The Magnificent Milfords were one of England's
great theatrical families — brilliant, beautiful and
witty. All except the youngest, Katrine, who was
quiet and domesticated and had no yearnings at all
for a stage career. She was more or less resigned to
living in the shadow of her glamorous family, and
even when they all went off together for the
summer to the Cantwich Festival, Katrine accepted
that her only part would be as secretary and
assistant to the director, the difficult Max Neilson.
But Max, it appeared, had other plans for Katrine...
GB f NET
'How many more times must I tell
you?' cried Katrine hectically.
m quite happy as I am!'
'You're a coward,' Max said contemptuously.
'You're so afraid to fall that you won't climb an
inch.' He looked down into her upturned face
with a menacing smile. 'Cowards have to learn
that it's easier to fight than to run away because
no matter how fast you run fate can run faster.'
All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination
of the Author, and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the
same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any
individual known or unknown to the Author, and all the incidents are
All rights reserved. The text of this publication or any part thereof may
not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, storage in
an information retrieval system, or other-wise, without the written
permission of the publisher.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of
trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated
without the prior consent of the publisher in any form of binding or
cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent
First published in Great Britain in 1977
by Mills & Boon Limited
0 Charlotte Lamb 1977
Australian copyright 1977
Philippine copyright 1993
This edition 1993
ISBN 0 263 77916 5
Made and printed in Great Britain
THE Press were fond of referring to them as 'The
Magnificent Milfords' and, on occasions like this,
thought the youngest member of the family, the
title was not inapt. They were all grouped around
the grand piano at this moment, half-consciously
posing under the battery of eyes, as dazzling as the
chandelier which hung above their heads.
She was the only member of her illustrious family
who had not gone on the stage—the shy one, the
daughter few people knew about, with her fine-
boned little face, straight dark hair and retiring
manner. Once she had said wistfully to Sebby, 'I'm
as out of place among the others as a pussy cat
among lions ...'
We're all what God made us,' Sebby had said un-
answerably, offering her no comfort.
She stood alone, in a corner, unnoticed by the
throng of guests whose eyes were all fixed in fas-
cination upon her family. Viola was singing a witty
little song from the revue in which she was cur-
rently appearing. Her hair, like blonde feathers,
lay elegantly across her pale forehead. Viola's latest
affectation was to wear no make-up—since her skin
had a transparent pallor which was most enchanting
she could afford to do so. Her slanting green eyes
slid sideways, wicked and funny, teasing the man
who was playing the piano for her.
Cleo, on the other hand, was looking sulky. She
hated to have the limelight switched away from her-
self to her sister. Cleo was, as she was well aware, the
most dazzling of the three girls—as sinuous as a
tigress, with a shining golden tan and a curved fig-
ure, her red-gold hair a silken curtain worn loose or,
on rare occasions, swept up into an elegant chignon.
Sometimes, looking at her, Katrine wondered if she
had dreamt it, invented her far-off childhood, when
Cleo had been a tomboy with ginger hair and
freckles who let her trail along on fishing expedi-
tions to the river which ran behind their London
home. Certainly nobody now would believe it. Cleo
Milford was one of the new sex symbols of the age.
Her face and body writhed in supple beauty across
magazine covers, billboards and television advertise-
ments. Anyone less likely to have had ginger hair
and freckles could not be imagined. Katrine, with a
smothered giggle, wondered what Cleo would do if,
one day, she dropped a hint to some gossip colum-
nist. She wouldn't do it, of course—for one thing
family loyalty forbade it, for another Cleo could be
a most alarming enemy, and finally Katrine still
cherished the memory of her tomboy sister and her
own fondness for Cleo kept that old memory shut
away in the privacy of her head.
Cass, her brother, was much as he had always
been, even at the earliest age she could remember—
when he was a lordly, scornful schoolboy of twelve
and she was toddling up and down in his wake im-
ploring him to let her join his game of cricket. He
had been a very adult schoolboy, one of those who
always look immaculate in blazer and cap, his grey
eyes coolly self-contained.
There was never any question as to his future
career. Cass always knew what he wanted, and how
to get it. He had had a brilliant meteoric rise—a
small but dazzling part in his first West End play
putting him at once into the category of actors
everyone remembers. Katrine often wondered if
Cass was happy. He was so shuttered, so withdrawn.
What did he think, behind that almost too hand-
some face, and what did he want out of life apart
Viola had finished her song. Everyone clapped
and laughed. Rolf Milford, their father, kissed
Viola elegantly, looking proud and yet modest in
some indefinable way. He was aware that his child-
ren were an extension of himself and his very real
affection for them was complicated by his profes-
sional attitude. Katrine watched him wistfully. She
knew he felt her to be a failure, the changeling of
the family. Her shyness and lack of ambition baffled
and irritated Rolf. Katrine tried to make up for it
by self-effacing eagerness to help. She waited on him
hand and foot when he was at home, took great
pains with meals for him, acted as his secretary if
the need arose and was, unfailingly, saddened by a
feeling of inadequacy.
Rolf was fond of throwing extravagant parties.
Tonight the occasion he celebrated was the last
night of a successful run in a modern black comedy
of scarifying intensity, a new departure for him. He
had, she knew, been nervous when he accepted the
part. In the event, it had been a box office success, to
'I only hope I haven't scared away my real public,'
he had said uneasily to Sebby once.
'You can do no wrong where they're concerned,'
Sebby had assured him cheerfully.
Among the guests tonight were a number of jour-
nalists. Katrine could see Roddy Sumner, in a black
velvet suit and a shirt with a lace jabot, telling Cleo
a wildly embellished story about a certain eminent
American film star. Katrine had heard the tale be-
fore. It was common knowledge among their
friends, but Cleo was pretending she had never
heard it, if her expression of wide-eyed amusement
was anything to go by. The poor man, under domes-
tic pressure, had got uncharacteristically drunk at a
Los Angeles restaurant and ended up singing opera
in a neon-lit fountain under the eyes of an excited
crowd while photographers jostled to snatch shots
of him from every angle.
'Poor old Piers,' her father murmured, joining
her. 'He lets his hair down just once in twenty years,
and the whole world is agog! Why do people love to
see stars like Piers tumbled from their pedestals?'
'Human nature,' she said regretfully, keeping a
weather eye on the bar. Journalists drank so much
more than one ever expected, and she was sure she
could see a look of wary concern on Sebby's face. He
had a sixth sense where supplies of food and drink
'Excuse me, Fra,' she said, catching a signal from
Sebby. 'I think the fox is among the chickens.'
The family signal for trouble made her father
glance round in alarm. 'God, not the whisky! '
We'll manage,' she soothed. Whatever happened,
Rolf must not be worried—she and Sebby had a
silent understanding about that.
Roddy Sumner moved away from Cleo and
caught at Katrine's hand as she moved past. 'Lovely
party,' he drawled. She gave him a faintly puzzled
smile. He was the only member of the press who
ever recognised her and she was human enough to
find this very flattering, but she found it odd, too.
Roddy was tall, dark and extremely good-looking,
wildly popular with the opposite sex. It had occur-
red to Katrine that one of the less obvious reasons
for his popularity was his knack of remembering
everyone's name and face. It was a useful trick for a
journalist, especially one who went in for light flir-
tations. Katrine sometimes wondered why Roddy
bothered to pay her any attention, since she could
not be useful to him in his career, nor was she a
He was looking down at her with narrowed eyes.
'You do know who
am?' he pressed quizzically.
She laughed. 'Of course! We've met dozens of
Then why do you always look at me with that
vague, puzzled little smile?' he asked.
`Do I?' She felt the colour creep up into her face.
Then, with unusual bluntness, she said, 'That isn't
because I don't know who you are. It is because I'm
surprised you know who I am.'
He watched her, his expression thoughtful. 'How
revealing. You're too modest, Cinderella. People
take you at your own valuation, you know. If you
creep off into a corner, they think you must be very
dull, so they ignore you.'
Had she drunk a tiny bit more champagne than
usual? she asked herself incredulously, as she heard
herself answer him. 'Then why don't you?'
Why don't I what?'
'Ignore me? You always notice me.' It must be
his amused, tolerant look that was encouraging her
to talk in this easy fashion, she decided.
'You interest me,' he returned blandly. 'You are
so unlike the rest of your family.'
A stricken look appeared on her small face. 'I see,'
she said. She gave him a frozen little smile. 'Excuse
me. Sebby is making frantic signs for help.'
He frowned and caught her elbow. 'Look here, I
hadn't finished explaining ...'
'There's really no need,' she said brightly. 'I know
perfectly well how different I am—the only ordin-
ary one, the duckling among the swans.' She
laughed. `I'm quite used to it, you know. Don't
worry about hurting my feelings.'
His glance followed her as she crossed the room,
and a line creased the smoothness of Roddy Sum-
ner's forehead. A commotion at the door then drew
his attention, and he turned away as Dodie Alex-
ander arrived, sallow and angular in wine silk yet
dimming even the golden splendour of the Milfords
by her sheer luminosity. Plain, quiet and lacking
sex appeal, Dodie only had to walk on stage for an
audience to gasp as though she had revealed some
new dimension of beauty. Roddy watched her, pon-
dering this gift—what was the secret? A quality of
stillness, of sincerity? Impossible to pin it down.
She was talking, kissing Rolf, embracing the other
guests with her dark, expressive eyes.
Behind her lounged a tall, supercilious man with
a long, bony nose and heavy-lidded eyes, his ex-
pression amused. Dodie turned and touched his arm
in a confiding gesture, intimate and warm.
Roddy gave a silent whistle, his lips pursed in
surprise. Was that how the wind blew? Dodie Alex-
ander had been happily married for ten years to
Jack Sandon. His death a few months ago had been
as tragic as it had been sudden. Dodie had looked
like a lost soul for weeks. Was she now coming out
of it, and was Max Neilson the cause of that return-
ing radiance in her face?
Roddy made a mental note. His column was
always filled with these titbits of gossip, ingenious
invention or inspired guesswork. It was at parties
like this that one picked up the first thread of such
They're making a big hole in the whisky,' Sebby
told Katrine sadly.
He had a lined, sallow face which reminded her
of a clown—great, melancholy dark eyes, a large
nose and a way of hunching his shoulders which
spoke louder than words.
Sebby was of part Russian descent. He had been
her father's dresser for years. When her mother
died, soon after Katrine's tenth birthday, Sebby
moved into their home to take over the running of
the household. They had all been so lost, so broken
that nobody had known what to do. Sebby had saved
the day, and somehow he had never moved out
again. That had been ten years ago. Now it seemed
as if he had always been there. What would they all
do without him? He was the backbone of their lives;
the organiser, the home-maker.
When Katrine left school she had drifted into
staying at home, helping Sebby. He had instinc-
tively, silently known how much she dreaded getting
a job, going out into the hostile world. She had had
no dreams of a career. She had not even wanted to
pursue her education any further. All she had
wanted to do was to cook, clean, sew and keep house.
She had always dreamt of being like her mother.
She had such happy memories of childhood. Her
mother had always been in the kitchen, making
gingerbread or ironing, and Katrine sometimes had
an overwhelming nostalgia for that vanished past
when she smelt hot gingerbread or the clean, fresh-
air smell of washing.
Her father had said in a totally audible aside to
the others, 'Thank God she doesn't want to go on
the stage, poor child! '
Cleo had giggled, then smoothed out her face into
its usual golden mask. 'She has always been terrifi-
cally domesticated, it's true, Fra.'
Katrine had 'understudied' Sebby for two years
now, taking instruction humbly in all the domestic
arts and being very careful never to offend or hurl
him. She loved Sebby almost as much as she loved
Now she said, 'Shall I pop out for some more?'
There was an off-licence just down the road.
Someone loomed at Katrine's shoulder, handed
over two bottles of whisky. 'A contribution from
Dodie,' drawled a familiar voice.
Sebby's melancholy face broke into a smile.
Thank Gawd for Madame ' He always called
Dodie Madame. Katrine had never liked to ask
why. She knew Sebby worshipped Dodie, but then
'And how is little Katrine?' the voice drawled.
Reluctantly, she turned and looked up into Max
Neilson's blandly mocking face. Of all the actors
she had ever met, he was the most maddening. He
had moved over into direction lately, and she knew
that he was planning to launch a new Festival down
at Cantwich, that famous home of Pascal Flint, the
Edwardian playwright whose centenary was being
celebrated this summer. Flint had been a drunken
rascal, but two of his plays had become classics of
their kind, and Cantwich was proud of the connec-
Max watched her with an amused smile. 'Con-
gratulations on the decor,' he murmured. 'You and
Sebby are quite a team.'
She looked surprised. Few people knew that she
and Sebby had redecorated the room. It had taken
them six weeks to strip off the fading Chinese wall-
paper, re-paint the woodwork and the ceiling and
then give the walls a smooth coating of eau-de-nil
paint. The result was charming. They had trans-
formed the room into a replica of an eighteenth-
century Adam room—classical, restrained and
elegant. The carpet and curtains had been changed,
and Rolf had moaned at the expense of it all, but he,
too, was happy with the result. He was particularly
happy with the marble fireplace. Today a great
spray of summer flowers filled it, but in winter it
became the glowing centre of the room, the flicker-
ing firelight transforming it.
How is your festival coming along?' she asked
`Dodie is playing Ianthe in
m sure that will be a great success,' she nodded.
The play was always popular, and Dodie was a great
favourite with the public.
`And I want Rolf and Cleo to come down and do
for me,' he added.
She looked taken aback. 'Good heavens ! Rolf is a
little old for the lead and ...'
'I want him to do the button man,' Max told her,
watching her face.
She looked horrified. 'Have you told him?'
'Not yet. You think he'll refuse?'
'It is rather a small part.'
'It is the title role,' he pointed out.
He only appears in the last act, though,' she said.
'It's of symbolic significance, though,' Max said
She grimaced. 'Rather you than me.'
'You think he'll be annoyed?'
'Insulted,' she said bluntly.
Max laughed. 'I do believe you're right. We'll
see.' He changed the subject. 'Your friend Nicky
will be at Cantwich with us, playing the boy in
She flushed. 'How nice. Why do you say "my
friend"? He's a friend of the whole family.'
'Particularly yours, I think,' drawled Max. 'And
I got the impression not at all a friend of Cleo's-
indeed, I fancy she detests him.'
'Oh, Cleo,' she dismissed. 'She was cross be-
cause ...' Then she caught herself up, flushing.
'Because?' he probed, curious.
Because Nicky did not fall madly in love with her
on sight, she had been about to say before she rea-
lised to whom she had been about to say it. Family
loyalty dictated silence. She gave him a polite little
shake of the head. 'Nothing. Dodie is looking for
you, I think ...' Glancing over his shoulder.
Dodie joined them, her dark eyes smiling warmly
at Katrine, whom she had known since Katrine was
a tiny girl of six. 'Darling Katya ...' She had always
called her that. Dodie was, like Sebby, part Russian,
and she had a habit of turning names into Russian,
half from a love of the sound of them, half to make
them sound different, individual, exciting. 'How
are you? You look very sweet and good in that little
dress, but you ought to get Cleo to help you choose
something more sophisticated for these occasions.
You let those sisters of yours outshine you.' She
shook a gentle finger at her. 'You must not let them
upstage you, darling Katya. You can be as dazzling
as any of them. Any woman can if she tries! Beauty
is only artificial, after all. It is in the eye of the be-
holder—and it can be put on or taken off like a
Katrine smiled at her. 'Yes, dear Dodie!'
Dodie was not deceived. She shook her head rue-
fully. 'Ah, you are placating me. You will stay as
you are! Mulish child! '
'She is very well as she is,' Max drawled. 'There
are enough Milfords shining in the firmament as it
is. Leave the child alone, Dodie.'
Dodie eyed him. 'What do you know, Max? Men
know nothing of these things, they do not under-
stand the heart of a woman.'
Katrine discreetly slipped away to join Sebby
once more. He was pouring pink gins for a crowd
of thirsty reporters. They looked at Katrine with
piercing indifference, took their glasses and van-
ished, en masse, for the other side of the room and
Cleo. Golden, amused and lively, she was putting on
a wonderful performance for them, making them
roar with laughter and eye her amorously all at
'I've been pushing the gin,' Sebby told her. 'I
think we may hold out. Madame saved us with her
two bottles. Time some of this lot were moving on,
m tired,' Katrine told him. 'Someone has made
a burn mark on the grand piano and there's ash on
the carpet beside the fireplace.' She sighed.
'And Max Neilson has arrived,' Sebby nodded
wryly. 'I saw him buttonhole you Can't stand him,
He's so bored and omniscient—a bit like God,
only too worldly.'
He's clever,' Sebby observed.
'Oh, that, yes—too clever, if you ask me. He
frightens me rather.'
'I hear he's been very good to Madame since her
husband died,' Sebby murmured. Anyone who was
kind to Dodie would be forgiven much by Sebby.
To him Dodie Alexander was little short of divin-
'Perhaps he's in love with her,' said Katrine, gig-
gling. The thought of Max in love seemed very
funny, wildly improbable.
Sebby gave her an affronted glare, but just then
some new guests drifted up to get their glasses filled
and Katrine seized the chance to escape.
So Nicky was going to be in Cantwich all summer
long, she thought ruefully. He hadn't told her. How
long had he known? It was entirely typical that he
should keep it a secret until it was unavoidable to
tell her—Nicky knew it would upset her.
A flush crept over her throat and cheeks at the
thought. Nicky knew only too well how she felt
about him. Why must I be so obvious? she asked
herself despairingly. I should have hidden it better,
been less of a pushover.
Perhaps it was because Nicky had all the golden
good looks of a true Milford—he was a second
cousin, in fact. She had known him all her life, but
had only fallen head over heels in love last year.
They had all been on holiday in Provence. The long
hot days, the sandy beaches, the starry nights had set
the scene for romance in the old-fashioned tradi-
tional sense—and Katrine, nineteen years old and
eager for life, had looked at Nicky with new-found
eyes and fallen in love with him.
At first she had believed her love returned. Nicky
had held her hand, walked with her in the warm,
breathing darkness of the villa garden and kissed
her with gentle tenderness. Cleo's sharp, mocking
eyes had soon found out their secret, and her witty
tongue had teased them unmercifully. Cleo, al-
though she did not want Nicky for herself, was
affronted because he had never even shown a pass-
ing interest in her. Accustomed to her power over
the men who visited them, Cleo found it galling
that Nicky should prefer her shy, ordinary little
sister to herself.
Since their return to London, Katrine had
noticed a change in Nicky. He always kissed her
when they met, and she saw quite a lot of him, but
his whole attitude was casual, affectionate rather
than loving, and he showed no desire to move into a
deeper, more personal relationship. Herself fathoms
deep in love, Katrine felt the difference acutely.
She tried to hide from him her own passionate res-
ponse, but she sensed that Nicky was quite aware of
how she felt towards him.
She caught a glimpse of herself in one of the
gilded mirrors lining the wall, at regular intervals,
and saw a thin, pale girl with a red spot burning on
each cheek and great, dark-lashed blue eyes fixed in
unhappy reverie. Self-hatred filled her. She looked
at her reflection with loathing. Why had she not
been born one of the 'Magnificent Milfords'? Why
had she alone, out of the family, been born with dull
brown hair and such ordinary features?
She turned away, biting her lip. Nicky would
have loved her had she been beautiful, she thought.
Dodie Alexander, catching the agony in the
movement, said suddenly to Max Neilson, 'That
child is unhappy. Where did she find that appalling
dress? It makes her look like a gauche schoolgirl.
She has good bone structure and fine eyes. With a
little help she could look quite striking. I've tried to
push her in the right direction several times, but the
obstinate little creature refuses to budge.'
`She refuses to compete,' he drawled. 'If you were
the youngest Milford you'd sympathise, I imagine.
You would either have to fight like a demon to come
out on top—or withdraw altogether.'
Which is what Katya has done?' Dodie's dark
eyes looked up at him intelligently. 'Yes, I think
you are right, darling.'
'I always am,' he returned with casual arrogance.
'Yes, that is what is so maddening about you,' she
agreed. 'The child detests you, doesn't she?'
He looked down his long nose and smiled sleep-
ily. 'All her emotions are written on her face, aren't
they? Such an expressive little face.'
Dodie looked suddenly struck. 'Yes,' she said, on a
long-drawn-out note. 'With features like those she
should have been an actress. Odd that she opted
'I have told you the reason,' he pointed out.
'So you did, darling. What a tragic waste, though.
Something should be done about it.'
'No doubt something will,' he drawled enigmati-
Roddy Sumner slid through the crowd and joined
them, smiling ingratiatingly. 'You're looking en-
chanting tonight, Dodie,' he said, kissing her hand
with natural grace.
She looked at Max over Roddy's bent head. The
dark eyes laughed. 'Thank you. darling,' she draw-
led. 'Has Max told you his plans for his Festival?
You must hear about it ...'
Cass Milford moved over to Katrine. 'You're look-
ing a bit fraught, angel. Anything wrong? Don't say
the whisky is running dry? Shall I nip out and get
She turned on a smile. 'No, Sebby has things
under control, but thanks for offering. Viola's enjoy-
ing herself, isn't she?'
They looked across the room. Viola was dancing
energetically with a slim young man in a green
shirt. He was laughing, but Katrine saw something
very serious behind the smile in his blue eyes.
m afraid poor old Geoff Farmer is badly smit-
ten,' Cass said easily. ' Just as well his dad is on the
way to his first million—any man who marries
Viola will need pots of money.'
'You think she'll marry Geoff?' Katrine was not
quite so certain. Viola was basically such a frivolous
person. Katrine could not ever remember being in
love. Viola had downed, drawled, teased her way
through life. She was witty, charming, energetic and
While they watched, though, Geoffrey Farmer
stopped dancing and looked down at Viola with an
expression which even the most purblind mole
would have recognised as besotted. He took her
hands and held them, then gave a strangled whoop
and swung round, almost knocking over Rolf Mil-
Beaming, babbling, Geoffrey spoke to his host,
and Rolf stared from him to Viola and back again,
then he took Viola's face and held it between his
two hands, kissing her with paternal reverence upon
the brow in a gesture which was theatrically moving
and yet quite sincere at the same time.
'Everybody!' he shouted, holding up a hand for
silence. 'Listen, everybody—the most wonderful,
delightful news! My dearest child, Viola, is to be
Someone groaned, and everybody laughed. The
piano player broke spontaneously into 'Here
Comes the Bride ...' Cleo flung herself upon Viola,
arms spread wide, crying, 'Darling, how heavenly ! '
Then everyone crowded round the happy couple
and the noise in the room redoubled. Katrine
looked up at Cass, grimacing. 'You were absolutely
right, after all. Imagine! Viola in love! '
What makes you say she's in love? I said Geoff
was in love. I didn't say anything about Viola.'
'But, Cass, she accepted him,' protested Katrine.
`She must be in love with him,' said Katrine.
Why else should she marry him?'
'I can think of many reasons,' Cass drawled. 'Al-
most a million of them, in fact.'
'Cynicism, my dear fellow, cynicism,' drawled an
amused voice behind them.
Katrine felt herself go pink with indignation and
hostility. It was that horrid, sarcastic Max Neilson
again, she thought, giving him a sparkling glance.
Well, I don't believe anyone would marry just for
money,' she told them both crossly. 'Viola earns
quite a lot, you know. She doesn't need to marry
'Viola spends quite a lot, too,' Cass said lightly.
Why, she's more extravagant than Cleo, and that's
saying something! '
`Your little sister has illusions about romance,'
drawled Max. 'Don't shatter them, Cass. The young
cherish their illusions.'
`I was young last year,' Cass said with a sigh. 'It
was hell.' He gave them a shared smile and slipped
`I see your brother is cultivating the world-weary
pose at present,' Max said in amusement.
`Cass has always been difficult to understand,' Kat-
rine said with a little twist of her shoulder, as though
she would have loved to turn her back on him yet
in courtesy could not do so.
He's very intelligent,' Max observed.
Oh, don't be so patronising!' Katrine snapped,
then went bright pink.
Katrine gave him a silent, angry look, then said
in a cold voice, 'Excuse me, I must go and congratu-
`She deserves to be congratulated,' he agreed
coolly. 'She's played her fish expertly. Very pretty
angling indeed. I've enjoyed watching. I only hope
she finds the result as satisfying as she thinks she
'I think you're a perfect beast! ' Katrine burst out,
and rushed away from him with a furious expres-
Katrine and Sebby cleared up after the party, work-
ing together in amicable silence until the room had
been returned to something like normal.
Katrine was very tired when she fell into bed, but
she could not sleep. Her mind kept presenting her
with images. She saw Viola's face as she looked at
her new fiancé. She saw Max smiling in sardonic
amusement. She saw Cass, looking remote and cyni-
cal. The tangle of impressions made no sense, yet
somehow she felt that there was a common thread
in them somehow, if only she knew how to find the
end of it, pull it and unravel it.
morning after one of their parties the house
was always like a morgue. Katrine and Sebby sil-
ently pursued their normal routine while the others
slept. Polishing the furniture in the long drawing-
room, Katrine felt her usual pleasure as she watched
the pale flecks of dust float upward in a golden
stream of light from the window. The dreamy, sum-
mer sense of quietness persisted particularly at the
back of the house. Tall, narrow and elegant, the
house had been built in 1819 by a merchant banker.
His totally invented coat of arms ornamented the
stucco over the portico, and his view of the position
of the servant class was demonstrated by the vast
gulf between the size of the reception rooms on the
first floor and the attic bedrooms which had been
intended for the servants.
The long, flat windows of the drawing-room
looked out over the green garden, past rose beds and
lawns, to the river showing deceptively green
through the branches of a willow. At close hand the
water was muddy, foully odorous and filled with
debris, but if one did not look too close it made an
enchanting backcloth on a sunny summer morning,
with the sunlight dancing on the surface and the oc-
casional sight of a boat to enliven the view.
Viola had asked to be called at ten o'clock. Kat-
rine took her up a tray: orange juice, a slice of
French toast and black coffee. Viola sat up, yawn-
ing. 'Is it ten already? God ...'
'Shall I start your shower?' Katrine offered.
'Not yet.' Viola sat up, hugging her thin knees, a
primrose cotton sheet wrapped round her. Her hair
fell immaculately into place, the cut so exquisite
that it barely needed combing. 'What do you think
of Geoff?' She watched her sister intently.
He seems very nice.' Katrine did not know what
to say. She hardly knew him. She remembered what
Cass had said. Was Viola marrying him for his
money? Or had Cass
merely malicious, teasing
Oddly, Viola seemed to seize upon the word with
eagerness. 'Nice. Yes, isn't he? I'm glad you like
him.' She looked at her sister through her own pale
lashes, her false ones lying neatly in their box upon
the dressing-table. The sun, streaming through the
raised window, turned the ends of her lashes to
friendly to him, darling, will you? I
feel a bit like Daniel's mother watching him walk
into the lions' den—I remember you always called
us the Milford lions. Do you remember that? You
were such a funny, solemn little girl.'
Katrine felt her spirits lift. Viola's concern for
Geoff could, surely, only mean a fondness for him. It
was understandable that she should be worried.
Cass and Cleo were not ones to suffer fools gladly,
and Katrine suspected they would write Geoffrey
Farmer down an ass. Indeed, Viola herself had be-
fore now been known to show a lazy scorn towards
people like Geoffrey. Her own quick wits, dry
humour and clever mockery made her a natural
scourge towards anyone who could not keep up with
her. Katrine had come in for some pretty merciless
teasing in the past. She knew how Viola's tongue
Rolf had his breakfast next, always the same, a
pot of tea and two rolls with butter and black cherry
jam—a peculiar mixture of England and continen-
tal breakfast. 'I must give a dinner party for Viola
and her husband-to-be,' he said. 'Just family, do you
think, Katrine? Or a few friends, too?'
`You must ask Dodie,' she pointed out.
`And she'll want to bring Max Neilson, I sup-
pose,' Rolf agreed, a little tartly. 'What does she see
in him, my dear? He's younger than Dodie and so
terribly, depressingly clever.' He pushed away his
tray. 'So, I am at leisure from this morning. A de-
lightful opportunity to relax and enjoy my life. I
shall dress and go for a stroll. Shopping—that is
what I shall do, shopping. I need some new ties, new
socks. My shirts are in rags.'
She glanced wryly at his open wardrobe, fitted
along one side of his bedroom, jammed with clothes.
'Poor Fra! Quite reduced to tatters.'
'Don't you turn sarcastic on me, my girl,' he said
with dignity. 'How else am I to occupy myself ?' A
note of deep sadness entered his voice. It swelled to
an organ note. 'Othello's occupation's gone ...'
Oh, dear,' she said, whisking his tray away. She
knew that look.
Sebby was chopping boiled eggs. He intended to
make a cold mousse for lunch. In summer they
sometimes ate on the patio under the green shade
of a pear tree.
He's restless already,' she told Sebby as she began
to wash up. Cleo and Cass had been taken their trays
—both of them took the lightest breakfast, orange
juice and black coffee. They would have shuddered
if they had ever risen early enough to see Katrine
and Sebby tucking into their hearty breakfast of egg
and bacon, and toast and marmalade, at seven-thirty,
washed down by cup after cup of tea from a vast
powder blue pot which Sebby kept drinkable by
constant additions of hot water. But then, as Sebby
said, after Katrine had once made some remark
upon it, they needed a good meal on which to face a
day of constant domestic toil.
Sebby glanced up, his great dark eyes sharp. 'Why
not ring Mr Neilson? He could have lunch here.'
The Festival? Oh, can you see Fra's face when
Max tells him he wants him to play the button man?
He'll roar like the big bad wolf.'
'Give him something to roar about, though,'
Sebby said. 'Nothing makes him so cross as being out
He only started being out of work this morning,'
she pointed out. 'He isn't desperate yet.'
'Give him twenty minutes and he will be,' Sebby
It was true. Rolf felt like a lost soul when he was
not working. She hesitated, then went to the phone.
Max answered himself, but she pretended not to
recognise his voice. It would have flattered him too
much. 'Could I speak to Mr Neilson?'
'You are doing, my girl,' he returned madden-
ingly, at once seeing through her pretence and ac-
She stubbornly persisted. 'This is Katrine Mil-
ford, Mr Neilson.'
m aware of that,' he drawled. 'What time shall I
His omniscience disgusted her. 'We lunch at one
o'clock,' she said flatly. 'Say ... twelve-thirty?'
He laughed. 'Try not to be so cross when I arrive.
Can I help it if I have second sight?'
you know why I'd rung?'
'I know Rolf. He hates unemployment. You
haven't mentioned my idea to him yet?'
'No,' she conceded. 'I thought it would be best if
you brought that up.'
'Oh, wise young judge,' he mocked. 'Cowardly,
too. What are we having for lunch?'
'Salmon mayonnaise, a savoury mousse and sum-
mer pudding,' she told him.
'Summer pudding? Delicious! I haven't eaten
that for years. What fruit are you using for it?'
'Raspberries and red currants,' she said.
'I can't wait,' he said, ringing off.
She replaced the receiver very carefully. Sebby
looked at her when she returned to the kitchen, not-
ing her red cheeks. 'You look very hot. Why don't
you go out into the garden for half an hour and cool
off in the shade?'
'And feed the midges? No, thanks,' she said. 'I'll
get the fruit ready for the pudding.' Sebby had al-
ready done the shopping at his favourite shops. It
was one of his most enjoyable occupations, strolling
leisurely along with a basket on his arm, tucking
asparagus or smoked salmon, eggs or lamb chops,
new potatoes or strawberries in together, gossiping
with the shopkeepers whom he knew intimately,
meeting old friends from the neighbourhood and
inspecting any new arrivals with a cold, beady eye.
Winter or summer, Sebby liked to do what he called
'my marketing' at the same hour of the day.
When she had prepared the fruit Sebby shooed
her out of the back door, a cup of coffee in one hand,
a magazine in the other, to take a brief break in the
garden. Rolf had already gone out, having been
warned of Max's imminent arrival and promising to
be back well in time. Cleo came out in a brief sun-
dress and a bottle of sun-tan oil.
'I must just have half an hour out here. I don't
want my tan to fade,' she said, stretching out on a
Max is coming to lunch,' Katrine told her.
'Is he?' Cleo opened one eye. 'How heavenly. I
hope he isn't bringing Dodie.'
'How can you be so horrid? Dodie's an angel.'
'So everyone says. I've yet to see her wings.' Cleo
smoothed oil into one sleek golden leg. 'Imagine
Viola marrying that big bore! Can you believe it? I
shudder at the idea.'
'I think she's very fond of him,' Katrina said cau-
Cleo was bent in graceful self-absorption, like a
cat at its toilette, worshipping the beauty of her own
body. Her fingers stroked and smoothed gently along
'You're so naïve,' she said absently. 'Viola's far too
selfish to care for anyone. I'd have thought even you
must know that.'
Hadn't that been what Katrine really thought un-
til this morning? Yet now she could not help re-
membering something about Viola's face that made
her spring now to her sister's defence. 'All the same,
I think she does care for him.'
'Cares for his money, you mean,' said Cleo.
Stung, Katrine said on a sudden impulse, 'If you
aren't careful your freckles will come back, in this
Cleo looked up, astonished. 'Miaow! So the kitten
has claws? Who'd have thought it?' Then she
laughed, all her cynical, lazy sophistication falling
away. 'Do you remember those summers when we
were at school? My little dinghy? I don't think I've
ever been as happy since. Those hours we spent fish-
ing and sailing up and down! Absolute heaven.'
They relaxed in happy silence for a while, until
Katrine had to go in to help Sebby with the veg-
etables. They worked fast, making a dressing for the
salad, chopping parsley and slicing tomatoes. Rolf
came back with Max, whom he had picked up a few
yards from their door, and they settled down on the
tiny patio to eat the cold meal on a white-painted
iron table. Max had brought some very good white
wine. The pear tree made a gently shifting shade
around them. A thrush sleepily whirred overhead.
Cass was out to lunch. Viola had unexpectedly
brought Geoffrey along at the last moment, and
made an uneasy sixth around the table.
'Gorgeous food,' he said, raising his wine glass in a
toast to Katrine.
m glad you like it,' she said, smiling at him, try-
ing to make him feel more at home and, without
knowing, suddenly displaying her own version of
the Milford charm in her great, dark-lashed eyes.
Geoffrey looked quite surprised, his mouth widen-
ing to a circle. He had never really noticed the little
sister before, but now he decided that she was really
quite endearing. She wasn't beautiful, but she had
Max, glancing up, gave her an acute look. 'Not
flirting with your future brother-in-law, I hope?'
She shot him a furious look, turned up her nose
and did not deign to reply.
He laughed, much amused by this. Viola put her
small hand over Geoffrey's much larger one, mea-
suring them with an odd expression, and said lightly,
'Darling Max, don't tease my little sister too much.'
Cleo laughed in sudden memory of that morning's
altercation. 'No, Max, let sleeping dogs lie. You
won't believe this, but Katrine can bite quite
sharply when she's roused.'
'Oh, I believe it,' he drawled, watching Katrine.
'But I'm astonished you've discovered it. I thought
you all under-estimated her.'
Geoffrey was looking increasingly nervous at this
odd form of bickering. Katrine helped him quietly
to another portion of the mousse, spooned some
Tomate Nicoise on to his plate and poured him
some more wine.
He gave her a grateful look. Despite his healthy
skin, broad shoulders and generally vigorous air,
Katrine decided, there was something of the little
boy about him. She wondered, suddenly, if it could
be this that had drawn Viola to him, but a doubt
alarmed her. She looked secretly at her sister, trac-
ing the wicked curl of her pretty mouth, the strong
line of jaw and nose, the slanting green eyes. There
was absolutely nothing maternal about Viola. Why
was she marrying Geoffrey Farmer?
Max broached the subject of his Festival, and
mentioned the idea of doing
looked interested at once. There was a very exciting
role in it for her, and she gave Max a flutter of her
lashes, a come-hither look from her bright eyes.
'No need to try seduction, my sweet,' he drawled.
'I want to audition you. I thought of you for Anna
'Formal audition?' she asked.
'There is a Festival committee,' he explained, half
apologetically. 'I have the final vote, but purely as a
formality I have to parade my casts for them.'
'Aren't you the director?' she asked, raising an
ironic eyebrow and smiling very sweetly at him.
'You know how these things work,' he said. 'One
must placate the locals.'
'Hand out a few strings of beads if the natives get
restless,' Viola murmured.
Rolf was bored. He pushed his plate away.
Katrine got up and went in to get the summer pud-
ding. The whipped cream and the pink shading of
the pudding itself looked delicious as she carried
them out. Sebby was sitting at the kitchen table eat-
ing the left-over mousse, some spoonfuls of caviar
which he had used to decorate it, and some veg-
etables. 'Save a slice for me,' he asked.
'Of course I will,' she said, indignantly. 'When
do we ever eat it all?'
'That Geoffrey Farmer looks like a pig to me,'
Sebby said darkly.
'He likes his food,' she admitted. 'But he's very
'The mousse was as light and cool as a cloud,' she
He looked at her out of his great, melancholy dark
eyes. 'Of course it was,' he said scornfully, pushing
away her pitiful attempt at placation.
When she got back Rolf was pacing up and down,
purple in the face, exploding at intervals, 'Play
what? Play what? I'm a walk-on now, am I? I know
I'm getting old, but this is insulting ...'
'It's the title role,' said Max, grinning at Katrine
as she thumped the pudding down in the centre of
the table and gave him a look of 'I told you so ...'
She began to serve the soft, melting pudding, the
fruit falling out on to the plates as she did so.
Geoffrey looked at it with a rapt expression. 'Did you
make this?' He sounded incredulous.
'Before we go any further I'd better tell you I
can't cook,' said Viola carelessly. 'And I'm not going
to learn. I hate cooking and I hate food.'
Geoffrey laughed. 'We can always eat out,' he
said cheerfully, tucking into the pudding.
'You've got some cream on your nose,' Viola said,
leaning over to dab at him with her napkin.
For a second their faces were close together, their
eyes gazing into each other, and Katrine, seized by
immobility, saw with a fast-beating heart a look pass
between them which both relieved and excited her.
Even her sheltered innocence could recognise the
look of passion.
Katrine took the pudding back into the house,
aware that Geoffrey pursued it with an agonised
look. Sebby spooned it on to his clean plate.
'You nearly didn't get any,' Katrine said, laugh-
'That Geoffrey,' muttered Sebby.
'Yes, I thought he was going to snatch it away
from me. Poor him, though, married to Viola. She
eats two lettuce leaves and a glass of orange juice
and feels full up. He'll starve.'
'He can always learn to cook,' Sebby said indif-
With all his money? That isn't likely.' She began
to carry out the coffee. 'Perhaps they'll have a cook.'
Geoffrey met her at the kitchen door, almost mak-
ing her drop the tray. 'I say, is there any of that pud-
ding left?' He peered past her and saw Sebby
hurriedly eating the last mouthfuls. 'Oh ...' His
face fell. 'Is that your marvellous cook? I must con-
While he flattered Sebby, she carried the coffee
out. Max took it from her, grinning down at her. 'I
suspect Farmer has gone in to poach Sebby from
She was unalarmed. 'He's optimistic. It would
take an atom bomb to dislodge Sebby.'
Viola gave a little smile. 'Geoffrey has more to
him than you think! He can be very persuasive.'
Cleo and Rolf hooted. 'It's beyond human capa-
city to tempt Sebby from this house,' Rolf boasted.
Will you lay me ten to one?' Viola taunted.
Rolf produced a pound note and put it on the
table, smoothing it out. 'Done.'
Max laughed. 'This is a new side to you, Viola!
Your faith in your future husband is touching.'
She was unabashed. 'You'll learn to appreciate
Well, you did,' conceded Cleo, yawning. Her
eyes threw her sister an unspoken message: I can't
magine why! And Viola gave her a little grimace
in return, a shrug of her slender shoulders.
Geoffrey trailed back to them, his air of despond-
ency bringing a smile to Cleo's face. She looked at
her sister, raising a thin eyebrow.
Ten to one, you said,' Rolf murmured, rubbing
thumb and finger together in an inviting manner.
Viola looked at Geoffrey. He shook his head.
'I offered him three times what your father gives
him, but he turned me down flat.'
Rolf crowed. 'What did I tell you? Even Dodie
Alexander has never prised Sebby loose from me,
so I knew you wouldn't manage it, my boy.' He
beamed upon him. 'Not that I hold it against you
for trying! No, no.' He looked at Viola. 'Pay up, my
She paid, reluctantly, and then she and Geoffrey
left to meet some friends. Katrine poured the coffee.
The remainder of the party sat about, sleepily re-
laxed, listening to the slap slap of the river, the
whisper of the trees overhead, the far-off roar of
London traffic which sounded oddly like the sea.
Max coolly reintroduced the subject of
Man, and Rolf glared at him. Katrine got up from
her chair and stretched out upon the grass under a
tree. Sleep hung upon her lids and a drowsy sweet-
ness crept over her body. She felt oddly happy. The
sounds, scents and colours of the summer garden
seemed to mingle and become one feeling, a sensa-
tion of joy which ran through her veins and invaded
Something tickled her nose. She irritably brushed
it away, but it returned, and she opened her eyes
to find Max leaning beside her, a piece of grass in
his hand. He had been tickling her with it.
Where is everyone?' she asked in surprise, look-
ing past him at the empty patio.
Rolf has gone off to some appointment. Cleo had
to see a man about some shoes. You've been asleep.'
The heavy-lidded eyes surveyed her mockingly. 'You
look about ten years old when you're asleep. Did
Flushed and conscious of dishevelment, she sat
up. 'I must go and help Sebby. There's such a lot to
'Your father has agreed to take the role,' he
She stared. 'No! You aren't serious?'
Wait and see. It will be a critical success. A per-
fect cameo performance.'
She stared at the peaceful profile of the house, the
flat windows, ancient brickwork and stucco slum-
bering in the afternoon sunlight. 'So you'll have
both Cleo and Fra.'
'And Nicky,' he murmured. 'Surely you haven't
forgotten the adorable Nicky?'
Her cheeks burned. She avoided his watchful
stare. He saw altogether too much. 'Quite a Milford
Festival,' she said lightly.
'You must come down for the summer, too,' he
said. 'The run will last six weeks. You must take a
house. Bring Sebby.'
We'll never find one at such short notice,' she
said. 'By now they'll all be taken.'
Then you must all share mine,' he said. 'I've
taken a house there. There are five bedrooms,
plenty of room.'
Why did you take one of that size?' she asked in
'I thought it might come in useful,' he returned
evasively. 'One always has visitors at these things.'
Katrine's heart was beating so fast she wondered
if he heard it. She would be spending six weeks close
to Nicky. They might even reproduce the glorious
intimacy of last summer, the romantic evenings in
the countryside, the candlelit suppers and lazy walks
Max was watching her, his long nose wrinkled in
disgust. 'What a blatant little romantic you are 1
How did you come to be born into this armour-
plated family of yours? You're about as thick-
skinned as a soft-boiled egg.'
'Eggs have shells,' she reminded him.
'But you don't,' he said drily. 'One day you're
going to get badly hurt if you exhibit your feelings
to all and sundry in this foolish fashion!'
Will Dodie be at Cantwich?' she asked, ignoring
his previous remarks
'Yes, and sharing my house, too, so you can act as
chaperone, my child.' He gave her a cool smile, his
expression gently mocking.
'Don't call me that! ' she flared.
What? My child? It is something of an impossi-
bility, I suppose,' he drawled. 'There can only be a
matter of fifteen years between us, and although I
was of course highly precocious it didn't happen to
be in that particular direction. I was referring less
to your age, however, as to your mental develop-
ment. You're curiously retarded in some ways.'
Thanks very much,' she said bitterly.
He laughed. 'I fancy this is going to be a highly
instructive summer. What an oddly assorted collec-
tion we shall be!'
Rolf was a great deal more cheerful next morning.
He sang in his shower so loudly that their neigh-
bours banged on the wall. Since their neighbour was
a famous conductor Rolf took this as a compliment
and sang louder, driving that eminent gentleman to
a positive frenzy in which he rang the house to
scream insults down the telephone.
'I am so sorry, Signor Tossetti,' Katrine mur-
mured soothingly. `I'm afraid my father is unhappy
She thought he would take this better than a con-
fession that Rolf was ecstatic with renewal, brim-
ming with new zest.
'Unhappy?' Signor Tossetti screeched. 'I thought
he was dying! '
Over lunch Rolf delivered a beautiful impression
of Tossetti to a hysterical audience. They wept with
laughter and Rolf beamed. He had brought back
four old friends to lunch without warning Sebby,
who was sulkily clashing pans in the kitchen.
Katrine soothed him. 'You know what Fra is like.'
Thoughtless,' Sebby snapped. 'If I'd known Jack
Beale was coming I could have made Veal Napoli—
it's his favourite. But I hadn't a slice of veal in the
house. Just ham and cheese. What can you do with
'You did a beautiful soufflé,' Katrine flattered.
The best I've ever seen, and they scraped the dish
'Just as well I made two, then,' he returned, un-
moved, and took it from the oven all golden and
light as an angel's kiss.
'Fra is so happy to be working again. What is it
about him that he can't be happy even for one day
if he isn't working?'
'Some are like that,' Sebby said with a shrug.
'Your father needs the theatre. Without it he feels
empty.' He glanced at her. 'Young Nicky's the same
—a chip off the old block. Far more than Cass is-
Nicky and your father have a lot in common.'
'Do you think so?' She was taken aback. It had
never occurred to her.
Think about it,' Sebby said, almost gently.
Hello, gang,' said Viola, appearing at the door,
radiant in white jersey silk which gave a new seduc-
tion to her slight body. She had never possessed
Cleo's glowing sensuality, but to Katrine's eye she
seemed now to be transfigured with happiness into
something approaching real beauty.
She swept Katrine up to her bedroom to look at
some clothes she had just bought.
'Do you think long engagements are a good
thing?' she asked. displaying a pair of clinging green
pants with which she planned to wear a tight match-
'Depends on the people concerned,' Katrina re-
Viola sank on her bed and stared at herself in the
mirror. 'I don't see the point of waiting. Geoff and I
are quite certain. Why bother to have the full
palaver of a big wedding? Why not just a register
office and dash for it?'
Katrine sat down beside her and looked at her
thoughtfully. 'You could do that, of course, but per-
sonally I would feel cheated. Your wedding day is,
we hope, a once-in-a-lifetime day. It ought to be
something utterly fantastic. A day to remember.
Like fireworks or a circus, or the first time you see a
'Yes,' Viola said slowly. 'Perhaps you're right. But
it will take weeks to arrange everything. All that
work, all those plans. Decisions, decisions ... What
hymns to have. What flowers. What bridesmaids.
'But it only happens once in your whole life,' said
Katrine. 'Think of first nights The excitement, the
The pain in your stomach,' added Viola wryly.
m always sick on first nights. I get migraine for
twelve hours beforehand, then I'm sick just before
Katrine was amazed. 'I never knew that!' She
stared at her sister.
Why should you? I didn't broadcast the fact. I
found it utterly shaming, to tell you the truth.'
Katrine looked at her; the shrewd, slanting eyes,
the clever bright mouth, the feathery curls. Behind
the vivid surface another Viola had existed all this
time, and Katrine had never even known it. Now,
suddenly, she was beginning to find out these things
about her, as if Viola had suddenly let down the veil
between them, exposing her true self to her sister.
Just as Viola was about to marry and go away,
Katrine began to feel she could grow very fond of
her. What a waste, she thought. Of course, Viola
was much older than her. They had always been
separated by those years. Viola had always been sev-
eral steps ahead.
Is she still far ahead, or am I catching up at last?
She looked at her sister with wistful eyes. 'You don't
need to worry about the work,' she told her. `Sebby
and I will see to it.'
Viola laughed. 'Has anyone ever told you you're
an angel? We'll all pull together, I promise. I shan't
shirk. If Geoff and I must go through the ritual then
we'll do it properly.' She stood to sardonic attention,
half serious, half joking. 'Ours not to reason why,
ours but to do and die ...'
Or die,' corrected Katrine.
Viola laughed. 'There speaks a true Milford! I
fluffed it! How utterly shameful! Fra would cast
me off if he knew '
Katrine got out her diary. 'Let's see about dates.
It certainly can't come off until autumn because of
this wretched Festival. We must consult the Vicar.
Where did you think of having it? I suppose St
George's. We were all christened there.'
'I'll ring and see if I can fix a date with him,'
Viola promised. 'We don't need to worry about
Geoff, thank God. He never does anything much at
weekends, just plays golf and goes to parties. My
revue closes in five weeks and I shall be free.'
They narrowed it down to a string of possible
dates, and then left it, since they could get no fur-
ther without consulting the Vicar of St George's,
their parish church.
'I do hope I shan't
sick on this first night,' Viola
said, half laughing, half desperate. 'Poor Geoff other-
'Geoff looks to me like a man who's just won the
football pools,' Katrine said frankly. 'He couldn't
look happier if he tried.'
Viola laughed. 'He is rather obvious, poor dar-
ling.' She gave Katrine a grin. 'I'm fairly contented
'I had noticed,' Katrine nodded.
They both laughed. Viola gave Katrine a quick
pat on the hand. 'You know, we could be very good
friends,' she said, half shyly.
'Yes,' said Katrine simply, smiling back. 'And I'm
Cantwich Festival was to begin in August. It
was now late May and the publicity machine had
long been at work, grinding out posters and leaflets,
but the stars who were to appear in the two plays
had not been announced, although some names had
been whispered around the theatre world. When the
news broke that Rolf Milford was to play the small,
if symbolically important, role of the Button Man,
there was considerable interest. Rolf Milford was
one of the old school of theatrical stars, and for him
to take such a minor role was something of a de-
'Of course he has been branching out lately,'
Viola reminded her sisters one evening. 'He took
that black comedy part. That surprised me. But he
was still the big cheese in that. How did Max man-
age to talk him into it?'
'Oh, quite a charmer when he likes, our Max,'
Cleo murmured, lounging against the cushions on
Katrine collected their coffee cups and set off for
the kitchen. She was not eager to listen to a discus-
sion of Max Neilson's charm. She doubted if he had
Sebby was washing up, staring at nothing. 'If the
rest of us are to be down at Cantwich, what about
Cass and Viola?'
'They'll stay here,' she said easily, picking up a
tea towel and beginning to wipe up. 'It'll be a
chance for her to practise being a housewife.'
What, Viola? She's never done a hand's turn
around here,' said Sebby with scorn. 'God knows
what the place would look like when we got back.'
'Give her a chance,' Katrine said gently.
When approached, Viola was oddly taken aback.
'I suppose I could do it,' she said doubtfully. 'I sup-
pose I'll have to run the house when I'm married.'
She laughed, flushing. 'I'll do my best, anyway.
Katrine, could you give a few tips? I'd hate to ask
Sebby. He's so scornful.'
They spent the next Sunday together. Katrine
drew up a list of jobs which ought to be done daily
or weekly; how to parcel up the laundry, how to
clean the windows and so on. Viola listened with a
comical, despairing expression.
What a lot of things there are to do,' she moaned.
'How do you ever get it all done?'
'It gets done somehow,' assured Katrine. `So long
as you keep the glass and china dusted, the windows
clean and the carpets vacuumed, things should look
quite good. These other jobs are important, too.'
She read out the list. 'Really, it's just a question of
drudgery rather than skill. It will give you an in-
sight into how the house is run, though, and when
you're married you will know what you're doing
instead of being at a loss.'
Viola gave her a grimace. 'Do you want to bet on
that? You and Sebby obviously work like slaves. I
had no idea there was so much to running a house.'
A few days later they packed a dozen suitcases
into the very capacious boot of Rolf's Roll's-Royce
and set off for Cantwich. Cleo was cross and sleepy.
The early morning was never her best time of day,
and she had rather foolishly gone to a party the night
before, so her eyes were red with lack of sleep and
her mouth turned down at the edges.
Katrine had gone into Viola's bedroom to give her
the keys. Viola had been lying, wakeful, against her
lilac sheets, her blonde curls as always incredibly
unruffled by the night.
m nervous,' she told Katrine. 'I feel the way I
do before a first night. There are butterflies in my
`You'll sail through it,' Katrine promised her.
Viola had invited Geoffrey to dinner for that even-
ing, and Katrine had shown her how to make
omelettes. They were to have hors d'oeuvres to start
with and a caramel creme to follow. It was a simple
meal, but Viola was certain some disaster would
Reassuring her, Katrine suddenly heard Rolf bel-
lowing crossly in the hall, 'Are you coming, girl?'
She had given Viola a hug and fled. As they drove
away in the grey morning light she looked back and
saw Viola waving from her window, a forlorn little
hand unattached, it seemed, to any face.
'I hope you know what you're doing,' Sebby ob-
served heavily. 'I hope my kitchen is still in one
piece when I get back.'
`Viola will soon pick it up,' Katrine insisted.
Cleo yawned. 'You and Viola are very thick lately
—she makes a laughable little housewife. I can't
think why she bothers. Geoff can afford to pay some-
one to do it for her.'
Katrine gave her a cool glance. 'It matters to
Viola that she should be able to run her own house
once she's married. The days of servants and ladies
of leisure are over.'
Cleo looked sideways at Sebby, her smile mali-
cious. 'Present company excepted.'
Sebby's thin face grew ferocious. `I'm not a ser-
vant,' he said indignantly. `So watch your tongue,
Katrine was astounded. 'Cleo, that was a very
nasty thing to say. Sebby's one of the family! Good
heavens, I don't think you could have said anything
nastier if you'd tried for a hundred years.'
Rolf, dragged from his half-tranced absorption in
the traffic, gave Cleo an irate glare. 'I agree! Sheath
those claws of yours! '
Sulkily, Cleo lounged back, her lids lowered in a
pretence of sleep.
Cantwich was a mellow backwater, sleeping in
the Kentish countryside today as it had done for
centuries, almost unchanged since the days of Pascal
There was one long, meandering main street
called The High, from which, as from a river, tribu-
taries ran in the shape of winding little alleys
crammed with small shops and tiny cottages. Half-
way down The High widened out into an irregular
square in the centre of which stood a market cross
around which the traffic flowed in three directions.
There were public houses at regular intervals, with
gay signs swinging over their doors; a handful of
cafes mainly catering for the tourists and slightly de-
caying Assembly Room, with a cream-painted por-
tico and elegant Georgian windows.
My God, it's the back of beyond,' said Cleo, star-
ing about as they drove down the High.
'I think it's charming,' Katrine said gently. `Do
look at the Assembly Rooms, Cleo. Isn't it marvel-
lous? Can't you imagine girls in high-waisted Jane
Austen dresses going inside to dance by candlelight
with elegant young men? Things were so much
more romantic in those days.'
`You're mad,' Cleo said, giving her a disgusted
look. 'What's romantic about a time when there
was no sanitation to speak of, when the only music
was slow and boring, when girls had to have chape-
rones and were looked on as fast if they enjoyed
themselves talking to young men? Give me the
twentieth century every time. I like having a good
time, thank you! '
'I must say I agree,' Rolf nodded. 'I've never hank-
ered to live in any other time but our own.'
They took a right-hand fork leading out of the
town, drove along a hawthorn-bordered lane and
turned left at the next junction. The house which
Max Neilson had leased for the summer lay half
way along a narrow lane. There were no other build-
ings in sight. A rawboned cob stood in a paddock
next to the house, chewing slowly and thoughtfully
at the grass. Buttercups and daisies gave a brightness
to the unmown field.
The house was clearly of the same general age as
the Assembly Rooms, possibly even built by the
same architect. A long, stucco front with the usual
well proportioned windows, a smaller version of the
pillared portico, with a very handsome front door
ornamented by a lion's head knocker which gleamed
brassily as they arrived.
Rolf hooted, the well-bred little hoot which the
Rolls made. Then round the corner of the house
strolled Dodie Alexander and Max Neilson, casually
dressed in slacks and loose shirts.
'There you are,' Max drawled. 'Come and join us
in the garden. We're having tea.'
We had an early lunch on our way down,' said
Rolf. 'I'm starving again. I hope your notion of tea
is quite generous.'
`Dodie got it ready,' Max said.
'Sandwiches, cake and ice-cream,' Dodie told
Sebby was unpacking the cases. Cleo languidly
climbed out of the car and gave Dodie a swift, sum-
ming up look. 'Could I see my room? I'm exhausted.
Car journeys are so tiring. I need to wash, change.'
`I'll show you,' said Dodie, her amusement thinly
veiled. She grinned at Katrine. `Katya, my darling!
I'm happy you are here. Max, take the child and
feed her. She is pale.'
He took Katrine's arm. 'Come along, Katya,' he
said with irritating mock-solemnity.
'I don't need to be taken,' she said, pulling free.
'I must help Sebby, anyway.'
Sebby, however, was in one of his remote moods.
'I don't need any help, miss,' he said.
'There you are,' Max told her teasingly.
Rolf had already shot off to find the food. Katrine
looked uneasily at Sebby. Was he sulking because
Cleo had called him a servant? He could take things
to heart sometimes. She knew he was touchy on the
subject of status.
Max calmly resumed possession of her arm, look-
ing down at her out of those heavy-lidded eyes.
'Do as you're told, child. Sebby doesn't want you
at the moment. He's going to prowl about and learn
the lie of the land, aren't you, Sebby?'
Sebby had stacked the cases neatly under the
portico. He gave Max one of his inscrutable looks.
'That's right, sir.' His tone was bland.
Max grinned at him. 'We'll get out from under
your feet, then. Come along, Katya.'
She obeyed reluctantly, and Max gave her a dry
smile. 'Look less like an early Christian martyr, my
child. I'm beginning to think you don't like me.'
She opened wide, innocent eyes. 'What makes you
He laughed. 'What, indeed?'
The tea was laid out in the garden, picnic style,
on a rough cane table beside which stood two chairs.
Rolf sat in one, eating tomato and cucumber sand-
wiches greedily. He waved to them.
'This lemonade is delicious. Did Dodie make it?'
'No,' said Max, 'I did. My grandmother taught
me.' He looked at Katrine, smiling. 'I'll show you
some time. You use both lemons and oranges. The
orange is to sweeten the juice.' There were wafer-
thin slices of orange floating in the green glass jug.
Rolf poured a glass for her and Katrine drank
thirstily. It was delicious.
Max stretched out on the grass, shading his eyes
with one lean hand, while Rolf and Katrine sat at
the table eating. There was a blackbird on the
chimney, pouring out music, and the sun was hot on
Katrine's shoulders. She nibbled at the sandwiches
without real relish. For some reason Max's unmov-
ing figure was distracting her mind from other mat-
ters. She watched him secretly from beneath lowered
lashes. He was long and lean, his shirt collar open at
the brown throat, his dark hair ruffled by a slight
breeze which blew gently across the grass. Even in
repose he commanded attention. She could only see
half of his face. His eyes were hidden by the curve
of his hand. Below his thin, strong fingers showed
that bony nose and the firm, yet mocking mouth,
now relaxed in repose. Jaw and cheekbones were
tough enough to draw questioning attention to the
amusement he so often displayed in his lazy eyes.
Was he really the lazily indifferent man he usually
pretended to be?
His features were contradictory, puzzling. Katrine
took a small almond cake and bit into it negligently.
Rolf pushed back his chair and stood up.
'I'll go and find out what's keeping Cleo and
Dodie,' he said.
The silence when he had gone seemed to oppress
Katrine's spirits. She decided to follow him, but
when she stood up Max opened his eyes and low-
ered the hand which had shielded his face. 'I want
to talk to you,' he said in tones at once light and de-
She waited, shifting from one foot to another, like
a child about to
'Sit down here,' Max ordered, patting the grass
beside him in a way which brooked no refusal.
She looked at him, flushed and indignant, on the
point of refusing, but something about his gaze
made her obey. She oddly had the feeling that he
had half hoped she
refuse---she fancied he
had intended some form of reprisal if she did. But
when she meekly sat down, he grinned.
'There's a good girl! ' The tone was derisory, and
she lifted her chin in defiance.
'I ought to go and help Sebby.'
He ignored this faint defiance. 'Why did you stay
at home all these years? Why not a career?'
'I didn't want one,' she said.
He raised a quizzical eyebrow. 'No ambition at
all? Odd in a Milford.'
`I'm an odd Milford,' she said, hot-cheeked. How
dared he question her like this? 'What right did he
think he had?
He studied her oddly. `So you are,' he murmured.
Well, your domestic talents will not be needed
here. The owner provides a cleaning woman on
weekday mornings, and Sebby can do the rest. I've
got a different job for you.'
She glared at him. 'Oh, have you? We'll have to
consult my father about that.'
Oh, Rolf has already agreed,' he said easily.
Well, I haven't,' she said. 'What is this job? Why
should I want to work for you?'
'I need an assistant down at the theatre,' he told
her calmly. `To run errands and so on—even you
can do that, surely!'
She went pale. 'No,' she said flatly. 'Oh, no.'
His eyes narrowed on her suddenly white face.
`You look as if you're going to faint. What is it?'
Nothing,' she said, jumping up. 'But I can't work
for you, Mr Neilson. I'm sorry. I prefer to continue
as I am ...'
He leapt to his feet and tried to catch her hand,
but she had already turned in flight, and soon she
was out of sight. Max Neilson stood, watching her,
his hands now thrust deep into his pockets. A look
of odd excitement kindled on his usually remote
face. His grey eyes were intently fixed on the house
into which Katrine had now vanished.
She had fully expected Sebby's backing, but to her
surprise and dismay he was irritatingly complacent
about Max Neilson's suggestion.
Why not? Be fun for you.' He had continued to
peer into cupboards, sniffing lugubriously. 'Mould
in there, I shouldn't wonder. Needs a good scrub-
out with soda.'
'I'll do it,' she offered.
'Later will do,' he shrugged.
'Sebby, I don't want to work down at the theatre,'
she said, a little huskily.
Nothing for you to do here,' he said.
'But you all said there would be a lot of work
running this house,' she protested. 'You can't do it
He gave her an indignant look. 'Who can't? I'm
not helpless, young lady! I could do this standing
on my head.'
She helplessly left him prowling about, and went
to find her father. However, he was just as bad.
'I think Max is right,' he said jovially. 'An excel-
lent idea. Great fun for you, seeing how we all
work, and useful for us to have you around. Always
too much work to be done on these rush jobs.
Amateurs everywhere, getting under our feet. En-
thusiastic souls, of course, but rank amateurs!' He
was unpacking his shirts and hanging them in the
wardrobe. She took them from him with something
of a snatching movement and said, 'Sit down, Fra.
I'll do this.'
He watched her complacently. She hung his shirts
up, shaking the faint creases out of them with a
practised flick of the wrist. He smiled as she turned
back towards him. Oh, yes, she thought triumph-
antly—he could do without my help! What a silly
idea ! He can't even hang his shirts up properly.
'There you are,' he said, smiling. 'You can look
after my clothes in the theatre.'
Why do you and Max want me down there, Fra?'
she asked him point blank.
Rolf looked rather evasively at her. 'Don't we al-
ways want you around, darling?' He started to pull
ties out of his case. She took them and began to hang
them up, too.
Clearly she was not going to get any answers from
her father. Indeed, she knew very well that she must
go to Max for an answer. This she was reluctant to
do, for reasons she preferred not to think about.
Over supper Rolf eagerly questioned Max about
the production. He had once met Pascal Flint, when
he was a boy and the old playwright was already a
myth in his own lifetime. 'I saw this play when I was
ten years old,' he confided to Max. 'Flint was pre-
sent. He sat in the front row, growling like a bear
with a sore head. Drunken old reprobate!'
Max told him that the cast were very young, very
enthusiastic. 'They'll work like mad,' he nodded.
'Although they're so young they've all had experi-
ence. Professionals to their fingertips.'
Rolf was undisturbed by the news that the cast
were so young. His golden confidence was un-
broken. Katrine, watching him, was moved to see
how little he felt the passing of the years, how much
he relied upon his own untapped reserves of energy.
He leaned back in his chair, relaxed and smiling,
wearing a sort of radiance in his still handsome face.
In his twenties he had been the toast of London, a
matinee idol, regarded by the critics as a young actor
of great promise but by his female audiences as a
That dazzling beauty had passed long since. He
had matured into a distinguished, attractive man.
On stage, in make-up, he was still at a distance
handsome enough to stop the heart.
'Tomorrow we'll drive down to the theatre,' Max
'Good,' Rolf beamed, satisfied both by this news
and by the meal he had just consumed with every
evidence of enjoyment. 'I think I shall enjoy this
country living, my boy. Peace, quiet, good food ...
When do rehearsals start?'
Max grinned. 'The sooner the peace stops the
better, eh? Well, I thought we would have a casual
chat together in the theatre bar tomorrow. I called
the whole cast for ten o'clock. We'll discuss things
for an hour, then have a break for drinks.'
Rolf laughed. 'That's what I call a splendid
scheme. You're a director after my own heart, Max.'
He gave him a thoughtful look. 'We're using an un-
cut text, I hope?'
Max eyed him wryly. 'That's a subject we'll dis-
cuss tomorrow, Rolf. No shop talk now.' He glanced
at Katrine. 'You can drive down with us, Katya.'
Dodie, who had been silent during the talk so far,
looked up. Cleo opened her huge eyes in astonish-
`Katrine?' she asked, her inflection incredulous.
Rolf looked vague. 'Yes, I've decided she can make
herself useful down at the theatre.'
'You've decided,' Cleo drawled, eyeing Max in-
He gave her one of his bland smiles. 'Your father
thinks Katrine spends too much time shut up at
home. She ought to find out what being a Milford
'Fra must have changed his mind lately,' Cleo ob-
served. 'He always said Katrine wasn't meant for the
Rolf restlessly moved away. 'I can change my
mind, I suppose, can't I?' He looked at Dodie im-
ploringly. 'How about a game of chess?'
She smiled encouragingly at him, her great dark
eyes warm. 'That would be very enjoyable, darling.'
What are you up to, Max?' Cleo asked him, when
her father and Dodie had gone.
He looked mildly at her. 'I don't understand. Why
should I be up to anything?'
Cleo was not to be shaken off. 'You know quite
well that Fra has always been happy to keep Katrine
at home. Why should he suddenly want her to get
involved in show business? It is either your idea
or ...' She stared at the door with narrowed eyes.
'Or what?' Max asked softly.
Or dear, darling Dodie's,' said Cleo, her lips
thinning. 'But why should Dodie Alexander take
such a close interest in my little sister?'
'Dodie is very fond of Katya,' said Max.
`Don't call her that! ' Cleo snapped.
Katrine, who had been silent throughout this ex-
change, looked up in baffled surprise at the sudden
sharpness of Cleo's voice. Cleo, catching the expres-
sion on her sister's expressive little face, grinned rue-
m a bit on edge,' she explained. 'Max, do you
think I can handle this part?'
He gave a faintly amused look to her. 'You can
do it on your head, my girl,' he said gently. 'Why
else do you think I asked you to do it?'
m not too certain about her character,' Cleo
sighed. 'Is she really a bitch, or am I imagining it?
Is she meant to be tough on the outside, but with a
heart of gold?'
We can discuss all that in rehearsals,' said Max.
'You know my methods, Watson. I like to have a
free-for-all discussion about the play before we get
down to close analysis of each individual character.
A play is a unit. Each character is a thread woven
into the general pattern of the cloth.'
How intellectual you are, darling,' Cleo mur-
mured, stretching her arms above her head in a
smothered yawn. She was wearing a simple white
tunic which perfectly offset her golden tan and the
red-gold hair which fell around her lovely face. As
she moved the jersey silk stretched, outlining her
slender body. Max's eyes admired the movement
openly, a little smile on his mouth.
Cleo smiled back, well satisfied by the look he had
given her. 'It's a gorgeous evening. I'm eager to stroll
around the garden. Coming?'
Why not?' Max stood up, took her extended
hand and pulled her to her feet in a jerk which
brought her close to him, her eyes gazing into his.
Katrine went out to Sebby, indignant. 'Everyone
is determined to make me work down at the theatre!'
'I don't know what your objection is,' Sebby
grunted. 'Most girls of your age would love to spend
a few weeks working with great stars of the theatre.'
Katrine bit her lip. 'I'm not most girls.'
What's your objection?' Sebby asked, point
'Do you think I want to hang around there, hav-
ing everyone look at me in disbelief when they find
out I'm a Milford, one of the Magnificent Milfords,
the beautiful Milfords?' She was dark red, her eyes
blazing. 'All my life I've been forced to see myself in
other people's eyes, see their faces when they hear
my name. I'm plain—worse still, I have no talents.
m a disappointment to my father and an embar-
rassment to my sisters. Now, for some whim of Max
Neilson's, my father is trying to make me go through
all that again, when I'd made a niche for myself at
home.' She ended up on a gasp which was half a sob.
Sebby handed her a tea towel, patted her gently
on the shoulder. 'Come, no tears I Dry your eyes and
then dry up the supper things. I'll speak to Max
'You won't tell him what I've just said?' she
'Of course not,' Sebby rebuked her.
The door opened and Dodie Alexander came in,
laughing. She gave them both a warm look of plea-
sure. 'How nice it is to have you here, Katya love.'
Sebby hurried to pull out a kitchen chair for her,
plumping up a patchwork cushion for her back.
Madame ...' he invited with a ceremonious half
wave, half bow.
She sat down, graceful as a queen, smiling up at
him. 'Oh, Sebby, I have come in search of coffee ...
I have just allowed Rolf to beat me at chess, and the
exertion of not winning has quite dehydrated me!'
Sebby hurried to make fresh coffee, delighted to
do something for his goddess. Ever since Katrine
could remember, Sebby had been Dodie's devoted
slave. It was something of a family joke, kindly
meant, for they were all fond of both Sebby and
The kitchen was capacious, stone-flagged, with a
very old cottage-style door with an old iron latch. It
had been modernised, recently, and had all the de-
sired conveniences of the time, even to a deep-
freezer and a dishwasher, but Sebby had no faith in
the latter machine, since he liked to wash good china
by hand and was quite superstitiously afraid that
the machine might break his precious bone china.
Floral chintz hung at the window, a dark Welsh
dresser stood in a corner and Sebby had already
arranged some yellow roses in a green glass vase for
the kitchen table.
Dodie patted the chair beside her. 'Come and talk
to me, Katya.'
Katrine obeyed, smilingly. Dodie always exuded a
delightful perfume, the familiar scent she had al-
ways worn since Katrine could remember. It was
light, summery, intimate. In its gaiety and sweetness
it was typical of Dodie herself. Looking at her,
Katrine felt a great affection for her.
`Your father tells me you do not want to come to
the theatre to watch us at work,' Dodie said softly.
Katrine felt herself flush. 'No,' she said huskily.
Why not, my dear?' Dodie's dark eyes searched
Katrine swallowed. 'I ... I'm not happy when I'm
in the theatre,' she almost whispered.
Dodie nodded, almost as if it was the answer she
had expected. 'You feel you do not belong there?'
Katrine nodded. 'Yes ... yes, that's it.'
Why is that, do you think?' Dodie asked, very
gently, still watching the girl intently.
'I don't know.'
'Are you sure?' Dodie put a hand on Katrine's,
patting it. 'I think I might be able to guess, my
dear.' She spoke softly, lovingly. 'You are too sensi-
tive about the fact that you are not as lovely as your
two sisters, that you do not have their confidence
and ability to over-awe young men on first sight.
Beauty is not necessarily the passport to achieve-
ment, you know. All actresses are not raving beau-
ties.' She laughed wryly. 'I am no beauty myself.'
Oh, you,' said Katrine, shrugging.
Dodie laughed again. 'What does that mean, that
`You're a superb actress,' Katrine said shyly. 'You
know you are. You didn't need to be beautiful.'
Quietly, Dodie asked, 'Did you feel you needed to
be beautiful, my Katya?'
Katrine went pink, did not answer.
When you were small, did you suffer much from
your lack of beauty?' Dodie probed very gently,
watching her all the time. 'Did you feel rejected, a
failure, because you were not one of the golden
`Fra called me a changeling,' Katrine burst out
`Ah,' sighed Dodie. 'Your father has always said
more than he meant.'
Sebby brought them both coffee, discreetly with-
drew again, a watchful listening presence in the
`You will talk to Fra,' begged Katrine. 'Persuade
him to give up this idea? I'm sure it was Max Neil-
son's idea in the first place. It would be just like
Dodie gave her a secretive look. 'I tell you what I
will do,' she murmured. 'I will take you into Great
Graceham tomorrow—there is a fascinating little
boutique there. I found it last week. The woman
who runs it makes the clothes herself, or designs
them and has them made on the premises, I forget
which. She has some extraordinary models in stock.
You're a thin little thing, you must be stock size.
We'll see what we can do with you. All you need is
to be taken in hand.'
Katrine was bewildered. 'But you will talk to Fra
and Max Neilson?'
Dodie patted her cheek. 'Will you promise me to
be patient? Tomorrow afternoon, after lunch, I'll
take you to the boutique. But in the morning you
must come down to the theatre, as Rolf wants it. In
the evening, we'll talk to your father together. How's
Katrine hesitated, then said, 'Oh, yes, I suppose
that will do.'
'Then smile,' Dodie teased.
Katrine managed a little smile and was given a
kiss as a reward. Sebby beamed upon her approv-
ingly and refilled their coffee cups.
Cantwich Theatre had once been a corn mill.
It stood beside the River Durdle among newly laid
down lawns. Whitewashed, simple and functional
it had a peculiar, unique charm. The Festival Com-
mittee had turned the old mill into a theatre be-
cause it was a way of killing two birds with one
stone. The mill had had a preservation order im-
posed upon it, and the idea of the Festival had been
mooted at the same time, and some great brain had
come up with the idea of dealing with both prob-
lems in one move.
The exterior had been left almost untouched,
apart from necessary repair work and painting. In-
side, however, it was a different story.
They had reduced the interior to a shell, then
built a 'thrust' stage so that the actors could move
out among the audience on the raised level. The
seats were built around the stage in a semi-circle. It
was a small, intimate little theatre so designed that
it could be used for a multitude of purposes from
amateur dramatics to pop concerts.
A small restaurant had been built beside the
Mill Theatre. The building was carefully designed
to match its surroundings. The inevitable car park
spoiled some of the charm of the area, to Katrine's
way of thinking, but she supposed it was inescap-
able in these motor-car-orientated days.
Max drove them down. Rolf had already taken
Dodie in his Rolls, leaving Katrine and Cleo to ac-
Cleo wore thin white cotton jeans and sleeveless
top. She looked cool, elegant and casual. Katrine
wore a neat navy blue skirt with a white shirt blouse.
Beside her beautiful sister she looked like a school-
girl, and Max's mocking gaze told her as much.
The theatre bar was attached to the restaurant. It
ran in a half-moon along the riverside, the windows
looking out upon the cool green waters.
The bar was crowded with young men and girls
in jeans. They all stopped talking as Rolf, Dodie
and the others made their entrance. Rolf and Dodie
had stopped en route to pick up a parcel from the
railway station. Dodie had been expecting some
shoes from London for days and they had just ar-
rived in time for the first rehearsal. Dodie had a pas-
sion for expensive footwear. Her tiny, elegant feet
were never crammed into ordinary factory manu-
factured shoes. She had her shoes hand-made in Lon-
don at incredible prices.
The newcomers paused, instinctively, while the
rest of the cast looked at them.
Rolf switched on his most charming smile. He
glanced around the young crowd. 'Good morning,
everyone! So sorry we're late! Bad form, being late
for first rehearsal.' He looked penitent, as if he
might at any moment assume sackcloth and ashes.
Everyone laughed and murmured deprecatingly.
Max took Katrine's arm. 'Stay with me. I may
need you.' He pushed his way through the crowd
and pulled himself up on the bar so that everyone
could see him.
'Good morning, everyone!' He looked round
their upturned faces. 'Are we all here?' He glanced
down at Katrine. 'Will you count them?' he asked
her in businesslike tones.
She climbed up on the bar too and carefully
counted heads. Among them she recognised Nicky.
He looked at her in surprise and winked. She
'Twenty-five,' she whispered to Max.
'Good. Everybody's here.' He handed her a typed
list. 'Go round now and check the names off on this
list. Try to memorise their faces so that you'll know
them next time you see them.'
She slid down and obediently began to check the
list. Some of the faces were already well known. She
exchanged light courtesies and nods here and there.
When she came to Nicky he looked at her from
under his thick light lashes.
'Hello, sweetie. Since when were you Max Neil-
'Since this morning,' she said lightly.
'Rather you than me. He can be a bastard.' Nicky
spoke with unusual vehemence.
`You don't like him?' She sounded more surprised
than she was, considering her own opinion of Max.
'Does anyone except Dodie Alexander? Is it true
that they plan to get married while they're down
Katrine shrugged. 'How should I know? I'm not
in their confidence.'
Nicky nodded. 'Your opinion of Max Neilson was
always pretty low, I seem to recall, but you liked
'I still do,' she agreed. `Dodie is kindness itself,
especially to young actors. She always tries to put
them at their ease.' She glanced across the room at
where Dodie stood, surrounded by an eager crowd
of young people all competing for her attention.
Dodie looked tenderly amused, listening with an un-
feigned interest to their excited talk about the pro-
duction in rehearsal. Although she had been at the
top for so long, Dodie retained an enormous en-
thusiasm and zest for her profession. Shop talk was
as fascinating to her now as it was to these young
beginners on the ladder of success.
Nicky's gaze followed Katrine's, and at that mo-
ment a girl turned and looked at them briefly. She
was pretty; tall with long chestnut hair and hazel
eyes. Her skin was glowingly healthy.
Noticing the resentment in those hazel eyes,
Katrine looked up at Nicky inquiringly.
He grimaced at her, half shrugging, with a look of
`Problems, Nicky?' Katrine asked huskily. She
could guess why the other girl was glaring at them.
`Pauline is playing Mary-Ann in
Nicky lamely explained. 'I've been seeing a bit of
her—you know how it is.'
'I know,' Katrine said. She moved on with a polite
nod. She had to get away before Nicky saw the pain
in her face. There was no earthly reason why Nicky
shouldn't take another girl out. There had never
been anything other than light flirtation between
them, and Nicky had made her no promises. For her
own self-respect she must hide how much it hurt.
When she returned to Max he took the list,
glanced down and nodded. The heavy-lidded eyes
were alarmingly perceptive. She looked away from
their probing intelligence.
He already knew far too much about her, she
thought. She thoroughly disliked men of his kid-
ney—arrogant, interfering, omniscient men who
brooked no clash with their view of their own
Everyone found a seat. Some of the girls curled up
on the wooden parquet floor, like kittens, bright-
eyed and curious. Some of the young men perched
on the bar. Max leaned against a chair and looked
round at their faces, his eyes intent.
He talked to them coolly about Pascal Flint's life
and work, his place in the English theatre, his place
in world theatre.
We're going to attract tourists from all over the
world. This production has got to be first-class. I
want no unprofessional behaviour, no lightweights.
We're here to work, to learn, to extend ourselves ...'
Katrine was looking at the charcoal sketch of the
playwright hanging over the bar. She recognised it
easily enough. It had been done by Augustus John.
A few swift strokes and a strong, dominant person-
ality looked out at you from the white page. Pascal
Flint had not been an easy man to know. He had
been wild, unpredictable and impossible for his
friends. But he had been a genius, too, and it was
the genius who had been captured in this sketch.
There was rough power in the tilt of the head, the
line of the mouth.
Max went on to talk about the two plays which
had been the basis for Flint's lasting acclaim.
Katrine heard him talking about
heard him pause to ask her father something, heard
her father humbly answer, with a suitably modest
Max listened gravely. The young faces looked at
the great Rolf Milford and were impressed by his
Max turned and looked down at Katrine. His
bony nose and lazy eyes were expressionless, yet she
discerned a sardonic amusement hidden somewhere
behind the mask of his features.
Anyone who really knew Rolf would have been
amused to see him playing to the gallery like this.
Later, as they drove back to the house, Max mur-
mured to her, 'Rolf assumes a virtue though he has
it not ...' misquoting wittily with a slight smile.
The first rehearsal had been a social occasion, 'a
talk-in', as Max had called it, designed chiefly to
weld the two diverse elements of the casts together
—the famous stars, trailing their clouds of glory,
with the eager young unknowns who were to form
the sound repertory base for the season.
It had been necessary to make it clear that hard
work was to be the order of the day for everyone.
He's a tartar,' someone had said happily as they
left. They had been left under no illusions. Max was
going to drive them hard.
He had invited discussions on the texts, assured
them all that he believed in full participation by the
cast, yet for all that he had listened seriously to what
even the newest member of the cast had to say, there
had never been in their minds a doubt as to who
would be the arbiter in any argument. Max's
authority rested upon his own personality. His cool,
mmovable voice commanded instant attention.
I loathe and detest him, Katrine thought resent-
fully. For her the morning had been humiliating.
She had lost count of the number of times she had
been made aware of her complete contrast to her
sisters—not once but half a dozen times someone
had said, 'You're one of the Milfords?' And the in-
credulity had stung. Her mirror had told her from
her earliest years what those voices had underlined.
She was thin, pale and dark—a changeling in the
golden Milford family, a natural outsider.
I will not go down there again, she decided
grimly. When they got back Sebby was waiting,
lunch exactly and perfectly timed for their arrival.
He had made Rolf's favourite consomme, followed
by steak and salad, followed by strawberry meringue
and cream. Over lunch everyone talked. Katrine
nibbled at her food, pushing her steak about with a
faint grimace of distaste. She was not a bit hungry.
We'll leave for the boutique in an hour,' Dodie
told her as they drank their coffee. 'I must take my
nap first.' She smiled wryly. 'I am getting old and
I need a regular pattern of sleep.'
Rolf looked at her placidly. 'Darling Dodie, if you
are getting old, I must be in my dotage.'
Max darling,' drawled Cleo, 'come and sunbathe
in the garden with me ...'
`Later,' Max told her. 'I want a word with your
Cleo looked from him to Katrine. 'Very well,' she
said, tossing back her red-gold hair with a petulant
Katrine went into the kitchen to see if Sebby
needed any help, but he had already washed up and
vanished. He had become rather remote since they
arrived. Katrine suspected Sebby of communing
with nature. He was a Londoner by conviction as
well as by circumstance, but every now and then he
grew sentimental about the countryside and enjoyed
a few hours of peace away from town. It never lasted
long. Like most infatuations it was violent, but brief.
Max followed her into the room and stood in the
doorway, looking irritatingly reposed as he leaned
in the angle of door and wall.
`So did your morning in the theatre fulfil all your
worst expectations?' he asked sardonically.
She mutinously refused to reply, her face locked
against his probing eyes. He should not see how bit-
terly she resented her position in the family. Her
instinct was to lick her wounds in privacy, and Max
was the last person she wanted to observe her at
'You stubborn little idiot,' he said, suddenly, on a
very uncharacteristic note of infuriated warmth.
Hasn't anyone ever told you what a superb voice
you've got locked away in that throat of yours?'
She turned, pink and startled. 'What?' He had
taken her utterly by surprise.
He laughed at her expression of disbelief and be-
wilderment. 'My good girl, I can see you've never
heard yourself! Come upstairs with me ...'
She stood, rooted to the spot. 'Why?'
'I am not planning seduction in my bedroom, if
that's what's in that suspicious little head of yours,'
he retorted irritably. 'I have a tape recorder up-
She looked at him incredulously. 'You want to
make a recording of me?'
He was silent, nodding at her. Katrine swallowed.
He was quite serious! After a moment, she said
stammeringly, 'No, I couldn't ... Anyway, I've got
to go to this boutique with Dodie.'
Dodie appeared behind Max, smiled at them both
mpartially, in a motherly way. 'I was too excited to
sleep for long. My mental discipline is obviously
slipping! But I might as well use the time. Are you
ready, Katya my dear?'
Relieved, Katrine nodded. Max stood aside, grim
and faintly mocking. 'The subject is only shelved,
Katya my dear,' he drawled in pointed mimicry. 'I'll
come back to it later.'
She gave him a hunted glance and fled.
Dodie was curious, but tactful. 'You and Max
have a strange relationship,' she hinted gently, as
they drove through the peaceful ountryside. 'He is a
genius, in his way, you know.'
He has all the makings of a petty dictator,' said
Katrine with bitter emphasis.
Dodie laughed gently. 'Be careful, my dear. Max
is quite ruthless. He always gets what he wants.'
For some reason which Katrine dared not analyse,
this remark brought a bright flush to her face. Dodie
laughed again, but made no other comment.
The boutique was located in a back street, but the
unprepossessing exterior was misleading. Only one
dress was arranged in the tiny window, a striped
black and white evening dress with a high, frilled
neckline at the front giving a demure appearance
very much belied by the plunging back, cut to the
waist in a dramatic scoop.
The woman who owned the shop served them.
Dodie and she conferred discreetly, eyeing Katrine
in a way which made her very nervous.
Soon she found herself being pushed into dress
after dress. Dodie and the proprietor stared at her
from every angle, nodding or frowning, exclaiming
Dodie finally decided upon two dresses, both
vivid, dramatic garments quite unlike anything
Katrine ever bought herself. One was a warm apri-
cot jersey silk, clinging and elegant, with a loose
swathed neckline. The other was vivid green, full-
skirted and tight-waisted, with a charming, scal-
loped bodice. Dodie also made her buy a trouser
suit, in crisp linen, the colour of cinnamon, with
'And that dress in the window,' Dodie added fin-
ally. 'Could we have that out? It looks as if it would
'Oh, it will,' agreed the proprietor eagerly. 'And
if I may say so, it will suit her very well.'
`I couldn't ! ' cried Katrine in horror.
Dodie was determined. 'Yes,' she nodded to the
other woman. 'Definitely.'
They ignored Katrine's protests. She was some-
how persuaded to try the dress on, and when she saw
herself from the front she was pacified to some ex-
tent, but her back view startled her into another
moan of alarm 'It's much too low ...'
Dodie laughed. 'My dear Katya, you are almost
entirely covered from head to foot. At the front.'
Tut the back ...'
'Enchanting,' Dodie nodded.
`Perfect,' agreed the other woman.
Katya looked at them in despair. 'I would never
have the sheer nerve to be seen in it,' she announced.
`You will wear it to the first night of
Dodie told her cheerfully. 'We shall see you in a new
'I don't want to be seen in a new light,' Katrine
They laughed in unison, as if she had said some-
thing terribly funny. Katrine did not laugh. She was
wondering what her father would say when he saw
the bills for these clothes. She had just, incredu-
lously, caught sight of the ticket on the trouser suit,
and the figure made her feel weak at the knees.
While the proprietor was off looking for boxes in
which to pack the clothes, she hectically whispered
to Dodie her views on the price of the dresses.
'Never mind the cost,' Dodie said easily. 'I have
arranged it with Rolf.'
'But I've never paid these sort of prices for my
clothes,' said Katrine unhappily.
'That is the trouble,' Dodie murmured. 'Why else
do you think you look like a schoolgirl? Because you
buy such appalling clothes! You are a Milford. It
is time you dressed like one.'
'I wear jeans most of the time,' Katrine said. 'I
like wearing jeans.'
Jeans ' Dodie laughed. 'Why not? For the occa-
sions when jeans are appropriate! But what of cock-
tail parties, dinner parties and first nights? Then
you look like a refugee from a Girl Guide camp!
You need warmth, colour, grace, and I have made
sure that in future you will have them.'
When they got back to the house they found every-
one lying in the garden in attitudes of complete re-
laxation. Cleo was wearing a silver bikini, dark
glasses and a floppy straw hat in a very becoming
shade of blue.
Max, in cotton slacks and a short-sleeved cotton
top, was apparently asleep in a deck chair. Rolf was
reading his copy of
his lips moving
silently as he read. From time to time his face would
twist in silent emphasis as he registered some emo-
Dodie looked at them all with tender amusement.
'Lazybones, all of you,' she said.
Max opened his eyes. He took in Katrine, ner-
vously aware of the new green dress she was wear-
ing. An odd glint came into his heavy-lidded eyes.
Well, well, well,' he drawled.
Cleo sat up, taking off her sun-glasses. Her eyes
widened. 'What's been going on? Who's the Fairy
Godmother, or need I ask?' She glanced at Dodie,
smiling too sweetly. 'Been waving your magic wand,
have you, Dodie dear?'
Dodie looked amused, as if the children were mis-
behaving. 'Now, now,' she said tolerantly. 'You
surely are not jealous of your little sister, Cleo my
Cleo laughed coldly. 'Of Katrine?' Her tone was
Max had not taken his eyes off Katrine. His glance
roved deliberately, coolly, from her head to her feet.
Dodie had whisked her off to a hairdresser. Her
dark brown hair had been shaped elegantly around
her thin face, revealing the delicacy of her bone struc-
ture, the enormous width of her dark blue eyes. She
wore little make-up, but her eyes had been empha-
sised by a blue eyeshadow and a layer of false eye-
lashes. They had found time to buy her new shoes,
too—Dodie's obsession with feet making her regard
good shoes as no luxury but a necessity. Katrine was
deeply pleased with her shoes—they were tiny,
elegant green leather.
Max gave Dodie a quick, approving smile. 'You've
worked a small miracle.'
Dodie laughed. 'It took great persistence. The
victim struggled every inch of the way.'
Max grinned. 'I can imagine.'
Cleo stared suspiciously from one to the other. 'I
smell a conspiracy. Is this do-good-to-Katrine week,
by any chance?'
Max flickered her a faint smile. 'Miaow!'
Katrine flushed. 'I don't need charity, thank you! '
She turned and went into the house. Cleo laughed.
Dodie looked at her with cool appraisal.
What a jealous little cat you are,' she said softly.
'How uncertain and unhappy you must be if you
find it necessary to be so cruel to your sister. I am
quite sorry for you.'
Cleo flushed angrily. 'Sorry for me? It's Katrine
you should be sorry for. She's been perfectly happy
running the house, but you two will make her dis-
contented if you go on with this Fairy Godmother
stunt. Very kind and generous of you, no doubt, but
I'm afraid misguided.' She sauntered into the house,
her head held high.
Rolf looked at Max and Dodie thoughtfully.
What's wrong with Cleo? She's a beautiful girl, yet
she is always so difficult ...'
'Perhaps she believes her own publicity,' Max
murmured. 'She has come up rather fast. Stardom
is sometimes a problem if you reach it too soon.
Cleo isn't very old. I wonder if she finds fame a bit-
Dodie nodded. 'Certainly she has a hectic look
sometimes. It does happen that one loses one's bal-
ance at times. The glare of publicity dazzles one.
Blinds one, even.'
'Do you think so?' Rolf looked bewildered. 'I
never found it so.'
Max and Dodie laughed. 'Dearest Rolf,' mur-
mured Dodie, bending to kiss him on the cheek.
'How very uncomplicated you are at times! So re-
Rolf looked pleased but still puzzled. Max saun-
tered after them as they went indoors to change
before tea. Sebby was busy in the kitchen when
Katrine came to join him. He had prepared a plate
of minute, triangular sandwiches; some iced fairy
cakes, some chocolate marzipan slices (for Rolf who
adored them) and an elaborate confection of jelly
and whipped cream.
Katrine was safely back in jeans. She felt as if she
had slipped back into invisibility. Something about
Max's prolonged gaze had made her stomach twist
What's all this about new clothes?' asked Sebby,
staring at her. 'Your hair looks nice. Suits you.'
'Thank you,' she said. 'What can I do to help?'
'Carry this tray out to the garden,' said Sebby.
Where are these new clothes?'
'Upstairs,' she said flatly.
When are we going to see them, then?'
'Yes,' Max murmured sardonically from the door.
When? I see you're back in jeans. Retreating in
panic, Katya? It won't do you any good.'
She looked at him with a sudden feeling of sheer
hatred, as if she felt he was entirely to blame for all
the vague unhappiness and discontent which was be-
devilling her lately. 'Oh, why don't you mind your
AT her father's insistence, Katrine wore her new
trouser suit next morning at the second rehearsal.
Cleo's eyes narrowed when she saw it, but what-
ever she had been about to say withered on her lips.
She herself wore lime green, another of her simple
yet devastating tunics, sleeveless and brief-skirted,
showing off her golden-brown legs.
`Very efficient this morning, aren't we?' Max mur-
mured to Katrine as they all gathered in the theatre
bar for a reading of the complete text. She had pro-
vided him with a pad and pencil, a stopwatch and
his copy of the play.
She looked demurely down at her hands without
answering. She had decided to use a low profile tech-
nique in her running battle with Max. Head-on
collision only ended in her defeat. He was too clever
for her in verbal argument. She would see how dis-
cretion would answer.
Nicky was the last to arrive, sauntering in, his
golden head sleekly brushed, his handsome features
tanned. He threw Max a smile. 'Sorry, old thing. I
When I call rehearsal for a certain hour I expect
everyone to be on time,' Max said coldly. 'Everyone.
Understood ? '
'Oh, of course,' Nicky said winningly, still smil-
They launched into the text without much of a
preamble from Max. The reading was fast, casual,
without expression. They were just finding out the
general outlines of the plot for the moment.
When they broke up, Nicky approached Katrine,
his blue eyes surprised by admiration. 'You look fan-
tastic! What have you done to yourself? That suit is
very becoming. Have lunch with me?'
She laughed, growing pink. 'Thank you.' It was
an invitation which made her heartbeat quicken,
made her suddenly conscious of her hands and feet,
her awkwardness in movement. She so much wanted
to look elegant and graceful for Nicky, yet her very
self-awareness seemed to increase her clumsiness.
Max turned calmly. 'Sorry. I need you during the
lunch hour today. Rehearsals re-commence at two,
by the way, Nicky, so don't be late again, will you?'
Nicky gave a charming shrug. He smiled at
Katrine. 'A pity. Some other time, perhaps.' Then,
to Max, 'I'll be punctual, don't worry.'
'For your own sake I hope you mean that,' said
Max. He turned and looked at Katrine, his heavy-
lidded eyes taking in the angry expression on her
face. 'I'm afraid it will be a working lunch for us.
I've some notes I want to dictate to you.'
'I don't know shorthand,' she said, rather pleased
to be able to thwart him.
`I'll still need you. You type, don't you? I've seen
you typing at home.'
She admitted reluctantly that she could type, and
Max said he would dictate and she could type the
notes out instead of taking them down in shorthand
The theatre restaurant provided them with sand-
wiches, fruit and coffee. They ate and drank as Max
dictated. He stalked to and fro, a frown on his face,
rapidly talking about the production. Ideas for
lighting, costume and movement spilled out. Kat-
rine began by feeling sulky. She had wanted badly
to lunch with Nicky. But as time went on she was
dragged reluctantly into fascinated involvement
with Max's ideas. It was a dazzling display. He was
like a juggler keeping a dozen different coloured
balls in the air, his hands moving so fast they
blurred. Katrine watched him with faint awe. How
could one man be so clever, so inventive and alert?
He saw everything, missed nothing.
She was beginning to fear him as much as she had
always disliked him. He was too all-seeing.
The natural instinct of humanity to hide, to seek
privacy in emotional turmoil, made Max her enemy.
Like Eve in the Garden of Eden she felt naked be-
neath the omniscient eye.
Suddenly he flung her a book of poems. 'Find me
that sonnet Flint wrote to his French mistress,' he
ordered sharply as he turned on his heel and strode
out of the room.
He was back in a moment, just as she found the
poem. She offered him the book, open at the page.
He went towards her, hand outstretched. The tele-
phone rang. Max picked it up. 'Hello? Yes, Neilson
here. Oh, fine. I'll hold ...' He looked at Katrine
with lifted brows. 'Read the poem aloud,' he com-
His cool tone was so confident that she had begun
to read before he realised it. She had insensibly
picked up a certain degree of professionalism in
reading aloud. The sonnet was one she knew quite
well and found very moving. She was on the last line
when Max lifted a hand to silence her, then spoke
into the receiver. 'Did you have your lunch? Fine,
then come in here.'
The door opened behind Katrine and Dodie came
in smiling. Max pulled out a chair for her. 'Sit here
and listen.' He pulled out the top drawer of his desk
and Katrine, with disbelief and horror, saw a tape
recorder, still working. Max stopped it, grinned at
her across the room.
'Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.'
He fiddled with the black machine for a moment.
A whirring sound as he adjusted the tape, then her
own voice filled the room.
Hot colour filled her cheeks. She glared at him,
hating him. The sound of her own voice made her
writhe in dismay and shame. She would have run
out of the room had not Dodie reached across and
taken her hand comfortingly, patting her with
gentle, warm affection.
As the final words died away Max clicked the
machine off and looked at Dodie, his eyes gleaming
Katrine leapt to her feet. 'I suppose you think
that's funny,' she snapped. 'Tricking me like that!
You never consider other people. Well, now you've
heard how ghastly I sound maybe you'll leave me
alone in future. I've told you—I hate the theatre. I
don't want anything to do with it. I have no talent,
no ambition. Just leave me alone!'
Max moved very agilely as she fled towards the
door. His long arm shot out and arrested her, his
fingers seizing her wrist, holding her back.
'Silly, maddening little fool,' he grinned.
Dodie rose and smiled at her. 'My darling Katya,
you must be deaf ! Your voice is lovely, extra-
ordinarily expressive. I cannot think why nobody
has noticed it before. Your family are all deaf too, I
Katrine stood very still, her wrist still held by
Max, looking at Dodie incredulously. 'My voice ...
lovely?' She swallowed. `Dodie, I heard it, too, re-
member. It was dreadful. Squeaky at one moment
and hoarse the next.'
Max laughed. She glared at him.
Tut, dearest,' Dodie said with affectionate amuse-
ment, 'you have an incredible range. That is why
your voice is so expressive.'
`It swoops upwards like a swallow, then sinks to a
husky, tragic whisper,' Max said to Dodie, looking
at her with a smile in his eyes that made Katrine
blink. Surely the gossip about these two must be
true. Max Neilson would only look like that at a
woman he loved. She had never imagined he could
look so tender, so caressingly aware of anyone. Was
Dodie in love with him, in her turn? Katrine could
not be certain.
Dodie was nodding, smiling happily. 'Max, what
are we going to do with this blind little angel of
Teach her how to use her wings,' Max said
How many more times must I tell you,' cried
Katrine hectically, 'I'm quite happy as I am I '
'You're a coward,' Max said contemptuously.
'You're so afraid to fall that you won't climb an
inch.' He looked down into her uplifted face with
a menacing smile. 'Cowards have to learn that it's
easier to fight than to run away because no matter
how fast you run fate can run faster.'
She pulled at her wrist, struggling to free herself.
Max coolly tightened his grip, smiling down at her
'You big bully,' she spat bitterly. 'Let me go! '
'I never relinquish anything,' Max drawled.
Dodie clicked her tongue disapprovingly. 'Max
darling, let the child go! You are behaving very
autocratically this morning!'
He's a natural tyrant,' Katrine flung at him.
He let go of her and she rubbed her wrist resent-
fully. Dodie frowned at him. 'I cannot think what
has got into you, Max. It is not like you.' She turned
towards Katrine, her great dark eyes loving. 'But,
my darling, Max is right in what he says about you
You have a voice which it would be a crime to leave
unused. God gave you that voice for one purpose—.
it is a talent to be used. You must use it.'
'Acting needs more than a voice,' Katrine said
Dodie nodded. 'Oh, of course. It needs stage pre-
sence, personality ...'
Which I do not possess,' said Katrine.
'You've never stepped on to a stage,' Max said
'I know I haven't got it, though,' she retorted.
Max laughed, lifting wry brows. 'Just as you knew
your voice was ghastly?'
'Oh ' she seethed helplessly.
He stood there, his eyes lazily mocking her. 'Why
should we lie to you? You have a great deal more to
offer than your voice, believe me. Your face is strik-
ing, even if you're not one of the chocolate-box Mil-
She gasped. 'Chocolate-box '
'Of course they are, those healthy animals of your
family—all blonde hair and sex appeal.' He tapped
his forehead. 'They have nothing up here.' He
tapped his chest. 'Or in here! Neither sensitivity
nor intellect. Rolf acts with his instincts, and for
him those instincts work pretty well. Viola has al-
ways been frivolous. Funny, even witty at times,
but she can't move an audience to tears. Cleo ...
well, Cleo is a knockout. She walks on a stage and
every man in the audience falls in love with her.
But act? She can't act for toffee.'
Katrine was dumbfounded, groping for her wits.
She couldn't believe her ears. All the temples of her
youth were crashing around her. Was it really Max
Neilson saying these unbelievable things? She had
grown up with the knowledge that every member
of her family except herself was brilliant, talented,
beautiful. Now Max was bringing the world top-
pling about her.
Dodie slid an arm around her, stroked her cheek.
The child is bewildered, Max. You should not say
these things to her. She is loyal to her family.'
'It's time she saw them as they really are,' he said
mpatiently. 'They're successful at projecting them-
selves—don't you see, Katya? They're the beauti-
ful people, the jet-set, the golden Milfords. But
there's more than one mould. Few actors today fol-
low the Milford pattern, and most of us would think
that that's an improvement. Actors today need to
work hard, think clearly, feel strongly—not just
look pretty 1 Take a look at the company I've gath-
ered for this Festival. They're young, tough, en-
thusiastic. You won't see their faces in the fashion
magazines or television advertisements. They're not
fashionable jet-setters. They're workers with a tough
job to do and the brains to do it.'
'If you despise my family so much, why have you
asked Rolf and Cleo to appear at your precious Festi-
val?' She glared at him with scornful dislike. He
criticised her family, yet used them shamelessly.
Max shrugged. 'Rolf, beneath the surface gloss, is
perfectly aware of his own capacities and uses them
to the utmost. That is all life asks of us—that we
use our talents to the full. It doesn't matter what you
do so much as that you extend yourself to the limit
of your own capacity.'
Dodie was nodding with a serious expression, pat-
ting Katrine's hand. 'Max is right, darling.'
`You aren't extended to your limit,' he went on
bitingly. 'You've always avoided it.'
'I wish I'd avoided you,' she flung back at him,
rushing from the room with a sense of panic.
She heard Dodie call after her, then the door
slammed shut and she bolted for the theatre exit.
Katrine ran down to the willow-fringed river and
walked fast beneath the green boughs, her eyes bril-
liant with anger. Yet somewhere at the back of her
mind a little voice was repeating all that Max had
said, repeating it again and again. Chocolate-box
people ... was that a fair description of the Mil-
fords? Then again she remembered Max's cool con-
tempt as he said that she wasn't extended to her
limit, and how he had called her a coward for run-
ning away from the theatre.
A coward? She stood still, staring into the slow-
running waters. A flotilla of ducks steamed slowly
towards her, hopeful of crumbs.
She stamped her foot, forgetting where she was in
her rage. 'No, I'm not ...' she said aloud.
Behind her someone laughed and she turned
quickly, going pinker. Nicky stood there, his golden
head gleaming in the sunshine, his blue eyes full of
What was that about?'
She shook her head. 'Nothing!'
He gave her a wry glance. 'You've become very
secretive, Katie.' He had called her that in their
shared childhood, but she found she had an odd
preference for the pet name Katya. She could not
'Secretive?' she questioned.
'You didn't tell me you were coming to Cant-
wich,' he accused her with a reproachful look.
'You didn't tell me, either,' she said.
He laughed. 'Didn't I? Well, we haven't seen so
much of each other lately.' He bent those blue eyes
on her. 'We must remedy that.'
Her heart should have quickened. A year ago she
would have been dumb with joy. Today she merely
smiled, inwardly absorbed in what Max had said to
Nicky's brows drew together in affronted surprise.
He was accustomed to seeing his plain little cousin
light up whenever she set eyes on him. It was a
novelty to have her almost indifferent to his com-
pany, and a novelty Nicky did not enjoy.
He took a closer look at her. She was really look-
ing quite different, he realised. It was not merely
the elegant clothes or the new hair-style. It was an
inner glow which she had acquired. Nicky was
puzzled. Was it possible that Katrine was changing?
And if so—why?
Nicky walked back with her to the resumed re-
hearsal. They ran into a crowd of young actors and
actresses who greeted them with warmth. Katrine
was given a few sidelong, curious looks. She was
still very much an unknown quantity to them.
Among them was the girl whose interest in Nicky
she had noticed earlier, but today she was appar-
ently deeply involved with another member of the
cast, a sturdy dark-haired young man with a stub-
born jaw. Nicky gave this pair a long, narrow-eyed
Katrine frowned. Nicky looked ... jealous? Irri-
tated? Piqued? A mixture of all three, perhaps. Sud-
denly she thought, with a grimace, that this precisely
described Nicky's attitude to herself lately. Was he
only interested in a girl when he felt she might be
losing interest in him? It was not a very admirable
Max was waiting for them in the theatre bar. He
gave Katrine a brief, cold glance as she came in with
Nicky, but made no comment on her short absence.
She, for her part, tried to be calm and efficient, but
all the time her mind kept running over their
earlier clashes, and she could not help asking her-
self: is he right about my voice?
She went to bed early that evening, pleading a
headache, but lay awake thinking for hours.
Do I even want to consider such an upheaval in
my life? she asked herself. Haven't I always wanted
to be just an ordinary housewife? I love running a
house, cooking, shopping and all the other domestic
tasks. It gives me a sense of achievement ...
That new little voice, at the back of her mind,
asked cynically: do you? Do you, really? If you now
have the chance to do something creative, exciting,
something which will perhaps make Fra sit up and
take notice ... wouldn't you leap at the chance?
A shiver ran over her. Suppose one failed, after
She sat up. Cowardly! Max was right. She wanted
to do something more than just exist, yet she was
afraid of failure, and so she suppressed her secret
dreams, turned away from them with a coward's
She looked at the clock. Half past one! She sud-
denly felt hungry. She had had a tiny supper, eaten
in bed—a light salad and black coffee. She had only
had a few tiny sandwiches for lunch, too. No won-
der she was suddenly ravenous.
She got out of bed and slid into her old dressing-
gown, a faded lemon cotton which, together with the
old lemon cotton pyjamas she was wearing, made
her look like a little girl.
Tiptoeing downstairs, she paused to listen. Noth-
ing stirred. Only the ticking of a clock, the hum of
the refrigerator and the squeak of an open door at
the end of the passage, swinging slightly in the sum-
mer wind, disturbed the silence.
She opened the kitchen door and went in, then
stood, frozen, in the doorway as Max turned round
and stared at her.
Well, come in,' he said coolly. 'Don't just gape.
Hungry? So was I, so I've made myself an omelette.
You can have half.'
`No, I'll get some cheese,' she refused.
'Indigestible stuff at night. Better have this,' he
commanded with his usual decision, cutting a large,
fluffy golden omelette in half and sliding the two
halves on to two plates.
She hesitated, then accepted the fait accompli
with a grudging sigh.
Max looked at her, his mouth twitching in amuse-
ment. 'Oh, your expression! Rebellious little crea-
ture, aren't you?'
m sorry if that annoys you,' she retorted.
'Oh, it doesn't,' he said blandly. 'I find it stimulat-
ing. A little provocation works wonders.'
Katrine blushed, wondering what he meant
exactly, yet not daring to ask. Her first forkful of
golden egg brought a look of surprise to her face.
He had beaten onion, ham and chives into the mix-
ture. 'This is very good,' she told him, wonderingly.
He laughed. 'Don't sound so astounded. Why
shouldn't I be able to cook? I live alone. Eating out
is not only dull but expensive.'
She stared at him. She had never imagined his life
at home, but now it occurred to her that he must
live somewhere, eat, have his shirts laundered, have
his bed made. Max was always so immaculately
turned out, so elegant and supremely sure of him-
self, that she had almost believed he kept a flock of
servants to support him. 'You do your own cooking?'
she asked him in surprise.
Most of the time,' he shrugged. 'My flat is ser-
viced by a married couple, who are retained by the
company who run the block of flats to do the clean-
ing, and they come to me for an hour each morning
to do the usual housework. My cooking I do unless
I bring back take-away food, as I often do, or some
kind soul cooks for me.' His heavy-lidded eyes shot
her a mocking look.
'A girl-friend?' she suggested, tongue in cheek.
'Precisely,' he agreed blandly.
Not Dodie,' said Katrine thoughtfully. She
could not conceive of Dodie acting as cook for Max.
Dodie was waited on—she did not do the waiting.
`Dodie?' Max lifted his brows. 'Would you de-
scribe her as my girl-friend?' He watched Katrine
intently as she flushed.
Well, I ... that is ...' Her jumbled words died on
her lips, and Max looked increasingly interested.
'I see that that's how you would have described
her,' he murmured. 'How curious. Tell me, what
else have you planned for us? A wedding, perhaps?'
'Don't tease ' she snapped, getting very red.
'Is this gossip fairly general?' he asked. 'Or was
this idea your own discovery?'
She finished her omelette without answering. Max
poured her a cup of cocoa from a large blue and
white earthenware jug. 'This will help you sleep,'
She was grateful to him for abandoning the sub-
ject. ' What a lot of cocoa,' she said lightly.
m addicted to it,' he said.
Katrine drank hers rather quickly and stood up.
Max raised a quizzical eyebrow. 'Going so soon? I
shall have to finish this cocoa by myself. Is that
m sleepy now,' she said lamely, wishing she
could be as blandly unshakeable as Max always was.
Had he any emotions at all behind that calm mask?
He opened the door for her, but as she slid past,
nervously aware of him in his blue slacks and thin
white shirt, he caught hold of her shoulder, his
thumb rubbing gently along her shoulderbone be-
neath the cotton nightclothes. `Katya,' he murmured
softly, 'don't fight me. It only makes me more deter-
mined. Give in now and save us all time.'
She was not entirely certain what he meant, yet
all her instincts rose inside her, fighting desperately
against the spell Max could weave around a woman
when he chose to exert that mocking charm of his.
She did not trust him. She did not even like him.
What was he trying to do to her, what were his
She raised her blue eyes, their dark lashes flicker-
ing hard in an effort to push back unwanted tears
of weariness. 'Why do you want me to have ambi-
tions? We aren't all made of the same stuff. Some
`Some are born great, some achieve greatness and
some have greatness thrust upon them,' he quoted
drily. ' We all know Shakespeare's views on that. I'm
in the business of creating stars ...'
She cut into his words with an expression of horri-
fled disbelief. 'Stars! Stars? You must be mad! I'm
not star material. I'm ordinary. Can't you see it?'
She gestured down at her schoolgirlish cotton night-
Max laughed. 'Ordinary? You're as ordinary as
dynamite!' He caught her by the shoulders, his fin-
gers biting into her flesh, so that she raised her head,
Max! You're hurt ...' The words were smoth-
ered beneath his lips as he bent his head and kissed
her with violent intensity, so hard that it forced her
head back and stretched her throat until it was pain-
She involuntarily closed her eyes, clinging to him
without even knowing that she did so, while the
whole world spun dizzily around her. A sensation of
intolerable bliss burst upon her. She had never sus-
pected that such emotions could exist.
Then she was free, her mouth stinging, her throat
painful, her life torn up around her feet.
She looked at Max, swallowing hard. He thrust
his hands into his pockets and rocked carelessly on
`It's time you grew up,' he said coolly.
She stared at him. Apart from the angry red which
had invaded his face, he appeared to be totally calm,
unmoved by what to herself had been a cataclysmic
event. That kiss, which had thrown her from tran-
quillity into a state of tortured sensitivity, had ap-
parently meant nothing much to Max. He had been
teaching her a lesson by kissing her.
Through the drumming in her ears, the pound-
ing of her pulses, she heard him speaking.
you to think very hard about what Dodie and I have
said to you. You've been shut away in your father's
house all your life, hiding from any possibility of a
challenge from life. But we all have to face the truth
about ourselves. You're by no means ordinary, Katya
—you've constantly underestimated yourself. Your
family have helped. They formed your opinion of
yourself, they quite unknowingly gave you a low
idea of your own capabilities. The truth is that you
only lack one ingredient of stardom ...'
`Good looks,' she said huskily, striving for calm.
He shook his head, his eyes irritated. 'No. Confi-
dence! Looks mean very little. But belief in oneself
means everything.' He looked at her. 'Do you under-
stand? Dodie and I want you to begin to have faith
`Dodie,' she murmured.
odie believes in you, Katya.'
`Yes,' she said, nodding, her face softening. 'I love
Dodie, too. But is Dodie's affection perhaps blind-
ing her, deceiving her?'
`Don't be absurd,' Max said sharply. `Dodie is
a professional. No love could blind or deceive her.
She's completely clear-headed where her job is con-
Almost desperately she cried, 'I can't act! I have
no stage presence. I'm clumsy, ugly and dull ! '
Max moved angrily. 'Nonsense. That's for me to
'You?' She frowned, looking bewildered.
'I might as well tell you now,' he said in a flat tone,
'I've decided to cast you as the Button Man's daugh-
Katrine stood with her hands pressed against her
sides, her face going painfully white, her great dark
blue eyes enormous against the pallor of her skin.
`You can't be serious ... me? Act with Fra? Act pro-
fessionally?' Her voice was hoarse, so choked that he
barely heard what she said.
'You know the part,' Max said coolly. 'I've got an
understudy reading it at present—the girl with
freckles, cheerful little thing. She knows she's only
understudy. I said I would announce the name of
the actual actress later this week.'
She remembered very well. Everyone had won-
dered who would be joining them to play the part.
She stared at him, aghast. He was talking perfectly
calmly and seriously. He meant this!
`No, no,' she half sobbed. 'You must be mad ...'
He went on quite coolly, as if she had not said a
word. 'It's only half a dozen lines, remember. For the
rest of the play she's mute, shocked into withdrawal
by the shooting of her brother years earlier. Only in
the last scene does she speak, after her father dies,
and then she makes a pathetic speech about life and
'The part is impossible,' she said, searching for
any avenue of escape. 'Even a good actress would
find it hard.'
'True,' he nodded. 'Mime is never easy, but you
can do it. Cleo couldn't, not in a thousand years.
But you could.'
His eyes held hers. She felt a strange sensation, a
tingle of electricity, as if he was charging her mental
batteries from his own high voltage personality. She
realised he was willing her to accept, to believe in
him and in herself. She could not tear her eyes away
from the tranced spell in which his eyes held her.
'You can do this part, Katya,' he said softly, 'with
me to help you.'
She was trembling, hypnotised by his curious,
heavy-lidded eyes. Lamely, she said, 'Equity rules
would forbid it. I'm not a member.'
He smiled, brushing this aside. 'We'll fix that.
You're going to be a professional, you'll join Equity.'
'I can't do it ! ' she wailed in sheer desperation.
Max smiled. 'Yes,' he said very softly again.
She felt her limbs weaken, her power to resist him
snapped. Max was watching her closely. He nodded,
well content. 'You'll do it,' he told her. 'You'll do it
MAX made the announcement two days later. It
came as a considerable shock to the other Milfords.
Rolf looked aghast, as if he could not believe his
ears, and he turned to Katrine, an anxious frown
creasing his forehead, silently inquiring of her how
she felt about the idea. She had been watching him,
and when their eyes met she smiled quietly, forcing
herself to offer a comfort she did not honestly feel
able to give. The last thing she wanted was for Fra
to suspect how terrified she was now.
Cleo had a dumbfounded expression for a second,
then she turned and gave her sister a long. hard
stare. Aloud, she asked, `Katrine? Did you say
Katrine?' Her tone was incredulous, exaggeratedly
Max calmly nodded. Dodie clapped her hands and
smiled. 'It will complete the magic circle—all the
Milfords will be in the business!' She spoke with
childish gaiety. Anyone who knew her as well as
Katrine would have known that Dodie Alexander
was putting on a performance, acting for all she was
worth, carefully pitching her response in order to
smooth over the awkward first moments.
It was only later that Katrine realised the odd-
ness of Nicky's reaction. He had been very quiet
during the congratulations. Later, a smile pinned
on his handsome face, he sauntered up and kissed
her. 'Clever girl,' he murmured. And he winked.
She might not have thought anything of this, had
he not been rather too obviously being discreet. His
confidential aside had been pitched just high
enough for Max to hear, while making it look as
it was a furtive whisper between the two of them.
She had flushed, catching Max's shrewd eyes on
them. And Nicky had laughed again before saunter-
happy at Nicky's assumption that she had planned
all this. Later she saw that Nicky actually believed
she was trying to ingratiate herself with Max in
order to squeeze into the theatrical profession.
Max had got the point, too. He had said, in his
office later, 'Your cousin is a poisonous little worm.'
m sorry you heard what he said,' she apologised.
'I think it was a joke.' Hurriedly adding, 'In rather
poor taste, I agree.'
'Poor? Disgusting, I would call it,' Max snapped.
He had leaned back in his chair, surveying her.
What the hell did you ever see in him?'
Her colour deepened. 'N icky is a dear.'
Max's eyebrows rose steeply. 'A what? My dear
girl, your blithe assumption that your fellow
humans are all angels is enough to make strong men
weep! Nicky is a typical Milford—selfish, vain and
'Thanks very much,' she said tightly. 'Nice to
know what you think of us.'
'I said a typical Milford. You're not a typical Mil-
ford. You're not typical of anything, in fact. You're
She felt her pulses leap and had to look away for
fear of betraying herself. Sometimes she wondered
if she had only imagined that Max kissed her in the
kitchen, then she would remember vividly the weak-
ening sense of bliss which had swept over her, and
her body would come to passionate life. Until that
moment she had barely known she had a body, had
physical emotions as strong as this—now she knew
herself better, and it terrified her.
She attended rehearsals now as a member of the
cast, but as her one speech was so short she had very
little to do at this stage. They had not yet advanced
to the point where they combined movement and
words. They were still feeling their way into the
Max was an intelligent director, letting the cast
find their own way to an interpretation of the text.
They discussed the play endlessly, both in and out
of rehearsals. Often they sat in the theatre bar, sip-
ping beer and talking long after Max dismissed
them. Talk ranged from new clothes to poetry, from
the price of fresh fruit to the latest cricket scores,
but their favourite, their abiding topic, was of
course the play. `No shop talk,' some would cry now
and then, but always the talk drifted back to what
really consumed them.
Dodie was now giving Katrine private lessons in
mime and stagecraft—how to walk, to stand, to turn.
Katrine found, to her confounded astonishment,
that she already knew these things as if by instinct.
Dodie, triumphant, laughed. 'My darling Katya, you
took them in with your mother's milk.' Then she
looked thoughtful. 'Although, of course, you were
Katrine laughed. 'What a memory! Was I?'
'Yes, I remember very well. I had just started in
the theatre and I saw you in your mother's arms. I
was a child myself, full of the thrill of being in the
theatre. It was a magic time for me. You were part
of the magic, Katya darling.'
Katrine hugged her. 'You've been magic for me,
too, dearest Dodie. Like another sister, or a very
young mother ...'
Dodie looked touched, moved, her sallow skin
filled with warm colour.
Sebby trotted in with cold milk for them. 'Drink
it up, Madame, while it's chilled. You don't like it
when it gets warm.'
Dodie gave him a rueful glance. 'Bully! '
'Aren't all men?' said Katrine, thinking of Max.
Dodie laughed. 'How right you are, Katya 1 '
Katrine asked Dodie to help her with her part, to
talk it over with her in detail. To her hurt surprise
Dodie refused, gently but firmly.
No, dear, that is Max's prerogative.'
Oh, Max will dictate to me,' Katrine sighed.
Max? He is far too clever a director for that,' said
Dodie. 'You must feel the part yourself. Only you
can project it. It must come from within yourself
and nobody else ...'
m terrified of failing him,' Katrine admitted
with a deep, sighing groan.
Dodie looked at her lovingly. 'You have humility,
my dear—such a wonderful virtue.'
'If it's not taken to extremes,' Max drawled be-
hind them, and Katrine felt her pulses leap. She did
not turn to look at him. Her cheeks were too flushed,
her eyes too bright.
Dodie left them quietly. Max perched himself on
the edge of a table, staring at Katrine's bent head.
Time we had a chat, you and I.'
'Is it?' she asked huskily.
'I've been waiting for you to come to me.'
She slid him a sideways look, shy and uncertain.
This part. You're in something of a special posi-
tion—a newcomer to the profession, an amateur in
many senses, who's never learnt the techniques we
all use. I knew Dodie would help you with the
physical side of it ...'
'She has,' she broke in eagerly. 'She's been marvel-
lous—I feel much more at home on a stage now.'
He nodded. 'Good. Good. But that's only the be-
ginning. Now you have to think about this girl
you're playing—what makes her tick, what sort of
girl she is ... You have to show the audience what
sort of girl she is, remember, and you have no words
to do that with—the author didn't see fit to give
you any words. You have to do it all yourself.'
Panic thrust upwards into her head. She looked
up at him, pale now, sweating. 'Max ... I can't! I
don't know how ...'
'Because you've never thought about her, about
what it feels like to be a girl in her position. At the
moment all you're thinking about is yourself, how
you're going to feel standing out there in front of an
audience. But it won't be you, Katya.' He stood up
and bent forward, his face inches from hers, his eyes
compelling her to listen attentively. 'It will be
another girl, a girl who's been shocked into a silent
world by a tragedy she can't bear to face. Once you
let yourself go, and sink your own personality inside
that girl's mind, you'll begin to know what being an
The words burst upon her like fireworks on a
dark sky. She felt a sudden comprehension, a quick,
clear knowledge flowering inside her. 'Max,' she
breathed, 'I never thought of it like that. I see what
She had always seen the theatre through the eyes
of her family, and for the golden Milfords that
meant charismatic performances in plays especially
chosen as a fitting frame for their talents. She had
rarely heard any of them talk as Max had just
talked. All of them—Rolf, Cleo, Viola, Cass—were
famous precisely because they always appeared as
themselves, whatever the part. They did not act so
much as dazzle. delight, enchant their audiences.
She could not imagine Cleo sinking herself into the
character of a tragic mute who is only seen in shabby
rags! In this production, for instance, she wore a
succession of gorgeous costumes and was apt to pose
becomingly in a variety of positions around the
Excited, strung up, Katrine felt for the first time
a strange tingle of power, an electric shock of self-
knowledge which she barely comprehended. I can
do this part, she thought. That girl ... I understand
her. Her world is too violent, too painful, to bear.
She has to escape from it. She flies to safety, to
silence. She ceases to be involved. She knows that in-
volvement leads to more pain, so she withdraws al-
She moved around the room restlessly, thinking
so fiercely, with such intensity, that she ceased to be
aware of Max. He stood watching her, his hands in
his pockets in a characteristic pose of lazy indiffer-
ence, his head to one side and a faint, triumphant
smile on his face.
Suddenly she came face to face with him. She was
frowning, her face pale and absorbed.
Max did not speak. He just watched her, one
lifted in quizzical appraisal.
Well?' He spoke at last, since Katrine had said
nothing, merely staring at him out of huge blue
eyes which he was well aware were not even seeing
She blinked and the new look of hungry absorp-
tion drained away, leaving her laughing shyly, in
self-mockery. 'I'm sorry, I was miles away.'
Worlds away, I would say,' he drawled. The
heavy-lidded eyes were fixed on her, making her
suddenly uncomfortably aware of him.
He was wearing a thin white shirt, open at the
throat. His supercilious profile, his bony nose and
strange eyes, had always had an odd effect upon her,
but she knew now that for her Max was madden-
ingly attractive. She would have liked to deny it to
herself, but honesty compelled admission.
Ever since he kissed her she had known the truth.
Nicky's more obvious attractions had ceased to have
any interest. She almost laughed aloud at the idea
that anyone could prefer Nicky to Max. Nicky was
immature, crudely obvious and had all the Milford
faults—selfishness, vanity, lack of fidelity. When
Max had told her that Nicky was all these things,
she had angrily denied it. Now her own heart and
mind had confirmed Max's opinion of her cousin.
Nicky was charming but worthless.
She smiled at Max, unaware that for the first time
in her life she was exuding confidence, charm, self.
awareness. The glow which surrounds any woman
in love was fully switched on for Katrine at that
moment. She was as radiant as a summer sunrise.
Max drew a sharp breath, moving towards her.
She looked up at him, her lips parted on a silent
Then an image of Dodie flashed into her mind,
and she involuntarily stepped backwards, going
She had forgotten Dodie for a few moments.
Dodie Alexander, whom she had always loved as
another sister, Dodie whose marriage had ended
tragically and who deserved any reward and com-
fort life might offer her ...
Max halted, frowning, looking at her in sharp in-
'I must ring Nicky,' Katrine blurted out crudely,
seizing on her first excuse to hand. 'I promised to
meet him tonight for a stroll before dark.'
She fled, and Max stared after her with a blank
Nicky was staying locally, in a quiet pub on the
main London road, along with several other mem-
bers of the cast. Katrine rang him, feeling that she
wanted to talk to someone, and Nicky at once asked
her round for a drink.
'I feel like walking,' she said. 'It's a lovely night.'
'Fine,' Nicky agreed. 'Meet you outside your place
in fifteen minutes.'
His small sports car zipped towards her exactly on
time, skewed to a dramatic halt and he leaned over
and opened the door on her side.
Hop in, sunshine.'
As she obeyed she heard the grate of a foot on the
path. Max was standing outside the house, watching
them. His face wore an inscrutable expression.
Nicky gave him a faintly mocking wave. Max
made no gesture in response.
Nicky drove to a quiet country lane, parked in the
entrance to a meadow and smiled at her. 'This do
for your stroll?'
There was a sign indicating that a right of way
ran through the meadow, so they climbed the stile
set to the side of the gate and began to stroll quietly
along the edge of the field. Some cows were occupy-
ing the far side of it, gently grazing on luscious long
grass, thistles and buttercups. The footpath had ob-
viously been carefully tended quite recently. The
grass was short, the brambles and hawthorn hedge
had been cut back so as not to impede passage and it
was clear that many people utilised this short cut to
the village in the valley below.
`Someone has done a good job on this footpath,'
she said to Nicky.
'One of the rambling societies, probably,' he
agreed. They talked lightly about rights of way, and
Nicky laughed as she described a book she had once
read about a fight between a ramblers' society and
a local squire who wished to close a footpath which
had been in use for centuries. In England these
rights are taken very seriously. Once a footpath has
been legally declared a public right of way, no one
can close it with impunity, and local people often
go to extraordinary lengths to fight landowners who
try to stop them crossing their land by ancient paths.
They passed between an orchard on the left and a
field of barley on the right and came down to a cut-
ting in the hill through which ran a railway line.
They crossed the narrow iron bridge, leaning over
to stare down the straight silent track, running be-
tween high green banks.
We ought to turn back,' Nicky said.
Katrine nodded reluctantly. The air was warm
and sweet, the silence refreshing. She had enjoyed
her walk. She looked at him with affection. Des-
pite his many faults, he was, and would always be,
one of her favourite people. 'Odd how growing up
together has the effect of cancelling out other
things,' she said vaguely.
Nicky laughed. 'What a very ambiguous remark!
What's it supposed to mean?'
She laughed at herself with him. 'Oh, I don't
know. That whatever the future brings, we still feel
close to those we grow up with, I think.'
He looked down at her curiously. 'You've
changed,' he half accused.
'Don't we all? Look at Cleo! What a change in
her since we were children.'
Oh, Cleo,' he said flatly.
'You and Cleo don't get on, do you? I should have
thought you had a lot in common.' She looked at
'Cleo expects every man she meets to kneel and
burn incense at her shrine,' he said cuttingly. 'She
can't stand me because I refuse to fall on my knees
She nodded. 'Yes, I'd noticed that. She definitely
resents your lack of interest.' Rather teasingly she
added, 'But Cleo says the same of you, you know.'
He stared in affront. 'What do you mean? What
does she say about me?'
That you're only too well aware of your hand-
some face, and expect every girl to fall flat at the
sight of it,' she said, tongue in cheek.
He went red, his blue eyes furious. 'Oh, does
she? Kind of her! And is that what you think, too?
That I'm vain and silly?'
'You're being silly now,' she said lightly. 'It's far
too beautiful an evening to quarrel. Come on, I'll
race you back to the car.'
Nicky abandoned his wounded vanity and loped
after her up the footpath, flashing past her half way
across the meadow, with the cows staring plaintively
at them from the far side.
They stopped at his pub for a glass of lime and
lager which they drank in the dusky garden under
some shady sycamore trees. A blackbird chanted
hypnotically from a song post behind them. Night-
scented stocks filled the air with their perfume. Far
away came the long-drawn-out wail of a train, ratt-
ling through the valley.
Nicky told her some funny stories about others in
the cast, and then said suddenly, 'I underestimated
Katrine looked at him shyly. 'Did you?'
He winked. 'You bet I did! It never entered my
head that anyone could take the great Max Neilson
for a ride, but you did it, Katie, and I take my hat
off to you. You have Max eating out of your hand.
Everyone is staggered, you know. For him to cast
you as the dumb girl is so amazing! Especially as
you've never stepped on to a stage before! You may
look a little innocent, but you've got hidden depths.'
She was pale now, wincing at what he had said. So
that's what the rest of the cast thinks! she said to
herself. They think I somehow influenced Max into
giving me the part. They think I'm a scheming
little cheat without any talent who's used Max to get
what she wants.
It hurt. She looked at Nicky sadly. He was grin-
ning, admiring and amused. His angle on life was so
different to her own that they lived in different
worlds. He thought that to cheat and scheme was
admirable, if successful. He had no idea what she
was like. No notion at all.
She was late getting to bed. She slipped through
the kitchen and upstairs without meeting anyone.
The house was dark and quiet. But as she came out
of the bathroom ten minutes later, in her cotton
pyjamas and dressing-gown, she bumped into Max.
He looked at her coolly. 'You must be in bed
early now that you're working. No more late nights.
Don't forget in future. I expect total obedience from
my cast. You'll need all your energy and all your
strength for the job.'
Katrine ducked her head, nodding silently.
He stood for a second or two, as if expecting her
to argue or anyway reply, then he stood aside and
she darted past and back to her own room.
Next morning he told her curtly that he was
going to give her special rehearsals of her own at
first. 'I'll take you through your part back here for a
couple of days, then we'll rehearse on stage. You'll
find it harder to remember movements than the
others do as you're so inexperienced. When I think
you're ready, you can join rehearsals with the rest of
the cast again. Stay at home today and read the play
on your own, taking a close note of your part.'
'Couldn't I do that at general rehearsal? Why
must I do it alone?'
'Because I want you to feel more confident before
I plunge you into public rehearsal. The others are
going to be watching you with close interest, and
that will make you nervous. You need all the con-
fidence you can get as it is—I won't add to your bur-
den by exposing you to the criticism of the others
That evening, after supper, Max marched her off
to a quiet little room at the back of the house which
they used as a spare reception room when any
visitors clashed. If Rolf brought some friends home
at the same time as Cleo arrived with a party of the
cast, Rolf would take his friends into the spare
sitting-room. Naturally, the local Festival Commit-
tee had been very hospitable towards these famous
visitors. They had had to fend off many invitations,
but Rolf enjoyed evenings spent accepting hero-
worship, so he had seen a great deal of local people,
and he had had to return their hospitality from
time to time.
Max pushed the chairs back from the centre of
the room, leaving it clear.
Now,' he said, 'let's take a look at what you have
to do ...'
They read through the part carefully, noting
movement and gesture. Most of the time she was on
stage, Katrine would be very still. The girl was a
withdrawn character. She rarely moved, never
`But she is there,' Max emphasised. 'The audi-
ence can see her. So what is she doing?'
Just sitting there?' suggested Katrine tentatively.
Her father is talking about sending her to a
hospital,' Max said quietly. 'Do you really think she
doesn't react? She doesn't say anything. Flint
doesn't even tell us what she does. But she's listen-
ing—so she must react. You have to show the audi-
ence that she understands what's going on ...'
They moved on to the next scene, where Max
again revealed to her his own sure grasp of the inter-
action of these characters, while showing her, too,
how little she yet knew of the play. She had thought
she knew it by heart, yet she had only had a very
hazy idea of what would be happening on stage.
When they halted, she smiled at Max. 'You've
been wonderful. I really feel I'm beginning to feel
my way through the scenes.'
'You've barely scratched the surface,' he said
His tone made her stiffen. 'Well, we've made a
start, anyway. Thank you.'
'For doing my job?' His tone was sarcastic.
She looked at him doubtfully. 'Max .. .'
'Yes?' He stood at the door, his hand on the door
handle, looking at her unsmilingly.
'Is anything wrong?'
'Should it be?' He still spoke coolly.
She swallowed. 'You sound ... very disagreeable.'
'Do I?' He did not unbend. His whole attitude
made it clear that he was only waiting for her to
release him from this pointless conversation. She
made a gesture of finality and he at once opened
the door and walked off without saying anything
Katrine saw nothing of him for the rest of the
evening. He and Cleo vanished, presumably off to
yet another local party. Cleo was in constant de-
mand with the young men of the area, but she
rationed her public appearances carefully. She had
no intention of losing her glamorous image by being
As rehearsals proceeded, Katrine grew more and
more confident. Max was gently encouraging, prais-
ing her when things went well and comforting her
when she lost her grip on the character. She found
herself thinking about this girl all the time. At
night her head was full of a tangled jumble of ideas.
She often dreamt that she really was the girl. Her
sense of pain in these dreams was so deep, so intense,
that she once or twice woke sweating, in tears.
'I think you're ready to join the rest of the cast
again,' Max told her at last.
There had been much speculation, she had gath-
ered, as to why Max was keeping her apart. Not
even her father or Cleo had ever been present when
Max worked with her. Cleo was openly curious
about their working methods. She teased and
mocked Katrine on the subject whenever she got
'I can imagine what you get up to with Max! It's
the perfect excuse for a quiet flirtation!'
Aware of Dodie at the breakfast table, listening,
Katrine was vehement. 'Don't be absurd!'
Then why are you so pink?' Cleo laughed cattily.
'I am not pink!'
'You're the colour of a beetroot, isn't she, Dodie?'
Cleo's smile held malice as she glanced at Dodie.
Lately, Katrine had noticed, Cleo was showing an
increasing dislike of Dodie, a spite she had only
recently begun to manifest. Had Dodie noticed?
And did it hurt her? Katrine was concerned and
Dodie looked at Cleo calmly, her brows faintly
raised. 'You should not tease Katya.'
'No, of course, she's perfect, isn't she?' Cleo snap-
ped, leaping to her feet. She slammed out of the
room, leaving Katrine dazed and taken aback.
What's the matter with her ?' she asked Dodie
unhappily. 'Lately she's been absolutely foul.'
'She is unhappy, poor Cleo,' Dodie murmured.
'But why?' Katrine was dumbfounded. Why was
Cleo unhappy? Cleo, the most beautiful of all the
Milfords, with her horde of fans and her reputation
as the sex symbol of the age l What could possibly
be making her unhappy?
The Mayor of Cantwich was throwing a large party
for the company on the following evening. For the
occasion a crowd of London journalists descended
upon the little town.
'Probably drink the pubs dry in twenty-four
hours,' Rolf grinned.
Katrine was reluctant to attend since Max had
already warned her that the press were buzzing with
interest in her.
What did you expect? You're the Milford who
escaped the net. Now you've been trapped. You'll
be released into the public arena tomorrow night
to be eaten by the wild beasts of Fleet Street.' Max
was icily cynical, his supercilious features bored.
Dodie listened with a slight frown, her eyes puz-
zled. 'Max, you are terrifying the child! He is
joking, my dearest! Max, tell her it will not be so
He shrugged. 'As you please, Dodie. I'm exagger-
Dodie gave him an indignant glance. `Katya, we
shall be with you all the time. We will shield you
from them, don't be alarmed. There is nothing to
Later, she asked her, 'What is wrong between you
and Max, my love?'
Katrine laughed lightly. 'Wrong? Nothing,
Dodie. I think he's rather tired of coaching me,
that's all.' She was becoming a conscious actress at
last, she told herself bitterly as she climbed into
bed that night. Once upon a time she could not
have lied to Dodie so convincingly. Now it was be-
coming second nature to act a part.
She was leaving rehearsals on the next evening
when she bumped into a familiar figure lurking on
the river bank outside the theatre. She was not
surprised when he hailed her.
Hi there, Cinderella!'
Roddy Sumner! I wondered if you would be
coming down,' she said, not entirely displeased to
see him. He had, after all, always been the only
pressman to recognise her in the past. He had been
kind and pleasant to her when she was of no use to
him in his job. She knew only too well the sort of
journalist who is as sweet as honey when it pays
him only to turn nasty once someone ceased to be
useful. It was almost as if some men hate successful
people, and only live for the moment when they can
with impunity insult and humiliate those whom
they have had to be polite to in their days of tri-
He looked down at her with interest. 'You've
certainly changed since I last saw you.'
She was wearing her cinnamon trouser suit, her
hair was brushed and shining in its elegant little
bell around her face. She smiled. 'For the better, I
'Fishing, Cinderella?' He grinned mockingly. 'As
if you need to be told! You look like a different girl.
I always told you that you had something special,
didn't I ?'
'You said I was interesting because I was unlike
the rest of my family,' she reminded him.
'And you misunderstood me,' he nodded. 'I was
trying to tell you that not every man wants to marry
a sex symbol. Most men prefer girls like you, with
warm, sensitive faces and a genuine smile. You can
be quite something when you smile, you know,
Why do you keep calling me that?' she asked
half in irritation, half in amusement.
'It suits you,' he said. 'And I bet half Fleet Street
will use it tomorrow. Your story is going to be big
news. Quite a romance, suddenly being picked for a
leading role when you're an unknown.'
'I only have one speech,' she said flatly. 'And I do
come from a theatrical family. All my family are in
'Especially Miss Sex Symbol herself,' Roddy mur-
mured, with a grimace as Cleo strolled towards
She paused, eyeing him icily, and he gave her a
deep, mocking bow. 'Don't let us keep you from
more important matters, Princess.'
Cleo flashed him a hard look. 'I won't! Katrine,
are you coming? If you hang around here a big bad
wolf may come along and eat you up.'
'Gm!' growled Roddy, showing his white teeth.
Cleo tossed her head irritably, but otherwise ig-
nored him. She looked at Katrine with a compelling
glare. 'Come on ...'
May I be your escort to the big party tonight,
Cinderella?' Roddy asked winningly. 'I promise not
to eat you up despite what Grandmother just said.'
We'll all be going together,' Cleo said quickly.
'Oh? Making the big entrance, eh?' Roddy
looked cynically at her. 'And who'll be hogging the
limelight, I wonder? It won't be little Cinderella,
not if I know the Magnificent Milfords I She has as
much chance of competing with you as she has of
going six rounds with Butcher Brown, the Balham
Cleo's face wore a frozen look of hostility as she
glared at him. 'And of course your invitation has no
connection with any desire to cut out your rivals
and get an exclusive from our little innocent
Roddy laughed insolently. 'Cinderella's a big girl
now. Let her judge for herself what my motives are.'
Katrine looked at him in some puzzlement. She
did not know his motives, but she did remember
how often he had talked to her at similar parties in
the past when everyone else had ignored her. Roddy
had always made a point of finding her and making
her laugh and feel more at ease. She smiled at him
now. 'I don't see why I shouldn't go with you to the
Mayor's party! My father is the star guest, not me.'
Cleo was furious. 'Wait until Max hears about
this! He'll go berserk.'
'Let him,' Katrine said obstinately. Why should
she go in fear of Max Neilson's reaction to any-
thing? He had been perfectly beastly to her for days.
When she got back to the house she went into the
kitchen to talk to Sebby, who liked to be kept in the
picture about how rehearsals were going. She was
eagerly telling him the latest development, when
the door was suddenly slammed open, banging
against the wall.
She turned, tense as a coiled spring. Max stood
there, tight of lip and bleak of eye. 'Is Cleo telling
the truth? Have you promised to go to this party
tonight with Roddy Sumner?'
She saw from his icily controlled features that
Cleo had not been speaking wildly when she said
that Max would go berserk at the news. Max might
be speaking carefully, coldly, but beneath those
frozen words she glimpsed a rage she had never seen
in him before, and her stomach turned over with
SHE pulled herself together, lifting her chin de-
fiantly. 'Why shouldn't I go to the party with
Sebby discreetly slid out of the room, leaving Max
facing her in grim silence.
Have you forgotten that Sumner is a gossip col-
umnist? Why do you imagine he has suddenly be-
gun to take such an interest in you, you little idiot?'
Roddy has always been a friend of mine,' she re-
torted. 'He was the only journalist I ever really
Max laughed harshly. 'Clever Sumner, he cast
his bread upon the waters and it came floating home
tenfold, didn't it?'
'Don't be so cynical! '
His bleak eyes flashed at her. 'You don't imagine
he was ever interested in you as a person, do you?
You were one of the Milfords. You could drop useful
titbits of information now and then. The Roddy
Sumners of this world get a lot of their gossip from
servants, relatives, hangers-on ...'
Which category do I fit into?' she asked in sud-
den bitterness. 'Or is it all three? I've worked as a
servant even though I'm one of the family, and I
suppose I'm a hanger-on, too! '
Max frowned. 'Don't talk like that!'
'You implied it first!'
'I did nothing of the kind! You know very well I
didn't mean that ...'
She laughed. `Do I? Well, whatever you meant,
most people used to treat me with chilling indiffer-
ence when I was just the girl who did all the work
around the house. At parties they ignored me. If
they saw me in the streets they didn't recognise me.
They only wanted to know my sisters, the famous
ones. I soon realised the difference between real
friends and lip-service ones. Sebby and Dodie are
the genuine article. You can trust and believe in
them. Neither success nor failure make any differ-
ence to them.'
`And Roddy Sumner? What category does he fit
into, in your book, Katya?' Max spoke quietly.
'Roddy puzzles me a little,' she admitted. 'It's true
that he always made a point of searching me out and
being friendly—true, too, that he never to my
knowledge used me to find out something about my
family. But I was never quite sure why Roddy was
so nice to me. I used to wonder about it a lot.'
'Your instinctive common sense told you that he's
one of the world's jackals,' Max snapped. 'He feeds
on the fame of others. If he was nice to you there was
an ulterior motive somewhere.'
She shrugged. 'Perhaps. I'm not sure. But I'll
never be sure if I avoid him. He asked me to go to
the party with him, so I said I would.'
'You want to go, then?' Max surveyed her with
narrowed eyes. 'How is sweet cousin Nicky going to
Katrine blushed. 'Nicky?' She had forgotten that
she had given Max the deliberate impression that
she was still in love with Nicky.
Max's mouth compressed. 'Don't tell me you've
forgotten him already? Is there no faith in women,
even the best of them?' His voice was harsh and
raw with rage. 'I could have sworn that you ...' He
broke off, gesturing savagely.
'Nicky didn't ask me to go to the party with him,'
she pointed out, her face pale now at the cruelty of
what he had just said to her. 'In fact, Nicky ... we
... he takes out other girls, you know. There's no
engagement or even any specific understanding be-
tween Nicky and myself.'
`So what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the
gander?' he said cynically. 'You're paying him back
in his own coin? Showing Nicky that if he can take
out other girls you can go out with other men?' He
looked at her with cold dislike. 'How very fem-
inine! You soon learn the old tricks, don't you?'
'Oh, you're so unfair,' she cried angrily. 'You
keep putting words into my mouth, jumping to un-
just conclusions! Why do you always put the worst
construction on what I say and do?'
Max drew back his lower lip, his teeth showing
in a faint grimace of self-mockery. 'Why, indeed?
It's none of my business what you do with your life.
If you want to waste yourself on either of these
worthless idiots, go ahead--I just thought you had
more intelligence than that. Obviously I was wrong.
You're another eternal female eager to seize what
glitters prettily, even if it may turn out to be brass,
not gold. Roddy Sumner and Nicky are two of a
kind, hadn't you noticed?'
She looked at him, struck suddenly by the truth
of what he said. Yes, Roddy and Nicky had much in
common. They were both of them handsome, charm-
ing, flirtatious and successful with women.
She forced a smile. 'Perhaps I find the type attrac-
Max's eyes narrowed on her face. 'So it would
seem What does that convey about your taste?'
Katrine shrugged. 'We all have different ideas
Max opened his mouth, then closed it again with
a snap of anger. 'Very well,' he said tightly after a
silent pause. 'Apart from any other consideration,
you shouldn't have made separate arrangements to
go to the party because the Milfords ought to be
making a combined entrance. Cleo is very put out.'
'Cleo was put out because Roddy asked me in-
stead of her,' said Katrine flatly. 'Cleo always resents
it when a man shows any interest in anyone but her-
self—you know that. She doesn't want Roddy, but
she has this dog-in-the-manger attitude. She feels in-
sulted because he asked someone else. He wounded
'Your father feels much the same, though,' said
Max. 'He wanted you all to make a grand entrance.'
m sorry,' Katrine said flatly.
'You want to steal their thunder, is that it? Sweep
in alone and have all eyes riveted on you?' He
smiled cuttingly. 'I didn't expect you to show these
Milford traits. I thought you would be able to ride
success, not let it ride you.'
She felt like stamping her foot, her anger burning
inside her so that her cheeks were poppy red and her
eyes flashed as she retorted, 'I don't have to stand
here and listen to you insulting me! I haven't done
anything so very dreadful—just accepted a simple
invitation. Success isn't riding me, I can assure you.
Good heavens, we haven't even reached the first
night yet. I may be the biggest flop of all time—
I probably will be. And at this precise moment I
really couldn't care less. I wish I'd never said I
would do this silly play. It seems to have given you
the notion that you can say what you like to me and
get away with it. Well, you're wrong! I won't put
up with your arrogant, sarcastic, bullying tactics a
moment longer. I'll stand down. You can put the
understudy on—she'll only have one speech to learn.
There's no risk involved. And I hope that will make
you happy ! ' Then she turned and dashed from the
room, slamming the door after her.
She ran upstairs, sobbing softly under her breath,
her fists clenched into two tight balls at her sides.
Dodie, in a devastating gown of black lace, one
crimson splash of silk at the deepest curve of her
neckline to give colour to her face, came out of her
bedroom and said vaguely, `Do me up at the back,
angel, will you?'
Katrine dared not even pause for fear of letting
the brimming tears spill down her face, betraying
her. 'Sorry,' she managed to whisper hoarsely, run-
ning past Dodie into her room.
She pushed home the bolt and leaned against the
door for a second, heaving a sigh. Then the flood
burst and she threw herself upon the bed, burying
her face in her pillow.
Some time later, when her tears had subsided a
little and she had wept herself into a form of calm,
she heard a gentle tapping at the door. `Katya dear-
est, let me in ...'
m all right, Dodie,' she said huskily. 'Please,
don't worry about me ...'
worried,' said Dodie. 'Please let me come in
and talk to you.'
Katrine sat up, wiping her face clumsily with the
back of her hand in a childish gesture. She took
several deep breaths, then stood up and went to the
Dodie was looking lovingly anxious when she
came in, her dark eyes at once flying to Katrine's
face. 'Oh, your poor little face!' she breathed. 'Sit
down, child, and let me attend to it.'
Katrine obeyed her without further argument.
Dodie produced a large bottle of cologne and some
cotton wool balls. She gently, delicately, wiped
Katrine's face and forehead with the sweet-scented
cologne, cooling and refreshing her. 'What a display
of temperament,' she murmured teasingly. 'I did
not think you had it in you 1 You have made your
eyes red and your lids are swollen. You must rest
for an hour before the party with some pads on these
m not going to the party,' said Katrine.
Of course you are,' Dodie insisted.
`You don't understand
'I have spoken to Max,' said Dodie. 'I know all
about it. Max was very naughty to upset you, but
Max has a temperament, too, you know, love. He
may hide it under that cool manner, but Max is as
emotional as any creative artist.'
Katrine was so surprised by this new idea of Max
as an emotional creative genius that she just stared,
Dodie laughed. `Do not stare so! Did you think
he ran on petrol instead of his own nerves like the
rest of us? You must learn to consider things from
other points of view beside your own. Max has
worked very hard for this production. He has
worked very hard to train you, dearest. He has been
selfless, tireless and a tower of strength to the com-
pany. If now and then he blows his cool, can you
not find it in you to forgive him?'
'I suppose so,' Katrine said slowly. 'Oh, Dodie, I
feel a perfect worm. I resigned from the play. Did he
Dodie laughed, kissing her on the top of her head.
He told me you had threatened him with resigna-
tion—he did not believe you could be so cruel as to
mean it after all we have done! What a waste of
effort! No, no, you cannot resign.'
`And tonight? The party?' Katrine looked up at
her, leaning her head against Dodie's waist.
`You will go there with the rest of us,' Dodie said
firmly. 'Your father would, indeed, be angry if you
did not. Roddy Sumner can join our party—that is
the best solution. We can all go together.'
Katrine sighed. 'Well, if
say so, Dodie.'
Dodie looked at her with an odd little grimace of
tenderness. 'Poor Max '
Katrine frowned, a little bewildered. What did
Dodie mean by that ambiguous remark?
`And Katya,' Dodie added. 'Be nice to Max, eh?'
Katya was to wear her black-and-white striped
evening dress. Dodie insisted on helping her, brush-
ing her hair and doing her make-up for the even-
ing. Her deft thin fingers moved lightly over
Katrine's face, doing magic things with little pots
and tubes, and even Katrine was taken aback by the
change she saw in herself.
She felt very conspicuous in her dress. Although it
was demurely simple from the front, it was so very
naked at the back, and Katrine was shaking with
nerves as she and Dodie went down to join the
Rolf turned and looked at them, distinguished as
ever in his evening clothes. His still blond beard
bristled with pride.
My two lovely girls,' he said, coming forward to
kiss them both fondly. 'You look ravishing, both of
Sebby stared from Dodie to Katrine, his melan-
choly eyes narrowed. 'Look like mother and daugh-
ter, don't they?' he murmured.
Rolf started visibly. 'So they do! How extra-
ordinary! I never noticed it before. Dodie, it must
be fate! '
Dodie laughed and went pink. 'Rolf, don't be ab-
surd! Katrine is nothing like me.'
Cleo was standing near the window with Max,
watching the scene with hostile eyes. 'Touching,
isn't it?' she observed to Max.
Katrine looked slowly, reluctantly, at Max. He
was watching her, his mouth sardonic. Her lids flut-
tered revealingly, her colour ebbed.
'Are we all ready, then?' Rolf demanded.
We're waiting for Katya's young man,' Dodie
Rolf's eyes widened. 'Young man? Who's that?'
Roddy Sumner,' said Cleo viciously with a snap
of her white teeth.
The gossip columnist? Good lord, Katrine, do you
know what you're doing?'
She looked uneasily at him. 'I think so, Fra.'
Rolf flung back his broad shoulders, looking more
than ever like a handsome middle-aged Viking, the
late evening sunlight glinting on his golden head
from the window. 'I hope you do. I know they say
any publicity is good publicity, but I'm not so cer-
tain. Sumner isn't a bad fellow, as these gossip
hounds go, but he can hardly help having an ulterior
motive, can he?'
'I like him, Fra,' she said unhappily.
Hmmm ...' Rolf looked at Dodie, raising his
brows in a silent query. Dodie smiled reassuringly
at him, shaking her head, and Rolf shrugged. 'Well,
I see I must let you learn from your own mistakes.
You've made precious few of them to date, I'll ad-
mit.' He grinned at Cleo. 'Your sisters have been
known to make a few howling mistakes in the past,
so we'll wait and see, won't we, Cleo?'
Cleo was not amused. She slid her hand through
Max's arm. 'We'll wait in the car,' she said with
As they passed her, Cleo averted her gaze, but
Max met Katrine's eyes directly, his own glance
penetrating, watchful. She tried to convey with her
look an apology, an appeal, but his eyes did not re-
lent. Then he was gone and she shivered miserably.
A few moments later Roddy arrived, dramatically
striking in his evening clothes, his dark good looks
set off by the frilled white shirt and black jacket. He
wore a dark red carnation in a buttonhole, which
he pulled out and presented to Dodie with an ad-
miring bow. To Katrine he gave a tiny posy of old-
fashioned English flowers, bound Victorian fashion
in a silver holder. She was entranced by them. 'Oh,
how lovely! Sweet william, pinks, forget-me-nots ...
that was sweet of you, Roddy '
Dodie surveyed them tolerantly. Rolf shook hands
with Roddy, smiling. 'How are you? Fine? Good.
Hope you're going to enjoy this party. They're a
great set of people down here, you know—wonder-
fully hospitable. Kindness itself.'
They joined Max and Cleo outside. Roddy was
driving his own car, a sleek white sports model with
a retractable hood and a panel full of gadgets. As
they climbed in, Max drove past, his profile haugh-
tily averted. Roddy stared after them.
'I can never make out whether Neilson is dating
your sister or Dodie Alexander.'
Katrine didn't answer. He glanced at her, then
laughed. 'What's the matter? Did I step over the
invisible line? Sorry, I'll be careful not to ask loaded
questions in future, I promise. This time, I can
swear on my honour, the question was purely casual
—I didn't intend to use it in the column.'
'But if I'd answered it you might have used it,'
she said quietly. 'The temptation would have been
Roddy groaned. 'Too true, sweetheart. Sorry, is
my being here tonight going to be embarrassing for
you? I thought I sensed a certain, shall we say,
"freeze" around when I drove up. Neilson looked at
me the way people look at a maggot they've found
in their lettuce. Your beautiful but stuck-up sister
didn't apparently see me at all. I was the invisible
man to her. Am I jumping to conclusions, or did
they flip their lids when they discovered I was join-
ing the party as your escort?'
Katrine looked at him with sudden amusement.
m sure you don't need me to draw you a diagram,
He grinned back, cheerfully irreverent. 'The
Magnificent Milfords didn't fancy a mere news-
hound muscling in on their big entrance?'
'That's not exactly how I would have phrased it,'
she said softly. 'But you're a gossip columnist, and
some people might suspect you had an ulterior
motive in anything you did.'
He looked thoughtful. 'Yes, oh, yes, I see.
what do you think, Cinderella?'
Her big blue eyes were wide and frank as she
looked back at him. 'You've always been pleasant to
me, Roddy, but I'm not altogether naïve enough to
think you meant anything much by it.'
Roddy's handsome face darkened with sudden
anger. 'My God, you must think I'm a worm if you
think me incapable of an honest-to-God reaction to
a girl like you. What do you think I am? Bluebeard?
I like you, Cinderella. Look,
honest. Your family are news. It's my job to watch
them. You've become news too, now, so I automatic-
ally take an interest in you, professionally and other-
wise. But I have standards, however low they may
seem to you. There are some things I would never
do, and one of them is to use a personal and private
relationship in order to get a story. If I want to know
something, I'll ask you and you can say yes or no as
to whether you answer.
never make capital out of you.'
She looked at his serious, intent face and she be-
lieved him. 'All right, Roddy,' she said. 'It's a deal.'
He looked relieved. 'Great. Now, let's drop the
subject. Nice to know what people think of you. I
gather your sister regards me as lower than the dust
beneath her chariot wheels.'
`She isn't struck,' admitted Katrine gently.
Roddy laughed. 'It's mutual! ' He drove down the
winding lanes with speed, zipping round corners at
an angle which alarmed her. They had reached the
Assembly Rooms, where the party was to be held,
before she had time to breathe properly. She let out
a long, nervous sigh of relief. 'I didn't think we'd
make it! Do you always drive like that?'
'Is there another way?' Roddy parked the car as
directed by a uniformed commissionaire, showed
the ticket he had been issued with as a member of
the press and was directed into the building.
A little crowd gathered outside buzzed with in-
Who's that? I don't know ... must be an
actor and his girl-friend ... he's fantastic, just like a
m star ... don't think much of her, though, do
you?' The whispers reached them both and Roddy
Katrine laughed back at him. 'You do look like a
film star, it's true. Did you ever think of going on the
'I had other fantasies,' he said. 'I dreamt of being
the great crime reporter, tracking down criminals
before Scotland Yard got to them. I got sidetracked
into writing a gossip column years ago, and I've
never fought my way out of it again.' He grimaced.
'Life does funny things to people. I never thought I
would end up doing this job.'
'Is it too late to change?' Katrine asked.
He looked surprised. 'I don't know. I gave up my
old dream a long time ago. I imagine it would be
possible to move out of this way of life, but I doubt
if I could switch to crime reporting now. You need
years of apprenticeship to do that.'
'Isn't there anything else you want to do?' she
Roddy shook his head. 'I always wanted to write
a book, but that's another dream I abandoned.'
'You can always learn to dream again,' she said
They paused in the foyer of the Assembly Rooms,
waiting for the others to join them. Roddy looked
down at her, his handsome face suddenly vividly ex-
cited. 'My God, Cinderella, you're quite a girl, do
you know that? I love you passionately ...'
He had spoken rather loudly in his excitement,
and there was no doubt that both Cleo and Max, at
that moment moving towards them, had heard.
Katrine wore a half embarrassed, half touched smile
as she glanced past Roddy and met Max's cold eyes.
He was staring at her, narrowly, his expression
What's this, true confession time?' asked Cleo in
a spiteful drawl.
Roddy flushed slightly. He had not realised until
then that he had been overheard.
With a relieved sigh, Katrine saw Rolf, Dodie and
a crowd of attendant journalists at the entrance.
`They're here '
They all turned to watch as, kingly and smiling,
Rolf led Dodie towards them, her hand clasped in
his, her black lace skirts sweeping elegantly behind
What a magnificent couple,' Roddy murmured.
'I remember them in
as Claudius and the
Queen. They looked just like this ! '
Katrine looked uneasily at Max. The thought had
been occurring to her more and more often lately.
Had it occurred to Max? Or was he emotionally
blind to the absolute rightness of seeing Rolf and
Dodie together like this?
`Ah, my dears, you're here,' Rolf observed with
satisfaction. 'Then we're all ready. Come along!'
The doors were flung open. The Mayor and his
lady were there, smiling, flushed, excited. The high-
ceilinged room was filled to overflowing with local
dignitaries and the rest of the company. Rolf and
Dodie moved forward to a ripple of eager applause,
with the others following in their wake like attend-
ants upon a royal procession.
Katrine was almost unaware of the passage of time
after that. She smiled, shook hands, made polite
small talk. Faces swam before her eyes. Voices talked.
She forced herself to keep smiling.
She lost Roddy somewhere, detained by a talk-
ative local reporter, and found herself being button-
holed by a lady in mauve silk who wanted to discuss
her teenage daughter's ambitions to go on the stage.
Katrine listened kindly, made the appropriate
noises in response and felt increasingly weary. It was
an effort to smile, to speak. So many strangers, so
much noise. She was not used to being in the public
eye. She had always been on the fringe, outside the
eye of the storm. Suddenly she had been flung into
the centre of the maelstrom, and she found it tiring
`You look like death,' a voice said tersely as she
turned away after yet another encounter with a total
stranger. 'Come and have a drink.'
She did not need to look to know who it was, the
tight syllables told her. His hand gripped her elbow
in a vice. She had no option but to obey.
He pushed her into a corner of the huge room,
down into a leather-seated chair out of sight behind
a potted palm. For a moment he vanished, only to
reappear with a drink in each hand. 'This will put
some colour into your cheeks,' he said curtly.
She sipped, shuddered. 'Ugh, I loathe gin ! '
`Drink it and shut up,' he snapped.
Katrine raised her weary lids to regard him un-
smilingly. 'You big bully.'
His face was shadowed, unreadable. 'That dress is
too sophisticated for you,' he said in sudden irrele-
That was what I told Dodie, but she insisted.'
Strange how the truth could sting, she thought with
the aloof Olympian calmness which exhaustion can
He studied her, eyes narrow. 'Yet in a way it suits
you--very demure at the first glance, covered-up
and modest, only to startle later by being reckless
and unexpected ...'
She made herself look amused. 'Is that how you
see me, Max?'
He leaned against the wall, staring down at her.
`Has anyone ever told you that you just beg for
She felt her heart beating fiercely against her
breast, a wild, suffocating excitement tingling along
her veins. `Do I?' Her weariness dropped away like
a discarded cloak.
`You know damned well you do,' he muttered.
Why did you come here tonight with Sumner if
not to provoke some response from Nicky? Look at
the way you've behaved with the two of them. If
that isn't asking for trouble, I don't know what is! '
'I told you why I came here with Roddy,' she said.
'He asked me.'
'That simple?' His lips twisted in a half sneer.
'One only has to ask?'
Something in his expression made her tremble
and look away. After a moment she said quietly,
'You're a strange man, Max. I don't understand
'You're dead right,' he snapped. 'You don't under-
They were silent for a few moments, as if neither
cared to continue further along that line. Katrine
felt an ache of misery begin inside her. She urgently
longed to go home, to be alone, away from all this
noise, colour, light.
Aloud she said suddenly, 'I hate parties! '
Max gave a brusque laugh. 'Do you? Why?'
She shrugged. 'It's a strain pretending to enjoy
'Pretending?' The word was mockingly sardonic.
'You don't try very hard to pretend when you're with
'You have an irritating habit of seeing through
pretences,' she said in sudden direct honesty.
Either he had bent towards her, or she had raised
her head, but it seemed that he was very close sud-
denly, his face just above hers, his eyes holding her
gaze. She longed helplessly to reach up and press her
lips against that sardonic mouth, kiss his hard cheek
and the tough line of his jaw. Her body was
swamped with feelings she could not control. Un-
knowingly, she half closed her eyelids, her bitten
lips full with the moist bloom of passion.
Then the discreet band burst into a dashing
chord, the microphone buzzed and the Mayor an-
nounced proudly that the supper room was now
open. 'After supper there will be dancing ...'
Max was standing erect again. Katrine was very
pink, ashamed of herself for having come so close
to an embarrassing display of emotion.
Nicky slid through the crowd. His bright gaze
touched both their faces, curious, alert, amused.
'Can I take you in to supper, Katie?' he asked cheer-
She hesitated, glancing at Max for a lead. With
wry mouth and averted eyes he moved away.
'Thank you, Nicky,' she said very loudly, her
shame making her angry.
'You and Max have a funny relationship,' Nicky
said thoughtfully. 'He's always very protective to-
wards you, but in an angry way. I suppose he's
ashamed of feeling fatherly towards a girl of your
'Fatherly?' The word somehow offended her.
'Protective,' Nicky expanded. 'Max is the type
who hates to admit he has feelings. He's tough both
on stage and off.'
'He was a good actor, wasn't he?' she said.
'He makes a better director,' said Nicky. 'I always
thought Max rather too buttoned-up to make a good
actor—at least, to make one of the best. He's far too
introverted, intellectual. I hate clever actors. Give
me someone like your father any day.'
She laughed. 'Better not let Fra hear you say
that! He thinks he
a clever actor.'
Nicky grinned. 'He isn't. He's instinctive.'
'That's what Max said,' she murmured, struck by
'Is it?' Nicky looked flattered. 'Well, well, great
minds think alike, it seems. Nice to know Max
agrees with me.'
Katrine gave Nicky a shy, uncertain look. 'Nicky,
you would tell me the truth, wouldn't you?'
He looked alarmed. 'That depends on the ques-
How do you honestly think I'm doing with the
play?' she asked him.
Nicky was relieved. 'Oh, is that all? You're good,
Katie. You've got natural talent. You certainly sur-
She looked hard at him, trying to read his mind.
'You mean that?'
Why should I lie to you? Of course I mean it.
You're never going to be a sex symbol like Cleo, but
you may end up being a much better actress than
either of your sisters.' Nicky was astoundingly casual
about it, speaking lightly and without emphasis. His
face was as transparent as well water. Katrine could
not help but see that he meant every word.
She flushed deeply. 'Thanks.' Her gratitude made
her smile at him with all her old affection, the now
worn-out tenderness of her brief infatuation re-
placed by a new warmth towards her childhood com-
panion and lifelong friend.
Nicky slid an arm around her waist and bent to
kiss her lightly on the lips. 'Think nothing of it,
sweetheart. We're all in the business now.' He
winked. 'Consultations free, to the family.'
Cleo, walking into the supper-room with Max,
paused to look sharply across the room at her
younger sister and Nicky. Her lovely face wore a
cruel half-smile as she watched Nicky kiss Katrine.
How touching,' she observed to Max, who had also
observed this. 'My little sister is knee-deep in ad-
mirers since she launched out into show business.
Quite a transformation scene! The ugly duckling
turned swan, pulling the men like a magnet! If
Nicky doesn't watch out he'll find himself married,
and the marriage state wouldn't suit dear Nicky.'
'I wonder,' Max murmured drily.
THE supper tables were impressively laid out with
great baskets of flowers arranged at intervals along
their length. Carnations, gladioli, roses gave colour,
perfume and beauty to the room. Above their heads
hung chandeliers glittering and tinkling in a faint
The Mayor made a brief speech of welcome to the
company. Rolf then replied with a speech praising
Pascal Flint and, by discreet implication, the citi-
zens of the little town from which he had sprung.
He made a few jokes at which everyone laughed,
then several other people made speeches before, at
last, the cold buffet was free to be consumed.
The food was superb. Canapes, salty with ancho-
vies; caviar like tiny seed pearls gleaming black
against the rolled bread and butter it was served
with, thick slices of quiche lorraine, devilled eggs on
lettuce and a dozen other rare delicacies.
Roddy loomed as Nicky brought Katrine a plate-
ful of these delicious trifles. 'Pirate!' He glared at
Nicky. 'You snatched my girl ! '
Once aboard the lugger, you know, old man,'
Roddy gave her a soulful look. 'Aren't you going
to remember I brought you, Cinderella? Is it kind
to desert me?'
She laughed. 'Why don't you join us?'
Nicky scowled. 'He doesn't need encouragement.
You know what his fellow hacks call him? The
She giggled. 'Oh, I don't believe that.'
Roddy growled. 'It's a dirty lie. That isn't what
they call me at all.'
Nicky gave him a wide-eyed innocent smile.
What do they call you, then?'
Roddy looked blankly at him. He didn't answer.
Oh, yes,' said Nicky sweetly, 'I remember
'Shut up,' Roddy broke in angrily. He was
rather red and seemed seriously put out. Nicky
grinned, sipped his champagne without saying any-
thing else. Katrine wondered what nickname his
fellows gave him, and why it made him so angry.
She looked at Nicky rather reproachfully, but he
just winked and seemed rather pleased with him-
She nibbled at her little hoard of food without
appetite. She was being very careful not to look
across the room at Cleo and Max, seated in a corner,
close together, the dark head near to the gold one.
Tell me, Milford,' Roddy said casually above
her head, 'What exactly is the situation with Max
Neilson? Is he dating Dodie Alexander or not?
if he is, why does he see so much of Cleo Milford?'
Nicky slowly chewed a piece of ripe Brie, swal-
lowed it. Then he looked up at Roddy, his hand-
some face insolent. 'Why don't you ask Max
Roddy laughed shortly. 'And get my face pushed
through the back of my head? No, thanks.'
Nicky looked him over contemptuously. 'Brave,
'That isn't an essential qualification for my job,'
Roddy said coolly.
'No—sheer nerve comes top of the list, doesn't it?
Run close by consummate cheek, thickness of skin
and absence of principles.' Nicky sounded bitter. It
surprised Katrine. She had never heard him speak so
sharply to a member of the press. Usually he was
very careful not to offend them.
Roddy grimaced. 'You're still brooding over that
paragraph I ran on you and the delectable Delia,'
he said lightly. 'Sorry if it trod on your toes, but I
was only doing my job. It came to my ears that you
and Delia were having a fling together, so I printed
it. Could I have know you were just at the end of the
affair and that publicity at that moment would be so
Nicky smiled, showing all his teeth. `No, you
couldn't have known, just as I couldn't know that
you didn't want anyone calling you Big Ears in front
of your female friends.'
'Big Ears?' Katrine could not stop giggling.
What else can one call a gossip columnist?' asked
Nicky very sweetly. 'Suits him, doesn't it?'
Katrine laughed. Roddy straightened, very red.
He looked at Nicky with menace in his eyes.
'I ought to punch your head, Milford.'
'You can try,' Nicky smiled.
There was a little buzz of interest among the
people nearby. They openly stared, hearing the
anger in the men's voices. Katrine said urgently,
'Stop it, both of you! Do you want to ruin this party
for everybody else?'
Then Max was there, very tall, very cool, very
supercilious. His grey eyes were bleak as he surveyed
the three of them. Katrine flinched from the con-
tempt she saw in his face.
Right,' he said softly, yet with an icy wind blow-
ing in his voice. 'That's enough. I don't know what
caused this little fracas, but I do know it stops right
here and now. Smile, all of you, and keep smiling.
Sumner, go and get yourself some food and keep
away from Nicky for the rest of the evening. Nicky,
go and take Cleo through to dance.'
Roddy moved off without a word. Nicky looked at
Katrine quickly. 'Darling ...'
'Yes, go and dance with Cleo,' she urged.
He nodded and went. She sat, her hands loosely
holding her plate. Max removed it.
Want any more?'
'No, thank you,' she said politely.
`No, thank you.'
Then come and dance,' he said tersely.
He leant down a thin, strong hand and yanked
her to her feet with a remorseless movement. 'If
you ever make me really angry,' he said at her ear,
'you'll be extremely sorry.'
She had never heard him speak so savagely, so
bitingly before. She lowered her head and permitted
him to steer her across the room towards the sweet
sound of music.
They stood on the edge of the dance floor for a
moment. A number of couples were already danc-
ing. She saw Nicky and Cleo circling in silence. A
spot of bright red burnt on each of Cleo's cheeks.
Her eyes were brilliant, hard, angry, and she stared
over Nicky's shoulder with a set expression.
Katrine dared not look at Max for fear of him
reading her expression. The very thought of being
in his arms, of dancing close to him, was making her
tremble inwardly and her nerves were jumping.
Suddenly he swung her into his arms, his hand
closing firmly on her waist. The band were playing
a quickstep, but after a moment they changed to a
dreamy waltz. Max's long legs were surprisingly
agile, and she found it easy to follow his firm, deft
'You see now what happens when you play off one
man against another,' Max said sharply at her ear.
She glanced up warily. His face was set merci-
They didn't quarrel over me,' she protested.
'No?' His lip curled in a sneer.
'It was something about a story Roddy once wrote
about Nicky and a girl called Delia,' she said.
Max shot her a narrowed glance. 'Delia Brett?'
'I don't know. They didn't say.' She waited a
moment. 'She isn't an actress, is she?'
'No,' Max said. 'She's a singer, a very bad one, but
pretty. She and Nicky went around together for a
while before she married.'
Who did she marry?'
'I forget. A dog biscuit king, I think. Someone
with money. Delia almost didn't make it to her mil-
lions, though—Roddy Sumner printed a story about
her and Nicky just at the wrong moment.'
'Oh, that was it?' She frowned. 'But it was all
right in the end, wasn't it?'
'No thanks to Sumner,' Max said curtly.
'He couldn't have known! '
'Oh, he knew! Roddy Sumner hears everything.'
'That's why they call him Big Ears,' she said in-
voluntarily, then giggled, clapping her hand to her
Max looked down at her, holding her a little away
from his chest. His supercilious features were re-
laxed in amusement. 'So you heard that, did you?
Suits him, doesn't it?' He grinned.
'But if you're right, it was very wrong of Roddy
to print that story. It might have wrecked Delia's
'Sumner feeds on disaster,' Max said. 'He's a
leech, sucking the blood from his victims.'
Katrine was bewildered. She had liked Roddy so
much. He was so pleasant, so friendly. She had be-
lieved him to be sincere. Why had he printed that
story about Delia? she wondered. She could not fit
this image of him into the picture she had already
formed from her own observation. It was possible
that she had been misled, of
He might be a
very cunning, hypocritical man. But she still did not
quite believe him to be as bad as Max claimed.
'I'll tell him you won't be requiring his services as
escort home,' Max murmured.
'No,' she said quickly. She did not want to cut
Roddy out of her life without finding out the truth
Max looked down at her, a glint of anger in his
grey eyes. 'What do you mean, no? After what you've
just heard about him, you still mean to go on seeing
'I want to hear the truth from his own lips,' she
said with a trace of stubborn independence that
My dear girl,' Max drawled with all his old
patronage, 'you surely don't expect to get the truth
from a gossip hound? He'll tell you what suits him.'
Stung, she said, 'I think I can distinguish the
truth from a lie.'
He laughed harshly. 'You're joking, of course! '
`No, I'm not,' she said crossly. 'Don't make fun of
me, Max. I'm not a little girl.'
'Then why behave like one? You're talking like a
naïve fool. Sumner has been pulling the wool over
your innocent little eyes for months. At last someone
has managed to make you see what a cheat he is, but
you still insist on giving him the benefit of the
doubt! Is that the action of a sensible person?'
`It's the action of a friend,' Katrine said obstin-
'A friend?' His eyes raked her furiously. 'Are you
sure that that's all you are?'
`Yes,' she said huskily, flushing.
`You sound to me like a girl in love,' he said
tightly. 'In which case, of course, it would be absurd
for me to try to persuade you to give him up. Your
own pride, your own self-respect, apparently mean
nothing in the scales against your feelings for this
two-faced, sneaking ...'
Max!' She was shocked by the sudden barbaric
cruelty in his voice. His usual air of lazy sophistica-
tion was totally gone, leaving naked rage behind.
They had reached the great double doors leading
into the supper-room. Max dropped his arm from
her waist and gave her a stiff little bow.
Thank you for the dance.' He turned, abandon-
ing her there, his face a mask.
Katrine walked through into the supper-room and
found a seat in a quiet corner. Her head ached and
she was utterly miserable. She wished she had never
come here tonight.
The supper-room had been restored to its former
beauty, all the elegance and splendour of its early
years in Regency England. The walls were painted
the very palest shade of green, with contrasting dark
green piping on the panels and woodwork. The
chandeliers were glittering, reflecting the dazzle
of the silver and glass below. The velvet curtains
hung from brass rods, and the carpet was thick and
luxurious. The scent of the baskets of flowers hung
heavily on the warm air.
She stared up at the chandeliers gloomily. They
were like her family—sparkling, tinkling, luminous
and quite artificial. 'We're parasites,' she thought.
'That's all we are.'
Nicky found her there a few moments later and
lifted her chin with one hand, peering into her eyes.
Why so sad and wan, fair lady, prithee, why so sad?'
She laughed. 'A little depressed,' she admitted.
'You aren't giving the party a chance! Come back
and dance with me! The night is young and you are
beautiful. Why shouldn't we have a ball together?'
Nicky seemed almost hectic in his gaiety, and she
wondered, studying him, what had brought that
desperate brightness into his eyes, that almost grimly
determined smile to his very handsome. well-cut
They danced together for a while, swirling and
laughing around the room, putting on a joint per-
formance calculated to convince any onlooker that
they were having a fantastic time.
Rolf was dancing with Dodie, Katrine noticed.
Dodie was flushed and smiling, her plain face illu-
mined by an inner beauty that no cosmetic could
reproduce. Rolf, too, looked extremely contented.
Regarding them, Katrine could not help but think
wistfully how perfectly they suited each other, and
how much she would like it if they should ever grow
even closer. But then there was Max ... Her loyal-
ties were painfully divided. Either Max or her father
must lose Dodie, and she could not quite bear the
thought of either being unhappy.
They joined the rest of their party to sit out a few
dances. Cleo and Max were both reserved, but
Dodie and Rolf were giggling over a long-ago inci-
dent from their mutual past which something had
recalled to them. Katrine laughed as they recounted
it, interrupting each other all the time, but neither
Cleo nor Max seemed particularly amused.
Nicky glanced coolly at Cleo. 'Dance?' he mut-
She raised one frigid eyebrow. 'Such a courteous
invitation could hardly be refused,' she returned un-
Nicky's jaw set. 'Would you care to dance?' He
used the phrase icily.
Cleo shrugged, stood up, and Nicky jerked her
into his arms with a sort of angry snap. Her cheeks
reddened. She said something as they danced off,
and Nicky made some sort of retort.
Max stood up and looked down at Katrine. 'Shall
She meekly stood up and let him draw her close.
As they began to dance, he said, 'Your cousin is
going to get a punch on the jaw if he keeps being
rude to Cleo.'
She didn't answer. All her attention was concen-
trated on the moment, on his lean body close to her,
the feel of his hand against her waist, the coolness of
his fingers gripping hers. Physical sensations of plea-
sure swamped her. Had she ever disliked this man?
It seemed so long ago. She did not even know when
exactly she had ceased to dislike him and fallen in
love. She stared at the black smoothness of his shoul-
der just above her eyes. Love ... that was what this
was, this melting emotion filling her.
'I must be boring you to tears,' he said suddenly
with abrupt ferocity.
She looked up, startled. 'I'm sorry?'
`So you should be. I've spoken to you several times
and you didn't hear a word! What's absorbing you
to such an extent?' The grey eyes held hers, prob-
`Nothing,' she said hurriedly, aware that she was
blushing and angry with herself.
His eyebrow lifted. 'It looks very much like some-
thing,' he commented drily. 'When a girl blushes
like that it's usually a young man at the back of it
Katrine looked away, biting her lip. His arm
tightened cruelly on her waist and she gave a little
gasp. 'You're hurting me!' Then she remembered
the last time she had said that, the time when he had
given her that merciless kiss, and she trembled.
'I'd like to hurt you,' he said tightly. 'I've never
known a girl who could make me feel so angry as
you do. You're the most infuriating, naïve, obs-
tinate creature I've ever met '
m sorry if I make you angry,' she said in a thin
little voice. 'I don't mean to.'
'Do you know what you mean?' he demanded. 'I
don't believe you do. You act like some blind mole,
digging furiously in all directions but having no
real idea of where it is ...'
I'm in love with you, she thought—that's where
I am, and I wish I knew a way of getting out of this
unbearable situation, because I know very well
there's no possibility of any future for me, no shred
of a chance that you would ever look at me. You
seem to swing between Cleo and Dodie. Why don't
you make up your mind, damn you, Max? Why
don't you make up your mind?
Rolf and Dodie were leaving. Rolf never permit-
ted himself a late night when he was in rehearsal.
Despite popular fallacies, an actor works very hard
at his job, and Rolf worked harder than most.
Katrine and Max joined the others at the door,
where the Mayor and his wife were shaking hands
and being very pleasant. The Mayor gave Max a
friendly smile, making some comment about Max's
work, then turned to Katrine.
'And this is the lovely little newcomer! Well,
Cantwich is certainly going to be proud that you
first trod the boards here ... that's the phrase, isn't
it? Trod the boards!' He looked very pleased with
himself as he repeated it.
She smiled politely. 'Thank you.'
Max gripped her elbow and steered her out. She
looked back over her shoulder. Roddy was not in
sight, but she saw Nicky and Cleo dancing together.
They were not talking and both wore set expres-
'I think I'd better ...' She half turned to go back,
but Max had tight hold of her arm.
'You're going home to bed, young woman,' he
'I ought to say goodnight to Roddy,' she protested.
'I came with him, but I've hardly set eyes on him ...'
'Good thing too,' said Dodie, overhearing. 'You
can drive back with us, darling.'
'I'll take her,' Max said curtly.
Dodie protested, 'You ought to wait for Cleo,
Max! Where is she?'
'Nicky will bring her home,' Max said. 'I'll bring
this young madam.'
Rolf laughed and steered Dodie away without fur-
ther argument. Katrine moved to follow them, but
Max caught her shoulder and held her back in the
dark car park.
'Use your common sense, girl. They don't want
any third party tonight.'
Katrine looked up at him, too startled for speech.
In the darkness his eyes glittered with a steely light.
Was he hurt, angry, jealous? She had wondered if
he had noticed how well Dodie and Rolf seemed to
look together. Obviously he had. But what was be-
hind this cool attitude of his? Did he merely accept
it as inevitable? Did he really feel calm indiffer-
ence? Or was he more moved than he was permit-
ting to show?
`You ... don't mind?' She meant to phrase the
question more tactfully, but distress made her blurt
He looked at her broodingly. 'Do you?'
Me?' She was surprised into laughing. 'Mind?
I'm absolutely delighted. You know how I love
He nodded. `Dodie was a little concerned, all the
same—even the best of relationships can go sour if
there's any jealousy, and she knows how you adore
'I love them both about equally, I would say,'
Katrine said honestly. `Dodie has always been like a
mother to me. I couldn't be happier if this comes
`And the others? Cleo? Viola? Cass? What do you
think they will say? Will they object to Rolf marry-
ing Dodie? I've noticed a certain lack of warmth in
Cleo towards her lately.'
Katrine looked up at him warily, her lashes
flickering. 'Cleo? Well, perhaps she was jealous of
someone else ...'
He frowned. 'How do you mean?'
Hesitantly, Katrine said, 'You've been seeing
rather a lot of Dodie lately. Cleo may have thought
that you were in love with Dodie
They had reached Max's car. He opened the door
and helped her in with a hand beneath her elbow.
Then he walked round and climbed into the driver's
seat. He switched on the internal light and faced
her, an arm along the back of the seat.
He looked oddly leashed, as if he were keeping
himself on a tight rein. `So Cleo thought I was in
love with Dodie?' He watched her small, pale face.
'Did you, by the way?'
'I thought it seemed likely,' she admitted un-
A hard glint came into the grey eyes. 'What did
you think of that? Happy to think of darling Dodie
marrying me?' His tones were horridly sarcastic, and
she shrank away from him.
'I want whatever will make Dodie happy,' she
'Even marriage to me?' He sounded angry, oddly
enough. She couldn't think why, except that this
discussion must be hurting him somehow or he
wouldn't look like that, so grim and controlled.
'Obviously I have no right to choose for her,' she
stammered. 'But I'm afraid I would rather she mar-
ried my father.' She gave him an appealing look, her
eyes wide. 'I'm sorry, Max, but Rolf needs her more
than you do.'
'You think you know what I need, little girl?' His
anger was out in the open now, blazing in the tight
nostrils, thinned lips and narrowed eyes.
'You aren't the sort of man to need a woman in
that way,' she said nervously.
'In what way?' he pressed sardonically.
She flushed. 'You're too strong, too much of a
loner, to need a woman like Dodie to lean on ... in
many ways Rolf is weaker than you. He needs love
What am I? Some sort of subhuman in no need
of love?' He sneered at her. `What do you know
about needs, Katya? You're still a child. There are
some needs only a woman can fulfil, but you're too
ignorant to know about those, and I pity the man
who has to teach you, because you're too much of a
coward to be able to give him the response he'll de-
Katrine had no answer to give to that. It was not
true, but she could hardly assure him of that with-
out betraying herself.
Max drove her home in a deadly silence. She mut-
hurried goodnight in the kitchen and dived
upstairs. There was no sign of Rolf and Dodie. She
undressed, showered and stood in the darkness of
her room staring out into the garden.
A glowing tip of light betrayed Max's presence
down there. As if he sensed her above him he turned
and glanced up. 'Go to sleep,' his cool voice com-
She stayed there briefly, looking down upon the
pale oval of his upturned face. She would have liked
to have gone down into the scented, breathing dark-
ness and walked with him among the lawns and
flowers, listening to the whisper of the trees over-
`Goodnight,' she whispered, however, and reluc-
tantly went to bed.
She heard him drop his cigarette, stamp on it and
walk away. The garden seemed achingly empty after
that. It was a long time before she fell asleep.
breakfast next morning she was astonished to
find Rolf and Dodie already seated at the table.
Sebby was standing behind them, grinning like an
ape. On the table stood a silver wine cooler from
which projected a bottle of champagne.
Katrine paused, taking all this in with a rapid
glance. Rolf and Dodie gave her a half laughing,
half scared smile.
'Is it true?' She ran, ecstatically, to hug them both.
'I can tell by your faces ... oh, it's wonderful! I'm so
happy! Dodie, dearest Fra! I did hope it would
come true and it has ! '
'I told you, Madame,' Sebby said smugly.
'You did,' Dodie nodded to him. She held Katrine
close, her smooth cheek pressed against the girl's.
'Darling Katya, thank you for saying all that! Max
thought you would be pleased, but I was not sure. I
knew you were fond of me, but I was not sure how
you would feel about a step-mother ...'
'You've been my second mother for so long that it
will just be a sort of legal confirmation of the fact,'
Katrine told her. She smiled at her father. 'Lucky
Fra! You couldn't have done anything to make me
Rolf beamed, handsome and golden-bearded in
the morning sunlight. 'I'm ashamed to admit that
my motives were purely selfish,' he teased her. 'I
proposed to her because I want her for my wife. It
only later occurred to me that you might like having
her as a mother.'
She laughed. 'Wicked Fra.! I know you are going
to be happy together. I thought last night what a
wonderful couple you make Made for each other.'
Cleo drifted in, wearing an aquamarine silk
nightgown rather loosely and inadequately covered
by a matching negligee. She stopped, staring at the
champagne in puzzled surprise. Then she saw their
faces, sheepish, happy, a little eager.
Cleo gave a hard laugh. `Do I detect a happy event
in the offing?'
Dodie did not move to embrace her, as she had
with Katrine. Rolf held out his hands to Cleo as he
told her simply his news. Cleo looked at him, then
`Congratulations, Dodie. You pulled it off ! But
what about Max? Isn't he going to object slightly
to this jolly event?'
Dodie looked sadly at her. Rolf exclaimed angrily.
`Don't speak to Dodie like that, Cleo! You foul-
mouthed, ill-tempered little vixen ! '
Cleo sneered back. 'I'm sorry—I can't pretend to
be ecstatic over your betrothal scene. Frankly, I find
it in poor taste. Aren't you a little old for romance,
Rolf went scarlet with rage. He spluttered furi-
ously like a damp squib. Cleo laughed and drifted
out before he had time to say all the violently angry
things he had boiling in his head.
Dodie restrained him ruefully. 'Forget what she
said, darling. I'm afraid poor Cleo is not happy. She
has not been happy for a long time.'
'Not since she split with her cousin,' Sebby said
Katrine spun to stare at him. 'What did you say?
Split with whom? Do you mean Nicky?'
Sebby looked back at her stolidly. Rolf sighed.
'There was something between Cleo and Nicky a
while back. About two years ago, I think. They were
in a production together—a Feydeau farce at the
New Horizon. Then suddenly they had a row. Cleo
has been difficult ever since.'
Two years ago?' Katrine had a sudden inspira-
tion. 'I wonder if that was around the time Delia
Brett married her dog biscuit king?'
What?' They all stared at her in dumbfounded
'Are you all right, darling?' asked Dodie
'Perfectly,' Katrine nodded. 'Where's Max?'
'Still in bed,' Sebby grunted. 'Not like him. I
think he was late home last night.'
Katrine made for the door without another word.
She dived up the stairs and tapped on Max's door.
There was no answer. Had he got up already and
gone out? She pulled the door open and peered in-
The curtains were drawn tightly. The room lay
in shadowed coolness. She tiptoed to the bed and
looked down upon his face in repose. The long,
bony nose; the firm mouth and jaw, the heavy-lid-
ded eyes—all relaxed in sleep, leaving an impression
of surprising youth. His dark hair spilled over the
pillow. Tenderly she brushed it back from his fore-
Quick as a flash his hand shot up and grasped her
wrist. She gave a cry of alarm. His eyes were wide
open, staring up at her.
Well, well, well,' he drawled. `To what do I owe
this honour, my girl?'
`Y ... you overslept,' she stammered. 'Rehearsals,
remember?' She tugged at her hand, but he would
not release it.
That isn't why you ventured in here,' he said,
watching her face thoughtfully. 'Tell me the real
`You remember you said Roddy published a story
about Nicky and a girl called Delia?' She burst out
`Yes,' he said, watchful.
Was that two years ago?'
'It might have been,' he admitted.
Was Nicky dating Cleo then?' she asked point
His brows rose. 'I see. This explains your urgent
need to see me. What if he was? Jealous?'
She brushed the question aside. 'Why didn't you
tell me? Why didn't Cleo say something? Last sum-
mer in Provence ... I felt there was something, but
everyone was so tight-lipped about it. Why all the
`You weren't involved. It had nothing to do with
you. I doubt if Cleo wanted to broadcast the fact,
and Nicky wanted to keep it all as quiet as possible.
Delia was sick enough about it as it was, you see.
There was a general agreement to keep it quiet.'
`So when Roddy broke that story, he ruined what-
ever there was between Cleo and Nicky as well as
almost stopping Delia's marriage?'
Max nodded. 'Sweet of him, wasn't it?'
'I wonder why he did it.' she murmured, her
brow wrinkled in thought.
`Because he's a poisonous little insect,' Max sug-
She looked down at him, then tugg
ed her hand
free. He permitted her to go, but his eyes mocked
her as she moved away from the bed.
`Better run, sweetie! I'm getting up now.'
She flushed and escaped without another word.
By the time she had finished her breakfast, which
included a glass of Fra's best champagne by way of
celebration, Dodie and Rolf had driven off together.
Cleo, sleekly casual in jeans and a very low-cut silky
sweater, was fastidiously finishing her yoghurt while
Sebby cleared away the champagne bucket.
Max arrived in time to hear Nicky hooting voci-
ferously at the gate. 'What does he want?' he de-
Cleo shrugged. 'Not me,' she said tightly.
Katrine grabbed her copy of the play and ran
down the drive. Nicky swung his car door open. 'I
want words,' he said.
She climbed in, and they shot off at breakneck
Nicky drove staring straight ahead. After a while,
he said, 'Katie, remember last summer?'
'In Provence? Of course,' she said softly.
He shot her a queer look. 'How well?'
She was bewildered. 'Well enough, I suppose. We
had a great time. The weather was superb and we
'Fun?' He seized on the word eagerly. 'That was
—for you? Just fun? Nothing more?'
She hesitated, then said firmly, 'Nothing more,
Nicky. And I don't think it was anything more than
fun for you, either, now was it, honestly?'
He let out a long sigh of relief. 'Well, no, frankly.
You're a dear, sweet girl, darling, and I played a
rotten trick on you. I wanted to make someone
jealous, so I flirted with you a lot. I didn't think
what effect it might have on you until it was ...
pointed out to me last night.'
'Cleo?' she guessed tolerantly. She watched
Nicky's very handsome, faintly unstable profile.
'How did you know?'
'It wasn't difficult to guess. What did Cleo say?'
He slowed down and eventually drew in to a
grass-edged lay-by where they could talk safely.
Turning. he faced her, his arm along the seat. 'Cleo
was furious with me about you. She thinks I'm a
flirt, completely untrustworthy. She said I'd made
you unhappy by playing around with you last sum-
mer. I was sure you hadn't taken me seriously, but
she wouldn't accept that.'
In fact, she thought wryly, Cleo had not been far
wrong. Until recently she had been very unhappy
over Nicky. It was only the advent of Max that had
cured her. Nicky was a dangerous person to have
around if one was an impressionable young girl, like
introducing a match into a gunpowder factory. His
blond good looks and that facile charm could be
Aloud, she said, 'I'll speak to Cleo, if you would
like me to, Nicky.'
He looked eagerly at her. 'Would you? Tell her
what you just told me—that it was all fun for you,
too. That should convince her, shouldn't it?'
'Let's hope so,' she agreed. She waited a moment,
then said, 'Nicky, tell me something. Why did
Roddy publish that story about Delia
and you? Did
you ever find out?'
'Sheer malice,' Nicky said flatly.
'Oh, I can't believe that,' she protested. She just
could not accept that Roddy was so beastly.
Nicky shrugged. 'Why else? Cleo had not known
about Delia. You know how proud your sister is—
when she read that foul little paragraph about me
and Delia she went mad. She refused to see me
again, to go out with me. We worked together for
months and she never spoke a civil word. I used to
have to kiss her twice a night and four times with
the matinee. It was sheer bloody hell. It got so bad
that I used to break out in a sweat the moment we
walked on stage. I shook like a leaf when I was about
to kiss her. And Cleo used to look me straight in the
face, as cool as a damned cucumber.'
Katrine could imagine Cleo only too well. She
had always been a very reserved girl, proud and
independent. She would close up in her pain and
refuse to allow anyone to suspect her real feelings.
'Poor Cleo,' she said gently.
'Poor Cleo?' Nicky looked affronted. 'Poor me,
you mean. You can't imagine what it was like, kiss-
ing that stiff-backed little iceberg. She used to give
me contemptuous smiles which froze my marrow. I
was glad when that run ended. I was at the end of
'And I never suspected,' she murmured. 'I must
have been blind not to have noticed.'
'I hope I can still act,' Nicky said indignantly. He
added drily, 'Cleo isn't bad, either.'
'She's superb,' Katrine said honestly. 'She really
fooled me all the time. I thought she hated you.'
Nicky looked gloomy. 'She does. That wasn't act-
Katrine eyed him sympathetically. 'I'm not so
sure. Last night even I began to notice something
between you ...'
'Yes, hate,' he said.
No,' she shook her head. 'I'll see Cleo. I'm sure
you're being too pessimistic.'
Rehearsals started late and progressed badly. Max
was in a crisp, no-nonsense mood which involved a
number of annihilating remarks scattered indis-
criminatingly among the cast. Katrine was not safe
from them. Nor was Cleo, who looked blackly at
Max without replying. Nicky was a victim once and
mistakenly tried to argue only to be slapped down
with ruthless toughness by one of Max's unanswer-
Who does he think he is? Attila the Hun,' whis-
pered Nicky to Katrine.
Max glared at him. 'If you've got something to
say, let us all hear it.'
Nicky mumbled, going dark red. Cleo sneered at
him across the stage. The company studied their
feet and were politely silent.
The day wore on tediously. Everyone was very
careful to keep out of the searchlight of Max's grim
gaze. Even Cleo was subdued. When they broke for
the day, Katrine caught up with her sister and said,
'I want to talk to you. Come for a cup of tea?'
Max is driving me home,' Cleo drawled.
'Please,' Katrine said.
Cleo stared at her, shrugged. 'Oh, very well. I'll
ask Max to wait, but I can't think why it can't wait
until we're home.' She caught Max as he walked off,
and said, 'Can you hang on for half an hour? Kat-
rine wants a private chat with me.'
Max turned his dark gaze upon Katrine. His face
was impenetrable. 'Very well. I'll be in the office.'
They got a cup of tea at the restaurant and took it
out on to the terrace by the river. The water had a
shimmering haze hanging over its surface, reflecting
the deep blue of the summer sky, so that it looked
like a willow-edged piece of broken mirror on which
floated the usual flotilla of ducks.
'From troubles of the world I turn to ducks,'
quoted Cleo lightly. She stirred her tea. 'Well?'
Katrine huskily cleared her throat and began. 'I
just wanted to tell you I'm not in love with Nicky,'
Cleo stiffened, her cheeks suddenly dark red, her
eyes furious and fixed on Katrine's face. 'What?
Did he ask you to come and tell me that? Why,
that ...' She bit off whatever she had been about to
say with a white snap of her teeth.
'You told him you thought I was,' Katrine said
hurriedly. `I'm not doing this very well ...'
No, you're not,' Cleo agreed.
'But you see, you've got it so wrong. I did rather
like Nicky once, last summer. It was very romantic
in Provence ...'
Heady stuff,' Cleo drawled cynically. 'A moon
over blue waters, a guitar playing in the back-
ground, the perfume of many flowers from the per-
fume factory fields behind the town, the sweet
nothings Nicky kept whispering in your shell-like
`Yes, you may laugh, but those things have their
effect,' said Katrine, blushing.
'You bet they do, as Nicky knows. He's an expert,
believe me. He plays potent melodies on that flute-
like voice of his.' Cleo was bitter beneath her light
tone. 'You fell for him. Don't deny it.'
'I don't deny it. But once I was back in England
things looked different. Lately I've been totally in-
different to him.'
Cleo looked sharply at her. 'Indifferent?'
Katrine nodded earnestly. 'He's more my brother
than my boyfriend. I like him, but nothing more
than that. Honestly, Cleo, that is all.'
Cleo bit her lower lip. 'Well, fine. Lucky you.
Join the band of happy escapees from the well-nigh
fatal Nicky Milford charm.'
'Don't? ' Katrine hated the sharpness underlying
Cleo's light words. It was very revealing.
'Oh, believe me, lots haven't got away in time.
The deserts of theatre land are littered with their
'Nicky cares about you, Cleo,' Katrine said.
Cleo turned on her, standing up in a graceful,
angry movement. 'I didn't come out here to hear
you repeating phoney messages from that double-
crossing little creep! If Nicky had any guts he
would not send you of all people to me.'
Katrine watched her walk back towards the car
park, her red-gold hair glinting like coins in the
sunlight. She rose and languidly followed her, drop-
ping her paper cup into the litter bin as she passed.
Max and Cleo were in the car when she arrived.
Max got out and opened the back seat door, gestur-
ing to her to get in. 'Everyone else has gone,' he told
Cleo was silent for the whole of the drive. Her
hair blew softly across Max's shoulder. Once or
twice he casually put up a hand to brush away a
silken strand from his neck. The intimacy of the
gesture wounded Katrine more than she could ad-
That evening they all stayed home to celebrate
Rolf and Dodie's engagement. No news of it had
crept out in the press as yet, and they were hoping to
keep it out of the papers for a while.
`No word to Roddy Sumner,' warned Max, at his
most dictatorial. Katrine nodded without verbal
response since she was so irritated by his autocratic
manner that she would have loved to slap him and
knock the patronising sneer from his face.
`Katrine has grown up with discretion,' Dodie
said in her defence.
Max smiled lazily. 'You astonish me! Who would
have thought it from the way she behaves 1 '
Dodie eyed him oddly. 'Max, Max,' she mur-
mured in a very gentle voice, and Max, equally
oddly, went dark red and left the room.
Rehearsals next day were far more successful.
The company was becoming a unit, acting more
smoothly together, finding the tempo Max had been
trying to reach.
Max was apparently as untouched by success as
he had been by catastrophe. He was the same tyran-
nical, unbending task master who was determined
to wrench a performance out of them if he could
not get one by kindness.
As the days went on it became plain that Max
was manipulating them. He would show them a
bland face, talk and smile with warmth as the re-
hearsal went on—only to change suddenly and
shout, crack the whip, lash them with sarcasm and
contempt. Then the storm would blow away and
the fair weather would set in once more.
He used varying techniques to mould them,
altering completely if he felt he was not reaching a
certain actor. Some of them would only work when
driven. Others needed sympathy and constant
understanding. One or two of the female members
of the cast worked best when he flirted with them—
to them a sexual persuasion was all important. Max
was all things to all of them. He seemed to sense
which approach was best in each situation, and ad-
Watching him work, Katrine was overcome with
admiration for him.
With her, he still used largely persuasion, except
when he lost his temper, and that was rarely over
She always felt very clumsy, very large and awk-
ward, at the start of rehearsals. Her feet seemed to
trip her up. Her hands felt like sausages. She would
stumble on stage, flushed and shaking, a sick sen-
sation in the pit of her stomach.
But once rehearsals were under way she lost all
this fear. She became immersed in the character
she was playing. Her body grew so light she barely
felt it. Her own emotions, fears, dreams fell away
and she took on this other personality; a shy, eager,
terrified young girl lost in nightmare, crying silently
for help with eloquent gestures.
The dress rehearsal culminated for her in her
final scene—her one speech. When she did speak at
last she felt all her grief and despair ringing out,
reaching out to the audience. It was a moment
which left her exhausted, wrung.
As the curtain fell, Dodie turned to her and em-
braced her with a weeping sincerity which was more
of an accolade than the loudest applause. Katrine
knew that she, herself, was crying because there
were tears running into her mouth at the corners,
but she was so totally absorbed in the moment that
she was unable to feel anything.
The rest of the company crowded round her,
congratulating her. Then Max was on stage, as taut
as a whip lash, his face pale and set.
What the hell is this? A mutual admiration
society? We haven't had the inquest yet, so don't
start thinking you can all relax and go home. I've
got a list of problems as long as the Forth Bridge. So
you can stop patting each other on the back and
hear the truth about that abortion of a perform-
They all stared at him, taken aback and down-
cast. He gestured to them to sit down. Then he took
them apart, one by one, bitterly cross-questioning
them, pointing out failures and praising where they
had succeeded. They listened intently, frowning.
long time before they were allowed to go
home, and by then their momentary euphoria had
Katrine looked at Dodie, angry and hurt. 'Why
was he so completely merciless? It wasn't that bad!'
Dodie smiled at her reassuringly. 'It is
make too much of a dress rehearsal. Often that
makes the cast relax, then they are lazy and bad on
the first night. A bad dress rehearsal makes for a
good first night.'
'I see,' said Katrine, not quite sure that she did
see. Cleo laughed, which was surprising, since Max
had been particularly hard on her.
`Darling, even if we have a smash hit of a first
night, Max will be at our throats next morning with
another little list of weak points for us to work on
... don't imagine for a moment that rehearsals stop
just beause we've gone into production! Max will
keep us on our toes.'
Nicky joined them, eyeing Cleo uncertainly. She
gave him a long, cold stare in return. Katrine dis-
creetly moved off with Dodie to join Rolf and Max.
Max glanced across at Nicky and
Cleo. Then he
looked at Katrine, raising those pointed eyebrows.
'Know all about it now, do you? Perhaps you can
see why I told you that your cousin was worthless.'
'Nicky isn't worthless. He has been unlucky,' she
said with hot loyalty. 'But he really loves Cleo ...'
Then, realising that she was speaking to Max who,
also, perhaps loved Cleo, she went pale and compres-
sed her lips.
'Is that what he told you?' Max questioned her,
his tone acid. 'You really can fool some of the people
all of the time, can't you?'
`Nicky meant it. He loves Cleo, I'm sure of it.'
Max's grey eyes probed her face. He sounded
bitter, angry, disillusioned. 'What did he hand you?
A consolation prize? A few goodbye kisses? Or have
you decided it was Roddy you preferred anyway?
You certainly know how to pick second-rate men. It
must be a unique gift.'
She found his tone so unpleasant that she glared
at him with wounded dislike. She was strung up,
emotionally drained, after the dress rehearsal. One
of these painful squabbles with Max was the last
thing she needed.
She followed Dodie and Rolf out to the car and
drove off with them, eager to be home and free to
When she got back she had a shower and went to
bed, her appetite completely vanished. Sebby did
not argue. He knew it was best to let nature take its
She slept badly, waking from time to time with a
feeling of intense fear, a suffocating terror which
she could not shake off.
At last the darkness faded and pale light crept
across the room to the sound of the morning chorus
from the birds. She dressed and went down to the
kitchen. Sebby was already down, squeezing oranges.
He looked at her, gestured to the coffee pot. She
sighed. 'How do I look?'
'Terrible,' he said frankly. 'Like an old grey
She giggled. 'I wish there was some way out of
this,' she said after another moment. 'I wish I'd
never agreed to do it. I've got a feeling that it is
going to be the most disastrous evening of my whole
life ! '
MAX insisted that Katrine rest for several hours that
afternoon. She protested that she felt perfectly fit,
but he firmly led her up to her room, drew the cur-
tains to shut out the sunlight and turned down the
covers on her bed.
'You may not be able to sleep, but you must try
to relax,' he insisted. 'The others are accustomed to
this, don't forget. You're new to it. It will be tiring,
at first. This is a long play—two and three-quarter
hours on stage, and you're out there for almost the
whole of that time, even if you're not saying any-
thing. Just standing or sitting on that stage will be
an enormous emotional strain. Lie down. Keep still.
Try not to think about anything.'
When he had gone Katrine took off her dress,
slipped into her cotton dressing-gown and lay down
obediently. The shady room was full of drowsy sum-
mer sounds. Birds twittered in the trees outside.
Somewhere a man was mowing a lawn. A breeze
rustled through her curtains, blowing them to and
fro, making shifting patterns of light on the bed-
She lay watching them. She tried not to think
about the performance. She tried to make her mind
empty, but unbidden ideas crowded to force them-
selves upon her. She started to worry about failure
again, and at once perspiration sprang out on her
forehead. She struggled vainly against a recurring
picture of herself being booed off stage, or somehow
worse, being watched in stony silence by a large,
Why was she doing this? Why expose herself to
shame and public humiliation? She twisted on the
bed, biting her lip. At last she sat up violently.
Max's idea had been disastrous. Far from feeling
rested. she was feeling hunted. It would have been
better if she had spent the afternoon in the kitchen
with Sebby. making cakes or whisking eggs for
She went to the bathroom and took a cool shower,
dressed again and went downstairs.
Max was in the garden, reading in a deckchair.
He looked at her with a frown as she came towards
him. 'Why are you down here? I thought I told you
'I couldn't,' Katrine said tersely.
His grey eyes searched her face. 'All right,' he
said. 'Come and play chess with me. It will occupy
m going to bake a cake,' she said. 'I find that
Max looked doubtful for a moment, then he sud-
denly smiled, his face full of that individual charm
she was unable to resist. 'Each to his own,' he con-
ceded. 'Make it a chocolate cake. I love them. With
mint-flavoured icing—like the one you made when
you first arrived down here.'
Sebby was drinking tea with his feet resting on a
chair. He grinned at her. Ted up with resting? I
wondered how long you would stick it. Get yourself
Katrine poured herself some tea, then began to
gather together the ingredients for Max's chocolate-
mint cake. Soon she was quite absorbed, her mind at
ease now that her body was active. There was some-
thing so comforting about these automatic actions.
While she was doing mundane tasks she could set
her mind free. Her fears and worries seemed less
looming. She felt more able to meet any problems.
Her confidence blossomed once more.
For a few hours she was happier, but as the time
wore on she grew more and more nervous. As they
drove in to the theatre she was quite openly tremb-
ling, her cold hands pressed together in her lap, her
face as white as the lace collar on her dress.
Backstage it was crowded. The noise was deafen-
ing to her. Excited, anxious, over exuberant young
people swirled to and fro. Last minute wardrobe
alterations were being made. The stage hands were
in busy conference over a door which kept sticking.
A paint-splattered designer was frowning feroci-
ously over copies of the second act backcloth, trying
to think of a way of toning it down since Max had
decided it was too intrusive, too obvious.
Katrine dressed with shaking hands. Seated in
front of her mirror, she opened telegrams, read
them with blurred eyesight, making little of their
good wishes. Viola and Cass came back to kiss her
and wish her luck.
Viola was cheerfully looking forward to her wed-
ding day. 'I seem to be coping quite well with house-
keeping, don't I, Cass?'
Cass grinned. 'You haven't poisoned me yet.
Geoffrey seems prepared to accept whatever you
offer him, so I should say you're safe enough.'
They were delighted to have Katrine inside the
professional fold. 'Now all the Milfords are in the
business!' Cass kissed her warmly. 'One day
must do something together.' He grinned at his
father, who had just come into the dressing-room.
Why should Fra have all the fun?'
Quite right,' said Rolf cheerfully. 'All the luck,
darling.' He kissed her, his beard tickling her cheek.
We're going to have a great time in this play.'
Cleo put her head round the door, nodded to
Viola and Cass. 'What's this? Family gathering? I
just popped in to wish Katie luck. You, too. Fra.'
Max interrupted them with a stern face. 'Sorry to
break up this idyllic family scene, but I want Kat-
rine to have a short rest before she has to go on ...
so hop it, the rest of you. Don't forget, she's new to
Then she and Max were alone. She sat down
again, a sigh almost torn out of her.
Nervous?' he asked, his penetrating gaze fixed on
her face in the mirror.
'Petrified,' she admitted.
He nodded. 'Naturally. We all are on first nights.
Some are sick. Some are stiff as pokers. But we're all
'Viola always felt sick, she said.'
'It will pass once you're on,' he assured her.
Katrine smiled. 'Yes.' She was white under her
make-up, her blue eyes enormous.
He knelt and took her hands between his own,
exclaiming angrily as he felt how cold and stiff they
were. 'My God, you're like ice! ' He rubbed her
fingers, his head bent.
She looked down at him and felt a sickening flood
of love welling up within her. With the heavy-
lidded eyes veiled like that, their cynical intelli-
gence hidden, his features took on a strange brood-
'I hope I don't let you down,' she said huskily.
He raised his head. There was surprise and some-
thing else in his eyes. He still held her hands, his
fingers cool. 'I have no doubts on that score,' he
said gently. 'Neither need you have, my dear. You
She laughed nervously. 'I hope you're right.'
m always right,' he said, as he had said before.
'You may not trust yourself, Katya, but I wish you
could learn to trust me.' His voice was gently chid-
She smiled. 'I do trust you.' Then her real feelings
broke through the polite assurance, and her voice
deepened with emotion as she added, `I'd trust you
He looked as if he might say something, and her
heart began to thud as she caught a gleam of some-
thing odd in those grey eyes. Then he suddenly
drew back, stood up, relinquishing her hands.
`I'll leave you to relax before you go on,' he said
abruptly. 'Just trust me and forget everything else.'
He paused, hesitatingly, looking down at her.
Katrine waited, sensing that he was going to kiss
her, as the others had done.
The kiss was light, neutral, very gentle. It left
her aching and disappointed, yet somehow relieved.
Had Max kissed her in any other way, she knew
perfectly well, she would have been far too strung
up to relax.
It seemed only a moment after he had left her
that she was standing in the wings waiting for her
cue. Then came the dazzle of lights, the outer wait-
ing, breathing darkness and the feeling of un-
bounded panic as she thought of all those eyes out
there watching her, like the eyes of animals in the
jungle, waiting for the moment when they would
pounce for the kill.
For a brief while she was torn between this fear
and her sense of what she should be doing, then
gradually she fell into the pattern of movement she
had established. She forgot the audience, except
with one detached part of her mind. She lived with-
in the mind of another girl, suffering with her, feel-
ing with her, thinking with her.
She moved within the context of the play, her
thin body taking on a gawkiness, a clumsiness which
was extremely moving. In her white face her eyes
stared despairingly. She was pathetic in her youth,
her need, her hopelessness.
When she reached the final part of the play, and
burst into her brief, heart-rending speech, she felt,
suddenly, the silence of the house, the eyes fixed on
her. They were utterly attentive, involved with
what she was saying. She held them, and it charged
her speech with an extra dimension of power.
When she ended there was a silence for so long
that she began to shake.
Then the lights dimmed. And the applause be-
gan. It crashed on and on, like waves beating on a
rocky shore, and Katrine felt dazed by it, bewil-
dered as though she were trapped by the sound and
could not escape.
Somehow she responded with the rest of the com-
pany. They bowed, linked hands, bowed again.
Rolf and Dodie came forward, hand in hand. The
applause rose in volume. Then Cleo was invited
forward by her father and also received an enthu-
siastic welcome. Then, to Katrine's stunned be-
wilderment and disbelief, the three main players
turned and gestured to her to come down to the
footlights. She was rooted to the spot, trembling.
Dodie swept towards her, took her hand and
gently led her under a deafening barrage of ap-
plause. The audience stamped, whistled and
cheered. Katrine did not even know that she was
crying until Dodie, leading her off into the wings,
dabbed at her wet cheeks with a handkerchief and
said, 'Oh, my dear, my dearest ...' in loving, scold-
Cleo said, half laughing, 'I rather think a star is
born, if that isn't too ludicrously trite ... Katie,
you've wasted years of your life, but you've made it
at last, thanks to Max.'
Wet-faced and trembling still, Katrine looked
around for Max, but he was not in sight, and her
heart plummeted. She longed to thank him, to see
him. Just to see him would ease her longings.
Then, suddenly, among the pushing throng of
people shaking hands, hugging and talking, she saw
He was in shirt sleeves, his air abstracted, a frown
on his face. At his side was the ASM, talking fast.
Even now Max was working, even while the excited
audience streamed out of the theatre into the sum-
Cleo pushed through the crowd and flung herself
into Max's arms, her hands clasping his face. 'Angell
Thank you. We owe it all to you ...'
Max looked tolerant, bent his head and kissed
her on the mouth, his hands linking at her waist.
A knife plunged into Katrine's heart and twisted
viciously. She swallowed, turning away.
It was difficult to fight her way through to her
dressing-room through the people wishing to talk to
her, congratulate her, say words of praise. She
smiled, thanked them and felt sick.
Dodie and Fra kissed her. Viola and Cass, Cleo
again, then Nicky. Katrine wondered if this was
really happening to her. Until tonight she had been
on the outside, looking in; she had watched this
madhouse from a distance, she had gone backstage
to wish her family luck, then to congratulate them
after a triumphant first night. Now it was happen-
ing to her, and she hated it.
Faces, voices, hands touching, eyes staring ... she
was sure she was going mad.
Then something happened. A blankness. She
went whiter and whiter, slowly she crumpled to the
`Katya ! ' Dodie cried in dismay, kneeling beside
the small, still body.
What's wrong?' demanded voice after voice. Rolf
was alarmed, demanding, 'Is she sick?'
Max pushed his way, shouldering people aside
ruthlessly, and bent to lift her in his arms. He car-
ried her into her dressing-room and slammed the
Dodie opened it. Behind her the faces pressed.
Max turned on them all a grim, unsmiling face.
Dodie took one look at him and was gone. The
door closed and it was quiet in the tiny stuffy room.
Katrine slowly opened her eyes, feeling the awful
pressure lift from her. Max was beside her, kneeling
at the couch, his grey eyes fixed on her face.
Roughly, he asked, 'How do you feel now?'
`I'm sorry,' she whispered. 'It was too much ...'
The performance?' he asked tersely.
She shook her head. 'No, afterwards ... so many
people ...' She did not add that she had only really
felt the terrible pressure building up at the back of
her head when she saw him kiss her sister.
looked at her angrily. 'You should have gone
straight to your dressing-room, not let them prey on
you like that ... in future, I'll make damned sure
it's clear backstage.
hate a cluttered back house ...'
She lay back, closing her eyes. He took a piece of
cotton wool, soaked it in cologne and gently wiped
her forehead, and then the rest of her face. His
fingers stroked soothingly over her skin. She did
not want him to stop. The movement was so de-
Quietly, he said, 'I suppose you're wondering why
haven't added my praise to all that adulation you
had out there?'
Katrine lay very still. 'No,' she said, her lips only
just moving to say the word.
'You little liar,' he said mockingly.
Her lids fluttered upward. She peeped at him,
crossly. He was looking at her with a twist of his
lips, his eyes full of tolerant amusement.
haven't said anything because for once I'm lost
for words. You gave me everything I had asked for,
and then more.
knew you were going to be good. I
was wrong. I think you're possibly going to be a
great actress.' He spoke in a low, sombre tone, as if
what he said was painful to say, yet the eyes watch-
ing her still held that old mockery.
She flushed with pleasure and incredulity.
He laughed abruptly. 'Well? Is that all you're
going to say?' The mockery deepened. 'Cleo kissed
She hesitated, then flung caution to the winds and
raised herself, her hands shyly touching his shoul-
ders. He watched her as she bent foward to kiss him.
He looked cool, wary, unreadable. She had no way
of guessing what he was thinking.
Her kiss was light, shy, brief. When she drew
back, Max gave her another little smile. 'Thank
you. Not quite in the same class as Cleo's, but no
doubt you'll improve in that direction, too. She's
far more experienced.'
She was cut to the quick by this comparison. 'I'm
sorry if I disappointed you.'
He looked patronising. 'You can't help it, child.
You're still emotionally frozen.'
Her cheeks flushed hotly. 'I'm nothing of the
'Prove it,' he challenged, his eyes daring her.
Katrine had reacted to this provocation before
she knew what she was doing. With blazing eyes and
scarlet cheeks, she flung herself at him, as Cleo had
done earlier, and kissed him with the unleashed
passion which had been building up inside her for
weeks. Her arms wound round his neck, her body
clung to his, she sunk herself in a moment of sheer
Then realisation hit her, she drew back, horrified,
shamed. Her huge eyes met his and she winced. 'I
... oh, no ...' She pushed him away, tried to
scramble to her feet, writhing in humiliation.
Max could hardly doubt now that she was in love
with him. She had made her feelings too horribly
plain. How he must be laughing at her! If he was
not embarrassed and amused ...
'Katya, my love ...'
The words halted her, incredulously, in her
He sounded incredibly serious. She dared to look
at him again. He was pale, his face taut, the grey
eyes full of a leaping emotion she had never seen in
He caught her, pulled her close, her head against
him, his hands moving over her shoulders and back,
his strong fingers stroking, caressing, soothing. She
lay against him weakly, sunk in a sensation of bliss.
'I love you,' he said hoarsely. 'You infuriate and
annoy me and I'm crazy about you. I don't know
what it is about you that sends me off my head—I
just know that whenever I see you I feel like kissing
you until you beg for mercy. Your bones are so
fragile I could break them without any effort, you're
shy and nervous and stupidly brave, and Katya, if
you don't say you'll marry me I'm going to have to
take stern measures.'
She was lost in happy incredulity. Hardly think-
ing, she touched his hard cheek, the line of his jaw,
Max made a strange, strangled noise at the back
of his throat, caught her even closer and kissed her
with a slow, demanding persistence. She felt as if the
warm summer night had completely enveloped
them, dragging them down into a sensual darkness
which left them quite exhilarated yet blissfully
Later, her head on his shoulder, she listened
while he again told her how much he loved her. He
was more himself now, the cool and supercilious
master of his own fate. Yet at the back of those grey
eyes she still saw the shadow of passion, the passion
which had so astonished her earlier.
'I can't remember when I first realised I loved
you,' he said. 'It grew on me slowly. After that, I
saw you more clearly, and I began to suspect you
had it in you to make an actress, if only you could
be coaxed into having faith in yourself. Dodie
agreed with me, and she was able to bring Rolf into
the plot. We were all aware that you needed confi-
dence—I don't think Rolf at that stage realised how
good you were. He just loved his little daughter. I
loved the woman I knew you could be.' He gave her
a teasing smile. 'The woman I'm going to make
Katrine flickered a provocative smile up at him.
What makes you think I'm not that woman now?'
His eyes touched her lips, her throat, moved
downwards with a mocking glint. 'Don't tempt me,
Katya. I'm a man under great pressure as it is—I
shall have to wait until Viola is married before I
can decently get you to church. Two Milford wed-
dings too soon might be more than the world can
Why not a double wedding?' she suggested.
Max laughed outright. 'That shows you're still a
dear little innocent. What? Viola share her big day?
You must be joking. She may be fond of you, but
she would turn that idea down very fast.'
She smiled. 'Don't be cynical.'
'I know the Milfords,' he said. 'They perform on a
vast stage—the whole world is their audience.
They're never off stage, in fact. They perform dur-
ing every waking minute.'
`Me, too?' she asked in mock annoyance.
'You?' He touched her cheek tenderly. 'You're a
changeling, we all know that.'
There was a knock at the door, then Roddy Sum-
ner stuck his head round. His brows jerked together
as he saw them, entwined lovingly on the couch.
'Sorry, I seem to be intruding ...' His voice was
stiff. 'I just dropped in to offer my congratulations.'
'And now you have a double reason for it,' said
Max with great enjoyment. `Katrine just promised
to marry me.'
Roddy stared at her. 'I see. Yes, well, congratu-
lations.' He drew breath. 'Can I use that?'
Max gestured. 'Why not?'
Roddy nodded, turned on his heel and was gone
without another word. Katrine stared at the closed
'He seemed rather put out.'
Max gave her a shrewd, wry look. 'Didn't he just?'
She looked up at him, wide-eyed. 'What is it,
Max? Don't be enigmatic!'
'My dear girl, Roddy Sumner has quite obviously
been in love with you for weeks. I think he loved
you before I did, but he didn't know it. He must
have more intelligence than I gave him credit for—
he saw past your shy façade too.'
She was bright pink and horrified. 'You must be
wrong! Roddy in love with me? No, Max! '
'Yes, Max,' he mocked. 'Why do you think I de-
tested the fellow? I was very afraid you liked him
too—you defended him so fiercely.' He frowned. 'I
found out why he published the story about Nicky
and Delia, by the way—apparently the dog biscuit
king's first wife got on to the old affair between those
two, and tried to scotch her ex-husband's new
romance by having the story made public. But
Delia presumably had more of a hold over the fellow
than had been thought, because he still married
Who told you?' she asked him.
'Roddy himself. I asked him because I was curi-
ous—he was pumping me about something else and
it killed two birds with one stone. It changed the
subject, and it cleared my mind about him.' Max
grimaced. 'I'm sorry for the chap. For the first time
in his opportunist career I think he genuinely cared
for someone other than his miserable self.'
She was unhappy. 'Don't say that! I'm sure
Roddy was never in love with me. He used to call
me Cinderella and urge me to be more sure of my-
self ...' Her tone was unwittingly sad, half admit-
ting that she believed Max.
He watched her expressive little face. 'Never
mind Roddy Sumner,' he said. 'You must change
and come on to the party. I imagine there are hordes
of people out there dying to get another look at you.'
She shivered. 'I'm frightened. Max, don't let's go
to the party ... Let's stay here together. Once we
open that door we let the world in on us. We're safe
and peaceful here.'
By that incredible magic which love releases,
Max understood. 'I know. This is our secret world
and we don't want them in it. But we can't stay here
for ever, darling. We have to come out now and
then. You have to face up to the fact that you've be-
come famous overnight, one of the Milfords at last,
in every sense of the word. You belong to the world
as much as you do to me, in some ways. You have
to go out there and accept what the world offers you
—money, fame, love. We all have to accept what the
world gives us.'
'It's terrifying,' she whispered, shivering.
'Yes,' he agreed. 'But it's exciting, too, and when-
ever the world out there is too much for us, we have
our own secret world to retreat to—a world of love
and peace into which they cannot follow us.'
She sighed. 'You are a comfort, Max. I'm going to
need you every minute of my life from now on ...'
'I'll be there,' he promised. 'And the others will
be there, too: Rolf, Dodie, your sisters and Cass.
We all love you.'
'If only Cleo would forgive Nicky,' she said.
Things would be quite perfect.'
'She will,' he soothed. 'Nicky has too much charm
and poor old Cleo is too well hooked to escape him.
She's struggled valiantly, but she knows Nicky is
her fate, just as you're mine, you soft-hearted, pig-
headed little angel.'
Katrine wrinkled her nose at him teasingly.
'Charming! I shall never be vain with you to say
things like that to me, shall I?'
'If you become vain, I'll beat you,' he promised.
She smiled and then said seriously, 'Although I'm
not sure if I want to act any more.'
Max looked dumbfounded. 'Not act any more?
My God, what are you saying? After this triumph ...'
'Yes, but Max, what about when we start a
family?' She was very earnest. 'You're in your thir-
ties. You'll want to have children soon, won't you?'
Her eyes grew soft. 'I do, I know. A boy and a girl—
just two. I want to look after them myself—no
nannies for my children. It will be such fun ...'
Max was looking at her incredulously. 'You mean
you would give up the theatre again, despite having
made such a hit, just to have babies?'
What do you mean, just to have babies?' She was
indignant. 'I love children, and I shall adore our
children because they'll be yours, darling. You know
how tough life can be for the kids of show business
families. There's nothing so important to a child as
security and love. I mean to give ours all the love
there is ...'
Max lifted her hands to his lips, kissed them al-
most humbly, with a gesture strange in so arrogant
and compelling a man. 'I'm not good enough for
you, Katya. Are you sure you can't do better than
marry an old cynic like me?'
She laughed at him. 'Silly!' She broke off in a
daydream, only to hear Max laughing softly to him-
self, and looked at him in vague inquiry. 'What is
Max grinned at her, his grey eyes alight with
amusement. 'I was just imagining Rolf's face the day
he becomes a grandfather. He won't know whether
to smile or scowl! It will put a permanent end to his
belief that he's still a heart-throb. He'll have to as-
sume the majestic authority of the grandfather
figure instead! '
She laughed. 'Oh, poor Fra! How true! How he'll
hate that! But he'll put a brave face on it and he'll
be a doting grandfather, and Dodie, of course, will
Max grinned. 'One day I'll enlighten Dodie as to
your odd belief that I was in love with her. She'll
tickled pink. You do realise she's ten years my
'She's still beautiful,' said Katrine, laughing and
flushed with self-mockery.
Max looked at her with grey eyes alight with pas-
sion. 'Not as beautiful as you. No woman could be.'
Someone knocked tentatively on the door and
Max grimaced. 'The world is breaking in on us, I'm
afraid. Brace yourself, love.'
'Kiss me quickly,' she said. 'I think I could walk
through fire if you kissed me first ...'
Max did not need to be asked twice. He kissed
her, and the knocking on the door did not distract
either of them from the brief exchange of passion-
ate, silent vows.
Festival Summer - Charlotte Lamb
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