Linda Martin’s life changed dramatically when she lost her parents at a young age and landed in an orphanage in England. Her English father and mostly-French mother had taught her well; she spoke both languages fluently and supported herself taking a ‘general dogsbody’ position in a boy’s prep school. When she is offered the opportunity to go back to France (where she had spent her childhood), to take the position of governess she jumped at the chance. Did she jump too fast?
Mary Stewart leads the reader into a story of suspense, intrigue and romance in this fast-paced novel. As always, her descriptions of the countryside and food gives the reader the chance to experience it for themselves:
“Below me, in the valley depths where the river ran, I could see, quite distinctly now, the pale drift of mist. The owl cried again once, very sadly, from the wood. There was a strong wet smell of earth and growing things; the smell of spring… not softness, not balm-and-blossoms, but something of spring… not softness, not balm-and-blossoms, but something harsh and sharp that pierced the senses as the thrust of new life broke the ground… the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of dead land… yes, that was it. That was it. Not for the first time I was sharply grateful to daddy for making poetry a habit with me.”
Philippe is an engaging little boy, and Linda’s sympathy is immediately drawn to him as he too has lost his parents at a young age. The lonely little boy needs a friend and finds a ‘kindred spirit’ in Linda. It isn’t long before she is not only his governess but his protector, as one mysterious accident after another takes place. Only Linda’s quick thinking, courage and determination can prevent tragedy.
Mary Stewart has shown herself to be a master of suspense and intrigue, but her character development is also both creative and authentic. There is the English butler and housekeeper-wife, Mr. and Mrs. Seddons, who, though having lived in France for over thirty years, still speak a schoolroom French. There is Linda’s enemy, the dark unfriendly Albertine, and there is the handsome, enigmatic Raoul. Monsieur Florimond, a famous dress designer, still has time to play chess with a lonely little boy, and of course, there is the wheelchair-bound -but still- intimidating, formidable Leon de Valmy.
Will there be a happy ending for Philippe, and for Linda also? Will she lose her position as governess as she begins to fall for the master of the house’s son? Although a re-read, I still found so much in this gripping novel to enjoy and savor even though it moved so quickly for me, I read it in two days.
“Quite suddenly I ceased to be sorry I had come. It was as if the past, till then so longed after, so lived over, had slipped off my shoulders like a burden. The future was still hidden, somewhere in the lights that made a yellow blur in the sky beyond the end of the dark street. Here between the two I waited, and for the first time saw both clearly… I had waited for life to offer itself back to me on the old terms. Well, she wasn’t going to.”