Authors: Rosalind Laker
Table of Contents
THE FRAGILE HOUR
THE SEVENTEENTH STAIR
TO LOVE A STRANGER
NEW WORLD, NEW LOVE
TO DREAM OF SNOW
GARLANDS OF GOLD
THE HOUSE BY THE FJORD
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2007 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
This eBook edition first published in 2012 by Severn Digital an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright © 2007 by Rosalind Laker.
The right of Rosalind Laker to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
1. Motion picture industry – France – History – Fiction
2. Love stories
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-317-4 (epub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6509-0 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-011-2 (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
To Inge, Susan, Iain, Paul, Nancy, Jenny and Dan,
all very special to me.
lone in a first class carriage, Lisette sat forward tensely and watched as Victoria Station, a familiar sight, came into view. Once again she was back in London after yet another journey from France. In her late thirties, she had fine facial bones that would carry her beauty through to the end of her days. Her generous mouth, although unfashionable at this time when rosebud lips were expected of any silver screen goddess, had never been a disadvantage in her career. Poised, sophisticated and, through her acting ability, able to hide her innermost feelings, nothing in her composed expression hinted at the heart-tearing apprehension she was suffering at this present time.
When the train stopped she rose to her feet and took a deep breath, gathering her strength in readiness for all that awaited her. Then she stepped out of the carriage into the noise and bustle of the platform. A porter hurried forward, pushing his trolley.
She shook her head. ‘No, thank you. I have no luggage.’
With homes in both England and France she had no need to transport anything, except when she had been shopping in Paris and had purchases from the Houses of Paquin or Worth, her two favourite haute couture designers. This time, after the urgent cable she had received, she had not delayed her journey even for a day and yet she was still terribly afraid that already she might be far too late to have any influence over the dreadful crisis that had arisen.
It was a warm June evening and still light as the sun had not yet gone from the rooftops and spires of the city. As her arrival was not expected there was no one to meet her and she made her own way to the taxicab rank. As she went by there were the usual sharp glances in her direction, motivated by her Parisian elegance, for the clothes of this summer of 1914, although still ankle length, had a new slim line that suited her slender figure. Her waist-hugging jacket was cream silk velvet as was her skirt, and, set straight on the blonde luxuriance of her hair, her hat was trimmed with ribbons and a single yellow rose. Today, as often happened, some glances in her direction changed to surprised recognition, but she took no notice as she hurried on her way.
In the taxicab she sat back and closed her eyes, dreading anew the trouble ahead. All she did know was that she would fight whatever was ranged against her. Yet she felt as confused and vulnerable and desperate as if she were eleven years old again when her world had fallen into pieces around her for an entirely different reason. She could visualize all that had happened then as clearly as if were yesterday, for she had left the same surroundings of her childhood in Lyon early that morning.
Then, on a similar day of anguish, she had sat perched on a chair after the funeral, feeling that she was being suffocated by the black bombazine and taffeta of the mourners rustling about her. Tragic-faced and pale with grief, she was finding it impossible to come to terms with the bereavement that had taken away the person she loved most in the world. Then suddenly a plate with a slice of gateau had been thrust under her nose.
‘You must eat something, Lisette.’ It was the crisp voice of a well-meaning guest. ‘It does no good to starve yourself. It is not what your late grandmother would have wished.’
For a few moments she had stared in revulsion at the offering, its cherries slipping sideways in an ocean of cream. Then, with a gulping sob, she thrust it from her and sprang from the chair to rush from the room with the speed of a young lizard. Another of the mourners, Monsieur Lumière, saw her leave and shook his head in pity. Then, after a quiet word in his wife’s ear, he followed her. In her flight she had left open the glass door of the garden room, which showed him the way she had gone.
He found her lying face downward on the lawn under a tree, sobbing desolately, and lowered himself down on to the grass beside her. Regarding her sympathetically through his pince-nez, he took his freshly laundered handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her. She took it blindly and pressed it to her eyes.
,’ she mumbled wretchedly.
Antoine Lumière waited patiently for her sobs to ease. A happily married man himself with two outstandingly clever adult sons, a younger one and three beloved daughters, he pitied any child denied the inherent right to a happy family life. Lisette’s widowed grandmother, Madame Decourt, had given the child a home with love and security, trying to make up for the selfishness of her only son, who had shown no interest in his newborn daughter after his wife had died giving her birth. Now Lisette’s world had been turned upside down again through another bereavement, her devoted grandmother having died quietly in her sleep just ten days ago.
Lisette knew who was sitting beside her. The handkerchief had a faint and pleasant fragrance hanging about it. Expensive and masculine with a hint of Cuban cigar. Antoine Lumière was an eminent photographer in Lyon and throughout her childhood she had had her photograph taken by him at his studio on the rue de la Beurre. He also had a thriving factory making photographic plates to meet a worldwide demand. Being a kind-hearted man, he was always concerned for the welfare of his workers and had introduced savings schemes for them that were entirely for their benefit. Her grandmother had always spoken highly of him, although admitting that his two sons with their exceptional scientific achievements were the brains behind the business.
Her grandmother had known the Lumières ever since they had moved to Lyon from eastern France some years ago. They were a musical family and an invitation to their home was always a highlight, for there was laughter and animated conversation and impromptu concerts with Madame Jeanne-Josephine Lumière, a gracious, smiling woman, presiding over the proceedings. Lisette knew how much she would miss those occasions, but then she was about to miss everything that mattered dearly to her. Soon she would be leaving Lyon in the company of her father, whom she knew only from rare visits.
Slowly she sat up and raised her tear-glazed eyes, more violet than blue, to meet Antoine Lumière’s sympathetic gaze through his pince-nez. He had a splendid moustache and neat dark hair. The words stumbled from her.
‘I don’t want to leave here with Papa when he has finished settling Grandmother’s affairs. I’ve been told that she had bequeathed this house to me and nobody will listen when I say that I want to stay on here. Madame Carmet, our housekeeper, would look after me and I could continue at my school.’
He shook his head with a sigh. ‘Madame Carmet is only remaining until she has supervised the closing of the house, which will not become yours until you are twenty-one or if you should marry before that day. In any case she is too elderly to have sole responsibility for you and, through your Grandmother’s generous bequest to her for long service, she is now able to retire. Even if somebody else came to take her place just think how lonely you would be with a stranger in charge and without your grandmother in the home where you have always been so happy.’
She considered his words for several minutes before answering. She respected his judgment, even though inwardly her whole being cried out against it, but she saw clearly for the first time how impossible it would be for her to stay on here. Nobody else had put matters simply and intelligently enough for her to understand. She had failed to see that she had no choice but to accept the arrangements that had been made for her.
‘Yes, you are right, Monsieur Lumière,’ she answered reluctantly on a deep sigh. ‘Nothing would be the same with somebody else in charge that I didn’t know.’ Then, shaking back her curly hair, she tilted her chin and added on a new and determined note, ‘But I shall come back here to Lyon and to this house as soon as I’m grown up!’
‘Well said!’ He rose to his feet and, after a moment’s hesitation, she sprang up beside him, drying her eyes once more. She returned the tear-damp handkerchief to him before slipping her hand trustingly into his.
‘I’m ready to go back indoors now, Monsieur Lumière.’
‘Good girl! Look on the future as an adventure! Soon you will be seeing Paris for the first time since you were a baby. Think of that!’
In the house most people had gone and his wife was waiting. Madame Lumière took affectionate leave of Lisette, having known that her husband would say the right words to comfort the bereaved child. He seemed to have a special rapport with young people, always seeing the best in them, which was why their adult sons could remember the date and hour of the only time in their childhood that he had ever reprimanded them. It had long since become a family joke.
‘I wish you well, my dear Lisette,’ she said, her hand resting lightly against the child’s upturned face. ‘Although this is a sad time I’m sure much happiness awaits you in the years to come.’
Lisette nodded bravely. She was resolved that she would shed no more tears, buoyed up on the promise to herself of a return and the new aspect of finding the change in her cirucmstances an adventure. Yet as she left the house two weeks later it felt as if her heart was breaking.
‘Comfortable?’ Charles Decourt asked his daughter when they were settled on the train in a first class compartment, specially reserved for them, and had taken seats opposite each other. Apart from a brief greeting each morning when they had met at the breakfast table he had scarcely spoken to her, being busy all day settling his late mother’s affairs and answering letters of condolence.
‘Yes, thank you, Papa.’
He nodded. ‘There’s nothing to worry about, you know. Your stepmother is ready to do everything possible to help you feel at home with us. She has also found you a fine school to attend. Does that sound all right to you?’
‘Good.’ He shook open his newspaper and proceeded to read.
She had brought a book with her, for she was rarely without one, but for a while she sat gazing through the window as the train carried her away from the last of the city streets and then into the surrounding countryside until all that had been familiar to her had slipped away. Then she looked across at the newspaper that was screening her father. She understood fully why he had wanted a son instead of a daughter when she was born, for the family château and estate were entailed to the next male in line. His new wife, whom she had yet to meet, was only thirty-five, so perhaps there was hope of an heir before long. She felt cheered by the prospect of a half-brother to love in surroundings that would be new and strange to her, for she had never seen the family château. She had been born sooner than expected in her parents’ Paris apartment and a few days later had been taken away to live with her grandmother.