'I have fallen completely in love with Judith Lennox's writing - she's a fantastic storyteller!' Jill Mansell With the onset of war, everything changes... Judith Lennox writes an unforgettable novel of enduring love and the tides of fortune in the compelling novel Footprints on the Sand. Perfect for fans of Dinah Jefferies and Lucinda Riley. The Mulgraves are a rootless, bohemian family who travel the continent, staying in crumbling Italian palazzos, Spanish villas, French vineyards - belonging nowhere, picking up friends and hangers-on as they go, and moving on when Ralph Mulgrave's latest enthusiasm dwindles. Faith, the eldest child of the family, longs for a proper home. But in 1940, Germany invades France and the Mulgraves are forced to flee to England. Faith and her brother Jake go to London, while Ralph reluctantly settles in a Norfolk cottage with the remnants of his family. In the intense and dangerous landscape of wartime London Faith finds work as an ambulance driver, and meets once again one of Ralph's retinue from those distant and, in retrospect, golden days of childhood. Through war and its aftermath, it is Faith on whom the family relies, Faith who offers support and succour, and Faith who is constant and true in her love. What readers are saying about Footprints on the Sand : ' Curl up and get lost in this wonderfully written book that takes you from early 1900 through to the 1960s' '[Judith Lennox] can paint a picture so vividly in your mind, make you care about her characters, make you feel the anguish, the partings, the love that is taken away and then given back. A wonderful read ' 'Such wonderful escapism - well written and compelling! '
Release date: May 7, 2015
Print pages: 608
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Footprints on the Sand
It was April, a cold, cloudy April, and Poppy and her mother and sisters were holidaying in Deauville. Because of the war, the Vanburghs had not been abroad for over five years, since the summer of 1914. Yet Deauville was just as Poppy remembered it: the long, pale sands, the boardwalk, the casino and restaurant and shops. Had it not been for the young men in wheelchairs, scattered like so many bruised sunflowers to catch a non-existent sun, then Poppy, stupefied by boredom and restlessness, could have imagined herself immured still in her dull Edwardian childhood.
Breakfasts in the hotel were punctuated by Mama’s complaints about the food. ‘The coffee … too dreadful … After all we have endured … The bread … such a frightful colour … and the rooms … so cold …’ Each morning Poppy, thinking of the broken young men on the beach, wanted to say, Yes, Mama, but at least you hadn’t sons! but each morning she remained silent and bit her lip, and let Rose and Iris soothe Mama’s shattered nerves.
She had taken to walking alone after breakfast, bundling herself up in the fox fur that had been her birthday present the previous April, and striding fast along the sea front, the persistent wind whipping her yellow hair against her face as she tried to decide what to do with the rest of her life. In two weeks’ time she would be twenty-one. Three years had passed since she had left school, three years that seemed to Poppy remarkable only for their lack of event. Even if she thought hard, she could remember little that had happened during those years. She was neither engaged nor married, and the succession of young men visiting the Vanburghs’ London house had thinned noticeably as the war had progressed. She had no paid employment, and could think of none that particularly appealed to her. The annuity that her father had left her meant that she did not have to work for money, and when she mentally reviewed the jobs that girls of her age did – nurse, teacher, typist – she found it hard to imagine herself doing any of them. Yet she knew that she must do something. Her elder sisters showed her all too clearly what would become of her if she did nothing. Rose, at twenty-seven, was already slipping into old-maidish habits and turns of phrase, and Iris, at twenty-four, was dabbling in spiritualism.
The low, grey clouds that blurred the horizon, the sting of rain that threaded through the wind, oppressed her. She loathed Deauville: it seemed to her as fixed and unchangeable and self-satisfied as home. Walking along the beach three times a day – before breakfast, after lunch, and at sunset – Poppy stabbed the heels of her shoes deep into the damp sand, as though by altering that small geography she could change the fixed routine of her life.
One cold Friday morning she saw him again. He was building a sandcastle. Because of the unseasonal weather, and the earliness of the hour, the beach was deserted except for the two of them, and the dog, cavorting on the shoreline. The castle flowered before him, an extraordinary edifice of turrets and drawbridges and crenellations, encrusted with shells, beribboned with seaweed. It was the most beautiful sandcastle Poppy had ever seen. She marvelled that anyone should put such energy into something that was so inevitably temporary.
He was a big man, his fair hair a few shades darker than her own, his large hands delicate as they moulded shapes from the sand. His overcoat was long and heavy and collared with Persian lamb. The scarlet scarf flapped around his neck, and his head was covered with a wide-brimmed black hat that was slightly green with age. Certain that, absorbed in his task, he had not noticed her, she watched him press flat shells into ochre walls. His absorption in such a childish task fascinated her; she guessed that he was ten years or more older than she. She almost laughed at him, almost mocked him silently in her mind – but then a gleam of pink pierced the veil of grey cloud, the first sunshine in a fortnight, touching the miniature turrets, roofs and pinnacles with gold, giving the castle a fleeting, fairy-tale life. Poppy turned away, surprised that tears ached behind her eyes, yet as she began to walk back to the hotel a voice called after her. ‘It needs flags, don’t you think?’ She glanced back and saw that he was standing upright, his hands in his pockets, looking at her. She had grown accustomed to men looking at her like that, so she put up the collar of her coat and walked haughtily on.
Yet, alone in the bedroom she shared with her elder sisters, Poppy found herself idly scribbling on the hotel notepaper. Flags, pennants, banners. And later, before dinner, she slid a cocktail stick from her glass into the palm of her glove. So silly, she told herself. Tomorrow the sandcastle would be gone, sucked away by the tides.
When she woke the following morning, she realized immediately that something had changed. The grey cloud had been dispersed by the sunlight that poured through the cracks in the shutters. A band of white light striped the polished floor. Poppy rose and dressed. Leaving the hotel, she felt the warmth on her bare arms and head as she ran along the sea front.
He was there, on the beach. It wasn’t the same castle, but a new one, bigger and even more extravagant. She took the paper flags from her pocket. ‘Here,’ she said, and, as he looked up at her, he smiled.
‘You must choose where to put them.’
She jabbed one cocktail stick into a turret, another at a corner of the battlements. Then she ran back to the hotel, to Mama’s complaints and Rose and Iris’s dullness.
They had come to Deauville ostensibly for Mama’s health, in reality, Poppy guessed, because Mama treasured hopes of finding her three unwed daughters husbands among the other Britons holidaying there. Iris had once been engaged, but her young man had died in 1916, in the battle of the Somme.
‘She has a photograph of Arthur, but it wasn’t a good likeness, and now she can’t really remember what he looked like,’ Poppy explained to Ralph one day. Only he was not yet Ralph; he was still Mr Mulgrave.
They were walking along the sea front. He was always there when she went out for her early morning walk, and they had fallen quite naturally into the habit of conversation. In the warm spring sunlight he had abandoned his overcoat and scarf, and instead wore a jacket with patches on the elbows. Poppy said tentatively, ‘And you, Mr Mulgrave? Did you …?’
He was first bewildered, then amused. ‘Fight for King and Country? Good God, no. What a perfectly appalling idea.’
‘Oh,’ she said, remembering posters (Your Country Needs You!), and white feathers, and certain newspaper articles. ‘Were you a conscientious objector?’
He roared with laughter. ‘The only thing worse than sitting in a trench and being shot at would be sitting in a prison cell being cold and hungry and miserable, for the sake of my conscience. I’m glad to say that I’ve never done anything for the sake of my conscience.’
They had stopped beside a small café. ‘I’ve the most appalling headache,’ he said. ‘Shall we have coffee?’
Poppy knew that if she allowed Ralph Mulgrave to buy her coffee, she would be permitting the bounds of their friendship to progress from something that was acceptable to something that was not. She had not mentioned Mr Mulgrave to Mama; he was, she told herself, someone with whom she merely passed the time of day. The café was small, dark, dingy, very French – not the sort of place Mama would permit her daughters to frequent. Mr Mulgrave held open the door; Poppy stepped inside.
Ralph ordered coffee for both of them, and a marc for himself. ‘Hair of the dog,’ he said, and Poppy smiled, uncomprehending. Then he said, ‘I’ve been travelling for the past few years, actually. Mexico … Brazil … the Pacific …’
‘How exciting!’ she said, and then hated herself for sounding like a schoolgirl. ‘I’ve always wanted to travel, but I’ve never been further than Deauville.’
‘Hellish place,’ he said. ‘I hate the bloody north – gives me asthma.’
Poppy managed to hide her shock that he should swear in front of her.
‘I did a spot of zinc mining in Brazil,’ added Ralph. ‘You can make a fortune, but it didn’t suit my lungs. And I wrote a novel.’
‘What was it called?’
‘Nymph in thy Orisons.’ He tipped sugar into his coffee.
Poppy’s eyes widened. The Vanburghs’ was neither a cultured nor a fashionable household, but even she had heard of Nymph in thy Orisons. She remembered Uncle Simon’s outraged splutters as he had talked about the book.
‘How clever you are!’
Ralph shrugged. ‘It earned me some cash, but I’m not much of a writer, to tell the truth. I prefer to paint.’
‘You’re an artist?’
‘I like to draw.’ He fished in his pocket and took out a stub of pencil. Staring at her, Ralph began to sketch on the edge of the menu, his blue eyes darkening as he concentrated. Suddenly nervous, Poppy felt obliged to fill in the gap.
‘Rose wanted to be a landgirl, but Mama wouldn’t let her, and Iris worked at the hospital for a while, but she found it very tiring. I thought I ought to do something, and when I left school I helped with rolling bandages, but I wasn’t very good at it. They kept unrolling. And now I’m not sure what to do – I mean, girls aren’t bus conductresses or tractor drivers any more, are they, and I suppose I could be a teacher or a nurse, but I’m probably not clever enough, and Mama wouldn’t like it anyway. I should marry, but there don’t seem to be many young men left, and—’
Her hand flew to her mouth, as if to halt the flow of words. He looked up at her and said calmly, ‘Of course you’ll marry. Beautiful girls can always find husbands.’ Then he spun the menu round so that she could see the sketch that he had pencilled on one corner. Her heart-shaped face, framed by fair curls, her speedwell-blue eyes and unfashionably full mouth. It both shocked and excited her to see herself as he saw her.
‘Oh!’ she gasped. ‘You are an artist!’
Ralph shook his head. ‘I thought I might be once, but it didn’t work out.’ He tore off the corner of the menu, and presented it to her. ‘Your portrait, Miss Vanburgh.’
On the rare occasions when Poppy was able to think clearly (when she was not envisaging his features, or recalling what he had said to her, word by word) it alarmed her to realize how easily she had drifted into the forbidden. The visit to the café became habitual; one day Ralph addressed her as Poppy, instead of Miss Vanburgh, and she, in turn, called him Ralph. He took her to another café, deeper in the backstreets of the town, crammed with friends who embraced him and welcomed her with kisses and compliments. He told her about himself: that he had run away from school at the age of sixteen, and had not returned to England since. He had travelled around Europe, sleeping in barns and ditches, and then had gone further afield, to Africa, and to the islands of the Pacific.
Ralph loathed England, and everything England stood for. He loathed the grey drizzle, the puritanical guilt of the English in taking pleasure, and their smug conviction of superiority. His ambition was to save enough money to buy a schooner and sail around the Mediterranean, trading in wine. He made friends easily – but Poppy knew that: when she walked through Deauville with Ralph, so many people waved and smiled. He was amusing, intelligent, perceptive and unconventional, and she knew also that she had fallen in love with him the very first time she had set eyes on him, throwing the stick for his dog. That everyone else seemed to love him both delighted and alarmed her: it confirmed the rightness of her affection, but made it possible that her passion, which seemed to her so unique, so particular, was not so.
She escaped from her mother and sisters one day after lunch, meeting Ralph at the road beyond the hotel. He had borrowed a motor-car, a gleaming open-top vehicle of cream and maroon, and he drove her along the coast to sample the gaudier delights of Trouville. He was taking her to visit a friend, he explained, a White Russian countess. Elena lived in a tall, thin, ramshackle house in the back streets of the town. Ralph introduced Poppy to Elena, who was dark and exotic and ageless, just as a White Russian countess should be. The party, which had already lasted a day and night, was not like any party she had been to before. Parties, in Poppy’s experience, were restrained and rather awful affairs, in which one could earn lasting social ignominy by spilling one’s glass of lemonade or saying the wrong thing, or dancing with the same partner too often. Here, she was given champagne, not lemonade. Here, she mistook the bathroom door, and found herself in a room where a couple embraced silently on a crimson brocade chaise-longue. Here, she danced all afternoon with Ralph, her head pressed against his shoulder, his big, gentle hands stroking her back.
Returning to Deauville she said, ‘I won’t be able to see you tomorrow, Ralph. It’s my twenty-first birthday, so I’ll have to spend the day with Mama and my sisters.’
He frowned, but said nothing, and she added, rather desperately, ‘And in a few days’ time, we’re going home.’
‘Do you want to go?’
‘Of course not! But I must.’
The champagne had begun to wear off, leaving her headachy and tired. She said tearfully, ‘What else could I do?’
‘You could stay here. With me.’
Her heart began to beat very fast. ‘How?’ she whispered.
‘You just stay. You just don’t go back. That’s what I did.’
She wanted to say, It’s easy for you. You are a man, but she did not, because they had turned the corner that led to the hotel, and there, on the pavement, like three avenging Fates, stood Mama and Rose and Iris.
Boxed in by traffic, there was no escape. Poppy had wild thoughts of hiding in the footwell, but Ralph restrained her. ‘I shall introduce myself,’ he said confidently, and threw his cigarette end out of the car as he drew to a halt beside Mrs Vanburgh and her daughters.
To Poppy it was a nightmare. Ralph was charm itself, his accent impeccable, and he did not swear once, but Mama, though civil, saw through him. Back at the hotel, the recriminations lasted for hours. Poppy told the truth sometimes (Ralph was of a respectable English family) and lied often (they had met each other once or twice, and they had just been on a short tour of Deauville), but her mother accurately sensed the worst. Questioned closely about Ralph’s career, residence and prospects, Poppy found herself snufflingly admitting that he had no fixed abode, and had been, at various times, a tour guide, a commercial pilot, and a boat builder. Labouring, said Mrs Vanburgh, her lip curling in a condemnatory fashion, as Poppy managed to restrain herself from mentioning the time Ralph had danced with the wealthy ladies of Menton for money, or the winter he had kept himself from starvation by harvesting sugar beet.
Had it not been for Poppy’s birthday the following day, then they would have entrained for Calais and the ferry that night. As it was, the birthday was a stiff, joyless affair, a weary round of breakfast and lunch and tea, and a duty call on two ladies Mama had known at school. Though everyone pretended that the shameful events of yesterday had not occurred, an air of disapproval lingered. Poppy had hoped for a note from Ralph – flowers, perhaps – but there was nothing. He knew it was her birthday, yet there was nothing. Her jaw ached with the effort of smiling and, when she enquired at the hotel reception to be told yet again that there was no message, it was as though she had been stabbed to the heart.
By the time dinner was over, she knew that Mama had put him off, or his intentions had never been honourable, or she had been mistaken in believing that Ralph cared for her any more than he cared for the dozens of other women who were his friends. What should attractive, experienced Ralph Mulgrave see in silly, ignorant Poppy Vanburgh? Tomorrow they were to return to England. She could hardly recall her life there – it seemed like a dream – but she could imagine the emptiness of it. Tears stung her eyes, but she blinked them back. When dinner ended and Mama was stifling her yawns, and Iris and Rose were impatient to play bridge with the Colonel and his brother, Poppy rose from her seat.
‘I’m going to look at the sea, Mama. I want to see the sunset for the last time.’
She walked outside before her mother could stop her. The breeze had picked up and she hugged her cold arms. The sun was a splash of gold and pink on the horizon, the colours caught by the rippling waves and the herringbone clouds. Poppy looked out at the water for a long time, mentally saying her farewells, and then she turned and saw him.
‘Ralph. I thought you wouldn’t come.’
‘It’s your birthday,’ he said. ‘I’ve brought you a present.’ He handed her a scrap of paper.
She thought it was another sketch, but instead, unfolding it, she saw an official-looking form, printed in French. In her confusion she could not understand a word of it.
‘It’s a special marriage licence,’ he said. ‘I’ve been to Paris and back today for that.’
Speechless, she stared at him, her mouth open.
‘They’ll marry us tomorrow afternoon. And then we can go south. I have the most marvellous idea. Water-coolers. There must be a fortune to be made in water-coolers.’
‘Ralph,’ she whispered. ‘I can’t—’
‘You can.’ He laid his palms against her cheeks, raising her face towards his. ‘I told you, dearest Poppy. You just walk out. You take a change of clothes and your passport and you walk out.’
‘Mama will never give her permission—’
‘You don’t need your mother’s permission. You are twenty-one.’ Ralph pressed his lips against her forehead. ‘It’s up to you, Poppy. If you like, you can tell me to go, and I’ll push off and you’ll never see me again. Or you can come with me. Please come with me. I’ll take you to the loveliest places on earth. You’ll never be cold again, you’ll never be bored again, and you’ll never be lonely again. Please say that you’ll come with me.’
The piece of paper shook in her hands like a leaf. Poppy whispered, ‘Oh, Ralph,’ and then she ran back into the hotel.
Poppy lost her virginity that night in a hotel somewhere between Deauville and Paris. They were married the next day, and then they travelled south. In rooms where the shutters were closed to keep out the burning southern sun, they made love, their bodies never quite sated, their delight in each other expressed not by words but by caresses and embraces.
Ralph kept his promises: Poppy saw the Provençal hills and the exquisite beaches of the Côte d’Azur, and she was never bored, and never lonely. The birth of their daughter, Faith, not quite nine months later, in December, sealed their happiness. By then they were living in Italy, in a big Umbrian farmhouse. Poppy’s annuity, and royalties from Nymph in thy Orisons supported them during lean months. Ralph was perfecting the water-cooler which would fund the schooner he intended to buy. Poppy imagined sailing through azure seas, her baby in a Moses basket on the deck, shaded by a parasol from the sun. In the early mornings, lying in bed, the sun gleaming in white strips through the shutters, Ralph’s arms surrounded Poppy as he described to her the route their schooner would sail round the Mediterranean. ‘Naples, Sardinia … and then Zante – Zante’s the most beautiful island you’ve ever seen, Poppy.’ She could see it in her mind’s eye, the white sand and turquoise waves.
Friends of Ralph’s called frequently, staying sometimes a few days, often for several months. Ralph was generous with his time, his company, his hospitality, and the house always resounded with argument and conversation and music. In April, when they moved to Greece, Ralph’s friends came with them, a straggling caravanserai to share their stormy voyage across the Adriatic, to laugh and chatter as they rode mules through the stony hills of the isthmus. By then Poppy, who had rarely been allowed to trespass in the kitchen of her London home, had learned to make paellas and frittatas, roasts and bourguignons. She liked cooking, but loathed housework, so they lived in a well-fed, amicable mess.
A year later she gave birth to Jake. Jake was an active, tiring baby not much given to sleeping. They had moved back to Italy, to Naples. The water-cooler had not proved a success, so they had had to delay the purchase of the schooner. Meanwhile they shared a tenement block with two potters. The big, dark rooms smelt of clay and paint. Ralph was to handle the financial side of the potters’ business. Ralph’s friends, whom Poppy had nicknamed the Lodgers, followed the Mulgraves to Naples. By now, Poppy had learned that Ralph, a man of extremes, had no acquaintances – he either loved wholeheartedly, or he took an immediate and irreversible dislike. To those he loved he was unstintingly generous. He had the knack of making each friend feel that they were the most important person in his life. He loved, Poppy realized, as a child did – uncritically, unreservedly. She recognized her own burgeoning jealousy of the Lodgers’ demands on Ralph to be unreasonable, a shameful smallness of the heart. They, after all, only cherished what she herself loved.
Nicole was born in 1923, a painful and difficult confinement during which Poppy, for the first time since her marriage, cried for her mother. Poppy was unwell after the birth, so Ralph fed and bathed the newborn baby. He adored Nicole, whom he immediately perceived to be the prettiest and the brightest of the three.
When Poppy had recovered, the Mulgraves travelled to France, where Ralph rented a bar, the potters having absconded with the profits of Ralph’s previous venture. Horribly short of money, they could afford neither a cook nor a nursemaid. Poppy learned how to make stews out of scrag end of lamb and boiling fowl, while the children ran wild. Sometimes she was so tired she fell asleep over the stove. She began to resent the Lodgers, who drank the profits of the bar. When she complained to Ralph, he said, bewildered, ‘But they are my friends, Poppy.’ They quarrelled bitterly.
They were saved by Genya de Bainville, an old friend of Ralph’s who, hearing of their arrival in the neighbourhood, and visiting the bar one day, noticed Poppy’s grey face and Ralph’s sulkiness. Genya invited all the Mulgraves to her château. La Rouilly was near Royan, on the Atlantic coast, and Genya was a Polish émigrée who had married a wealthy Frenchman. The remains of beauty could still be seen in Genya’s high-cheekboned face, but the heat had baked her delicate complexion, so that it was cracked and crazed like the fields and vineyards of her estate. The years which had robbed Genya of her looks had also stolen from her much of her fortune. Parts of La Rouilly were semi-derelict, and, though Genya was in her sixties, she helped with the grape harvest, just as the Mulgraves did.
La Rouilly was four-square, its many windows enclosed by peeling green shutters, its lawns yellowed and dry, the gardens a half-hearted tangle of diseased begonias and roses which put out a great deal of leaf and very few flowers. Behind the château was a rank green lake, and behind that acres of woodland. Vineyards swathed the gently rolling hills. Poppy adored La Rouilly. She could have lived there for ever, helping Genya’s ancient maid, Sarah, cook in the vast kitchen, coaxing fruit and flowers from the crumbling earth. The children and the Lodgers could easily be accommodated in La Rouilly’s many rooms, and Genya, like Ralph, enjoyed company.
But as autumn came Ralph grew restless, new enthusiasms demanding his time and money, and they became nomads again, pursuing Ralph’s dreams of the perfect country, the best-situated house, the scheme that would make the Mulgrave family’s fortune. One year they travelled to Tahiti and to Goa; another year they sailed to Shanghai. In Shanghai, they all caught dengue fever, and it was thought for a while that Nicole would not recover. After that, Poppy insisted they remain within Europe.
Each summer, when things did not work out as Ralph had hoped, they returned to La Rouilly, to enjoy Genya’s hospitality and to help with the vendange. Poppy measured the passing of the years by the heights of her children’s heads against the twisted branches of the vines. In 1932 Jake, aged ten, caught up with Faith, to Faith’s outrage and fury.
And in 1932, they met Guy.
Ralph brought Guy Neville back to La Rouilly one evening in August. Poppy was plucking chickens in the kitchen. She heard Ralph call from the back door.
‘Where’s the bloody key to the cellar, Poppy?’
She shouted, ‘I think Nicole has it. She may have buried it.’ She heard Ralph swear, so she added, ‘She’s with Felix. In the music room.’
Felix, who was a composer and a regular visitor to La Rouilly, was one of Poppy’s favourite Lodgers.
‘Dear God …’ Ralph raised his voice again. ‘I’ve brought someone.’
A young man emerged out of the gloom to stand in the kitchen doorway. He said hesitantly, ‘Sorry to barge in on you like this, Mrs Mulgrave. I brought you these.’
‘These’ were a bunch of poppies and oxeye daisies. ‘Just wild flowers,’ he added apologetically.
‘They’re beautiful.’ Poppy took the bunch from him and smiled. ‘I’ll find a vase. And you are …?’
‘Guy Neville.’ He held out his hand.
He was tall and thin, and his silky dark hair was tinged with copper. She guessed him to be nineteen, twenty perhaps. He had the most extraordinary eyes: an intense bluish-green, with impossibly deep lids that crinkled up when he smiled. His accent was educated, middle-class English, the accent of Poppy’s childhood, and she felt an unexpected pang of nostalgia. Quickly she mentally calculated whether dinner would stretch to another guest, decided it would, and wiped her bloody hands on her apron.
‘I’m Poppy Mulgrave. You must excuse me. I do so loathe this job. The feathers are bad enough, but …’ She made a face.
‘I’ll gut them, if you like. It’s not nearly as bad as dissecting a lung.’ He picked up a knife and set to.
‘Are you a doctor?’
‘A medical student. I finished my first year in July, so I thought I’d travel a bit.’
The door opened and Faith came in. ‘Nicole is crying because Pa made her dig up the key. But I’m glad, because it’s better than that awful caterwauling.’
Faith, at eleven and a half, was small and scrawny and Poppy’s principal comfort. Faith had a vein of common sense that, Poppy feared, both her brother and her sister lacked. Just now, she was wearing a long lace petticoat that swept the ground and an old jersey of Poppy’s with holes in the elbows. She glanced across the kitchen and whispered: ‘One of Pa’s waifs and strays?’
‘I think so,’ Poppy whispered back. ‘He’s very good at gutting poultry, though.’
Faith circled the table, the better to see Guy. ‘Hello.’
Guy looked up. ‘Hello.’
She watched him for a moment, and then said, ‘There always seems to be far more of that stuff’ – she indicated the mass of offal – ‘than one would reasonably think, doesn’t there?’
He grinned. ‘I suppose so.’
She explained, ‘Felix is teaching Nicole to sing and Jake to play the piano, but he says that it’s pointless doing anything with me because I’m tone deaf.’
‘Me too,’ said Guy amiably. ‘If I hit the right note it’s just luck.’
Back at Poppy’s side, Faith muttered, ‘He looks awfully hungry, don’t you think?’
Poppy glanced at Guy. He looked, she thought, half starved. As though he hadn’t had a decent meal for weeks. ‘The chicken will take ages to cook – they’re rather old and scraggy. Find some bread and cheese, won’t you, darling?’
Because there were ten other guests staying at La Rouilly, each one demanding Ralph’s time and attention, Faith decided to adopt Guy. He intrigued her. He had gutted the chickens with such careful precision – a Mulgrave would have stabbed wildly and violently, achieving much the same result, but with far more mess. At dinner, he argued with Ralph, but with a politeness and restraint never seen before at La Rouilly. He did not slam his wineglass on the table to make his point, or storm off in a huff when Ralph told him that his opinions were idiotic. Every time Poppy stood up, Guy sprang up too, helping her to collect dirty plates, opening the door for her.
The drinking and conversation drifted to a halt in the early hours of the morning. Poppy had gone to bed hours ago, and Ralph had fallen a
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