Authors: Rosalind Laker
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General
Recent Titles by Rosalind Laker from Severn House
THE FRAGILE HOUR
THE SEVENTEENTH STAIR
TO LOVE A STRANGER
NEW WORLD, NEW LOVE
TO DREAM OF SNOW
GARLANDS OF GOLD
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
This first world edition published 2008
in Great Britain and in 2009 in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright © 2008 by Rosalind Laker.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Garlands of gold
1. Women domestics - Fiction 2. Rotterdam (Netherlands) -
Social conditions - 17th century - Fiction 3. England -
Social conditions - 17th century - Fiction 4. Love stories
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-086-9 (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6716-2 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-096-9 (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 Mary Truy, who in 1611 signed her name in the newly published book of receipts that is now one of my most treasured possessions.
I have woven the events of Grinling Gibbons’ life, including the fate of his house and that he lived on London’s Bow Street until the end of his days, into my story, but apart from historical personages all the characters are fictional.
Grinling Gibbons, 1648–1721
mid the cobbles the rain-pitted puddles were slivers of silver splashing up to soak the skirt-hems of the woman running heedlessly through them in her desperate haste. As she reached her destination, a tall old house in a long row that stretched along the street, she stumbled on the stone stoop and fell to her knees. Then, recovering her balance, she seized the heavy knocker and hammered without pause on the door. Rivulets of rain were running down her face, the hood of her crimson cloak having fallen back from her head, but she was oblivious to everything except her frantic need to be admitted.
‘Open up!’ she cried fiercely on a sob of exhaustion.
Upstairs in a simply furnished room on the sixth floor her fifteen-year-old daughter, Saskia, was writing down a beauty receipt in a red leather-bound book. She had already illustrated each stage of the procedure, partly because it added to her interest and also because she enjoyed drawing and had a flair for it. The receipt, a variation on a previous entry, she had entitled
Another way to make hair of a fair yellow or golden colour
. She had no need of such an artifice herself, for her hair beneath its plain, folded-back white cap was naturally of a rich bronze hue, but yellow was a fashionable hair colour and the aid to it had to be usefully recorded. Continuing in her neat hand, she wrote:
The last water that is drawn from honey, being a deep red colour, performs the same excellently, but the same has a strong smell and therefore must be sweetened by . . .
Abruptly she raised her head from her task, hearing the commotion far below. Visitors did not usually do more than knock once politely, but perhaps drunken seamen from ships in the great harbour nearby were out to cause trouble again, frequently creating fights and brawls or smashing windows. Knowing how alarmed her foster mother had been on several previous occasions, she dropped her quill pen on to the table and darted across to the window. Throwing it wide into the night, she leaned out.
‘Go away!’ she called down fiercely. Then she saw that the street was deserted and whoever had banged the knocker so fiercely had apparently been admitted. Perhaps it was only someone wanting accommodation and desperate to get out of the rain, for her foster mother kept a respectable house and had regular lodgers in all her rooms.
She continued to rest her arms on the window sill, breathing in the damp air while the raindrops danced on the stone ledge. On a fine night the stars seemed close enough for her to seize a handful of them, for she felt nearer the sky here in her room than the street far below that was illumined by the sparse light from flickering wall lamps. It seemed to her that these old Dutch houses, tall and narrow with their handsome, variegated gables, huddled together as if fearful of toppling down into the many byways that laced this vibrant, exciting city where shipping from all over the world was forever coming and going in its great harbour, bringing the mingled aromas of exotic spices, tarry ropes and storm-tested sails. She loved every salt-encrusted stick and stone of it.
Yet Rotterdam was not her birthplace. She had been born on Dutch soil when her French mother had just crossed into the United Provinces of the Netherlands and been forced to halt her travels to give birth in the back room of an inn. Diane Marchand did not move on again until she had taken her newborn to the local church to be baptized with a Dutch Christian name to please the child’s absent father, a merchant dealing in cheeses from this land of many dykes and windmills. He and her mother had become lovers during their short acquaintance in the Parisian springtime, but he left without word or warning when she discovered that she was pregnant, all his promises of marriage having come to nothing.
Yet for all her frail, almost ethereal beauty, Diane had a will of steel. It was because he had once let slip that he had a house in Rotterdam that she had set out to find him, determined that he should accept his responsibilities. With dreams of the future she had studied the Dutch language during the time they were together and had gained enough fluency to make herself understood. In Rotterdam, after much searching, she had located his house only to find that it had become a place of mourning with a grieving widow and five children, for he had died following an accident only weeks before.
Although shocked and grief-stricken herself by the news, for she had loved him passionately, Diane did not reveal to the widow the true reason for her enquiry about him. Instead, sparing the woman further sorrow, she had made a plausible excuse for calling and left again as quickly as possible. Always practical and level-headed, she soon found a kindly Dutch widow, Cornelia van Beek, to foster her child. She also gained work for herself as a lady’s maid, which was how she had previously earned her living.
Saskia closed the window again before turning once more to sit down and take up her quill pen to continue making the entry in her special record book with its fine red leather binding and brass clasp that needed a key. For some time her mother had been teaching her all the arts of a lady’s personal maid and everything had to be written up and kept secure. It had been instilled in her never to reveal the secret ingredients that made up much of what was being handed down to her. Only thus, Diane insisted, could Saskia build up the necessary mystique surrounding her beautifying powers and thus ensure a secure reputation for herself and her skills.
Saskia was also kept busy making up to those same receipts the face balms and the pomades and powders and rouges that her mother needed in her work and also for selling on the side to private customers with Vrouw van Beek as her agent. It was an honest business, for Diane bought out of her own pocket all the necessary ingredients and the containers for the finished products while always gaining a little profit even after paying Vrouw van Beek a percentage.
Yet carrying out this pleasant work was not all that had to be done in Saskia’s daily routine. Even before leaving school at the age of twelve, which was usual for girls, she had helped Vrouw van Beek in the house by carrying out various domestic chores.
Her daily tasks included scrubbing the stone stoop of the house and sweeping the pavement outside, for she was as diligent as any Dutch housewife in keeping the black and white tiled floors, common to most houses in Holland, spotless and shining. It was a general opinion upheld in this Calvinist society that cleanliness was next to godliness and therefore a way of keeping at bay the pestilence that swept the land from time to time.
In addition to all else and at her mother’s whim, Saskia had English lessons from a retired governess addressed as Mistress Seymour, who was one of Vrouw van Beek’s permanent lodgers. The elderly London-born woman had once been employed by a titled English family, who had taken her with them when they had fled from England into exile with Charles II after the royalist forces had finally been defeated by Cromwell’s army at the Battle of Worcester. Although the King had since been restored to the English throne, loyal followers going home with him, Mistress Seymour’s pupils had grown beyond her instruction and she had chosen to remain in Holland on a comfortable stipend allotted to her by the family. She liked to have her hair dressed by Saskia as did several other women tenants, which allowed the girl to earn a little money for herself. For relaxation Saskia passed time with friends from her schooldays, whom she met as often as possible, a highlight being a visit to one of the many chocolate houses when all were able to afford such a treat.
Vrouw van Beek’s voice had come echoing up the stairs from the hall far below. Immediately Saskia left her chair again and darted out on to the landing at the head of the deep and twisting flight.
‘Yes, Foster Mother?’ she called down questioningly.
‘Your mama is here! You are to put on your cloak and bring down your record book! Nothing else!’
Saskia’s eyes widened. Although she saw her mother more frequently now than in the past, it was never at night and, because of her mother’s delicate health, rarely in the rain. Within seconds she had snatched up her book and automatically locked its clasp. Grabbing her cloak off its peg, she threw it around her and with the book tucked safely under her arm she went on flying feet down the stairs that twisted and turned at every landing.
She experienced a sense of shock as soon as she saw her mother, pale-lipped and rain-soaked, sitting slumped in a chair.
‘Mama! What’s wrong?’ Saskia, her green eyes dark with concern, rushed to put her arms about her mother’s thin shoulders.
Diane managed a slight smile of reassurance and patted her daughter’s anxious face. ‘Nothing at all. I’m only out of breath.’ She darted a warning glance at Vrouw van Beek in fear of a well-intentioned contradiction. ‘I took too much haste to get here, but I have such great news to tell you. Just an hour ago Vrouw Gibbons finally agreed – on condition that you please her – for you to assist me in my attendance on her. Now we have to get back to the house as quickly as possible, because you are to dress her hair this evening for an informal supper at home.’ She paused, caught for a few moments by a cough. ‘There’s no need to be nervous, because I shall supervise you.’
Saskia had become speechless with excitement and was not in the least apprehensive. It was what she wanted – the chance at last to start on a career for herself. This was just the beginning! A first step!
‘Am I to live there too?’ she asked eagerly.