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As the swirling smoke of the engine cleared, the little group was etched forever in Fanny's brain—the outlandish figure of the Chinese woman in her black trousers and high-collared smock, and the two children in their quaintly old-fashioned clothes, the girl with black hair, stick legs emerging from her pantaloons, and tense eyes staring unwinkingly, the boy smaller, unexpectedly fair, his eyes dreamy and lost.
And the smoke clouding over, then clearing again to show the tall dark figure of the man.
She had known at once that the man belonged, although he stood a little distance away. He was watching her too hard, seeing the effect that the sad wrinkled alien face of the amah and the two waif-like children had on a young lady of obvious wealth and fashion.
In her mind, for a moment, like a view enclosed inside a bubble, bright and impermanent, was a picture of Darkwater, the faded rose many-chimneyed house, the lawns, the trees heavy with summer, the strutting peacocks, the distant flicker of the lake. Nowhere into the picture came this little trio. Instinctively she knew that they would be forever strange and unwelcome.
Yet her immediate impulse was to sweep the children into her arms and say, 'Don't be afraid. You're safe with me.'
Safe It was true that the chilly grey summer day, the hissing of steam, the shouting and bustle of a busy London railway terminal, and the constantly belching smoke, did constitute a menacing atmosphere to such new arrivals from another world.
She couldn't be sure whether the watching man was part of the menace.
She only knew, with frustrated anger and bitter grievance, that from this moment her life had to be changed, that it must follow a very different course than the one she had planned so hopefully when she had packed her bag at Darkwater.CHAPTER 2
At the bottom of her bag Fanny laid her modest pieces of jewellery, the silver locket which sprang open to hold a miniature or a lock of cherished hair—it was empty, and Fanny scarcely knew why she kept it since it was unlikely ever to contain anything—the seed pearl necklace, the ring set with garnets and seed pearls, the gold brooch that had been her mother's. She had never known what had happened to the rest of her mother's jewellery, unless, more than likely, she had been too poor to have any.
She had come from Ireland, and the Irish were not renowned for their wealth. She had been beautiful, they said, but it had been a foolish marriage for Papa to make. He should have married an heiress. Not only had she been poor, but also too delicate to survive childbirth. Her name had been Francesco. That had been given to Fanny—that and her deep blue eyes and black hair. And her life. So great a gift as the last was the main reason for Fanny's secret plans at this moment. She must make the most of something so dearly given.
Over the shabby morocco jewel box in her travelling bag she laid her underclothing, two sets of everything.
Dora would have done her packing for her. Fanny was not encouraged to give the servants orders. This was a tacit understanding between Aunt Louisa and herself. But Dora, recently promoted to the upstairs, adored Miss Fanny and would even have risked Hannah's disapproval to do her behests.
As it happened, Fanny preferred to do this task alone. She couldn't let even loyal Dora see that for one night in London she was taking two of everything, and her summer as well as her winter gowns.
She was on fire with excitement. Ever since her cousin George had come home wounded from the Crimea she had been waiting for this opportunity. She had made and rejected a dozen plans, but this chance had been handed to her out of the blue. It was meant to be taken.
The only way she could explain her suppressed excitement, at breakfast that morning when she could eat nothing, and it was left for the rest of the family to eat heartily from the array of dishes on the sideboard, was to say that the train journey and the visit to London were such an adventure. Not to mention meeting the new cousins, poor babies, who had travelled so far.
Uncle Edgar had smiled indulgently, but Aunt Louisa had compressed her lips, not with scorn for Fanny's naïve excitement, but with the thought of the new arrivals. Aunt Louisa had never cared for children who were not her own. At the tender and vulnerable age of three Fanny herself had made that discovery.
It was left for George to say to the table at large, 'Fanny looks deuced pretty when she's excited. Doesn't she? Deuced pretty.'
His eyes, ever so slightly vacant, rested for an embarrassingly long time on her face.
Aunt Louisa said sharply, 'Don't forget the time, George. Mr Maggs comes to give you your treatment at nine.'
'Yes, Mamma,' said George mildly. He still stared at Fanny. The doctors said he would eventually recover from the head wound he had received at Balaclava—perhaps they didn't care to tell his parents otherwise. All Fanny knew was that the lofty scorn and small sadistic cruelties with which her cousin George had been accustomed to treat her had been metamorphosed into this distressing and embarrassing affection. Where once she had defied him, she was now ever so slightly frightened of him.
It was one more reason for her desire to escape. Long ago she had begged Uncle Edgar to let her take some employment, she was young and active, she hadn't Amelia's chances of making a good marriage, if indeed she made any at all, and above all, she was bored. She refused to be content with a life full of trivialities and invented occupations.
Uncle Edgar was shocked and adamant. A Davenport to go into service! Besides, above all, she was his ward, a sacred trust to him from his poor cousin Edward. He would carry out that trust to his dying day.
'There are plenty of ways of occupying yourself in this house,' he had said repressively.
Fanny knew all about that. Running errands for Aunt Louisa and Amelia, stitching at the household linen with Hannah, because she sewed so neatly, reading to old Lady Arabella, feeding the screeching peacocks, playing and singing to Uncle Edgar in the evening when he was in the mood for a little music. She was a puppet pulled this way and that. A puppet everlastingly dependent, everlastingly grateful
Gratitude could turn sour, Fanny thought, as she folded her last garment. Indeed, she was unnatural enough to feel none at all. It hadn't been her fault that her mother had died at her birth nor that her father had contracted a consumption that carried him off before she was three. And Uncle Edgar and Aunt Louisa had so much. This enormous house, the gardens, the lake and the parkland, the little village where the villagers doffed their caps deferentially, the church and even the parson.
One small bewildered child, arriving from the hot sun of the Italian Riviera where her father had gone to die, should not have had to feel gratitude.
Perhaps it was her look of defiant independence that most antagonised Aunt Louisa. Fanny looked at herself in the tilted mirror on her dressing table. At this moment excitement had heightened her colour and her dark blue eyes were brilliant. In spite of the drabness of her grey poplin gown she looked very pretty. She had a long slender neck and a waist that Amelia bitterly envied. Her blue-black hair, smooth and luxuriant, made her look foreign, Amelia said. English men like fair-haired women. And Aunt Louisa considered that Fanny had too bold and direct a way of looking at them. Amelia knew how to lay her thick fair lashes prettily on her cheeks. Not that Fanny hadn't long lashes, too. She must remember to use them modestly. She must remember her position
While she stayed at Darkwater, she could never forget her position. But she would go on looking directly at people, too. It had never amused her to flirt. She ran rings round giggling Amelia when it pleased her to do so, but in the end the young men discovered that it was Amelia who was the heiress, and the slow significant coolness came into their manner.
Fanny despised all of them. Some day she would meet a man to whom money was of minor importance. But not, intuition told her, while she stayed at Darkwater
There was a knock at her door, and before she could speak Amelia came bursting in.
'I say, Fanny, have you packed? Papa wants to see you in the library when you're ready. I really do think he could have let me come with you.'
'Perhaps you'd like to go instead of me?' Fanny said coolly.
Amelia flung herself into a chair, pouting.
'What, and be a nursemaid to two children!'
'That's what I'm to be.'
Amelia's round pink and white face, too plump and already uncannily like her Father's, remained unconcerned. She never saw any point of view but her own.
'Oh well, that's different, isn't it? But we could have gone shopping. Will you bring me some French ribbon, anyway. To match my pink bonnet?'
'If I have time, and you give me the money.'
'Oh dear! I've overspent my allowance. I shall have to ask Papa.'
'He won't refuse you.'
'Well, after all, he is my Papa,' Amelia pointed out. 'If yours had remained alive, I expect he'd have been glad to buy French ribbons for you, and seen that you had a respectable dowry. Fanny, who do you think will marry you?'
The question stung.
'Someone who loves me,' Fanny replied calmly.
'But who will that be? I mean, without a dowry—'
'I don't intend to sell myself.'
Amelia sprang up, her cheeks pink.
'What a revolting thing to say. You mean that men prefer me to you just because I'm rich. In other words, that I'm selling myself.'
Fanny gave her direct gaze, without speaking. Amelia's eyes glinted with anger and hurt pride.
'Very well, you have an eighteen inch waist, but Mamma says men prefer women not to be too thin.' Her eyes went to the lovely curve of Fanny's bosom, and fell. She stamped her foot childishly.
'Fanny, you are exasperating. All right, I'm sorry I asked who would marry you. It must be a question that hurts. You can't change customs, and it is important to have a dowry, whatever you say. But I'm sure you'll find someone suitable. Only there isn't that much time, is there?'
Amelia was referring to the fact that Fanny was in her twenty-first year. Fanny chose to misunderstand her.
'No, there isn't, and if I'm to see Uncle Edgar in the library before I leave—'
'I didn't mean that sort of time, but never mind.' Amelia had recovered her good nature. 'Do you think having these children in the house is going to make much difference? Mamma says it will, but Papa says if they're kept out of sight we'll hardly know they're there. And anyway how could he refuse to have his own brother's children. It's awfully lucky Papa's so generous, isn't it? First having you as a ward, and now these two. And coming all the way from China. Mamma's afraid—'
'Afraid of what?' Fanny asked, as Amelia hesitated.
'We just don't know who Uncle Oliver married in Shanghai. Wouldn't it be terrible—'
'If the children were Chinese?'
Amelia's eyes were round and shocked.
'They couldn't be completely because Uncle Oliver wasn't. But they could be—sort of half—and even if they are Mamma says Papa will insist on their coming to church with us on Sundays. Imagine us with ivory-coloured cousins!'
Amelia began to giggle, but she was still anxious. It was easy enough to read her thoughts. She was wondering if even a substantial dowry would tide her over that sort of scandal.
'Mamma thinks it was awfully inconvenient of both Uncle Oliver and his wife to die in that typhus epidemic,' Amelia went on. 'But Uncle Oliver always was in trouble, and I suppose this was his climax, so to speak.'
'Your father must have been glad when he decided to go out to the East twenty years ago, and didn't come back.'
'He must have,' Amelia said in a heartfelt voice. 'Dear Papa, who's so respectable. I believe it wasn't only money with Uncle Oliver, but'—she lowered her voice—'women! That's why Mamma says these children could be anybody.'
Fanny tried to remember the distant day when she, a mere baby, had made the long terrifying journey to Darkwater. She remembered the dark muffling folds of a blanket, and much later the strange strident noise which sent her into floods of tears, but which proved to be only the elegant and haughty peacocks on the lawn. She could have been anybody, too.
'They're your own flesh and blood, Amelia,' she said reprovingly. 'Your father sees that. He's the only one, it seems to me, who does see it.'
Amelia flounced across the room. She had still to learn to move gracefully.
'Oh, Fanny, Don't be so righteous. I know what one's duty is, as well as Papa, and as well as you. But it's an awful bore having to explain about infant cousins all the way from China. And if they should have slant eyes—well, I don't care, I'm not going to let them interfere with my life.'
Poor babies, Fanny was thinking. No one wanted them. Not even Uncle Edgar, really. And she was callously planning to run away, and let Hannah, who would accompany her to London, bring them home.
But she had to seize this opportunity! If she didn't do it now, the war in the Crimea would be over, Miss Nightingale wouldn't require any more volunteers, she would have no alternative but to apply for a position as a governess or a companion, both impossible without references, and both nauseating to think about. At least, in the Crimea, one would be doing a worthwhile task, and probably meeting at last a man to whom integrity, a warm heart, and a little beauty, too, meant more than landed property or stocks and shares.
The children were travelling with their Chinese amah who would remain with them. They would be adequately cared for.
'Fanny, you're not even listening to me!' Amelia said peevishly.
'Yes, I was. I was thinking how we all try to protect our own lives.'
Amelia's pale blue eyes, a little prominent, like her father's, widened.
'But what have you to protect?'
'My heart beats, the same as yours,' Fanny said dryly. Then, because she was fond enough of Amelia, who was selfish and undiscerning and remarkably empty-headed, but who did not, at least, have her brother's sadistic qualities, she said reassuringly, 'I'm sure you're worrying unnecessarily. The children will stay upstairs in the nursery and the schoolroom, and you'll hardly see them.'
Amelia shrugged. 'Yes, I expect so. After all, what are servants for? But don't stay in London a minute longer than you need to. I shall have to read to Grandmamma while you're away. You know I can't endure that.'
Both Aunt Louisa and Uncle Edgar were in the library. Aunt Louisa was walking up and down as if this were the end of an argument, and one which, as usual, she had lost, for her lips were compressed, and the tip of her large nose flushed. Uncle Edgar was watching her with benevolence. Arguments seemed to amuse rather than anger him. He rarely lost his temper, a fact which drove his wife to fury. She could have coped with a hot temper, she couldn't cope with the unbendable unbreakable iron beneath her husband's soft, plump, pleasant, facetious, and good-natured exterior.
When Fanny came in they both turned.
Uncle Edgar said at once, in surprise, 'My dear child, why are you looking so shabby? You're not proposing to travel in those clothes?'
Fanny had meant to scrupulously leave behind her fur-trimmed coat, her striped silk gown, and her dark blue bonnet with the velvet ribbons. They were her best clothes and as good as anything that Amelia or Aunt Louisa wore. She considered that they still belonged to Uncle Edgar, and anyway, in her new circumstances, she would have no use for them.
'I thought, for a train journey, with the dust and smuts—'
'Which is very sensible and prudent,' said Aunt Louisa.
Uncle Edgar shook his head.
'On the contrary, Louisa my dear, that's quite wrong. Fanny is representing me. She must look her best, in any case, we always like her to look her best.'
When he noticed her, Fanny thought privately. For he had a curious trick of seeing her, and probably his own family, too, only through the eyes of outsiders. She could wear a faded and shabby house gown the entire week, without comment, but as soon as visitors were expected, or, more particularly, when she followed the family procession into church on Sunday mornings, she had to be expensively and fashionably dressed so as to do him credit. So that people could say that Edgar Davenport was remarkably generous to his penniless niece?
Excerpted from Darkwater by Dorothy Eden. Copyright © 1963 Dorothy Eden. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted July 30, 2014
Considerably better than Mary Stewart IMO--gripping plot, wonderful atmosphere, characters worthy of caring about. I read this book many years ago and have reread it numerous times. Love it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 22, 2013
Posted November 7, 2013
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