Charlotte Lamb - Call Back Yesterday

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Transcript of Charlotte Lamb - Call Back Yesterday

Call Back Yesterday(1978) Charlotte LambWhat was his real reason for coming?'The last person in the world I wanted to see was you, Devil Haggard," Oriel said huskily. "If you ever lay hands on me again I'll sue you for assault" He lazily took her by the shoulders. "Like this, you mean?" "Let me go," she whispered, her eyes helplessly fixed on his mouth. It came down toward her and her eves closed Involuntarily even as her lips parted hungrily beneath the pressure of his. without volition her hands crept up and curved around his neck. She knew then, that in spite of all that had gone before, she loved him as much as ever....

CHAPTER ONE THE long steel-blue limousine swung effortlessly at speed through the battered gates, along the moss- starred gravel of the drive, bumping over the potholes and stones which made the surface so uneven, and drew up outside the house. There were people moving in and out of the open front door. They turned to stare curiously. The whispers ran like mice around the walls as she was recognised. The chauffeur walked round and opened the door. Her companion descended first, then turned and bent a solicitous back as he handed her out. The little crowd which had gathered watched at a distance. Long, sleek, silk-clad legs, their lithe elegance enhanced by their golden tan; slender ankles and small, expensively shod feet; narrow hips and tiny waist, small, high breasts which were emphasised by the deep V of her tight-fitting black dress, she emerged slowly and gracefully. Her face was shadowed by a wide-brimmed, tilted black and white hat, but they could see the long, firm line of a red mouth above a very determined chin. She stood there for a moment, looking up at the facade of the old building. Her hidden eyes travelled over the classically proportioned windows and doors which marked the house as having been built at the peak of the Georgian period. Neglect and weather had besieged Chantries during the last ten years, but nothing could seriously blemish its beauty. Even though there were slates missing from the roof, broken windows, warped doors, the house shone triumphant through it all. 'Not bad,' her companion murmured discreetly in her ear.

She turned and surveyed him thoughtfully. 'You like it?' 'Very much.' 'The auction begins in half an hour,' she said. 'We just have time to look around.' 'I would like that,' he said, then stopped as a low murmur came from the crowd, a murmur of excitement which was transmuted into a listening silence as the woman in black turned slowly to look up the drive in the direction in which they all stared. A horse was cantering easily along the rough grass verge, his silken black shoulders gleaming in the afternoon sun. A man sat on his back, a man who, at first glance, appeared almost to be part of him, so effortlessly did he move with his mount. He was a man as powerful as the horse, broad in the shoulder and slim in the waist, with a leonine head of hair as black as the stallion's coat, hair which blew back in the wind of his passing, revealing his strongly marked features. He wore a white shirt, open at the throat, and well-washed old beige riding breeches. He looked like a farmer, but his air of arrogant command seemed to suggest otherwise. Alan Kennet, studying him, thought that he had seen city tycoons who might have envied that hard assurance. As the black stallion drew level with the woman, the rider reined in and sat staring down at her. Alan could not see her face beneath that damned hat. He wondered what she was thinking. Why was that man staring in that insolent fashion? 1 After what seemed an eternity, the stallion suddenly swung away and the horse and rider disappeared through an arched gate at the side of the house. The crowd let out a long sigh, still watching the woman eagerly. Beneath the shadow of that hat

nothing could be seen of her. She moved towards the front door. Alan moved at her side, a slight frown on his face. 'Who was that?' he asked carefully. 'Did you know him?' She paused in the great panelled hall, glancing up at the ceiling which was quatrefoiled in white and blue, with gold bosses at the intersecting points of the circles. The brim of the hat lifted to reveal a fine-boned, cool face, made mysterious by slanting green eyes of a pale almond colour, their eyebrows thinly arched and pencilled below a high, pale brow. Her ash-blonde hair was drawn back from her face and swathed in a silky smooth chignon at the back of her neck. She consulted the catalogue she held. 'This ceiling is older than the house, apparently. It was transferred from a house that stood here originally in the sixteenth century. It looks to be in good condition.' 'Oriel,' Alan said. 'Oriel, why do you want this house? Why buy a house out here in Yorkshire, so far from London? It's so remote.' His eyes moved up the great, sweeping staircase. 'And so big. A weekend cottage I could understand ... but this place? You already have Egon's house in Hampshire. You can't need a house this size. Unless you're going to sell the house in Hampshire?' 'No,' she said, shaking her head. 'Anatole may want to have that house when he's grown up. Egon loved it so much. I think Anatole must be allowed to say what happens to his father's house. For the present, I shall let it. Egon's American foundation want to use it as a base for their U.K. operationsit's always useful to have a country house for conferences and visiting V.I.P.s to stay at.'

Alan took off his spectacles and swung them thoughtfully from finger and thumb, staring at the ground. When did you set this up? You've never mentioned it before.' She glanced at him, a mischievous light in her green eyes. 'I know you're my accountant, Alan, but I am capable of making some decisions without your advice. Believe me, I shall be very careful. Boltson has drawn up a watertight agreement. All my rights in the house are guaranteed and the lease is only for five years. I'm charging them an exorbitant rent, too, which will, of course, all go into Anatole's trust fund.' 'So it's all settled?' 'Don't sulk,' she said lightly, patting his arm. 'I'm not in the habit of sulking,' Alan said with a glance of offence. She laughed. 'If you could see your face I Alan, you know I value your advice, but some things I can and must do for myself. Settling my future home is one of them.' 'But why this place?' He returned to his original question. 'It's in a very poor state of repair. It's miles from anywhere. And it's much too big for you. You'll need servants to run it.' He hesitated, then added softly, 'I thought you would take a flat in London, somewhere like Mayfair perhaps, a service flat with a couple of bedrooms.' She grimaced. 'I detest London, and I would loathe a flat. I want a home of my own.' 'But why in God's name this place?' His voice was taut with irritation as he glanced around at the peeling wallpaper of the long sitting-room they had just entered. 'This place is damp and probably riddled with woodworm.'

'Oh, I agree,' she said. 'But you see, Alan, I was born here, and to me that makes it the most desirable residence in the world.' He stared incredulously at her back as she moved across the room to run a loving hand along the huge, carved oak fireplace. 'You were born here? Do you mean in this house?' She nodded. Her voice was beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful part of her, a sweet, cool voice which affected everyone who heard it. 'Chantries is where I grew up. I lived here for the first seventeen years of my life.' 'It belonged to your family?' Alan frowned, staring at the catalogue. 'It says here that it's been in the possession of the Haggard family for two hundred years. I thought your maiden name was Malving.' 'The last owner, Jeremiah Haggard, was my mother's cousin. When my mother died, my father went to Africa to plant rubber trees and Jeremiah became my guardian. I was too young to live with my fatherAfrica isn't the best place to bring up a child. Jeremiah engaged a nurse and later a governess, and I stayed here.' 'Until you were seventeen, you said?' Alan suddenly remembered having heard that she married her husband in Africa. 'And then you joined your father?' She nodded. 'And when I was eighteen I married Egon.' Alan stared around the room. The windows were grimy and cobwebbed, but their height gave elegance to the long saloon, and the faded damask curtains had a shabby beauty. 'You'll have to spend a fortune getting it back into shape. Have you had it surveyed?'

She smiled. 'I didn't bother. I shall buy it whatever condition it's in.' He grimaced. 'All the same..But he did not go on, for he knew that Egon Mellstock's widow need never concern herself with the cost of anything. Her husband's African assets had included copper and diamond mines, plantations and factories and a large share of the profits of a huge international consortium based in Africa. Egon had left most of these to his only son, Oriel's child, Anatole, who was at present in the adoring care of his grandmother, Rene Mellstock, in London. Egon Mellstock had been fifty when he married Oriel. She was his fourth wife. None of the previous wives had given him a child, and it had been her triumph in giving birth to a son that had left her in sole control of the Mellstock fortune at Egon's death two years earlier. The marriage had been strangely happy, considering the vast difference in age between husband and wife. Egon worshipped the girl who had given him the son he had desired so long, and Rene Mellstock could not say enough in praise of the daughter-in-law who had managed to be the first to make Egon's home life happy. Alan knew that Egon's reputation, until his marriage with Oriel, had been that of a man with a trigger temper, harsh and demanding as an employer, irritable and neglectful as a husband. There had been cynical amusement when he married a young girl. For a long time she had been ca