Read an Excerpt
There were three people in the room: an elderly man with a fringe of white hair surrounding a bald pate and a neat little beard, a lady of uncertain years and once very pretty, her faded good looks marred by a look of unease, and, sitting at the table between them, a girl, a splendid young woman as to shape and size, with carroty hair bunched untidily on top of her head and a face which, while not beautiful or even pretty, was pleasing to look at, with wide grey eyes, a haughty nose and a wide mouth, gently curved.
The elderly man finished speaking, shuffled the papers before him and adjusted his spectacles, and when her mother didn't speak, only sat looking bewildered and helpless, the girl spoke.
'We shall need your advice, Mr Trump. This is a surprisewe had no idea Father almost never mentioned money matters to either Mother or me, although some weeks before he died ' her voice faltered for a moment ' he told me that he was investing in some scheme which would make a great deal of money, and when I asked him about it he laughed and said it was all rather exciting and I must wait and see.'
Mr Trump said dryly, 'Your father had sufficient funds to live comfortably and leave both your mother and you provided for. He invested a considerable amount of his capital in this new computer company set up by a handful of unscrupulous young men and for a few weeks it made profits, so that your father invested the rest of his capital in it. Inevitably, the whole thing fell apart, and he and a number of the other investors lost every penny. In order to avoid bankruptcy you will need to sell this house, the car, and much of the furniture. You have some good pieceshere which should sell well.'
He glanced at her mother and added, 'You do understand what I have told you, Mrs Dawson?'
'We shall be poor.' She gave a little sob. 'There won't be any money. How are we to live?' She looked around her. 'My lovely homeand how am I to go anywhere if we haven't any car? And clothes? I won't be shabby.' She began to cry in real earnest. 'Where shall we live?' And before anyone could speak she added, 'Emma, you must think of something '
'Try not to get upset, Mother. If this house and everything else sells well enough to pay off what's owing, we can go and live at the cottage in Salcombe. I'll get a job and we shall manage very well.'
Mr Trump nodded his bald head. 'Very sensible. I'm fairly certain that once everything is sold there will be enough to pay everything off and even have a small amount leftover. I imagine it won't be too hard to find work during the summer season at least, and there might even be some small job which you might undertake, Mrs Dawson.'
A job? Mr Trump, I have never worked in my life and I have no intention of doing so now.' She dissolved into tears again. 'My dear husband would turn in his grave if he could hear you suggest it.'
Mr Trump put his papers in his briefcase. Mrs Dawson he had always considered to be a charming little lady, rather spoilt by her husband but with a gentle, rather helpless manner which appealed to his old-fashioned notions of the weaker sex, but now, seeing the petulant look on her face, he wondered if he had been mistaken. Emma, of course, was an entirely different kettle of fish, being a sensible young woman, full of energy, kind and friendly and there was some talk of her marrying. Which might solve their difficulties. He made his goodbyes, assured them that he would start at once on the unravelling of their affairs, then went out to his car and drove away.
Emma went out of the rather grand drawing room and crossed the wide hall to the kitchen. It was a large house, handsomely furnished with every mod con Mrs Dawson had expressed a wish to have. There was a daily housekeeper too, and a cheerful little woman who came twice a week to do the rough work.
Emma put on the kettle, laid a tea tray, found biscuits and, since the housekeeper had gone out for her half-day, looked through the cupboards for the cake tin. She and her mother might have been dealt a bitter blow, but tea and a slice of Mrs Tims's walnut cake would still be welcome. For as long as possible, reflected Emma.
Mrs Dawson was still sitting in her chair, dabbing her wet eyes.
She watched Emma pour the tea and hand her a cup. 'How can I possibly eat and drink,' she wanted to know in a tearful voice, 'when our lives are in ruins?'
All the same she accepted a slice of cake.
Emma took a bite. 'We shall have to give Mrs Tims notice. Do you pay her weekly or monthly, Mother?'
Mrs Dawson looked vague. 'I've no idea. Your father never bothered me with that kind of thing. And that woman who comes in to cleanEthelwhat about her?'
'Shall I talk to them both and give them notice? Though they'll expect something extra as Father's death gave them no warning.'
Emma drank some tea and swallowed tears with it. She had loved her father, although they had never been close and the greater part of his paternal affection had been given to her brother James, twenty-three years old and four years her junior. And presently, most unfortunately, backpacking round the world after leaving university with a disappointing degree in science.
They weren't even quite sure where he was at the moment; his last address had been Java, with the prospect of Australia, and even if they had had an address and he'd come home at once she didn't think that he would have been of much help.
He was a dear boy, and she loved him, but her mother and father had spoilt him so that although he was too nice a young man to let it ruin his nature, it had tended to make him easygoing and in no hurry to settle down to a serious career.
He had had a small legacy from their grandmother when she died, and that had been ample to take care of his travels. She thought it unlikely that he would break off his journey, probably arguing that he was on the other side of the world and that Mr Trump would deal with his father's affairs, still under the impression that he had left his mother and sister in comfortable circumstances.
Emma didn't voice these thoughts to her mother but instead settled that lady for a nap and went back to the kitchen to prepare for their supper. Mrs Tims would have left something ready to be cooked and there was nothing much to do. Emma sat down at the table, found pencil and paper, and wrote down everything which would have to be done.
A great deal! And she couldn't hope to do it all herself. Mr Trump would deal with the complicated financial situation, but what about the actual selling of the house and their possessions? And what would they be allowed to keep of those? Mr Trump had mentioned an overdraft at the bank, and money which had been borrowed from friends with the promise that it would be returned to them with handsome profits.
Emma put her head down on the table and cried. But not for long. She wiped her eyes, blew her nose and picked up her pencil once more.
If they were allowed to keep the cottage at least they would have a rent-free home and one which she had always loved, although her mother found the little town of Salcombe lacking in the kind of social life she liked, but it would be cheaper to live there for that very reason. She would find work; during the summer months there was bound to be a job she could dowaitressing, or working in one of the big hotels or a shop. The winter might not be as easy, the little town sank into peace and quiet, but Kingsbridge was only a bus ride away, and that was a bustling small town with plenty of shops and cafés
Feeling more cheerful, Emma made a list of their own possessions which surely they would be allowed to keep. Anything saleable they must sell, although she thought it was unlikely that her mother would be prepared to part with her jewellery, but they both had expensive clothesher father had never grudged them money for thoseand they would help to swell the kitty.
She got the supper then, thinking that it was a pity that Derek wouldn't be back in England for three more days. They weren't engaged, but for some time now their future together had become a foregone conclusion. Derek was a serious young man and had given her to understand that once he had gained the promotion in the banking firm for which he worked they would marry.
Emma liked him, indeed she would have fallen in love with him and she expected to do that without much difficulty, but although he was devoted to her she had the idea that he didn't intend to show his proper feelings until he proposed. She had been quite content; life wasn't going to be very exciting, but a kind husband who would cherish one, and any children, and give one a comfortable home should bring her happiness.
She wanted to marry, for she was twenty-seven, but ever since she had left school there had always been a reason why she couldn't leave home, train for something and be independent. She had hoped that when James had left the university she could be free, but when she had put forward her careful plans it had been to discover that he had already arranged to be away for two years at least, and her mother had become quite hysterical at the idea of not having one or other of her children at home with her. And, of course, her father had agreed
Perhaps her mother would want her to break off with Derek, but she thought not. A son-in-law in comfortable circumstances would solve their difficulties
During the next three days Emma longed for Derek's return. It seemed that the business of being declared bankrupt entailed a mass of paperwork, with prolonged and bewildering visits from severe-looking men with briefcases. Since her mother declared that she would have nothing to do with any of it, Emma did her best to answer their questions and fill in the forms they offered.
'But I'll not sign anything until Mr Trump has told me that I must,' she told them.
It was all rather unnerving; she would have liked a little time to grieve about her father's death, but there was no chance of that. She went about her household duties while her mother sat staring at nothing and weeping, and Mrs Tims and Ethel worked around the house, grim-faced at the unexpectedness of it all.
Derek came, grave-faced, offered Mrs Dawson quiet condolences and went with Emma to her father's study. But if she had expected a shoulder to cry on she didn't get it. He was gravely concerned for her, and kind, but she knew at once that he would never marry her now. He had an important job in the banking world, and marrying the daughter of a man who had squandered a fortune so recklessly was hardly going to enhance his future.
He listened patiently to her problems, observed that she was fortunate to have a sound man such as Mr Trump to advise her, and told her to be as helpful with 'Authority' as possible.
'I'm afraid there are no mitigating circumstances,' he told her. 'I looked into the whole affair when I got back today. Don't attempt to contest anything, whatever you do. Hopefully there will be enough money to clear your father's debts once everything is sold.'
Emma sat looking at hima good-looking man in his thirties, rather solemn in demeanour, who had nice manners, was honest in his dealings, and not given to rashness of any sort. She supposed that it was his work which had driven the warmth from his heart and allowed common sense to replace the urge to help her at all costs and, above all, to comfort her.
'Well,' said Emma in a tight little voice, 'how fortunate it is that you didn't give me a ring, for I don't need to give it back.'
He looked faintly surprised. 'I wasn't aware that we had discussed the future,' he told her.
'There is no need, is there? I haven't got one, have I? And yours matters to you.'
He agreed gravely. 'Indeed it does. I'm glad, Emma, that you are sensible enough to realise that, and I hope that you will too always consider me as a friend. If I can help in any way If I can help financially?'
'Mr Trump is seeing to the money, but thank you for offering. We shall be able to manage very well once everything is sorted out.'
'Good. I'll call round from time to time and see how things are '
'We shall be busy packing upthere is no need.' She added in a polite hostess voice, 'Would you like a cup of coffee before you go?'
'Nono, thank you. I'm due at the office in the morning and I've work to do first.'
He wished Mrs Dawson goodbye, and as Emma saw him to the door he bent to kiss her cheek. 'If ever you should need help or advice '
'Thank you, Derek,' said Emma. Perhaps she should make a pleasant little farewell speech, but if she uttered another word she would burst into tears.
'How fortunate that you have Derek,' said Mrs Dawson when Emma joined her. 'I'm sure he'll know what's best to be done. A quiet wedding as soon as possible.'
'Derek isn't going to marry me, Mother. It would interfere with his career.'
A remark which started a flood of tears from her mother.
'Emma, I can't believe it. It isn't as if he were a young man with no money or prospects. There's no reason why you shouldn't marry at once.' She added sharply, 'You didn't break it off, did you? Because if you did you're a very stupid girl.'
'No, Mother, it's what Derek wishes.' Emma felt sorry for her mother. She looked so forlorn and pretty, and so in need of someone to make life easy for her as it always had been. 'I'm sorry, but he has got his career to consider, and marrying me wouldn't help him at all.'