Three sisters battle poverty and prejudice in 1930s India in this heart-wrenching tale from a New York Times–bestselling novelist.
Life is difficult for the three Lemarchant sisters in the latter years of the British Raj. Born of two cultures and rejected by both—the “half-caste” daughters of an Englishman and an Indian mother—twins Belle and Rosa and their younger sibling, Blanche, live with their widowed father and “Auntie” in an apartment in a crumbling mansion in Calcutta.
Having grown to young womanhood in poverty—the result of their father’s indolence and society’s intolerance—tough-minded Belle is determined to improve her lot in life, even if it means compromising her principles and her pride. Her beautiful twin, Rosa, however, dreams of a different, grander escape and foolishly puts her faith in love.
For Blanche, the entire world is the decaying estate the Lemarchants share with other Anglo-Indian outcasts. Rejected by her own siblings due to the darkness of her skin, the lonely little girl wanders the halls and grounds, enjoying the fantasy of a phantom pet while communing with ghosts only the purest of souls can see.
An extraordinary novel rich in color and heartbreaking human drama, The Lady and the Unicorn is the poignant tale of one family’s struggle to make a future in a society blinded by prejudice and divided by caste. A powerful story of coming-of-age and coming to terms, it is a masterful fiction from one of the preeminent British authors of the twentieth century.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of the author including rare images from the Rumer Godden Literary Estate.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Lady and the Unicorn
By Rumer Godden
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1937 Rumer Godden Literary Trust
All rights reserved.
Father Ghezzi had come to see father. Belle had done something that could not be told even to auntie; Blanche felt in every hair of her that it was something shocking.
The last time the priest came to see father was when Rosa had stolen the horse and cart out of the Christmas basket; there was always a basket in the church at Christmas to collect toys for the poor children. In those days the Lemarchants were so poor that really they should have had some of the toys, but that auntie would not allow. Belle and Rosa used to walk the streets at Christmas-time looking in the shop windows, yearning over their beauty, for they had no proper presents themselves until Rosa, tempted beyond endurance, took the horse and the cart.
She had been like that from a child, soft and easy to manage until her heart was set on something, and then implacable, almost ruthless, more like Belle than Rosa. She knew that it was wicked to steal, she felt it acutely, yet she had no compunction in stealing to get the horse and cart. When auntie said, 'You must tell Father Ghezzi you're sorry,' she had answered at once, 'If I tell him I'm sorry, will he let me keep the horse and cart?'
Auntie knew that it was sometimes like that with twins, that one should have slightly what the other showed strongly, just as one was always more vivid than the other, like a child and its reflection; not that Belle and Rosa were children any more or at all alike, but Rosa always seemed a shadow by her sister, and that, auntie thought, was why Father Ghezzi and the nuns at school scarcely seemed to notice her.
The Lemarchant children had known the priest all their lives. He had baptized them, and Belle had always been his favourite. All they saw of Belle at school was her down-dropped lids with their honey-coloured lashes, her pretty hands and her neat red head. They had given her a medal for goodness. That made even Rosa smile; for good conduct, yes, but for goodness, no.
Her own family were sure that Belle was not good, and yet at home she gave hardly any trouble; it was just that she was quite implacable, quite determined and almost fearless. Auntie never forbade her to do anything, for she knew it was useless, Belle did exactly as she chose. When she was crossed she was more than unkind, she was shocking, and none of them were really good enough for Belle.
Among the friendly litter of slippers and brushes and powder and pins and old bottles in the bedroom, Belle kept her things separate; no one was allowed to use her nail polish or the face creams and powder she bought with her prize-money, no one was allowed to borrow the sets of underclothes she had made herself from soft voile. She kept the handkerchiefs she picked up at school and unpicked the name-tapes, and would not let auntie cut up even her old knickers for her little sister Blanche.
Her friend at school was Miriam Rambert of the bold eyes. They went into corners and whispered and refused to tell Rosa what they said. Father Ghezzi, who confessed the girls, tried to separate them. 'He is afraid of your bad influence,' said Belle, and laughed.
'My bad influence!' cried Miriam, and for once she was indignant.
Belle could charm even auntie, who knew the worst of her; however angry she was, Belle made her laugh when she mimicked Father Ghezzi or Mother Celia with her bunion, or the pin-man asking for his money or Mrs Barton putting on airs; but when it came to her taking the Blessed Virgin in the tableaux, auntie was shocked.
'No! No! that cannot be,' she said, and put on her hat to go and see Father Ghezzi.
'Couldn't it be Rosa?' she asked timidly. Little Rosa with her still face might very well have taken the Blessed Virgin in auntie's eyes, but Father Ghezzi thought her uninteresting and began to talk of Belle's fine character.
'But Rosa has a lovely nature,' pleaded auntie.
'Rosa tells lies,' said the Father severely. It was so. Rosa could never be quite truthful, she had always to distort, to embroider, to exaggerate, and if she were frightened, she lied.
Auntie did not think that telling lies was a bad fault, anyhow not so uncomfortable as taking the only bath-towel or interrupting when people were saying their prayers.
'Apart from that she has a lovely nature,' she said again.
'Then you need not be jealous for her, Mrs Kempf. Remember that it is after careful thought that we have chosen Belle. You should be proud for her to appear as the Holy Virgin.'
'You should hear her speak of the Holy Virgin when she is out of temper,' thought Auntie, and sighed and came home.
Now Father Ghezzi had come to them and, as he waited in the sitting-room while Boy helped father to put on his tie and coat, and auntie changed her slippers for shoes behind the partition, he seemed very uneasy and sad.
He had an umbrella of holland lined with green against the heat; it looked womanish and strange with the cassock and square-toed boots; he had not gone into white although the heat was intense, and his clothes were dusty and stained. The light from the veranda fell on his face, thinly drawn and sensitive; his beard gave him a gallant Spanish look, though Belle said it made him look like a goat.
Mr Lemarchant came in, himself a little uneasy, as he always was with the priest; he waited, but Father Ghezzi seemed unable to say a word, he remained sorrowful and perplexed, as if he were pleading to be understood without having to put it into words.
Father fidgeted and said: 'You will let Anna order you some tea? You will take tea with us, eh?'
As if he had not heard, the priest burst out: 'I don't know which it is that is worse to have in this country, Mr Lemarchant, boys or girls, sons or daughters. With the sons it is one thing; they cannot get work, the Indians squeeze them out from beneath, the English from above, so —' He brought his clenched hands together as if he were crushing a poor little man to death. 'They cannot get work; before they begin they are failures. And with the girls it is another thing, they are too successful. Yes. There is always success for these girls, so smart, so nimble, so empty-headed. They take even the jobs the boys might have; they go into offices, shops, and what happens? They get money, they get ideas, they are taken up by men – men in Calcutta society, faugh! – and then when they are in trouble they are flung back on their people; on those boys whose place they have taken, boys for whom they have now no use and who could not marry them if they had.'
'Yes, yes,' said father, 'but I don't understand, what has this to do with me?'
'It has everything to do with you,' said Father Ghezzi, in his careful and measured English. 'Of all the pupils, Mr Lemarchant, Belle was the one I was most certain of. I said she had a fine character, but I was deceived. I was blind, Mr Lemarchant, she is a bad girl. We have talked together, the Mother Superior and I, you can imagine how grieved we are to do this, but we have spoken to Belle and she has not listened to us; I have come to tell you, Mr Lemarchant, that we think it is better that she should leave school now, and not wait for the holidays.'
'But the holidays are only two months away. Think of the shame of it, Father.'
'We have to think of the other pupils, Mr Lemarchant.'
'But what has she done? You haven't told me what she has done.'
Father Ghezzi hesitated. 'It is difficult to put into words, but it has become quite impossible for us to keep her.'
'But what has she done? What has she said?'
There was a pause. 'She has actually done nothing,' said the priest slowly. 'She has, actually, said nothing. She has behaved exactly as she has always behaved, but with a difference! It is her attitude, an attitude of mockery, if I have to say it, of diabolical mockery. A terrible change has come over her. She was so quiet, so modest, and now she seems to taunt us.
'Yesterday, in church, during the Sacrament, Mr Lemarchant' (each word was a groan) 'I had put the wafer on her tongue and she attracted my attention. At that moment, Mr Lemarchant, you cannot believe it, but it is true, and she looked —'
How could he describe that look? He had not ceased to see it since that moment.
The deep severe trance, the reverent ecstasy, a young girl might feel them both; he had seen them blush, quiver, pale and faint: he had known them grow self-conscious, have silly talk among themselves, be conscious of the priest as a man, and that had been shocking enough, but there was a worse taunt in Belle's look, and even now he shrank from it. She had looked at him, he could hardly say it even to himself, not as if she desired him but he her; and she had calculated it, she had chosen that moment, the highest – he could not go on. It was blasphemy, and he said it aloud.
'It was blasphemy!' He tried to speak quietly. 'It was blasphemy, Mr Lemarchant.'
'Certainly it was,' said father, who had no idea what had happened. 'I am very annoyed that one of my children has committed blasphemy and I shall punish her. I promise you.'
'It is a matter of more than that. You understand that she must leave the school, and we think her sister Rosa should leave with her, Mr Lemarchant, for they are so much together. They must be watched. You must explain to Mrs Kempf. Belle must be sent to see me, she must make a regular confession. It is a question of her soul.'
'Yes, yes,' protested father. 'I shall see to it, certainly I shall see to it.'
The priest seemed to grow old as he sat in his chair, and his eyes as they looked at father were tired. For fifty-one years he had been dealing with these people, these facile Anglo-Indians, and he was tired and sad. It was like digging in sand, you could not get to the bottom of their contradictions, their cross-purposes. It was their blood, the contempt of one part for another; the contempt of the Britisher for the native he rules, a contempt that runs like cold pure metal through the easy tissues of the native indolence and shiftlessness; pleasant dishonesty and inconsequence; and the resentment of the Indian under that domination, his fight for freedom that is alien to his element of content, of settlement and culture if he could but find peace.
Peace. There could be no peace for these people who must always be against the winning side, no matter which side wins, carrying in themselves their certainty of defeat. For them a place would always have to be made, they could call no place their own; and while he fumed over their behaviour, he marvelled at their courage.
Mr Lemarchant shifted uneasily in his chair, Father Ghezzi stirred himself, sat up and said, 'You must send her to see me. You must watch her, I solemnly warn you ...'
After he had gone, Belle came out of the bedroom, where she had listened to every word, while auntie whispered to herself that when children were no longer children they became exceedingly tiresome. Belle was eating nuts which she cracked between her teeth.
'Why were you hiding?' stormed father. 'Did you hear what he said?'
'I did,' said Belle.
'Why did you do it, what he said you did?'
'Because it amused me, I think,' said Belle, considering. 'It was something I've wanted to do for a very long time.'
'Now you will have to leave school, you and Rosa as well. Think of the disgrace. What do you say to that?'
'I say it's a good thing,' said Belle. 'I've done with school. I made them want to keep me there and now I've made them want to send me away. Isn't it funny, father,' she added dreamily, 'that I can make those old wise good people do exactly what I want?'
Auntie, who was listening behind the partition, shook her head and crossed herself.
Father was angry with Belle, and if he had looked out of the window he would have been angrier still, for he would have seen Rosa with Robert deSouza in the garden, under the palms that rustled like paper in the wind.
Rosa was twenty minutes younger than her twin sister Belle, and since she was fourteen she had been in love with Robert. She had to love someone, and Robert was more beautiful even than his beautiful brothers and sisters, olive-skinned, with hair dark and plumy and eyes like blue diamonds. She had not said anything about it until one evening after school when she had nothing to do but wander in the garden; Robert had begun to walk there too, lingering after dark, and they talked in a polite manner, which was odd considering that they lived in the same house and had known each other for most of their lives; and Robert suddenly confessed he was in love.
'In love?' said Rosa, and her anxiety seemed to tear the words from her. 'Oh! Robert, who with?'
'With you,' said Robert simply, and the stars swung out of their places and back again, leaving Rosa dizzy and breathless.
They had wanted to take Robert for a priest at his Jesuit school, his look of beauty and obedience had marked him out; the priest said he had a vocation, but he had refused.
'How else do you think you'll live?' asked Mr deSouza, his father. 'What else can you do? There is nothing in India for boys like you and I cannot send you to Europe. All of you,' he cried, turning to his swarm of sons and daughters, 'all of you had better be priests and nuns.'
'Robert won't be a priest, because he wants to marry Rosa Lemarchant,' said Eileen spitefully.
'Now you hear me, Bob,' roared Mr deSouza. 'There will be nothing of that. You'll marry no one unless I tell you. The Lemarchants are not a nice family at all, they cannot even pay their rent, so that I am always out of pocket; and not only must I keep you when money is scarce, but keep your wife as well.'
'Poor father,' said little Bruce, 'perhaps one day you'll have some money.'
'What do you mean, poor father,' said Mr deSouza indignantly. 'I have plenty of money.'
Robert thought night and day of how he could marry Rosa.
At seventeen she was in full flower, the moon-flowers of the east that bud for a night; her skin was as pale as their petals, her eyes dark shadowed. She was small, almost flimsy, very proud of her tiny hips, and pitied Belle for her larger measurements. Belle was not jerry-built like her sisters, she had curves, swelling into her waist and firm pointed breasts; the others might have had pith in their bones instead of blood, but her skin was the rich cream that sometimes goes with red hair. She had her hair from father, like flame silk, the colour of sacred marigolds. Rosa's hung to her shoulders, and she wore it in a plait over her head as Blanche wore her celluloid bandeau.
'I wish mine was a plait, then I could hardly lose it,' sighed Blanche, for at school and with auntie it was always, 'Blanche Lemarchant, you untidy child, where is your bandeau?'
Blanche was the family shame, for she was dark. Suddenly, after Belle and Rosa, had come this other baby like a little crow after twin doves. Auntie said she was like their mother, and they hated to think of their mother who was dead and had been dark like Blanche. Belle could not bear her, and even Rosa was ashamed to be her sister.
They must have had hill-blood, for Blanche had the high cheek-bones and eyes of a little Chinese from the outer Mongolian-Thibetan fringes of her ancestry, and she had their merriment and simplicity in pleasure until she was teased or upset.
None of them ever mentioned their mother, yet she had given to all her children a courage that father did not possess and that she must have needed in her life with him. With her skin she had given the most of her courage to Blanche, who would face even father if she were angry.
'God help you with that awful temper,' auntie would say.
But to balance her courage she had nerves, worse than Rosa; often after a fight with father she had to go into the bathroom and vomit down the pan.
Father had been so very handsome, auntie told them, but now the top button of his trousers could not do up, the back of his neck was fat, and among his curly hair was a bald patch.
'But you must remember,' said auntie, 'that we owe everything to your father. Poor father, he has worked so hard.'
Blanche simply did not believe it; she had known father for nine years and never yet seen him do any work.
He bought old refrigerators and sewing machines and bicycles that no one could use and took them to pieces all over the sitting-room, to put them together again with new parts he had invented, and usually no one could use them still. Presently Boy would put them out in the godown and father would say that he had been cheated, and he was buying something else that would sell for three hundred rupees and pay off everything he owed.
The godown could have been let as a garage, but he was too lazy to clear it out. He smoothed his hair and said, 'No, no. I do not care to earn money that way.'
There were so many ways that father did not care to earn money that the girls had to be taken at school for charity and the rent was always owing to Mr deSouza, who always wanted to be paid on the regular day.
Excerpted from The Lady and the Unicorn by Rumer Godden. Copyright © 1937 Rumer Godden Literary Trust. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I gave uo.doesnt even make sensr. Do t waste your money or time.