The Cavendon Luck
By Barbara Taylor Bradford
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2016 Beaji Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Cecily Swann Ingham stood on the outside steps of the office annex at Cavendon Hall, glancing around. What a change in the weather, she thought. From a gloomy, overcast morning it has become a radiant afternoon.
Blue sky. No clouds. Brilliant sunlight filtering through the leafy trees. A perfect day in late July. A smile of pleasure touched her face fleetingly.
Walking down the steps and crossing the stable yard, she headed for the dirt path through Cavendon Park which led to Little Skell village.
Cecily thought suddenly of her son's birthday earlier in the month as she strode ahead. It had poured with rain that day and spoiled their plans for the garden party. The celebration was held indoors in the end. She couldn't help wishing it had been a glorious day like this. On the other hand, David hadn't minded about the weather. It was his ninth birthday and he had enjoyed every moment, as had his brother, seven-year-old Walter, and their sister Venetia, who was five. It had been a happy time for the family, and that was what counted most, their enjoyment derived from the festivities, and what Miles always called the "gathering of the clan."
Later that night when they were in bed, Miles had drawn her closer to him, and had wondered out loud where all the years had gone. She had said she didn't know and had reminded him that time always flew when they were together.
He had laughed and pulled her even closer, stroking her hair. After a moment, she had added that they had been busy raising three children, going about their own business and keeping Cavendon safe.
She recalled how he had murmured his thanks for all that, had wrapped his arms around her, then slipped on top of her, kissing her, touching her tenderly. Within seconds they were making love to each other with the same excitement and joyousness they had always known.
Suddenly, remembering that night so clearly, she couldn't help wondering if he had made her pregnant on their son's ninth birthday? They had both been so eager for each other, and intense. It had been a passionate night.
The idea of pregnancy lingered. She was thirty-seven. If she was pregnant, then so be it. I must think of another child as a gift, because soon my childbearing years will be over. But having a child with war coming? This thought troubled her. She pushed it away, and hurried on toward the village. And her mind turned to the huge amount of work she and Miles had done to make Cavendon Hall and the family safe. Her brother Harry had plunged in too, as well as her four sisters-in-law. They had been hard years in so many ways.
Each of them had made all sorts of sacrifices, and had frequently used their own money to keep everything afloat.
But they had done it.
The Inghams and the Swanns, pulling together, had accomplished miracles. Cavendon was now set on the right course. And it was safe.
Yet even now, today, there was that awful little knot in her stomach. Earlier, Cecily had put this down to her worry about Harry plus her concern for Greta, her personal assistant, but she knew instinctively that neither were the real reason for her anxiety.
It was something entirely different, and it troubled her constantly, nagged at her, gave her sleepless nights.
Germany's menacing Third Reich was casting a giant shadow across Britain, as it had done for the longest time over Central Europe. And that was causing her tension. The Reich was sinister and dangerous, and the threat of war hovered. Cavendon would be at risk if there was an invasion ... the whole country would be at risk. And Europe, too. The whole world, actually. She understood that only too well.
When Cecily came to the walled rose garden she paused, then pushed open the heavy oak door and went down the steps. The fragrance of late-blooming summer roses enveloped her instantly. She breathed deeply and sat down on an iron garden seat. Leaning back, she closed her eyes, endeavored to relax for a few moments.
This lovely old garden had not changed for centuries and it was a tranquil refuge for her, as it always had been since she was a child. She sat in here almost every day if only for a few minutes. She loved the scent of the roses, the peacefulness behind the high brick walls. This place soothed her troubled senses, helped her to clear her mind, sort out her worries.
Her thoughts went to her mother. Cecily knew she was busy with preparations for war, working with the women in the three villages who were members of the Women's Institute. It was run by Charlotte, who was the president. They were quite an amazing collection of village women, and had come up with solutions to make life easier if war did come to their shores.
Of course it will come, Cecily muttered to herself. The prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, believed he could appease Adolf Hitler, who had already annexed Austria and was eyeing Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia.
On the other hand, Winston Churchill understood the futility and terrible danger of appeasement, and kept on warning the government that war was imminent. Churchill was right, she was certain of that. Horrific as that thought was.
The drone of a low-flying aircraft cut off Cecily's thoughts, and she jumped up, lifted her head to the blue sky, and that first flash of fear dissipated at once.
The small plane did not bear the emblem of Nazi Germany, the swastika. It belonged to Noel Jollion, the nineteen-year-old son of Commander Edgar Jollion of the Royal Navy, who lived on the other side of Mowbray village, near High Clough. The commander had built an airstrip in a long field on his land at Burnside Manor because his son loved flying.
Returning to the garden seat, Cecily sat down, and tried to throw off her concern about the war. But she was finding it difficult this afternoon. It was on her mind.
Last week Hanson had taken her and Miles down into the vast cellars of Cavendon, where he showed them the preparations he had begun to make for war.
The cellars were always crisply clean, with whitewashed walls and well-swept floors. Hanson had pointed out a stack of cots which he had brought out of storage.
There were sofas, armchairs, and small tables, all of which had been brought out of storage in the attics. The earl had told him to make the cellars as comfortable as possible, in case they had to live in them. Also all of the paintings and objects of art would be placed in the lower vaults as soon as there was a declaration of war between Britain and Germany, he had told them.
It seemed to her that Hanson, as usual, had been his efficient self. There was even a refrigerator which had been purchased at Harrods and delivered by a Harrods van. What would they do without Hanson? He was supposed to retire in December. He was seventy-six and had been in service at Cavendon for fifty years. She for one hoped that wouldn't happen. He looked as fit as a fiddle and they needed him.
Reluctantly, Cecily left her sanctuary, and continued on her way to her parents' house in the village. But first she must stop at the Romany wagon where Genevra lived. She needed to talk to her.
When Cecily turned the bend in the dirt path she immediately saw Genevra, who was sitting on the steps of the wagon, waiting for her. As usual, she was wearing an old Cecily Swann frock, given to her by Cecily's mother. It was red-and-white-striped cotton, a summer frock, and it suited her.
The Gypsy raised her hand and waved.
Cecily waved back, smiling. She noticed that there was a wooden chair waiting for her. This thoughtfulness pleased her.
Genevra had an excited expression on her face, an expectancy about her. She was thirty-nine, the same age as Miles, though she did not look her age, appeared to be much younger. She was still a good -looking woman, dark, exotic, and her abundant hair was as raven black as it had been in her youth.
When they had moved their wagons to the lower field, five years ago, Genevra had invited Cecily into her wagon for the first time for a glass of mint tea. Not wishing to hurt her, feeling bound to accept this invitation, Cecily had gone inside and had discovered, to her enormous surprise, a treasure trove.
Genevra was an artist, and a talented one at that. The paintings on the walls of the extremely neat living area had astonished Cecily. They were landscapes of Cavendon for the most part, and executed in brilliant, vivid colors. Later, DeLacy had told her they would be categorized as being in the naïve school of painting.
Yet they had a style, a genuinely unique style of their own. Genevra's style, Cecily called it. The paintings were bold, commanding, caught the eye at once. But it was the shimmering look of the bright colors, the odd sheen on the canvas that captivated everyone, and at once.
Cecily had soon found out that Genevra had been painting since her childhood. Gervaise had encouraged her, and when she was older he had bought her canvases and oil paints when he could afford them. She was totally self-taught, a natural and gifted artist.
Cecily had instantly asked if she could buy one of them. Genevra had refused that day. Instead she had offered her a painting as a gift. In the end, Cecily had chosen one that was evocative, and very meaningful to her. The painting showed a corner of the high wall in the rose garden, and a profusion of late-blooming roses ... a fusion of many different pinks and faded reds against a portion of the gray stone wall.
Genevra came down the steps to greet Cecily, and as always she did a little bob, a sort of curtsy, as she took Cecily's outstretched hand in hers.
"I put out a chair, Mrs. Miles," Genevra said, indicating the wooden chair.
"Thank you," Cecily murmured, and sat down.
Genevra returned to her place on the steps.
Cecily stared at Genevra, frowning. She thought she looked a bit pinched, tired. "You haven't been sick again, have you?" she asked worriedly. She had not seen her for ten days.
Genevra smiled faintly. "No. Not sick. Good."
"You look a bit peaked to me."
"I'm not sick, liddle Ceci," Genevra muttered, eyeing her knowingly. "I'll be first ter knows that. Then I'll tell yer, and yer'll be the second ter knows. Not dying. Not yet."
"Don't be cross, I care for you, Genevra."
"Aye, I knows that, Mrs. Miles."
"I'm going away on Monday with Miles. We're going to visit Lady Daphne and Mr. Hugo in Zurich. If you need anything while I'm gone, my mother will help you." She smiled at her. "You just have to go and see her."
Genevra nodded. "Yer going on holiday. Mrs. Alice tell me that."
"Just for two weeks. Miles needs a rest ..." Cecily's voice trailed off. She had suddenly noticed a strange look on Genevra's face. "What is it? Is there something wrong?"
"The sight. It just comes over me. Yer knows that."
Cecily nodded, remained quiet. After all these years, she knew she had to be still. And mute.
"Yer'll have ter be brave, liddle Ceci, as yer've allus been. There'll be deaths. War is coming. Big war. Bad times. Terrible things coming." The Romany woman halted, closed her eyes. After a moment she opened them, added, "Yer'll rule at Cavendon. I've allus knowed that."
"Why now?" Cecily asked, a frown settling on her face.
"What do yer mean?" Genevra sat staring at Cecily.
"Why are you telling me this now? Usually you're somewhat secretive, not always so open."
"'Cos I knows yer believes me, tek me predictions as truth ... understand 'em."
"I do, yes, that's true, Genevra."
"The future. Yer'll have that, Ceci. And yer will rule."
Genevra did not answer, staring up at Cavendon Hall towering on the hill high above them. The golden house, shimmering in the sunshine. A blessed house.
"When you sound strange like this I don't really understand what you mean," Cecily protested, returning Genevra's hard stare.
"Bad times are coming."
"Do you mean the war?"
Genevra inclined her head. "Life. Hard times. Bad times. Death, destruction, sorrow, pain. Much suffering. All coming."
Turning her head, Genevra looked at Cavendon once more. Unexpectedly, tears filled her eyes. The golden sheen which usually gilded the walls had vanished. It was no longer golden. It was doomed. The great stately home was covered in shadows ... shadows growing darker and darker. In her mind's eye she saw huge black clouds floating around its rooftop. She heard thunder; there were streaks of white lightning.
After a while, Genevra finally opened her eyes, said in a low tone, "Turmoil. Chaos." She shook her head, became silent, and wiped the tears from her face with her fingertips.
There was a long silence.
Cecily said, "Cavendon has been lucky over the past few years. The luck will last, won't it? Nothing will change, will it?"
"It allus does. Good luck. Bad luck." Genevra shook her head, and leaned forward, her gaze penetrating. "It comes. It goes. Nobody knows ... Luck belongs ter nobody ... luck belongs ter life. Nowt yer can do about it, liddle Ceci. Do yer understand me?"
"I do, Genevra, and I thank you."
When the front door suddenly flew open, Alice sat up with a start, and then instantly jumped to her feet as Cecily walked in, a huge smile on her face. Hurrying forward, Cecily took hold of her mother and kissed her, hugged her close.
"Sorry I'm late, Mam," she said, and then turned and closed the door behind her.
"I was just doing paperwork, no problem, Ceci," Alice murmured, and mother and daughter walked into the room together. They sat down in two armchairs facing each other, and Alice said, "You look bonny today, love, but pale pink has always suited you."
"I know, and thanks. You look pretty good yourself, Mam."
"Of course I do, I'm wearing a dress my daughter made for me. I like it, and it's comfortable and cool on a hot day like this."
"I've made another version of it, also in cotton," Cecily confided. "It's a sort of wrap dress, almost like a robe, and it ties at one side. I'm doing the same style for the winter collection made of light cashmere. I'll bring you several when they're ready."
"Thank you, love, you're always so thoughtful."
"Don't be silly, you're my mother, you can have anything you want from me. Anyway, when we spoke on the phone yesterday you said you were making a plan. But for what?"
"I came up with an idea. Creating a communal allotment for the village. I went straight to Charlotte and asked her for a field. And she asked the earl, and he agreed it was a wonderful idea, very practical, and he immediately gave me a field."
Alice nodded as she finished her sentence, looked a little pleased with herself. "That's how it came about and it was as simple as that ... just asking."
Alice stood up, and beckoned to Cecily. "Come over to my desk, and pull up a chair. I want to show you my plan."
Within seconds the two of them were sitting side by side at Alice's desk, where her Women's Institute papers were spread out, along with the detailed plan of the field which was going to be the communal allotment. This would be planted and tended to by the women who wished to do this work.
Turning to Alice, Cecily said, "It is a practical idea. Food will be a problem if war comes."
"When it comes," Alice corrected.
"Too true," Cecily agreed, and then said in a slightly odd tone, "You could just as easily have asked Miles for a field, or even your son. Harry does run the estate with Miles, you know."
"You're right, I could have done that, Ceci. But I don't think that would have been the correct thing. The sixth earl is still the sixth earl; he's not dead yet, and it is his land. I thought it only proper to approach him, via Charlotte."
"I understand now, Mam," Cecily answered, offering Alice a warm smile.
Looking down at the large sheet of paper, she saw how cleverly the field had been designed to work as an allotment.
Each square patch was marked, and the name of the vegetable to be grown there written in. "Potatoes, carrots, parsnips," Cecily read out. "Onions, sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower ..." She stopped, suddenly laughing, and shook her head. "You're a master planner, Mother! Harry must get his talent for gardening and landscaping from you."
"Goodness me, he's much cleverer than I am," Alice murmured, and turned in her chair. She gave her daughter a knowing look. "Did you manage to speak to Harry? You know ... about that ... person."
Shaking her head, Cecily replied in a low voice, "No, I didn't. We were supposed to have a chat earlier this afternoon."
"His affair with that scandalous woman has started to leak out!" Alice exclaimed, her tone suddenly turning angry. "He thinks it's a big secret, but it isn't, and your father now knows about it. He's furious. You know how much his lordship abhors scandal. And scandal is about to flare around your brother."
"I agree with everything you're saying, Mother, but he is a grown man. Forty years old to be exact. He'll tell me it's none of my business."
"But you will speak to him?" Alice sounded anxious, and there was a concerned look in her eyes.
"I will, I promise. I'll do it tomorrow morning," Cecily reassured her mother.
Alice nodded, and pursed her lips. Her voice was more even and steady when she said, "He ought to know better than to get involved with her. Pauline Mallard is a married woman. Furthermore, she's an American heiress, a socialite, living the high life in London and New York. And now in Harrogate. But I suppose you know all this." (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Cavendon Luck by Barbara Taylor Bradford. Copyright © 2016 Beaji Enterprises, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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