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Authors: Anne Weale

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BOOK: Summer's Awakening
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During her time at Cranmere, 'his Lordship' had meant either the Marquess of Cranmere or his son, Lord Edgedale.

But the heir and his wife had been killed in their BMW on the Autoroute du Sud the previous summer; and, at the end of October, the old Marquess had died in his private apartments in the south wing.

Summer's social life was so restricted as to be nonexistent. She didn't know any of the county people who came to the house as guests; nor did she mix with the village people. Nevertheless, she knew there were two schools of thought about the Marquess's death. One was that, after thirty years of heavy drinking, he had finally succumbed to cirrhosis; the other that, with no grandsons to succeed him, he had died of despair at the extinction of his line.

Recognising her puzzlement, the butler said, 'His late Lordship's other son, Miss Roberts. Lord James as he was when he lived here.'

She had known, but momentarily forgotten, that another son did exist. Emily had told her about him. He had left Cranmere under a cloud, sent packing by his father, the nature of his offence unknown. Neither she nor Emily had expected him to reappear so soon after the Marquess's death, if ever. He had been what was known as 'a bad lot'.

'You say he arrived very late. Has Lady Emily seen him?' she asked.

'I shouldn't think so, Miss Roberts. It had gone ten o'clock when his Lordship telephoned from the airport, and it was midnight by the time he arrived here. He was up in good time this morning, looking round the house and making himself known to those of the staff who don't remember him. But as far as I know he hasn't yet seen Lady Emily.'

'You say he rang up from the airport. That suggests he's come back from abroad. Do you know from where?' she enquired.

The butler shook his head. 'His Lordship hasn't mentioned his whereabouts during his absence.'

Was that a very gentle snub? Did Conway consider it improper for her to express curiosity about her new employer's activities during the years since his father had summarily disowned him? Or did the butler's impassive expression mask an equally sharp curiosity, and perhaps a degree of apprehension?

In recent years the Lancasters had suffered various reverses, culminating in the untimely death of Lord and Lady Edgedale on their way from Paris to the French Riviera.

Who could say what misfortunes might not occur now that the title and estate were in the hands of a black sheep whose only motive for returning might be self-interest?

'As he doesn't know I've arrived, I'll just go up and say good morning to Lady Emily before I present myself to him,' said Summer.

Today, as she climbed the wide, shallow steps of a staircase conceived as something more than merely a means of access between one floor and another, she had no eyes for the lace-like intricacies of the wrought-iron balustrade, or the vivid green of an immense malachite urn displayed on a pedestal where the first flight joined the second.

Her mind was concentrated on Conway's startling announcement and its possible repercussions. It could be—she certainly hoped so—that the new Lord Cranmere's arrival would be a good thing for the house and everyone in it.

A misspent youth didn't necessarily mean he must be a dissolute adult. He might have reformed and become quite respectable and staid.

Yet if that were the case, why had he never come home? Never made any effort to repair the breach with his family?

However angry his father had been with him all those years ago, the fact that his elder son had failed to safeguard the succession must have mellowed his attitude to his younger son, so had Lord James ever attempted to make peace with him?

She was forced to conclude that no olive-branch had ever been proffered. Which in turn suggested that James Lancaster was not a man who attached much importance to blood ties or, probably, to his own responsibility as the last of his line.

The important question was: What would be his attitude to Emily? Would he be kind and protective? She would be appallingly vulnerable if it turned out that the newly-arrived Marquess was still the 'bad lot' he had been in his salad days.

Summer, who had personal experience of what it was like to be defenceless, felt her hackles rise at the thought of Emily being in the same situation.

She herself had had no one to turn to. At least Emily had her to stand by her. But for how long?

Originally, she had come to work at Cranmere on a part-time basis. For the past twelve months her hours had been ten until five, often seven days a week. Her hours and the salary she received were a matter of mutual agreement, mutual good-will. She had never had a contract. The new Lord Cranmere could dismiss her tomorrow, if he wished.

Or even today, she thought wryly.

While spending the Christmas of 1718 at Castle Howard, Sir John Vanbrugh, its designer, had written to the Duke of Newcastle:
There has fallen a Snow up to one's Neck... In short 'tis so bloody cold, I have almost a mind to Marry to keep myself warm.

In most of the architect's houses, including Cranmere, the state rooms faced south, the private apartments to the north. However, since central heating had been installed, those private rooms at Cranmere were no longer as arctic as they must have been throughout the first two hundred and fifty years of the house's history.

Although it was now quarter past ten in the morning, when Summer entered her bedroom she found Lady Emily Lancaster still cosily ensconced in her four-poster bed.

This was not unusual. An inveterate bookworm, she often read far into the night and, in consequence, was prone to oversleeping. Her breakfast was brought to her on a tray at half past eight, and usually she stayed in bed, reading, until Summer's arrival.

Emily suffered from asthma. If she had an attack when Summer was not there to help her, she could press a bell which would summon Mrs Wright, the housekeeper.

After the death of Miss Margaret Ewing, Summer's aunt, whom she had cared for and nursed from shortly after her first stroke until the end of her life, Lady Edgedale had invited Summer to move from her aunt's cottage to a room at Cranmere.

For reasons of her own Summer had declined this suggestion; although she sometimes felt guilty at leaving Emily by herself, particularly since the tragedy on the Autoroute.

Had Emily been at all nervous of sleeping far away from the servants' quarters, Summer would have stayed with her. But in spite of her physical frailty, the child was anything but timorous. As long as she had Cyprian with her, and could read until she felt sleepy, being alone in her part of the house didn't bother her in the least.

Cyprian was a large woollen caterpillar, knitted with green and black wool and stuffed with kapok by Emily's former Nanny. Now that she was nearly fourteen, she was inclined to be sheepish about her love for her toy. But Summer understood her feelings—she had once loved a threadbare white rabbit with a red felt coat, a carrot attached to one paw. She could still remember her sense of outraged betrayal when, returning to the cottage after a term at university, she discovered Miss Ewing had burnt him as a piece of unwanted clutter.

'Summer! You'll never guess. Something terrific has happened,' Emily exclaimed delightedly, as soon as she saw her.

Although small for her age, much too thin and with no present claim to prettiness, in moments of animation she had an evanescent charm which made Summer think that one day she might be a beauty. She had red hair and hazel eyes and, in summer, a tendency to freckle. In winter she always looked pale and what Mrs Wright called 'peaky', meaning not well.

'Oh, really? What?' Summer asked.

At first she didn't connect her charge's excitement with the news imparted by Conway.

'My wicked Uncle James has turned up—and he doesn't seem wicked at all. He seems very nice. I like him,' Emily announced.

'When did you meet him?'

'Last night. He saw my light from the Blue Room and he came and introduced himself.'

'Wasn't that rather alarming?'

'I did wonder who it could be when I heard his footsteps in the passage, but it obviously wasn't a burglar—they creep about with a torch, and he knew where the light switches were. I could hear him coming from miles away. He walks like General Cadbury.'

Summer had met the General, an old man of upright bearing and piercing glance. She had seen him marching about the village, glaring with disapprobation at youths in black leathers slouched astride powerful motorbikes, eating fish and chips from polystyrene dishes.

She would not have expected the wastrel James Lancaster to bear even a slight resemblance to the stiff-necked, reactionary General. But Emily was an observant child and if she said he did, he must do so.

'What makes you like him?' she asked.

'Lots of things. He has a nice smile... and nice teeth.' Emily always noticed people's teeth. 'He reminded me of Lion Gardiner. I mean I should think Lion probably looked a lot like James. He says I needn't call him Uncle.'

From this it was clear to Summer that her charge's first description of him as 'very nice' had been an understatement. To be likened to Lion Gardiner, who had recently replaced the Chevalier Bayard as Emily's current beau ideal, he must be a man of quite exceptional charm.

But was that charm natural or calculated, Summer wondered uneasily.

While Emily's father was alive, he had run the estate and the home-farm, in consultation with his father. After the Edgedale's bodies had been brought back to England and interred in the family vault in the parish churchyard, the old man had interviewed several prospective farm managers. None had proved suitable and, up to the time of his death, a nucleus of loyal and conscientious staff, who had never worked anywhere else, had kept the place going as before.

Whether, because of his long estrangement from his younger son, Emily was now her grandfather's heir, Summer had no idea. It was only just over a fortnight since the second funeral. Since then the future of the Castle and its occupants had been a matter for conjecture.

One thing was certain—in no circumstances would a child of thirteen have any immediate control over such an inheritance. It would be in the hands of trustees until she was eighteen or more.

But it could be that her trustees would, from now on, include James Lancaster; or that, by virtue of his ability to save the family from extinction, he could overset a will made in Emily's favour.

Much as she hoped that it might be a worthier motive which made him seek out his niece so soon after his arrival, and exert himself to make a good impression on her, Summer had an uncomfortable intuition that his midnight visit to Emily's bedroom had been a deliberate strategy of some benefit to himself.

He won't win
me
over so easily, she thought to herself, before asking, 'How long did he stay? What did you talk about?'

'Oh, ages... an hour at least. We talked about all sorts of things. Just imagine... it's eighteen years since he was last here. He was seventeen when he left, so that makes him thirty-five—eight years younger than Daddy.'

'Did he tell you where he's been in the meantime?'

Emily shook her head. 'He didn't say, but he has an American accent so perhaps he went there to seek his fortune.'

'Or to Canada,' Summer suggested, her more prosaic turn of mind making her wonder how a youth of that age, brought up in privileged circumstances, would have managed to scrape a living in his first few years on the other side of the Atlantic.

Deep down, at the core of her being, she was as romantic as Emily. It was she who had introduced her pupil to Bayard, the brave but gentle French knight, and more recently to Lion Gardiner, the English colonist who had played a stalwart part in America's early history and given his name to an island off the tip of Long Island,

But the soft heart of Summer's nature was something she kept to herself, hidden by layers of reserve and a down-to-earth, practical manner. Even with Emily, she tried not to show how easily certain lines of poetry, or Kirsten Flagstad singing Wagner's
Liebestod,
could move her to tears. Even
Tie a Yellow Ribbon
could make her cry if she let it.

'Yes, his accent could be Canadian,' Emily agreed. 'I can't tell the difference. Can you?'

'I expect I could when I lived in America. Not now. It's years since I've spoken to any Canadians or Americans.'

BOOK: Summer's Awakening
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