What a delight it is to finally be able to enjoy a simple meal again! I have been in the throes of morning sickness for the last few months as Darcy and I prepare to welcome a brand-new addition to our little family. Now that I am feeling better, I have realized I am dreadfully bored!
Happily, it seems that Darcy has read my mind. When I receive a letter from my glamorous best friend, Belinda, Darcy suggests we take a trip to Paris to visit her. It seems he also has a spot of business to take care of, so I will be staying in Belinda’s flat as she works feverishly on Coco Chanel’s fall collection. I happen to know Coco from a disastrous encounter in Nice years ago, and I am hoping this visit will go much more smoothly. But I soon learn that nothing about my time in Paris is going to be simple . . . or safe for that matter.
Darcy has asked me to take on a small chore as a part of his latest assignment. I am to covertly retrieve something from an attendee of Coco’s show. It seems easy enough, but I discover that this little errand could have terrifying consequences for a world on the brink of war. When things go horribly wrong, I am left to find a killer all while trying to fend off a French policeman who is certain that I am a criminal mastermind. But I have no plans to deliver my darling little one in a prison cell, and so I will muster every ounce of my courage to save the day . . . and, quite possibly, the world!
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Wednesday, March 25, 1936
Spring has finally arrived in our neck of the woods. Primroses are dotting the hedgerows. Birds are singing like mad in the trees, which are sprouting new green leaves. After a long wet winter it feels like coming out of a cocoon.
"It's spring at last!" I exclaimed to nobody in particular as I pulled back the heavy curtains and looked out of my bedroom window across the grounds and saw the sun sparkling on morning dew, a group of rabbits in the meadow and in the distance a lone deer. Through the open window (windows are always open in bedrooms-it's a rule of the upper classes, however freezing it is outside) a deafening birdsong came to me, the sweet notes of the blackbird and thrush competing with the harsh calls of the rooks. I felt a great surge of hope and anticipation. New life was bursting all around us and I could look forward to my own new life sometime in July. Yes, it was true-Darcy and I were expecting a baby!
The last few months had been rather bleak. The year started with the king's death and the whole country in mourning. It was hard to believe that my cousin David was now King-Emperor Edward VIII. He was really the most unlikely king (unsuitable king, his mother would say) but the public seemed to have embraced him. He did, after all, have an abundance of charm. It's just that he didn't much like the thought of hard work or duty. He had been inclined to go off and enjoy himself on a yacht or at a country house rather than stick to the task at hand. I wondered if becoming king would sober him and make him realize the enormity of the job.
And then there was the problem of Mrs. Simpson. Strangely enough the average person in England knew nothing of her-since the British press had a gentlemen's agreement not to mention her. I was now convinced that David wanted to marry her. He was besotted with her. But I didn't see how this could possibly be allowed to happen, since the king is the head of the Church of England and the church forbids divorce. Mrs. Simpson would be a twice-divorced woman, when the second divorce had gone through. He could keep her on as his mistress, of course, quietly in the background. That had been quite accepted for kings of England. His grandfather, King Edward VII, had kept an abundance of mistresses. But if you know Mrs. Simpson, you would know that she isn't the type of person who will agree to stay quiet and out of sight. She adores the limelight, and I think she has set her heart on marrying David. And from what I could gather, she had actually set her heart on becoming queen. Oh dear. I was afraid it would turn into an awful mess before long. Poor Queen Mary must be so upset, I thought. And then a second, more terrifying thought crossed my mind-golly, I hope she doesn't send for me to cheer her up!
I had been lying low since our Christmas at Sandringham when I saw rather too much of the royal family and their troubles. No travels, no entertaining and certainly no visits to my royal cousins. My excuse was that there is a little O'Mara on the way. Actually my pregnancy had been rather ghastly until now. For the last few months I had been horribly sick. They call it morning sickness but it struck me equally at any time of the day. One mouthful of the wrong type of food and it was a quick rush to the nearest loo! So for a while I hadn't wanted to eat anything except cream crackers and clear soup. My housekeeper, Mrs. Holbrook, had tried to pamper me, serving me tempting little morsels. But then you realize that my cook is none other than my former maid Queenie. Yes, that maid. The walking disaster area. Actually as a cook she's not at all bad, but her repertoire is limited to the sort of foods she has grown up with. Meat suet pudding, boiled cabbage and spotted dick do not go down well when one is horribly nauseated.
Darcy had been quite concerned about me, treating me as if I were made of the finest porcelain and suggesting we hire a nurse to look after me. I pointed out that women all over the world have babies all the time and work in the fields until they are ready to give birth, but I thought it was sweet that he was so concerned. To tell you the truth, I was a little concerned myself, worried that all this nausea and vomiting might have a bad effect on the baby. But a couple of weeks ago I awoke one morning suddenly feeling better. I didn't have to sprint to the nearest loo. And it had stopped raining. I could take the puppies for walks in the fresh air. Suddenly I realized I felt positively blooming and healthy. Rather larger around the middle as well!
Now I felt ready to get up and out to do things again-only there was nothing to do. The house ran like clockwork (apart from the odd disaster coming from Queenie in the kitchen). Darcy had become horribly busy with his own activities, popping off now and then on assignments he couldn't tell me about. And at dinner last night my grandfather announced that he thought he should be going home for a while. He had been staying on at Eynsleigh since Christmas to keep me company and I had cherished his comforting presence around the house. So it came as a shock when he told me he thought it was about time he went home.
"But, Granddad, I wanted this to be your home now," I said. "I don't like the thought of you living alone and having to shop and cook for yourself. And I like having you here with me."
"I know, ducks," he said, reaching across to pat my hand. "And don't think I'm being ungrateful or nothing. I do like it here, but it don't seem quite right, being waited on hand and foot and not being useful. I wasn't born to do nothing like your aristocrat friends. I need to keep busy."
"But what if we could find you something to do here?" I suggested.
"Like what? Manage the croquet games?" He shook his head.
"Maybe get some chickens and put you in charge of them?"
He chuckled then. "What would I know about chickens? I've lived all my life in the Smoke, love. Them chickens would probably peck me to death. Besides, I don't like the thought of my little house in Essex being unoccupied for too long and I miss chatting with my old neighbors."
I did understand. He felt out of place. He hated being waited on. Of course living in a big house in the country was quite foreign to him. He'd grown up in a humble London two-up two-down terraced house and been a policeman on a beat until he retired. (In case you are confused by this revelation, perhaps I should explain that while my father was the grandson of Queen Victoria and the Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch, my mother had been a famous actress from humble beginnings she chose to forget.)
I was upset to see him go, but I couldn't beg him to stay just because I wanted company. I knew I'd be lonely without him. The truth was I didn't have any real friends nearby. I had met most of the neighbors by now, been to tea and dinner at their houses, gone to watch the local hunt, though not to ride in it as we had no horses, and anyway I was pregnant. They were nice enough people but I hadn't really connected to any of them yet. They led intensely social lives, always doing things together, mainly outdoorsy, hearty sorts of things like pheasant shoots, hunts or organizing pony club and Boy Scout meetings-things I could not really take part in at the moment. My dearest friends were far away. Princess Zamanska, our dear Zou Zou, was never in one place for more than two seconds. She was even threatening to fly to Australia in her little two-seater plane and thus set a record.
Belinda, my best friend from my school days, had grown tired of being rich and idle (having inherited property from her grandmother) and had returned to Paris to continue studying haute couture with none other than Chanel. I received the occasional letter from her, describing life in Paris, to which she seemed to have adapted rather well. Lots of parties and nightclubs that all seemed so far removed from my own lifestyle that it was like reading a fantasy novel. Don't misunderstand me. I didn't envy her, exactly. I was extremely content with my new life as wife and future mother in the British countryside. But I just wished . . . I'm not sure exactly what I wished. For something exciting to happen, I suppose. Although in the past few years too many exciting things had happened to me, not all of them pleasant.
So everybody was busy except me. My one task was to try and tame the two very exuberant puppies we had received as Christmas presents. One was a black Lab and one yellow, a boy and girl, both equally sweet and horribly naughty. We had found it a challenge to come up with proper names for them. We had tried several dignified names: Castor and Pollux, Arthur and Guinevere, but they simply didn't look or behave like dignified beings. Darcy had first suggested we call them Victoria and Albert.
"You can't call our dogs after my great-grandparents!" I said.
"Well then, how about Gin and Tonic?"
"Be serious." I slapped his hand playfully.
He laughed. "I know. Bubble and Squeak."
"Darcy, I am not standing on the village green yelling, 'Squeak, Squeak!'"
"Well, you come up with names, then," he said, pretending to be offended.
"I hope we don't have this much trouble naming our child," I said to Darcy.
"No problem. I've already picked out the name," he replied.
"Yes. Marmaduke Archibald," he said. "Old family name. We'll call him Marm for short, like the queen."
"Darcy, you can't . . ." I began. Then I saw his face and hit him as I burst out laughing.
"You're not allowed to tease me. I'm in a delicate condition."
He wrapped his arms around me. "It was good to see you smile again. You've been looking really down recently."
"I've hated not feeling well," I said.
"But that's all behind you now. And you'll forget how bad you felt."
"I do hope so," I said. I looked at the puppies who were stretched out in front of the fire, having just been taken on a long walk.
"We should call them something Christmassy," I said. "After all, they were our Christmas presents to each other."
"Mary and Joseph?"
He was teasing again. I gave him a stern look. "Nick, after St. Nicholas? But what about the girl?" I looked at the adorable little black male puppy, who was lolling in most undignified fashion. He was a real clown. Naughty but so adorable that one forgave him.
"I know," I said. "How about Holly and Jolly?"
"If you like those, then it's fine with me," Darcy said.
"You don't like the names?"
"I was thinking more of Irish royalty. Queen Mab. Brian Boru. Or Scottish royalty after your side of the family. Robert Bruce?"
"I don't want a dog called Brian," I said. "Or Bruce for that matter. I don't want to stand on the village green shouting, 'Bruce, where are you? Come here instantly.'"
He grinned. "I'm just teasing again. Holly and Jolly suits them just fine. And while we're at it we'll call our child Golly, since it's your favorite word."
"It's not!" I said hotly. "Is it?"
He nodded. "You do say it quite a lot."
"Oh dear. I was trying to train myself to stop saying it. But it just slips out in moments of stress."
Darcy slipped his arms around me. "Don't change. I like the way you are." And he kissed me on the nose.
Since then, most of the time the dogs were referred to as the VNPs (as in very naughty puppies). We let them have the run of the place to start with until the servants tired of mopping up puddles on the floor and we tired of rescuing any object within reach, from socks to shoes to sandwiches, from their naughty mouths. Mercifully they loved going on long walks, chasing rabbits, rolling in messes and generally having such a great time that they were exhausted for a while afterward.
I worked at obedience training. It was hard work. They were not stupid-they learned to come and sit and stay, wagging their tails and looking adorable, until they wanted to do something naughty and then no amount of calling would make them obey. We had finally had to relegate them to the servant's area downstairs when we were not actively supervising, where the floors were stone and they could go outside easily. They thought this was a splendid idea as they were around food and there was always the chance that a morsel would fall from the table. They were now four months old and I was hoping they might show a bit more sense soon. Golly, I hoped a baby would be easier to rear. At least it wouldn't be able to run around so easily with my shoe in its mouth!
Apart from the puppies I tried to do what expectant mothers are supposed to: make a layette for the baby. Let me state that my sewing and knitting skills are minimal at best. I failed sewing at school. We had to make a white blouse and mine ended up an interesting shade of gray with one sleeve sewn in the wrong way. I tried crocheting a baby blanket, only I forgot to add a stitch at the beginning of each row and so it got more and more narrow until I realized I was creating a triangle. Luckily I knew that the poor child would not have to rely solely on my skills. Zou Zou would be bound to arrive with enough clothes to dress triplets, and my mother would probably also come up trumps in her new role as grandmother (although I wondered how she would reconcile admitting to grandmotherhood when she still claimed to be thirty-five).
The Monday post brought another letter from Belinda. Darcy and I were at the breakfast table together-a rare occurrence for the past few months. He was busy spreading Cooper's Oxford marmalade onto toast. I was eating a kipper when Phipps, our footman/chauffeur, brought in the morning letters on a silver salver.