Authors: Susan Lewis
Corrie watched Uncle Ted as he took his pocket watch from his waistcoat, glanced at it nervously then settled into the vast leather chair behind his desk. She waited quietly for him to begin, her eyes never leaving his face, but by now a faint shadow of confusion was creasing her brow. It was unlike Uncle Ted to be at a loss for words, but he seemed so now. He smiled awkwardly, then his eyes strayed to the leaded windows, staring out at the rain spattered garden.
Leaning forward Corrie covered his hands with her own. ‘We can always do this another time,’ she smiled. ‘I mean, I guess Mum has left everything to me, so there’s no real need …’
Her voice hung in the warm air as Ted looked at her.
put her head quizzically to one side, then with a glint of uncertain humour in her hazel eyes said,
‘I take it I’m not in debt?’
At last Ted laughed. ‘No. No, my dear, you’re certainly not in debt.’
‘Now there’s a relief.’
‘But I think you should prepare yourself for a bit of a – surprise.’
Instantly the humour retreated. ‘What kind of surprise?’
Ted opened a file on the desk in front of him and stared down at it.
He looked up, smiled briefly, then bracing himself, he once again lowered his eyes as he said, ‘Well, my dear, apart from the shop and the cottage, your mother has left you something in the region of a quarter of a million pounds.’
He looked up and found the very expression he had expected – stunned disbelief.
For a moment or two Corrie simply blinked. Then she laughed. ‘But the dress shop could never have made that much money. It didn’t. I know it didn’t, I do the accounts myself.’
‘You’re right,’ Ted told her. ‘It didn’t. The money, with the exception of twenty thousand pounds, has come from your father.’
‘My father! You mean…. But Mum never said anything about this. Uncle Ted, are you sure you have it right? I mean if Dad had left all that money for Mum when he died she would have told me.’
Ted shook his head. ‘No, she wouldn’t have told you. She didn’t tell you. I think she wanted to, many times, but … well … The truth is, Corrie, your father didn’t leave the money when he died. You see, he isn’t dead.’
Again Corrie stared at him, her cruelly bitten lips trembling with shock. Then to Ted’s dismay she started to
, as though he was playing her a cruel and tasteless joke.
‘As I said,’ Ted began, ‘I think your mother wanted very much to tell you the truth, but …’
‘What are you talking about? The truth is that he died. He died when I …’ she stopped as again Ted shook his head.
‘Your father is very much alive, Corrie. You don’t know how sorry I am that you have to find out like this …’
‘No! Stop, stop!’ Corrie cried. ‘You’ve made a mistake. My mother would have told me if he was alive. I know she would. I mean why would she keep it from me?’
‘She had her reasons, Corrie. I don’t think she was proud of them, but it was a decision she took before you were born.’
‘No, I don’t believe it. She wouldn’t have kept … We told each other everything.’
Ted merely looked at her, his round blue eyes imbued with sympathy. Corrie turned away, absently shaking her head. Then suddenly her head snapped up and the look of anger and betrayal in her eyes was unbearable. ‘So she lied! All those stories she told me about him, none of them were true?’
Taking a deep breath Ted removed his spectacles and rubbed a hand over his jaw. He suddenly looked very old and very tired. ‘They were true,’ he said, ‘at least partly, but …’
‘Why would she tell you and not tell me?’ Corrie cried. ‘I just can’t believe …’
‘She didn’t tell me, my dear. At least not at first. It was your father who told me what happened.’
‘You mean you
‘Yes. I was his solicitor – more accurately his father’s solicitor. Only here, of course, in the country, they had someone else to take care of affairs in London, but the matter of Edwina came to me.’
‘The matter of Edwina! Oh God, I can’t believe this is happening? Are you trying to tell me he deserted her, that he paid her off? Are you saying she’s loved him all these years when all the time …’ Corrie couldn’t go on. Her eyes darted about the room, as though searching the shadows for the sense of all this. She felt suddenly weightless with the shock, lightheaded. It was as though she were drifting through the tangled, menacing branches of a dream – a nightmare.
Ted waited for her to look at him again. She struggled to see him, to hear him, but her mother’s face, her mother’s words were besieging her. She stood up, circled the chair and went to press her head against the soothing coolness of the window. She looked out at the village she had known all her life but now looked so alien. ‘What, what did you say?’ she said, distantly aware that Ted was speaking.
‘I said that I am willing to tell you what really happened. But maybe we should wait …’
Corrie shook her head. Her eyes were absorbed by the heavy grey clouds hanging oppressively over the village. ‘No, I don’t want to wait,’ she said flatly. ‘Tell me now.’
Ted heaved himself to his feet and walked to the door. ‘Hattie!’ he called, ‘bring us some tea.’
When a few minutes later Hattie brought in the tray Corrie was sitting down again. She looked up at Auntie Hattie’s anxious face. ‘Did you know?’ she said quietly.
Swallowing hard Hattie nodded, and once again Corrie was aware of that strange feeling of weightlessness.
‘So,’ she said, when Hattie closed the door behind her.
‘So,’ Ted repeated. He handed Corrie a cup of tea then sat down with his own. For a moment or two he studied Corrie’s face, loving her and admiring the inner strength that shone so clearly now in her eyes. These past few years had not been easy for her, the past two weeks must have been hell. And now here he was, adding to her distress, and there she sat, perfectly under control again, chin raised,
the only sign of the strain she was under showing in the faint shadows beneath her eyes. He could wish that perhaps she weren’t so brave, that she would let go of her emotions and allow herself the release she needed. But that would happen in time, he told himself, he just hoped it would be sooner rather than later.
He took a sip of his tea then set the cup back in the saucer. ‘I’m aware of the story your mother told you,’ he began on a long breath, ‘and it is true that she was working in a Brighton dress shop when she met Phillip – your father. It’s also true that they fell in love at first sight. In your father’s own words, Edwina wasn’t like all the other girls he’d met. She had no affectations, no guile, just innocence and, as you know, a great beauty. She trusted him and loved him, and in a fit of youthful romanticism Phillip decided that he should marry her before deflowering her. Which is what he did.
‘They told no one until after the honeymoon was over. It was then that the trouble began. When he took her home.
‘Phillip’s mother and father were furious. Phillip was only just out of University and they had a great future planned for him, which included hopes of a brilliant marriage to Octavia Farrington, the daughter of a close friend of the family.
‘Serena, Phillip’s mother, was, I believe, right from the start, inordinately cruel to Edwina, and from what I remember of Serena, I have no problem in believing that. She treated your mother as though she were incapable of normal human sensitivities. She was also behind Harold, your grandfather’s, threat to cut Phillip off if he didn’t end the marriage immediately. The only person who showed Edwina any kindness at all was Cornelia, Phillip’s grandmother. Your mother named you after Cornelia,’ he smiled.
Corrie didn’t say anything.
‘In no time at all Serena set about convincing Phillip
Edwina was doing nothing to advance him either socially, or professionally,’ Ted continued, ‘if anything she was holding him back. Phillip himself was confused, and, remember, very young. I think initially he stood up to her, but Serena was a formidable woman, and clever. It took only a matter of weeks for her to show Phillip just how inept his new wife was when it came to holding her own in their world. Of course Edwina could have managed, given the chance, but Serena saw to it that she was never given the chance. It would be better all round, Serena insisted, if Phillip were to leave Edwina at home rather than introduce her into their élite circle of friends. It was for Edwina’s own good, since she was so painfully shy with those who were her superiors she would be sure to embarrass not only herself, but him too. To keep the peace with his mother Phillip started to do as she said. Whether Edwina fought back I don’t know. All I do know is that in the end neither of them could stand up to Serena, so Edwina decided to leave. She still loved Phillip, despite his weakness, but she knew he wasn’t happy. And of course neither was she. When Cornelia found out that Edwina was planning to go she offered to intervene, but Edwina wouldn’t let her. She didn’t want a family feud to start because of her. So it was Cornelia, not long before her death, who called me and asked me to deal with matters. Harold and Phillip came to see me and we arranged for a lump sum, which Edwina and I have invested over the years, to be paid to Edwina to get her started somewhere new. The divorce followed not long after.
‘Edwina chose to live in Amberside because the Denbys – your father’s family – have a country estate nearby.’ He paused for a moment as a flicker of recognition dulled Corrie’s eyes. He waited for her to speak, but she said nothing. ‘Edwina believed,’ he went on, ‘that in Amberside she would always feel a closeness to Phillip, even though she knew she would probably never see him. And in all
years I don’t think she ever did. Except once. A year after you were born. It was the day Phillip married Octavia Farrington. He married her here, at St. Mary’s, and Edwina, like everyone else from the village, went to watch. She took you with her, in your pushchair, and stood on the edge of the crowd until the bride and groom came out of the church, then she left. She didn’t want him to see her. I think most particularly of all she didn’t want him to see you. Whether Philip knew that Edwina lived here in Amberside I can’t say, but I doubt it. He never asked me what happened to her, she never asked me to tell him. All I do know, as you do yourself, is that your mother never really stopped loving him.’ What he wanted to add was that it was a tragedy that Edwina had wasted her love on a man like Phillip Denby, who, to his mind, had never been worthy of Edwina. Instead, he merely took another deep breath, then letting it out slowly said, ‘I’m sorry I’ve had to be the one to tell you, Corrie, but it was the way Edwina wanted it.’
A long silence followed his words. The strange weightlessness had left Corrie now, in its place she felt the heaviness of betrayal and pain; she felt anger that both her parents had been so weak, and she felt hatred too, for Serena, a grandmother she had never known.
Her voice was hoarse when finally she spoke. ‘Does my father know …? Does he know I exist?’
Ted shook his head.
‘I see.’ Corrie put a hand to her mouth and started to chew her nails, something she hadn’t done since she was a child. Suddenly realizing what she was doing she snatched her hand away and looked at Ted again. ‘Is there anything else I should know?’
‘No, I think you have it all.’
Corrie nodded. ‘My grandparents, are either of them still alive?’
‘Do you know where my father is now?’
‘Are you in touch with him?’
Corrie’s face was hard. ‘I see. Well, it looks like I’ve got a lot of thinking to do, so I’ll go home now if you don’t mind.’
‘Auntie Hattie and I were hoping you’d stay for dinner.’
‘No. I’d rather be alone, if you don’t mind.’
‘Corrie,’ Ted said softly, as he was helping her into her coat, ‘I know you’re angry, but please, don’t be too hard on your mother. None of this has been easy for her.’
‘No, I don’t suppose it has,’ Corrie answered stiffly. ‘I’ll call you tomorrow,’ and she ran out into the fading afternoon.
‘How could she have allowed me to believe he was so bloody wonderful when he treated her like that?’ she raged to Paula later. ‘How could he have been so weak, so spineless as to have let her go so easily? Uncle Ted said they were in love, at the beginning, so why didn’t he stand by her? God I hate him! I hate him so much I’d like to kill him. And my own mother! How could she have wasted her life like that – on someone like that!’
‘Oh come on now,’ Paula said. ‘You’re making judgements on two people you don’t even know.’
‘She was my mother!’
‘Yes. But she was also once a young girl. A young bride. You didn’t know that person. You didn’t know what it was like to be her. How much she had to suffer at the hands of his mother.’
‘But why did she live this lie? Why didn’t she ever tell me the truth?’
‘Probably because she didn’t want to hurt you.’
‘But I had a right to know my father. He had a right to know me. She denied us that.’
‘How do you know? Maybe she did tell him. Maybe
didn’t want to know.’ Paula groaned inwardly at her insensitivity. ‘She’s not denying you now though is she? She wanted you to know about him, otherwise she’d never have asked Ted …’
‘But what about all the years I was growing up? Even if he didn’t want me, she still should have told me.’
‘Corrie, what would you have done in her shoes? I mean what if she had told your father and he hadn’t wanted to know? Knowing you you’d have wanted to meet him anyway, and I can’t imagine for one minute that Edwina would have wanted you to face that rejection. Or worse. What if he had wanted you? She could never have stood up to a powerful family like that alone. She’d have lost you and you were all she had.’
‘I’d never have left her!’ Corrie cried, kicking the fire guard. ‘She must have known that. Oh why isn’t she here, damn it?’
Paula sat quietly for a minute or two feeling, because she loved her, some of the pain that showed in Corrie’s stricken face. ‘I know this might not be what you want to hear right now,’ she said finally, ‘but I don’t think your father can be all bad. I mean, Edwina would never have loved him as deeply as she did, for as long as she did, if he were.’