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Wings of the Falcon
Authors who write in the first person cannot expect their readers to be seriously concerned about the survival of the main character. A heroine who can describe her trials and tribulations in carefully chosen phrases obviously lived through those trials without serious damage. Yet I remember being absolutely breathless with suspense when the madwoman entered Miss Jane Eyre's chamber and rent her wedding veil asunder; and I bit my nails to the quick as I followed the perils of Mrs. Radcliffe's haunted heroines.
Not being Miss Brontë or Mrs. Radcliffe, I have no hope of engaging my reader's attention to that extent. Yet some of the experiences that befell me, at a certain period of my life, were as distressing and almost as improbable as any of my favorite heroines' adventures. Perhaps my youth and inexperience made my problems seem worse than they were. But even now, when I am a good many years older (I prefer not to state how many) -- even now a reminiscent shiver passes through me as I remember Lord Shelton, and that dreadful moment when he held me helpless in his grasp, with his breath hot on my averted face and his hands tearing at my gown.
I anticipate. It is necessary to explain how I found myself in such a predicament; and that explanation must incorporate some of my family history.
My father was an artist -- not a very good one, I fear. It is a pity, in a way, that his father was able to leave him a small sum of money, for without it Father would have had to seek gainful employment instead of pursuing the elusive genius of art. His small inheritance was enough to keep him in relative comfort forseveral years, while he traveled on the continent, ending, finally, in that artists' mecca. Rome. To a young man of romantic tastes and ardent spirits, the old capital of the Caesars had many attractions beyond its artistic treasures -- the colorful models who waited for employment on the Spanish Steps, the companionship of other struggling young artists, the wine and laughter and song in the soft Italian nights.
Father was a remarkably good-looking man, even when he was dying. Consumption is not a disfiguring disease. Indeed, that is one of its diabolical qualities, that it should give its victims a ghastly illusion of health and beauty just before the end. Father's slenderness and delicacy of features were intensified by the ravages of the disease. The pallor of his complexion was refined by soft dark hair and lustrous black eyes framed by lashes so long and thick that any woman would have envied them.
Knowing him as he was in his decline, I can imagine how handsome he was at twenty, when he met my mother, and I can understand how he won her heart so quickly. Her family did not find it so easy to understand; for she was the daughter of a noble Italian house. In the ordinary course of events my father would never have met her. A romantic accident threw them together. The carriage in which she was traveling to Rome was delayed by bad weather, and in the darkness was set upon by bandits. Her attendants fled or were overcome: and Father happened upon the scene at the most critical moment, just as the miscreants were dragging the lady from the carriage ... Wings of the Falcon. Copyright � by Barbara Michaels. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.