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The beloved and final novel in the classic Stevenson family saga from epic master Malcolm Macdonald

Daughter of the wealthy and storied Stevenson family, Abigail Stevenson should have been a creature of unawakened innocence. But one fateful day she tricks her maid, Annie, into telling her the facts of life, and soon comes to realize that the same shocking secret can be a glorious and life-enhancing mystery. Thus begins her path of passion and indomitable ambition that will lead ...

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The beloved and final novel in the classic Stevenson family saga from epic master Malcolm Macdonald

Daughter of the wealthy and storied Stevenson family, Abigail Stevenson should have been a creature of unawakened innocence. But one fateful day she tricks her maid, Annie, into telling her the facts of life, and soon comes to realize that the same shocking secret can be a glorious and life-enhancing mystery. Thus begins her path of passion and indomitable ambition that will lead her from England to the great capitals of Europe, from the passions of man and woman to those of intellectual, artist, and creator.

A beloved novel by a beloved author, Abigail is a gripping and passionate tale of one woman's struggles to break free of the bonds of her heritage

"Malcolm Macdonald is a skilled storyteller who gets inside of his people and uses every inch of his vast canvas in action and relationships." -Los Angeles Times

"A cracking yarn by a born storyteller." -Daily Mail

"An enthralling Victorian saga." -Daily Telegraph

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It's a book that readers will find hard to put down." - Deb's Book Bag
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781402236112
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks
  • Publication date: 3/1/2011
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 1,456,515
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Malcolm Macdonald is the author of 30 novels, including the bestselling Stevenson family saga, Rose of Nancemellin, and Hell Hath No Fury. He was born in England in 1932, and currently lives in Ireland.

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Read an Excerpt

There was a secret-something to do with men and women. Grown-ups knew it; and servants knew it, too. At least, Annie certainly did. And since servants were more vulnerable than other adults, Abigail decided that Annie was going to yield this secret.
It happened one winter day in London when Abigail went out to pay a call in the carriage. The horse cast a shoe, and she sent the coachman, Dilks, to have it reshod while she paid her call. Knowing Dilks's fondness for a drop, she sent Annie along to keep him out of mischief.

In the coachman's case the trick had worked-he had taken drink all right, but not enough to show any effect. But poor Annie, who had matched him glass for glass, and who lacked his practised capacity, had well and truly lost the edge of her sobriety.
At first, Abigail did not realize that this was her chance. The Secret was far from her thoughts. The whiff of gin shocked her. She turned on the maid: "Annie, you've been drinking!"

The girl giggled, but Abigail could see that she was terrified. That terror halted her; she was caught between the righteousness of her anger and what she imag­ined was a tolerant worldliness.

She had been angry with servants before, of course, but always as a child of the house. Here the situation was hers to be mistress of-but what sort of mistress? Stern, pious, unbending? Aloof and condescending? She had never been either of those. Tolerant worldliness-a weary worldliness-seemed the most inviting, and the most like her.
"Why on earth do you drink gin?" she said. "It's such a tipple."

Annie smiled weakly with relief. "I didn't want to," she said. "But I thought I'd stand a better chance o' gettin' who's'sname, Dilks, out the public if I went in with him like, my lady."

The thought of such forbidden behaviour made Abigail wistful. "Isn't it funny,
Annie-you can be so free and yet I'm like a prisoner." The maid giggled again.

"It's 'cos you got to keep your jewels, isn't it!"

"But I haven't come out with any jewels." Annie clapped her hands and screamed with laughter. Abigail, feeling acutely shut out, wished she had played the stern, unbending mistress when she had the chance.

That was when she remembered The Secret. Suddenly she knew that Annie's laughter was about The Secret. Here was her chance to find out. She smiled in a way that she knew would provoke the girl first to silence and then to curiosity: a smile of pleasure relived.

"Oh, Annie," she asked, "did you ever let a man kiss you?"

"Did I!" Annie chuckled. "I should just say so." Then, remembering why she was there, she asked with tipsy sternness: "And who, may I ask, has been a-kissing of you, my lady?"

Abigail smiled complicitly. "Oh come, where's the harm?"

"Harm! Where's the harm! Don't you know the harm?"

"A little kiss? A few kisses? A few tender embraces? I can see no harm in that."

"Hah!" Annie exploded. "That's how it begins. But we all know where it may lead, your ladyship."

"I'm sure I don't, Annie. A few more kisses, and a few more?"

"Ah-and then!"

"Yes, Annie? And then?"

"Then they've got you."


"Right where they want you."

"What nonsense!" Abigail was disappointed. The Secret evaporated as fast as they uncovered it. Annie looked at her uncertainly.

"You mean you really don't know? No one never told you?"

"They might have, and I might have forgotten."

Annie laughed. "Not that, you wouldn't. Well, here's a pickle, I must say."


"Well, I don't think it's right, being in ignorance. Dangerous, I'd call it." She looked at Abigail again. "Straight? You really don't know?"

"I don't believe you know either, Annie. You're just pretending."

Annie grinned wickedly. "If I was to say, 'He worked the hairy oracle'...if I was to say, 'He put Nebuchadnezzar out to graze'...If I was to say, 'She's seen the elephant...got jack-in-the-bush...been shot twixt wind and water...'" At each circumlocution she looked at Abigail for some spark of recognition. But Abigail's bafflement merely revived the comedy in the words-a comedy that usage had long since staled. Annie laughed. "Why, you ain't got no idea what I'm on about, have you!"

Abigail seethed with resentment. Most annoying of all, the words seemed so rich in meaning, making her feel that she hovered at the very rim of enlightenment. Something within her-something below or beyond the reach of conscious thought-actually understood what Annie was driving at. That unreachable part of her would not be surprised at whatever new truths were about to emerge.

Annie was suddenly glum. "Strike me! I don't know as if I should tell you."

"I'll never tell anyone of it if you do."

"God's honour? If Lady Wharfedale was to hear..."

"I'll never breathe a word." Abigail leaned forward, smiling eagerly to encourage the girl.

"Well..." Annie sniggered. "It's what men and women best like doing together. And boys and gels. And lords and ladies, I don't doubt. It's your national indoor game, the four-leg frolic, taking on beef...You sure you don't know, my lady?"

"Not these words. Do get on, Annie. Why d'you beat about the bush so!"

Annie laughed uproariously. "You could say that," she added. "Beat about the bush! Oh yes! You could say that all right." Then seeing Abigail's anger, she went on hastily: "It's when men and women get off their clothes and lie together. Now d'you know?"
Abigail stared at her, openmouthed. She did know! Or part of her did know. Part of her was surfacing with that knowledge, leaving the rest of her aghast.

"You know how we're different from them? Well-put that difference to­gether. There now-I can't say it nicer."

"Difference?" Abigail said-though, of course, she knew the difference. On their holidays in Connemara she and her eight brothers and sisters had always swum au naturel. She knew the difference very well.

"Where we go in, they...stick out. Put it together."

"But why?"

Annie smiled, not at her young mistress but at something a hundred miles away. "I daresay it's the greatest fun we ever have."

"But you said it was dangerous."

The word brought Annie back to the here and now. She clutched at Abigail's arm. "And so it is, my lady. For that's how we make new feet for baby stockings. What passes then from them to us at such times is what quickens us."

Abigail gulped audibly. "Like animals!"

"Yes, of course." Annie looked affronted.

"You said you never knew."

"Well, I knew about animals, naturally." She gazed out at the passing houses- those houses her mother's property firm had built, the houses she despised so heartily-and a new element of horror was suddenly added to them.

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