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Girl Named Rose
By Betty Neels
Thorndike PressCopyright © 2003 Betty Neels
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe early summer sky, so vividly blue until now, was rapidly being swallowed up by black clouds, turning the water of the narrow canal to a steely grey and draining the color from the old gabled houses on either side of it. The two girls on the narrow arched bridge spanning the water glanced up from the map they were studying and frowned at the darkening sky. The taller of the two had a pretty face, framed by dark curly hair, her blue eyes wide with apprehension; the smaller of the two, with unassuming features, straight pale brown hair piled into a too severe topknot, and a pair of fine brown eyes, merely looked annoyed.
"It's going to rain," she observed, stating the obvious as the first slow, heavy drops began to fall. "Shall we go back if we can, go on, or find shelter?" She added in a matter-of-fact way, "I haven't the faintest idea where we are." She began to fold the map, already wet, but before she had done so the rain came down in earnest, soaking them in moments. Worse, there was a sudden flash of lightning and a great rumble of thunder.
The pretty girl gave a scared yelp. "Rose, what shall we do? I'm soaked."
Her companion took her arm and hurried her off the bridge. "I'll knock on a door," she said, "perhaps there's a porch ..."
The brick road they were on was narrow andthe houses lining it were solid seventeenth and eighteenth century town mansions built by wealthy Dutch merchants, their doors massive, their windows symmetrical, presenting an ageless calm in this backwater of Amsterdam, and not one of them had a porch. A second flash of lightning sent the smaller girl up the steps of the nearest house, to bang resoundingly on the great brass door knocker.
"You can't," objected her companion; she didn't answer, only knocked again.
The door opened and she found herself staring into an elderly bewhiskered face; it belonged to a stout man, almost bald except for a fringe of hair with a stern expression and pale blue eyes. She swallowed and drew a breath.
"Please may we stand in your doorway?" she began. "We're wet and lost."
Before the man could answer a door behind him opened and shut and a voice asked, "English, and lost?" and said something in Dutch so that the man opened the door wider and stood aside for them to go in.
The hall they entered was very impressive; its black-and-white tiled floor partly covered with thin silky rugs, its white plastered walls hung with paintings in heavy frames; the man who stood in its centre was impressive too, well over six feet tall, with great shoulders and the good looks to turn any girl's head. Any age between thirty and forty, Rose guessed, wondering if his fair hair was actually silver.
She hung back a little; this was the kind of situation Sadie could cope with admirably; her pretty face and charming smile had smoothed her path through three years of training at the children's hospital where they both worked; they could certainly turn things to her own advantage now.
"Come in, come in." The blue eyes studied them sleepily. "Very wet, aren't you? Give your cardigans to Hans, he'll get them dried for you and come into the sitting-room while I explain where you are."
He smiled at them both, but his eyes lingered on Sadie's glowing face, damp with rain, her curls no less attractive for being wet, whereas Rose's hair hung in damp tendrils, doing nothing to aid her looks.
He held out a large hand and shook their proffered ones firmly. "Sybren Werdmer ter Sane," he said briskly. It was Sadie who answered him. "I'm Sadie Gordon and this is Rose Comely." She smiled bewitchingly at him as he opened a big double door and ushered them into the room beyond.
It was a large lofty apartment, its ceiling was plaster with pendant bosses, and a central recessed oval with a border of fruit and flowers. The windows were large and draped with heavy swathes of plum-colored velvet, and the same rich color predominated in the needlework carpets strewn on the polished wood floor. The furniture was a thoughtful mixture of the old and the new. Vast display cupboards flanked the steel fireplace with its rococo chimney-piece and mirror, a pair of magnificent seventeenth-century armchairs, elaborately carved and velvet-cushioned, stood on either side of a small table inlaid with mother-of-pearl. A pair of William and Mary winged settees were on either side of the fireplace and there were a number of lamp tables and small comfortable easy chairs.
A delightful room, Rose thought, but Sadie said at once, "I say, what a simply heavenly room - you'd never guess from the outside ..."
"Er - no, I suppose not. Do sit down; I've asked Hans to bring you some tea and in the meantime tell me how I can help you."
"Oh, Rose will explain; we're hopelessly lost - my fault, I wouldn't stop to look at the map."
"Where are you staying?"
Rose answered him in her quiet sensible voice. "At a small hotel called 'De Zwaan', it's close to the Amstel Hotel, down a narrow side street. We got here yesterday, quite late in the evening, and we're leaving again in the morning. We're on a package tour; six of us, but the other four didn't want to explore. We were all right to start with, but these small streets are all alike, aren't they? Besides, they are so picturesque we just walked on and on ..."
"It is so very easy to get lost!" commented their host. "But you aren't too far out of your way. Will your friends worry?"
"They went shopping and they won't be back at the hotel until the shops close. We have a kind of high tea at half past six."
"Ah yes, of course," murmured Mijnheer Werdmer ter Sane; he had never eaten high tea in his life and indeed was a little vague as to what it was, but there was no need for him to comment further for Sadie, who had been frankly staring around her, wanted to know if the large painting of a family group wearing the stiff clothes of a couple of hundred years earlier were any relation to him. He led her over to take a closer look and when Hans came in a few minutes later with the tea tray, paused only long enough to ask Rose to pour out. "What is it you say in England? 'Be Mother.'"
Excerpted from Girl Named Rose by Betty Neels Copyright © 2003 by Betty Neels. Excerpted by permission.
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