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Authors: Mary Cummins

Apearl for love

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A PEARL FOR LOVE

Mary Cummins

When Catherine’sfiancéwas tragically killed, she accepted the Sheridan’s invitation to go and stay with them and work in their family business, which was based on freshwater pearls taken from Scottish rivers.

Catherine’s own father had found a wonderful pearl before he died. It was only when she fell in love with John Sheridan that she began to wonder whether John’s interest was in her—or in that pearl.

 

CHAPTER I

Catherine woke suddenly, her heart pounding with fright, as a shaft of sunlight hit her eyes. Then she relaxed as she realised she was in the now familiar bedroom in the Neills’home.

It was a pretty bedroom, tastefully decorated, but Catherine was growing to dislike it, and to feel more and more that she was an interloper in the house, and only there because the Neills were the sort of people who would never ask her to go, however much they wanted the house to themselves again. Would it have been the same if she and Philip had been married? wondered Catherine, and closed her eyes against the sudden pain.

Catherine Lyall...Catherine Neill...Sometimes she had woken to find herself mumbling the names, and the hot tears had choked in her throat. But after two months it seemed as though her tears were all shed, and her body was healing inside as well as outside. Sometimes, too, she felt the loss of her mother even more deeply than that of Philip.

Soon, she felt, she would have to take up the threads of her life again, and face the fact that she was now alone in the world, with few people on whom she could really depend.

Yet only just over two months ago, she had been a normal, happy girl, looking forward to her marriage, with her mother travelling home from Canada for the wedding.

A quiet wedding had been planned, the guests mainly being Philip’s relatives, since Catherine had so few people of her own.Mrs.Neill had taken over quite a few of the arrangements, determined that if her son had to marry, then she would do her best to make it a proper wedding.Mrs.Lyall had not been well after the death of her husband, and had gone to visit friends in Canada, hoping that the complete change would give her back her full strength and energy.

She had put off her return until the last moment, though she, too, had approved of the marriage, and Catherine had all her preparations made before she received a cable giving the time thatMrs.Lyall would arrive at Prestwick Airport.

‘We can go down and pick her up in the car, darling,’Philip offered.

Catherine’s lovely deep blue eyes showed relief.

‘It’s a long way to drive from Perth, Philip,’she pointed out.

‘Well, if her holiday in Canada has done her a lot of good, we must keep up the good work,’Philip said cheerfully.

They had driven to Prestwick in a happy mood.Mrs.Neill had insisted thatMrs.Lyall should stay with her for a day or two, instead of going home to the flat she shared with Catherine. Their old home had been sold after David Lyall died, and the newflat was small in comparison, though quite big enough for two.

It had been exciting to meet her mother off the plane, and Philip strapped her carefully into the front passenger seat, while Catherine sat in the back, occasionally leaning forward to speak to both of them.

They had been nearing Perth when the accident happened. Philip had rounded acornerand met two vehicles side by side. Later they said it was a miracle that Catherine had escaped with a few cuts and bruises, though no one could see the long deep wounds inside at the loss of the two people she had loved most.

Catherine had been showered with sympathy because of her double loss, but it was the Neills, and especiallyMrs.Neill, who had received most admiration. Philip had been her only son, yet she had hidden her grief, and had insisted on nursing Catherine back to health.

But now the girl felt that she had accepted enough, as she dressed to face yet another day, automatically going through the motions of putting on light makeup, and combing out her long dark hair.Mrs.Neill needed time, now, to think about herself. She might have come to love Catherine as a daughter in time, but at the moment she was still a young girl, no different from any young girl of her age, living in the Neills’home.

She would go back to the flat, thought Catherine, as she descended the stairs. She would get a job of some kind, so long as it wasn’t inMr.Neill’s office of chartered surveyors and estate agents.

‘A letter for you, Kate dear,’saidMrs.Neill, when Catherine appeared at the kitchen door.‘I went round to the flat and found a small bundle of circulars and, of course, your letter. I wish some of these people who go round pushing circulars through letter boxes wouldn’t do it if the house is empty. Seeing them sticking out of the letter box is a complete giveaway.’

‘How would they know?’

‘What, dear?’

‘That the house is empty. No, I’ll just have coffee, thanks,Mrs.Neill.’

‘You must eat, Kate. No sense in getting yourself run down.’

What about her? wondered Catherine, looking with a sudden aching heart at the older woman’s thin body and pale face. She had never felt closer to feeling love and compassion for this woman.

‘Don’t worry about me,’she said gently.

‘You should give up the flat and move in here with us,’Mrs.Neill advised.‘After all, you were within a week of being our daughter.’

‘That week made all the difference,’Catherine reminded her, then her voice softened.‘You don’t really want me here. You only think you do, and please believe that I appreciate it very much. But we must both now face the fact that we haven’t gotPhilip in our lives. He would have been a link between us and we would have grown to love each other for his sake, but I feel now that we must each go our separate ways. I ... I want to go back to the flat, and get a job, and...well, be independent again.’

Mrs.Neill was gazing at the girl, wide-eyed.

‘You can’t live in the flat on your own, a young girl like you. I ... I thought we’d done all we could here...’

Catherine bit her lip. It was going to be difficult to makeMrs.Neill understand. In fact, she doubted if she could even try. Whatever she said,Mrs.Neill would only think her ungrateful, and might even make herfeelungrateful.

‘I’m sorry,’she said humbly.‘I can’t tell you how I feel, but I believe I’m right. You andMr.Neill have been wonderful to me, but I could never take...Philip’s place...in your lives.’

Mrs.Neill rose quietly and walked out of the kitchen, and Catherine could hear her going slowly upstairs. She turned to the small bundle of circulars, and the letter in front of her, and turned it over before opening the thick, expensive envelope, then her eyes cleared when she saw that it was signed by Lucille Sheridan. The wedding gift which she had received from the Sheridans had been a beautiful carriage clock. It had been accompanied by a small dainty note of congratulations.Mrs.Neill had returned the gifts, and now Lucille was no doubt expressing sympathy. She had been her mother’s best friend, and her godmother, but that responsibility had rather slid over the years, except for a pretty pendant for her twenty-first birthday, and the clock as a wedding gift.

Lucille had married James Sheridan, and Alison Lyall had been her bridesmaid. Their son, John, was four years older than Catherine, and Elizabeth was nearer her own age. Catherine knew that the families had rather lost contact with one another over the years, except for a card at Christmas. Yet the Sheridans had often fascinated her, and secretly she would like to have known them a little better.

‘They became very successful,’Alison told her daughter, rather ruefully.

‘Aren’t we successful?’Catherine asked innocently.

‘Fishing for freshwater pearls may sound exciting, and can be very successful,’Alison told her,‘but I suppose your father is more successful in that he loves what he is doing and is happy doing it, but financially it hasn’t been particularly rewarding.’

‘Oh.’

Catherine hadn’t really understood till her father died, and their home had to be sold to give them a small income. Now she realised that the large jewellery firm of Sheridan and Rodgers, whose beautiful shop was one of the most attractive in Newcastle, was a far cry fromMrs.Lyall and heronly daughter, earning a tiny income from making small pieces of fashion jewellery at home.

Catherine pursed her lips as she drew out her letter, and began to read. What couldMrs.Sheridan have to say to her, since condolences, she now remembered, had already been sent?

Carefully Catherine read’the few preliminaries, then she was reading her letter rather more slowly.

‘I know that you won’t have anyone left of your own, my dear,’wroteMrs.Sheridan,‘because I remember from our schooldays that Alison only had her parents, who are now both dead, and that David, your father, was already on his own when they married.

‘It’s sad for a young girl like you to have no one, so we would like you to come to us. John and Elizabeth both work in the shop with James, and if you would like a job, there’s always plenty to do there. On the other hand, Balgower is a big house, and althoughMrs.Bannon is a treasure, we would welcome another pair of hands.

‘If you would like to come, James hopes to be in Edinburgh on the sixteenth, and he could come on to Perth and pick you up. If you are still unable to travel, we can make alternative arrangements at a later date. James saw your father just before his death, and he feels David would wish him to sort out any worries you may have, business or private. He can attend to the letting of your flat, and the storage of your furniture, such as you wish to keep...’

Catherine read on, sometimes going back to read parts of the letter twice over. It was a generous offer, kindly made, and her godmother sounded as though she was very considerate. Yet wouldn’t she be giving up her freedom if she went to live with the Sheridans? wondered Catherine, then felt a strong distaste for herself. Was she beginning to be suspicious of everyone?Mrs.Neill had been kindness itself to her, yet she felt unable to repay her with genuine love. It was as though the accident had robbed her of all feelings.

Now here was her godmother also offering her a home, and a place in family life, and all she could think of was this odd feeling of being absorbed into something against her will.

What was the alternative? wondered Catherine tiredly. She could get a job and stay on with the Neills for a few more months, being accepted because of Philip, or she could go home to the flat, and struggle to pay the bills, living an independent life but paying for her independence with loneliness.

Catherine leaned her elbows on the kitchen table and rested her chin in her hands. The letter was rather a surprise because she had felt that the Sheridans wouldn’t want to be bothered with her. Apparently this was quite untrue.

She looked round with a small start asMrs.Neill again came quietly into the kitchen, and Catherine saw that she had been crying, and again felt she hated herself for causing her pain.

‘I’ve had a letter,’she said hurriedly.‘Here,Mrs.Neill, you’d better read it. Shall I make more coffee while you do?’

‘Please, dear.’

Again there was silence in the kitchen while Catherine boiled up more coffee andMrs.Neill put on her reading spectacles with the blue and silver frames, and slowly read every word.

‘Well?’asked Catherine, when she had finished.

‘Only you can decide,’the older woman told her.‘But you can say what you think,’urged Catherine. .

Mrs.Neill faced her squarely.

‘Perhaps you are more honest than I am. I wanted you here because you were Philip’s choice—all right, I admit it. But maybe you are the one to see most clearly that it wouldn’t be good for either of us if we kept you here too long.’

She was silent for a while, and Catherine was breathing a soft sigh of relief.

‘Yet...’Mrs.Neill again looked at the letter.‘Don’t let yourself be used, my dear. If the Sheridans give you a home, then you must be grateful to them, but don’t go on paying all the time. Remember that you have a lot to give, too.’

Catherine poured the coffee and sat down at the kitchen table again.

‘Then you think I shouldn’t go?’

‘No, but I think you should seeMr.Sheridan, and talk to him a little. Sometimes one can learn a lot just by talking to people. Perhaps you could just go on a visit first of all, and come back here if...if you don’t like the set-up.’

Catherine felt closer to Philip’s mother than she had ever done.

‘I used to wonder if we’d really get on, you and I, after I married Philip. Now I know we would.’Mrs.Neill nodded. She’d had to get used to Kate’s plain speaking, but she had always known how she stood with the girl.

Would the same frank honesty be appreciated by theSheridans? she wondered, with the hint of a smile. Apparently they had not seen Catherine since she was a schoolgirl, andMrs.Neill again wondered if they realised that she had grown into a beauty. She knew that Philip had been entranced by Catherine’s beauty, and one of her greatest attractions lay in the fact that she seemed unaware of how lovely she actually was. Perhaps it would raise further problems the Sheridans had obviously not considered.

‘I’ll write and say that we’ll be pleased to see Uncle James...’she broke off, smiling a little.‘At least, I used to call him Uncle James.’

‘Yes, do that. Ask him to have tea with us.’

‘All right, and...thank you.’

‘Let’s wash up,’saidMrs.Neill briskly.‘I don’t know where the morning has gone.’

 

CHAPTER II

Catherine remembered James Sheridan as a tall, rather florid man, with neatly cut dark hair and a small moustache. Now he seemed shorter than she had imagined, his hair now almost white and the small moustache also white. His pale blue eyes looked tired, but his smile was warmly welcoming, whenMrs.Neill brought him into the sitting-room where Catherine was resting.

Already she knew that unless she felt, on meeting him again, that living with the Sheridans would be absolutely impossible, she would be going back with him to Newcastle. So after a quick, searching glance, Catherine ran forward to welcome him with a warm hug.

‘It’s good to see you again, my dear,’he told her, rather huskily.‘You’re very like Alison.’

Catherine nodded, but made no comment. The loss of her mother had gone very deep, and she still could not talk about it.

Mrs.Neill had gone to fetch the tea tray from the kitchen, leaving them to talk, but Catherine drew her into the conversation immediately on her return. Now that she was leaving, she was also appreciating so much more their kindness to her, and over the past few days she had come to love the woman who might have been her mother-in-law. Sometimes she now had moments of panic when she felt she didn’t want to leave the shelter of the Neills’home, but common sense would tell her that this was just reaction to the tragedy of the past two months, and if she was ever to live a full rich life again, she must go and meet its challenge.

‘It’s very kind of you and Aunt Lucille to have me,’she said with sincerity, and James Sheridan cleared his throat and waved his hand.

‘Not at all. You’ll be most welcome at Balgower, Kate, believe me. Most welcome.’

Mrs.Neill glanced at Catherine as she leaned forward and offeredMr.Sheridan the cup of delicate China tea which he’d asked for.

‘Mrs.Sheridan did say in her letter that Catherine could either have a job in your business, or help with running your home,’she said, then smiled a little.‘Please don’t think I’m interfering, but...well, Catherine might have been my daughter.’

‘Of course. Feel free to set your mind at rest about anything.‘.

‘I just feel that it might be better for her to be sure of some sort of future career, rather than home-making.’

Mrs.Sheridan nodded and turned to the girl.

‘Has this been worrying you, my dear? Because it can be resolved quite easily. As you know, Sheridan and Rodgers is a big shop, as jewellers go, with good sales for clocks and watches, as well as jewellery, gold, silverware and precious ornaments.And I thought you might be interested since your father was such a keen pearl fisherman.’

‘I am,’Catherine assured him.‘I got to know the marvellous shop in Perth which specialises in freshwater pearls so well when Daddy was alive. The pearls were made into beautiful brooches and other pieces of jewellery, and I’ve even been allowed to look at the famous Abernethy pearl. I...I’ve never forgotten it. It was so lovely, and so perfect. One couldn’t describe it, really.’

‘I know. I’ve seen it, too,’said James Sheridan, rather ruefully.‘But I’m afraid we only have cultured pearls, and good quality simulated to entice you to Sheridan and Rodgers. Though I think you will find some of the new jewellery designs pleasing. My son, John...you remember John? ... is in charge of jewellery and diamonds, along with myself. Elizabeth looks after the better quality gem stones, necklaces and earrings and small gold charms. My late partner’s son, Michael Rodgers, prefers to be with clocks and watches, though everyone can take over from everyone else should the occasion arise.

‘Apart from that, we only have Miss Pryce, who has been with us for over thirty years, and who works with Elizabeth, or...’James smiled a little,‘...perhaps I ought to put that the other way round!At one time we also had two more young men, but greater overheads and higher salaries have forced us to cut down a little, so that when TomDearham went off to be manager in a smaller firm, I just couldn’t replace him. So...’he smiled again...‘you’ll be most welcome, Kate. I can’t imagine that David Lyall’s daughter will require much training in jewellery, either. He was always very keen on all forms of gemmology, and became a Fellow of the Gemmological Association for the love of it.’

‘Yes, he did,’Catherine nodded.‘I remember watching Daddy when he tested a stone for refractive index, and how he used to know the specific gravity of every stone and its comparative hardness to the diamond. I could practically recite a few of those facts myself!’

‘Then you must keep up the good work,’James assured her.‘John and Michael took their F.G.A. examinations a few years ago, and Elizabeth passed hers last year. It shouldn’t take you long to study everything you need, and we’ll help you all we can.’He turned toMrs.Neill.

‘Does that make you feel any happier?’

Mrs.Neill hesitated, feeling that she could hardly discuss financial arrangements. That would be going much too far in her desire to see Catherine well settled and protected. She had no reason to suppose that the girl might be exploited. In fact, they should all be grateful for this opportunity which had arisen.Mrs.Sheridan was going to attend to the lease of her fiat, and the storage of furniture she wished to keep, while selling off any extra. Catherine would have a small nest egg, enough to make her feel secureshould an emergency arise.

‘I can see that Catherine will be in good hands,Mr.Sheridan,‘Mrs.Neill smiled.‘I’m very relieved.‘

‘She has also a fairly long drive ahead of her,’he said, glancing at his watch.‘Are you well enough to travel, my dear?’

‘The doctor says it will be quite all right by car,’Catherine assured him.‘I’m only taking a small amount of luggage, though I hope I can send for the rest of my things when I’m settled.’

‘I shall keep them for as long as you like,’Mrs.Neill assured her, and Catherine felt the sudden rush of tears pricking her throat.

‘I can collect them when I come to see about your flat,’James Sheridan suggested.‘You’ve sorted our personal things, Catherine?’

‘Yes.’She turned toMrs.Neill.‘I’ll come back and see you soon.’

‘Keep in touch,’Mrs.Neill urged her, as they parted.‘If you aren’t happy...’

‘I know. I said goodbye toMr.Neill this morning, but my love to him...and you.’

Soon she was speeding south in the large comfortable car, and crossing the lovely Forth Bridge.

‘We’ll rest in Edinburgh for a cup of tea,’Mr.Sheridan decided.‘Easy stages will be best.’

It was dark and rather late by the time they drove into Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a city which was strange to Catherine, but even in the dark she was conscious that it was large and interesting, and that the outskirts where Uncle James lived were fresh and lovely.

‘You’ll have to get to know Northumberland,’he told her, as they drove along quiet roads lined with gently swaying trees which looked ghostly and rather mysterious in the bright moonlight.‘It’s a beautiful county, with a great deal of historic interest. John and Elizabeth will be happy to take you sightseeing, I’m sure.’

John and Elizabeth! Catherine felt her heart suddenly quaking a little. She was sure that Uncle James and Aunt Lucille would be happy to have her live with them, but it was only now that she was beginning to realise that she would be in close contact with young people of her own age. Suppose they didn’t like her. Suppose they resented her presence in the house.

It was too late to have regrets, however, as the car turned in a gravelled drive between lovely wrought-iron gates, and Balgower, a large imposing house of red brick, with huge bay windows, came into view.

‘Here we are,’said Uncle James cheerfully.‘Welcome home, Catherine. Come in, my dear, and say hello to Aunt Lucille and the family.’

There was only Aunt Lucille at home. AfterMrs.Neill’s rather reserved nature, and her quiet but kindly attitude towards her, Catherine found Lucille Sheridan effusive in her welcome. Yet surely that was in her favour. She rushed forward to envelopthe girl in a warm hug, her body softly plump, reminding Catherine of a small shapely pigeon.

‘Catherine! My dear, you’re grown up. And how like your mother...Oh!’

Catherine’s smile was a trifle unsteady.

‘It’s all right, Aunt Lucille. I...I’ve come to terms with what happened. Don’t hesitate to talk about Mother ... or Philip.’

‘You poor child!’Lucille’s voice was full of sympathy, and she led Catherine into a large spacious lounge, richly carpeted, with deep sofas and armchairs, and long velvet curtains pulled across the windows.

‘What a lovely room,’Catherine said sincerely, and knew she had pleased Lucille, who beamed on her, and turned to James, who said he would go straight upstairs to wash and change.

‘I’ll take Catherine up to her room. Would you like to have a hot drink up in bed, my dear, or would you prefer to come downstairs again for a short while? John and Elizabeth should be in soon, but you can meet them both tomorrow, if you’d prefer that.’

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