Read an Excerpt
Angel In a Red Dress
By Judith Ivory
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Judith Ivory
All right reserved.
Christina Bower Pinn arrived at the country house in a rented carriage. She stepped firmly into the mud of the driveway, wrested her own bags from the rear boot (Was the driver a lout? Or did gossip spread more rapidly than a team of horses could carry her?) and faced the front door. It was, she knew, the front door of a "gentleman friend," that is to say, a kind of back door to her cousin Evangeline's happy existence. But Christina was in no position to quibble. Thank God for her Evie's willingness to help.
Christina pulled the door chain, then had to pull it again.
A preoccupied cook answered, covered at this early hour with the makings of the day's bread. The housekeeper, she explained, was with the fowler, haggling over a catch of wild birds. There was no one else about, save a lazy gardener, who could never be induced to leave his dirt, not even to let someone in the front door. The master of the house was, as promised, in London. Yes, they were expecting Christina.
"Faîtes comme chez vous." Make herself at home. The cook was French. Directions to her rooms were flung into the air over the woman's shoulder, along with a mild dusting of flour. "Vous comprenez?" The cook didn't wait for an answer, but rushed on. "You weel be makemore comfortable plus tard. La femme de charge weel be up tout de suite."
Christina was left alone in a vast entry hall that was purely amazing: It was not only enormous, but contained enough clutter to have furnished--richly--three or four such large rooms. Her host's entrance room had all the plenty--and organization--of Ali Baba's cave. Pictures, tapestries, objets d'art. Glass-fronted vitrines filled with a miscellany of tiny figures, vases, dishes. So much furniture was crowded together, Christina could hardly distinguish it all, though she took note of half a dozen chairs upside down, their claw-footed legs in the air where they sat atop their brethren.
A heavy, cloying scent drew her attention to a nearby sideboard. It held enough garden roses, heavy and wilting now, to have denuded every bush in Hampshire--the gardener wasn't entirely lazy. Their smell made the vast room feel close, oppressive with the call to bees and pollination.
Naturally, Christina's mind would turn to pollination. She remembered suddenly that Evangeline would be looking a bit pollinated herself when next she saw her. Christina hoped to be able to cope gracefully with the sight.
On this note, she heaved up her first bag and threw herself into continuing on--a phrase that was beginning to annoy her of late for how often her mind resorted to it. She carted up her own belongings as directed. Up the stairs, second landing; her apartments were on the right--or were they straight ahead? The two words in French were so alike.
Straight ahead must be correct, for the apartment was wonderfully devoid of all the busyness in the rest of the house. It was stark, in fact. As if longing for someone to move in and occupy it. The apartment's sitting room and bedchamber pleased Christine immediately and immensely for their spacious simplicity.
And the light in the bedchamber! The windows were not mere windows but French doors that led onto a balcony. With delight, Christina began opening up the tall glass doors, hooking them securely. In temperate weather, as today, why, one could literally let the outside in. Birds sang in an overhanging tree branch. A breeze seemed to blow in sunlight--leafy shadows waved and chattered across the wall. What a lovely place to have landed.
She stepped out onto the balcony to look out over what had to be the best prospect on the whole of the rear estate. A formal garden of arbors and statuary was bordered by a wide path along which sat benches in nooks. At its center a fountain, defunct or at least not in use. An orangery lay beyond the garden. Then, from there, the land went wild--Christina's favorite brand of landscaping.
The land became a grassy meadow, luminously green in the morning haze and dotted with little black-legged sheep. This meadow ran all the way to a woods at the horizon. The line of distant trees enclosed the property like open arms, giving the land a sense of entirety, an integrity. As if it could hoist a flag and declare its vastness sufficient unto itself.
A woods, Christina thought. Only royals and a handful of peers had their own private woods for hunting. Did those trees belong to her cousin's friend? Was all of this his? Where had her cousin sent her?
Christina was suddenly aware of how little she knew about her new circumstance. Evangeline's note had been brief. It had said the house would be vacant and that it would be entirely all right with its owner if she sent a visitor to it--it seemed Evie had this privilege. Christina knew, or at least suspected, that her cousin was involved with a gentleman here in her own region. She imagined she stood in his house. But Christina didn't question the offer. She'd embarked knowing its drawbacks. While Evie had written, in a sentence, its advantages: The house was comfortable, less than a night's ride away, and available on immediate notice.
God bless Evie's less than conventional attitude. Not everyone came so willingly to the aid of a wife leaving her husband.
Christina took a deep breath and began to unpack.
After a time, the housekeeper appeared. There was no maid to spare; it was hoped Mrs. Pinn would understand.
The housekeeper was a starchier, more dour woman than the cook. And strange. As she spoke she fought an inappropriate smile--not of welcome, but one that glimmered, off and on, at one edge of her tight mouth.
"Shall I help you unpack?" "You've found your bath sheet?" "Do you require another lamp?" The woman had a litany of unnecessary questions she asked as she fingered Christina's possessions.
Excerpted from Angel In a Red Dress by Judith Ivory Copyright © 2006 by Judith Ivory. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.