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The morning Mrs Jervis, her daughter Clemency, and Harriet Brown (known as Hetty to her friends) were to leave, New York was beautiful. It was the kind of day when the city was at its most magical. It had other moods, and well enough Hetty knew them. She hadn't always lived in a tall important house overlooking Central Park, with its view of the early unsullied green of the trees and shrubs, and the sweep of brilliant blue sky.
In the shadowed streets of her childhood there had been few glimpses of the sun, and none of passing carriages, or of well-dressed children bowling hoops or tossing gaily-painted balls. The children Hetty had known had had no time to play. Thin and wizened, with eyes and noses running from the cold, they had either stumbled behind their mothers to sit all day, silent and sleepy from malnutrition, in sweat shops turning out endless garments for the Seventh Avenue warehouses, or had grown old enough to sweep the floor and fetch and carry for the drab tired workers in those badly-aired, badly-smelling rooms.
The background music to Hetty's young life had been the rattle and clatter of sewing machines. She had never forgotten it and, ten years later, awoke every morning to a sense of escape, a sense of the miraculous. The sweat shop was an evil dream of the past, her mother's worn pale face a sadder dream, and this rich house reality, although she still had as little life of her own as she had had as a child worker.
The sewing machines had rattled busily, making Clemency's trousseau and Mrs Jervis's extensive wardrobe of ruched silks and satins, but Hetty's wardrobe remained sparse and simple, and very unobtrusive, as befitted a lady's maid. Long before the trunks were packed Hetty's arms had ached. There was so much tissue paper, so many garments, morning dresses, afternoon dresses, tea gowns, dinner gowns, ball gowns, furs and feather boas and, most important of all, there was the wedding gown.
This was a truly beautiful creation made of heavy satin like thick cream, and embroidered with slightly yellowed old Chantilly lace. The veil was also made of Chantilly lace, an heirloom worn by both Clemency's mother and grandmother.
Hetty was not allowed to pack these two items. They were entrusted to the experienced hands of the couturière, Madame Natalia from the big Fifth Avenue store, Lord and Taylor. They occupied a trunk of their own, together with the long white kid gloves, the white and gold brocade shoes, the silk stockings and the hand-embroidered undergarments.
Of course, in London, Hetty would have to be trusted to unpack the precious garments and dress the bride. And wasn't she just too lucky for words, to have the chance to be there? Miss Clemency, the Fifth Avenue household said, would make the best-dressed bride in England.
And the prettiest, Mrs Jervis added complacently. Mrs Jervis was one of those mothers who fed on their daughters' lives. She was dictatorial, organising, possessive and overpowering. Only Clemency ever dared to oppose her, but that was over relatively trifling matters. Fortunately they both saw major issues in the same way, and had similar ambitions.
It was inconceivable, however, to imagine slim young Clemency ever growing to look like her big-bosomed mother, even though the arrogant confidence was already apparent. Clemency's green eyes, not yet protuberant and faded as were her mother's, could on occasion hold the same hard stare, the same will to be obeyed.
Hetty knew that well enough. But she also knew Clemency's youthful butterfly gaiety, her wilfulness which had a certain charm, her supreme selfishness contradicted every now and then by some spontaneous act of generosity, her continuing love of schoolgirl pranks, accompanied by paroxysms of giggles, and her quite unscrupulous flirtatiousness.
Clemency Jervis, twenty-one years old and a spoiled only child, had enough character and determination to succeed in her new life. She would not be meek and scared and incompetent in her role as mistress of an English great house. The title would not come amiss with her either. She had a cool practical streak, unusual in one so young. She was ambitious, above all. Of course she would like to be loved, and to be in love, but position was more important. The love could follow, in one way or another. She was longing to wear the long white gown with a train and her sparkling little tiara, and curtsey to the Queen of England.
Which all slightly shocked Hetty for she realised that Clemency was not yet in love with her English fiancé, Lord Hazzard of Loburn in the Cotswolds. Of course she had seen him only briefly on his visit to New York last summer, a visit he had had to curtail when the European war broke out, and he had to hasten home to rejoin his regiment. His proposal had been made perhaps earlier than he had intended, for he, too, Hetty had suspected, had not been entirely guided by love. Indeed, the thought of Clemency's dowry had probably been paramount in his mind. He was willing to give a pretty American girl a title, which naturally she would adore, a wedding in St. Margaret's, Westminster, and the chance to show off a wantonly expensive trousseau to London society, in return for a plump injection into his bank account.
Hetty knew that if she were in Clemency's place she would not be thinking only of clothes and jewellery and being presented to the Queen, and becoming mistress of a famous old house. She would be thinking of the man whom she was to stand beside in church, and lie in bed with afterwards. And although she had been given little chance to observe Lord Hazzard, she had known that she found his blond good looks and his dazzling blue gaze very exciting. He had not, of course, noticed her. In her neat white cap and apron she was part of the background furniture. She was Harriet Brown, a lady's maid. And Clemency, who was not always too possessive of her suitors, was very jealous of this aristocratic one.
Clemency's grandfather had made some millions in various ways which could have been honest or dishonest, but which must have required skill and cool nerves. Perhaps Clemency, in the matrimonial stakes, had inherited his instinct for a profitable deal. She and Lord Hazzard no doubt would suit each other very well.
The outbreak of war had been both a disaster and a blessing. Even Mrs Jervis doubted if Lord Hazzard would have made such a speedy proposal if events had not precipitated him into a decision. There had been sundry hurried meetings with her brother, Jonas Middleton in Wall Street, consultations with lawyers, and a long private interview with Mrs Jervis. Then the intended marriage of Miss Clemency Millicent Jervis, only child of Mrs Millicent Jervis and the late Howard B. Jervis, Wall Street financier, to Major Lord Hazzard of the Coldstream Guards, and of Loburn near Cirencester, England, was announced.
Lord Hazzard had pressed for an early date. He was going home to go to war.
"He wants an heir," Hetty said.
"Of course," Clemency agreed.
"I think that's more important to him than having a bride."
"It always is with the English aristocracy. I'm not dumb, Brown."
"You don't love him, Miss Clemency."
"Oh, yes I do." Clemency sighed and stretched her arms voluptuously. "I love all good-looking men. Don't look so shocked, Brown. I think I could be happy with any of them. But Hugo is making me a lady. That's extra. I like it. So does Mother. Lord and Lady Hazzard are going to have fun."
Hetty was genuinely shocked.
"There'll hardly be balls and garden parties while the war's on."
"Oh, it will be over before we know it. Hugo says so. So does Uncle Jonas. He says three great cultured peoples like the English and the French and the Germans can't truly be trying to annihilate each other. They've all got too much sense."
"England isn't used to giving in, Miss Clemency. History shows that. Neither is Germany. And France is wanting revenge for the Franco-Prussian War. She's a proud nation. Besides, we don't really know what it's about, do we?"
"I certainly don't," Clemency said cheerfully. "I expect Hugo will explain. I hope he's being careful. I don't want a wounded hero. And you, by the way, are coming to England as a lady's maid, not as a history student."
"I always liked history."
Clemency gave her critical stare.
"Mother should never have let you have lessons with me. You'd be a better maid if you didn't try to be literary."
"I'm not literary, Miss Clemency. I wish I were."
"Well, you always did have your head in a book, at every opportunity. You won't have any time for that in future. And don't sulk. You're getting a trip to England. You never imagined that would happen, did you? That day when your mother brought you here as a starved little creature, with nits in your hair."
"I never did have nits!"
Clemency who could be a cruel tease, relented. She was too excited to indulge in the perennial amusement of tormenting Hetty, her poor, her extremely poor, relation, who was not expected to answer back.
"All right, no nits, but you had plenty of other things wrong. Your clothes had to be burnt."
And I never saw my mother again, Hetty thought silently, with a grief that had never healed.
She had been told, that day, to wait in the hall, a vast marble-floored place like a palace, while her mother was closeted with an alarmingly haughty lady, who was apparently the mistress of this grand house. She had sat motionless on a hard chair with a carved back that had pressed into her thin bones, and waited.
It was only after some time that the voices behind the tall closed doors became audible. That was because Mother had begun to sob, and the lady of the house had begun screaming at her. One hadn't known that ladies lost their tempers.
"It isn't true. It's a wicked lie. A fabrication. I will destroy these letters instantly, and you can leave my house and take your ba—your child with you."
Then Mother had stopped sobbing and, with unaccustomed spirit had said, "Destroying them will do no good. They're only copies. I have the real ones at home. I know where to take them if you don't do as I ask. To a newspaperman on the New York World."
"You're blackmailing me!"
"I know. I apologise, ma'am. But I'm sick and my little girl—" Mother's voice wavered and faded, and the part of the conversation that Hetty desperately wanted to hear became inaudible.
She had begun trembling with apprehension. Something terrible was happening. She was going to be deserted, and by her own mother. If she could have found her way back to the Bowery she would have run off, there and then. But she was even more afraid of the alien streets than of this cold echoing hall. So she waited.
At last the double doors opened and the lady, her head high held and angrily, came out. She looked at Hetty with critical distaste.
"Eleven, you said? She's very undergrown."
"Undernourished, ma'am. She was a pretty baby."
"That's hardly the point. If she's to live here she must be thoroughly scrubbed and decently dressed. Can she read and write?"
"I've taught her as much as I could, and she's had a bit of schooling. She's very bright."
"Doesn't look it to me. I can't have an ignorant girl in my house, in any capacity. She can have lessons with my daughter's governess for a year or two. Then when she's fourteen she can learn to be a maid to my daughter. If Clemency likes her, of course. She will be known as Brown. Well, speak up, child. Would you like that?"
"Of course she would," Mother said, looking so unhappy that Hetty was completely without words.
"Child?" said the imperious voice.
"Yes, thank you, ma'am," she managed to whisper. "If Mother says I have to."
Mother's trembling but stubborn chin went up.
"Her name is Harriet, ma'am."
"So you told me. As a servant, she will be called Brown."
Hetty tried to meet this fashionable woman's long hard domineering stare, as she was to do many times later, on many different kinds of occasions.
"She knows nothing?"
"Nothing," Mother said. "I'm telling you the truth."
"Then I'll send for my housekeeper. She can bath her and find some place for her to sleep." She moved towards a bell rope, shrugging her shoulders fatalistically. "I believe I must be the most magnanimous woman in New York."
Before Hetty could beg in horror not to be left in this strange house with this alarming woman, Mother was saying fervently, "Thank you, ma'am. It's a great relief to me," and then adding, with some daring, "Life can be unfair to women, ma'am."
This was a sentiment to which the lady did not respond. She obviously hardly thought that she and someone like Mother with her shabby clothes and dark piteous eyes could be talking about life on the same planet.
Hetty only realised years later how extreme misery could toughen and harden and shape one's character. For good or evil.
She didn't think she had it in her to be evil, but neither could she go on for ever being a meek nonentity. She was told that as she came from a very poor and distant branch of the Jervis family she must expect to work for her board and lodging, her wearing apparel and her education. She could never presume to be the equal of Miss Clemency, the pampered and adored daughter of a widowed mother.
After the death of her husband at the age of only forty-five Mrs Jervis said she did not intend to remarry. She would devote herself entirely to her little girl's future. She would make it a glittering one, to compensate the poor child for being made fatherless so young.
In a way Hetty's arrival was a boon, for Clemency, over-protected and cosseted, had been lonely and bored with her life.
The two girls were not unalike in appearance, both being dark-haired and green-eyed with slim neat bodies. But they were totally unalike in character, Hetty's early austerity having made her introverted and wary, and with a love of beauty, and a greedy desire to learn about everything, books, pictures, manners, food. She was not unhappy, for the servants, hearing of her previous life, had made something of a pet of her, a thing that did not escape Mrs Jervis's notice. As a consequence she made it so evident that Hetty was an unwelcome outsider, taken in only by Mrs Jervis's Christian kindness, that Hetty never had the courage to demand more details of that distant family relationship.
Actually, her slum upbringing hadn't left her in much ignorance of the facts of life, and by the time she had reached puberty she had had an intuition about the true nature of her relationship with the Jervis family. Hints dropped below stairs and her own growing awareness of the opposite sex made her suspect what must have happened. When she was told by Cook, a fierce-tongued but kindly woman called Mrs Crampton, that her mother had briefly been an upstairs maid in the house shortly before Mr Jervis's marriage to Mrs Jervis, she was almost certain that, far from being a distant cousin of Clemency's, she was, in fact, her half sister.
The knowledge didn't shock her. She was only full of pity for what her mother must have suffered, and intensely admiring of her for having had the courage to enter into such an emotional and hopeless relationship.
She eventually discovered that her assumptions were correct when, one day, just after her sixteenth birthday, a rather grubby package addressed to her, Miss Harriet Brown, was delivered at the servants' entrance of the house.
"By a very sharp-looking fellow," said Cook disapprovingly. "What is it, Hetty, the family jools?"
They were not jewels, only a small package of letters tied with faded ribbon. A badly-spelled note accompanied them. It read:
Dear Hetty Brown, Your Mam intrusted me with these when she died. I promised to deliver them to you on your 16 birthday which she said was first May 1908. She said you would be old enuf to unnerstand, I hope you are, dear. Your pal, Alf.
Whoever Alf was, he had kept his promise, and Hetty, shaking with emotion, had read the creased pages:
My darling girl,
I hope life is not too hard for you. It is bad luck it must be like this. I trust you to understand, and enclose some money for your needs. I will send more after the baby is born, and continue to do so. Remembering all the sweetness we had.
More letters followed at infrequent intervals, mentioning money, and later, her, the baby. "Harriet is a good name, but I shall call her Hetty."
Then a final letter:
I seem to have developed a touch of heart trouble, nothing to worry about, but I have to take a vacation. Millicent and I are going to Florida for a few weeks. Don't worry if you don't hear from me for a while. Enclosed, enough to cover things for the next few months.
This letter ended with a touch of more open emotion. The signature was "Your own Howard".
It was the last letter, for it must have been soon after that Howard B. Jervis had died from his "Slight heart trouble". His younger daughter, aged five years, was an heiress, his elder, aged six years, was precipitated into her education in a Bowery sweat shop, beside her shocked and grieving mother.
Excerpted from The American Heiress by Dorothy Eden. Copyright © 1980 Dorothy Eden. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted January 16, 2000
This is an amazing love story, in which almost anyone could relate to. It shows love for romance and creativity by the author. This is about what I would call unknown love, and it is amazing. Anyone that enjoys romance will enjoy this book.
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Posted February 6, 2015
Rather less exciting than expected little short on historiical facts as large estates had farms and farms at that time still plowed and people had horses for transportation cars a luxury needed scarce gas and tires he would have driven a trap aroubd the estate they also were taking horses for army too m.a.@sparta
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Posted March 13, 2015
The initial premise held such promise: a poor girl seizes the opportunity to take the place of her wealthy half sister who perishes in the sinking of the Lusitania. The story developed well enough, but we didn't get to see how Hetty lived after her rival packed up and left, or why she had only the one daughter. The author gave us only a partial end to the story.
Posted March 12, 2015
Posted February 20, 2015
Posted February 8, 2015
Not my normal genre, but I enjoyed it anyways. It won't keep you up all night because you just have to find out what happens next but if you want a relaxing read at the beach this will fill your needs.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 6, 2015
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Posted February 24, 2014
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Posted February 9, 2015
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Posted January 20, 2014
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