Authors: Mary Whistler
THE YOUNG NIGHTINGALES
A family tragedy changed her life.
When Jane Nightingale's father died suddenly, leaving her penniless, everyone expected that she would marry her old friend, Roger Bowman. Instead, Jane was stunned when he suggested that, for the time being, she go to Switzerland to work for his aunt.
There she met an attractive doctor, Jules Delacroix, whose attentiveness she attributed, at first, to a naturally kind nature.
And as it turned out, Roger Bowman's apparent heartlessness was someth
be thankful for...
JANE was on her way to bed when she saw the light shining under the study door. She frowned, because the doctor had been most insistent about early nights and as much freedom from business worries as was possible for John Nightingale since his collapse in his London office; but now, apparently, he was working late, and it was all wrong.
She had to see that he went to bed immediately.
She went along the thickly carpeted corridor which led to the study door, and without tapping on it opened it and looked in at her father, sitting at his big walnut desk with the anglepoise lamp casting a concentrated glare all about him. In the light of the lamp his hair looked much greyer than it actually was, and his face looked grey, too. He did not appear to be working, for his handsome gold-mounted fountain-pen was lying disregarded close to his hand, and the folder of papers in front of him was closed.
“Father, it’s much too late for you to be—” And then Jane halted, feeling as if a hand of ice had closed over her heart. A drawer of the desk was standing open, and in addition to papers she could see a small, neat, workmanlike revolver lying on top of them.
She had never seen it before. She was quite sure it was not normally kept in the desk, and to her certain knowledge her father did not possess a licence to carry firearms. He was not the sort of man who, when circumstances were completely rational and within the scope of his control, was in the slightest degree interested in lethal weapons. He did not accept invitations to join shooting parties, and in fact he was slightly anti-blood sports. He had recently delivered a lecture on the cruelties of fly-fishing.
He lifted withdrawn grey eyes to her, and she was quite sure it took him several seconds to recognise her.
“Jane! What are you doing here? I thought you’d all gone to bed.”
She walked round the desk until she was standing close to the open drawer. Nothing in the world could have induced her to touch that nasty but efficient little toy that lay there, but she indicated it with a shaking finger.
“What is that doing there?”
He seemed mildly surprised.
“That? Oh, I bought it the other day. A fellow wanted to get rid of it.”
“Someone I know?”
“Someone in the office.”
“Do you normally conduct transactions of that sort in the office?” Her voice was husky with fear, blatant with disbelief. “You know very well, Father, that it just isn’t possible. No one would sell you a revolver in the office!”
“Oh, very well.” He turned round and faced her, a spark of unnatural humour lighting the withdrawn grey eyes. “I picked it up in a gunsmith’s ... and in case you’re thinking I haven’t got a licence for it, I have. I thought of that, too. After all, someone did break in here about a month ago and got away with quite a lot of the dining-room silver. We don’t want a repeat performance of that sort, do we?”
Gingerly she put out a hand and touched the handle of the drawer and closed it quietly. Then she walked across to a Jacobean cabinet, which was in actual fact a cocktail cabinet, took out a bottle of brandy and a glass, poured her father a stiff drink and carried it to him.
“I think you needed that,” she said, as she dropped into a chair confronting the desk and watched him drain the glass greedily.
“You’re quite right. I did
A little of the greyness seemed to vanish from his face, and the expression of his eyes and mouth grew more relaxed. He put up a hand and smoothed his unnaturally silver hair back from his forehead as if he was also smoothing away a certain amount of the vagueness that had held him until she entered the room, and smiled at her rewardingly. She was, after all, his favourite child ... his pretty Jane, as he called
her. And now, and at long last, he could talk to her.
“There was never much point in attempting to conceal things from you, was there, Janie
” he said. Despite the grimness of the occasion, and the bleakness of the outlook, it afforded him unspeakable pleasure just to look at her, as she occupied one of his big leather chairs. She had her mother’s small dark head and slightly shadowed blue-grey eyes, and her pale complexion made him think of a piece of porcelain ... the kind he had collected for years, but was unlikely to go on collecting in the years that still, might lie ahead. He wasn’t absolutely certain about that, because his heart
ad been groggy for some time, and the doctor had said—But never mind about that! Not now!
Jane was sitting there in a soft black dress that must have cost quite a bit, and her complexion seemed purer than ever, and her mouth was such an exceptionally lovely mouth, although at the moment she was tearing hard at her bottom lip with an agitated, small white tooth.
He sighed, lighted himself a cigarette after tapping it on the back of his fine, well-cared-for hand, then closed his eyes and sat back in his chair without even carrying the cigarette up to his lips after it had glowed for an instant and then gone out.
“Where shall I begin?” he asked. “You want to know the whole story?”
“Very well.” He opened his eyes, discovered that the cigarette was unlit, and cast it aside in disgust. “Things have been going from bad to worse for several months now, and at last they’ve got quite out of hand. There isn’t a single thing I can do about it any longer
although I’ve tried hard enough!”
“You mean business is—?”
“There isn’t any longer any business. The firm of Nightingale will have to put up its shutters
She was aghast, but not stunned, for she had suspected this for some time.
“But that can’t possibly be true, Father!
Not really true! We’re such an old-established firm
Nightingale’s Iron and Steel! We just
“Nevertheless, I’m afraid we have. Toby will have nothing to inherit when he comes of age, and it’s lucky for Conway that he has a profession of his own. We have, as they put it nowadays, been taken over, and that means we no longer own anything at all because our debts were astronomical and in order to get them wiped off the slate we expended every penny that was poured in just as fast as it was poured in. The name of Nightingale will survive for perhaps another six months, and then it, too, will be wiped from the slate. There will be a new chairman, and a completely new set of directors.”
“But surely they’ll offer you—something?”
“I’m a dead horse, and we all know it’s a waste of time and energy flogging a dead horse. Perhaps, if my health hadn’t decided to pack up when it did, I might have worked s
but now it’s too late. I’ve this house, and the two cars, which will fetch something when they’re sold
and you girls have the incomes left to you by your grandmother. I know they’re only pocket-money by comparison with the allowances that have been made to you since you left school, and Toby hasn’t even got as far as receiving an allowance
and most unfortunately his maternal grandmother was not in a position to leave him anything when she died! But Miranda has been receiving a very generous allowance, and she has her jewels...
Miranda! Jane didn’t know why it was, but instead of her thoughts going out to her own blood relations they went winging like a bird to her stepmother, who was recovering from some not very serious illness on the French Riviera, where aids to her recovery included a five-star hotel, unlimited spending money and a large number of entirely new friends amongst whom she sought distraction which nearly always ended up at the Casino, where she was notoriously unlucky. In fact, quite appallingly unlucky!
How Miranda would react—and what would happen to her nerves—when she heard the news Jane simply couldn’t think, but it would be a reaction most unlikely to ease the family pressures.
She stared at her father, horror and disbelief warring for pride of place in her expression.
“Perhaps you’re exaggerating, Father,” she suggested. “Perhaps things really aren’t quite as bad as you think.”
He smiled at her pityingly.
“My poor child, have I brought you up to bury your head in the sand
No, surely not in your case, Jane. You’ve always seemed so sensible, and are far and away the most practical and levelheaded of all my children. When I tell you that something is wrong—and badly wrong!—I expect you to accept it and believe me.” His smile was very wan before it faded altogether. “Face facts. After agonising uncertainties and wild hopes that disaster could be averted I’ve finally come to the conclusion that some things are not meant to be averted. And this is an important attitude of mind I have to get across to you, although it’s quite unlikely I’ll get it across to any other member of my family.”
Jane nodded dumbly before the agony of appeal in his eyes.
“You don’t have to worry about me, Daddy,” she assured him, reverting to the
of addressing him that she had used during her childhood
and before a second wife came into his life. “I can always take care of myself, and I’ll take care of Toby, too, if it becomes necessary.”
He regarded her gratefully.
“Good girl! I knew I could depend on you.”
“Of course you can depend on me.” She went and stood behind his chair, and rested a hand gently on his shoulder. “But what about Miranda? How—how will we tell her?”
“I’ve already written to her. I’ve asked her to come home.”
“She won’t like that. She hates England in the winter time.”
“Nevertheless, she’ll have to do as I ask. I’ve pointed out to her that I can’t go on paying for her at the Carlton
... and there will be no further drafts paid into her bank when her present resources are exhausted.”
“I see.” The shock of it actually caused Jane to wince—on Miranda’s behalf. “Then she’ll have to start packing up, won’t she?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“And—Irina? Have you written to her, too?”
“No, she’s got that exhibition thing on. She’d better hang on where she is for the time being.”
“Conway will hear the news in due course
... if he hasn’t already heard it! I’m surprised, actually, that he hasn’t telephoned. The Stock Exchange buzzes with rumours of this sort even before they become rumours.”
His face and his voice were painfully grim, his eyes desperately tired. He ran a hand across them, like a man who was still groping in the dark and, despite what he said, refused to face up to the blunt reality of what had occurred.
“As for Toby,” he concluded drearily, “we can leave him where he is for the time being. His term is fully paid up, and so is the next term. Toby won’t really represent a problem for the next six months.”
Jane walked round to the front of the desk again and began toying with certain items that littered it. She wished she could think of something helpful to say—something comforting and consoling. The greyness of her father’s face alarmed her, his whole attitude of lifelessness and defeat. There was no spirit left in him, nothing that could rise up and combat the relentlessness of the situation, come to grips with it. He said he had struggled hard to avert disaster
but now it was perfectly obvious he was struggling no more.
He was going to bend his head and let the tidal wave flow over him.
“Father!” She spoke to him urgently, leaning towards him across the desk. “I know you say everything is absolutely hopeless, but it’s just possible it isn’t
as bad as you think! You may save something from the wreckage. You may get going again!”
“Never.” And he spoke quite finally, closing his eyes to shut out the sight of even her.
“But you have friends—”
“No one has friends.”
“Oh, but that isn’t true—”
“Go to bed.” He opened his eyes with an effort, and pleaded with her. “I don’t want to talk about it any more tonight. Just leave me alone, there’s a dear girl.”
Her eyes went to the drawer which contained the object that had startled her.
“You’re quite sure you won’t—? Do you think I ought to leave you?”
He smiled with a hint of humour.
“I told you I picked that thing up the other day because I decided we’re rather vulnerable. And if the house and contents are to be sold we don’t want to be deprived of the remainder of the silver. Silver fetches quite a high price nowadays,” and his smile grew a lit
“Very well, Father.” But she moved unwillingly towards the door. “You won’t sit up very late, will you?”
He shook his head at her across the width of the room.
“And you will try to get some sleep when you go to bed? Take some aspirin tablets—”
“I’ve never taken aspirin tablets in my life, and I don’t propose to do so now. Besides, the shock of waking up is all the greater if you sleep too soundly.”
“But you must sleep soundly
He waved his hand to her. His eyes conjured up an appreciative look.
“You’re much prettier than Irina, Jane, so don’t let her ever make you feel that you’re not. You can’t hold a candle to Miranda, of course
but most men in their senses will take their can
les elsewhere. If I were only half my age and looking for a wife I’d take someone like you out to dinner—and propose to her! And that was exactly what I did when I got your mother to agree to marry me
proposed to her in a candlelit restaurant
He buried his face in his hands and mumbled into them.