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Sign up. Branch: master Find file Copy path. Find file Copy path. The Madonnas loved their babies, Jesus loved the poor sinners, and St Francis loved the birds. In the Natural History Museum there wasn't any love, only sex - but there were stories and imagined journeys -and there was work. This was her father's world and Ruth, when she went there, was a child set apart. For when she had had her fill of the cassowary on his nest and the elephant seal with his enormous, rearing chest, and the glinting ribbons of the snakes, each in its jar of coloured fluid, she could go through a magic door and enter, like Alice, a secret, labyrinthine world.
For here, behind the gilded, silent galleries with their grey-uniformed attendants, was a warren of preparation rooms and laboratories, of workshops and sculleries and offices. It was here that the real work of the museum was done: here was the nerve centre of scholarship and expertise which reached out to every country in the world. Since she was tiny, Ruth had been allowed to watch and help. Sometimes there was a dinosaur being assembled on a stand; sometimes she was allowed to sprinkle preservative on a stretched-out skin or polish glass slides for a histologist drawing the mauve and scarlet tissues of a cell, and her father's room was as familiar to her as his study in the Felsengasse.
In earlier times, Ruth might have sought sanctuary in a temple or a church. Now, homeless and desolate, she came to this place. It was Tuesday, the day the museum was closed to the public. Silently, she opened the side door and made her way up the stairs. Her father's room was exactly as he had left it.
His lab coat was behind the door; his notes, beside a pile of reprints, were on the desk. On a work bench by the window was the tray of fossil bones he had been sorting before he left. No one yet had unscrewed his name from the door, nor confiscated the two sets of keys, one of which she had left with the concierge. She put her suitcase down by the filing cabinet and wandered through into the cloakroom with its gas ring and kettle.
Leading out of it was a preparation room with shelves of bottles and a camp bed on which scientists or technicians working long hours sometimes slept for a while. But why should he come, this Englishman who owed her nothing? Why should he even have got the keys she had left with the concierge?
Hardly aware of what she was doing, she pulled a stool towards the tray of jumbled bones and began, with practised fingers, to separate out the vertebrae, brushing them free of earth and fragments of rock. As she bent forward, her hair fell on the tray and she gathered it together and twisted it into a coil, jamming a long-handled paintbrush through its mass. Heini liked her hair long and she'd learnt that trick from a Japanese girl at the university. The silence was palpable. It was early evening now; everyone had gone home. Not even the water pipes, not even the lift, made their usual sounds.
Painstakingly, pointlessly, Ruth went on sorting the ancient cave bear bones and waited without hope for the arrival of the Englishman. Yet when she heard the key turn in the door, she did not dare to turn her head. Look at the size of the neural canal. Quin, meanwhile, was registering a number of features revealed by Ruth's skewered hair: ears… the curve of her jaw… and those vulnerable hollows at the back of the neck which prevent the parents of young children from murdering them. And then: 'You had no luck at the Consulate? But we'll get you out of Vienna.
What happened back at the flat? Did you save anything? I packed some things and went down the fire escape. They weren't after me. Not this time. He was silent, still automatically sorting the specimens. Then he pushed away the tray! I've brought a picnic. Rather a special one. Where shall we have it? I can clear the table and there's another chair next door. Now where shall we go? You have a fine collection of lions, I see; a little moth-eaten perhaps, but very nicely mounted. Or there's the Amazon - I'm partial to anacondas, aren't you? No, wait; what about the Arctic? I've brought rather a special Chablis and it's best served chilled.
You don't want to go back in time? To the Dinosaur Hall? Too much like work. And frankly I'm not too happy about that ichthyosaurus. Whoever assembled that skeleton had a lot of imagination. He was very ill and he so much wanted to get it finished before he died. Let's goto Madagascar! The Ancient Continent of Lemuria! There's an aye-aye there, a baby - such a sad-looking little thing. You'll really like the aye-aye. Perhaps you can find us a towel or some newspaper; that's all we need. I'm sure eating here's against the regulations but we won't let that trouble us.
There could be doubts about her face thought Quin, with its contrasting motifs, but none about her impossible, unruly, unfashionable hair. Touched now by the last rays of the sinking sun, it gave off a tawny, golden warmth that lifted the heart. It was a strange walk they took through the enormous, shadowy rooms, watched by creatures preserved for ever in their moment of time. Antelopes no bigger than cats raised one leg, ready to flee across the sandy veld. The monkeys of the New World hung, huddled and melancholy, from branches - and by a window a dodo, idiotic-looking and extinct, sat on a nest of reconstructed eggs.
Madagascar was all that Ruth had promised. Ring-tailed lemurs with piebald faces held nuts in their amazingly human hands. A pair of indris, cosy and fluffy like children's toys, groomed each other's fur. Tiny mouse lemurs clustered round a coconut. And alone, close to the glass, the aye-aye… Only half-grown, hideous and melancholy, with huge despairing eyes, naked ears and one uncannily extended finger, like the finger of a witch.
Though I did find one tribe who believe they have the power to carry the souls of the dead to heaven. With the French expedition? It must be so beautiful! The trees are so tangled with vines and orchids - you can't believe the scent. And the sunbirds, and the chameleons… ' 'You're so lucky. I was going to travel with my father as soon as I was old enough, but now… ' She groped for her handkerchief and tried again.
Instead, he took the towel and spread it on the parquet. Then he began to unpack the hamper. There was a jar of pate and another of pheasant breasts. There were fresh rolls wrapped in a snowy napkin and pats of butter in a tiny covered dish. He had brought the first Morello cherries and grapes and two chocolate souffles in fluted pots.
The plates were of real china; the long-stemmed goblets of real glass. How could you get all that? How did you have the time? It only took ten minutes. All I had to do was pay. Was it British to be like this, or was it something about him personally? Her father - all the men she knew - would have sat back and waited for their wives. When it was finished it was like a banquet in a fairy story, yet like playing houses when one was a child.
But when she began to eat, there were no more thoughts; she was famished; it was all she could do to remember her manners. And the wine is absolutely lovely. It's not strong is it? Tonight she was entitled to repose however it was brought about. It's in the north-west, do you know it? He's in Budapest getting his emigration papers and saying goodbye to his father, but there won't be any trouble. He's Hungarian and the Nazis don't have anything to say there. After the goat-herding lady died, my grandfather married the daughter of a rabbi who already had a little girl - she was a widow - and that was Heini's mother, so we're not blood relations.
A real one. He was going to have his debut with the Philharmonic… three days after Hitler marched in. He was absolutely frantic. I didn't know how to comfort him; not properly. Properly, I mean. We were going to go away together after the concert, to Italy. I'd have gone earlier but my parents are very old-fashioned… also there was the thing about Chopin and the etudes.
How do Chopin etudes come into this? It had been so lovely, the wine, like drinking fermented hope or happiness, and now she was babbling and being indiscreet and would end up in the gutter, a confirmed absinthe drinker destined for a pauper's grave. But Quin was waiting and she plunged. I mean that… you know… the same energy goes into composing and… the other thing. A sort of vital force. And this professor thought it was good for Heini to wait. But then Heini found out that the professor was wrong about the way to finger the Appassionata, so then he thought maybe he was wrong about Chopin too.
Because there was George Sand, wasn't there? It wasn't till they had finished the meal and Ruth, moving nimbly in the gathering darkness, had cleared away and packed up the hamper, that he said: 'I've been thinking what to do. I think we must get you out of Vienna to somewhere quiet and safe in the country. Then we can start again from England. I know a couple of people in the Foreign Office; I'll be able to pull strings. I doubt if anyone will bother you away from the town and I shall make sure that you have plenty of money to see you through.
With your father and all of us working away at the other end we'll be able to get you across before too long. But you must get away from here. Is there anyone you could go to? She lives by the Swiss border, in the Vorarlberg. She'd have me, but I don't know if I ought to inflict myself on anyone. If I'm unclean — ' 'Don't talk like that,' he said harshly. Now tell me exactly where she lives and I'll see to everything.
What about tonight? There's a camp bed. What about the night watchman? And if he does, he's known me since I was a baby. At two in the morning, Quin got out of bed and wondered what had made him leave a girl hardly out of the schoolroom to spend a night alone in a deserted building full of shadows and ghosts. Dressing quickly, he made his way down the Ringstrasse, crossed the Theresienplatz, and let himself in by the side entrance. Ruth was asleep on the camp bed in the preparation room. Her hair streamed onto the floor and she was holding something in her arms as a child holds a well-loved toy.
Professor Berger's master key unlocked also the exhibition cases. It was the huge-eyed aye-aye that Ruth held to her breast. Its long tail curved up stiffly over her hand and its muzzle lay against her shoulder. Quin, looking down at her, could only pray that, as she slept, the creature that she cradled was carrying her soul to the rain-washed streets of Belsize Park, and the country which now sheltered all those that she loved. Leonie Berger got carefully out of bed and turned over the pillow so that her husband, who was pretending to be asleep on the other side of the narrow, lumpy mattress, would not notice the damp patch made by her tears.
Then she washed and dressed very attentively, putting on high-heeled court shoes, silk stockings, a black shirt and crisply ironed white blouse, because she was Viennese and one dressed properly even when one's world had ended. Then she started being good. Leonie had been brave when they left Vienna, secreting a diamond brooch in her corset which was foolhardy in the extreme. She had been sensible and loving, for that was her nature, making sure that the one suitcase her husband was allowed to take contained all the existing notes for his book on Mammals of the Pleistocene, his stomach pills and the special nail clippers which alone enabled him to manicure his toes.
She had been patient with her sister-in-law, Hilda, who was emigrating on a domestic work permit, but had fallen over her untied shoelaces as they made their way onto the Channel steamer, and she had cradled the infant of a fellow refugee while his mother was sick over the rails. Even when she saw the accommodation rented for them by their sponsor, a distantly related dentist who had emigrated years earlier and built up a successful practice in the West End, Leonie only grumbled a little.
The rooms on the top floor of a dilapidated lodging house in Belsize Close were cold and dingy, the furniture hideous, the cooking facilities horrific, but they were cheap. But that was when she thought Ruth was waiting for them in the student camp on the South Coast. Since the letter had come from the Quaker Relief Organization to say that Ruth was not on the train, Leonie had started being good.
This meant never at any moment criticizing a single thing. It meant inhaling with delight the smell of slowly expiring cauliflower from the landing where a female psychoanalyst from Breslau shared their cooker. It meant admiring the scrofulous tom cats yowling in the square of rubble that passed for a garden. It meant being enchanted by the hissing gas fire which ate pennies and gave out only fumes and blue flames.
It meant angering no living thing, standing aside from houseflies, consuming with gratitude a kind of brown sauce which came in bottles and was called coffee. It meant telling God or anyone else who would listen at all hours of the day and night, that she would never again complain whatever happened if only Ruth was safe and came to them. If she hadn't been so desperate about Ruth, Leonie would have greatly pitied her sister-in-law, who was constantly bitten by Mrs Manfred's pug and found it impossible to believe that a bath, once cleaned, also had to be dried, but now she could only be thankful that Hilda would not be around to 'help' her with her chores.
At eight o'clock, Uncle Mishak, the English dictionary in the pocket of his coat, set off up the hill to join the long queue of foreigners in Hampstead Town Hall who waited daily for news of relatives, for instructions, for permission to remain - and as he walked, a tiny compact figure stopping to examine a rose bush in a garden or address an unattended-dog, he was hailed by the acquaintances this kind old man had made even in the ten days he had been in exile.
They're coming over all the time. She'll come, you'll see. And as Uncle Mishak made his way up the hill, Professor Berger, holding himself very erect, forcing himself to swing his walking stick, made his way downhill for the daily journey to Bloomsbury House where a bevy of Quakers, social workers and civil servants tried to sort out the movements of the dispossessed - and as he walked through the grey streets whose very stones seemed to be permeated with homesickness, he raised his hat to other exiles going about their business.
He had no work permit, his quartet was disbanded, but each day he went to the Jewish Day Centre to practise in an unused cloakroom, and each night he dressed up in a cummerbund to play bogus gypsy music in a Hungarian restaurant in exchange for his food. Left alone in the dingy rooms, Leonie continued to be good. There were plenty of opportunities for this as she set about the housework.
The thick layer of grease where the psychoanalyst's stew had boiled over would normally have sent her raging down to the second-floor front where Fraulein Lutzenholler sat under a picture of Freud and mourned, but she wiped it up without a word. The bathroom, shared by all the occupants, provided almost unlimited opportunities for virtue.
There was a black rim around the bath, the soaked bathmat was crumpled up in a corner… and Miss Bates, a nursery school teacher and the only British survivor at Number 27, had hung a row of dripping camiknickers on a sagging piece of string. None of it mattered. Loving Miss Bates, hoping she would find a husband soon, Leonie wrung out the knickers, cleaned the bath. She had had servants all her life, but she knew how to work.
Now everything she did was offered up to God: the Catholic God of her childhood, the Jewish God on whose behalf all these bewildered people roamed the streets of North-West London… any God, what did it matter so long as he brought her her child? Then, at twelve o'clock, she renewed her make-up and set off for the Willow Tea Rooms.
Even at a distance it was easy to see how carefully she walked, with what politeness she spoke to the pigeons who crossed her path. And: 'It's bad news,' said her sister, Miss Violet, carrying a tray of empty cups to Mrs Burtt in the kitchen, who took her arms out of the washing-up water and said that Hitler would have something to answer for if ever she got hold of him. Miss Maud and Miss Violet Harper had started the Willow Tea Rooms five years earlier when it was discovered that their father, the General, had not been as provident as they had hoped.
It was a pretty place on the corner of a small square behind Belsize Lane and they had made it nice with willow-pattern china, dimity curtains and a pottery cat on the windowsill. Reared to regard foreigners as, at best, unfortunate, the ladies had stoutly resisted the demands of the refugees who increasingly thronged the district. The Glori-ette in St John's Wood might serve cakes with outlandish names and slop whipped cream over everything, the proprietors of the Cosmo in Finchley might supply newspapers on sticks and permit talk across the tables, but in the" Willow Tea Rooms, the decencies were preserved.
Customers were offered scones or sponge fingers and, at lunchtime, scrambled eggs on toast, but nothing ever with a smell- and anyone sitting more than half an hour over a cup of coffee, got coughed at, first by Miss Violet, and if this was ineffectual, by the fiercer Miss Maud. Yet by the summer of , as the bewildered Austrians joined the refugees from Nazi Germany, the ladies, imperceptibly, had changed. For who could cough at Dr Levy, with his walrus moustache and wise brown eyes, not after he had diagnosed Miss Violet's bursitis - and who could help laughing at Mr Ziller's imitation of himself playing "Dark Eyes" on the violin to an American lady with a faulty hearing aid?
Ruth was coming, she was going to study here; soon her boyfriend, a brilliant concert pianist, would follow. The change in Mrs Berger since then had shaken even the General's daughters, used as they were to stones of loss and grief. Leonie entered the cafe, navigated to the chair which Paul Ziller drew out for her, nodded at the actor from the Vienna Burg Theatre in the corner, at old Mrs Weiss in her feathered toque, at an English lady with a poodle… Dr Levy put down his book on The Diseases of the Knee which he had understood intimately twenty years ago, but which came less trippingly in English from the tongue of a middle-aged heart specialist who'd had no breakfast.
The actor from the Burg Theatre - a fair- haired, alarmingly handsome man exiled for politics not race - said many people were escaping through Portugal, a fact confirmed by the couple from Hamburg at a corner table. Paul Ziller said nothing, only patted Leonie's hand. Lonely beyond belief without the three men with whom he had made music for a decade, he was remembering the comical, blonde child who had climbed out of her cot the first time the quartet had played for Professor Berger's birthday and come stamping down the corridor in a nightdress and nappies, refusing absolutely to be returned to bed.
Mrs Weiss, her auburn wig askew under her hat, now launched into an incoherent story involving a missing girl who had turned up unexpectedly on a milk train to Dieppe. The scourge of the Willow Tea Rooms, she was seventy-two years old and had been rescued by her prosperous lawyer son from the village in East Prussia where she had lived all her life. The lawyer now owned a mock Tudor mansion in Hampstead Garden Suburb, a fishpond, and an English wife who deposited her dreadful mother-in-law each morning in the cafe with a fistful of conscience money.
The words 'I buy you a cake? When she had finished, the English lady, who for a year had refused to speak across the tables, said that if Leonie really was an Aquarian, the stars in the Daily Telegraph that morning had been entirely favourable. But when Professor Berger came in, weary from his long walk up the hill, and then Uncle Mishak, it was clear that the stars in the the Telegraph had not prevailed.
And Leonie said, yes, and thank you, and remembered to ask about the wedding of Mrs Burtt's niece, and the cat which had had kittens in an unsuitable linen basket in the ladies' flat above the shop. Then Professor Berger picked up his manuscript on The Mammals of the Pleistocene and went with Dr Levy to the public library, and Paul Ziller went to play Bach partitas among the wash basins and lockers of the Day Centre, and the actor who had declaimed Schiller from Europe's most prestigious stage made his way to the casting offices in Wardour Street to see if someone would let him say Schweinehund in a film about wicked German soldiers in the Great War.
And Leonie nodded and accompanied the old lady out into the street and into the shop of the nearby butcher with whom Mrs Weiss did daily battle - for helping Mrs Weiss to procure the delicate veal suitable for frying and thus confound her daughter-in-law was so time-consuming and so tiresome that it had - oh, surely - to be classed as Being Good.
Until the long day was done at last and Hilda returned with a hole in her skirt where she had caught it in Mrs Manfred's carpet sweeper, and Uncle Mishak changed into his pyjamas in his cupboard of a room and said, 'Good night, Marianne,' as he had said every night for eighteen years and not stopped saying when she died. And Leonie and her husband climbed into their lumpy bed, and held each other in their arms - and did not sleep.
But in the flat above the Willow Tea Rooms, a light still burned. Not… strudels?
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I'm sure Father would not have wished us to serve anything like that. That would be going too far. But there's one they all talk about. It begins with a G. Sounds like guggle… Guglhupf or something. There is no question of anything being bought in. But I did just glance at the recipe when I was in the library,' said Miss Maud, blushing like someone admitting to a peep at a pornographic magazine.
That early summer evening when Ruth was lost in Europe and the first air-raid sirens were tried out in Windsor Castle, the ladies of the Willow Tea Rooms let compassion override principle. The Franz Joseph Station, at two in the afternoon, was relatively quiet. Only local trains left from platform seven. Here there were none of the tragic scenes of parting; weeping parents, children with labels on their coats being sent to safety abroad.
The wooden third-class carriages were filled with peasant women carrying bundles and babies, or chickens in coops. She had found an old rucksack in one of her father's cupboards and repacked her few belongings. With her unruly Rapunzel hair straight-jacketed into two pigtails, she looked about sixteen years old and seemed to be in excellent spirits. Only you shouldn't have given me so much money.
Ruth had spent two nights at the museum; no one had given her away, not the cleaning lady, not the night watchman, and Quin, relieved that his task was nearly done, smiled at her with avuncular kindness. On Mozart's head, I swear it. The self-important engine emitted clouds of steam, and under cover of the noise, Ruth leant over to speak into his ear.
In less than a month, I hope. I know exactly what to do. A last door slammed - and Ruth's face came out of the steam, radiant and self-assured. You go over the Kanderspitze; it's only a few hours. I did it with one of the boys from the farm and the guards didn't even turn round!
The Swiss are armed and on the alert. Next thing they'll shoot you for a spy. I promise I'll be all right. Then when I'm safe in Switzerland I'll make my way to the French border and swim the Varne - it's a tributary of the Rhone and it's not at all wide; I've looked it up on the map. After all Piatigorsky swam the Sbruch with his cello over his head to get away from the Russians so I ought to manage with a rucksack. I'm a very good swimmer because of my Aunt Hilda… Do you remember she did this breast stroke where she never actually moved and I got used to pushing her across the lake.
And once I'm in France all I have to do is contact my father's cousin. He's got a boat and he'll take me across the Channel, I know, so -' She broke off.
Eva Ibbotson - The Morning Gift
Let me go! Do you think this is a girl's adventure story? The world's on the brink of- oh, to hell! Tightening his grip as she struggled, he reached out for the rucksack which a peasant lady, approving of masterful males, had taken from the rack. The guard, scowling at the commotion, closed the door and raised his whistle to his mouth. Still fighting him, twisting her head, she saw her train draw away, gather speed, and vanish.
It had been a mistake to introduce the word morganatic into a conversation that was already going badly. Quin had had a sleepless night and spent the last forty-eight hours bullying, bribing, cajoling and confronting a series of officials or he would not have done anything so stupid, the more so as they were speaking English.
Ruth's Aberdonian accent was only vestigial now, she was entirely fluent, but over the concept of a morganatic marriage, this over-educated girl had clearly met her Waterloo. They were sitting in a cafe in the Stadtpark and he was almost certain that at any moment someone would start playing Strauss. It's a gift given the morning after the bridal night with which the husband, by bestowing it, frees himself from any liability to the wife. Like Franz Ferdinand. His wife didn't have any of his titles or responsibilities. He was not a man for headaches, but he had one now.
Ours would simply be a marriage in name only. A formality. It was as he had thought. At least a dozenladies in braided uniforms had come on to the bandstand. Not just Strauss, but Strauss played by women dressed like Grenadier Guards. By day, he and Ruth, speaking only English, could pass for foreign visitors, but she was still sleeping in the museum and it was only a matter of time before someone gave her away.
I've got to get back to England, you want to go there. The consul here will marry us - it'll take a few minutes, it'll be a mere formality. Then you'll be put on my passport as my wife -in effect you become a British subject. When we get to London we go our separate ways and dissolve the marriage on the grounds of- ' He stopped himself just in time. Non-consummation on top of morganatic marriage was not something he was willing to discuss to the sound of Strauss with this obstinate girl.
Ruth was silent, tilting the lemonade in her glass. It would have to be something very nice so that one would not mind not having responsibilities. A St Bernard dog, perhaps. If there was, he would probably be a Welshman from Pontypool and a rugger blue. Why is that? The subject is closed. I'll fetch you at eleven from the museum; we'll be married at noon and by the evening we'll be on the sleeper. As for your Heini, surely he'd rather you were safe and reunited with him even if it means waiting a little while before you can be married?
Think how you would feel if the positions were reversed? I can't ask it of you and - ' But Quin was looking at the bandstand where the worst was happening. The night had been stormy, but now the sky was clearing and over Lindisfarne, the Holy Island, a thin strip of silver light appeared, widened… and the sea, which minutes before had been turbulent and dark, became suddenly, unbelievably blue.
Three cormorants skimmed over the water, heading for the Fames, and from the bird-hung cliffs came the incessant mewing of the nesting kittiwakes and terns. But the elderly lady, formidably dressed in dark purple tweeds, her iron-grey hair concealed under a woollen scarf adorned with the bridles of horses and their whips, was not gazing either at the birds, nor at the round heads of the seals bobbing off Bowmont Point. Standing on the terrace of Bowmont, she trained her binoculars on the long, golden strand of Bowmont Bay.
Three; no, more… A whole family, paddling and, no doubt, shrieking, though they were mercifully out of earshot. She could make out a man and a woman, and another woman… a grandmother. And a child. Not fishermen or village people going about their business.
Her voice was deep, her outrage total. They would have to go. They would have to be shooed away. It was happening more and more. People came up from Newcastle or down from Berwick. Holiday-makers, tourists, defiling the empty places, catching shrimps, wearing idiotic clothes… Bowmont had been built on a promontory: an old peel tower to which, generations ago, had been added a wing of ochre stone.
Eva Ibbotson - The Morning Gift
Lonely, wind-buffeted, its history was Northumbria's own - raided by the Danes from the sea, by the Scots from the land, besieged by Warwick the Kingmaker; ruined and rebuilt. Turner had painted it in a turbulent sunset, a sailing boat listing dangerously at the base of its sea-lashed cliffs. St Cuthbert, on Lindisfarne, had preached to the eider ducks which still nested on Bowmont Point, and from the white needle of Longstone lighthouse, Grace Darling had rowed into legend, bringing rescue to the shipwrecked wretches on Harcar Rock.
Quin, as a child, had known exactly where God lived. Not in the Holy Land as painted in his illustrated bible, but in the swirling, ever-changing, cloud-wracked sky above his home. Frances Somerville had been forty years old, a spinster still living at home, when old Quinton Somerville, the legendary and terrifying "Basher", retired from the navy, had sent for her. She disliked the old man, who had made no secret of the fact that as a plain, unmarried woman, she was entirely without consequence.
Then Quin, aged ten, was sent for and introduced. She was wrong. The Basher was found dead on a garden seat not three months later, and in his own way he had played fair, for he had left her a comfortable annuity out of his admittedly vast estate. Since then she had been Bowmont's guardian and its chatelaine and with Quin so often away on his travels, that meant keeping it free from invaders, from the creeping stain of tourism and so-called modern life. Now in her sixtieth year, big-nosed, tight-lipped, with sparse grey hair and fierce blue eyes, her opinion of the human race was low.
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An abandoned seal pup, a puffin with a broken wing, could count on Miss Somerville for help; a human in a similar plight would be lucky to get a cup of tea in the servants' quarter. Once, rumour had it, it had been different. She had been sought in marriage by a Scottish nobleman, despatched to his house to be looked over… but it had come to nothing, and the shy, plain girl became the formidable spinster, respected by all and loved by nobody. A gardener's boy came across the terrace, carrying a rake. They must be removed.
Here, in the relative shelter of the curving cliff there was a smaller bay, the sand dotted with rocks and dark drifts of seaweed. Anchorage Bay, it was called, and in the previous century boats had tied up at the little jetty, there had been fishermen living in the row of cottages and cobles drawn up on the beach. Those days were gone and Quin had converted the boat-house and two of the cottages into a lab and dormitory for the students he brought up for his field course.
Last year one of the girls had worn a two-piece bathing costume and Miss Somerville's early morning viewing through her binoculars had revealed the completely exposed midriff of a girl from Surbiton. The gardener's boy reappeared. And he says to tell you, miss, that Lady Rothley telephoned and she's coming at eleven.
The tidemarks… the infuriating ancient law that decreed that the shore between low tide and high tide belonged to everyone. It was nonsense, of course. To get there they had come over Somerville land - the fields behind the bay all belonged to Quin and she made sure that the gates were kept locked.
For a moment, she felt old and discouraged. This was not her world. Beyond the point was ancient Dunstanburgh with a golf course now lapping its ruined towers. Trippers could creep in that way too and make their way to Bowmont. She was like King Canute, struggling uselessly against the defilement of the human race.
And Quin didn't really help her. Quin had ideas that she tried to understand but couldn't. Miss Somerville loved no one; it was a point of honour with her to have banished this destructive emotion from her breast, but Quin was Quin and she would have jumped off the cliff for him without further consideration. And yet from this boy, whom she herself had reared, came ideas and theories that she would not have expected to read even in the Socialist gutter press. Quin did not chase trippers off his land, merely requesting them to close the gates; he had acknowledged a right of way across the dunes to Bowmont Mill, and now there was talk of one day… not while she lived, perhaps… but one day, giving Bowmont to the National Trust.
The dreaded words made Miss Somerville shiver. The sun had established full dominion now; the terns were white arrows against the indigo of the water; harebells and yarrow and clusters of pink thrift glowed in the turf, but Miss Somerville, usually so observant, saw only the spectre of the future.
A car park in the Lower Meadow, refreshment kiosks, charabancs with stinking exhaust pipes unloading trippers in the forecourt. Poor Frampton had done it, given his home away, and there were vulgar little green huts at the gates of Frampton Court and men in caps like doormen punching tickets, and a tea room and souvenir stall. But Frampton had an excuse; he was bankrupt. Quin had no such excuse.
The farm was in profit, the rents from the village brought in sufficient revenue to see to repairs, and his inheritance from the Basher had left him a wealthy man. For Quin to give away his heritage was irresponsible and mad. She turned and went in through a door beside the tower, to a store room which she had turned into a kennel for her labradors.
Just fine. The puppies were sucking: five blissful, ever-swelling bags of milk whose mother thumped her tail in greeting and let her head fall back again onto the straw. There was good blood there. Comely had been mated in Wales - Miss Somerville had taken her there herself and it had been a bother, but it always paid to get decent stock.
Oh, why couldn't Quin marry, she thought, making her way across the courtyard. Not one of those girls he brought up sometimes: actresses or Parisiennes who came down to breakfast shivering in fur coats and asked about central heating, but a girl of his own kind, a girl with breeding.
Once he had a lusty son or two, he'd forget all this nonsense about the Trust. Later, in the drawing room, the subject came up again. Lady Rothley was the closet thing to a friend which Frances Somerville allowed herself and there was no need to make a fuss when she came. No need to light a fire, no need to shoo the dogs off the chairs. Ann Rothley bred Jack Russells and all the tapestry sofas at the Hall were covered in short white hairs. Frances might dress like a charwoman, but she kept the servants up to scratch.
A dark, handsome woman in her forties, she did not object to Quin's scholarship. It happened sometimes in these old families. At Wallington, the Trevelyans were for ever writing history books. I simply had to get rid of that German he landed me with. The opera singer from Dresden. I sent him to the dairy because all the indoor posts were filled and it's been a disaster.
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The dairy maid fell in love with him and he was useless with the cows. I can't help wondering whether some of them go round pretending to be Jewish just to get the benefits. The Quakers are giving away fortunes in relief, I understand. I didn't like to dismiss him, but the cows are not musical. There's almost nothing I won't do for Quin, but he must stop trying to get us all to employ these dreadful refugees. Poor Helen - he made her take a man from Berlin to act as a chauffeur and handyman and as soon as he's finished work he gets people in and they play chamber music.
It's like lemons in your ears, you know - screech, screech. She's had to tell them to go and do it in an outhouse. I wish Quin wasn't so concerned about them. I mean, there are lots of other people to worry about, aren't there? The unemployed and the coal miners and so on. Not that one likes Jews. When they're rich they're bankers and when they're poor they're pedlars and in between they play the violin. I'm not having any of them at Bowmont while I'm in charge and I've told Quin.
She spoke cheerfully and no one knew what it cost her to do so, for Rollo, her adored eldest son, was eighteen years old. One could keep them separate in the boathouse on mattresses with rubber sheets and take their food across. Whereas refugees would… mingle. Then: 'Has he said any more about… you know… the Trust? I think he means it, Ann. Estates sold for building land, forests felled, townspeople gawping at the houses of one's friends. Livy saw him at the theatre twice with a girl before he went abroad, but she didn't think he was serious. But she had not screamed or run away, she had endured it, as later she endured the boredom of his weekly visits to her bed, looking at the ceiling, thinking of her embroidery or her dogs.
And now there were children and a future. But what more can we do? Girls of every shape and size had ridden through the gates of Bowmont on their thoroughbreds, climbed healthily up the turf path with their tennis rackets, smiled at Quin across dance floors in white organdie, in spangled tulle… 'You don't think he might be interested in someone who understood his work?
Left alone, Miss Somerville took her secateurs and her trug and went through to the West Terrace, to the sheltered side of the house away from the sea. For a moment, she paused to look at the orderly fields stretching away to the blue humpbacks of the Cheviots: the oats and barley, green and tall, the freshly shorn flock of Leicesters grazing in the Long Meadow. The new manager Quin had engaged was doing well.
Then she crossed the lawn, opened a door in the high wall - and entered a different world. The sun ceased to be merely brightness and became warmth; bumble bees blundered about on the lavender; the scent of stock and jasmine came to meet her - and a great quietness as the incessant surge of the sea became the gentlest of whispers. It was Quin's grandmother, the meek and silent Jane Somerville, who had made the garden.
The daughter of a wealthy coal owner from County Durham, she brought the consolations of the Quaker faith to her enforced marriage with the Basher, and she needed them. Jane had been two years at Bowmont when, to her own horror and amazement, she rose in the Meeting House at Berwick and found that she had been moved to speak. She never again spoke in Meeting, but the next day she gave orders for the field adjoining the West Lawn to be drained.
She travelled to the other side of England to commandeer the old rose bricks of a recently demolished manor house; she planted windbreaks, built walls and brought in lorry loads of loam. The experts told her she was wasting her time; she was too far north, too close to the sea for the kind of garden she had in mind. The Basher, on leave from the navy, was furious. He made scenes; he queried every bill.
Jane, usually so gentle and acquiescent, took no notice. She sent roses and wisteria and clematis rioting up the walls; she brought in plants from places far colder and more inhospitable than Bowmont: camellias and magnolias from China, poppies and primulas from the Atlas mountains - and mixed them with the flowers the villagers grew in their cottage gardens. She set an oak bench against the south wall and flanked it with buddleias for the butterflies - and decades later, the Basher, who had fought her all the way, came there to die.
Miss Somerville knelt down by the Long Border, feeling the now familiar twinge of arthritis in her knee, and the robin flew down from the branches of the little almond tree to watch. But presently she dropped the trowel and made her way to the seat beside the sundial and closed her eyes. What would happen to this garden if Quin really gave his house away?
Hordes of people tramping through it, frightening away the robin, shrieking and swatting at the bees. There would be signposts everywhere - the lower classes never seemed to be able to find their way. And built against the far wall, where now the peaches ripened in the sun, two huts. No - one hut divided into two; she had seen it at Frampton. The lettering at one end would read Ladies, but the other end wouldn't even spell Gentlemen.
Made over entirely to vulgarity, the second notice would read Gents. She must be somewhere - the girl who can save this place! It had rained since daybreak: slanting, cold-looking sheets of rain. Down in the square, the bedraggled pigeons huddled against Maria Theresia's verdigris skirts. Vienna, the occupied city, had turned its back on the spring.
Ruth had scarcely slept. Now she folded the blanket on the camp bed, washed as best she could under the cloakroom tap, brewed a cup of coffee. She had put her loden skirt and woollen sweater under newspaper, weighed down by a tray of fossil- bearing rocks, but this attempt at home-ironing had not been successful. Should she after all wear the dress she had bought for Heini's debut with the Philharmonic? She'd taken it from the flat and it hung now behind the door: brown velvet with a Puritan collar of heavy cream lace.
It came from her grandfather's department store: the attendants had all come to help her choose; to share her pleasure in Heini's debut. Now the store had its windows smashed; notices warned customers not to shop there. Thank heaven her grandfather was dead. No, that was Heini's dress - her page-turning dress, for it mattered what one wore to turn over music. One had to look nice, but unobtrusive. The dress was the colour of the Bechstein in the Musikverein - it had nothing to do with an Englishman who ran away from Strauss. She wandered through the galleries and, in the grey light of dawn, her old friends, one by one, became visible.
The polar bear, the elephant seal… the ichthyosaurus with the fake vertebrae. And the infant aye- aye which she had restored to its case. She closed her eyes and the primates of Madagascar vanished as she saw the wedding she had planned so often with her mother. Not here, but on the Grundlsee, rowing across to the little onion-domed church in a boat - in a whole flotilla of boats, because everyone she loved would be there.
Uncle Mishak would grumble a little because he had to dress up; Aunt Hilda would get stuck in her zip… and the Zillers would play. She would wear white organdie and carry a posy of mountain flowers, and as she walked down the aisle on her father's arm, there would be Heini with his mop of curls and his sweet smile. Oh, Heini, forgive me. I'm doing this for us. Back in the cloakroom, she looked at her reflection once again. She had never seemed to herself so plain and unprepossessing. Suddenly she loosened her hair, filled the basin with cold water, seized the cake of green soap that the museum thought adequate for its research workers… Quin, letting himself in silently, found her ready, her suitcase strapped.
The cleaning lady, the porter, the old taxidermist on the floor below. They had all known she was there and kept their counsel. She had expected something grand from the British Con-sulate, but the Anschluss had forced a reorganization of the Diplomatic Service, and the taxi delivered them in front of a row of temporary huts, on the tin roof of which the rain was still beating down. A disconsolate plumber in oilskins was poking at an overflowing gutter with an iron tool.
Inside, in the Consul's makeshift office, the picture of George the Sixth hung slightly askew; out in the corridor someone was hoovering. The Consul's deputy was there, but not in the best of tempers. He had pinkeye, an unpleasant inflammation of the conjunctiva, and held a handkerchief to his face.
Though he had found Professor Somerville personally courteous, he could not approve of the way the Consul, presumably on the instruction of the Ambassador, was rushing this ceremony through.
Procedures which should have taken days had been telescoped into hours: the issuing of visas, the amendment of passports. Someone, thought the deputy, whose origins were working class, had almost certainly been at school with someone else. Professor Somerville's father with the Ambassador's cousin, perhaps… There would have been those exchanges by which upper-class Englishmen, like dogs round a lamppost, sniff out each other's schooling - faggings at Eton, beatings at Harrow - and realize that they are brothers beneath the skin.
Scarcely twenty years old, and a child of the new Europe Hitler had made. Have you brought any? The sound of hoovering ceased and a lady with a large wart on her chin, wearing a black overall, entered and stood silently by the door. She had cut a piece out of the sides of her felt slippers to give her bunions breathing space and this was sensible, Ruth appreciated this, and that someone whose feet were giving such trouble could not be expected to smile or say good morning.
Then the plumber came, divested of his oilskins, and smelling strongly - and again this was entirely natural - of the drains he had been trying to clean and it was clear that he too was not pleased to be interrupted in his work - why should he be? The Consul himself now entered, distinguished-looking, formally suited, with his finger in the Book of Common Prayer, and the ceremony began. Quin had not expected what came next. The lady with the cut-out bedroom slippers sniffed.
Ruth made a sudden, panicky movement of her head and a last drop of water fell from her wet hair onto the bare linoleum. The Consul listed the causes for which matrimony was ordained. The procreation of children brought an anxious frown to her brow; the remedy against sin worried her less. It was only briefly that the plumber and the cleaning lady, neither of whom understood a word, were required to disclose any impediment to the marriage or for ever hold their peace and the Consul came to the point. Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?
A stress symptom, it would appear. The Consul cleared his throat. He too was pale as he promised to take Ruth for his wedded wife from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. The ring, when he slipped it on her finger, was a perfect fit. Her hands were as cold as ice. The thing was almost done.
The register was signed, Quin paid his dues, tipped the witnesses, put a note into the collecting box for orphans of the Spanish Civil War. It's all over now. Tomorrow evening you'll be with your family. What on earth are you talking about? Gould we have less of the Old Testament, please? You see… Now you are also anti-Semitic' 'Well, I do think this might be the moment to take after the goat-herding grandmother rather than some gloomy old rabbi. What do you mean, we shall be cursed? Because we said those words before witnesses.
I didn't think the words would be so strong. And you shouldn't have said that about with my worldly goods I thee endow because even if we were going to do the worshipping with the body, there would still be Morgan. I thought we hadn't heard the last of him. Look, Ruth, it doesn't become you, this kind of fuss.
You know what Hitler is like, you know what had to be done. It was with difficulty that he repressed his views on her ascent of the Kanderspitze. Because one thing you'll find it hard to come by in London is a decent piece of frying veal. And if I'm seen… ' Quin's arrogance was quite unconscious. You are a British subject - and in my care.
When they left the restaurant, her hair was dry and enveloped her in a manner that was disorganized, but cheerful. He had already gathered that it was a kind of barometer, like seaweed. Where would you like to go on your last afternoon in Vienna? He knew how little the wide, grey river, looping round the industrial suburbs of the city, actually concerned the Viennese. But when they stood on the Reich Bridge, it was clear that Ruth was on a pilgrimage. That was years and years ago. Imagine it, the Kaiser was still on his throne and Austria and Hungary were joined up.
One could take a barge down to Budapest -no passport, no restrictions. Anyway, Uncle Mishak had joined my grandfather in his department store, but he loved the open air and every Sunday he went fishing.