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The mysteries of twin sister Dorabella's disappearance solved, Violette Denver finally has her chance at happiness. She must pursue her destiny in romantic, dangerous wartime Europe. From the author of The Black Swan and The Changeling. Previously published by Putnam.
The Night Comers
On that March morning, I arose at dawn. I had slept little during the night. Old Mrs. Jermyn had given a dinner party at Jermyn Priory to celebrate my engagement to her grandson—though perhaps it could scarcely be called a celebration in every way as Jowan was to leave for the Front the following day.
I had known he would ask me to marry him from that September day soon after war had been declared and he told me he was going to join the army.
We had been drawn to each other since our first meeting when, trespassing on Jermyn land, I fell from my horse and he came along to rescue me. One might say that that was the beginning of the end of the feud between the Tregarland and Jermyn families. I was not, however, a Tregarland, my connection with the family being only through my twin sister, Dorabella, who had married into it and whom I was visiting at the time.
Not that Jowan was concerned about the feud. He laughed at it as a piece of nonsense beloved and preserved by the local people. Yet it had kept the families apart for many years—and now here we were, about to be joined in holy matrimony.
As soon as the war was over we were to be married.
"Another six months perhaps," said Jowan. "Maybe earlier."
Sometimes it seemed to me that Jowan went through life taking what was and making it acceptable. Perhaps that was why he had been such a great help to me during the terrifying time through which I had passed.
Jowan had been brought up by his grandmother, for his mother had died when he was very young; he had inherited Jermyn Priory only a few years ago. His somewhat dissolute uncle had neglected the property, and since Jowan came into possession of it he had been attempting to put it in order. This he was doing with great success. He loved the house in which he had spent his early years before joining his father in New Zealand. His father had died before his uncle, and the estate had passed to Jowan.
I admired him for his single-minded purpose. So did his grandmother. She could never speak of him without betraying her pride.
"Jowan always sees what has to be done," she told me. "And he never says 'can't.' He loves this place as I did and it is right and proper that it should be his."
That was why I was rather taken aback when he immediately decided to leave Jermyn's and go into the army; but as he saw it, the war had to be won for the prosperity of the entire country and that included Jermyn's. He had an excellent manager who had a good assistant. They were both considerably older than he was and married with families to support. He could be better spared, he said, and he could trust them to look after the place in his absence.
"We'll settle the Germans in no time," he said.
I had not seen much of him during the last months. There were his leaves, but they were never very long. This was one of the reasons why I stayed in Cornwall—another was that my sister refused to hear of my leaving.
Jowan had joined the Royal Field Artillery, whose training ground was at Lark Hill on Salisbury Plain, which was no great distance from Tregarland.
How we cherished those leaves! How we planned for the future! I felt uplifted by them while they lasted, but I was filled with foreboding after he had gone back to camp, knowing that the day for his departure was growing nearer.
Now it had come.
My parents were delighted with the match and Jowan's grandmother and I were already good friends. Everything should have been perfect, but how could it be with the menace of war hanging over us?
On that morning, when I was washed and dressed, it was still very early and I felt a need to be out in the fresh morning air so I put on a coat and went out to my favorite seat in the garden.
Tregarland had been built on the top of a cliff, like a fortress overlooking the sea. The gardens stretched out down to a beach which was originally a private one, but it had been necessary for there to be a right of way through it, otherwise people walking along the beach would have to scale the cliff to get round, and, as I had once discovered, when caught by the tide, this was almost an impossibility.
I sat down on a bench which had been placed conveniently among the flowering shrubs and looked across the sea. Very soon Jowan would be somewhere on the other side of that strip of water. Destination unknown. It was no use trying to delude myself that he was not going into danger.
I heard a footstep and, looking up, saw my sister, Dorabella, coming towards me. She was smiling.
"I heard you," she said. "I looked out of my window and there you were. So I followed."
"It's very early," I said.
"The best part of the day, I've heard. What's the matter, Vee?"
She occasionally used the shortened version of my name, which was Violetta; and this morning there was a note of tenderness in her voice. She knew what I was feeling.
Dorabella and I were not identical twins, but there was a firm bond between us. She had once called it "the gossamer cord."
"It is strong," she had said. She believed it was unbreakable, but so fine that no one knew it was there except us. But it always had been and it always would be. I think she was right in that.
She was rather frivolous and charming; I was reckoned to be the sensible, practical one. There was about her a misleading air of fragility which had always appealed to the opposite sex. I had always been conscious of her superior attractions but never—or possibly rarely—jealous.
When I considered where her impulsive actions led her, I was fearful for her and I felt sure that the most recent one must have had a lasting effect on her. She had rashly married and then rashly abandoned Dermot Tregarland, and so set in motion consequences which had affected us all deeply. In fact, but for that marriage, I should never have met Jowan. I should not have been sitting in that place at that moment.
I glanced at her. Yes, what had happened had had a sobering effect even on her. I was afraid for her, but whatever she did, I would never stop loving her. Nothing could change that.
She took my hand and said: "Don't worry. He'll be all right. I know it in my bones. He's a survivor. I'm one myself and I recognize a kindred spirit."
"You're certainly right about yourself," I said.
She looked at me ruefully, telling me with her eyes that she was sorry for all the anxiety she had caused us. I had forgiven her, as our parents had.
"Of course I am," she said. "The war will soon be over. He'll be back ... a hero. There will be wedding bells. The gathering of the clans. That stupid feud between the Tregarlands and the Jermyns at an end forever. It was all rather ridiculous, wasn't it?"
"And you, Dorabella, what shall you do? Shall you stay at Tregarland's?"
She was thoughtful, so I knew the idea of getting away had occurred to her.
"It will be different," she said. "You'll be the Lady of Jermyn Priory."
"That is old Mrs. Jermyn."
"Oh, she will graciously step aside. She is so pleased that you are going to marry her bonny boy. When this miserable war is over, I think I shall be able to bear it if you are not far away. We're all living in a sort of limbo now, aren't we? Nobody can make any plans. We don't know what will happen from one minute to the next. This war ... how long do you really think it will go on?"
"I don't know. We're constantly hearing that we are doing well, but the Germans seem to be very strong. It is difficult to know whether we are hearing everything or if things are being kept from us."
"You are getting morbid, Vee."
"I like to know the truth."
"Ignorance is bliss, remember."
"Less so when the truth is forced upon us, as it could be in some circumstances."
"Snap out of it! I know Jowan's going and you are naturally worried, but we are here together. I can't tell you how pleased I am about that. The best thing for me is that you and I will be neighbors. Think of that."
"And you have Tristan."
"Auntie Violetta has a proprietary interest and Nanny Crabtree believes, I am sure, that he is more hers than mine. I wonder if that child realizes how many lay claim to him. I pick him up and Nanny Crabtree thinks I am going to drop him." She was sober suddenly. "After what happened, she probably feels I'm not to be trusted. It was she—and you—who saved him from Mad Matilda when I was not there ... as I should have been."
"It's all in the past."
"Is it? Don't you think the things we do—the really important things—never really go away? They leave their effect behind forever after."
"You have to stop thinking like that."
"I do most of the time, but sometimes it comes back and haunts me. I went off with a lover. I left my husband and child ... and now I'm back. My husband died, my child might have been murdered but for you and Nanny Crabtree. You see how it feels sometimes."
"As long as you have learned your lesson ..."
Her mood changed and she burst out laughing.
"I can't help it," she said. "Always the same old Violetta. Preaching the truth, grappling heroically with the problems of the wayward twin—and never forgetting to point to the moral."
"Someone has to do it with people like you around!"
"And you do. You always have. Don't think I forget. I don't ever. That's why I have to have you near me and if you are not there I get a bit panicky. I shall never forget how you told the tale for me. And I know how you hate to lie. I had run away with my lover. I had staged my departure to look like a drowning ... as though I had gone down to swim, leaving my wrap and slippers there on the beach ... and all the time I was crossing the Channel on my way to Paris. And what did you do? You worked out a tale for me. I had gone swimming, lost consciousness, been picked up by a yacht. Oh ... it was wonderful!"
"It was quite implausible and we should never have got away with it if war had not been declared just at that time, and if people had not had other things to think about than the wayward wanton conduct of a frivolous young woman."
"You are right, dear sister, as always. You see why I can't live without you? Even Tregarland's is tolerable because you will be my neighbor when you marry your Jowan. Your name Jermyn, mine Tregarland. It worked out quite neatly in the end, didn't it?"
"We can't know that yet."
"You are determined to be morbid. Surely one of your maxims tells you that is not very helpful."
"I just want to face facts."
"I know. But sometimes I feel the past will never go away. It's here in this house. Matilda Lewyth with her madness. She seems to be still here. And there is Gordon. How does he feel? His own mother a murderess ... living out her life in an asylum ..."
"Gordon is one of the most sensible men I know. He will see everything clearly as it really is. His mother wanted Tregarland's for him and she allowed that desire to become an obsession. Old James Tregarland teased her. He was mischievous. He wanted to see how she would act. Well, he saw, and he wishes now that it was something he had never seen. He blames himself in a way—and he certainly did play a part in the drama. But it is over. Thank God Matilda was prevented from harming Tristan. Matilda is now in safe care and Tristan has Nanny Crabtree and the whole household to dote on him. Even old Mr. Tregarland thinks his grandson is the most wonderful child that ever was. Tristan is safe. We have to go on from there."
"But I can't rid myself of guilt. I should have been there. Dermot should be alive."
"Dermot was badly injured. He knew he would never recover. So he took his life. It's all in the past."
"What do people think about me? They must suspect."
"They don't think much about you. They are concerned with more important matters. What is happening on the Continent, for instance. Where will Hitler turn next? We are at war. The actions of Mrs. Dermot Tregarland with a French artist are trivial compared with the affairs of Europe. They are prepared to accept your story of loss of memory, implausible as it is, because they are not really greatly concerned."
"You are right," she said. "You are always right. And, best of all, you are here. You are going to marry Jowan Jermyn and the star-crossed lover of a hundred years ago can rest in peace. My dear sister Violetta came to Tregarland and set it all right."
We laughed and sat in silence for a while. I drew comfort from her and I know she did from me. It is wonderful to have another human being who is so close to you as to be almost a part of yourself. It had been so from the beginning of our lives and would remain so.
She knew what I was thinking, as she often did. There had been few periods in our lives when we had been apart—the longest being when she had eloped with the French artist and had staged an "accident" to cover up the truth.
I was convinced that she would never do anything so foolish again. I think it had taught her that she should never allow us to be parted again.
"Let's go in to breakfast," she said at length.
Breakfast at Tregarland's extended over two hours so that we could take it according to our plans for the day. James Tregarland rarely appeared for meals nowadays. He had been greatly shaken by the death of his son and what had happened to his mistress-housekeeper. He was well aware that he shared some blame for that bizarre affair. It had affected us all, though it appeared to have the least effect on Matilda's son, Gordon. He was practical in the extreme and on him depended the prosperity of the Tregarland estate. He carried on as though little had changed. I had always known he was a remarkable man.
However, we rarely saw him at breakfast, and on that morning Dorabella and I were alone.
The post was brought in by one of the maids. There were letters from my mother—one for each of us. She always wrote to us both, even though the contents were similar.
We opened them and I read:
My dearest Violetta,
Life is uncertain here and I am a little anxious about Gretchen. It is a miserable time for her. She is so anxious for her family in Germany. Goodness knows what is happening to them, and with Edward going overseas soon ... Well, imagine, he will be fighting her fellow countrymen. Poor Gretchen, she is most unsettled and unhappy. You can imagine how it is with her. Of course, she has little Hildegarde. I am so pleased about that. The child is such a comfort to her.
She has been staying with us. It is not easy being in a country which is at war with her own.
I was wondering whether you would ask her down to Cornwall for a spell. I am writing of this to Dorabella, as it will be for her to give the invitation. Gretchen was always so fond of you two, and it would be good for her to be with people of her own age. Of course, it is difficult traveling in these days of black-outs and all that—especially with children—but if you could have her and little Hildegarde for a while, I am sure that would cheer her up.
Hildegarde would be company for Tristan, of course, and I am sure Nanny Crabtree would be delighted to cope.
Poor Gretchen! People know she is German. Her accent, of course, and with Edward away ... well, you can see how difficult it is.
Talk it over with Dorabella. I do hope you will have her.
I was sorry, and so was your father, that we could not be there for the engagement party. We are so happy about it. Both of us are so fond of Jowan. Your father thinks he is an excellent manager and we both know that you and he will be very happy together. It will be so nice for you to be near Dorabella.
With lots of love from Daddy and me, Mummy
Dorabella looked up from her letter.
"Gretchen," she said.
"Of course she must come," she said.
"Of course," I echoed.
Gretchen arrived about two weeks later. Dorabella drove to the station to meet her and I went with her.
I could see that Gretchen was a little distraught. She was as anxious for Edward as I was for Jowan, and neither of us could get any news of what was happening on the Front. Moreover, she had the additional anxiety of her family in Bavaria, of whom she had heard nothing for a very long time.
Little Hildegarde was an enchanting child. Tristan would be three years old in November and Hildegarde was about five months younger. She was an only child, dark like her mother and with none of Edward's fairness.
Nanny Crabtree pounced on her with glee, and, as for Tristan, he was obviously glad to have her company.
Nanny Crabtree was at this time in a state of mild rebellion because of what she referred to as "them imps upstairs."
Because it was feared that the enemy would attack from the air, children throughout the country had been evacuated from the big towns and billeted in country houses. Two of these children had been assigned to us, and they were Nanny Crabtree's "imps."
Above the nursery were the attics, some of which were occupied by servants. They were large rambling rooms, oddly shaped with sloping roofs. Two of these were used as bedrooms for the young evacuees, who were two brothers from London's East End, Charley and Bert Trimmell, aged eleven and eight. Nanny Crabtree kept an eye on them, supervising their meals, making sure that they washed regularly and went to school in East Poldown with the others who had been billeted in the Poldowns or the surrounding neighborhood. As the school in Poldown was not big enough to accommodate all the children, some rooms in the town hall had been given over to the schoolmasters and -mistresses who had accompanied their pupils; and all the newcomers could go to school with their friends.
Excerpted from We'll Meet Again by Philippa Carr. Copyright © 1993 Mark Hamilton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted March 24, 2012
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