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A Time for Silence
The Daughters of England
By Philippa Carr
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Philippa Carr
All rights reserved.
I often thought how lucky I was to have been born into a well-knit family. There had been a wonderful sense of security in those early days to know that besides my parents there were others, such as Aunt Rebecca and her family in Cornwall where I went now and then for holidays. Then there were the Cartwrights—Rebecca's husband's people down there. They always made much of me.
Aunt Rebecca was my mother's half sister and they were devoted to each other; then there was Uncle Gerald, my father's brother. He was a colonel in the Guards and was married to Aunt Hester, a very energetic lady who was immersed in army life and her two sons, my cousins, George and Harold.
Apart from the family, there were the Denvers, and through them Jean Pascal Bourdon—that fascinating and somewhat enigmatic character about whom, for me, there was an almost satanic aura. He was Aunt Belinda's father.
Closest to me was my mother, although my father came very near. I admired him deeply. He was a highly respected Member of Parliament. He was always busy, if not in London at the House of Commons, in the country at Marchlands, where he was "nursing" the constituency. When the House was sitting late, my mother used to wait up for him with a little cold supper so that they could talk together about the day's proceedings. She had done that for her own father, who had also been in Parliament. In fact, that was how she had come to know the Greenhams and had married one of them, for the two families had been friends since her childhood. I had heard it said that she had adopted the habit from Mrs. Disraeli, who used to do it for the great Benjamin.
My father was very highly regarded; his words were often quoted in the newspapers when he made a speech either in the House or at some meeting. Yet, although his party had been in power since 1905, he had never attained Cabinet status. And he never sought it.
In spite of the fact that he was a normal, loving father and completely approachable, there was some mystery about him. For instance, there were occasions when he went away and we were never sure where he was going and when he would come back. Whether my mother knew, I could not be sure. If she did, she would never tell.
"Oh, he's going on Government business," she would say, but I, who knew her well, could detect a certain anxiety at such times, and she was always relieved when he returned.
I suppose it was because of this that I felt there was a little part of my father which I did not know, and this made him seem apart from me, as my mother never was. He was a good man and I loved him dearly, but this mystery, vague and intangible, was always there.
I once told my mother that I was glad to be called Lucinda, because she was Lucie and that made us seem like a part of each other. She was touched and told me that she had always wanted a daughter, and the day I was born was the happiest in her life. And how different her life had been from mine. Not for her, in those early days, had there been the security of loving parents and a big family about her.
"Your Aunt Rebecca was as a mother to me," she had told me. "I often wonder what would have happened to me if it had not been for Rebecca." In those early days she had not known who her father was, and it was much later when she discovered that he was the well-known politician Benedict Lansdon and that she was Rebecca's half sister.
Then, having learned of their relationship, she and Benedict Lansdon became very important to each other. She talked of him now and then; she would glow with pride and then be overcome by sadness, for one day when he was about to step into his carriage which was to take him to the House of Commons, he was shot and killed by an Irish terrorist. She had been with him when it had happened.
I tried to imagine what it must have been like to see one's father killed, to see the life of a loved one snapped off suddenly. I believe she had never really recovered from it. And it had been the beginning of very bizarre troubles, through which she had to pass before she found happiness with my father.
She had been married before but she never talked of that, and I knew I must not ask. In fact, it was only rarely that she could bring herself to mention those days.
She did say once, "Sometimes it is almost worthwhile going through great tribulation, because when it is over you learn to appreciate what true happiness is, and you cherish it as perhaps people cannot who have never known the reverse."
I was so happy that she had married my father and all that was behind her.
I said to her, "You have us now ... my father ... Charles and me."
"I thank God for you all," she said. "And Lucinda, I want you to be happy. I hope you will have children of your own one day and then you will know the joy they can bring."
Perhaps closer to us than our own blood relations were the Denvers. Aunt Belinda and her daughter would arrive at any time, but sometimes their visit was preceded by a short note announcing their imminent arrival. I had heard Mrs. Cherry say that they treated the house like a hotel and she wondered madam allowed it, she did really.
I stayed in Hampshire now and then. They had a wonderful manor house and a large estate that Sir Robert, with his son's help, took great pride in managing.
I always enjoyed my stays on the Caddington estate. I thought Caddington Manor was very exciting. It was considerably older than Marchlands and had been in existence since the Wars of the Roses. There had been a Denver there from the beginning. He did very well on the accession of Henry VII and had continued to prosper under the Tudors. Throughout the conflict the family had been staunchly Lancastrian, and all over the manor were carvings of the Red Rose on walls, fireplaces and staircases. I learned quite a lot about the Wars of the Roses after even my first visit to Caddington Manor.
The picture gallery was a source of great interest to me. Annabelinda shrugged me aside when I wanted to ask about the people portrayed there.
"They're all dead," she said. "I wish we could live in London. My father would never agree. That's one thing he is firm about."
"Well, you and your mother don't let that stop your coming," I said.
That made Annabelinda laugh. She had a mild toleration for her father and I think Aunt Belinda felt the same. He was the provider, the kindly, tolerant figure in the background whom they did not allow to interfere with their pleasures.
Robert was a little like his father, but none of them was more interested in the past than I was, and I shared this with Robert.
One of the most exciting aspects arising from our intimacy was Annabelinda's fascinating French grandfather, Jean Pascal Bourdon.
He was quite different from anyone I had, as yet, known.
He was the brother of Aunt Celeste, who had a house near us in London and whom we visited frequently. She was an unassuming woman, who had married Benedict Lansdon after the death of my grandmother, and she had been his wife at the time of the murder. It was rather complicated—as I suppose such families are—but Celeste's brother had been the father of Aunt Belinda. It had all been rather shocking, for Aunt Belinda's mother had been a seamstress at the Bourdons' house and the birth had been kept secret for years. It must have been exciting for Aunt Belinda when this was discovered. Knowing Annabelinda well, and her being so much like her mother, I felt I knew a good deal about Aunt Belinda. She must have been delighted to learn that she was the daughter of this most fascinating man.
Jean Pascal Bourdon was rich, sophisticated and totally different from anyone else we knew. He had taken an interest in Aunt Belinda when he had discovered she was his daughter, and it was at his château, near Bordeaux, that she had met Sir Robert Denver.
Jean Pascal's interest was passed on to his granddaughter, and needless to say, Annabelinda was very impressed by him. She would spend a month or so with him, usually at the time of the wine harvest, and lately I had gone with her.
My mother did not greatly like my going. Nor did my Aunt Rebecca. But Annabelinda wanted me to go and Aunt Belinda said, "Why on earth shouldn't she go? You can't keep the child tied to your apron strings forever, Lucie. It's time she saw something of the world. Bring her out of herself. She hasn't got Annabelinda's verve as it is."
And in due course I went and became fascinated by the château, the mysterious grounds which surrounded it, the vineyards, the country and chiefly Monsieur Jean Pascal Bourdon himself.
Some two years before my tenth birthday, he had married a lady of mature years to match his own. She was of high rank in the French aristocracy—not that that meant a great deal nowadays, but at least it was a reminder of prerevolutionary glory. And the fact that he was married made my mother and Aunt Rebecca a little reconciled to my visits to France; the Princesse would make sure that the household was conducted with appropriate propriety. And after that, as a matter of course, I went with Annabelinda.
I looked forward to the visits. I loved to roam the grounds and sit by the lake watching the swans. My mother had told me of the black swan that had lived on that lake when she was young, and how it had terrorized everyone who approached close to the water. They had called him Diable, and his mate, who was as docile as he was fierce, had been named Ange.
I loved that story, for the swan had attempted to attack my mother and she had been saved by Jean Pascal.
I was always made welcome at the château. Jean Pascal used to talk to us as though we were grown up. Annabelinda loved that. He and the Princesse were the only people of whom she stood in awe.
One day when we had been sitting by the lake, Jean Pascal had come along; he sat beside me and talked. He told me how much he admired my mother. She had come to stay at the château with Aunt Belinda.
"It was her only visit," he said. "She was always a little suspicious of me. Quite wrongly, of course. I was devoted to her. I was so delighted that she married your father. He was just the man for her. That first marriage ..." He shook his head.
"She never talks about it," I said.
"No. It's best forgotten. That's always a good idea. When something becomes unpleasant, that is the time to forget it. That's what we should all do."
"It's not always easy to forget."
"It takes practice," he admitted.
"Have you practiced it throughout your life?"
"So much that I have become an adept at the art, little Lucinda. That is why you see me so content with life."
He made me laugh, as he always did. He gave the impression that he was rather wicked and that, because of this, he understood other people's foibles and did not judge them as harshly as some people might.
"Beware the saint," he said once. "Beware the man—or woman—who flaunts his or her high standards. He ... or she ... often does not live up to them and will be very hard on others who fall short. Live your life as best you can, and by that I mean enjoy it and leave other people to do the same."
Then he told me of how he had come out one morning to find poor old Diable on the lake with his head down in the water. It was most unusual. He did not realize at once what had happened. He shouted. He took a stick and stirred the water. The swan did not move. Poor Diable. He was dead. It was the end of his dominance. "It was rather sad," he added.
"And poor little Ange?"
"She missed the old tyrant. She sailed the lake alone for a while and in less than a year she was dead. Now you see we have these white swans. Are they not beautiful and peaceful, too? Now you do not have to take a stick as you approach the lake in readiness for a surprise attack. But something has gone. Strange, is it not? How we grow to love the villains of this world! Unfair, it is true. But vice can sometimes be more attractive than virtue."
"Can bad things really be more attractive than good ones?" I asked.
"Alas, the perversity of the world!" he sighed.
He was always interesting to listen to and I fancied he liked to talk to me. In fact, I was sure of this when Annabelinda showed signs of jealousy.
I should have been disappointed if I did not pay my yearly visit to the château.
Aunt Belinda came there sometimes. I could see that she amused her father. The Princesse found her agreeable, too. There was a great deal of entertaining since Jean Pascal's marriage, and people with high-sounding titles were often present.
"They are waiting for another revolution," Annabelinda said. "This time in their favor so that they can all come back to past glory."
I agreed with Annabelinda that one of the year's most anticipated events was our visit to France.
When we were at the château we were expected to speak French. It was supposed to be good for us. Jean Pascal laughed at our accents.
"You should be able to speak as fluently in French as I do in English," he said. "It is considered to be essential for the education of all but peasants and the English."
It was in the year 1912, when I was thirteen years old, when the question of education arose.
Aunt Belinda had prevailed on Sir Robert to agree with her that Annabelinda should go to a school in Belgium. The school she had chosen belonged to a French woman, a friend of Jean Pascal, an aristocrat naturally. From this school a girl would emerge speaking perfect French, fully equipped to converse with the highest in the land, perhaps not academically brilliant but blessed with all the social graces.
Annabelinda was enthusiastic, but there was one thing she needed to make the project wholly acceptable to her. I was faintly surprised to learn that it was my presence. Perhaps I should not have been. Annabelinda had always needed an audience, and for so many years I had been the perfect one. Nothing would satisfy her other than my going to Belgium with her.
My mother was against the idea at first.
"All that way!" she cried. "And for so long!"
"It's no farther than Scotland," said Aunt Belinda.
"We are not talking of going to Scotland."
"You should think of your child. Children must always come first," she added hypocritically, which exasperated my mother, because there had never been anyone who came first with Belinda other than herself.
Aunt Celeste gave her opinion. "I know Lucinda would get a first-class education," she said. "My brother assures me of this. The school has a high reputation. Girls of good family from all over Europe go there."
"There are good schools in England," said my mother.
My father thought it was not a bad idea for a girl to have a year or so in a foreign school. There was nothing like it for perfecting the language. "They are teaching German, too. She would get the right accent and that makes all the difference."
I myself was intrigued by the idea. I thought of the superiority which Annabelinda would display when she came home. I wanted to go, for I knew I had to go away to school sooner or later. I was getting beyond governesses. I knew as much as they did and was almost equipped to be a governess myself. Every day my desire to go with Annabelinda grew stronger. My mother knew this and was undecided.
Aunt Celeste, who said little and understood a good deal, realized that at the back of my mother's mind was the fact that I should be close to Jean Pascal, whom she did not trust.
"The Princesse has a high opinion of the school," she told my mother. "She will keep an eye on the girls. I know Madame Rochère, the owner of the school. She is a very capable lady. Mind you, the school is not very near the château, but the Princesse has a house not very far from it and she and Jean Pascal stay there only very occasionally. The house is not in Belgium but close to the border in Valenciennes. Madame Rochère is a very responsible person—a little strict perhaps, but discipline is good. I am sure Annabelinda will benefit from it ... and Lucinda, too. They should go together, Lucie. It will be so much better for them if they have each other."
At last my mother succumbed, and this was largely due to my enthusiasm.
I wanted to go. It would be exciting, different from anything I had done before. Besides, Annabelinda would be with me.
So, it was to be. Annabelinda and I had an exciting month making our preparations, and on the twenty-fifth of September of that year 1912 we left England in the company of Aunt Celeste.
I had said a fond farewell to my parents, who came to Dover with Aunt Belinda to see us depart with Aunt Celeste on the Channel ferry. We were to go to the Princesse's house in Valenciennes, where we would stay overnight before leaving for the school the next day. The Princesse would be there to greet us. The distance from her house to the school was not great, for the school was situated some miles west of the city of Mons.
My mother was slightly less disturbed because of Aunt Celeste's presence and the fact that Jean Pascal was staying in the Médoc because he would be needed during the imminent grape harvest.
Excerpted from A Time for Silence by Philippa Carr. Copyright © 1991 Philippa Carr. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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