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Authors: Adèle Geras

A Hidden Life

BOOK: A Hidden Life
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Contents

Cover Page

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Introduction

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

A Hidden Life

Adèle Geras

First published in Great Britain in 2007 by Orion

This ebook edition published in 2013 by
Quercus Editions Ltd
55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block
London
W1U 8EW

Copyright © 2007 by Adèle Geras

The moral right of Adèle Geras to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 978 1 78206 614 9

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

You can find this and many other great books at:
www.quercusbooks.co.uk

Adèle Geras is the author of many acclaimed stories for children as well as four adult novels:
Facing the Light
,
Hester's Story
,
Made in Heaven
and
A Hidden Life
. She lives in Cambridge.

www.adelegeras.com

Also by Adèle Geras and available from Quercus

Facing the Light
Hester's Story
Made in Heaven

For Sophie and Dan

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thanks to Caroline Wood for telling me how a movie production company works; to Edward Russell-Walling for help with choosing wine; to Jane Gregory and Emma Dunford; and especially this time to my editor Jane Wood for handing me the last piece of the jigsaw.

Thanks, too, to Dina Rabinovitch and Sally Prue for reading the novel so carefully and enthusiastically.

As always, I'm grateful to my family for their help and support.

‘Are you quite certain that this is what you want to do, Mrs Barrington?'

Constance lay in bed with her eyes closed. Could she muster the energy to answer this young man she hardly knew? She was very close to death. There was no point in deceiving herself and, besides, she was completely calm at the prospect of leaving this world. What irked her was the fact that she would no longer be in control and that was why she'd summoned Andrew Reynolds to her bedside on a day when she knew there was no danger of her son and his wife visiting her.

How the world had shrunk lately! She hadn't left this bedroom for months and was now too weak even to enjoy the distant view of the Channel. She'd loved sitting on her little balcony on summer mornings, looking out over the sloping lawn that ran down to the bank of spotted laurels near the gate. I won't see the garden in spring ever again, she thought. And the house could do with some redecoration. This room, especially. The cream velvet curtains had almost had their day, the William Morris Willow wallpaper, which had once been pretty but which she had tired of about two years ago, had definitely faded … but what did it matter? Everything could be left for someone else to deal with. What would become of her silver hand mirror? The crystal perfume bottles on the dressing table? They would go with the rest of the glass, she supposed, to Phyllida. Her daughter-in-law was the kind of person who'd know what to do with items like that; how to distribute them where they'd be appreciated.
I don't really care about any of it, Constance thought. Not about the bits and bobs of my life.

‘I'll sign the new will,' she told him. ‘And you must promise to take it to Matthew's office as soon as possible after I'm gone.'

‘He won't be very … happy with what you've decided, you know.'

What business is that of yours?
Constance wanted to ask. She'd paid quite enough to buy this man's silence till she was safely out of the way. Let Matt continue to think the will he'd drawn up was valid. He'd realize his mistake soon enough. They all would. She tried to smile, but the effort was too much for her.

‘I think I have to warn you,' Mr Reynolds went on, ‘that this document is bound to create certain … well, ill-feeling.'

I don't care, Constance thought. How can I convey the depth of my not-caring to this foolish young man who knows nothing? Everyone deserves exactly what they're getting, and they'll soon find out that I don't forget anything – and I don't forgive either.

Constance believed in the afterlife. She always had, and now that she was getting closer and closer to discovering whether she was right to do so, she comforted herself with the notion that she might very well be there, watching from on high as Andrew Reynolds told Matthew that no, the will he'd drawn up for his mother was not the most recent. Not by any means. The heaven of her imagination hadn't changed very much since she was a child, and she saw herself on a cloud, hovering somewhere near the ceiling, listening as her son read this interesting new will out to the rest of the family. She'd worked out every detail of her funeral years ago – they'd all gather for the reading of the will straight after the burial. That was how it was supposed to be. She summoned up what remained of her energy to speak once again. What had he called it? Ill-feeling. According to him, she was going to create ill-feeling.

‘I know,' she breathed at last. ‘That is my intention.'

1

Lou Barrington had stopped loving her grandmother when she was eight years old. There had been times lately when she'd hoped that something could be done to improve the chilly relationship they'd fallen into, but now Constance was dead and buried and it was too late. Lou had done her best, but she'd waited years for some indication of a softening, of a change of heart from her grandmother and none had come.

Milthorpe House, Lou reflected as she made her way across the hall, had changed. In her opinion, it had lost its heart and its warmth after her grandfather died, and now there wasn't even Miss Hardy, the housekeeper, to remind her of her childhood. She'd been in charge of everything up until a few years ago, but since her death Dad had arranged agency staff to look after both the house and his mother. Miss Hardy had been pleasant enough, not in the least like Mrs Danvers from
Rebecca,
but you knew that anything you said in front of her would be instantly relayed to Constance. The two of them were very close, so you had to be wary in her presence.

Lou had been told to wait in the library. The room was dark on this cloudy day and she switched on the lights as she went in. Vanessa and Justin, her brother and sister, were in the library already. Why hadn't they noticed how gloomy it was and turned on a light? Burgundy brocade curtains hung at the tall windows. On either side of the fireplace stood the vases which she'd loved when she was a small girl. In those days, they towered over her head. She'd thought
they were beautiful, admiring their narrow necks, rounded middles and the mess of dragons, flowers and assorted
Chinoiserie
painted all over them. Looking at them now, they struck her as verging on the hideous: too large, and impractical in every way. Justin turned to greet her with a smile.

‘Oh, hello, Lou,' he said. ‘I was just saying to Nessa that Constance hardly ever came in here, did she?' Justin was running his hands over the backs of the books without really looking at them. Lou loved the window seat in this room. Its cushions hadn't been re-covered since she was about ten. Sitting there as a child on rainy days, looking over the flowerbeds and then at the apple tree with a bench built round it near the back gate, and beyond that at the slopes of the South Downs, had made her feel as though she'd strayed into the opening pages of
Jane Eyre.
There was always a small slice of sky between the curve of the hill and the frame of the window, and clouds drifted across this luminous space, making pictures that she found entrancing.

‘No,' Lou answered. ‘She wasn't much of a reader, really.'

Nessa came over and peered at one of the shelves, her dark hair falling forward over her brow. She looked more ethereal than usual in grey jersey, with a filmy scarlet scarf round her neck. She was not exactly pretty but she was slim, and always beautifully dressed and elegant; she made Lou feel large and a little clumsy. Now she said, ‘Where are Grandad's books? They used to be down here, didn't they?'

‘Yes, next to the collected Dickens,' Lou answered. ‘Aren't they there?'

‘She must have given them away. Not that anyone read any of them, did they? Not now and not when he wrote them, poor old Grandad!' Nessa smiled. ‘I think you were the only person who ever opened them since the day they were published. Putting him next to Dickens was wishful thinking on Constance's part.'

‘I've got them all at home,' Lou said. What she didn't say was that she treasured them. John Barrington had left his own copies to her in his will and now, even though she hadn't yet read them properly, they reminded her of the hours and hours her grandfather had spent with her, talking about the sorts of things no one else seemed to be interested in: countries far away and times long gone and astonishing
people. Stories and more stories. She remembered him reading parts of his first novel,
Blind Moon,
aloud to her when she was quite young. All she could bring to mind now was that it told the story of a young boy called Peter having adventures in a Japanese prison camp. There were other children shut up there with him and the book was about the hero and his gang and the narrow shaves they had with the guards. Most of all, she recalled the atmosphere of what Grandad had read to her: heat and darkness and the image of the moon, which frightened Peter because it seemed to be like the glowing, pale eye of a blind person looking down at them out of a black night sky.

Grandad had still been handsome even though he was old, and one of Lou's favourite pastimes had been looking with him at the albums full of images of someone tall and strong and young. She said, ‘I expect Constance has binned the ones that used to be here.'

Justin laughed. ‘She reckoned books were dust-collectors. That's what she told me. I'm surprised she kept the library as a library at all. She could have turned it into something else. I would have.'

Lou was shocked at this remark, but then she often found herself taken aback by some of the things Justin and Vanessa came out with. Perhaps that wasn't surprising, considering that they weren't related to her, not really. They were the children of her father's first wife, Ellie, by her first husband, who'd died very soon after Justin was born. Dad was Ellie's second husband, and all her life Lou had been taught to think of Justin and Vanessa – to behave towards them – as though they were her elder sister and brother, and as far as she was concerned, most of the time, that was what they were. They even shared her surname, because Dad had adopted them as soon as he married their mother. But Ellie had taken one look at Haywards Heath and the life she'd be living there and had immediately done two things. She'd had an affair with someone who lived in London and then run away with him, leaving Dad holding the babies, who hadn't been babies but children. He'd married Phyllida, Lou's mother, a few months after Ellie's departure and once she was old enough to know about such things, Lou had sometimes wondered whether help with the shouldering of the childcare burden was part of the attraction.

BOOK: A Hidden Life
2.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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