A suspense novel from “The Queen of the American Gothics” (The New York Times).
The nightmare was one from which I could not waken. I was caught upon a chessboard, a helpless pawn in a game of life and death, and the green rook was hunting me. That tall rook of green-black yew who had it in his power to destroy the king and end the game . . .
When Eve North returns to Athmore after three years' separation from her husband, Justin, she finds the great estate—and Justin himself—vastly changed. Eve, too, has changed. She knows now the mistakes she made in the past in her marriage, and she now dares to win back the love of her own husband. Like another Eve, she wanders into the gardens of Athmore unsuspecting.
Yet she has reason to fear. Justin's brother Marc had once before put her in a compromising position in that place of secrets—the green velvet room. Justin had believed Marc and had never forgiven her. Now Marc waits for her at Athmore. Then she is warned that Justin has made up his mind at last to divorce her in order to marry Alicia Daven—the cool, serene Alicia whose quiet assurance comes from generations at Grovesend, and who has always taunted the American Eve with her tempting of Justin.
Admirers of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca will love this book’s dark atmosphere, mystery, and romantic suspense.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.45(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)|
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I have no past, I have no future. I have only the immediate present.
Today I looked out among the sculptured yew shapes of an English garden and saw my husband for the first time in two years. Today I stood before the gates of Athmore, lost among other gaping visitors. I climbed the long walk to the high front terrace of the house where I had once lived — and found myself anonymous.
Ahead of me the stones of Athmore glowed like warm honey in the spring sunshine, instead of frowning cold gray upon an American intruder as they had once done. I meant nothing to the house. I had been put aside once and for all. I had loved Athmore and I'd hated it — but I had not come here to see the house.
It seemed necessary to make my approach quietly, to get well within the grounds and establish my presence before I could be caught and sent peremptorily packing. Fortunately, I had found it simple enough to get down from London and make my secret assault upon the gates. As soon as the airport bus brought me into the city I had hurried to an agency office and learned that a tour would leave shortly on an overnight trip, stopping at another house or two along the way and winding up at Athmore in the afternoon. I had booked my place and taken my suitcase aboard the tour bus, meaning to stay at the village until ... until whatever I had come for was completed.
I cared nothing about seeing the other houses just then and I had found myself waiting in strange gardens, sitting idly in the sun, or aboard the bus until we could be off again. In between I rode the miles away in my window seat, lost in the turnings of my own mind.
All those contradictory turnings! Somehow I must free myself of old ties, as I had not been able to do back home in New York. The only thing to do with dead love is to bury it. The letter from Maggie Graham had reached me a week ago, and I'd spent the hours since reading it over and over, assuring myself that Justin North meant nothing to me anymore, and that my marriage to him, was an impossible mistake. But emotion cannot be buried by words, though it can be aroused by them. Only seeing him again would set me free.
There was no more need to hate him furiously, as I had when I ran away from Athmore. Surely I had grown up enough in these three years to know that hating was never the way out of anything. But surely if I saw him again, if I felt that cold look of his upon me, I would understand how thoroughly love could die. I would be released from — from what? From hope, perhaps? From whatever it was, released I must be so that I could get on with my own life without any thought of Justin and Athmore to tug at my memory and weaken me at the wrong moment. I was young and it should be easy. It must be done.
I had shut out the warnings which stormed my mind, taken leave from my travel agency job and come headlong across the Atlantic by the first plane that would have me. I had sent no word to Justin's cousin Maggie Graham, who still kept Athmore for him, or to anyone else. Three years ago, at nineteen, I had married Justin. Two years ago I had run away from Athmore. Had I grown up at all since then? Sometimes I wondered.
By the time the long trip was over, taking longer than its usual four hours by car, and our bus pulled up before handsome wrought-iron gates that I remembered all too well, the others on the tour were friends, chatting among themselves. I pleaded a headache, took sympathetically proffered aspirin, and kept to myself. If I told them my name was Eve North, what a stir it would cause!
It seemed strange to find Athmore gates closed and barred, so that it was necessary to summon the gatekeeper to open them. In the old days the gates stood hospitably ajar most of the time, and the old man who occupied the gatehouse had little to do. Certainly he wore no uniform like that of the husky young fellow who came to let us in. The locked gates were my first hint that all was not well within, and I felt the first stirring of a new uneasiness.
While we waited for the ceremonial unbarring, I fumbled with the camera strung over my shoulder and stared at the fancifully wrought crest of a wolfhound formed in the ironwork. This was the Athmore crest, and at sight of it pain stabbed through me. From earliest days, long before this house was built, the crest of an Irish wolfhound had belonged to earlier Athmores, and the motif was repeated at intervals throughout house and grounds, even appearing on the note-paper. It had been an Athmore tradition to keep live wolfhounds as well, though the need to fend off evil intruders no longer existed, as it had in another day.
The very first puppy born after Justin brought me home from our honeymoon had become, without any formal giving, my own dog. "Deirdre" we had named her in honor of her Irish ancestors. But Justin had always called her "Deirdre McIntosh" with that flash of humor that sometimes surprised me in him, and often he shortened it to "Mac." There had been crossbreeding in the strain for many years, he said, and there were Scottish deerhounds on the pup's family tree, so we must bow in all directions.
Deirdre had been mine. The only thing that was wholly mine at Athmore. Even now when I remembered her I ached with sadness. The thought of Justin left me dry-eyed and staring, but I could weep for Deirdre. Where was she now? I wondered. Would she know me if we met? Probably not, since a year-old dog would have a short memory.
"You feel everything too intensely at the very same time that you don't trust your own feelings," Maggie used to tell me. "It's one thing to be joyful, but quite another to agonize."
During the last two years I had tried not to agonize in the old, self-pitying way. But there had been no joy in me either.
The bar was off the gate, the latch raised, and our tour streamed through. I let the others carry me along. We went on foot, crossing the curve of driveway to follow the brief walk interspersed by steps that cut through several levels of lawn. That impossibly green and velvet lawn I remembered so well! There had been rain in the morning, but now only puffs of white cloud sailed a pale blue sky. The sun gave us Athmore at its impressive best. I made myself look at the house as we walked toward it. I even tried to recapture my first feeling of seeing it when I was nineteen and had wandered through the open gates unbidden and unannounced. My grandmother had lived in the nearby village as a child, before she had grown up to marry an American, and she had told me marvelous tales of the house and those who had lived in it. So I had come to it with open-hearted eagerness, and I wished I could experience the same feeling again. But all that young emotion seemed lost to me forever.
The sun-tinted stones rose ahead of us in their familiar H form, and I stopped like any tourist to take a picture of the house. Strange to think I had none. This time I wanted something graphic to recall its details when I was far away. Even as I snapped the shutter, however, I smiled wryly at my own action. Here was another of those contrary, diverging pathways. I wanted to forget Athmore — so I came with a camera in order to recreate its memory when I left it for the last time.
I put the contradictions from my mind and gave my attention fully to the house. All this stone had come from the quarry — now long unused — on Athmore land. A three-storied wing on either side held the main rooms of the house, while the long bar across the H housed the entrance and those great halls and galleries that had awed and sometimes depressed me. Athmore was not one of the larger "stately" homes of England. Indeed, it had a satisfying compactness and neatness about it that I preferred to such echoing, castle-like structures as I had visited on other estates. Still, it was larger than any house I had ever set foot in at home and there was a certain splendid arrogance about stones that had stood for nearly two hundred years. The original Athmore Hall had been built in Elizabethan times by one John Edmond Athmore, and it had burned down twice, so that the present Athmore was young as such houses go, having been built in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Still, nearly two hundred years can give anything an air of supreme confidence.
My own years were now twenty-two and my confidence was uncertain. "Believe in yourself," Justin used to say to me impatiently, but I could find little in myself to justify such faith. My father had been a well-known illustrator, and my mother had devoted herself to him contentedly. She had been devoted to me as well and I had been surrounded by love for the first seven years of my life. After my mother's death I had my father to myself for three more years before I lost him for good to the woman who became my stepmother. That was when the loneliness and the uncertainty began, the loss of confidence, when nothing went right. My grandmother was too ill to take me herself, though her love and interest never failed. Eventually I was sent away to a series of schools, where I could grow up without making a nuisance of myself, as I always seemed able to do at home. Somehow I went right on feeling uncertain and unsure of myself until Justin fell so unexpectedly in love with me and I thought everything had changed.
It had not worked out that way. I knew now that I'd never had anything real to offer him. What he had seen in me had never actually existed. Perhaps what I believed I had found in him had never existed either. And here I was back at Athmore to make very sure of this.
Our tour went up the sloping walk, with wide lawns spreading out toward circling driveways on either side, and beyond to drowsing clumps of beech and oak, obviously painted by Turner. The terrace was just above us, its stone balustrade running on either hand, to divide in the center where broad steps led upward. A big red setter crossed the terrace as we approached, giving us a casual look of indifference out of great sad eyes.
My heart had begun to thump unbearably and my mouth was dry. How could I tell who might be looking out from spacious windows in either wing? Those second-floor front rooms on the left had been Justin's — and mine. But surely Justin would be in London, busy at the work that so absorbed him, and against which I had always rebelled. Cars — the designing and improvement of cars for a man like Justin! I could imagine him a diplomat, or occupying a seat in Parliament, or even as a writer of note. He had the intellect for any of these careers. Yet he concerned himself with the turn of a fender —"bumper" the English called it — the purr of an engine, and I remembered him at the wheel of a car racing with grim speed about the parklands of Athmore. That had frightened me more than once, because there was a strange contradiction in him — he disliked driving. When he drove like that it was to release springs of tension, and it made me afraid.
But even if Justin was not here, others might look out and see me. I pulled up the collar of my hunter's green trench coat so that it hid brown hair that reached my shoulders, and ducked my chin into the bright yellow scarf at my throat.
If Maggie saw me first it might not matter, since she had written me to come, and if she looked out and recognized me she would have the good sense to move quietly and raise no alarm. She had, however, wanted me to stay in London until she could see me there — so she might not be pleased to find I had come on alone.
It was really Maggie I wanted to see, I insisted to myself — though unannounced and not in London. If Marc saw me it might be different. The very thought of Justin's younger brother made me wince. I wanted to avoid seeing Marc ever again! He had always preferred city to country living, and Maggie had mentioned in an earlier letter that he had a job of sorts in a London art gallery, so he might well be away.
Her letter, which had brought me here, dealt only with Justin and me. Quite naturally, she still found most of the fault mine for what had happened. I was not sure why she had written me at all, after more than a year's silence, and only occasional letters before that. Why had she felt called upon to let me know that Justin meant at last to instigate proceedings for a divorce, and that he intended to marry again? Why had she begged me so urgently to come to England? She mentioned no names, but one in particular leaped immediately to my mind. If it was Alicia Daven he meant to marry — ! Suddenly my fingernails were pressing crescents into my palms. Was I here mainly because of Alicia and because old jealousy would not die? How was I ever to be sure of my real motivation?
Ahead of us on the terrace, waiting as we climbed the steps, was a young woman, blond and poised and very English. Maggie's latest secretary, I supposed. Maggie had a good many interests and civic duties. Athmore fortunes being at low ebb, her charities were not great, but she needed the part-time help of a young woman from town who came in for a few hours two or three days a week, and she had always assigned these girls to the task of showing visitors about and introducing them to Athmore. I was glad this one was a stranger.
We climbed the wide steps and stood in a self-conscious circle, while she told us that her name was Miss Davis, and welcomed us to Athmore. I huddled, still anonymous, among the others, but my eyes strayed from where she pointed and followed the line of the two square towers that crowned the front corner of each wing. At the back of the house were two more such towers, invisible from where I stood, with flat rooftops dotted with tall chimneys stretching between. The bar of the H connected the four towers by means of the roofs, with parapet walls all about, where one could stand and look out over much of the estate. From towers and rooftops my eyes moved downward to where afternoon sun fired the windows of the great library, and, a floor below, to the columned doorway — that neoclassic touch that gave this Georgian house a special grace without being ostentatious. The term "Georgian" could cover all sorts of imaginative architecture, I knew, but the remarkable woman who had built this later Athmore had restrained her taste to a creditable degree.
Recessed in stone to the right of the front door was a niche that held a bas-relief statue of the Athmore wolfhound. Here the dog stood in the traditional pose, its long, strong neck turned so that it looked over one shoulder. I thought of Deirdre, who had loved me for whatever I was, and mourned her loss again.
"Before we go into the house itself, ladies and gentlemen," Miss Davis was saying, "you must see the old ruins of Athmore Hall. Some of the walls of the original building are still intact, you know, including the famous arch of the chapel window. If you will come this way, please."
Like an airplane stewardess guiding her charges, Miss Davis followed the terrace briskly to the right of the house, and started along a winding path that led across lawns toward the road. Her nose pointed straight ahead, and so confident was she of being followed that she cast no glance behind as she led the way. Everyone streamed after her — except myself. The last place I wanted to visit in chattering company was this ruin deep in Athmore woods. There I had experienced my first joy over finding the house, and there I had suffered the pain of saying goodby to it. I wanted to see the place again, but I must be alone when I did. Perhaps if I could get there first —!
Obeying sudden impulse, I ran through Maggie's garden toward the shortcut, while the tour plodded off by the main road. The way through the woods was quicker, and I could take my snapshots and be back at the house before Miss Davis was through with her lecturing.
Beneath the trees it was quiet, save for the crackle of twigs under my feet, and the scolding of birds I disturbed in my hurry. I ran until broken stone walls lay across my path, outlining the boundaries of what had once been Athmore Hall. The great arch of the chapel window still rose against the sky, and it was a sight to break my heart all over again if I gave in to sentimental lingering. But the nearness of the tour prevented that. I pointed my camera haphazardly in one direction and then another, snapping pictures almost at random. Later I would have these to remind me, and I could be as sentimental as I pleased in the privacy of my own room. No matter what I told myself, I had come here to remember, not to forget!
Excerpted from "Hunter's Green"
Copyright © 1968 Phyllis A. Whitney.
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
At first I was not sure I was interested, but I rarely give up on a book. I came to be very interested in the outcome, and then quite surprised by the emergence of the guilty party. I love it when I come across a true who-done-it.
This book is wonderful that I read it about 10 times. Every time that I read it I think to myself this sould be a movie. I love all the Phyllis A. Whitney books. Thank you for bring them into my life. I think that when someone writes a book that is so great that I read it in one day, and then talk about how everyone else shopuld read this book all week long. Again thank you Phyllis A. Whitney for these wonderful books.
Read years ago. Glad b&n publishing deceased authors. Will read more Phyllis whitney
This book is exquisite! When I read this book I kept imagining it as a movie that should never end. It is really a good book and I think everyone should know about it!
This story deals with a hurried marriage that leads to Eve running away from it alone. As the story starts, Eve North (an American) has spent years away from her husband (Justin North) and his (their) home in England to live and work in America. When she finally returns on the request of Maggie, Justin's cousin who has come to live in the mansion, she discovers that her husband is planning to marry someone else. Everyone seems suspicious of her when the gardener is murdered, and someone is trying to ruin Justin's work. In the middle of everything is Eve's friendship to the younger, mischievous girlfriend (Dacia) of Justin's brother Marc. Dacia is involved in a hit-and-run -mistakenly taken as Eve-before she has a chance to tell Eve what she knew about the murder. As Justin and Eve rekindle the love they once had, the murderer is still at large and the choice is up to Eve on who to trust. This book is GREAT!!!! I loved every detail and the love-hate relationship of Eve and Justin. You'll find yourself falling for the couple!