is a most interesting statement. You have good reason, I suppose, for blackening the good doctor’s character?’
She flushed again, but she had to go on.
‘I do. As I passed this stateroom earlier I heard your mother saying she would like some fresh air. I also heard her doctor telling her she must not have any —’
‘Quite right.’ He spoke quietly, but there was a hard edge to his voice. ‘My mother’s health is precarious. The April weather would be positively dangerous to her.’
‘No. It wouldn’t.’
She saw his brow darken and bit her lip. She was getting drawn into an argument about something that was none of her business, and a part of her felt she should apologize and leave the stateroom immediately. But the wistful note she had heard in Mrs Latimer’s voice compelled her to continue.
‘I bumped into the doctor coming out of your mother’s stateroom,’ she went on. ‘He told me there was nothing wrong with your mother, that she was nothing more than a rich old woman who wanted to be pampered . . . ’
She trailed off as she saw his face darken still further. His eyebrows had drawn down over his eyes. They were lit by an angry gleam, and his mouth was grim.
‘I don’t know what you hope to gain by this tale,’ he said, ‘but it won’t work. Doctor Allerton has put himself to considerable inconvenience in order to accompany my mother on this trip, and by so doing he has proved himself devoted to my mother’s care. He is a respected doctor, one of the best in his field, and comes highly recommended.’
‘Nevertheless, he is a charlatan —’
‘Who just happened to tell you so himself?’ he asked scathingly. ‘Now tell me, Miss Cavendish, why would he do something like that?’
‘Because.’ She clenched her hands. She wanted to stop. But her honesty had been called into question and she found she could not. She took a deep breath. ‘Because he saw my home-made gown, and taking me to be as mercenary as himself he suggested I ingratiate myself with your mother in the hope of gaining a reward.’
His expression changed, and she suspected he had not believed a single word.
‘Enough of this,’ he said. ‘My offer to pay you handsomely for your stateroom still stands, but unless you are prepared to relinquish it to me, then we have nothing further to say to each other.’
‘As to that, you have already had my answer,’ she said with dignity.
‘Then I mustn’t keep you,’ he said.
Emilia turned to leave the room, but then made a last attempt to brighten Mrs Latimer’s life.
‘Won’t you at least get a second opinion?’
‘I have had not only a second, but a third, fourth and fifth opinion,’ he said coldly. ‘My mother has had the most expensive doctors, both here and in
And that was what probably lay at the heart of the problem, she thought. There was a fortune to be made in convincing Mrs Latimer that she was ill and in need of constant medical attention.
‘The most expensive are not always the best,’ she ventured.
‘I believe you were leaving,’ he remarked.
Emilia hesitated, then realizing she could do no more, she left the room.
The whole incident had shaken her. Mrs Latimer had seemed a dear, and she had longed to help her, but Mrs Latimer’s son was another matter. Not even his striking face could disguise the fact that he was ruthless and cynical.
Although he wasn’t entirely ruthless, she was forced to amend her thoughts. He cared for his mother, and was doing his best to provide her with proper care. It was just that his wealth blinded him to what she really needed. She did not need cosseting, she needed stimulation. If she was not really ill, then being forced to behave as an invalid must be very tiring for her, not to mention depressing to her spirits. And if she was not used to a life of idleness - if, as Emilia suspected, Mr Latimer was a self-made man, and his mother had at one stage in her life been poor and therefore very busy - it must be even worse.
But there was nothing she could do about it, and she must endeavour to put it out of her mind.
Carl felt himself seething as the stateroom door closed behind Miss Cavendish. Try as he might to ignore what she had said he found he could not forget it, and even worse, he could not help wondering whether she’d been right. Ever since rising from the most crushing poverty he had put his faith in money and what money could do, but he wasn’t a fool. He knew that frauds existed - he’d sent enough about their business in his time - and he knew they preyed on the wealthy. Which left him with the question, were the physicians he had consulted capable doctors, or were they quacks, who were keen to make as much money as they could out of him by pretending that his mother was ill when she was perfectly well?
He crossed to the porthole, looking out over the ocean.
It was a strange thing for Miss Cavendish to have said if it wasn’t true. But then, what did he know about Miss Cavendish, beyond the fact she had the clearest blue eyes he had ever seen?
Now where had that thought come from? he asked himself. Miss Cavendish’s eyes were not of the slightest interest to him, even if they were an unusual shade of blue - almost sapphire - making a stunning complement to her golden hair.
But this was nonsense. Miss Cavendish wasn’t an eligible young lady to be admired, she was a thorn in his side. How had she managed to unsettle him? he wondered. By challenging him? Yes. But not in the way he’d imagined. He’d thought she would challenge him on ground he was sure of, making him exert himself to the utmost in order to persuade her to relinquish her stateroom. Instead, she’d challenged him on ground he was much less sure of, awakening doubts over his mother’s illness and the doctors he employed.
Fortunately, it would not be long before she was off the ship. He was uncomfortably aware, however, that he would not be able to acquire her stateroom before she disembarked. For the first time in many years, in either personal matters or business matters, he had to acknowledge that he had been defeated.
Unaware of the disturbance she had caused him, Emilia retired to the reading room where she found plenty of headed note paper, and set about composing a letter to Mrs Wichwood. Having finished it, she returned to her stateroom in time to meet Freddy for tea.
‘I say, Emilia, you’ve fallen on your feet,’ said Freddy as he looked round her suite with admiration, going from the sitting-room to the two bedrooms, and then out onto the covered deck.
It was in Tudor style, with black-and-white walls, but there its resemblance to the sixteenth-century ended. It was furnished with the most up-to-the-minute wicker furniture and was decorated with potted palms. It exuded a feeling of airiness and spaciousness, and was made even more cheerful by the sunlight falling through the windows and dappling the floor, for although it was only April, the day was remarkably fine.
‘Do you like it?’ she asked.
After asking her stewardess to bring them some tea, Emilia settled herself in one of the reclining deckchairs. Freddy took a chair next to her, and they both enjoyed the sunshine and the splendid view over the ocean.
‘A life on the ocean wave, eh?’ he said, sighing with contentment and stretching out on his deckchair.
Mrs McLaren entered with the tray of tea, which she put down on a nearby console table.
‘Steward service, too,’ said Freddy appreciatively. ‘Or, rather, stewardess service. Just what you need!’
Emilia poured two cups of tea and handed one to Freddy.
‘I say,’ he said, sitting up and taking it, ‘I couldn’t help noticing you coming out of Latimer’s stateroom earlier on. It’s none of my business, of course, but ought you to be getting thick with millionaires?’
‘How . . . . ?’
‘I was trying to find Smithers - you remember Smithers, my valet?’
‘I do,’ said Emilia, pleased that the capable Smithers was accompanying Freddy on his flight from Penelope.
‘Well, I was trying to find him. I happened to look down one of the corridors and I saw you by Latimer’s stateroom. I met Latimer in
,’ he explained. ‘He introduced himself. He wanted to get into the club. He’s a fine chap, but I didn’t think he’d be your type.’
‘He isn’t,’ said Emilia.
‘Good. He’s a bit of a ruthless chap. They’re all the same, these millionaires. Give him a wide berth, that’s my advice.’
‘Thank you, Freddy. I intend to,’ she said.
They finished their tea, catching up on all the rest of their news, before Freddy decided it was time to gather his things together in preparation for leaving the ship. Due to the incident at Southampton when the smaller vessel had snapped its moorings,
was almost an hour late in reaching France, but at half past six, just as the sun was setting, the ship arrived.
La belle France
,’ said Freddy, as he picked up his portmanteau, whilst his valet materialised out of nowhere, carrying a large suitcase. ‘Ah! There you are, Smithers. Good show.’
The three of them waited with the other passengers who were disembarking whilst the gangplank was let down. As
was so large, she could not get too close to shore, so a tender came out in order to take the passengers ashore. But once the gangplank had been let down, it swayed alarmingly. There was a strong wind, and it took ten men on either side to hold it down.
Freddy coughed nervously.
‘I don’t like the look of that,’ he said.
‘I’m sure it will be all right,’ said Emilia reassuringly.
Smithers added murmurs of encouragement, and at last Freddy plucked up the courage to leave the ship.
‘Goodbye, Emilia. Take care.’