Return to the statley environs of Rutherford Park and the embattled Cavendish family—from the author of The Wild Dark Flowers.
The rain fell softly on the day that she was to be married…Sometimes the longing for the old untouched days at Rutherford would return to her; the innocence of it all, the feeling that England would never change…
Charlotte Cavendish has been dreaming of her old home at Rutherford Park. It is April 1917; she is nineteen years old. And everywhere there is change. The war still rages on the Continent, where her brother fights for the Royal Flying Corps. Her parents’ marriage is in jeopardy, with her mother falling for a charming American in London.
But not all is grim. Charlotte is marrying Preston, the blinded soldier whom she nursed back to health. Her parents couldn’t be happier about this. The young man hails from a well-established and wealthy family in Kent, and he’s solid and respectable. They hope he’s the one to tame their notoriously headstrong daughter.
But as time passes, Charlotte slowly comes to the realization that she is not truly happy. And for a reason she is only just beginning to understand. A reason she dare not reveal to the family—or the world…
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||8.20(w) x 5.50(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Elizabeth Cooke is the author of twelve novels, among them Rutherford Park, The Wild Dark Flowers, and the international bestseller The Ice Child.
Read an Excerpt
The rain fell softly on the day that she was to be married.
All night long Charlotte had been dreaming of her old home at Rutherford Park—she thought that the sound of the downpour outside was the water rushing through the red stones of the riverbed by the bridge. It was only when she awoke that she realized she was in London, in the Chelsea house owned by the American, John Gould.
It was half past five in the morning when Charlotte let herself out of the house and into the street. Cheyne Walk was barely stirring, and the road held only a clattering echo of her own running feet. She was at the Embankment wall in just a few moments, leaning on the edge, staring at the lively grey ribbon of the Thames. I shall be married, she thought, in a few hours. She turned her face up to the rain.
It was April 1917; she was nineteen years old. And everywhere there was change. On the fields of Flanders, history was being written in the harrowing of humanity; in the pretty eighteenth century house behind her, her own mother lived in what some called sin, but what Charlotte could see was a kind of correctness, a way of holding on to life. In Yorkshire, her once happy father habitually mourned in bitterness. The world rolled and altered.
She held on to the Embankment wall, feeling its granite strength. Someone had told her that the stones of the wall here had come from Cornwall, from Lamorna Cove. It was supposed to be wildly lovely there, but she had never seen it. She had, despite her nursing service at St. Dunstan’s, never seen France. Her brother, Harry, was back there now, advising the Flying Corps. She had never seen America, as Mr. Gould had done; she had never been to Italy. She had wanted to take the Grand Tour as her male ancestors had once done. But she doubted that she would now. She was to be a married woman.
She turned away from the river, trying to hold down the nonsensical impulse to throw herself into the water. She had nothing at all to be worried about, she told herself. This was just a morbid anxiety, a last-minute rush of pre-wedding nerves. She must grow up, and stop wanting some romantic notion of independence. After all, what did she have to be worried about? Michael Preston was a wonderful man, a brave man. His blindness was no barrier; they were, as he always joked, a good team. Her parents were pleased that she was about to marry into one of Kent’s oldest and most respected—not to say very wealthy—families; that she would be secure and cared for. That she would live a stone’s throw from her family’s London house in Grosvenor Square, in a lovely little mews cottage that Michael’s parents had bestowed upon them. Her father had even hinted obliquely at the grandchildren that she and Michael would provide, and she so longed to see him happy again. She was desperate not to bring further disappointment into his life.
Yet the old sense of suffocation threatened to overwhelm her.
She looked back through the trees at the houses on Cheyne Walk. John Gould now owned one of the prettiest, his gift to her mother, Octavia. They lived like two honeymooners here, and for the last six months Charlotte had come here often, absorbing both their scandal and their happiness in equal measure. She was to be married from here, and not the Grosvenor Square house where her father was now staying in solitary and temporary splendor among the dusty relics of his marriage. Now and then, in talking to him, it had become obvious that he expected his wife to eventually return to him. People called him an old fool for it, she knew. It was her older sister, Louisa, who tended to look after Father; Charlotte was drawn to her mother. But sometimes the longing for the old untouched days at Rutherford would return in her; the innocence of it all, the feeling that England would never change. The ancient conviction that the Cavendish estate of Rutherford and that charmed and luxurious way of life was eternal.
Charlotte smiled to herself. Well, they had all had that permeability knocked out of them now.
She wondered, as she looked at Cheyne Walk, at the other dramas that had played out in this London street over the centuries. In Number 16, Dante Gabriel Rossetti had lived out his final years with Fanny Cornforth; Number 4 was George Eliot’s last home. Just along the way was the Chelsea Hospital and the Physic Garden. And it had been here, last October, that Charlotte had sat with her mother and told her that Michael had proposed to her. In the seventeenth-century green oasis by the Thames, Charlotte had expected Octavia to tell her that she was far too young. In retrospect, she had hoped that this was indeed what her mother was going to say. She would have returned to Michael and told him that, without her mother’s approval, she could not possibly marry him, flattered as she was to have been asked. But, to her astonishment, Octavia had not objected at all. In her own half-dazed and happy state, she had simply clasped Charlotte’s hands and smiled at her, and given her blessing. But it was not her mother’s blessing that Charlotte had wanted. She had wanted her mother’s disapproval, and an excuse not to marry at all.
It was very strange, she considered, that in all these months, it had only been John Gould, her mother’s lover, who had carefully and subtly questioned her decision. “Shall you be very happy as a little wife?” he had said to her in a joking fashion last Christmas. She had looked at him gravely, the champagne glass in her hand as the dinner guests settled around the dining table on the day before Christmas Eve. “Don’t you think that I could be?” she’d replied. John, in his handsome and easy way, had considered her. “You always struck me as a wild bird waiting to fly,” he had commented. “Well, one can fly when one is married,” she’d told him. And then had blushed scarlet. “I mean, as a couple. We could fly anywhere, anywhere at all.”
If he had noticed her embarrassment, he hadn’t dwelled upon it. “Come to America when this lousy war is over,” he had said. “And see the house I’ve built for your mother on Cape Cod. I’m sure you’ll like it. America, too.”
Her heart had welled up inside her. Oh, she was sure that she would love the beach, the house, the country. The very words spelled out freedom and space. And of course she could go there with Michael—of course they would love to, she told John. She had then deliberately turned away from him and his piercing appraising gaze. She had spoken gaily to the woman on the other side of her; but about what, she had no idea at all.
Since then, she seemed to have been swept forward by events. Michael’s parents were charming; their grand home in its beautiful gardens outside Sevenoaks was charming; Michael himself was, of course, charming. But how “charming” grated on her to the roots of her soul! How maddening she found it. How ridiculously she had painted herself into this lover’s corner. Into maturity and security and all those other things that her father so approved of. She thought she should die of it.
“Stop it,” she said out loud, to no one at all but herself. “What a silly, selfish fool you are.”
She walked back to the house and let herself in the gate. In six hours, at midday, her father would come here in the Rolls-Royce he had lately acquired. They would be chauffeured to the parish Church of St. Margaret’s at Westminster Abbey, within sight of the abbey itself and the famous clock tower of the Palace of Westminster that was familiarly called Big Ben.
There would be crowds at the church door because society weddings were food and drink to a war-weary London, and because it was seen to be a great romance, this union of the blinded war hero and the youngest child of a loyal servant of the Crown. Police on horseback would hold back the throng; there would be cheers as she emerged from the car dressed in what she—oh so privately, oh so secretly—thought was a completely idiotic costume of a white silk dress and a vast tulle veil. Her sister, Louisa, would be there at the church door, laughing prettily and scattering rose petals. And, after the ceremony, the thunder of the Meistersinger march on the church organ would compete with the pealing of bells of St. Margaret’s. And she and Michael would stand together at the porch, smiling, arm in arm.
And all the time, she would be wanting to run.
The door of the house opened as she approached it, and there was the housemaid, looking frightened that someone was already outside as she reached to polish the door frame and the brass handle of the bell. “Oh, miss,” she said, beaming when she saw that it was Charlotte. “The happiest day of your life. We are all that excited, miss, if you’ll pardon me saying.”
Charlotte stepped over the threshold and shook off the coat that had become saturated with rain.
“Yes,” she murmured. “You’re quite right, Milly. It’s the happiest day of my life.”
The Ritz hotel commanded one of London’s greatest thoroughfares, and was within sight of Green Park and Buckingham Palace. It was the new creation of César Ritz himself, and looked much like a French chateau that had been gracefully dropped in Piccadilly, complete with its modern refinements and Louis XVI furnishings.
The arrival of the Cavendish and Preston wedding party caused as much of a stir on Piccadilly as it had at the church in Westminster. A crowd gathered to watch the bride and groom emerge from the wedding car; but they were equally interested in the great and good of the nation that followed. Politicians whom they recognized only vaguely, whose top-hatted appearance was greeted with polite applause, were followed by officers in uniform, ladies of the aristocracy, and a small scattering of artists from the Slade. Murmurs of scandal and appreciation rose and fell like waves until the last guest disappeared behind the gilt-and glass doors.
Charlotte’s father, William Cavendish, the seventh Earl Rutherford, was well pleased with the overall effect of the wedding, despite the Oranges and Mauves. Privately, this was what he called the artists that his estranged wife, Octavia, seemed to so admire. Still, the gallant officers were rather more impressive, and he was glad that Charlotte, despite having inherited some of her mother’s more stubborn and outrageous characteristics, now appeared to be settling into a respectable life. William liked Michael Preston, and admired him for his stoicism in the face of his terrible injuries. One would hardly credit that the man was blind; his face bore no sign other than a few discolored lines around the forehead. He carried himself with dignity, and he was intelligent and modest. Such qualities might carry him far, William thought. He had even wondered if he might introduce Michael to those whom he knew in government when the war was over.
William stood now at the entrance to the large dining room and looked about himself. He and his daughter Louisa had arranged the wedding on Charlotte’s behalf. Or, rather, Louisa had done the majority of the arranging and he had done all of the paying. It showed in the room. The table displays were opulent, the flowers in full bloom despite it only being April. Each table bore its white damask cloths, its silver and glass and decorations of silk and ribbon, like stage sets. He saw that, in among the color on the high table, Charlotte looked rather lost. Dear girl, he thought. Something had overwhelmed her robust personality at last. She seemed to be very small there among the sea of society faces, and rather pale. He caught a waiter as the man walked past. “Take a glass of champagne to the bride,” he murmured. “And make sure she is served first.”
He smiled with pride. Louisa sat to Charlotte’s left, looking terribly pretty. Far to the right sat Octavia, Charlotte’s mother. He saw that she and Louisa briefly exchanged a glance of satisfaction, and he supposed that Louisa’s immaculate organization of the day perhaps had much more to do with his wife than he had supposed. Well, what did it matter? Octavia was largely shunned by society, but she had probably found a way to help her daughter. Women were subversive creatures, he thought. One never really knew. Never really knew at all.
He walked up to the top table. It took him some time; matrons of the beau monde would tend to leap up as he passed, and press him engagingly to their breasts as if he were an abandoned child. Over the last year, he had grown used to brushing them off with politeness. He was not abandoned, in his opinion. He was merely put aside for a while. Octavia—he was determined about it, determined to the point of being almost convinced—that Octavia would return to him once the American had grown tired of her. She would leave the little house in Chelsea and return to Rutherford where she belonged. He gritted his teeth and turned his face away in the meantime. She would come home. It was surely inevitable. Men like John Gould wouldn’t look after another man’s wife indefinitely. As for his own heart . . . he didn’t like to consider it at all. He had been brought up not to linger on the subject of feelings. He would present an equable face to the world, no matter how many nights he laid awake and wondered what the hell had happened to his marriage.
As he passed the final table before he sat down, he noticed a familiar face. It was Caitlin de Souza, his son Harry’s friend. She sat unmoving, her hands clasped in her lap, dressed in a somber outfit of pale brown with a lace collar.
“Caitlin, is it?” he said, and held out his hand.
“It is, your lordship.”
“On leave?” Caitlin was a nurse at the front.
“Grim as ever, I take it.”
“It is terribly grim, yes.”
“Heard from Harry?”
It was typical of William to talk in such abbreviated sentences. He saw no need to pontificate. He loathed small talk. Caitlin smiled, and at once he remembered why Harry, who was presently serving with the Royal Flying Corps, was so attracted to her. “He writes very often,” she murmured.
William lowered his face close to hers. “Persuade the old fellow to do the same for his parents, why don’t you?” he whispered. “Take it as a personal favor.”
He stood back up, squeezed her hand, and walked on. To the other side of the table, directly opposite Caitlin, he had noticed the disheveled form of Christine Nesbitt. At least, she looked disheveled to him. Why did these artists never run a comb through their damned hair, he thought. And she seemed to be dressed in something like a curtain. Good Lord, it was a wonder that the Ritz had allowed her across the threshold!
It was probably Octavia who had shepherded the woman inside. Octavia had taken a liking to the Bohemian type since she had moved to Chelsea. She had even hosted an art fair in Rutherford, to raise money for the Red Cross among the wealthy of the Yorkshire set. It had been a success, of course. Everything that Octavia turned her hand to was a success. She and Charlotte had run the whole thing last November, and made a great deal of money for the cause. Still, the presence of the artists themselves had shocked him. Peacocks and sluts, he had decided. Peacocks and sluts.
Christine Nesbitt, he could see, was smiling broadly at him now. He very pointedly ignored her.
• • •
After the speeches—thankfully brief—William took himself out into the side room that overlooked a small garden. He could see Green Park above the trees, and watched its soft horizon above the traffic while he lighted his cigar. He wished that he were back at Rutherford. My God, though, what a ripping send-off might have been arranged for Charlotte there! The great house open, the gardens sumptuous in spring. First hothouse roses, the vast lawns, the terraces all bright perfection, and room to wander after the meal. Room to breathe. London suffocated him now.
The days of his political life seemed far away since his heart attack last year. He went to the House occasionally, of course, and was received with deference. He had had dinner with Lloyd George himself last month, and was pleased to have found his own opinions listened to at some length. The Americans would soon come to the war; that was becoming ever more obvious since the Kaiser had ordered his submarines back into the Atlantic. William had heard a rumor only yesterday that their announcement might be imminent. He hoped to God that it would mean the end of the bloody carnage across the Channel. This year, or next.
At the thought of America, William frowned. He glanced back at the heavily curtained room where the guests were still milling around. One favor had been granted to him today: his wife’s lover, John Gould, had been absent. He had dreaded leading Charlotte into the church and finding Gould’s handsome, smiling face insulting him from a family pew. He had dreaded even more seeing Octavia hanging on the man’s arm. But he had been spared it. His wife had a grain of decency left in her, it seemed.
As if summoned by his thoughts, Octavia now appeared at the dining room door. His wretched heart skipped a beat as she walked towards him, smiling. She was prettier than the bride, he thought.
His wife wore dove-grey velvet, with some sort of coat affair in the same material, and an alarming hat—very tall, rather asymmetrical—in the same color. When he remembered what she wore to their own wedding those many years ago—those yards and yards of lace, that voluminous gown—a smile came to his lips. How different she was now. No longer an obedient girl, but just as slender. More so, in fact. A bell-shaped skirt revealed her ankles; around her waist the fabric belt was silver. She carried a little ivory walking cane—for affectation only. He had never seen a woman so lively, so little in need of any walking aid; her face shone with pleasure. Gould, he suddenly thought to himself. It’s because of that damned bastard that I am shown my own wife’s smiling face.
Still, she overwhelmed him, despite everything. Lightly kissing his cheek, she took his arm. “Shall we walk a little way? Out to the terrace perhaps? You’re feeling well enough?”
“I am feeling very well,” he told her.
As they walked, he could feel the spring in her step. “Do you think Charlotte looked charming?” she asked.
“She fussed so, you know,” Octavia mused. “About the veil, the dress. But then, she was always quite unlike Louisa.” She turned to him. “Louisa’s coming-out gown, do you recall, dear? And the pink ball gown, all in silk.”
“I do indeed.” It had cost him an absolute fortune.
“You would think that I had been dragging Charlotte across the Styx when we went to the dressmakers,” Octavia laughed. “But she will look back on it with pleasure.”
He doubted that.
“You did terribly well today,” she said quietly. “The new car was a delightful touch. A Silver Ghost at that! It was splendid. I recall the days when you would have thought a barouche much more the thing.”
“I am trying to be modern,” he replied.
“And succeeding beautifully.”
God, he wished that she were not so happy. Pretty compliments flew from her. He would much rather have had her silence, even the unendurable silences they once had together at Rutherford. He would have rather had her expressionless face at dinner than to dine alone, as he often did now.
He stopped walking; she looked at him inquiringly. “Shall you come to Rutherford?” he asked.
She paused, evidently considering. “Are you going back there?”
“Then I shall come the week after,” she told him. “There is something that I want to talk to you about.”
William frowned. “Not that subject.”
“No, dear. Not that subject.”
She had suggested a divorce last year, when Gould had suddenly reappeared at Rutherford after Mary and Nash’s wedding. A matter of hours merely, and she had been packing her bags. “I thought him dead,” she had said simply. “So did the world. So did you. But he survived the Lusitania. Don’t tell me that you didn’t hope he would never come back, William. But he is here, and there’s an end to it.” She had turned a calm, serene face to him. “You may divorce me if you wish.”
He had denied her. He would not see their name dragged through the court to the accompaniment of the horrific scandal that would ensue. More importantly, he would never—never, never—let her marry Gould. Dally they might . . . play the lovebirds. Even live together in their outrageous sin. He’d thought, when Gould had left two years ago, that she’d turned her face from her lover. Ridiculous in his hopes. But he would retain the reins, however slackly, in his hand. And one day she would come back, when Gould tired of her.
He was living for that day.
Octavia reached up and drew down one of the cherry blossom bows. “Such a dreary spring we’ve had,” she murmured. “I’m glad the sun shone a little today.”
“What subject, then?” he asked. “What subject are you coming to Rutherford to discuss?” He narrowed his eyes. “Where is Gould?”
“At home,” she told him. “Preparing to go to France.”
“What for?” William felt furiously irritated that she referred to the little Chelsea love nest as “home.”
She gave him an indulgent smile. “You know full well,” she said. “America is coming to the war. He is going to Arras. The push that’s going on. So that he can report back to his New York newspaper. ‘In the teeth of battle, the true picture of war, how we are needed’ . . . all that.” Her voice had traces of sarcasm and anxiety. “He says he will try to find Harry to speak to him.”
At the mention of his son’s name, William searched her face. “Have you heard from him?”
“Not a word this week.”
“John says that pilots must be trained in the States. He wonders if Harry might be sent there. As an instructor.”
“It would keep him out of France, at least.”
“It is a possibility, I suppose. If they come in.”
“John doesn’t doubt it.”
William was not interested in what Gould thought.
Together, he and Octavia surveyed the garden in silence, watching as more petals drifted from the trees and lay discolored on the ground.
• • •
Hundreds of miles away in France, Harry Cavendish had been thinking of Rutherford early that morning.
When he was a little boy, he had used to wander the great house at night. He doubted very much that his parents had ever known. In the dark now, staring at the sky just before dawn, he tried to remember how far he had gone along the winding stairs that led down to the kitchens, or along the gallery outside the upper bedrooms, or up the forbidden narrow steps to the roof. He must have been seven or eight when he had first discovered the way out onto the lead-covered valleys between the Tudor chimneys, and seen the rolling vastness of the Yorkshire Dales spread out, pinpricked with occasional lights, below him.
Sometimes he would wake in the morning and it would be hard to guess whether those discoveries had been real or only a dream. Even then, as a small child, he was intrigued by height, and a desire to fly. To stand at the edge of the roof and launch himself outwards and feel the air rushing underneath him.
It had been another dozen years before that fascination became a reality.
He was watching the airfield now, a beaten expanse of mud that had once been grass, just behind the town of Arras. His little sister was getting married today, he thought. Charlotte, the last person on earth whom he ever imagined to be shackled to a man and give up what poor rights she had. Still . . . if it was what she wanted, who was he to criticize her? He had met Michael only once, and although the former soldier was now permanently robbed of his sight, he seemed a determined sort of chap.
Even so. Charlotte a wife. Harry looked at the first streaks of dawn in the sky, a few short lighter glimpses among the clouds heavy with snow. Seventh of April, 1917. Just north of here was cider country, fields of apple trees. Somewhere beneath him, going east, he knew that the chalky earth was being tunneled; New Zealand and English engineers burrowing among the networks of underground quarries, the boves of the French. Beyond them was Vimy Ridge, where bombardment had started in the last ten days of March.
You wouldn’t know it now. All was silent; whatever activity was out there—and there was plenty—was smothered in the dark hours and by the threatening weather.
But God, his body ached. He shifted marginally from foot to foot, feeling the jarring in his joints. His knees grated as if bone skated over bone. It was two years since he had been shot down, danced along the ground in a shattering kite, rolled along the edge of a trench, and stood up somehow, yelling at the Northumbrians who came to carry him out.
Two years since he had met Caitlin. Two years since the series of operations in England. And, like a sickening addict, he had only thought of being back here and flying again. Having another chance at the Boche, skimming his old Farman over the flattened landscape.
Harry sighed, looking backwards and forwards along the line of silent planes—those flimsy-seeming craft. The waiting was the worst; he felt it now in the seemingly two-dimensional shapes of the planes, their silhouettes populated by ghosts. Harry watched the young recruits go up—they would be out as soon as they arrived—and he would try to ignore their youth and their enthusiasm. He trained them as best he could. But he would give them few words, because his words were all saved for the letters he would have to write later in the day. Fifty percent were dead within forty-eight hours of taking their first kite to the skies.
He had spent last night trying to compose something different to the parents of the man who had crashed behind enemy lines yesterday. “A fine fellow of utmost bravery. . . .” Had he said that last week or yesterday? Or the day before? A fine fellow indeed. Whoever he was. They all seemed the same to him . . . interchangeable characters. All about twenty, square-shouldered, the captain of the cricket team, the kind of good egg all-rounder beloved of his school. A school that he had left not so long ago. The description might fit any or all of them. Fine chaps indeed, but Harry had struggled to remember this particular recruit exactly. Had he been the one from St. Albans or Edgeworth? Haringey or Twickenham? Carlisle or Cardiff? He hadn’t been able to recall him. There were just too many molded in the same form, sprung from the same background, trudging through his mind waving their grinning and youthful good-byes.
And now would come Arras.
The word was that dominance in the air was vital for reconnaissance in this battle. More important than it had ever been, to accent the element of surprise. They simply had to get up there and go deeper than they had ever anticipated, drawing out the tumble of scribbled lines below them until it all made sense, and one could verify the lines of communication and support. They had to fly low and they had to fly slow to get as much information as they could. It was bloody dangerous, as his list of letters continually proved.
But last month something very odd had happened.
Harry was used to the Luftstreitkräfte—after all, why wouldn’t he be after his weeks of flying last year, and his months of observing this year?—and he thought that he recognized them almost by instinct. Thought he could sense them in the sky, feel the malignity of all of them, German and British alike, feel their dribble of decay, of fumes, of smoke and fuel, of manic obsession, of curdling courage left in the sky like streamers. He thought he knew that even better than he knew their actual shape and size or coloring—or the black and white crosses on the bodies and the tails. But he didn’t know the red plane above Arras that so many now had reported in the dogfights. Manic indeed, and deadly.
Some of the recruits called it a flying circus. The maneuvers were so deliberately scheduled, like a dance. Trained like performing animals. Jumping to the crack of a whip. Snapping their spines in unnatural arches and dives. Caged and uncaged birds. Beasts of the air. Broken birds on the ground. Wings and talons.
He laughed momentarily at himself. Was he asleep, dreaming? Such bizarre pictures he had in his mind.
He looked down at his feet to steady himself, to bring himself literally back to the ground and reality. One leg was foreshortened by his injuries. They had taken away some sort of ligament and a shattered bone—he had never asked, he hated the details. His mother had fussed over him so, and for most of his recovery he had wished Caitlin back by his side. With her nursing training she was routinely expressionless and calm, giving him her sweet smile only when it truly counted. He knew that it continued to be hell for her in the hospital trains and the first aid stations, and so he supposed his minor wounds—the breaking of both legs, the endless surgeries afterwards—did not move her so much as it moved his mother and sisters.
He missed Caitlin greatly. He had not heard from her in six weeks. Louisa had written to him that she was expected as a guest at Charlotte’s wedding, and he was acutely jealous. She could go to see Charlotte and the rest of his family, but she was not allowed to come and see him. That was accepted; that was all right. But to not write to him was a mystery. She had written to accept her wedding invitation, so putting pen to paper was not beyond her.
He stopped this line of thinking, noticing the bitterness in his mind. He must not blame Caitlin. In her work, she was under tremendous stress. More so even than himself. It was very good of her to make time to attend the wedding. But God . . . how he wished that it had been their wedding. He would make her his own, he decided. He would stop this sense of loss and prevarication once and for all. She confused and preoccupied him so much; she kept her thoughts to herself. He did not know how to read her; he only knew how much he wanted to be with her.
He glanced at his watch; tried to make out the time in the grey dawn light. Five forty. He shivered involuntarily. One was always waiting these days. For the dawn to come, for orders. For scrambles up and setting down. For the onward-rushing flights, for the scream of the artillery. And for it all to stop. Time was full of strange beginnings and endings.
He had a strange notion suddenly then that it was, indeed, all over. That the end had finally come, and that the grass had grown again over the fields, blotting out the trenches, leaving only the merest shadowed scribble in the contours. That the troop stations were all closed, and the railway had returned to the sleepy lines in the countryside that they had once been, threading between villages, traveling slowly between the orchards and houses and chugging slowly over the bridges on the rivers. Time had pulled a merciful blanket over the misery.
And that he was standing here at the very edge of time itself, propped against the frame of a door, looking out into the murk and wondering what it was that would soon meet him. Perhaps, he thought, it was true. It would be true one day, after all. And that he stood here unknowingly, a shadow of a shadow of a shadow invisible to all but himself. He thought that he was long dead, and all the planes had gone, and nothing moved at all over the earth but the cool, dark wind.
He abruptly stood straight and shook himself free of the feeling. “Enough,” he hissed to himself.
He lit a cigarette, and tried not to think at all.
• • •
At the Ritz it was the middle of the afternoon, and Charlotte was alone in an upper room, pulling off the veil, the dress, and the white satin shoes.
On the bed lay the clothes she had chosen for her going-away: a long hemp skirt that finished an inch or two above the ankles, a white blouse, and a dark blue jacket. Dressed only in her underthings, she surveyed the pile and the suitcase that lay on the floor alongside. Her mother had insisted on buying her a trousseau. “Not of the old-fashioned kind,” Octavia had told her. “But just a few little delicates, darling. A nightdress, petticoats, stockings. They’re lovely . . . look. Nice lawn and fine cotton. Irish linen. Don’t you like them?”
She had shown them to Charlotte a month ago, and Charlotte had been painfully aware of how much Octavia had restrained a natural instinct to indulge her own fashionable impulses. If it had been completely up to her mother, the trousseau would have been an avalanche of lace and silk. “It’s all very utilitarian,” Octavia had said, seeing her daughter’s hesitation. “Nothing outrageous. I know you shouldn’t feel comfortable in anything like that.”
Charlotte had relented, seeing how much Octavia wanted to please her, and she had wrapped her arms around her mother, laid her head on her shoulder, and thanked her. “It’s very beautiful,” she had murmured.
She looked at herself in the cheval mirror now: rather awkward, very slight. Her shingled hair stuck out at odd angles. She took up a brush from the dressing table and began brushing vigorously, the bristles prickling her scalp. Octavia had wanted to bring her own maid to attend to Charlotte, but there the line had been firmly drawn. “Mother, it is 1917,” Charlotte had told her sternly. “It’s nonsense to be gussied up by a maid. I don’t need it. I’m certain that I can dress my own hair.”
But the more she stayed alone in the room, the worse things became. She couldn’t fasten the skirt properly; the blouse was too voluminous. At last, not knowing what was the matter with her, and realizing that sooner or later Octavia would indeed come up to see to her, Charlotte slumped down on the bed and wept. “Mother,” she murmured, and then kicked the suitcase in frustration and fury.
There was a sudden knocking at the door.
Charlotte froze, hastily rubbing away a tear. “Who is it?”
The door opened a tiny crack, and a wide, smiling face looked in at her. “It’s me, pumpkin.”
“Oh, Christine! Well, you might as well come in.”
“Might I? It looks a perfect cavern of destruction. What a mess you’ve made of a decent room.” And, laughing, Christine Nesbitt came into the bedroom. She was carrying a bottle of champagne and two glasses. “What’s the matter?” she asked. “You’ve not been weeping?” She walked over to the bed. “If you have, I shouldn’t blame you,” she commented blithely. “Here, have a drink. You’ll feel so much better.”
She poured the wine, and sat down next to Charlotte. “Bottoms up. Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged wimmin.”
Charlotte stared at her, then, despite herself, burst out laughing.
“That’s better,” Christine said. “Here’s another one. May you be in a heaven an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.”
Charlotte had known Christine for six months. All those weeks ago, on one of her three volunteer days at St. Dunstan’s Hospital, Charlotte had spotted a slight figure—she’d really thought that it was a boy at first—perched on a bench in the park, engaged in what looked like very earnest conversation with a Navy man who had recently arrived.
Charlotte had hurried across to them that morning—out of anxiety more than anything else. She had been told to keep a close watch on Joshua Smith. He was a Lewis gunner in the Naval Air Service—or rather, he had been. But Allington had trouble believing that such a life as he had lived in the last two years was now in the past. He had been in a state of confusion for some time even after his diagnosis. “I’ll go back when I can see again,” he’d told her robustly on the day that he had been admitted. “It’ll come back. It’s only the cold.”
His pilot had ditched at sea. They had quite simply run out of fuel over the Channel, way out past Dover, towards the North Sea, on the coast of Norfolk. “We got lost,” he had added, smiling to himself. “That’s what I reckon, lost.” No one had told him any different that first day. The difference being that his pilot was dead, and Joshua blinded, slumped unconscious, had known nothing until the water hit him.
“It’s the cold, the cold,” he had kept saying. She had sat with him on the first evening. He had been feverish and kept removing himself from the bed. She had caught him feeling his way down the corridor, his fingers pinching the wooden rail at waist height. He’d heard her footsteps behind him. “Where am I?” he’d asked her. “In hospital at home,” she’d told him, and gently taken hold of his arm.
“Don’t put me back with the blind,” he’d said. “I’m not blind. It’s only the cold of the sea that’s done it. It’s temporary.” And on, and on. The cold, the cold. Eventually she had got him to sit down on a chair in the corridor. The lights were all low, the gas sputtering in the gaskets.
“We went up steeply,” he murmured. “Then it stopped and started to go back. It had no speed, no power. The wind was stronger than the power it had to go forward, you see.” He had paused, reliving the stalling of the engine and the aching silence that took the place of the roar of the prop and the rushing of the air as they descended. “I could see it coming towards us,” he continued. He spoke slowly, dreamily. “You’ll not see that often, you know? I have it here in my mind.” He tapped his temple with his index finger. “I have that picture—of the waves, you know—like corrugated iron, and the very color of iron. I closed my eyes as we hit, and that’s what’s done it. The cold shut my eyes.”
She’d stayed for a long time holding his hand, and eventually he submitted to being taken back to bed.
When she had seen him again the following week, he had asked, “Is it the lady who was here on my first night?”
“You’ll have to forgive me for my stupidity,” he told her. “The doctor has spoken to me.” He had shrugged and spread his hands. “It’s that there’s no pain to speak of,” he said. “You understand, no pain, not what I would class as pain, really?”
She’d hesitated by the bed.
“I thought it must have been the shock of the seawater. But of course it can’t be that.” Charlotte had tried not to look into his face; rather, she occupied herself by staring at a spot on the linoleum so that she would not cry at his pathetic good humor, the embarrassment at his confusion. He had tapped his hand on the counterpane and gave a little gusting sigh. “A piece of the aircraft,” he said. “Not a bullet at all, not a shell. Ridiculous. So . . . I’m not quite sure what I shall do. . . .”
“That will all be explained.”
“Will it?” he’d asked. “But I’m a gunner in the Navy. I’m in the Navy, you see. . . .”
Hard to let go. To imagine any other life. “My brother is with the Flying Corps in France,” she’d replied.
“Is he?” There had been a long silence.
“I must get on.”
“Of course,” he’d replied, with that same bewildered air. “Of course.”
And it had been Allington who had been sitting on the bench with Christine the very first time that Charlotte had met her.
Charlotte was wary—so many visitors just appeared and thought they were being helpful. They wandered in out of Regent’s Park despite all efforts to dissuade them. Charlotte’s worst fear was that she would come across some motherly women weeping over a “poor blinded boy,” as she had once found.
But she need not have worried with Christine Nesbitt.
Christine had not an ounce of pathos in her, nor was she taken to weeping. But she was an avid, intelligent listener. And as she spoke, she drew.
That morning—frost was on the ground all around them—Christine had a drawing pad balanced on her lap and was sketching as she listened to Allington. As Charlotte had drawn nearer, she had heard what Allington was saying.
“When I first got in a cockpit, I shot at the enemy with two Enfield rifles,” he was telling her. “Not much use. And then we got the Lewis gun.” He had begun to laugh quietly to himself. “Marvelous thing, but we had to shoot through the prop. Imagine that! Shoot through the thing that was keeping you in the air. Then they invented a synchromesh gear.”
Drawing rapidly, Christine had not looked up, but she asked the question. “What was that?”
“Clever. It synchronized the firing of the gun through the propeller.”
“Gosh. That is clever.”
“Made life easier.”
Christine had then looked up at Charlotte, realizing that they were being observed. She smiled broadly.
“It’s a funny thing,” Allington was saying, unaware that Charlotte was close by, standing on the grass. “Of all the things I see in my mind’s eye, it’s the sea and the muzzle of the Lewis aimed through the propellers. The rippling look of the sea, and the rippling of the propeller. Why do you suppose that is?”
Christine did not offer any trite opinion. She sat back and thought about what Allington had said. “The two are very similar,” she observed, at last. “When you think about it. They’re a pattern. Rippling lines. One horizontal. One vertical. You’ll have developed observation by looking through the Lewis gun lines and the propeller, won’t you? So it’s stayed there.”
“I see it,” he said. “Just like when you shut your eyes against the sun, you see patterns of whatever was there.”
“Shadows and lines.”
“Yes, quite.” Allington smiled. He had a pleasant face, if one did not look too closely at his scars—the fretwork of lines that radiated over his forehead and brows. Then he seemed to realize Charlotte’s presence, and turned around.
“It’s Nurse Cavendish.” She was allowed to call herself this, halfway through her VAD training. “Shall we walk back? The doctor’s rounds will be very shortly.”
She had glanced at the drawing pad before she left.
Christine had not drawn Allington. She had drawn his vision of the sea.
• • •
Charlotte gazed at Christine now above the rim of her glass.
“Did you draw me today?”
“I didn’t bring anything. But I shall if you like. You and Michael together, a portrait?”
“I suppose that’s the done thing. I’ll ask Father to commission a portrait. He can afford you. I can’t.”
Christine laughed. She had become well known in the last few months, after she had painted Dora Carrington. “Shall I be outrageously expensive?”
“Oh good,” Christine said. “It will pay my bills all winter. Will he mind?”
“Father?” Charlotte considered. “You know, he doesn’t seem to mind anything much. Not at all how he used to be. It’s sweet, but odd. He seems like a volcano that’s gone silent. I don’t know what would rouse him. I sometimes fear it.”
“That he’ll blow his top? Over what?”
“Who knows, if Mother’s situation doesn’t rouse him? He looks at her with such mystification. So very perplexed. I worry that one day his anger will come back.”
“What will he do? Chase her up the Strand with a carving knife?”
Charlotte laughed, then her face fell. “Perhaps,” she murmured. “Dear God, I hadn’t considered that.”
Christine put down her glass and came and sat beside Charlotte on the bed. “It was a joke, darling.” She put her hand over Charlotte’s, and Charlotte looked down at their intertwined fingers.
“Do you remember when Mother brought you to Rutherford last year?”
“How could I forget? Such a shock.” Christine gazed up at the ceiling, smiling, remembering. She then closed her eyes. “An arts fair. I thought I was coming to one of those dreadful charity galas. You know . . . ‘one of our remarkable lady artists.’ The one I had been to before in Chelsea Town Hall had been run by a set of behatted matrons who asked if I would do little caricatures of guests for sixpence a time. They thought that’s what I did . . . cartoons and sketches. It was purgatory.”
Charlotte smiled, looking at the arch of Christine’s neck, the sculptured bone of her clavicle, the thinness of the shoulders under the purple linen tunic. She had a momentary longing to reach out and touch Christine’s skin. It was translucent, as if the young woman were not really flesh and blood.
“And so your Mother asked me to come to Yorkshire. I thought, Yorkshire! Where on earth is that?” She opened her eyes. Charlotte rapidly looked away.
“You were a sensation.”
“Of course I was,” Christine replied. “I am a sensation. Don’t you know that?”
They smiled at each other.
“I do like your sister,” Christine observed. “I’ve been chatting to her. She’s such a sweetie, isn’t she? She was so nice to me when I came to Rutherford.” She leaned closer to Charlotte. “I caught her reading a letter just now in the ladies’ cloakroom. Who is it that writes to her? Is it a beau?”
Charlotte frowned. “Not that I know of. Why do you think so?”
“She was so utterly absorbed. And, you know”—Christine wriggled the fingers of both hands in the air—“away with the fairies. Smiling. A certain sort of smile. As soon as she noticed me, she hid it away in her purse. Is it a secret romance, do you suppose?”
“I hope not. Not after Charles de Montfort and the elopement.”
“My God, I’d forgotten. But she wouldn’t do that again, surely.”
“Louisa lives at Rutherford with Father. I can’t think she’s found anyone at all to be romantic with in Yorkshire. You haven’t met our local chaps, have you? Hardly the types to steal a girl’s heart.”
Christine laughed. “Born with a silver spoon in the mouth, and so unable to string two words together? Yes, I know the type. There’s plenty of those in London, too.”
They sat in silence for a while, both staring at the discarded wedding dress. Eventually, Christine bestirred herself. “Shall you live with your Mother, you and Michael?”
“Oh no. We have our own house.”
Christine gasped in surprise. “Your own? How wonderful.” She pressed her hands together in something like an attitude of prayer. “And do you have . . . space? Of your own?”
“It isn’t really very big. It’s a mews. A town house.”
“But you have your own bedroom?”
“No.” Charlotte got up and walked to the window.
“Oh, but I suppose that doesn’t matter,” Christine said hastily. “It’s rather cozy, isn’t it? Two birds in a nest.”
Charlotte leaned on the windowsill, looking down on the gardens. “Yes.”
Behind her, Christine was frowning. But then she got to her feet, placing her glass on the bedside cabinet. “You must come and see me when you get back,” she said. “I can’t think why you’ve never come to my rooms before, when I’ve been over at your mother’s house so much. Lovely parties! So . . . we’ll put that right. I should like us to be much better friends, wouldn’t you? Where are you off on honeymoon? Did your mother say Dorset?”
Charlotte turned. “You want me to come to your studio?”
“Well, you must if I’m to paint the two of you.”
“Oh, of course. Yes. We shall. We shall telephone you when we come back.”
Christine laughed. “I don’t have a telephone, darling. I don’t have anything much at all. You’ll see when you come. Bare boards and a gas ring, and a sort of couch that I sleep on. I can’t cook—I never knew how. Do you?”
“No, not at all.”
“Will you have a cook at your little house?”
“Yes. Michael’s mother has seen to it.”
Christine heard the faint tone of irritation. She gave a hearty, gusty sigh. “Well, how lucky!” she exclaimed, trying to be jolly. “I wish I did. My aunt thinks I’m turning into a gypsy. Which is quite bothering, because she gives me an annuity, bless her. I need to keep on the right side of her. But the frowns and the wiping of fingers when she visits—it’s hard to bear! Do you know what she said to me the last time she came? She said, ‘I sincerely hope you will grow out of this malodorous phase, Christine.’” She let out a peal of laughter. “Malodorous! I didn’t realize I was quite that bad. Actually, her own place has a whiff of the sepulchre about it. Mothballs, paneling, polish. Like an undertaker’s parlor!”
Charlotte did not seem to be listening. She was absentmindedly picking up clothes from the floor and was carrying them around on one arm, as if she had no idea what she should do with them.
“So,” Christine labored on. “Don’t disapprove of me and my hovel, will you?”
Charlotte at last looked up at her. “No,” she replied, almost puzzled. “I don’t think I could ever disapprove of a little studio.” She smiled wistfully. “It must be heaven.”
• • •
As Christine Nesbitt went down the stairs, she met Octavia Cavendish coming up.
“Have you been to see Charlotte?” Octavia asked.
“I think she needs a mother’s touch,” Christine told her. “She seems quite nervous. Distracted.”
“Nervous?” Octavia echoed, raising an eyebrow. “I shouldn’t think so. Charlotte has never been afraid of anything in her life.”
You’re wrong, Christine thought. She is now.
But she knew better than to say so.
When he reached England, no one ever asked him where he came from; only his rank, his regiment, and the place of capture. And no one ever asked him why he kept his hands clasped so tightly.
When Frederick Wilhelm Reinhardt had first been a prisoner on English soil, and when they saw that he couldn’t hold a cup, and that he took so long to dress himself, and that he dropped almost everything they tried to give him—they sent him to a hospital somewhere on the outskirts of an industrial town, a small place of single-story buildings.
He was with another German, and he held his arm. But he was ashamed of the other man, who shambled his way across the yard so brokenly that it seemed he was drunk. They took him to a separate room.
Frederick was very sorry to have caused trouble. The doctors had not even asked him the reason for his agonizing hands. They only tried to reason or wrestle it out of him, opening his palms and stretching the fingers and giving him a kind of exercise to do. He would obey—he always tried to obey—but often in an hour or so the clutching would come back.
The hospital, he surmised, had given up on him, after having written a great deal about him in notebooks. They sent him back to the other prisoners of war. And in time they all came here. They told him it was the north of England, and in the country. Not a city. He was glad of that.
Frederick understood in time that if he was not to attract attention, he must try not to hold his fingers together. If he had had more mastery of English, he would have tried to explain. But he had little English. Only a word or two. He was trying to learn more now that he was at a camp called Catterick.
Name and rank. Regiment. The first time that he had said his name when they arrived here, the officer writing at the table had looked up at him. “Frederick Wilhelm, eh?” he had said, and spat on the floor. “Like the Kaiser Wilhelm.”
It had been dark, and raining, and everyone was deadly tired from the journey, the English guards as much as them. Frederick had felt like part of some cattle shipment, or livestock of some other kind. Now he knew what the cattle felt like on the farm at home, and he wondered if his own face showed the same expression of exhausted bewilderment that he had seen when his family had shipped cows to market. He felt like a worthless beast, pushed onto trucks, shoved into straight lines. Dark and raining: that was his first impression of the POW camp.
He wanted to say that he was sorry to have such a name as Wilhelm. He had never liked it much himself. He wanted to tell them that they could cross it out of his records if they despised it so much, if it reminded them of the Kaiser. He would have no objection. But they wrote quickly, moving on to the next man, and shouldering him aside. “I am from Holzminden,” he wanted to tell them. It seemed important. To hold on to the place he was born. But of course it wasn’t important to the officer writing at the table. Only name and rank. And regiment.
When he saw that there were small villages here, and farms, he felt a kind of crushing longing. He felt his own language press on his tongue, milch, landwirt, pferd. Was there anyone here like him, someone who had been sent back perhaps, some farmhand wounded beyond use who had returned, whose soul had gone down in the mud?
Arriving here, all the prisoners had all stood in line and wondered what it was that they were expected to do in England. Backbreaking labor. Mine work, perhaps. They had waited all night that first night, most of them not sleeping despite the weariness. Anxiety had gnawed a sore spot in his heart. All night he had heard men shuffling around him, crammed into iron-framed beds, hearing the rain drum on the corrugated iron roofs.
Could it be worse than Flanders? Could it be worse than Munster? He had been at a railway station there about a year ago, waiting for transport. And a train had come in carrying British prisoners. There had been two women waiting on the platform, and when they saw the wounded being carried out, one woman had burst into tears, and the other had spat in the face of the nearest man.
He had not the heart to blame. He wouldn’t blame a British woman either for doing the same. As the night went on, he had begun to worry what would happen when the daylight came. He imagined them all swept out the next morning, unfed, bullied, and taken somewhere. Did the British shoot those who refused to work? Did they shoot those who couldn’t work? He flexed his hands in the dark, willing them to open up. He must be able to carry something, work at something, he thought. Panic almost suffocated him there in the dark. Would he starve, here among the farms, here in a green country? Here among hills, in the kind of landscape that was so familiar to him?
But they had been marched out the next morning to a canteen, were given tea and bread and a sour kind of margarine, and marched again to the little station. Waited there, and been taken to the village, and set to work making a road. And although it had been raining in a drifting, misty fashion, it had been all right. Swamped by relief, and by memory, more than one man had stopped from time to time, both grief and relief escaping them. But they had stifled their gasps, hid their feelings even from those next to them, and had wiped their faces as if sweating and not weeping.
That day, he had learned new English words. Among them, “Waiting” and “Back up.” He understood that they had put the sergeant’s temper up. Or “back up,” as he said. “You have put my back up, you . . .” Because he had not moved faster in the line, and because he had dropped the sledgehammer that had been thrust into his hands. And the rest of the sentence that the sergeant yelled he understood. Yes . . . “Fucking Germans” he understood already.
And he knew what “Mother” meant. He had learned that in a specific and memorable way. It wasn’t so different to German, of course. “Mutter” and “Mother.” They revealed the Saxon background of both countries, the bloodstock that millennia ago both armies had sprung from. Saxons and Angles and Jutes. All the same, under the skin.
And so . . . “Mother.” One day in January in France in 1916 he had fallen into a task that was not his, but which his officer insisted upon by way of screams and slaps, to accompany a missionary seconded to the lines.
It had been snowing. The British had advanced the day before, and been beaten back, and there were pockets of wounded and dead all over. Their own, and the enemy. They had come upon a British boy, merely a boy. Seventeen or eighteen, he had guessed. They laid him out on a piece of trailer waiting for the horses to come to take the wounded. They chose the wood because this boy’s back seemed to be broken. The missionary read from the Bible, and all the time Frederick could see the boy’s eyes flitting from the Bible to the missionary’s face, and back again, and then to himself. Occasionally he would let off a volley of words. The first that they heard were angry. The final few were quieter. And finally, the boy said the word that Frederick knew was “Mother.”
It was not said in any kind of crying way. It was said with delight, and the boy’s face had broken into a smile, a smile of astonishment as if he had seen something that they could not. Frederick thought about that often.
He dozed a little now, leaning his head surreptitiously against an iron pole that supported the station roof. Every morning they came here, a group of thirty or so of them, and were taken along the little railway line that crossed the barrack yard and out alongside the river. When they got to just outside a small village, they were off-loaded. The road that was being laid between the village and one farther along passed through a small place with a lovely church and a large wooden gate with a canopy over the top. A strange word for it, another he had learned—“lych-gate.” He had asked just yesterday what it was called. “What do you want to know for, Kraut?” “I should like to know. It is good . . . nice.” “Nice, is it? Got any churches where you come from?” Gott einig . . . is that what the man had said? Surely not. It didn’t make sense anyway. “Got any . . .” Maybe that was it. But, if so, he still couldn’t fathom it. The guard had laughed. “Church, don’t you know church?”
He knew church. Kinder, Kuche, Kirche. The litany of the hausfrau, the good German woman. The good German family. He didn’t speak. Didn’t answer back. He smiled.
“You don’t know nothing,” the guard had said, in a cheerful and triumphant fashion. The English were strange. They insulted you without malice.
An hour or so later, he had tried again while they were allowed to rest. They were given water and they sat on the side of the road, on deep grass verges by the same church. He had pointed again at the gate. “Is called?”
“Yes, please. Thank you.”
He liked being out of the camp. He supposed they were a long way from anywhere—from ports, from cities. If you ran—tried to escape—you would be walking for many miles. And over high ground. He could see hills in all directions. The houses were spread far apart, and a man on his own would be captured in no time.
He didn’t want to go back, anyway. Not very much. His father had died years before, and his mother and Matthau ran the family farm. He had been his father’s boy, and he felt there would be very little for him when he did eventually get back.
Perhaps he was wrong, he wondered.
Perhaps his mother cried for him . . .
At the end of the day, the train came back. It was like a kind of clockwork toy swaying along the single track. There were sixty or seventy trains a day. The open trucks were to transport the prisoners wherever they were designated to go; the closed ones often brought wounded to the camp’s military hospital.
There were over seven hundred beds in that hospital—such as it was, not a brick institution, nothing fancy or large or established—but hundreds of half-brick, half-iron huts. He pitied the men inside them. The huts were cold; he knew that because he delivered coal sometimes to the big pot-bellied stoves. The staff liked to open windows to keep infection down, to circulate air, to extract the fumy dust of the fires. He had taken coal to the stores outside the hut walls, the bunkers that abutted the hut walls, and he could hear the striking clatter of iron beds on linoleum floors and the footsteps of the scurrying nurses.
He had been lucky not to be wounded. It was just his hands. . . .
Frederick Reinhardt closed his eyes, thinking, It is April now. April. The month of blossom. The month of green leaves.
April . . . that was the same word in English and German.
• • •
Four days after Charlotte’s wedding, William and Louisa were back at Rutherford.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for The Wild Dark Flowers:
“A charming, intriguing novel...a perfect summer read.” —Historical Novel Society
“Simply delicious…Like Downton...as addictive as a soap opera.” —Record-Courier (Ohio)
“Fine, fine historical fiction!” —The Best Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings With a huge cast of characters, this book was very hard to get into in the beginning. As soon as I started getting into a storyline it switched to someone else and I wish that there had been more before it changed. It also took me awhile to figure out who belonged with whom and where they all fit into the bigger picture. If you don't tend to enjoy big cast of characters, this book may not work for you. This book was the third in a series and I could tell that I was missing something a few times, so I kind of wish I had started this series at the beginning instead of starting at book three. If you have read book one and two, did the story build? Are you glad you started at book one?
The Gates of Rutherford is a family saga of the Cavendish family. It is the third book in the series following on the tales of and Rutherford Park (Book 1) and The Wild Dark Flowers (Book 2). I had no opportunity to read either of the earlier books, and although I wish I had read the series in the order they were meant to be read, I was still able to follow along despite the references to the earlier plots. Rutherford Park is a stately manor. The story takes us into the lives and loves of the Cavendish family, with all the rank and pomp of the nobility vs the working class just like the tv series Downtown Abbey. The story highlights the struggles of a noble family to adjust their lives in the face of the upheaval caused by World War I. It clearly depicts the erosion of societal ranks and the struggles the gentry faced as they tried to cling to what remained of their fading lifestyles. Elizabeth Cooke brings her characters to life with brilliance, aptly describing love, loss, and the horrors of war. A nice historical saga of a family torn between the future and the past. Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Today is the day Charlotte Cavendish will marry! Charlotte has always been the feisty one who takes on any challenge with zest, but today she’s teary and not at all sure she’s made the “right” choice. It’s a family habit, it seems and this third Rutherford novel has a more reflective tone than the previous two stories in this engaging series that has frequently compared to the TV series Downton Abbey. It certainly has enough life and death scenes, dramatic and conflicting dialogue and overwhelming consequences to deep the reader flipping the pages and abandoning all other work or chores. So to begin with we experience Charlotte marrying a man who was blinded in the War; it is 1917 and England has certainly seen its share of wounded warriors the brutal and unrelenting war has produced. There’s irony here in that everyone believes Charlotte has the normal wedding jitters while others like Charlotte’s mother, Olivia, have abandoned their own spouses for a happier relationship. But Charlotte’s tears are really about something she doesn’t realize yet, a horrendous secret (at that historical time anyway) not to be uttered. Olivia is living with her lover, American John Gould, and her husband, William, is recovering from a heart attack and seems a shattered man, albeit still stuck in his cold, aristocratic ways that are such a turnoff to his wife and children. For now, though, his daughter Louise is providing him the comfort he needs right now. There are several juxtaposed characters who give unique perspectives on the course of post-traumatic stress syndrome, a consequence pitied yet scorned by many at home as just lazy dallying. The descriptions are heart-rending but also beautiful in the revelations each suffering character shares, more powerful and searing than any anti-war demonstration or speech. A former groom at Rutherford, tends healthy and wounded horses, mules, etc. in the war until his mind and body have had enough. A German prisoner of war cannot hold any objects without dropping them and is scorned by his captors for shirking his work. On and on it goes with no available medical treatment or understanding for these victims. David Cavendish is not ready to relinquish flying in spite of his wounded leg. Another character is powerless to stop David from proceeding in a very famous WWI battle. There is so much more than what is described above that makes this novel a comprehensive, horrific and beautiful rendition of all aspects of global and familial conflict. Interestingly, its scenes are far from stereotypical because the author takes us to the more intimate and honest aspects of love, pain, death, joy and peace. It’s a story you will never forget, and its author, Elizabeth Cooke is one very talented craftsperson who has provided a very special historical account that this reviewer oh so highly recommends.