Authors: Frances Osborne
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #War & Military
Praise for Frances Osborne’s
“For those who can’t ever get enough of the frolics and affairs of the British upper class in the ’20s and ’30s,
is the book for you.… Brilliant and utterly divine.… It’s a breath of fresh air from a vanished world.”
The Daily Beast
“Wonderfully engaging.… [It] combines the tingling immediacy of the best kind of history with the stay-up-till-3-a.m.-to-finish-it urgency of a bestseller.”
“Idina Sackville … could have stepped out of an Evelyn Waugh satire about the bright young things who partied away their days in the ’20s and ’30s, and later crashed and burned.… Frances Osborne … conjure[s] a vanished world with novelistic detail and flair.”
The New York Times
“Beautifully written … it catches a social group and the madcap lives they led—so luxurious, so wasted.… Superb.”
—Barbara Goldsmith, author of
Little Gloria … Happy at Last
“Passionate and headstrong, Lady Idina was determined to be free even if the cost was scandal and ruin. Frances Osborne has brilliantly captured not only one woman’s life but an entire lost society.”
—Amanda Foreman, author of
Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
“Engaging.… A revealing portrait of a remarkable woman.… Ms. Osborne has succeeded in her stated aim, to write a book that ‘has in a way brought Idina back to life.’ And what a life it was.”
—The Wall Street Journal
Frances Osborne was born in London and studied philosophy and modern languages at Oxford University. She is the author of
. Her articles have appeared in
The Daily Telegraph
. She lives in London with her husband, George Osborne, and their two children.
ALSO BY FRANCES OSBORNE
A VINTAGE BOOKS ORIGINAL, JUNE 2012
Copyright © 2012 by Frances Osborne
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House
of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in Great Britain
by Virago Press, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, London.
Vintage and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents
either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events,
or locales is entirely coincidental.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Park Lane : a novel / by Frances Osborne.
1. Women—England—London—Fiction. I. Title.
Cover images: London, Park Lane 1890 © Francis Frith/Mary Evans Picture Library; woman: © Tomasz Jankowski/ Trevillion Images; maid © Colin Thomas
To my sister, Kate
GRACE CAN JUST SEE THE BEDROOM DOOR HANDLE
ahead of her. In daylight it’d be so bright her face would stare back from the brass. But it’s not dawn yet and barely February, so there’s just the night-city glow coming through the glass roof. Size of a schoolyard, it is, all that glass. There’s as much empty space in the hall of this house as there is in a church.
She’s almost there now, made it along the passageway all quiet, and with a dead weight in her grasp. She’s not a big girl, either, is Grace.
The handle is night-cold and turnip-big, fingers only just getting a turn. Slowly, Grace Campbell, for it’ll come, and Lord knows when. If you go quick through it the noise is quicker, though it’ll be a screech.
A foot open the door is when it squeaks, but don’t you stop still, Grace Campbell, for the dead light’s coming in with you. Another couple of inches, that’s all. There it is, and still the bed’s quiet.
She’s in; pull the door to or the draught’ll gush. A week she’s been here and she’s learning fast, though what could get through those shutters and weigh-a-ton curtains is beyond her. The door closed, it’s pitch, and damp from a night’s sleep. Let go the handle slowly now, oh Lord, what’s she in for, the latch might as well be a hoof on stone.
There’s a noise to her left, a starched-sheet rustle. Grace stops and it comes again, a slide, a pat of a pillow.
A light comes on, and Grace is in a room of heavy red and green creeper wallpaper. The room smells of dried roses, and she’s facing a wall of red velvet curtain that has seen better days. Lying in the curtained bed, blankets up to her nose, is a young woman hardly older than Grace. Her face, thinks Grace, is so dainty pale that you’d barely see it on the pillow if there wasn’t that hair all round, thick and brown and shining as though it is brushed all day and night. Grace’s own dark hair is pulled back and into her mob cap, so’s you can’t see it matches her eyes; they’re not like the pair looking at her from the bed, blue that could be ice or sky, who’s to know which. Puts a fear into Grace, not knowing.
The scuttle’s near pulling her arm out now, worse when you’re still, even with how her arms are hardening. She can’t put it down, not on the carpet, ever, though there’s not a trace of coal dust left on the bottom. Though she can’t hold it for much longer and not put it down, she’ll drop it soon enough, and imagine the mess with that. Not to mention the riot she’d be read downstairs. Out it would be, almost as soon as she’d arrived.
The worry’s enough to make her angry. Drop the scuttle why don’t you, Grace Campbell, tidy the sheets with your coal-smeared hands, and tell Miss Beatrice that if she’d went to bed at a reasonable hour she wouldn’t mind being woken now.
The very mildness of the words is water on her heat, almost so she forgets to bob, as well as she can, what with the scuttle and turning. ‘Ever so sorry, Miss Beatrice. It won’t happen again, the door.’
Miss Beatrice sits up and her dark hair falls on to her nightdress, all white like an angel’s gown. She moves her head, hair like rain as it comes down.
‘The door squeaks. You can’t help it. Well, hardly anyone can. There is a trick to it but, but, I’m not quite up to leaping out of bed and giving a demonstration.’
‘Yes, Miss Beatrice. Would you like me to get it seen to?’ Grace almost has it now, talking all respectful as she’s supposed to.
‘No, I meant … Oh, don’t worry. I suspect it is an idea of Mother’s so that she can hear when I come in, and she’ll just find some other way.’
There’s no waiting-up here, thinks Grace, not like Ma and Da’d do. Mind you, it wasn’t as if Grace was ever out at those hours. Three or four in the morning for Master Edward, she’d heard from the footmen, who’d be half gone having to wait by the door until he came in. You wouldn’t have thought that was proper, or that Lady Masters would have any of it.
It’s Grace who’s waiting now, poker-straight, even if the coals are trying to bend her.
‘Please.’ Miss Beatrice tilts her head towards the fireplace.
‘Thank you, miss, I mean Miss Beatrice, miss.’
Get it right, Grace Campbell, she tells herself and attempts another bob, a rickety one, though, but to the grate, quick. On your knees and reach right to the back, sweep like you’re icing a cake. If she doesn’t look like she’s just out the mine it’s a miracle then. Speck in her eye, and a big one, eye’s a river but shut it tight, for you can’t stop.
Fire’s lit, and Miss Beatrice’s head is back on the pillow, eyes tight though the lamp’s still on. Scuttle half the weight now, it’s back to the door, tiptoe now.
‘What’s your name?’
‘Yes, Miss Beatrice.’
‘I like that name.’
‘Thank you, miss.’
‘Where are you from, Grace?’
‘Carlisle.’ Somewhere Miss Beatrice has never been, Grace’s sure of that. At least not to Grace’s part of Carlisle. Not grand, her street isn’t, though the houses only joined to one other, and all new, even
if the fresh red brick darkened almost as soon as it went up. And they’d had a maid once. Well, a tweeny. Then Ma said it was an extravagance, in the circumstances. Grace likes to think the girl has gone on to better luck.
‘Long way. Almost Scotland.’
Grace nods, mouth shut in case her thoughts come out. Your impulses, Grace, Ma says. Hold them in and you’ll go far, we’ll be right proud of you.
‘Don’t worry about the door. I don’t usually wake. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t heard your step before.’
Grace waits; she can’t walk on, not while Miss Beatrice is talking to her, not until she’s been told she can. That’s the rule she’s been given, even if Miss Beatrice has stopped talking and is just looking at her.
Then Miss Beatrice says thank you, sweetly, as though she means it. Of a sudden there’s a warmth in Grace, the tip of a smile spreading on her and pride that is the first since she came to Number Thirty-Five last week. Out it comes, before the words are through her head even, ‘Cup o’ tea, Miss Beatrice?’
‘Is anyone in the kitchen yet?’
What to say to that? If the kitchen maids aren’t in there by now, it’ll be their last day. She’s out of the room and back along the gallery, where she treads careful and quiet down the middle of the carpet, thick and red enough for a palace. A palace can’t be much grander than this house, with all the drawing rooms and saloons, they call them, opening into one another with doors near the size of the front of a house in those side streets Ma always told her to avoid. There’s a ballroom at the back, too, whole width of the house, and at the front there’s five windows, overlooking Hyde Park. Inside could do with a lick of paint, take a year to do it, it would, Grace’s guess, more even. Wallpaper needs doing too, only so much as you can hide behind paintings, and some of those paintings, well … Grace can feel herself blush. There’s a dozen of them where the people aren’t wearing any clothes at all.