Power of a Woman
A fine mist floated like pale water over the meadows, drifting, eddying, blurring the trees, turning them into illusory shapes that loomed against the somber sky.
Beyond these meadows, the distant Litchfield hills were purplish in the dimming light, their bases obscured by the rising mist so that only their peaks were visible now.
And all about this wintry landscape lay an unremitting silence, as if the world had stopped; everything was washed in a vast unconsciousness. The stillness was all-pervasive; nothing moved or stirred.
In the summertime these low meadows were verdant and lush with billowing grass, and every kind of wildflower grew among the grasses. But on this cold Wednesday afternoon in November they appeared bleak and uninviting.
Stevie Jardine normally did not mind this kind of misty weather, for inevitably it brought the past back to her, and happily so, reminding her as it did of the Yorkshire moors and the lovely old farmhouse she owned. Yet now the vaporous air was chilling her through and through; it seemed to permeate her bones.
Unexpectedly, she experienced a rush of apprehension, and this startled her. Pulling her woolen cape closer to her body, she hurried faster, trying to shake off the strange feeling of foreboding that had just enveloped her. Involuntarily, Stevie shivered. Somebody walked over my grave, she thought, and she shivered again. She looked up.
The sky was remote and cold, turning color, curdling to a peculiar faded green. A bitter sky, eerie; she increased her pace, running, eager now to get home. She no longer liked it outside, regretted her decision to take a long walk. The fog hadclosed in, but earlier the weather had been beautiful, almost an Indian summer's afternoon, until the dankness had scuttled the day.
Her feet knew well the path across the fields, and her step was sure, did not falter as it suddenly dipped, curved down into the dell. The fog was dense on this lower ground. Shivering once more, she drew herself farther into her cape.
Soon the narrow path was rising upward as the landscape changed, became hilly; the mist was evaporating up there, where the land was higher. When she reached the crest of the hill the air grew colder, but it was much clearer.
From this vantage point Stevie could make out her house nestling cozily in the valley below, and she felt a surge of relief. Smoke curled up from its chimneys, lights glimmered brightly in the windows. It was a welcoming sight, warm and inviting in the dusk.
She was glad she was home.
The house was two hundred years old, built in 1796, and stood in a long, green valley under the shadow of Connecticut's Litchfield hills. It had been something of an eyesore when she had first seen it five years before, an unsightly hodgepodge of additions that had been built onto it over the decades. After some skillful remodeling and restoration, its former graciousness and charm were recaptured.
Stevie moved rapidly across the wet lawn and up the steps onto the covered porch, entering the house through the side door, which led directly into the cloakroom.
Once she had hung up her damp cape she went into the great hall. This was vast, with a wide staircase at one end and a dark wood floor so highly polished it gleamed like glass. A beamed ceiling, heavy oak doors, and mullioned windows bespoke the age of the house.
Stevie always thought of the great hall as the core of the house, since all the other rooms flowed around it. From the moment she moved in, the hall had been used as a family living room, where everyone congregated. Several pink-silk-shaded lamps had been turned on, and they glowed rosily, adding to the inviting atmosphere. It was a comfortable, welcoming room, with an old, faded Savonnerie rug in front of the fireplace, antique Jacobean tables and chests made of dark carved wood. Big sofas, covered in a fir-green tapestry, were grouped with several chairs around the fire.
Stevie's face instantly brightened as she crossed the hall. It was cheerful, safe, reassuring. A log fire roared in the big stone hearth and the air was redolent with the spicy scent of pine, a hint of wood smoke and ripe apples. From the kitchen there floated the fragrant aroma of bread baking.
Coming to a standstill at the fireplace, Stevie stood with her hands outstretched to the flames, warming them. Unexpectedly, laughter bubbled in her throat and she began to laugh out loud. At herself. How foolish she had been a short while ago when she was crossing the meadows. There was no reason for her to feel apprehensive. Her sense of foreboding had been irrational. She laughed again, chastising herself for her uneasiness earlier.
After a few seconds she turned away from the fireplace and crossed to the staircase, heading upstairs. She loved every corner of this lovely old house, in particular the small study that opened off her bedroom. As she pushed open the door and walked in, she could not help admiring the room. It was beautifully proportioned, with a cathedral ceiling, tall windows at one end, and a grand fireplace flanked on either side by soaring bookshelves.
Stevie had had the study decoratively painted by an artist, who had layered innumerable coats of amber-colored paint on the walls, then given them a glazed finish. This Venetian stucco treatment created a soft golden sheen, as if sunshine had been perpetually trapped within the confines of the room.
Lovely paintings, selectively chosen over the years, family photographs in silver frames, a variety of treasured mementos, and well-loved books were the things that made this room hers, and very special to her.
The fire was laid and she went and knelt in front of it. Striking a match, she brought the flame to the paper and within seconds a roaring fire was blazing up the chimney.
Rising, she walked across the floor and seated herself at the oval-shaped Georgian desk in the window area. Papers from her briefcase were neatly stacked on it, but after a quick, cursory glance at these she turned away from them, sat back in the chair. Her mind was suddenly far, far away. Power of a Woman. Copyright © by Barbara Taylor Bradford. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.