1910. The summer when King Edward died, and the new King George was proclaimed. When - except in Court circles, where everyone wore black - the women's hats were as frivolous and silly as usual, when the sun shone endlessly, or so it seemed in retrospect, and the Jardines and their friends played tennis in long skirts, when one could bear to play at all in the heat. When there was tea every day on the lawn under the cedar, with strawberries, sharp and sweet, dipped in sugar. Charnley's grey stones rising solidly, immutably, against the dark green background of the woods behind. The water playing delicately into the basin of the fountain on the terrace, where the stone Laocoon and his twin sons writhed futilely and everlastingly in the coils of a pair of sea serpents, sent to crush them to death and exact vengeance for the god Apollo.
There hadn't always been Jardines at Charnley. They had arrived there a mere sixty or so years ago, when the Rodhythes, minor aristocracy who had previously owned the house for centuries, having ruined themselves through an incurable inherited addiction to gambling and an indifference to property management, had been forced to sell their ancestral home, since it was in imminent danger of tumbling about their ears. Joseph Jardine, grandfather of the present owner, Amory Jardine, had stepped in and snapped up the house and most of its contents, with new money accumulated through his Scottish and Lancashire textile mills. Thereafter, abandoning his cotton empire, he sank an immense amount of money into repairs and renovations, made some neo-Gothic additions by way of towers and a mock-medieval gatehouse to the original Tudor wings and the later Georgian façade, played with his stocks and shares to recoup his expenses, buried his origins and began to live the life of a country gentleman. Three generations later, it had almost been forgotten that the house had ever been owned by anyone else but Jardines, and thereseemed no reason why they should not continue to live there for ever.
So it seemed to Daisy, at any rate, cooling off in the shade of the weeping ash after a hot bicycle ride back from the village, whence she'd been bidden by her mother to take horrid old Mrs Drake a jar of calves' foot jelly. Unmarried as she was determined to remain, she could see herself taking root here at Charnley, in the same way as that ancient old crone, Mrs Drake, with whiskers on her chin and her nature soured, had grown into the very fabric of her tumbledown cottage, refusing stubbornly to move into one of the recently improved almshouses. Silly old besom! thought Daisy. (The old woman had not been suitably grateful for the largesse from the big house, though her daughter-in-law had cried shame on her, and Daisy had ridden home the long way round, to punish herself for expecting Mrs Drake's gratitude, and for being mortified when it hadn't come.) But on arriving home, she'd flung her bicycle down in the stable yard and rushed into the kitchen for a glass of lemonade, by now feeling that her penance had been excessive - though she could never help the guilt feelings induced by comparison of her own comfortable living conditions to those of even the best-off villagers.
"Well, I never, Miss Daisy, bursting in like that, what a turn you gave me!" declared the cook, jumping up in a fluster from an afternoon doze in a chair by the window, her apron over her face. "I'm sorry, but my lemonade's all been taken down to the tennis court, and I've only some barley water I've made for old Nurse. I can squeeze you a lemon into some of that, though," she added, relenting, for Daisy was spoilt by all the staff, who liked her unaffected manners and happy nature.
"Oh, bliss, Mrs Heslop, you're a brick!"
"I can be," returned Mrs Heslop drily, "when it do take me that way."
Daisy had downed the drink, cool from the dark pantry, in unladylike gulps, and then begged another, which she carried outside, into the shade of the ash. Still scarlet-faced, the blood beating under her fair skin, she sat leaning against the trunk, her slippery, unmanageable hair escaping from under her boater and sticking to her forehead in unattractive wisps, likewet straw. She removed the hat and flung it to the ground, wishing she could do the same with the offending hair. Oh, why couldn't she have been blessed with hair like Vita's - dark, glossy and wavy, framing her pretty face even more beautifully now that it was up? Or like her mother's pale and shining, supremely elegant coiffures, which stayed in place exactly as she wished them to stay? But then, nothing, not even a stray hair, was allowed to interfere with Beatrice's calm intentions. Things always happened just as she wished, in the recognisable, organised pattern that defined her well-conducted, irreproachable life. Impossible to imagine Beatrice breaking out of the mould, as Daisy so longed to do. She was so effortlessly good.
As for Daisy - nothing seemed right to her, that summer, half adult, half child as she was, lingering in the awkward hiatus between schoolroom and coming out. She had no one to talk to: Vita was too busy with her Bertie and their wedding preparations to have time to amuse a younger sister, and Harriet, as usual, contrived to bury herself in the library as much as possible in order to avoid the tennis- and tea-parties, picnics and other entertainments devised by their mother as a guise for match-making. Beatrice's admirable devotion to the onerous duty of marrying off three daughters was unswerving. But Harriet, Daisy thought, might already have made up her mind where her affections lay. There was a sort of tension between her and Kit whenever he was here, they were already linked in everyone else's eyes, though Harriet hadn't yet given her word to him. Perhaps, knowing him so intimately since childhood, she knew it wasn't wise to give in to him too easily. Or that was what Miss Tempest had shrewdly suggested.
Positively the worst thing of all about this summer to Daisy was that her governess, Miss Tempest, had astonished everyone (except Daisy herself) by departing to become a suffragette. Leaving Daisy, without her, to face the awfulness of her approaching season, which would not begin until next year, but already loomed as large in her mind as it did in her mother's. There would be her coming out ball to launch her upon the London social scene, followed by an endless round of events, with her mother or dread Great-aunt Edina acting aschaperone to see that she behaved herself, the sort of events Miss Tempest scornfully dismissed as light-minded: Ascot and Henley Regatta and all the rest of it, dances and balls - house parties, dinner parties, after-theatre suppers, all simply in order to snare a young man like Bertie. Oh, misery, no, not like Bertie, please not, harmless though he was! Harmless and amiable - but such a ninny! Rich, however, and well-connected, already supervising the building of a lovely house across the valley where he would take Vita to live after their wedding, where they would have three or four children and live predictably ever after. Whereas what Daisy wanted - no, what she most passionately desired in the world at this moment - was to join Athene Tempest in that other London, far removed from the world of parties and dances and frivolities like that, and do great and worthy and wonderfully thrilling things by working for women's suffrage. Distribute leaflets demanding votes for women, sew banners (though alas, they would certainly be crooked if she had anything to do with the making of them!). Break windows and chain oneself to railings, perhaps go to prison for it. Throw bombs, even.
Frustrated, Daisy contemplated the impossibility of running away to do any of these things, finished Nanny Byfield's barley water and sat inelegantly, since no one was around to see, with her black-stockinged knees to her chin, and her skirts above them for coolness, showing her drawers; and trying to keep her thoughts from turning to the dreaded arrival of Miss Jessamy, who was to replace Miss Tempest. It was shady under the weeping ash, and though small insects constantly dropped from the canopy, and the roots made for uncomfortable sitting, she stayed where she was. The sounds of tennis being played drifted across to her, and she was far too hot to want to be drawn into a game. But then, as the clock over the stable struck four, came the agreeable realisation that it was too late for that. There would be tea in a quarter of an hour.
Presently, at precisely quarter past four, she saw Albrighton approaching across the lawn at a stately pace, wheeling the tea trolley, attended by the plump, pretty little parlourmaid, Cheevers.
Beatrice Jardine, presiding over the teacups, drew in a deep, steadying breath at the sound of that once-familiar voice. A faint tinge of colour appeared on her creamy white skin, a teaspoon rattled slightly against a saucer, but then she pushed back her chair, rose and walked, graceful and statuesque, across the lawn towards the speaker, extending a hand. "Valery!"
"So!" the young man exclaimed with satisfaction. "You knew me then!"
"How could I not? No one else has ever pronounced my name in that ridiculous way! And besides, we were expecting you."
He raised her soft, be-ringed hand to within a quarter of an inch of his lips, and they surveyed one another, for a moment not smiling. His eyes assessed the woman before him: Beatrice, on the eve of her forty-fourth birthday, was still a beauty, exquisitely dressed in cream shantung, cool and smelling of lily-of-the-valley, gracious and welcoming, the society hostess personified. She saw Valery Akhmet Iskander as the others must see him: milky-coffee skin and a pair of sharp, light-blue eyes, high cheekbones and tight, dark curls, a sloping profile and a wide, white smile, a handsome though unexpected combination due to his mixed Russian and Egyptian parentage. Unusual but, given the melange of nationalities in Cairo, not unheard of. He had put on a little weight since she last saw him. No one would have guessed how uncomfortably hard her heart was beating as she led him forward. "Welcome to Charnley. Come, let me introduce you to the others. I see you and Kit have already met."
"At the station," said Kit, stepping forward to greet her in his turn, taking her long white hand in both of his, and dropping a light kiss on her scented cheek. "Had we known, we could have travelled down together."
As their hands touched, Beatrice experienced as always the tender rush of emotion for the orphaned small boy Kit had been when first she had seen him and drawn him into the bosom of her family. She almost reached out to smooth the wayward black hair that fell in a comma over his forehead. Heraised his intensely blue eyes to her face, eyes of a blue that was very like her own, and with lashes that any girl would have envied, not disguising his obvious admiration for her, and causing a distinct but not unpleasant flutter of pleasure in the region of her breastbone. Rather quickly, her hand was withdrawn from his clasp. She patted his sleeve in a motherly fashion, and turned away. Iskander was led to the tea-table and presented: "Valery Iskander, an eminent Egyptologist whom I met some years ago while wintering in Egypt."
Smiling, the newcomer bowed his head over the hands of several young ladies in straw boaters and high-necked, long-sleeved muslin blouses with cream serge skirts, shook hands with gentlemen still in tennis whites, who nodded a little stiffly and watched him covertly. It was difficult to say how old he was, though certainly not more than in his mid-thirties, which seemed young to have reached the eminence Beatrice had stated. She was perhaps simply being polite. His dark suit was just a little too impeccable in this gathering, his collar too stiff, his moustache narrow and sleek above the full, sensuous lips. But then he was, after all, a foreigner.
Introductions over, a place was found for him next to his hostess, more tea was ordered, more scones, and, as the conversation resumed its generality, Iskander was given time to study his new acquaintances. The bevy of young women resolved itself into no more than three, all of them Beatrice's daughters: there was Harriet, the eldest, in no way a beauty but striking, tall like her mother, and with a crooked smile and a pair of serious brown eyes under level dark brows: a clever girl, no doubt. Little Vita, the prettiest of the three - endearing pansy face, small white teeth, carnations-and-cream complexion, wearing a large diamond cluster on her engagement finger, indulging in playful asides with her young man, Bertram Rossiter, rosy and rather self-satisfied, who was seated next to her. The other man was a neighbour, a fattish, damp young fellow called Teddy Cranfield, the effect of whose exertions on the tennis court could only be guessed at.
At that moment Cheevers arrived with replenishments, and an urgent question for Beatrice from Mrs Heslop, apparently about the fish for dinner. With a little cluck of annoyance,Beatrice rose and stepped aside to deal with the matter, while the conversation round the tea table continued.
"Mr Iskander, how fortunate that you will be here for Mama's birthday next week! Are you any good at play-acting?" Vita dimpled at him. "I warn you - Harriet will try to rope you in, she's of a managing disposition and we're woefully short of men--men who are willing, that is," she declared in mock reproof at her future husband, and the perspiring Teddy Cranfield.
"An ability to stand still would be more useful than playacting, since it's a tableau vivant we're to do! Barely a week to prepare for it - and we haven't yet decided on a subject!"
That was the youngest daughter, Daisy. An untidy child, her long hair not yet up, her features not fully formed into those of the woman she would become, the only one of the three who had Beatrice's gold silk hair, her pale creamy skin, maybe the only one with the promise of their mother's true beauty, but who could tell? She was as yet an unfolded bud. Her looks did not quite accord with her ways, however, that much was apparent even to a newcomer such as Iskander. Like her elder sister Harriet, a lively intelligence animated her face, and she spoke with a vehemence and conviction that could never have come from Beatrice. There was nothing in the least remote and cool about her.
"But why," he asked in soft, rather sibilant, but excellently English tones, "do you not choose something where no men are needed? Botticelli's 'Three Graces' comes to mind." His smooth smile travelled from one sister to the other.
"Too easy," said Harriet immediately. It had been thought of before, and dismissed, but she was too polite to say so. "The audience is supposed to guess, you see, Mr Iskander."
"And three such beauties would immediately give away the answer, of course."
Kit gave a short laugh, but Bertie and Teddy Cranfield were reduced to an embarrassed British silence at this confirmation of what their instincts had already told them about the fellow. Beatrice, returning to her seat, said, "Girls, you're not to plague Mr Iskander when he's only just arrived. He needs a little peace after his train journey from town."
"Oh, bother, yes, that train! Isn't it just too tiresome?" demanded Daisy. "Miss Jessamy should have been on it, too." Her thickly dark-lashed hazel eyes sparkled, so attractive a contrast with that golden hair. "Are you sure you didn't see any mousy person in a governessy grey dress lurking in the shrubbery outside the station, Mr Iskander? Or did you, Kit?"
"Daisy!" As a perfect hostess, the word tiresome in connection with guests - or even one soon to become an employee - was not one Beatrice allowed to be on anyone's lips. "I'm certain Miss Jessamy will not be like that in the least. There has simply been some misunderstanding, which will no doubt resolve itself shortly," she added, though Rose Jessamy not being on the train would in fact mean all sorts of complications, not the least of which was that Copley would have to be available to take the motorcar (though perhaps the pony trap would do) down to the station again to meet all likely trains ... But how unmannerly of her, she thought privately, if she had been prevented from catching the train she had indicated she would travel on, not to have sent word to let them know when she might be expected! Such a communication would not have been difficult, they were not behind the times here at Charnley. The house, as well as being equipped with electric light, three bathrooms and hot water heating pipes running beneath the floors of the ground floor rooms, boasted a telephone set. Or if, like many people, she was averse to using the instrument, why not send a telegram? Even a letter posted in London that morning would have arrived here by now. "She is not a governess, she is an artist," she said, as if that explained everything about the missing woman.
"I expect she paints pretty little woodland scenes," Daisy said carelessly. "What a pity the bluebells are over!" Beatrice widened her sapphire eyes warningly, but chose to say nothing in front of the others, and turned her attention once more to the teapot. Her youngest child was becoming dangerously sharp-tongued. Miss Tempest's departure had come not a moment too soon.
"Don't vex your mama, Daisy," Kit drawled, accepting a cup of tea from Beatrice and watching her from under his lids. "I can vouch for it you will be very pleasantly surprised whenyou do meet Miss Jessamy."
"Will I? Oh, do tell! I had no idea you knew her!"
"Well, as to knowing ... it was I who first took Marcus along to the Alpha Workshops - that's a kind of artists' commune where she's been painting and selling her work. She's regarded as a very talented and most unusual person."
An artists' commune! Beatrice frowned, but only very slightly. After forty, one could not afford that indulgence. She had not been made aware of any communes, artistic or otherwise and, not for the first time, she wondered if Miss Jessamy was indeed going to be the good idea, the solution to Daisy's companionless state she had seemed to offer at the time. When Miss Tempest had so inconsiderately left, it had hardly seemed worth the trouble of finding a new governess - Daisy was almost seventeen and would be coming out next year, and Beatrice knew only too well the tribulations of finding the right kind of person to guide a young girl, especially one so impressionable as Daisy Look how Miss Tempest had turned out! Inculcating rebellious, quite unacceptable ideas into the girl's head, a fact which Beatrice had unfortunately only learned after the young woman's abrupt departure. Yet Daisy could not be left to her own devices.
The plan to engage Miss Jessamy as a companion for her had come about as a sudden inspiration, born of one of those reckless impulses, of which few people suspected Beatrice was capable, after seeing what this Miss Jessamy had done when making over the London house of Beatrice's dearest friend, Millie Glendinning. Charnley, unlike the family's house in London, could not be considered elegant, however well-loved it was. And at that moment, its brocatelles and velvets, antique wallpapers and heirloom furniture, the buhl and ormolu, walnut and mahogany, the mountains of French porcelain collected on their grand tours by those Rodhythes whose heavy, gilded portraits still gazed down from the walls, suddenly seemed to Beatrice to be static and heavy, and lacking in any vigour or newness of ideas. Millie's daringly new and original decorations on the other hand, the colour and texture of her brightly painted walls, exuded a freshness, lightness and gaiety that was like nothing Beatrice - or indeed most otherpeople - had ever seen before.
She rarely allowed her emotions to take control of her common sense, but there were times when she could not help it, and this had been one of them. She was utterly bowled over by the riot of exuberant design that evoked such disturbing ideas and stirred something dormant within her, some longing for change, for distant remembered vistas, some undisclosed awareness that there must be something beyond the safe confines and predictabilities of life as mistress of Charnley, wife of Amory, and mother to his children. Few would have believed that beneath Beatrice Jardine's marble-cool exterior, there beat this longing for something wild and free - and even, perhaps, something dangerous, which was trying to escape. But there it was.
When she was told that the remarkable young woman who had effected this wonderful modern transformation was seeking other commissions, she drew in a deep breath and plunged: it was arranged that Miss Jessamy would undertake the redecoration of some of the guest rooms in the west wing at Charnley. Speed was not what was required: she was to take her time, as long as was necessary, and in return for an additional fee, keep Daisy occupied, which should not be difficult. Daisy was easily interested, receptive to new ideas.
At this moment, however, Beatrice wondered uneasily if she had not allowed herself to be carried away by the tide of enthusiasm that had swept over her. Had she not acted too precipitately, in contravention of her normal rules to herself where her girls were concerned, had she enquired insufficiently into Miss Jessamy's credentials as a fit person to be with Daisy? She had not yet even seen the lady in question, but had engaged her through the intermediary of Marcus, who, it had surprisingly transpired, had already encountered Miss Jessamy and her work several times. Beatrice was immediately reassured when she thought of how completely she could rely on her son's judgement, which was rarely at fault. Though not yet five and twenty, Marcus was steady and sober, like his father, Amory. If he thought Miss Jessamy suitable, there was no more to be said.
And now it seemed that Kit, too, already knew MissJessamy.
She looked up from her teacup, and at that exact moment, caught an exchange between her eldest daughter and Kit that she did not quite understand, an ironic look on Harriet's part which held a certain challenge, an enigmatic one on Kit's. After a moment, Harriet turned to say something to Teddy Cranfield, and Kit brought his glance to rest on Beatrice herself. Her smile answered his. It was, of course, part of his charm, that warm look he bestowed. He had this trick of making one feel there was no one else, at that moment, who mattered.
Yet, despite his sublime good looks - spoiled only (or perhaps not spoiled, simply lifted out of the Byronic cliché) by a rather large nose and an often moody expression, there was something ever so slightly louche about Kit Sacheverell. Perhaps it was his wide-brimmed hats, his flowing ties, the hair that was just a little over-long. She dismissed such thoughts, not willing to think ill of the boy - well, no, a man of twenty-six, now - though she must think of him as a boy to her almost forty-four years.
"I sometimes wish," she had remarked a short while ago to Amory, "that he were a little - steadier, and as for Harriet ..." She had left the rest unsaid. Harriet was at the moment a sore point with her, though it was a state of affairs she was determined not to allow to continue. A fine looking, high-spirited girl such as she was, clever and with all the right connections, should have ended her first season engaged to be married. Vita had managed it. Beatrice herself had been married at eighteen and by the time she was Harriet's age had already produced Marcus, the son and heir, and Harriet herself. Instead, Harriet had, it seemed, fixed on Kit. Oh-so-charming but penniless Kit (though he had high expectations, when that ancient old relative of his shuffled off this mortal coil). Beatrice sighed, with frustration, annoyance - or something deeper.
Amory, she knew, did not altogether share her concern about Harriet. Though he constantly joked that his pocket was not bottomless, he had made generous settlements on his three daughters, he loved them and enjoyed their company and therefore did not see any urgent necessity for finding themhusbands. A highly moral and upright man who showed a stern face to the world but was invariably courteous and gentle with his family, he had married his beautiful wife for love as he knew it, had apparently found deep contentment and wanted nothing better for his children. Moreover, he liked Kit, and was more forbearing towards him than he would have been to his own son, had Marcus ever given him cause for worry, which he had not. Kit would sooner or later, he said, make a go of his chosen profession as a civil engineer - haphazard choice as it was, with romantic notions about building bridges, though there was not much evidence of that as yet, and it was high time he decided not to hang around so much on the fringes of the art world. "Oh, I suspect Harriet will be very good for him."
"The point is, rather," she had replied, a little sharply, surprising herself, "will he be good enough for Harriet? Will any man? She has such high standards, rather too high, I think, and men do not like clever - or sharp-tongued - women. As for Kit ..."
"Well, you are not suggesting Kit falls short in that direction? You know the boy better than any of us, you get on so well with him, Beatrice," Amory said, smiling and patting her hand.
With slight irritation - sometimes, she wished Amory would show just some impatience or disapproval, that he would be less predictable, perhaps (dare she say it?) be a little less dull --she had let the conversation lapse, but at the back of her mind lingered something Kit had once said to her. "I should like, above all else," he had declared passionately, "to have no necessity to worry about whether or not I might afford to buy what I admire - you know, paintings and works of art, things like that."
It was a pity for a young man with such ambitious tastes and such a disinclination to put his shoulder to the wheel and work, that his father had not left him enough money to indulge them, for the present, at least. The old relative had had one foot in the grave for the last twelve years, and was still inconsiderately hanging on. We must not, she thought, let Kit marry Harriet simply because he would then be rich enough to buyanything he wanted. The thought that this idea could be in his mind was so exceedingly distasteful to her, she tried to dismiss it immediately. Kit was not like that. He would not marry Harriet because it was expedient. Beatrice very much wanted to believe this, but at the back of her mind, she thought he might. There were unexplained simmerings, impatiences, ironies below the surface of Kit's sometimes cynical outlook that occasionally unsettled her. Gave off the whiff of danger. The thought made her feel a little breathless.
The afternoon sunlight filtered through the spreading branches of the cedar, lighting her face with gold. How beautiful she is, thought Kit. No one else could come anywhere near her, her daughters, no one. He was in danger of losing his admittedly not very stable balance over her.
Amory Jardine and his son rode down from London in a first class compartment of the early train they always took on Fridays, when guests were often expected for the weekend. For a while, they spoke of matters of the day: Mr Asquith, the Prime Minister's problems with trade disputes and strikes; the high words in Parliament over the ever-present question of Home Rule for the Irish; incredulity expressed by certain letter writers to The Times that the earth could be thought to have actually passed through the tail of Halley's comet, and the growing menace of the presumptuous, troublesome Suffragists. The opinions of father and son were not entirely in accord over this last, and presently they fell silent. Amory opened his attaché case and took out some papers, but Marcus remained uncharacteristically unoccupied. Stretching out his long legs in front of him, crossing them at the ankles, he stuck his hands in his pockets and looked out of the window as the train belched and clattered through the dirty London suburbs and into greener, ever greener countryside, and thence on to a branch line, while pleasurable, rather daring, thoughts stirred in him.
They were physically somewhat alike, father and son, with dark hair and eyes, though Marcus overtopped his more stockily-built father by half a head, and he was less outwardly austere in his demeanour. He had an engaging shyness of manner,which caused him to stammer a little, but mostly only when his emotions got the better of him. He had become a lawyer and worked in his father's chambers, with the hope of following in his admirable footsteps in the fullness of time. Amory had built up a successful practice at the Bar, had become a KC and was looking for elevation to the Bench. A knighthood was rumoured to be in the offing.
Marcus's reserve, in fact, came from his father. Though in public, as befitted a lawyer, Amory's flow of words could be undiminished, his innate reticence caused him in private life to be sparing of speech, and disinclined to demonstrate his affections, and at times manifested itself as a certain coldness, at least with those he didn't know well. Even so, no one knew better than Marcus that everyone around Amory must always behave with the utmost probity and circumspection, and he looked at him now with a slight tremor of foreboding. But perhaps he was rushing his fences. Perhaps incurring his father's disapproval was a circumstance that would never arise.
Eventually, the train steamed into the little wooden country station. Marcus lowered the window with the leather strap, thrust out his hand to open the door. The platform was empty as usual, except for the accustomed figure of Joseph Jimson, the young porter, whose sole task, it sometimes appeared, was to await the arrival of the trains which brought and bore away visitors to and from Charnley House - and to deliver to the big house on his bicycle the fresh supplies of fish and meat which were sent direct from Billingsgate and Smithfield. If he were lucky, and he usually was, for he was a handsome and likeable young fellow, Mrs Heslop would give him a cup of tea and a slice of bread and jam, or a piece of cake, and if he were even luckier, he'd have the chance to steal a kiss from Polly Cheevers, his sweetheart, before cycling off again.
He touched his cap to Mr Jardine and Mr Marcus as they alighted and walked towards the exit and the road outside, where Copley waited with their motorcar. He expected them to be the only arrivals, but this afternoon there was another passenger.
"Why, there is M-m-miss Jessamy!" declared Marcus a moment later, striding forward with pleasure towards adistinctly eccentric, plain-looking little figure who was scrambling from the end coach of the train, and distractedly attempting to dump on to the platform her luggage, which seemed to consist of a large number of straw baskets, odd-shaped valises, a large satchel and an easel, as well as sundry other parcels, before it should be carried on to somewhere like Leighton Buzzard or any other uncivilised destination. Jimson, who had already had a similar, earlier encounter with Mr Iskander's equally oddly assorted baggage, was already there, helping her and assuring her he would not let the train go with her bags still on board. She smiled her thanks at him, instantly vanquishing the idea that she was plain, and the smile widened even further when she saw Marcus striding towards her.
Amory watched in disbelief as Marcus and the porter gathered up her belongings. Jimson pocketed a shilling, and shouldered the largest of the boxes to the waiting motorcar. Marcus came forward with the owner of the luggage, a great deal of which was now distributed variously about his own person. So this, thought Amory, was Miss Jessamy, who had been engaged to be his beloved youngest child's companion! Much younger than he had expected. Diminutive but very straight-backed, she wore a bunchy skirt short enough to show her ankles, and a loose blouse with a sailor collar and a floppy tie. Her hair was an unruly fiery red mop, cut level with her ears, underneath which a small, Pekingese face peered somewhat defiantly. She was hatless, though a battered straw, somewhat resembling that worn by donkeys, hung down her back by its ribbon. And gloveless. And, if he were not mistaken, Amory thought, scandalised, stockingless!
Jimson kept his face straight and wondered in a mutter to swarthy-faced Copley, Charnley's chauffeur, groom and occasional handyman, as they heaved the box on to the back of the motorcar, what in hangment Mrs Jardine would say when confronted with this second eccentric guest of the day. "Right one, that, ain't she?"
"One of them Bohemiums," returned Copley with a broad wink, watching the young master hand her into the motor as though she were a right lady. "Reckon Mr Marcus'll be well inthere. Free love and all that, bet she's a bit of all right between the sheets."
No one knew, or guessed, how momentous - disastrous might be a better word - the arrival of this small person at Charnley was destined to be.
Not Polly Cheevers, the parlourmaid who was watching from her attic window, where she had been sent to change her apron - another clean apron, meaning a penny docked off her wages, and how was she to do her work without getting it dirty at all? - as the motorcar drew up and Mr Marcus descended, helping down that scrawny little figure.
Nor that cheeky-faced Alf Copley, who was grinning at her in a familiar way and looked like as not to pinch her bottom, as he did with any of the maids when he got the chance.
Nor Clara Hallam, lady's maid to Mrs Jardine. A plain and angular woman for whom the world contained quite enough responsibility, thank you very much, without having to help with the rag-tag luggage of red-haired hussies without hats or stockings, as she'd been ordered to. She was deeply religious and attended the Baptist chapel, and deplored the free and extravagant lifestyle at Charnley. Though it was, after all, precisely this extravagance which permitted her employment here.
As for Beatrice ... she wasn't there to greet her new guest. The pleasure of that would come later.
THE SHAPE OF SAND. Copyright © 2004 by Marjorie Eccles. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.