Read an Excerpt
Snow in April
By Rosamunde Pilcher
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1972 Rosamunde Pilcher
All rights reserved.
Banked in scented steam, with her hair wound up in a bathcap, Caroline Cliburn lay supine in the bath and listened to the radio. The bathroom was large—as all the rooms in this generous house were large. It had once been a dressing-room, but long ago Diana had decided that people neither used nor needed dressing-rooms any longer, and she had stripped it naked, and called in plumbers and carpenters, and fitted it out with pink porcelain and a thick white carpet and hung floor-length chintz curtains at the window. There was a low glass-topped table, for bath salts and magazines and large eggs of pink soap, smelling of roses. There were roses, too, on the French bath-towels and the bath-mat, on which now reposed Caroline's dressing-gown, her slippers, the radio and a book which she had started to read and then abandoned.
The radio played a waltz. One-two-three, one-two-three went the sighing violins, conjuring up visions of palm courts and gentlemen in white gloves, and elderly ladies sitting on gilt chairs and nodding their heads in time to the pretty tune.
She thought, I'll wear the new trouser suit. And then remembered that one of the gilt buttons had fallen off the jacket and was now, in all probability, lost. It would, of course, be perfectly possible to look for the button, to thread a needle, to sew it on. The operation would take no more than five minutes, but it would be far simpler not to. To wear instead the turquoise caftan, or the black velvet midi dress that Hugh said made her look like Alice in Wonderland.
The water was growing cold. She turned on the hot tap with her toe and told herself that at half past seven she would get out of the bath, get dried, put on a face and go downstairs. She would be late, but it wouldn't matter. They would all be waiting for her, grouped around the fireplace, Hugh in the velvet dinner jacket that she secretly disliked and Shaun girthed in his scarlet cummerbund. And the Haldanes would be there, Elaine well into her second Martini, and Parker with his knowing, suggestive eyes, and the guests of honour, Shaun's business associates from Canada, Mr and Mrs Grimandull, or some such name. And, after a reasonable delay, they would all troop in to dinner, turtle soup and the cassoulet Diana had spent the morning concocting, and a sensational pudding which would probably be brought in flaming, to the accompaniment of oohs and aahs and "Darling Diana, how do you do it?"
The thought of all that food made her feel, as usual, nauseated. It was puzzling. Indigestion was surely the prerogative of the very old, the greedy, or possibly, the pregnant, and Caroline, at twenty, could qualify for none of these. She didn't exactly feel ill, she just never felt well. Perhaps before next Tuesday—no, next Tuesday week—she should go to a doctor. She imagined trying to explain. I'm going to be married and I feel sick all the time. She saw his smile, paternal and understanding. Pre-wedding nerves, natural enough, I'll give you a sedative ...
The waltz faded discreetly out, and the announcer came in with the seven-thirty news bulletin. Caroline sighed and sat up, pulled out the plug before she could succumb to the temptation of further basking, and climbed out on to the bath-mat. She turned off the radio, dried herself in a cursory fashion, pulled on the dressing-gown and padded through to her bedroom, leaving wet footmarks on the pale white carpet. She sat at her skirted dressing-table, pulled off the bath-cap, and observed, without enthusiasm, her triply-reflected image. Her hair was long and straight and pale as milk, and hung, on either side of her face, like two silk tassels. It was not a pretty face in the accepted sense of the word. The cheekbones were too high, the nose blunt, the mouth wide. She knew that she could look either hideous or beautiful, and only her eyes, wide-set, dark brown and thickly-lashed, were consistently remarkable, even now when she was plain with tiredness.
(She remembered Drennan, and something he had once said, long ago, holding her head between his hands and turning her face up to his. "How is it that you have a boy's grin and a woman's eyes? And the eyes of a woman in love, at that?" They had been sitting in the front of his car, and outside it had been very dark and raining. She remembered the sound of the rain, the ticking of the car clock, the feel of his hands encircling her chin, but it was like remembering an incident in a book or a film, an incident that she had witnessed, but taken no part in. It had happened to another girl.)
She reached, abruptly, for her brush, disposed of her hair in a twist of rubber band, and began to make up her face. While she was in the middle of this, footsteps came down the passage, soft on the thick carpet, and stopped at her door. The door was lightly tapped.
"Can I come in?" It was Diana.
Her stepmother was already dressed in white and gold, her grey-blonde hair wound like a shell, speared with a gold pin. She looked, as always, beautiful, slender, tall, immaculately groomed. Her eyes were blue, accentuated by a tan which was maintained by regular sessions with a sunlamp, and one of the reasons why she was so often mistaken for a Scandinavian. And indeed, she possessed that happy ability to look as good in casual ski-clothes or tweeds as she did now, dressed and ready for an evening of the utmost formality.
"Caroline, you aren't nearly ready!"
Caroline began to do complicated things with her eye-lash brush.
"I'm half-way there. You know how quick I can be once I start." She added, "It's perhaps the only thing I learned at Drama School that's going to be of lasting use to me. You know, putting on a face in one minute flat."
This was a remark thoughtlessly made and instantly regretted. Drama School was still forbidden territory as far as Diana was concerned and her hackles went up at the very mention of the words. She said coolly, "In that case, perhaps the two years you spent there weren't entirely wasted," and when Caroline, crushed, made no reply, she went on, "Anyway, there's no hurry. Hugh's here, Shaun's giving him a drink now, but the Lundstroms will be a little late. She telephoned from the Connaught to say that John has been held up at a conference."
"Lundstrom. I couldn't remember their name. I've been calling them the Grimandulls."
"That's very unfair. You've not even met them."
"Yes, and they're very nice."
She began, in a pointed fashion, to tidy up after Caroline, moving about her bedroom, pairing shoes, folding a sweater, gathering up the damp bath-towel which lay in the middle of the floor. This she folded and carried back to the bathroom, where Caroline could hear her making efforts to clean the basin, opening and shutting the door of the mirrored cupboard, doubtless putting back the lid on a jar of cold cream.
She raised her voice. "Diana, what does Mr Lundstrom confer about?"
"Um?" Diana reappeared and Caroline repeated her question.
"He's a banker."
"Is he involved in this new deal of Shaun's?"
"Very much so. He's backing it. That's why he's in this country, to get the last few details finalized."
"So, we'll all have to be very charming and well-behaved."
Caroline stood up, dropped off her dressing-gown and went naked, in search of clothes.
Diana sat on the end of the bed. "Is that such an effort? Caroline, you're dreadfully thin. Really too thin, you ought to try and put on a little weight."
"I'm all right." She picked some underclothes out of an overflowing drawer and began to put them on. "Just made this way."
"Rubbish. All your ribs are showing. And you don't eat enough to keep a fly alive. Even Shaun noticed the other day and you know how unobservant he usually is." Caroline pulled on a pair of tights. "And your colour's so bad, so pale. I noticed it just now when I came in. Perhaps you should start taking iron."
"Doesn't that turn your teeth black?"
"Now, where did you hear that old wives' tale?"
"Perhaps it's something to do with getting married. Having to write one hundred and forty-three thank you letters."
"Don't be ungrateful ... oh, incidentally, Rose Kintyre was on the telephone, wondering what you wanted for a present. I suggested those goblets you saw in Sloane Street, you know, the ones with the engraved initials. What are you going to wear this evening?"
Caroline opened her wardrobe and took down the first dress which came to hand, which happened to be the black velvet. "This?"
"Yes. I love that dress. But you should wear dark stockings with it."
Caroline put it back, took out the next. "Then this?" The caftan, luckily not the trouser suit.
"Yes. Charming. With gold ear-rings."
"I've lost mine."
"Oh, not the ones that Hugh gave you."
"Not really lost, just mislaid. I've put them somewhere but I can't remember where. Don't bother." She tossed the turquoise silk, soft as thistledown over her head. "Earrings don't show on me, anyway, unless my hair's been properly done." She began to do up the tiny buttons. She said, "What about Jody? Where's he having dinner?"
"With Katy, in the basement, I said he could have it with us, but he wants to watch the Western on television."
Caroline loosened her hair and brushed it smooth. "Is he there now?"
"I think so."
Caroline sprayed herself at random with the first bottle of scent that came to hand. "If you don't mind," she said, "I'll go down first and say good night to him."
"Don't be too long. The Lundstroms will be here in about ten minutes."
* * *
They went downstairs together. As they descended into the hall the door of the drawing-room opened and Shaun Carpenter emerged, carrying a red ice-jar which was shaped like an apple and had a gilt stalk sticking up from its lid to form a handle. He looked up and saw them.
"No ice," he said by way of explanation and then was diverted, like a stage comedian doing a double-take, by their appearance, and stood still, in the middle of the hall, to witness their descent.
"Well, don't you both look beautiful? What a pair of gorgeous women."
Shaun was Diana's husband, and Caroline's ... her mode of reference varied. My stepmother's husband she sometimes called him. Or, my step-step-father. Or, simply, Shaun.
He and Diana had been married for three years, but, as he was fond of telling people, he had known her and adored her for far longer than that.
"Knew her in the old days," he would say. "Thought I had the whole business neatly buttoned up, and then she went off to the Greek Islands to buy a piece of property, and the next thing I knew, she was writing to tell me she'd met and got herself married off to this architect fellow—Gerald Cliburn. Not a bean to his name, a ready-made family and as Bohemian as hell. You could have knocked me down with a feather."
He had remained faithful to her memory, however, and being a naturally successful man, had made an equal success of his role as professional bachelor, the older, more sophisticated man, much in demand by London hostesses and never without a diary packed with engagements for months to come.
Indeed, his single life was so remarkably well-organized and pleasant that when Diana Cliburn, widowed and with two stepchildren in tow, returned to London to move back into her old house, pick up the old threads and start life anew, there was certain speculation about what Shaun Carpenter would do now. Had he dug himself to deeply into his comfortable bachelor rut? Would he—even for Diana—give up his independence and settle for the humdrum life of an ordinary family man? Gossip doubted it very much.
But gossip had reckoned without Diana. She returned from Aphros if anything more beautiful and desirable than ever. She was now thirty-two and at the height of her attraction. Shaun, cautiously renewing their friendship, was bowled over in a matter of days. Within a week he had asked her to marry him and repeated himself at regular seven-day intervals until she finally agreed.
The first thing she made him do was to break the news, himself, to Caroline and Jody. "I can't be a father," he had told them, pacing the drawing-room carpet and going warm round the collar beneath their clear and oddly identical gazes. "Wouldn't know how to, anyway. But I'd like you to feel that you can always make use of me, as a confidant or possible financier ... after all, this is your home ... and I'd like you to feel ..."
He floundered on, cursing Diana for having put him in this awkward situation and wishing that she had let well alone and allowed his relationship with Caroline and Jody to develop slowly and naturally. But Diana was impatient by nature, she liked everything cut and dried and she liked it cut and dried now.
Jody and Caroline watched Shaun, sympathetic, but saying and doing nothing to help him out. They liked Shaun Carpenter, but saw, with the clear eyes of youth, that already Diana had him in the palm of her hand. And he spoke about Milton Gardens as their home, whereas home, to them, was and always would be, a white cube like sugar loaf, perched high above the navy-blue Aegean Sea. But that was gone, sunk without trace into the confusion of the past. What Diana chose to do, whom she chose now to marry, could be none of their business. However, if she had to marry anyone, they were glad it was the large and kindly Shaun.
Now, as Caroline moved to go past him, he stood aside, courtly and starched and faintly ridiculous with the ice bucket held like an offering in his hands. He smelt of "Brut" and the clean smell of fresh linen, and Caroline remembered her father's frequently stubbly chin and the blue work-shirts that he preferred to wear straight from the washing line without so much as a touch of an iron. She remembered, too, the fights and arguments that he and Diana had cheerfully indulged in and which her father almost always won! and she was newly amazed that one woman could find it possible to marry two men who were so remotely different.
* * *
Descending to the basement and Katy's domain was like going from one world to another. Upstairs were the pastel carpets, the chandeliers, the heavy velvet curtains. Downstairs, all was cluttered, uncontrived and cheerful. Checked linoleum vied with vivid rugs, curtains were patterned with zig-zags and leaves, every horizontal surface bore its burden of photographs, china ash-trays from forgotten seaside resorts, painted shells and vases of plastic flowers. A proper fire burned redly in the fireplace and in front of it, curled up in a sagging armchair and with his eyes glued to the quivering television screen, was Caroline's brother Jody.
He wore jeans and a navy polo-necked sweater, battered chukka boots, and for no particular reason, a ramshackle yachting cap, several sizes too large for him. He looked up as she came in, and then went immediately back to the screen. He didn't want to miss a single shot, a single second of the action.
Caroline edged him over in the chair and let herself down beside him. After a little she said, "Who's the girl?"
"Oh, she's stupid. She's always kissing. It's one of those."
"Turn it off then."
He considered this, decided that perhaps it was a good idea; and climbed out of the chair to turn off the set. The television died with a small moan. He stood on the hearthrug, looking down at her.
He was eleven, a good age, out of babyhood, but not yet tall and scrawny and bad-tempered and troubled by spots. His features were so like Caroline's own that strangers, seeing them for the first time, knew that they could be nothing but brother and sister, but while Caroline was fair, Jody had hair of so bright a brown that it verged on red, and while her freckles confined themselves to a smattering across the bridge of her nose, Jody's were all over, scattered like confetti across his back and his shoulders and down his arms. His eyes were grey. His smile, which was slow, but disarming when it did appear, revealed second teeth too big for his face and a little crooked, as though they jostled to make space for themselves.
"Where's Katy?" Caroline asked.
"Upstairs in the kitchen."
"Have you had dinner?"
"Did you get what we're having?"
"I had some soup. But I didn't want the other thing so Katy cooked bacon and eggs."
"I wish I could have had it with you. Did you see Shaun and Hugh?"
"Yes. I went up." He made a face. "The Haldanes are coming, bad luck on you."
Excerpted from Snow in April by Rosamunde Pilcher. Copyright © 1972 Rosamunde Pilcher. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.