Authors: Dana Gynther
Thank you for purchasing this Gallery Books eBook.
Join our mailing list and get updates on new releases, deals, bonus content and other great books from Gallery Books and Simon & Schuster.
or visit us online to sign up at
In memory of my loving father,
Malcolm Donald Gynther
“George?” Constance rapped lightly on the door to her husband's study, opening it as she knocked.
He peered over his reading glasses and smiled at his pretty wife. On his crowded desk lay a pile of papers; he was sharpening a red pencil.
“So, how are your parents today, dear?” George asked casually, as if she could answer with a cheerful “fine.”
Constance frowned. Her visit that day had consisted of trying to coax her mother, wide-eyed and filthy, from behind the garden shed. Her mother grunted frantically when she grew near, then hurled a clump of dirt at her, hitting the side of her face.
“About the same, thank you,” she replied curtly, nettled by his indifference. She ran her fingers through her hairâdislodging a bit of sand near her earâthen continued, her voice slow and hesitant. “Father's had a new idea, though. To make Mother well again.”
George took off his reading glasses and sat back in his chair.
“What's that?” he asked, expectant.
Was that skepticism in his voice? With her fingertips, she lightly grazed the top of her husband's collection of rocks and mineralsâthe smooth agates, glistening metallic pyrite, shards of quartzâas if stones could be read like Braille. She picked up a cluster of amethyst from the long shelf in front of his desk. Weighing it in her hand, she remembered that the Ancient Greeks thought this stone would protect them from drunkenness.
“Faith,” she said. “He wants to bring Faith home.”
“Faith!” George snorted. “Your father, the
thinks that will cure your mother? Lord knows, it might make her feel worse! Now, I agree that your sister should certainly not be in Paris on her own, living like some kind of gypsy. If she were my child, I'd have never allowed it! But I just don't see how her wanton daughter's reappearance is going to help.”
Constance paused, putting the amethyst back in its place as George began packing his pipe. She glanced over at the armchair, hoping to sit down. As usual, it was filled with a tower of scrolled maps. She leaned on his desk, noticing, from that vantage point, that her husband's bald spot was widening rapidly.
“You're probably right, George.” Constance let out a long sigh. “I don't know if Mother even realizes that Faith is gone. But Father wants her home.”
“Well, good luck to him.” He relit his pipe, then inquired through a puff of smoke, “Has he wired her yet?”
“He's tried. Several times, in fact.” Constance picked up the nautilus fossil, her favorite piece in his collection. Stroking its spiral, she added, “But now he wants to try a more
George's brow came crashing down against his eyes, forcing his lips out in an exaggerated pout. A caricature of confusion, he stared up at his wife.
“What's that supposed to mean?” he asked.
Constance stopped her pacing and stood before her husband.
“He wants me to go to Paris and get her,” she said, trying to make it sound as if this request was on par with a trip to the market. “To put her on a steamer and bring her back to Worcester.”
His face burst open, falling to twice the length it had been moments before. When his jaw and eyes came back to their proper places, he began to chuckle.
Constance watched the spectacle of George's face, trying to recall what about it had attracted her when they'd married eight years earlier. Perhaps it had been his then-graying hair, which promised the inherent security of marrying an older man. Or the serious, academic way he puffed his pipe through his beard. In the beginning, she had also been grateful for his ability to fill awkward silences. Listening now to his bemused laughter, she couldn't remember why she had undervalued silence.
“Well, you know Father can't go,” she said, looking down at the nautilus. “He can't leave Mother.”
“But I can't go with you, dear. I'm in the middle of term. And I'm behind with my grading as it is,” he said, waving his pipe around his desk to emphasize his point. “And, needless to say, you can't go on your own.”
“Why not, George?” she asked softly.
He looked up at her in surprise.
“Why, for a dozen reasons! I'd be worried sick about you!” He shook his head. “Anything could happen. You could get lost out there on your own!”
“I think I can board a liner and take a train as well as any other. I don't see the mystery there.”
“And while you are gallivanting off to Paris, what's to become of your own children?” George asked, eyeing her sternly, paternalistically. “Who is to take care of them?”
“The servants can manage,” Constance sighed. “And this would
be no pleasure cruise, believe me. Oh, George, it would only be a couple of weeks.”
Finally, he stood up from his chair. Looking up at his wife, he felt, was putting him at a disadvantage.
“You sound like you are seriously considering this madness! Off on a fool's errand, in search of your shameless little sisterâwho you've never even gotten along with!”
Constance put the nautilus back on the shelf. Suddenly exhausted, she went over to the armchair and toppled the maps onto the rug. She let herself fall in, ignoring George's silent protest.
“The fool sending me on this errand is my father, George.” She closed her eyes, stroking her brow. “You weren't there when he asked me to go.” She could still see her father's reddened eyes staring into his empty palms, the faint smell of hard cider on his breath. “I couldn'tÂ .Â .Â .Â I can't say no. He's so miserable in that house, so desperate.”
“Constance.” George's voice nearly chipped as he looked down on his wife. “You are not going to Paris on your own.”
She sighed, raised herself out of the armchair, and looked her husband in the eye.
“Yes, George. I am.”
Amandine shuffled through the parlor's open door, slightly out of breath from the trip up the stairs. Vera sat in a brocade chair, her thin legs covered in a throw, a black Scottish terrier lying at her feet. She was turning the pages of a large kidskin journal.
“Yes?” She looked up at her maid, amused by the girlish smile on her lined face.
“It's Mr. Charles, ma'am.” Amandine beamed. “He's taking off his galoshes and overcoat in the hall. He'll be here directly.”
As she quickly removed her reading glasses and the blanket (“Up you go, Bibi!” she whispered to the dog. “You know how a throw ages a woman!”), Vera peeked out the window. The rain was still pouring down. It had been one of the wettest, grayest Paris springs she could remember and her gauzy skin ached for sun.
“Hello, love!” Charles Wood entered the room with his customary panache. A dapper gentleman nearing sixty-five, he had a full head of white hair and bright blue eyes.
A smile spread across Vera's face in a ripple, until wrinkles flooded every corner.
She put her book down and rose to embrace him. He awarded her a brief, stiff half-hug, then bent down to pet the dog. Vera frowned, remembering when, not too long ago, his body used to yield to hers and truly embrace her, despite his Britishness.