Read Pamela Sherwood Online

Authors: A Song at Twilight

Pamela Sherwood

BOOK: Pamela Sherwood
8.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Copyright © 2013 by Pamela Sherwood

Cover and internal design © 2013 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover art by Anna Kmet

Photography by Jon Zychowski

Stylist: Brynne Rinderknecht

Models: Dylan Solon/Agency Galatea; Megan Klehr/G&J Models

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

(630) 961-3900

Fax: (630) 961-2168

www.sourcebooks.com

In memory of my father

“If music be the food of love, play on.”

—William Shakespeare,
Twelfth Night

One

O, call back yesterday! Bid time return.

—Shakespeare,
Richard II

London, July 1896

He’d been a fool to come, but he couldn’t have stayed away if his life depended on it.

All around him, Robin could hear the rustle of programmes, the faint coughs and murmurs as the audience settled in before the performance. Down in the pit, violins lilted and cellos thrummed as the orchestra tuned up its instruments. The concert had sold out quickly—he’d been fortunate to secure a prime seat in one of the lower tiers with a clear view of the stage. But even the galleries and balconies were full tonight.

He smoothed out his programme with hands that shook only slightly, then read the lines of print over and over until the words ran together in a meaningless blur. David Cherwell, the promising Welsh tenor, and Sophia Tresilian—one of the finest young sopranos in recent memory—performing together for one night only at the prestigious Albert Hall.

Sophia
. The name seemed to belong to some glamorous stranger. In Cornwall, among those who knew her best, she was just Sophie. Sometimes “Snip” to her brother Harry. “Lark” to her sister Cecily. And to Robin himself… He pushed the thought away, reminding himself that he’d lost the right to call her anything at all four years ago. Lost it, renounced it, thrown it away… and for the best. What could he have offered her then but heartache and ruin?

And now here she was—celebrated, adored, at the start of a brilliant career. And here
he
was, watching and waiting. To see all that radiant promise fulfilled. To comfort himself with the knowledge that he’d done the right thing. And for one more reason that he could not, dared not, put into words yet.

One way or another, tonight would tell the tale.

The house lights dimmed and the orchestra launched into a brisk overture that Robin barely heeded because his attention was fixed on the stage. As the last flourish sounded, he saw the slender figure walk out to take her place before them all.

Not tall, Sophie, but she carried herself with a poise that made her appear so. Stage lights caught the coppery glints in her dark hair, shone on the smooth ivory heart of her face, the slim column of her throat, rising from the décolleté neckline of her gown—a gown the color of midnight, almost void of ornament, severe but becoming. She’d worn white the first time he saw her—a young girl’s dress, artless and unsophisticated, but even then the woman had begun to emerge. And here she stood now, the blossom to the bud, so beautiful it made him ache.

And not just him. He sensed the heightened awareness around him, the way so many of the men in his vicinity seemed to come to a point. Like hounds catching the first whiff of game, or orchid hunters sighting a rare, elusive bloom.

Unseen, the piano rippled out an introduction, the somber chords echoing through the hall, now hushed and reverent as a church. Onstage, Sophie raised her head and began to sing.

“Music for a while, Shall all your cares beguile…”

Purcell—she’d always had a fondness for that composer’s songs. Her voice held the same purity he remembered, but with an added richness, the patina of training and experience. Caught between pride and pain, Robin sat motionless and listened, absorbing every note.

How long had it been since he’d first heard her sing?

Five years ago, this past December. A lifetime ago…

Two

So smooth, so sweet, so silvery is thy voice,

As, could they hear, the damned would make no noise,

But listen to thee (walking in thy chamber)

Melting melodious words, to lutes of amber.

—Robert Herrick, “Upon Julia’s Voice”

31 December 1890

According to the common wisdom, winter did not truly begin in Cornwall until the middle of January. But Robin fancied he felt a tang of frost in the air even now, a harbinger of the season to come. And night had fallen quickly, as it always did at this time of year.

He urged his horse forward as Roswarne rose up before him, dignified and Georgian, but imbued with a mellow, even welcoming, charm. The manor’s lighted windows shone like beacons in the darkness, golden and glowing. He was glad, suddenly, that he’d accepted Sir Harry Tresilian’s invitation, rather than returning to London or seeing out the old year at Pendarvis Hall with Great-Uncle Simon, who scarce took heed of his presence. But then the past was far more real to the old man than the present, so Robin tried not to take it personally.

“The more the merrier,” Sir Harry had told him. “We Tresilians always have a full house at year’s end, and you’ll not have a better chance to meet your future neighbors.”

His neighbors. He recognized perhaps a handful by sight—most were pleasant enough upon meeting, but he sensed an element of reserve on their parts, a reminder that he was yet something of an outsider, despite his name and heritage.

Robin was accustomed to that. How could he not be, given the pattern of so much of his life? But now he wondered if an outsider could
make
himself belong, set down roots deep enough, strong enough, in a place that he became a part of it. If he spent the rest of his life here, would he eventually find acceptance, or would he forever remain on the periphery?

Pushing those bleak thoughts aside, he rode up the drive to Roswarne. A groom waited to take the reins of his horse as he dismounted, and he made his way up the steps to the front door.

Parsons, the Tresilians’ butler, admitted him, but his host, immaculate in black and white evening dress, came striding into the foyer to greet him. Though not yet thirty, Sir Harry carried himself with the confidence and assurance that only a man wholly comfortable with himself and his place in the world could muster.

“Pendarvis!” The baronet clasped Robin’s hand, smiling. “Welcome to Roswarne. Come in and let me introduce you to the family. We’ve some light refreshments set up in the ballroom, and the dancing’s to begin soon. After the music, of course.”

“Of course.” Robin smiled back. They were mad for music, these Cornish, and when in London, he himself enjoyed the occasional concert or night at the opera. While he doubted any of the performers here would rival what one heard at Covent Garden or the Albert Hall, music seemed a fitting way to celebrate the season.

He followed his host into the ballroom, a handsome salon hung with cream silk, bright with candles, and redolent with the spicy fragrance of evergreens. Numerous guests were already present, helping themselves to refreshments or admiring the tall, lavishly decorated Christmas tree that graced one corner of the room. Some looked around as Sir Harry entered with Robin, and several even smiled.

Robin returned their smiles and began to relax. Most people, even strangers, were friendly enough if you were willing to meet them halfway.

“We keep the Christmas tree up through Twelfth Night,” Sir Harry told him. “It brightens things up, don’t you think? And there’s my mother, standing beside it.” He led Robin over to where a comely woman of late middle age was talking to a handsome dark-haired young man.

“My mother, Isobel, Lady Tresilian,” Sir Harry began. “And my cousin, James Trelawney. Mother, James, this is Robin Pendarvis.”

Lady Tresilian inclined her head. Her coloring was fairer than her son’s, but Sir Harry had inherited her brilliant green eyes. “So pleased you could join us this evening, Mr. Pendarvis. I understand you’ve come down from London to visit your great-uncle?”

“Yes, for a time,” Robin replied, sketching a bow. “Great-Uncle Simon is not in the best of health at present, and I plan to remain in Cornwall until he is somewhat recovered.”

Lady Tresilian’s smile grew warmer. “Very commendable. I do not know your great-uncle well, but I should be sorry to hear of anyone being poorly, with no family on hand to help. I hope you are enjoying your time here.”

“I am indeed, Lady Tresilian. Cornwall makes a pleasant respite from London.”

“I could not agree more,” Trelawney said, exchanging a wry smile with Sir Harry.

And there it was, that sense of shared history and common tastes that marked them as family, even more than their physical resemblance. How long had it been since Robin had had that feeling himself? Since his parents’ death, or earlier, before his brother Will had died?

He banished those melancholy thoughts as several more Tresilians came up to join them and be introduced in turn: brothers, a brother-in-law, nieces, and nephews. Robin smiled and shook hands, doing his best to keep all the names straight.

“So, where are Sophie and Cecily?” Sir Harry inquired.

“Setting up in the music room,” his mother informed him. “You know how nervous Sophie gets before a performance.”

“My youngest sister, Sophie, is perhaps the most talented of us,” Sir Harry explained to Robin. “She sings
and
plays the violin.”

“She sounds very accomplished,” Robin said politely, hoping that his host wasn’t just speaking as a fond brother and the girl would be at least tolerable to listen to.

Sir Harry checked his pocket watch. “I should see how things are going in the music room too. The performance will be starting in about ten minutes. Have some refreshments, Pendarvis—the ginger biscuits are especially good.”

Making his way over to the refreshment table, Robin helped himself to a few ginger biscuits and a damson tart, along with a glass of light wine. The biscuits were as delicious as Sir Harry had promised, spicy and rich, and the tart even better. Lady Tresilian smiled at his praise and informed him that a lavish supper would be served after the dancing.

The musicale started at its appointed time, and Robin followed the other guests into the music room, a spacious salon done in soft greens, inviting as a breath of spring on this cold winter’s night. Holly and ivy festooned the mantelpiece and the frame of the bay window, through which one could glimpse the impenetrable darkness of the evening sky, now black as jet. But a fire burned cheerily in the grate, and in the center of the room stood a gleaming grand piano, flanked by several other instruments, including a harp and a cello. Mindful of the Tresilians’ hospitality, Robin took a seat in one of the front rows of chairs, determined to show interest and enjoyment even if the performers should turn out to be not quite up to par.

A trim, brown-haired young woman—introduced as Sir Harry’s sister, Cecily Penhallow—sat down at the piano and launched into Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” playing with skill, assurance, and expression. So much for preconceived notions, Robin thought, and serve him right for being a snob, if unconsciously so. He relaxed in his chair, letting the rippling, lucent chords wash over him. When Cecily had finished, he applauded with genuine enthusiasm, as did the other listeners, and she obliged with a sprightly Chopin étude for the encore.

Others followed: two men played a duet on violin and cello, then a woman sang two songs, one in Cornish, while accompanying herself on the harp. The level of skill was remarkably high, and the performers’ obvious love for what they did more than compensated for any technical shortcomings. Not that there were many; indeed, each performer seemed to have brought his or her best to this evening.

After John Tresilian had performed a lively flute solo from Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Cecily returned to the piano, followed by a dark-haired girl in white, who appeared no older than seventeen. Sophie Tresilian, Robin supposed—a guess confirmed by her introduction. An air of pleased expectancy pervaded the room as she took her place by the piano, which seemed to augur well for her abilities. That she was also quite pretty, with a dimpled smile that transformed her rather serious face, did not hurt her cause either.

Robin half expected her to perform something lighthearted and sweet, the sort of song deemed suitable for one of her tender years, about flowers, birds, or a girl’s first love. Instead, Cecily played an almost somber opening, stately and grave. Sophie stood as still as a statue, seeming to absorb every note into her blood and bones, then began to sing:

“Tomorrow shall be my dancing day

I would my true love did so chance

To see the legend of my play

To call my true love to my dance

Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love

This have I done for my true love.”

Pure as a choirboy’s, her voice lilted along the high ceiling of the music room. Robin had heard this ancient Cornish carol sung before, but never with such haunting beauty and clarity. Or with such an inherent understanding of both the joy and solemnity surrounding the occasion of Christ’s birth. Transfixed, Robin listened as Sophie’s silver-clear soprano led all of them through the next steps of the sacred “dance.” She sang less than half the carol, focusing on the verses most relevant to the Christmas season, but she held her listeners spellbound from first to last.

Although every performer had received generous applause, the audience paid Sophie the added tribute of a moment’s silence first. Robin surprised himself by clapping until his hands tingled, and was further charmed when he saw the faint blush mantle Sophie’s cheeks. Modest as well as talented: an enchanting combination.

She smiled and nodded acknowledgment, then gestured to Cecily to resume playing the piano. Her encore, Purcell’s “Fairest Isle,” was exquisitely performed as well, with a simplicity that let the song’s loveliness speak for itself. Oh, she had something, this girl—it
hadn’t
just been brotherly love speaking when Sir Harry mentioned her talents.

Somewhat to Robin’s disappointment, Sophie did not produce a violin after finishing her second song. Instead, she made way for the other performers who gathered about the piano for a rousing rendition of “The Sans Day Carol,” inviting the audience to join in the choruses. Although not familiar with the song, Robin listened attentively and soon added his voice to the others, doing his best to help bring the musicale to a triumphant close.

“And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly!”

***

The musicale finished, the guests adjourned again to the ballroom, where the orchestra was tuning up its instruments for the quadrille, traditionally the first dance of the evening.

Almost without realizing it, Robin looked around for Sophie Tresilian and located her in a corner of the ballroom, talking animatedly to several young men close to her own age. The sight sent a sharp twinge of envy through him. Envy he knew he’d no right to feel, for what was
he
to her?

Youth
calls
to
youth
, Robin reminded himself. A girl of seventeen, barely out of the schoolroom. He was eight—nearly nine—years her senior, and felt far older. And that wasn’t even taking into consideration the… unique position in which he found himself. Even if it were possible, even if his circumstances were different, he should not be looking at her like this.

Except that he couldn’t seem to look away. And somewhere deep inside of him, a spark of rebellion flared to life. Must he spend every waking moment doing penance for his folly? Denying himself even the most fleeting and innocent of pleasures? Pretending that he no longer felt desire, attraction, or even a simple wish for companionship?

The spark grew into a flame—glowing fierce, bright, and hot. What harm, he thought, could one dance do?

Rebellion hardened into resolve. Just for tonight, he would behave like a man with no history—and nothing to regret. Just for tonight, he would allow himself a dance with a lovely young woman whose bright smile and even brighter talent had touched him in ways he’d no longer thought possible. On the last day of the old year, surely he could be permitted one indulgence?

Quickly, before he could talk himself out of it, he strode toward Sophie’s corner.

***

She’d never been the belle of the ball before, Sophie reflected bemusedly, and while it certainly was gratifying, it was unsettling too. Young men who wouldn’t have spared her a glance last year crowded around her now, all lavish in their praise of her performance and eager to claim her dances.

Summoning a smile, she set down their names on her dance card, secretly astonished at how fast her waltzes, polkas, and even quadrilles were going. She sensed rather than saw a slight opening in the throng and turned toward it with relief, only to come face to face with…

Oh, my.

A man she’d never seen before stood watching her with an intensity that unsettled her more than the most fulsome compliments she’d received tonight. A tall, lean man, with dark hair and the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. Eyes that made her think of sapphires or midnight skies…

“Good evening, Mr.—?” Sophie let the last word trail off questioningly, hoping she didn’t sound as flustered as his unwavering regard made her feel.

“Pendarvis.” His deep voice held only a trace of a Cornish accent. “Robin Pendarvis. Your brother invited me here tonight.”

Recognition sparked at the name. “Oh, then you must be related to Simon Pendarvis?”

“His grandnephew,” he confirmed with a slight bow. “May I compliment you on how well you sang tonight, Miss Tresilian?”

She felt herself flushing as she had
not
done after far more extravagant praise. “Thank you, Mr. Pendarvis. I was in good company—there are some wonderfully talented musicians in the county.”

“So I’ve discovered.” He paused. “I was wondering if I might have the pleasure of a dance with you? The first waltz, perhaps?”

BOOK: Pamela Sherwood
8.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Sophie's Run by Wells, Nicky
Six White Horses by Janet Dailey
Stormy Weather by Marie Rochelle
The Tide Knot by Helen Dunmore
Falling for a Stranger by Barbara Freethy
I Want by Jo Briggs
Rocket Town by Bob Logan
A Dangerous Love by Sabrina Jeffries