Authors: Anne Weale
THE HOUSE ON FLAMINGO CAY
Angela Gordon was glamorous and ambitious. She persuaded her sister Sara to spend their great-aunt’s legacy on a luxury holiday in the Bahamas, where she felt sure she would find herself a rich husband.
But Stephen Rand, the wealthy owner of Flamingo Cay, seemed more attracted by Sara’s quieter charms...
Roused from a pleasant dream by her sister’s urgent tone and vigorous shaking, Angela Gordon groaned and burrowed in her pillow.
“Oh, Angela, do wake up. It’s come! It was in the post!” Sara exclaimed exultantly.
“What’s come?” Angela mumbled sleepily.
“The money, of course—Aunt Dorothy’s money.”
The hump under the bedclothes stiffened. Angela rolled on to her back and shot into a sitting position.
“Really? Let me see. How much have we got?” she demanded, seizing the papers which Sara had been brandishing over her.
“Eight hundred pounds, eleven shillings and four-pence,” her sister said happily. “I can hardly believe it.”
It was almost a year since the two girls had heard that their great-aunt Dorothy had left them the bulk of her estate. Since this had consisted of a hideous terraced villa on the outskirts of Wigan, a collection of antiquated furniture which was only fit for the saleroom and a quantity of Benares brass knick-knacks, they had not, at first, been overwhelmed with delight.
Moreover, their aunt’s solicitors had warned them that it would be a considerable period before they would actually receive any money, that the villa needed extensive repairs and was not likely to fetch a high price, and that probate duty and legal fees would make heavy inroads on whatever could be obtained for it.
So, until she had gone down to fetch the milk and found the official-looking envelope in the letter rack, Sara had almost forgotten about their legacy.
“We ought to celebrate,” she said eagerly. “I know, let’s have a party. I’ll get Dick to bring his record-player over, and I’ll make a Spaghetti Bolognese and buy some Chianti and—” She stopped short. “What’s the matter? You don’t look very excited. Aren’t you feeling well?”
Angela gave her an abstracted glance, then reached for her quilted nylon dressing-gown. In spite of the arctic temperature of their bedroom, she refused to wear cosy pyjamas and slept in a series of diaphanous nylon nightgowns that gave Sara the shivers just to look at her.
“I was hoping we’d clear a thousand,” she said thoughtfully, fastening the collar of the robe and smoothing back her tumbled auburn hair.
!” Sara looked staggered. “Why, eight hundred is far more than I expected. It’s a fortune.”
Angela pushed back the bedclothes and swung her long legs on to the rug. “Oh, well, we’ll just have to manage,” she said, still with that curiously preoccupied expression.
“Manage!” Sara repeated again. “Heavens, it’s more than we’ve ever had in our lives. We’ll be able to do up the flat and have a proper holiday and—oh, a million things!” She caught sight of the clock on the locker. “Oh, glory, look at the time. You’ll be late for work. I’d better get cracking with the kippers.”
Rain was streaming down the window-panes and the spluttery gas fire had not yet warmed up the living-room, but Sara sang as she laid the table for breakfast.
Although she had a fairly good job as a shorthand-typist with an insurance company, and Angela was a senior saleswoman in the model dress department at a Knightsbridge store, the past few years had not been easy for the Gordon girls. The most careful budgeting never left much to spare from their combined wages, and every time Sara devised some new economy, an unexpected expense would cancel out the saving. They were not poor, but they could never put by enough to make them feel comfortably secure. Until today. Now, with their great-aunt’s legacy safely in the bank as insurance against any dire catastrophe, they were not only secure but positively affluent, Sara thought with relief.
It was on her shoulders that the burden of their shaky finance had weighed most heavily. Although she was the younger by three years, she coped with the housekeeping and was, by nature, more cautious and worrying than her sister. Sometimes, when money had been particularly tight, she had wished that Angela could be a little more economical, a little less fastidious in her choice of clothes and cosmetics. It might well be true that the best was also the cheapest in the long run, but Sara couldn’t help feeling that to buy Rayne shoes and Scandale suspender belts and Lancome lipsticks was carrying this dictum to excess, particularly as Angela was so attractive that she would have looked ravishing in the most inexpensive garments and without any makeup at all.
And then, because Sara was also the prey of an over-active conscience, she would immediately feel grudging and disloyal.
“What a pity you have to go to the shop today,” she said, when Angela emerged from the bedroom, her red-gold hair coiled into a sophisticated chignon, her eyelids delicately tinted.
Sara’s office was closed on Saturdays and she usually caught up with the housework and laundry, but Angela had to work until lunch-time.
“Never mind, it won’t be for much longer,” Angela said casually, pouring herself a cup of coffee.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m giving notice—and so are you, my pet.”
“Giving notice?” Sara almost pitched the kippers to the floor.
“Now sit down and eat your breakfast and listen to me,” Angela said, with sudden authority. “We’re going to give up our dead-end jobs, we’re going to leave this dreary little rabbit-hutch, and we’re going to start a whole new life. And high time, too,” she added crisply, with a distasteful glance at the porridge wallpaper and bilious brown paintwork which was their landlady’s choice of color scheme.
“We’ll buy some expensive-looking luggage and fill it with dashing beach-clothes and half a dozen evening dresses and, just as soon as I can fix the details, we’ll fly off to Nassau,” the elder girl continued calmly.
Sara gaped at her. For several moments she was too staggered to be capable of speech.
“You must be crazy,” she said at last, her voice weak with stupefaction.
“Not at all. I’ve been planning the thing for months and it’s highly practical,” said Angela, beginning to eat her kipper. Her twenty-two-inch waist and slender hips owed nothing to dieting, and several of her escorts had been surprised to find that so willowy a girl could have such a hearty appetite.
“But we can’t just pack up this life and unpack a new one,” Sara protested dazedly. “Eight hundred pounds is a terrific windfall, but it isn’t like coming up on the football pools. If we give up working, it will last us less than a year.”
“You’ve heard of using a sprat to catch a mackerel, haven’t you?” Angela said, unperturbed. “Well, old Aunt Dot’s money is going to be the nice fat sprat that catches something much bigger than a mackerel.”
Sara wondered if the shock of the solicitor’s letter could have temporarily deranged her sister’s mind.
“Now before you start a terrific argument, just answer three questions,” Angela continued equably. “First—do you really like this flat?”
“It could be a lot worse,” she said cautiously. “With new paper and some loose covers—”
Angela cut her short.
“It will take more than a pot of paint and a couple of scatter cushions to make this place presentable,” she said sardonically. “Next question—can you honestly say
enjoy your job?”
“I don’t mind it. Oh, really, Angela—”
Her sister cut in again. “So, not being mad about this flat or wildly keen on your work, do you see any prospect of getting out of both?” she proceeded briskly. “And by that I mean have you any reason to think that some eligible young man may shortly want to whisk you to the altar?”
Sara gave an uneasy laugh at this. “I wish I did,” she said drily. “But what this quiz has to do with your crazy idea of—”
“I should have thought it had everything to do with it,” Angela said forcefully. “You admit that life hasn’t been too bright, lately, and that there wasn’t much prospect of improvement. Well, now’s our chance to cut loose, to get out of the rut.”
“You mean splurge the whole lot on a few weeks of luxury?” Sara asked, appalled. “What happens when we have to come down to earth again?”
“That’s the whole point of my plan. If things go right, we shan’t
come down to earth—at least not to these sort of surroundings.”
Sara ran both hands through her short hair in a gesture of utter perplexity. “Look, I’m just not with you. What plan? What on earth are you getting at?”
Angela poured some more coffee and lit a cigarette. “I’m twenty-five,” she said slowly. “So far I’ve had precisely three proposals, none of which was even remotely acceptable. The only man I wanted to propose turned out to be married already.” She paused, and Sara saw a flicker of pain in her eyes. “According to the idealists,” Angela went on, “if I wait around long enough I’m just bound to bump into my soul-mate. Personally, I think that theory is so much claptrap—and I’m not desperately keen on deathless passions anyway. Frenzied love affairs sound exciting in one’s teens, but what I want now is a nice comfortable husband with plenty of money and a generous disposition. Which is why, dear child, we are off to the sunny West Indies.”
“You’re seriously proposing to blow all our capital on trying to hook a rich husband? You
crazy!” Sara exploded, aghast.
“It’s a crude way of expressing it, but that’s roughly my intention,” her sister agreed levelly. “Don’t look so horrified, sweetie. I wouldn’t go so far as to marry some repulsive old man because he happened to be rolling. But rich men aren’t always repulsive, and I think there’s a fair chance of finding one who’s moderately attractive. Not in London, because we don’t move in the right circles. But Nassau ought to offer a reasonable selection.”
“You’re teasing me. You must be,” Sara said helplessly.
Angela crushed out her cigarette and got up. “I’d better get dressed.”
She went back to the bedroom, leaving Sara to gaze bewilderedly at her own untouched kipper with the unhappy certainty that, far from making fun of her, her sister was being appallingly serious.
Ten minutes later, in a trim black suit over a white silk shirt, Angela reappeared. “Getting used to the idea?” she asked, pulling on a jaunty turquoise hat. She looked towards the window. The rain had stopped, but the sky was still grey and lowering above the depressing vista of rooftops and television aerials.
“I should have thought you would jump at the chance to bask in the sun for a month,” she said lightly. “It’s summer all the year round in the Bahamas.”
“Now look here, Angela—” Sara’s voice shook with sudden anger and her soft mouth tightened. “Supposing I refuse to go with you?” she said bluntly. “Half of that money is mine, remember.”
Angela shrugged into a poplin showercoat and fastened the buttons. “You haven’t much choice, my dear,” she said pleasantly, but with an undertone of hardness. “I can manage the trip on four hundred if I have to, but I can’t see you staying behind.”
“Oh, don’t bluff—you know you wouldn’t go alone,” Sara said sharply.
Angela smoothed on her gloves, then picked up her black patent bag. She checked her reflection in the glass, adjusted the tilt of her brim, then came slowly across to the table. The expression on her face was one which Sara had never seen before. Her tawny eyes seemed to have an almost feverish brilliance.
“It’s no use arguing, Sara,” she said flatly. “I’ve been working this out ever since we first heard from the solicitors, and I’m quite determined to go through with it. You can wrangle till you’re blue in the face, but you won’t dissuade me. Now I’m going to put the money in the bank and, on Monday, I’ll book a flight. You have till then to make up your mind whether you’re coming or staying. I hope you’ll be sensible and come, but if not”—she shrugged—“well, we’ll just have to go our separate ways.”
And, with this shattering ultimatum and a light pat on the shoulder, she picked up her umbrella and left the flat.
* * *
Ten days later, after one of the most distracted weeks of her life, Sara sat at a table in a Regent Street cafe and watched Angela checking a shopping list. She had argued, she had stormed, she had even burst into tears—and finally she had been forced to capitulate. Now, having given notice to her surprised employer and informed the landlady of their imminent departure, she felt like a small boat which has snapped its painter and is being swept from safe moorings by a dangerous current.
“Now I’ve fixed the flight and the hotel rooms and bought some decent suitcases. The next job is to get you kitted out,” Angela said contemplatively. “It’s no use my looking glamorous unless you match up, my pet. We’ve both got to look as if a luxury resort was our natural milieu and, at the moment, you’re a hopeless giveaway. I’m not being unkind: it’s just that you don’t look at all like the pampered daughter of a well-heeled papa.”
“Because I’m not—and neither are you,” Sara said brusquely.
“No: but that’s the impression we want to give. So the first thing is to get your hair and your hands improved.”
“What’s the matter with my hair?” Sara looked at herself in the mirror beside their table.
Unlike Angela, who had inherited her vivid coloring and beautiful bone structure from their mother, Sara took after her father. Her best features were her large grey eyes and excellent teeth, but her nose was short and snub and dusted with freckles, and she had the Gordons’ stubborn chin.
“Nothing that some expert shaping and thinning can’t improve,” Angela said knowledgeably. “But you’ll have to start using nail lacquer and creaming your hands. If anyone mentions a typewriter or a dishcloth, you have to look as if you’ve never heard of the things. Come on, we’ll see if we can get your hair done this morning and then spend the afternoon buying dresses.”
That night, while Angela was taking a bath, Sara tried on some of the play-clothes which her sister had chosen for her. Since her brown hair was naturally curly, she washed and set it herself, with a monthly visit to the local hairdresser to keep it short. She had always suspected that the only difference between the exclusive salons off Bond Street and Maison Edna round the corner was that the salons had chi-chi interior decors and charged a guinea for a simple trim. But, in spite of his pink silk tie and affected manners, the stylist to whom Angela had taken her had made a surprising improvement to her hair, and the new side-swept fringe which he had shaped to feather her forehead seemed to emphasize the sweep of her brows and narrow the line of her chin.
Now, standing in front of the mirror in coral beach pants and a coral and white silk shirt, she felt a sudden tremor of excitement. She was still convinced that her sister’s scheme was wildly misguided and certain to end calamitously, but she would have been less than human not to feel an uneasy stirring of enjoyment at having all these dashing new clothes and escaping from the rather dull routine of her job and the discomforts of London in winter.
“Ugh! That bathroom!” Angela returned in an aura of expensive toilet water and talcum powder. “I’m sure that horrible geyser will explode one of these days, and it will serve the old crow right. At the rents she charges, she could easily afford to install an immersion heater.”
She curled on the bed and reached for her manicure set. “That color suits you, sweetie, but you need more make-up. Try using some eye-liner and a spot of shadow.”
Sara changed back into her dressing-gown and folded the beach suit away. “Angela ... you said the other day that there was only one man you’d wanted to marry. Was it Ross Anderson?” she asked hesitantly, recalling the tall attractive man who had collected her sister from the flat a couple of times the previous spring. Looking back, she remembered that they had a succession of dates, and then he had stopped telephoning, and her sister had been nervy and short-tempered for a while. But there had been nothing to indicate that Angela had taken a severe knock, or that whatever had ended the relationship had also permanently embittered her.
“I didn’t think you’d remember him,” the elder girl said, without expression. She finished painting on a base-coat. “I suppose you may as well know about it now. Not that one ever learns much from other people’s blunders.” She lay back on the pillows while her nails dried. “I met him when we were putting on that special dress parade last March. He was working for one of the manufacturers whose clothes we were showing. I didn’t know it, but he’d married the boss’s daughter and was picking up a bit of know-how about the rag trade before sitting back in a nice cushy seat on the board.”
“How did you find out?”
Angela’s laugh was brittle. “Fortunately someone saw us together and told me—otherwise I might have made an even bigger fool of myself. You see, Ross thought I knew about his wife. I don’t think I’d have minded so much if he’d been deliberately deceiving me. But it’s a little galling to find you’ve fallen in love with a man who rates you as the kind of good-time girl who doesn’t mind having an affair with someone else’s husband.”
Sara said nothing for some moments. She had thought she knew Angela as well as anyone. But now it seemed that her sister was almost a stranger. Never once had she given away the depths of her humiliation, or the pain she must have suffered.
“But, darling, all men aren’t like that,” she said gently, after a pause. “It would be silly to ruin your whole life because of one mistake.”
“I’ve no intention of ruining it.”
“You might if you married without love.”
Angela selected a bottle of frosted bronze lacquer and unscrewed the cap. “You’ve never been in love, sweetie. You don’t know anything about it.”
“Perhaps not: but I know it doesn’t always end badly.”
“Even if it gets to the point of wedding bells, it doesn’t last for ever,” her sister said cynically. “A couple marry for love, and what happens? Five years later all the gloss has worn off and they’ve probably nothing in common. But if one marries for sensible reasons, there’s no disillusionment because there were no illusions in the first place.”
Sara didn’t argue. If Angela really believed what she had said, there was only one thing that would change her mind—and that was to find that she had fallen in love again.