From the acclaimed author of The Last Summer, a captivating and moving story of the unlikely relationship between a lady and her maid on the eve of World War I.
As I watched him—his long legs striding the narrow path through the heather, his golden hair catching the sun—I had a hideous feeling in the pit of my stomach. For it seemed as though he was already marching away from me.
In 1914, despite the clouds of war threatening Europe, Pearl Gibson’s future is bright. She has secured a position as a lady’s maid to a wealthy Northumberland aristocrat, a job that will win her not only respect but an opportunity to travel and live in luxury. Her new life at Lady Ottoline Campbell’s Scottish summer estate is a whirlwind of intrigue and glamour, scandals and confidences—and surprisingly, a strange but intimate friendship with her employer.
But when violence erupts in Europe, Pearl and Ottoline’s world is irrevocably changed. As the men in their lives are called to the front lines, leaving them behind to anxiously brace for bad news, Pearl realizes she must share one final secret with her mistress—a secret that will bind them together forever...
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Memory is a cruel thing. It lingers in dark trenches, whispering, or withholding, waiting to creep into the no-man's-land of our dreams. It knows what we long to remember, and what we hope to forget. And it knows Hearsay and Imagination will cover any gaps.
But I knew only what I had been told.
It was a golden evening in August when my mother came untethered. And the river must have shimmered as she walked into it, under it. And the water must have soothed and washed away her pain. And as her life ebbed, before her heart stopped and the high tide carried her upstream, she must have thought of me, surely? For it was the same golden evening I was born.
That my beginning coincided with my mother's end often made me wonder about a continuum, whether the passion that flooded her senses that day had leaked into me, whether my name, too, would one day be unutterable. But Kitty assured me that I was not like my mother, and it was not my birth that had unanchored her, she said; illicit love had been her undoing.
Kitty was my great-aunt, and the woman who brought me up, and in this and most other things she was right: I was not like my mother. By the time I was twenty-three, I had a respectable career and was almost engaged to be married. By the time I was twenty-three, I had lived in five different counties, and had at that time a vague notion to try all of them, every county in England. In fact, it was the mention of travel that drew me to the advertisement-and the timing was fortuitous.
Only a few days later, Mrs. Bart tearfully informed me that she was to move in with her sister. Naturally, I didn't tell her I'd already applied for a new position. I said how sorry I was, and she told me that she and Mister Darcy were very sad, too. This was a blatant lie. I knew the incontinent pug hated me as much as I hated it. But Mrs. Bart said she would make sure I was remunerated for the inconvenience and promised me an excellent letter of character.
My year with the old lady had served a purpose. A widow of straitened means, she had not minded "breaking me in," as she put it, and her penchant for elocution and French phrases had not been wasted. But in truth, I'd been more of a companion than a lady's maid to Mrs. Bart, or perhaps more of a hearer, because she liked me to listen. She would spill out her life without chronology or explanation until she went very still and quiet and there was nothing left, until the next day, when a dream or half-forgotten object triggered another great wave and she was returned to the Dorset of her childhood, her descriptions so rapturous that I was reminded about endings and beginnings, for Mrs. Bart, nearing her own end and closing the circle, had gone back to her beginning.
It was Mrs. Bart who gave me The Private Shadow, a sort of lady's maid's handbook in pamphlet form that she'd found in a secondhand bookshop. Aside from the old-fashioned jargon and some obsolete customs, a lot of what it said was common sense, for any position in service dictated honesty, tact and propriety of demeanor as requisite qualities. Common sense, too, that A lady's maid must be neat in her person, and that she should speak pleasantly and quietly, and be able to read and write well. And though at first I liked the title and the line from which it came-A lady's maid is the private shadow of her mistress-the bit that came after, She is seldom seen or heard, bothered me. A private shadow that was seldom seen or heard sounded more like a ghost than a maid.
I traveled up to London by train for my interview at the Empress Club on Dover Street. It was, I'd learned from Mrs. B., generally regarded as the most prestigious and luxurious of all the ladies' clubs in London. She had reminded me about my diaphragm, to stand up straight, look the person in the eye and breathe when I spoke-in . . . and out . . . and in . . . and out . . . And she had also told me to make sure not to lapse back into a London F. But she was exaggerating; I'd never had a London F-though Stanley did, and he got irritated whenever I pointed it out to him. "Th, Stanley," I'd say, pressing my tongue to my teeth as Mrs. B. had taught me. "It's think . . . not fink."
Lady Ottoline took only a moment to appear in the lobby once she was summoned. Smiling, she extended her hand. "Ottoline Campbell."
"Pearl Gibson, Your Ladyship."
I wasn't altogether sure of the correct etiquette, but I offered a slight curtsy. It seemed the right thing to do on introduction to a Lady. And she appeared to appreciate the gesture, for her smile softened and she said to me, "What a very pretty hat."
When I told her I'd made each one of the silk cherries myself, Lady Ottoline clasped her hands and opened her eyes wider: "Ah, so you're rather clever with a needle. That is reassuring to know."
She was a tall woman, and handsome, with fine pale skin and heavily lidded almond-shaped brown eyes. Her dark hair was only just beginning to fade at the temples, and she had the distracted air-a glance over my shoulder, a stifled yawn-of someone slightly bored by life.
"Please come this way," she said.
I followed the sweet scent of gardenia through a long lounge where a band was playing and footmen carrying tea trays moved hither and thither. And noting Her Ladyship's exemplary deportment, her long neck, her back as straight as Lord Nelson's Column, I extended my own self farther as we entered another room, not quite so palatial.
The rustle of silk chiffon came to a stop. "Do take a seat, Miss Gibson."
A number of women were scattered about the room, quietly reading or writing letters, and a low murmuring from the far side led my gaze to another girl like me being interviewed by a silver-haired woman wearing a pince-nez and bearing no resemblance to Lady Ottoline. The girl and I exchanged a quick glance, and I knew what she was thinking: You got the nice one.
"So, you've come from Bournemouth?"
"Yes, Your Ladyship, but I was actually born in London."
"Ah, you weren't a MABYS girl, were you?"
I knew this term and knew it didn't stand for Mind and Behave Yourself as some of the girls I'd worked with said. The abbreviation stood for the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants, an organization set up to train girls from workhouses, in order to discourage them from becoming prostitutes or alcoholics and turn them into good servants.
"No, I wasn't," I said, sitting up straighter in the large leather chair. "I went into service directly after school, Your Ladyship."
Lady Ottoline's smile faded and she lowered her eyes, and for a moment I thought she appeared disappointed. But then she went on, asking me about my experience to date, and I told her how I'd started out in Kent and had worked my way up. She asked me for my letters of character, and I handed them to her one by one, saving the best until last.
"Gracious," she said, raising her eyes from Mrs. B.'s elaborate hand. "I don't believe I've ever read such a . . . an effusive letter of recommendation."
Mrs. B. had kindly allowed me to read through her first draft of her letter, and to assist her with the penning of a second. I suggested only three changes: replacing the word excellent with exemplary, valued with treasured, and regret with grief.
Lady Ottoline folded the page and handed it back to me. She inquired about my personal circumstances. I told her I had no family to speak of. I knew better than to tell her about Stanley-and anyway, the somewhat unresolved issue of our engagement remained a private matter.
"I see," she said. "And no suitors?"
"None, Your Ladyship."
"Quel dommage . . . Though perhaps not for me," she added, twinkling and smiling. "You see, I require someone who is able to commit . . . and for at least two years . . ."
"That's not a problem. I'm looking for something long-term now."
Lady Ottoline smiled again. The position, she said, came with an annual salary of thirty-eight pounds and ten shillings, which could be paid either monthly or quarterly, and, of course, all accommodation and living expenses would be taken care of in the usual way. As well as every other Sunday off, I'd be allowed up to five days paid holiday a year, rising to ten days after two full years.
She recited all of this very quickly in a slightly breathless voice, and I was still computing the numbers, comparing them to my paltry wage and still-unknown terms of employment with Mrs. B., when she asked, "How does that sound to you, Miss Gibson?"
"Oh yes, that sounds fine, Your Ladyship."
"Forgive me for speaking plainly, but I do have one slight concern . . . and that is that you've moved about rather a lot."
"Only to get on . . . to see a bit of the world and move up the ranks, Your Ladyship."
"Understandable. Commendable, I suppose . . ."
She glanced around her in that distracted manner and then looked up to the ceiling. Scattered across the decorative moldings was a myriad of glinting lights reflected from the crystal drops of the vast chandelier. "Just like stars," I said, thinking aloud.
"Mm . . . aren't they?"
"You know, I saw a shooting star only three nights ago, and so I made a wish. Because you have to, don't you-when you see a shooting star? My great-aunt used to say, If wishes were horses, beggars would ride," I added, laughing.
She fixed her eyes on me in a newly curious manner. Perhaps she thought me a bit simple, or perhaps she was waiting for me to tell her what I'd wished for, and I certainly wasn't about to do that.
"So," she said with sudden emphasis, "do you study the Fashions, Miss Gibson?"
"Oh yes, all of them."
She took in my hat once more as well as the flower corsage I'd copied from the Lady's Pictorial and had pinned to the lapel of my jacket. "Et parlez-vous franais, mademoiselle?"
A petty pear, I thought. "Oui, madame-Your Ladyship. Un peu . . . mais pas trs bien."
"Do you follow current events, read the newspapers?"
I thought for a moment. Kitty was the one who had told me not to believe anything printed in them. She said the people who worked for them were paid to make up bad news and that they had contributed in no small part to my poor mother's demise.
I said, "I prefer to read novels, Your Ladyship."
"Ah, and whom do you like to read?"
I'd been the best reader at my church school; it was the reason I'd gained a merit upon matriculation. And so I told Her Ladyship this, and was rattling off names when she interrupted me. "I believe you mean Miss Eliot."
"No . . . George."
"Yes, that was the name she wrote under. An identity she assumed to ensure her work would be taken seriously. Her name was actually Mary Ann Evans." She lowered her eyes, shook her head and sighed. "Though we're supposed to be living in more enlightened times, our fight is far from over . . . And yet, I can't help but feel our day is coming. Don't you, Miss Gibson?"
I nodded. I was flattered to be included in this our day.
"I must say, it could be frightfully useful for me to have a reader, because, you see, I happen to write." She waved a hand in the air dismissively. "Oh, nothing too serious or highbrow, you understand . . . a few serials for the ladies' magazines, that sort of thing. It's more of a hobby than anything else, but I have an idea for a novel." She paused, tilted her head and stared past me. "Yes, a love story."
For a moment she seemed transfixed by something beyond that room: an idea, a memory or perhaps nothing at all, a yet-to-be-written page. Then she came back to me, blinked her heavy eyelids a few times, lifted the small bejeweled watch pinned to her breast and glanced down at it.
"Do you have any questions, Miss Gibson?"
"The advertisement mentioned travel, Your Ladyship. And I was wondering . . . travel to where?"
"Our itinerary is always rather busy," she said, and went on to mention her husband, Lord Hector; a Foreign Office somewhere; a house in London and another in Northumberland; Paris, Biarritz, the French Riviera, Switzerland and St. Moritz; and she smiled as she said, "But we tend to spend our summers in Scotland." And when she said the name of a place, I envisioned a castle.
"I have two more girls from Mrs. Warren's registry to interview this afternoon," said Lady Ottoline, concluding the interview, "so if you'd like to go and do some sightseeing or shopping and come back here at . . . around five o'clock? I'll be able to tell you my decision then."
"I'm afraid I can't do that, Your Ladyship. I have another interview at five o'clock."
"I see," she said, eyeing me. She waited a moment. "Your interview, is it by chance with Lady Hanbury?"
"No, Your Ladyship."
I shook my head.
"It's not with Mrs. Asquith, is it? I hear she's looking again."
"If you don't mind, Your Ladyship, I'd rather not say."
Lady Ottoline smiled. "I'm very pleased about that. Discretion is my first and foremost requirement."
Stanley was waiting as arranged by the statue of Eros at five o'clock, reading the newspaper, in his good suit and cap.
He folded the crumpled sheets beneath his creased sleeve and stared at me as I looked about and allowed him time to take me in. I was used to this initial awkwardness; it happened every time we met, but after a few moments I turned to him. "Well?"
"You look nice."
"What's it say?" I asked, nodding to the paper under his arm.
"The usual doom and gloom . . . Some archduke's been assassinated."
The air was warm and his face was damp. Beneath the brim of his cap his pale skin shone with beads of sweat, and there was a scab at one side of his mustache where he'd cut himself shaving. I hadn't seen him in more than two months, not since he'd last come down to Bournemouth. It had been a Sunday, my usual day off, and despite the cold wind blowing in off the sea, we'd walked back and forth along the promenade and up and down the pier. Everything was closed and we had nowhere to go, but I kept myself warm imagining a time when we might.
Reading Group Guide
Questions for Discussion
1. The relationship between Pearl and Ottoline is central to the novel and, at times, complex. Was this relationship convincingly developed, and who do you think was more loyal—Pearl or Ottoline?
2. Discuss the ways in which a failure to tell the truth could cause misunderstanding and altered Pearl’s path. Who do you think was the most honest person in the novel?
3. Ottoline’s perception of marriage and her attitude to fidelity is clouded. Can infidelity be excused in an arranged marriage or in one in which there is mental instability?
4. Women’s attitudes to their roles at home and at work changed during the First World War. How is this depicted in the novel, and why was being in domestic service “no longer something to be proud of”?
5. Discuss the novel’s depiction of early twentieth century morality, including attitudes concerning sex and pregnancy outside marriage. How did the men’s behavior contrast with the women’s?
6. Were you surprised by Hector Campbell’s attitude concering his wife’s unfaithfulness? Why do you think he tolerated her behavior?
7. Loneliness, mental illness, and depression are recurrent themes in the novel. Discuss how the author handled this, and which characters suffer and why.
8. Part three of the novel takes place after the end of the war. Discuss the ways in which its effects continued to be seen and felt by the characters.
9. Apart from Pearl, which character do you feel undergoes the most dramatic transformation in the novel?
10. Were you shocked by Ottoline’s and Hector’s deaths? Who do you think was driving the car, and do you believe it was an accident?
11. Was Kitty’s lie to Theodore Godley about the baby (Pearl) dying understandable and forgivable? How did you feel about this revelation, and did it alter your view of Kitty?
12. Is Ralph Stedman a convincing romantic hero, despite his absence for most of the story? What was it about him that Pearl fell in love with? Did you believe he survived the war?
13. Lila innocently and inadvertently reveals to Ralph that she is his daughter. How realistic is this exchange, and how do you foresee Ralph’s future relationship with Lila?
14. Which of Pearl’s relationships had the greatest influence on her—her relationship with Kitty, Ottoline, Lila, or Ralph?
15. At the end of the novel, Pearl hears Ottoline say, “There. Didn’t I tell you?” Why do you think Pearl hears Ottoline’s voice at that moment, and what does this question allude to?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I won this book from Goodreads Giveaways. This story was about a young woman who is in service as a Lady's Maid just before the beginning of WWI. This was a beautiful story of love, family and understanding the closeness but yet the separation of the classes during this time. Pearl became a Lady's maid for Lady Ottoline and they became friends in a sort. She was close to the youngest son, but this just on the cusp of WWI and all the young men were going to war. She stayed in service until after the war, the Lady and her husband lost both of their sons in the war. She fell in love with Lady Ottoline's cousin and has a beautiful daughter Lila. The Lady treats Pearl's daughter as family. The twist and turns on how at a time when she would have been put out of a job she was kept and cherished. And then when the Lord and Lady died she was remember and so was her daughter. I loved this story and look forward to reading more books from this author.
Pearl Gibson loves to travel, to move up, to make up names for herself and tales she tells strangers, lying to embellish and enchant mundane reality! She’s good at it or perhaps one should say she was good at it until she was caught in one of her brilliant fabrications. On the way to interview for a job as a lady’s maid, she gives her name as Ottoline, the name of her soon to be employer, to a fine looking man she meets at a railroad station. Just a stranger, right? Ha! In fact, the real Ottoline Campbell who hires Pearl is a unique woman who does exactly as she pleases during an era when women’s roles were quite circumscribed. Ottoline’s attitude to Pearl from the very beginning is more of a friend than employer, although when displeased she lets Pearl know her place. Very quickly, Pearl learns about the family secrets but it isn’t her place to comment. Pearl then meets a family relative and they immediately bond. Now Ottoline has a secret that binds her to Pearl even deeper, a truth that is unfortunately or fortunately, depending on one’s point of view, shunted to the side with the beginning of World War I in 1914. Ottoline’s sons and so many other sons in the area join the military fight out of patriotic duty. Some will die; some will return as scarred, traumatized wrecks! Pearl soon has a secret that she entrusts to Ottoline, who now evolves into Pearl’s protector and more than friend. Pearl’s tension from the war and its shocking effects builds up until one day she breaks and spews out what she perceives as the truth, an act that mandates she leave the Campbell home to become the independent woman she needs to be. Years later, she will return under totally unexpected circumstances. This story has been told many times before this novel was written. The essence of this story, however, is quite unique. What rules our lives – fate, destiny, choices, rebellion, conformity – what? Judith Kinghorn is a very skilled author who crafts a mesmerizing account of how the vicissitudes of life dramatically shift during wartime. Every character is dramatically changed forever and the reader is honored to have shared the dramatic lives within these pages. The Echo of Twilight is an amazing work of historical fiction that this reviewer highly recommends!
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings First let me say, I read a lot of historical fiction and it is probably my most read genre, so suffice it to say I can be a little critical of my reads in the genre, so let me say I loved this one. What an interesting way to experience the effects of war without too much real battling in the book. I loved reading through the eyes of a woman who has had to fight each step of the way for the things that she has and takes a job not knowing how much it would impact the rest of her life. Pearl Gibson is an orphan from the moment she was born, but due to the open heart of a great Aunt she is raised beyond what she could have imagined and her Aunt instilled in her a sense of drive to better her life from how it began. From the moment she entered Ottoline's home I was glued to my seat to read how this relationship would work and where it would go. I was surprised where it went and loved it!
An orphan all her life, Pearl was raised by her aunt and grandfather. Upon their deaths, she found work as a ladies maid with Lady Ottoline Campbell. They become fast friends and travel from England to Scotland on the eve of World War I. As Ottoline's sons and nephews join up, the two women are distraught. The two women become further linked by a dark secret that can destroy their lives. I enjoyed this wonderful family saga set in the early 1900's. The book is well paced with larger than life characters, an interesting plot which culminates in a most satisfying ending. Highly recommended.