A Dream Came True, страница 1
“You have good taste,”
Lady Manderly admitted.
“Your clothes are rather dull, but then of course you have to buy things which will wear well, but I must admit that you make the most of them.” She got up from the dinner table. “I shall read this evening and you shall play to me.”
Jemima played Ravel, Bach, My Fair Lady, Bitter Sweet and then back to Ravel and finally Delius.
“That’s very sad,” observed her listener as she finished and sat quietly with her hands folded in her lap. “Do you feel sad, Jemima?” It was so unexpected a question coming from Lady Manderly, who had never expressed any interest in her before, that Jemima couldn’t think of a ready answer. “You are in love, perhaps?”
Jemima looked down at her hands and willed herself not to blush. “That would hardly fit into my life at present, Lady Manderly. Would you like me to continue playing?”
Romance readers around the world were sad to note the passing of Betty Neels in June 2001. Her career spanned thirty years, and she continued to write into her ninetieth year. To her millions of fans, Betty epitomized the romance writer, and yet she began writing almost by accident. She had retired from nursing, but her inquiring mind still sought stimulation. Her new career was born when she heard a lady in her local library bemoaning the lack of good romance novels. Betty’s first book, Sister Peters in Amsterdam, was published in 1969, and she eventually completed 134 books. Her novels offer a reassuring warmth that was very much a part of her own personality. She was a wonderful writer, and she will be greatly missed. Her spirit and genuine talent will live on in all her stories.
THE BEST of
A DREAM CAME TRUE
THE ROOM WAS small and shabby, but comfortable enough, with the firelight flickering on the unimaginative furniture and the small table with the remains of a meal upon it. Two people were sitting there, a young man with a thin, spectacled face and a girl somewhat older, with straight shoulder-length mousy fair hair and a face which just missed being pretty by reason of a slightly turned up nose and a too wide mouth. But the mouth curved gently and her eyes, hazel and thickly fringed, were quite beautiful. She sat very quietly, her hands, small and capable and a little roughened from housework, clasped loosely on the table before her. When she spoke her voice was brisk but pleasantly soft.
‘Well, love, that’s settled, then. We’ll give up this flat—I never liked it much, did you? You go off to Boston and I’ll find a job to keep me going until you come home again,’ and when her brother made an impatient gesture: ‘No, Dick, it’s no good arguing any more, it’s a heavensent chance for you and you simply must take it, and what’s two years? You’ll only be twenty-three…’ she ignored his muttered ‘And you’ll be twenty-eight,’ and went on firmly: ‘You’ll probably be a famous scientist by then and we’ll live in a nice house in the country and I’ll keep hens…’
‘But that’s years away, Jemima—what’s going to happen to you in the meantime?’ He sighed heavily. ‘You’re not trained for anything, are you?’
Rather like a magician she produced a folded newspaper and passed it to him. ‘Read that,’ she begged him, and tapped the advertisements column. ‘I’m cut out for it—I shall go there tomorrow.’
Her brother read it, frowning. ‘But this wouldn’t do—it’s drudgery!’
‘Rubbish.’ If her voice faltered a little he didn’t notice it. ‘I’ve walked dogs all my life, haven’t I, and read aloud to Mother and Father every day for years, I can answer the phone intelligently and write letters and play cards. I shall do very nicely. It’ll be an old dame with a Peke and a hearing aid—and the money is good.’
She got up, a girl not much above middle height and rather on the plump side, and began to clear the table.
‘I’ve got to get your suit from the cleaners and fetch your shoes. Will you have enough money until they pay you?’
‘I’ll manage; I shan’t know anyone to start with, shall I? Besides, I plan to work.’
‘Yes, love, but you can’t work all the time. I wonder what Boston is like? America for that matter—mind you write at least once a month.’ She grinned at him. ‘And take most of what’s left in the bank just to be on the safe side.’
‘What about you?’
‘Oh, I’ll do fine. I’ve enough clothes and there’ll be enough to keep me going until I get my wages. It says “Good salary” and if I live in I’ll not have a care in the world.’ Jemima spoke cheerfully and inwardly contemplated the future with some doubt; she was a practical girl, not given to moaning or wanting the moon, but she did wish that she had been trained to do something. But there had been no need—her parents had assured her of that each time she had brought the subject up. Her father was a Professor of History at one of the colleges at Oxford, living in a delightful old house which went with the job, and her mother had been only too delighted to leave more and more of the housekeeping to her. And she hadn’t complained; she had a small allowance, a number of friends and no prospect of marrying; she was neither clever enough nor pretty enough to catch the eye of younger men, and the older ones were all married. She hoped that one day she would marry, but here she was, twenty-six last birthday and apart from a middle-aged don, a widower with three teenage children, no proposals. And for the last four years she hadn’t minded at all. When her father died her mother had somehow lost her zest for living too, and Jemima had taken over the running of the house, the paying of the bills and the shopping, not thinking too much about the future. Authority had allowed them to stay on in the house which had been their home for so long and Dick had finished his studies and done brilliantly and somehow she had managed very well on the pension which they now lived on. But when her mother died suddenly, life changed drastically. They had to leave their home; there was no more pension and only a very little money left in the bank. They had sold the furniture and moved into a poky little flat so that Dick could continue his studies while he waited to see if he had won a place at Boston University, where he would have a grant sufficient to keep him while he worked for still another degree. He had done even better; he had been offered a place there with the prospect of a good job at the end of it, and Jemima had urged him to snap it up, brushing aside his doubts about her own future.
All the same, she had scoured the advertisements for several weeks now trying to find something which would suit her few talents, and at last something had turned up and she had every intention of applying for it. The advertisement stipulated an interview, in the first instance at an address in Bloomsbury. She had looked it up and found it to be a street close to the British Museum, a fairly familiar ground to her, for she had been there on several occasions with her father. It sounded very respectable.
She went up to London on a morning train. The interviews were timed for three o’clock and she supposed there might be several girls there as well as herself; she would get there exactly on the hour and in the meantime do a little window-shopping, have a snack lunch and make her way on foot to the address in the advertisement. It was a pleasant day in late September, when she considered London was at its best, and she spent an hour or so going unhurriedly from one big store to the next. If she got the job she would be able to buy one or two things to bring her wardrobe up to date—she made a list while she drank coffee and ate a dull ham sandwich, and then walked on, away from the shops now, taking short cuts through narrow streets full of people hurr
Number ninety-one’s front door stood open, so Jemima went into the lobby and from there into a narrow hall and followed an arrow on the wall which had ‘Waiting Room’ written under it, and found another door on the landing above, a handsome mahogany one with ‘Waiting Room’ on a discreet brass plate. No one answered when she knocked and since a nearby church clock was striking the hour, she opened the door and went inside.
The room wasn’t large, but it was empty of people, which rather surprised her. She glanced at the address again to make sure that she had come to the right place and then went and sat down. There were a couple of small easy chairs against one wall, but she chose the straight-backed chair behind the desk set cornerwise against the window, where she sat composedly, waiting.
She waited for ten minutes and no one appeared; held up by traffic, she decided, and getting bored, typed her name with one finger on the paper ready in the typewriter and, flushed with this success, carefully filled in the rest of the line with the first thing which came into her head: ‘Little Jack Horner sat in a corner—’ She came to the end of the paper and turned the roller, quite absorbed. She had a finger poised for the next word when there was a quick determined step on the stairs and the door was opened.
Jemima froze in her chair, not daring to look up. Suppose it was the typist whose machine she was messing about with? She put her hands in her lap and assumed what she hoped was a serene expression.
The steps had reached the desk and she looked up, just in time to have a sheaf of papers thrust at her and hear a deep impatient voice say: ‘Get these typed by five o’clock, will you?’ He barely glanced at her. ‘I suppose you’re the girl from the typing pool to replace Miss Ames? I hope you’re efficient.’
Jemima goggled at him, looking, if only she knew, the height of inefficiency. She had to tell him smartly that he was mistaken, but she hesitated for a few seconds because she really had to look at him. Tall and very large, with pepper-and-salt hair and the coldest grey eyes she had ever seen; a mouth pressed into a thin line and a high-bridged nose—very nice-looking if only he’d smile… She opened her mouth finally. ‘I…’ she began, too late as he strode past her and went through a door at the end of the room, closing it with a decided click which somehow prevented her from following him.
She looked at the papers he had given her—not even ordinary writing but page upon page of what looked like Greek and little sums dotted here and there—a kind of advanced algebra, perhaps? She looked at it for a minute or two, summoning up courage to go after him and explain, vexed with herself because she felt timid and nervous. ‘Ridiculous,’ she said out loud. ‘Father always said you had more common sense in your little finger than any other female he’d ever known.’
She tidied the papers into a neat pile and prepared to stand up just as the door opened again. This time it was a girl, a gorgeous creature with golden hair, a fetching waistcoat and black velvet knickerbockers. She swanned in, smiled brilliantly at Jemima and draped herself in one of the chairs.
‘Hullo—is he in?’
Jemima nodded while she wondered if her legs were good enough to carry off knickerbockers. She was probably far too curvy, she thought regretfully.
‘Oh, good. Be a darling and tell him I’m here, will you?’
It was a chance to see the man and explain. Jemima got to her feet once more, the papers in her hand. ‘What name?’ she asked.
‘Just say Gloria.’
She knocked on the door before she had time to get nervous and walked in. The man was sitting at a massive desk, his head bowed over a pile of papers, so untidy that Jemima itched to straighten them.
‘There’s a young lady,’ she began, and encouraged by his grunt: ‘Her name is Gloria…’
‘Tell her to go away—I shan’t be ready for hours yet. How’s that typing going?’
He looked up and his eyes narrowed as he caught sight of the papers.
‘Well,’ said Jemima, reasonably, ‘not very well, I’m afraid. You see, I can’t type…’
‘Then why the hell are you here?’ He flung a hand on to the desk so violently that most of the papers there flew on to the floor. ‘Now look what you’ve done!’ he declared furiously.
‘Not me—you,’ Jemima corrected him calmly. ‘If you wouldn’t get so cross I could explain.’
‘I am not cross. Well?’
She explained with commendable brevity while he sat glowering at her. ‘So,’ she concluded matter-of-factly, ‘if you would tell me where I ought to be…it does give this address, you know.’
He frowned at her. ‘Sit down, wait here,’ he told her, and went out. She could hear his voice rumbling on about something or other and Gloria’s rather shrill tones interrupting. Presently a door banged and he came back.
‘You appear to be the only applicant for the post,’ he said without preamble, ‘but I don’t imagine you will get it. The lady in question is difficult to please; I don’t think you are suitable.’ His cold eyes studied her leisurely and she said tartly:
‘Don’t stare, it’s rude, and what has it got to do with you, anyway?’
Just for a moment the grey eyes warmed with amusement. ‘Er—nothing. I merely suggest that you might not be able to cope—a companion’s life isn’t all roses.’
‘I didn’t expect it to be. And now perhaps you will be good enough to tell me where I should go?’
‘Perhaps I am mistaken—appearances are so deceptive. Take a taxi to this address’—he was scribbling on a pad as he spoke. ‘It’s close to Harrods—you will of course be reimbursed for any expenses.’
Jemima stood up, took the paper he was offering her, wished him good afternoon, and went to the door. He hadn’t answered her, hadn’t looked up even. She said as she opened the door, ‘You’ll have to do your own typing, won’t you?’
Sitting in the taxi she was filled with remorse and shame; to have been so rude, and such a waste too—a complete stranger she would never see again, but it was no good brooding about it, she still had to get the job. ‘Not suitable, indeed!’ she muttered, and when the taxi stopped in a quiet street in Knightsbridge, she had got out, paid her fare, added a tip and mounted the steps to the front door of the tall narrow house, thumped the door with the heavy brass knocker, and when it was opened, trod firmly through it.
The man she had given her name to was short and stout and puffed a good deal. He said civilly: ‘If you would come this way, miss,’ and led her across a high-ceilinged hall to a small room, where he begged her to sit down and then shut the door firmly upon her. It was a pleasant place, nicely warm and well furnished, and she sat back comfortably and thought longingly of her tea—perhaps she would be offered a cup? If not she could stop on her way to the station. Her musings were interrupted by the stout man, who appeared silently and asked her to follow him, this time up the curved staircase and on to a broad landing with a number of doors.
He opened one of these and ushered her inside. ‘Miss Mason, my lady,’ he intoned, and shut the door behind her.
‘Well, come in, come in,’ said an impatient voice from the other end of a large lofty room, and Jemima advanced across the beeswaxed floor, over a beautiful Indian carpet, avoiding chairs, little tables and enormous sofas, until she reached the wing chair by the window where an old lady was sitting.
‘Stand there,’ she commanded, ‘where I can see you—I can’t say you’re much to look at.’
To which Jemima made no answer; she could have agreed, of course, but she saw n
‘Yes, I am.’ Jemima wasn’t sure whether she should say my lady or Lady Manderly, so she chose Lady Manderly, then stood quietly, taking a good look at her companion. Lady Manderly was an imposing figure, even though an outsize one, with a formidable bosom encased in a beautifully tailored grey wool dress in the style made fashionable by Queen Mary. Her iron-grey hair was dressed in a fashion which Jemima decided was vaguely Edwardian, and she wore a magnificent choker of jet beads and gold, supporting a series of quivering chins. From somewhere about her person she produced a lorgnette and studied Jemima at length and in silence.
Jemima bore the scrutiny with calm for a minute or so and then said kindly: ‘You would be much more comfortable with glasses, Lady Manderly.’
The lorgnette was lowered and two hard grey eyes glared at her. They reminded her forcibly of the man who had interviewed her earlier with such abruptness.
Somewhere under that Gorgon front, thought Jemima, there must be a nice old lady lurking. Apparently not. ‘I will not tolerate impertinence,’ declared Lady Manderly.
‘I wasn’t being impertinent, Lady Manderly. An aunt of mine always used a lorgnette until she was persuaded to change to ordinary glasses; she found them a great deal better than forever fidgeting with a lorgnette.’
‘I do not fidget,’ observed Lady Manderly awfully. ‘What experience have you had?’
‘Well, actually none at all, but I can read aloud, and play most card games and answer the telephone sensibly, and write letters. I’m very strong too.’ Jemima frowned a little. ‘Oh, and I can drive a car and run a house economically. My mother became ill after my father died, so I saw to everything…’