Authors: Mary Burchell
The Other Linding Girl Mary Burchell
Rachel, with two far more dazzling sisters, felt she would always be “the other Linding girl” unless she broke away from Loriville and the family home. But there still seemed plenty of obstacles to prevent her from being the special one for Nigel Seton.
Dr. Linding removed his spectacles and regarded his second daughter, with that kindly but matter-of-fact air which he used for instilling confidence into nervous patients and discouraging the loquacious ones from telling him their life-stories.
“Do you mean,” he said mildly, “that you're not really happy at home?”
“Oh, no, Father! Nothing as bad as that. It’s just—” Rachel spread out her hands, in a gesture so oddly reminiscent of her dead mother that Dr. Linding, who had loved his wife very much, smiled indulgently—“it’s just that being the middle one of three sisters has its special problems.”
“I suppose it does.” Dr. Linding nodded understandingly. “Particularly when the elder one is a beauty and the younger one a minx.”
“And the middle one merely what people call ‘a nice girl’,” finished Rachel, though without rancour.
“Unprejudiced as I am—” her father polished his spectacles thoughtfully—“I would, put that at ‘a very nice girl. ’”
“Thank you, Father.” Rachel flashed him a not un-humorous glance. “And don’t think I’m in any way jealous of the other two. I’m as proud of Elizabeth’s good looks as you are, and I can’t resist Hazel any more than you can. But I’m beginning to get the feeling that, in Loriville, I’m simply ‘the other Linding girl’. Does that sound silly to you?”
“Not at all. You're quite possibly right. And, even if you’re not, the mere fact that you’re beginning to think that way means it’s time you made a change.”
“I knew you’d understand. You always do.” Rachel smiled affectionately at the man who had had to be both father and mother to her and her sisters for the last ten years.
“It only remains to ask—where do you propose to go?” enquired Dr. Linding, with no more than a suspicion of a twinkle in his keen blue eyes.
“Well, I—hadn’t quite made up my mind to anything specific. I thought I’d speak to you first in a—a general way,” explained Rachel, as startled as most of us are when we find there is no real barrier in the way of something for which we are prepared to fight. “I don’t really want to go on working at Bannisters’, now that old Mr. Bannister has retired. I suppose I’m hankering after— ” again that comprehensive little gesture of her hands— “after wider horizons. It’s difficult, I know—but I’d like to go to London, I think.”
“It might.” her father replied thoughtfully, “be quite sensationally easy.” And he began to search among the papers on his desk.
had a letter from your Uncle Everard this morning. Let me see— Ah, yes, here it is!”
He spread out two or three sheets of handsome-looking notepaper in front of him.
“It seems—” he smiled slightly—“that famous consultants have their troubles, just as much as country G.P.s, and at the moment brother Everard is bereft of his invaluable secretary. The poor girl has gone down with a perforated appendix (shame on him for not noticing her condition sooner) and, although brilliant surgery (his, I feel sure) has saved her life, recovery will be a long job. He says that her substitute has proved to be a—Tch, tch, tch—” murmured Dr. Linding, as he turned the page.
“Well, anyway, the substitute doesn’t seem to be much good. Why don’t you offer to go and help out your Uncle Everard, my dear?” “Do you think he’d have me?” Rachel’s eyes sparkled.
“He’d be lucky to get you,” replied her father, with pleasing partiality. “If you like, I’ll telephone and ask him.”
“Do you mean—
and to London?”
“I feel sure Everard would think his dilemma merited an immediate trunk call,” Dr. Landing said. “How soon would Bannisters’ release you, do you think?”
“I suppose—almost at once. There are a lot of changes going on in the firm since the new man came in, and I don’t flatter myself I’m regarded as indispensable. In an emergency—”
“I’m sure Everard would like the word ‘emergency’,” her father remarked reflectively. “Do you want to think about it a little longer or—” he paused, with his hand out towards the telephone.
“No—I don’t need to think about it any longer.” Rachel sounded a trifle breathless. “If Uncle Everard will have me, I’ll go.”
“Very well.” Dr. Linding drew the telephone towards him, while Rachel sat staring down at her tightly clasped hands, a good deal surprised to find that she had committed herself so far and so fast.
But, she reminded herself resolutely, she was merely putting into practice the trenchant advice she had often heard her father give: “If you don’t like a situation, change it. If you’re not capable of changing it, put up with it. But don’t grumble about it and don’t blame anyone else. Your life is your own business, not theirs.” Then the telephone gave a slight “Ping!” and her father said, “Is that you, Everard?”
It appeared it was. And Rachel listened with the greatest attention as her father went on—
“This is John. Yes, your brother, John. No, I’m not in London. I’m speaking from Lonville. Do you still want someone to
replace your secretary? You do?—Yes, yes, my dear fellow, I’m sure you’ve had a most trying time. That’s the worst of you geniuses. Very hard on you when you get bogged down in day-to-day detail. Well, my second girl, Rachel, is looking for a job in London?— What’s that?—Certainly she’s efficient. Most efficient girl I know, and I’ve known her a long time. Do you want to speak to her?—Very well, here she is.”
Dr. Linding handed over the telephone, and a most attractively pitched voice asked,
“When can you come?”
“Next week. Perhaps by the end of this week.”
“Make it the day after tomorrow.”
“Not so much of the ‘uncle’!” said the attractive voice. “This isn’t Sir Everard.”
“Who is it, then? I thought—”
“I’m just a stand-in for the great man, who has this minute been called on the other line. He handed me the phone as I came into the room and said, “Ask her when she can come. So I’m asking you. And, as I like the way you laugh, I urge you to make it the day after tomorrow.”
“I’ll try,” Rachel actually found herself saying. “But you still haven’t told me who you are.”
“I’m Linding’s brother-in-law, and the name is Nigel Seton.” “Are you also a doctor?” enquired Rachel, wondering if she would be called on to work for him too.
“No,” said the charming voice. “I live by my wits.”
“What did you say?”
“What you thought I said. Don’t you want to know me now?”
“I don’t know. I’ll see when I get to London. Will you tell my uncle—”
“Here he is. You can tell him yourself. Good-bye—until the day after tomorrow.”
And then her uncle’s resonant baritone voice said, in its best Harley Street manner,
“Rachel, my dear? I hear we can expect you the day after tomorrow. This is splendid news.”
“I’m not quite certain, Uncle, until I find if my present office can release me. But I’ll let you know by telegram tomorrow. I don’t know what arrangements you would like, but—” “All arrangements can be made when you arrive. There is no need to worry about anything,” stated Sir Everard, as though he were admitting her to a very exclusive nursing-home. “I shall look forward to seeing you on Thursday, my dear. Good-bye.” “Good-bye,” replied Rachel to the receiver which had already gone dead. And, looking across the desk, she found her father’s amused glance upon her.
“Well, that’s that,” she said, a little breathlessly.
“An intriguing conversation. Particularly in the beginning,” observed Dr. Linding, with frank curiosity.
“Oh, I wasn’t talking to Uncle Everard then! His brother-in-law, Nigel Seton, took the call for him.”
“Ah, yes.” Dr. Linding rubbed his chin meditatively. “Hester’s brother.” And it was Rachel’s turn to look curious.
“Aunt Hester is a lot younger than her husband, isn’t she?”
“So much so that I can’t imagine she would relish your addressing her as ‘aunt’,” replied her father, with a smile. “She can’t be more than thirty-five, and she looked about twenty-five when I saw her a couple of years ago. The little girl would have been about eight then, I suppose,” he added thoughtfully. “Well— ” as the sound of a vigorously beaten dinner-gong brought them both to their feet—“we’d better go and tell the other two now.”
As they entered the pleasant, rather shabby diningroom, Christina—who was both working housekeeper and lifelong friend—was already setting the soup tureen before Elizabeth, the oldest and much the most beautiful of the Linding sisters. But of the other Linding sister there was no sign.
“Where is Hazel?” enquired Dr. Linding, glancing round.
“On the upstairs telephone, talking to one of her boyfriends. The cheeky one, with the red hair,” replied Christina knowledgeably.
“How do you know he is cheeky and has red hair, if he’s at the other end of a telephone wire?” enquired Dr. Linding, with interest.
“Because she’s laughing a lot and being rather cheeky herself, so it will be the second Denham boy, and he’s the one with the red hair and—”
“Stop telling tales out of school, Christina,” interrupted the youngest Linding, appearing at this moment and sliding into her seat with an air of rather bogus innocence. “Oh, you haven’t been
for me, darlings, have you?”
“No,” said Elizabeth composedly, and she began to serve the soup.
It was Dr. Linding who introduced the subject of Rachel’s proposed London departure. And, with his tactful assistance, she was able to represent the project to her sisters as little more than a desire to help out her uncle in an emergency.
“But isn’t it all very sudden?” Elizabeth opened her blue eyes very wide—a trick which came entirely naturally to her, but was known to have a devastating effect on half the males in Loriville.
“His secretary’s illness was sudden too,” Rachel pointed out reasonably. “And I—I really like the idea of going. The one time Uncle Everard came here, I thought him rather thrilling.”
“And Aunt Hester?” Elizabeth’s voice was cool and reflective. “Do you think you’ll find her thrilling? I know we’ve none of us ever met her, except Father. But somehow—I don’t know—” she frowned. “Her Christmas cards are rather revealing, aren’t they?”
“What exactly do they reveal?” enquired Dr. Linding.
“They’re so very expensive-looking,” Elizabeth explained.
“And formal,” added Rachel.
“And have nothing whatever to do with Christmas,” concluded Hazel. ‘They’re sort of self-glorifying without conveying any real feeling.”
“I think you’re all a little hard on your aunt ” objected Dr. Linding mildly. “Perhaps Rachel will be able to improve her taste in cards by next Christmas. You must see what you can do, my dear.”
“I’ll try,” Rachel promised, and laughed—but a little shakily, for it had just come over her, with poignant force, how much she was going to miss the kind of good-humoured nonsense which is peculiar to every happy family, and almost entirely incomprehensible to all others.
The next day she found that her proposed withdrawal from the firm where she had worked for the last two years was quite unopposed—a circumstance which both relieved and mortified her. For it is not pleasing to any of us to be dispensed with cheerfully, even if the going may suit our own purpose.
However, Rachel was philosophical by both nature and training. And so, released from the necessity of putting in even a last day’s work, she spent the time making preparations for her remove to London.
Inevitably she suffered some bad moments of nostalgia and nearpanic, in which she derived little comfort from the reflection that, in practical fact, she had accepted no more than a temporary post away from home. For, however much she might pretend to herself and the others, she knew in her heart that this was her great break-away—or it was nothing. To come creeping back home in a matter of weeks or months would be to reduce the whole grand gesture to futility.
She was leaving the old life—finally, and seeking an entirely new one. Uncle Everard was merely, as it were, a stepping-stone to higher things. Though, professionally speaking, of course (as Rachel hastily reminded herself) one could go no higher than Uncle Everard.