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The snowflakes fell with almost inaudible thuds against the window pane, like gloved fingers tapping. The wind blew straight from the mountains. Beyond that whirling world of whiteness Julia could imagine the towering cruel slopes, and the fancy came to her that the mountains were like people whose hearts had frozen, long ago, and who now revelled in the howling wind and the cold of which they were the authors. The little round tussocky hills that loved the sunlight; gathering it over them in a yellow coverlet, were obscured, the thorny grey matagouri bushes had become full of an improbable dignity.
Julia thought of the little blue lakes that lay in the hollows of the hills. They would be snowed over now, all their blueness quenched. They would be shrivelled and pinched and colourless, like her own heart. Like her heart today, because she was so frightened.
Perhaps it was only because they were completely shut-in by the storm that she was so afraid. She was suffering from claustrophobia. Because she could not escape from the house she imagined it was dangerous to stay. If the sun had been shining and she had been able to walk out perhaps she would not have gone. When she could have gone a week ago she would not. Perhaps it was only the snow that was making her so frantic.
Nevertheless, she must finish the letter to Uncle Jonathan so that if anything did happen ... But nothing would happen. It was sheer imagination.
Her chilly hand moved the pen over the paper.
I want you to know, Uncle Jonathan, that although you may feel you persuaded me to come here to marry Paul, I would still have done so without your help. I wanted to come. Paul was the first man I ever loved, and I always hoped to marry the first man with whom I fell in love. Perhaps I am just a silly romantic. I can't tell. For I still don't know whether I shall ever marry Paul or not.
Harry may stop us.
Did you know that Paul had a brother Harry? He died in Australia several months ago of pneumonia. He was only twenty-six. They say he died. Yet I am sure he is in this house. I have never seen him. Then how can I be sure he is here? There are various ways, the things Georgina says, the voices I have heard, the way Nita behaved, the notes that are put under my door in the night. If there is ever another note I shall go mad. I can't bear them any more, they are so stupidly demoralising, and there is no longer anyone I can tell about them because I don't know whom I can trust. The funny thing is that I am sure it is Harry who doesn't want me to marry Paul. If the snow hadn't come and shut us in—we may not be able to get to the church tomorrow—something else would have happened. Perhaps something worse.
I am not just being stupid and imaginative. Too many odd things have happened. The worst thing of all is that now I am not sure about Davey. No one seems to know very much about him, not even Paul. Or if Paul does he doesn't tell me anything. At first I talked a lot to Davey because I was lonely and nervous, and he seemed such a sane sensible person, even if he did despise me and call me the Queen of Sheba. He wasn't exactly friendly but I did trust him.
Now, with the things that have happened, I am so afraid that Davey is—
Julia's hand stopped dead, the nib of her pen stabbing the paper rigidly.
There was something protruding beneath her door, a folded scrap of paper.
She sat staring at it. She knew it was useless to run to the door and fling it open and see who was disappearing down the passage. There would he no one there. Never once had she heard a footstep. The folded slips of paper just appeared beneath her door as if they came there of their own accord.
Even that first one, in the hotel, had just been lying on the desk, the reception clerk said, as if it had materialised out of thin air. In this letter she was writing to Uncle Jonathan, Julia thought slowly, she ought to tell him everything from the beginning so that if it happened that she never saw him again he would know the events that had brought her to this state of fear and apprehension....
It was the letter from Paul that had brought her to New Zealand, that combined with Uncle Jonathan's persuasion. Julia was very dear to him, Uncle Jonathan had said, but he was old and sick. She had no other family, and when he died she would be left alone. A villa on the French Riviera and an adequate income were of some value, but a husband, especially a fine young man like the New Zealander, Paul Blaine, was of a great deal more importance. And this was not because he was prejudiced in Paul's favour by reason of the fact that once he had been deeply in love with a young English girl, Georgina Heriot, who was now Paul's grandmother.
Uncle Jonathan had given Julia a love for French literature and a home in the sunshine of the Mediterranean with all its attendant pleasures. But very few young people came to their home. Julia was lonely. She was inclined to think too much about her meeting with Paul three years ago in war-time England, and to fret about his silence which could have meant either that he had forgotten her or that he was dead.
When the letter came Uncle Jonathan said she must go. But she had meant to go, anyway.
During the four weeks' journey out she had occasionally felt nervous and apprehensive. She had wondered if Paul would be the way she remembered him. She had wondered, too, if the excitement of seeking her husband on the other side of the world had been of more importance to her than her feelings for Paul himself. But it was not until she waited in the hotel room in Timaru, the seaside town in the South Island of New Zealand, that was the gateway to the lonely tussock-ridden country stretching to the foot of the Alps where Paul's sheep station was situated, that she began to feel frightened.
She kept looking at the door, waiting for it to open. A dozen times she had imagined what Paul would say, but never had she been able to think what she would answer.
The answer would come spontaneously, she told herself, just as most of her actions did. If she could come half way across the world to marry a man because he had written her one irresistible letter, she need scarcely worry about her first words to him.
In any case he would probably kiss her so that she could not speak. And everything would be completely right.
At any time now the door would open. Julia forced her eyes away from its depressing pale chocolate surface, and turned to the window to watch the road. This led through a cutting and up a hill. The cliffs on either side of the cutting were clay, as yellow as dandelions, and beyond the houses were perched on the hillside like nesting seabirds. It was early spring and the flowering trees were white ghosts and pale pink clouds. Soon after her arrival everything had been vivid and exciting, with the strong spring sunlight, the dancing blue sea, the sea-faded colours of the town. And the anticipation. The excitement of a new town, a new country, mingled with her anticipation of Paul's arrival.
For an hour, two hours, she had been in a happy dream. But now the sun had set, all the colour had gone out of the sea, it was very cold and she was tired. She was so tired that she would have cried had she not always scorned tears, and fought against them as a sly and humiliating enemy. Even alone and unseen she would not allow herself to weep.
Something had happened to prevent Paul arriving. He had sent that message to the ship in Wellington telling her to wait for him at the George Hotel in Timaru, because it was a four-hour drive to Heriot Hills, and if anything delayed him he didn't want her forced to hang around a railway station.
Consequently, she had gone to the George Hotel, and for the first two hours she hadn't minded at all. She had thought the lounge with its turkey-red carpet, its shabby comfortable chair, and its air of cosy gloom, could very easily have belonged to one of the seaside hotels at Bournemouth or Littlehampton or Eastbourne where she used to be taken for holidays. It had just been transported to the antipodes, along with herself, and with it, too, had come all the ecstatic excitement and glamour of holidays in a real hotel by the sea.
For two hours she was a mixture of a child on holiday in a new intriguing place, and a nervous young bride-to-be. Her friendship with Paul in England had been for so short a time. When she tried to think back over what it had been, it was all concentrated in her mind in one lovely new sensation of tenderness, excitement, growing love. What had there been between them? A night dancing, an old song, a drive along the sea coast as dawn showed in a pale primrose line, a withered spray of lily of the valley, a half dozen letters of a shy formality that could have meant everything or nothing.
Then the three-year-long silence during which, she now knew, Paul had been in and out of hospitals and undergone a series of skin grafts for war wounds.
No wonder, when that surprising letter had come and she had impulsively announced her intention of agreeing to Paul's proposal, her friends, apart from Uncle Jonathan, had told her she was crazy.
Crazy ... Julia looked round the drab darkening room. Was she? She hadn't seemed so, or perhaps she had, in a purely delightful way, until now. Now it was no longer an altogether amusing craziness.
Supposing Paul didn't come. He had wanted her to marry him in Wellington. He had sent a cable to the ship asking her to do that. She had had the impression that he meant to have the parson waiting at the foot of the gangway. After his long silence the impatience had been flattering, but a little puzzling. She cabled back, refusing, saying that she wanted to be taken to Heriot Hills first, to meet his family and to become accustomed to her new home.
She hadn't any uncertainties about her feelings for Paul. Ever since getting that letter she had been in a state of dreamy delight. My dear love ... You are my day and night ... Paul had said those things, shy uncommunicative Paul!
She remembered his steady blue eyes and longed to be in his arms. Yet she was not ready to marry him in Wellington. She mixed caution with her craziness. She wanted to see her home first, and after all there was her elaborate trousseau which must be displayed with all the background of a real wedding.
Perhaps subconsciously she was providing herself with a loophole for escape.
That was quite silly, of course. Yet had it not been justified? For strangely enough Paul had not met her in Wellington. There had only been the note telling her to come to Timaru and wait at the hotel.
Now she was here, and still he had not come.
It must be the storm that had held him up. The girl at the reception desk, when Julia had enquired whether she could put a telephone call through to Heriot Hills, had told her that the telegraph wires were down. There had been a bad storm in the high country the previous night, and communications were temporarily cut
"There's some flooding," she had told Julia, "but cars are getting through. I should think your friend would arrive."
Had Paul been held up on a flooded road, or had he mistaken the day? Julia refused to panic. She had asked the girl at the desk for a room, since it now looked as if she might have to spend the night there.
One more night, after the weeks of travelling, didn't matter much, she told herself. It was the tiredness that was getting under her guard, making her suspicious, uneasy, homesick. Had Georgina Heriot felt like this when she had arrived here nearly sixty years ago? Had she thought regretfully of home, of the old dull but dearly familiar ways, perhaps even of Jonathan whom she had rejected. Had the sharp strong sunlight, the bare hills, the sweeping winds of this country seemed too alien to her? If they had she would never have admitted it. She had quarrelled with Uncle Jonathan and left him for the New Zealander, Adam Blaine. She would have been too proud to confess she had made a mistake and come back. Perhaps she hadn't made a mistake.
But Uncle Jonathan, convinced that one day she would admit she still loved him, had dedicated his life to waiting for her to return to him. Even when she and Adam Blaine had established their home, called it Heriot Hills and started their family, Uncle Jonathan had refused to believe in the permanence of her absence.
Poor Uncle Jonathan. His last words to her had been, "I'm so happy you're going. Tell Georgina I still love her."
She had known that he was feeling that in a strange and vicarious way his long faithfulness was being rewarded. His dearest niece was going to marry the grandchild of his old love. It was an unexpected but deeply satisfying fulfillment to his life.
A baby in the next room had begun to cry. Julia came away from the window and switched on the light. By electricity the room looked even more dreary and anonymous. She preferred the growing and melancholy darkness, and switched off the light again. She had begun to think of that silly letter someone off the ship had sent her in Wellington.
Think well before you marry Paul Blaine. Are you sure he really loves you? It was signed "A well-wisher."
Obviously it had been the work of that foolish but rather nice Johnnie Weir who had followed at her heels during the entire voyage. Only someone off the ship would know the hotel at which she had planned to spend the night. The letter had been handed in at the desk.
It had been a stupid thing to do. People who wrote anonymous letters were not funny. And of course Paul really loved her or he would not have sent for her.
What was wrong with that baby next door? It sounded as if it were forsaken. Perhaps she could go in to it. That would be two forsaken people together. Even as she made that decision a door clicked and a moment later the baby stopped crying.
Almost at once a tap at her own door made her start. Paul! She hurried to open the door. The rather dull-faced girl from the reception desk stood there.
"A letter has just been left for you, Miss Paget," she said, and handed Julia the unstamped envelope.
Julia closed the door slowly, staring at the handwriting. It was peculiarly familiar, yet she couldn't think where she had seen it before. She tore the envelope open and suddenly her hand began to tremble. For the note was written in the same large black print as the one she had received in Wellington. The writer could not be Johnnie after all. Johnnie had stayed in Wellington. It couldn't be Johnnie's stupid joke. Perhaps it was not meant to be a joke at all.
The writing this time said bluntly,
If you marry Paul Blaine you are deliberately running into danger. Think well.
Rather breathlessly Julia crumpled the sheet of paper back into the envelope. She stood reflecting for a few moments, then she went downstairs.
The hotel no longer seemed the comfortable, happy, exciting, turkey-red place of her childhood. People stared at her too closely. Or did she imagine it? Wasn't it in all their faces that there was the girl whom Paul Blaine had sent for, and now didn't want?
She went to the reception desk and attracted the attention of the dull-faced clerk.
"Excuse me. Can you tell me who left this letter?"
The girl looked surprised. "I don't know. I didn't see. Doesn't it say?"
"It isn't signed," Julia said casually. "I suppose it's someone who expected me to know their handwriting."
The girl had lost interest. She had got out her compact and was powdering her nose. It was six o'clock; no doubt her finishing time.
"How queer," she said indifferently. "It was lying on the counter. I didn't hear anyone come. You don't, on the carpet. It wouldn't have been there more than a few minutes."
"Oh. Well, thank you."
Julia turned away helplessly. So someone who knew something—or was it just mischief—could not be far from here. But where? And how in Wellington yesterday, and Timaru, a town in another island, today? Was she being followed?
"Dinner's at seven," she heard the girl at the desk saying.
She didn't get ready to go down to dinner. It had been going to be such a happy evening with Paul. Now, forlorn and just a little more frightened all the time, she knew she could not face dinner alone. She decided to go to bed. Whether the arrival of a prospective bridegroom were imminent or not, she would pull the sheets over her head and sleep. Then she would wake refreshed and be again the girl Uncle Jonathan admired, impulsive, ready for any experience, frightened of nothing.
First, for reassurance, she would unpack her wedding dress and re-read Paul's letters.
If you marry Paul Blaine you are deliberately running into danger. How utterly stupid. What was nice, shy, gentle Paul going to do to her? Make her unbearably unhappy? Murder her?
New Zealanders, she thought, must like playing cruel senseless jokes. Or one of them must.
She lifted the wedding dress out of the suitcase and shook out its folds. And then it was like the blossoming trees she had seen on the hillside, ethereal, immaculate as snow.
Julia began to smile to herself. The lovely thing. She imagined the girl who would be in it, herself and yet not herself, the pure, not quite of this world creature who would startle herself as much as Paul.
Excerpted from Sinister Weddings by Dorothy Eden. Copyright © 1954 Macdonald & Co., Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted July 31, 2013
Sinister Weddings by Dorothy Eden is a three in one book bundle. This compilation of novels centers on weddings. In Bride by Candlelight, Julia is a bride to be; in Bridge of Fear, Abbey is a newly married woman; and in Cat’s Prey, Antonia is on her way to getting engaged. All three of these novels are gothic and hold a hint of suspense.
Bride by Candlelight
Julia moves to New Zealand to marry a man she met three years ago. During that three year gap she did not talk to Paul because he was badly hurt in the war. Her Uncle Jonathan pushed her to marry Paul because he was the grandson of his true love, Georgina who married another man. During Julia’s travels and her stay at Herriot Hills she gets anonymous letters warning her away from Paul with cryptic messages of his dead brother Harry. During her stay she is targeted and almost killed several times. Who can she trust? Who are these cryptic messages from? Why all the secrecy about Harry? (2.5/5 stars)
Bridge of Fear
Abbey moves to Australia from England to marry Luke. When she is married and living in her new house that Luke designed and built himself, she finds that Luke has changed. He is now very distant and cold towards her even though they have only been married a few weeks. She feels that she is constantly being watched by her neighbors and she feels uneasy about everyone being so secretive. Why the sudden change in Luke? Does everyone in Australia stare and watch their neighbors constantly? Why is everyone keeping secrets from her? (3.5/5 stars)
When Antonia gets two letters, one from his cousin Simon and one from his soon-to-be wife Iris, imploring her to go to New Zealand after her Aunt Laura dies; she decides to go stay with them for awhile. Antonia is supposed to be inheriting some money from Aunt Laura, but she doesn’t know exactly how much, because her aunt stipulated that she not inherit it until she was at least 24 to deter fortune hunters. When strange things start to happen, such as a phone call when she first arrives that says they know what happened to her Aunt Laura and to meet him, as well as a strange crying noise that everyone seems to be covering up by telling her she’s hallucinating. What are these strange noises that she hears? Why is everyone trying to convince her something must be wrong with her? (3.5/5 stars)
Personally, I did not think any of these stories were anything special. They all seemed relatively the same to me and everything was tied up too neatly at a very quick pace at the end. I really did not like Bride by Candlelight at all, but once you get past that novel, the other two were fairly good. I can’t strongly recommend this bundle of books, but if you like a hint of the macabre you might like Sinister Weddings.