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Authors: Rosemary Pollock

The Breadth of Heaven

BOOK: The Breadth of Heaven
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THE
BREADTH OF HEAVEN

 

Rosemary Pollock

 


Unless you can love, as the angels may. With the breadth of heaven betwixt you.

 

 

Secr
etary-companion to a princess!

It sounded a wildly glamorous job—but it was not long before Kathy realized she must be on her guard against getting ideas

above her station

!

 

CHAPTER ONE

“Well,
that’s that!” Miss Harbury closed her account books with a series of small thuds, and then proceeded to put them away in the capacious drawers hidden underneath the reception desk. She pushed a few errant strands of grey hair out of her eyes, and stared piercingly at the young woman who was about to take over her place behind the polished semicircular counter.

“You look,” she commented abruptly, “as if you could do with a change. Don’t you ever get out of this place? You’ve worked like a donkey ever since you’ve been here, and you didn’t have to volunteer for extra duty tonight, you know. They’d have found someone—they always do.”

The girl smiled slightly, and glanced around the softly lit emptiness of the foyer.

“I’m not very keen on going out,” she said. “For one thing, I don’t know many people in London. And I love sitting here, watching people—and talking to them.”

“Well, dear, if my contact with humanity were limited to the chats I have while I’m sitting
here
I should think I might as well be in solitary confinement. But of course”—a small twinkle replacing the cynicism in the older woman’s eyes—“I’m not twenty years of age, and even when I was I hadn

t got chestnut hair and big blue eyes, so perhaps I don’t know what I’m talking about.” She gathered up her handbag, a library book, and one or two other personal belongings, and prepared to depart. “Well, I
don’t think you’ll have many interruptions this evening

unless, of course, you get an impersonal summons from Suite Number One

so if you’re quite sure you’ll be all right, my dear
...”

“Quite sure.” Kathy, who had already started work, smiled up at her and patted her arm. “Go and have a really gay evening, and tell me all about it tomorrow.”

When Miss Harbury had gone the foyer seemed quieter still, and Kathy sat back in her chair and closed her eyes. Although it was perfectly true that she liked the hotel when it was busy, and its elegantly clad guests moved backwards and forwards in front of her like extras from some particularly colourful Hollywood musical, it was also true that she liked it in its quieter moments, when the deep carpets and the solid walls combined to deaden any slight sounds that might have reached her from far off in the tall building, and the warm hush became a thing that was almost tangible. This was one of those quieter times, for dinner was over, and most of the people who were staying in the hotel at the moment—and there were not very many of them—had gone out for the evening. They would not begin to come in again until about eleven o’clock, and until then things should be fairly peaceful. She had always found it pleasant to be on duty in the evenings, and although this particular night should have been her own night off, and another girl should have been in charge of the desk, when the other girl developed a very nasty form of bronchitis she had quite willingly volunteered to take her place.

Ransome’s was a luxury hotel—but as luxury hotels go it was a small and unostentatious one, and
undoubtedly its somewhat exalted clientele were attracted mainly by its secluded dignity, its air of slightly old-fashioned respectability, and above all by the unquestionable discretion of its staff. The name of Ransome’s was famous throughout the world, and undoubtedly many of its patrons came to seek shelter behind its sober Georgian facade because their parents, and in some cases even their grandparents, had done so before them.

Kathy opened the register, and cast her eye down the list of people who had booked themselves in during the twenty-four hours since she had last been on duty. There was an Italian countess, the Contessa di Lina—probably in London for the Christmas shopping. And there was Doctor Andrew Harding, an eminent specialist from the north of England who always stayed at Ransome’s when he came south to attend a medical gathering of any kind. Then there was a rather large Spanish family who had apparently stayed for one night only. Apart from these there were no new arrivals, and the hotel, it seemed, was at the moment very nearly empty—or would have been had it not been for the occupant of Suite Number One, and the various persons accompanying her.

A telephone shrilled at Kathy’s elbow, and she swiftly lifted the receiver, her other hand closing the register and pushing it aside.

“Reception
...
can I help you?”

“Who is that, please?” The voice at the other end of the l
i
ne was feminine and extremely attractive, with a pronounced alien accent. It had become familiar to most members of the hotel staff during the last few days, and recognising it, Kathy felt slightly nervous.

“This is reception, madam. What can I do for you?”

“But
who
is it?”

“It’s Katherine Grant, madam. Miss Wentworth should have been on duty tonight, but—”

“It is the one with the red hair, yes? Please, Miss Grant, will you come up to see me? It is
...
terribly important!”

For the first time, Kathy realized that the voice at the other end sounded violently agitated, and she wondered whether she ought to transfer the call to the manager’s office. When Her Serene Highness Princess Natalia of Tirhania was agitated, it might be a trifle risky for a junior receptionist to take on the task of soothing her personally.

She hesitated. “If you will wait just a moment, madam—”

“But you will come quickly, please?”

“Well, I—I think perhaps if you were to speak to the manager
...

“But I do not wish to speak to the manager. I do not want you to tell anyone about this.”

“I couldn’t leave my desk
...

“But you must leave your desk! This is Natalia Karanska!” with a touch of unmistakable hauteur.

“Yes, Your Highness, I—I thought it was. But if you would only speak to the manager—”

“I will not speak to your manager. Oh, please
come
!”
There was an almost despairing note in the voice this time, and Kathy thought swiftly. It was so quiet—nobody would miss her. It would only be for a few minutes, and in any case, surely if she explained the circumstances
... She didn’t want to lose her job, but there had been something about the Princess’s
tone that had come oddly close to being pitiable, however fantastic that might seem. She spoke quickly into the receiver.

“Very well, Your Highness, I’m coming up.”

As she sped upwards in one of the hotel’s three lifts, Kathy wondered what could possibly have occurred to throw their most important guest into such a state of agitation. And why, in any case, had she not asked her lady-in-waiting or some other member of her staff to telephone for her? She had arrived ten days ago, accompanied by her two children, and with them they had brought a lady-in-waiting, a secretary, two nannies, a personal maid, a detective and a chauffeur. Ransome’s was not entirely unused to accommodating persons accompanied by a considerable entourage, but Her Serene Highness had nevertheless succeeded in presenting the management with something of a problem. To begin with, she had demanded that her presence in the building should be completely unknown to the outside world—an almost impossible request, since as the sister-in-law of one of the few reigning monarchs left to the world she was a much publicized young woman, and followed almost everywhere by reporters. The manager, Mr. McArthur, had been unable to promise her total secrecy, but he had succeeded in keeping the Press outside the hotel building. Whether this compromise had satisfied Her Highness no one knew, for she had scarcely left her suite since the night of her arrival, but at the weekend she was due to return home, and Mr. McArthur at least would heave a sigh of relief when he finally bowed her off the premises.

The Princess’s suite, the finest in the hotel, was
situated close to the head of the main staircase, and it was not long before Kathy was tapping lightly on the outer door of the royal apartments, and wondering once again whether she really had been foolish in answering the imperious summons personally. She felt decidedly nervous, for although she had seen the Princess in the distance she had never actually come face to face with quite such an exalted personage before—Miss Wentworth had been on duty in the hall when the royal party arrived—and the thought crossed her mind that she was uncertain whether or not a curtsy would be in order. As it happened, how
ever,
she didn’t have very much time to think, and certainly little opportunity for bothering about the niceties of protocol, for quite suddenly the door in front of her swung open, and she found herself very nearly pulled inside. Then the door was closed behind her, and an extraordinarily beautiful young woman was taking her by the arm and drawing her forward into the room.

“Miss Grant? It is so kind of you ... You understand, I am desperate.”

Kathy stared at her. “You are
...
you are Princess Natalia?” She didn’t really need to ask, for she had seen that face too often in newspaper photographs to be in any real doubt, and in any case she had once caught a quick glimpse of the princess. At the same time, however, she hadn’t been prepared for quite such breathtaking loveliness. “I can’t stay very long—” she began.

The Princess turned enormous brown eyes upon her. “But you will help me? You will, won’t you? You see, I can trust someone like you, but
...
but
...”

Feeling a little more confident, Kathy looked around her, and saw that there was nobody else in the room. What could have happened to the entourage? Why was she being treated to this personal and rather dramatic interview with such an extremely important person?

“Of course I will help you if I can, madam,” she began hesitantly. “But I don’t see—”

“Come with me, please.” Natalia had darted across the gorgeously furnished sitting-room to a door that communicated with the next room, and she beckoned to Kathy to follow her. The other room was her bedroom, and even more lavishly equipped than the sitting-room, but it was very dimly lit, for only one small table-lamp was burning, and the shadowy folds of the heavy silk curtains which masked the tall windows lent it a faintly sinister atmosphere. Feeling distinctly puzzled, Kathy halted on the threshold
... and then a sound caught her attention, and she saw what it was that the Princess was bending over in the dimness on the far side of the room. And as Natalia turned towards her with the child in her arms she moved impulsively forward.

“Oh, what a lovely little girl! Is she
...
?”

“She is my daughter. Her name is Nina.” The soft voice trembled slightly. “She is sick, and I am so afraid
...

“But if she is sick you need a doctor.” Impulsively, Kathy turned back towards the bright lights of the sitting-room. “Let me telephone—”

“No!”

“But
...”
Kathy stopped. “If she
is
sick
...?”

“Forgive me, but I am so frightened.” This time it was the Princess who turned towards the sitting-room, and as Kathy followed her she gestured to the English girl to sit down. The child was making small fretful noises and clinging to her mother, and when Kathy looked at her she noticed that she bore very little physical resemblance to the Princess.

“I have dismissed all my servants.” Natalia’s voice was matter-of-fact as she made this statement. She seemed a little calmer, and as she smoothed her ash-blonde hair her fingers were only slightly unsteady. “The Baroness Liczak, too
... she has gone. And my secretary, and my detective.” She spoke with a certain amount of satisfaction, as if she had attempted and successfully carried through an inordinately difficult task.

“But, Your Highness,” ventured Kathy, “no member of your staff has left the hotel, and—” Natalia shrugged. “Very likely they have not,” she conceded. “But I—I have dismissed them. They were all my enemies, and I have rid myself of them.” She paused, and looked down at the child in her lap. And then suddenly the pretty face puckered, and she started to weep hysterically.

“Your Highness!” Kathy started to her feet, feeling completely helpless. “Your Highness, if I can do anything
...
But I don’t understand
...

“I beg your pardon.” The royal tears ceased to flow almost as suddenly as they had begun, and Kathy was favoured with a watery smile. “I am truly sorry to behave so badly, but—but they have poisoned my little girl!”

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