Read Mine for a Day Online

Authors: Mary Burchell

Mine for a Day

MINE FOR A DAY

Mary Burchell

Laura is invited to her cousin

s wedding and helps her cousin organize the wedding. However
,
she finds herself in a difficult position when she finds that she has fallen in love with the groom at first sight. She also has the difficult task of explaining to him that the wedding is off when her cousin Rosemary runs away with another man the day before the wedding.

Simon asks for Laura

s help as his mother is unwell and may die and she has not yet met Rosemary and Simon proposed that Laura take Rosemary

s place
,
at least until his mother undergoes her surgery and her health hopefully improves.

Alas for Laura though events spiral downhill especially when Rosemary returns and expects that she can take up where she left off.

 

 

CHAPTER I

CAREFULLY Leila hooked the dress-hanger over the top of the wardrobe, and stood back to admire the folds of gleaming satin which flowed from it.

It was the most beautiful dress ever created by an inspired designer and skilful needlewomen, she thought. The ideal wedding-dress.
Her
ideal wedding-dress.

She could see herself walking up the aisle in it, the wide, beautiful train drifting softly behind her, clouds of ivory tulle veiling her radiant, happy face. And at the altar, turning to watch his bride as she came, would be Simon—a slight, almost incredulous smile on his dark, handsome, faintly sardonic face.

It was a wonderful picture. There was only one thing wrong with it—and, at the recollection of that, Leila caught her breath on a long sigh.

This was her cousin Rosemary’s wedding-dress. And it was Rosemary who was to marry Simon Morley.

Even to indulge in this momentary day-dream had been rather foolish. The return to reality was so hard, and the consequent hurt so cruel. For, in all the pleasurable excitement and bustle attendant on Rosemary’s wedding, Leila was merely the useful and acceptable cousin who most conveniently happened to have a few free weeks, during which she could
he
lp her aunt in the exacting business of marrying off her only daughter.

Leila could hardly believe that it was less than a month since she had come to Durominster. Less than a month since she had been heart-whole and unaware that anything could hurt even more than the loss of her parents a year ago.

She had always considered herself self-contained and well-balanced. Romantic, perhaps, in a secret, rather shy way. But with a compensating degree of common sense which should have saved her from losing her head and her heart quite so completely. Well, at least she had kept her head sufficiently to hide from everyone else what she really felt. Perhaps that might be counted to her for virtue.

With neither brothers nor sisters, Leila had been singularly alone after the death of her parents and, although a small legacy and her really excellent secretarial post had saved her from any financial worry, she looked back upon the last year as a pretty bad patch in her life. For at twenty-one it is not much fun to be alone, even if one possesses a charming little flat and a reasonably attractive job.

Then had come this very pressing invitation from Aunt Hester to spend something like six weeks in Durominster.

Aunt Hester was a natural exponent of the theory of enlightened self-interest. She genuinely wanted her orphaned niece to have a nice, family holiday, which would do her good and give her pleasure. But she quite naturally saw to it that this coincided with the time when a grateful, practical niece would be of most service to herself. Characteristically, she saw no reason why Leila should not quite easily obtain six weeks’ leave from an exacting office job, if she herself required her.

And the extraordinary thing was that, on this occasion as on so many others, events seemed to conspire to give Aunt Hester just what she so calmly demanded.

At the exact moment when Aunt Hester required her niece, extensive reorganization was taking place in Leila’s office. A disastrous fire had robbed the big legal firm for which she worked of half its premises. And since this had happened during the Long Vacation—the least busy time in all the legal calendar—Leila’s request for six weeks’ leave without salary had been almost a convenience to her employers.

So Leila had taken herself off to Durominster, feeling happy and relaxed and, for the first time since her parents’ death, experiencing a lightness of heart which seemed to make the autumn sun brighter and every inch of the country round Durominster even more beautiful than she remembered it.

She liked both her uncle and aunt, and she was most genuinely fond of her cousins: Rosemary, with her engaging prettiness, her impulsiveness, and her tendency to play the
enfant terrible.
And Peter, with his grave and solemn air, but his undoubted kindness of heart. She had anticipated a delightful six weeks.

And then, the very first evening, she had been introduced to Rosemary’s
fiancé
—the man who had unexpectedly captured her cousin’s wayward fancy, and cut out her many admirers in Durominster.

Simon Morley was not “a local man,” as Uncle Bernard put it, “but a very nice fellow all the same.” Leila had listened to quite a number of comments on Simon before she actually saw him.

Peter said consideringly that he was no fool, and probably just the man to keep Rosemary reasonably in order. At which Rosemary had shown the tip of a very scarlet tongue to her brother and declared that she found no difficulty in twisting Simon round her little finger, which was why she was marrying him. Aunt Hester said, “Tch, tch, tch,” to that, and assured Leila that Simon was “a very
stable,
as well as a charming, man, and we all like him very much.”

He had not really taken much notice of her that first evening, beyond what was required of any man towards his
fiancé
’s cousin. Their conversation had been restricted to the pleasantly conventional remarks which are the conversational small change between people meeting for the first time. But, to her increasing dismay, Leila found herself watching him with almost passionate interest, waiting for that quick smile which lit his dark face with humour and understanding, noting the characteristic turn of his head, the deep, rather abrupt tones of, his voice. In a room full of people whom she had known, on and off, all her life and who were reasonably dear to her, he—the one stranger—seemed the only person who mattered.

Afterwards, in the solitude of her bedroom, she assured herself that she had been mistaken, that the novelty of meeting a complete stranger on a family footing had upset her sense of proportion. But the next time she met him, she found it impossible to view him as a remote relation by marriage—even in prospect. She experienced the same sensation of almost painful interest, the same passionate desire to know more of him, the longing to have him glance at her with the air of amused indulgence which he showed to Rosemary. Only the sternest exercise of her common sense and self control enabled her to behave as a mildly interested cousin might behave.

During the following weeks she found herself slowly forced to accept the fact that, in some tragic, inexplicable way, her cousin’s
fiancé
had an irresistible attraction for her. Leila realized that she would have given literally everything she possessed to stand in Rosemary’s shoes.

If she could have found a reasonable excuse to go, she would have done so. But everyone—including herself—had been delighted with the lucky arrangement which left her free to stay with her only relations at this happy time. It was inconceivable that she should make some excuse an
d
leave them after all.

So Leila had stayed, and shared in every detail of her cousin’s reparations for her marriage. On the days when business kept
S
imon away, or
w
hen he and Rosemary met outside the home circle, it was not so bad. But when he was in the house—and particularly when the busy, happy Rosemary occasionally left Leila to entertain Simon for a while—she was divided between the exhilarating, enchanting folly of enjoying his exclusive company and the inward conviction that the better she knew him, the more she would suffer afterwards.

A step on the stairs warned her that her aunt was coming and, composing her expression to the right degree of impersonal cheerfulness, she prepared to say all the things which an interested niece should say.

Seeing what was engaging her niece’s attention, as soon as she entered the room, Aunt Hester came over to stand by her and add her own expressions of admiration.

“Beautiful, isn’t it? It will be specially becoming to Rosemary, with her dark hair and eyes,” she observed in a satisfied tone.

And Leila—who had been foolish enough to suppose that it would have been specially becoming to her own fair hair and grey eyes—answered with commendable brightness:

“She will look a picture. I don’t think I ever saw a lovelier wedding-dress.”

Her aunt sighed. A sigh compounded of satisfaction, anxiety, relief and maternal pride.

“Well, I’m glad she has made up her mind a last,” she said. “I wouldn’t say this to anyone but you, Leila, but Rosemary has given her father and me a great deal of worry. We thought she would never settle down and become a responsible person.”

Leila smiled slightly. “It must be tempting to be irresponsible when everyone makes a fuss of you, Aunt Hester. And Rosemary’s always been so gay and amusing and light-hearted.”

“Yes. I know, I know.” No one was better pleased than Aunt Hester to accept compliments about her darling daughter. But, from the safety of an almost accomplished wedding, she felt entitled to look back and grumble pleasurably (at any rate to a near, and not very important, relative) over some of Rosemary’s least satisfactory escapades. “She used to get such worrying
ideas
,” Aunt Hester amplified.

Leila smiled at the distasteful emphasis accorded to that last word, and enquired what ideas Rosemary had had.

“Violent enthusiasms, you know—always connected with someone who was in love with her at the moment,” Aunt Hester explained, with a sigh for anxieties past. “This time last year, she suddenly announced her determination to become a nurse, all because a very charming doctor—I’ve even forgotten his name now—was staying here and fell in love with her at the Harvest Festival Dance. Fortunately he got some appointment overseas before she could make definite arrangements. And the next thing we knew was that she wanted to go on the stage. That was
much
more serious,” Aunt Hester added, with a shake of her head.

“But has she any stage talent?” Leila enquired, with genuine curiosity.

“I suppose—she has.” Cross though Aunt Hester was with her child in retrospect, she could not bring herself to deny her qualities. “She had the lead in our amateur dramatics, and a young man came down from London to produce the play. Before they reached the final rehearsal, they had decided between them that Rosemary should go to London for a course in dramatic art. This young man—Jasper or Jerome Something—some fancy name,” Aunt Hester declared with prejudice, “had filled her head with nonsense about their touring together after they were married—”

“Oh, he was going to marry her?”

Dear me, yes! They are always going to marry her,” Rosemary’s mother replied a little tartly. “I’ve seldom met a young man who didn’t want to marry Rosemary. Fortunately, however, she read on
e
of those discouraging modern novels which emphasize everything nasty in life and call themselves realistic. It was about a theatrical touring company—quite providentially—and she realized that there was a great deal more to that sort of life than romance and bouquets. So the idea fell through, and Simon appeared on the scene soon afterwards.”

“And about Simon you feel—perfectly satisfied?”

“Perfectly!” A relieved smile chased unpleasant recollections from Aunt Hester’s face. “Of course, marrying him will mean Rosemary’s living in London, but we trust and like him, and couldn’t, in any case, expect to keep her with us always. There’s no nonsense about Simon and his profession,” Aunt Hester added with satisfaction. “Constructional engineer. Very solid, very respectable. Well, I must see about dinner.”

Refusing Leila’s offer of help, she bustled off, leaving her niece to replace the wedding-dress in the wardrobe, and put away one or two other articles of clothing which Rosemary, in a whirlwind departure two hours ago, had left lying about.

Hardly had Leila finished doing this, when Rosemary herself came running lightly upstairs and into the room..

“Darling, how sweet of you to tidy up!” she exclaimed, tossing her tiny velvet hat on to the bed. And then, with rather engaging shamelessness: “I hoped you would, but hadn’t quite the face to ask you to.”

Leila laughed, intrigued and charmed, as she usually was, by the sparkle in her cousin’s naughty dark eyes, and the lift at the corners of her too-wide red mouth. People usually smiled when they looked at Rosemary. Men usually smiled and looked a second time.

“I really came in to look at your wedding-dress,” Leila explained. “It’s beautiful.”

“Yes, isn’t it?” Rosemary made no attempt to go and reexamine her dress, as most girls would. Instead, she went over to the mirror and began to run a comb through her smooth dark hair.

“Simon’s mother is ill and he has to go to London,” she announced, leaning forward while she touched lipstick to her lips. “He may not be back until just before the wedding. Isn’t it sickening?”

“Rosemar
y
!” The bridesmaid sounded a little more horrified than the bride. “I
am
sorry. How awful—for you.”

“Yes. I was upset at first,” Rosemary stated rather absently. “But, now I’ve had time to think it over, I realize that, in a wildly busy week, I shouldn’t have had much time to see him, anyway.”

“Has he—already gone?” A cold feeling crept round Leila’s heart, while she tried to tell herself that this was the ideal solution to her own problem.

“Oh, no! He had to go out to the bridge works this afternoon first to make sure he left everything in good running order. He’ll be going to London tomorrow, but he’ll be here to dinner tonight, of course.”

Leila drew a breath of relief—but cautiously, so that Rosemary should not notice.

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