Authors: Kate Beaufoy
One beautiful dress is the key to three brave women’s destinies . . .
Jessie is celebrating the last heady days of her honeymoon. But when her husband suddenly disappears she finds herself bereft. Until a chance encounter thrusts her into the centre of the intoxicating world of Parisian high life.
Lisa has come a long way from her quiet, unassuming life in London and is taking Hollywood by storm. But all that glitters is not gold, and as the smoke and mirrors of the lifestyle she so longed for shatter around her there are some secrets she can never escape.
Cat, headstrong and independent, drawn to danger and passionately opposed to injustice, has no idea of the legacy that precedes her. Once past secrets are revealed, she has the chance to find out what liberty really means . . .
An evocative story of survival, betrayal and the invincibility of love.
This book is dedicated to three generations of strong women:
My grandmother, Winifred Jessie Beaufoy
My mother, Hilary
My daughter, Clara
The idea for
was first mooted by my beautiful mother, Hilary, who sadly did not live to see this book published. The lion’s share of my gratitude must go to her, and of course, to my grandmother Winifred Jessie, whose original letters were my inspiration. To her, thanks are also due for the cabochon sapphire ring and the Egyptian charm (both of which I wear), the leather-bound sketchbook she gave my grandfather, and the Liberty silk evening dress. These heirlooms – assembled nearly a hundred years ago – inform the narrative of
. Thanks also go to my sisters, Deborah and Pat, and to Morag Engel and Roy Storie for nuggets of Beaufoy family history.
While researching the novel, hundreds of books – from gossipy autobiographies to more scholarly publications – were consulted. Since to list them all would require an extensive bibliography, I’ll mention just the three I turned to again and again. They were:
The World of Coco Chanel
by Edmonde Charles-Roux,
David O. Selznick’s Hollywood
by Ronald Haver and Don McCullin’s gripping and insightful memoir,
I have been blessed with a dream team: my agent and champion, Charlotte Robertson and my editors Harriet Bourton and Georgie Bouz. If I were to laud them as they deserve I would be gently advised to red-pen the adjectives, so I’ll make do with three restrained ones: passionate, insightful, meticulous.
reunites me with copy editor Beth Humphries, eagle-eyed as ever, and with old friends at Transworld: copious thanks to you all, and to Steve Mulcahey and Claire Ward, who were responsible for the delicious cover.
Thanks also to those friends and fellow writers Cathy Kelly, Douglas Kennedy, Sue Leonard, Fiona O’Brien, Sheila O’Flanagan and Abby Opperman, who read early drafts and proffered encouragement and sorority. Tony Baines and Mark Long listened to me while hill-walking; Ciarán Hinds listened over Skype. Marian Keyes and Hilary Reynolds, friends of the heart, listened all the way up
all the way down the steepest hills.
would not be in your hands today were it not for the unconditional love and support of my very best beloveds, my husband Malcolm and my daughter Clara. Simply put: I owe them everything. Final thanks must go to the little cat who sat on my chest and purred encouragement when I was unwell, never daring to dream that I would write: ‘The End’.
Keep thine arms around me, love,
Until I fall to sleep;
Then leave me, saying no goodbye
Lest I may wake, and weep.
The senior mistress of Bournemouth High School for Girls spoke these words to her sixth form in 1917
‘I have come to tell you a terrible fact. Only one out of every ten of you can ever hope to marry. This is not a guess. It is a statistical fact. Nearly all the men who might have married you have been killed. You will have to make your way in the world as best you can.’
On Active Service.
Dearest Mother and All
Crowds and crowds of things have happened! At 12 o’clock a terrific hooting and bell-ringing and cheering set up. By the evening the streets were full of rowdiness and excitement. People let off fireworks under your nose, and dropped dud bombs from roofs of houses, and the anti-aircraft guns kept on firing from the neighbouring hills. Soldiers of all nationalities dancing and shouting and kissing girls and getting drunk. I have never seen such crowds in my life! We celebrated with champagne, and decorated ourselves with huge bows of Allies’ ribbon, and we paraded the streets thoroughly intoxicated with excitement!
The dazzle, the gunfire, the clangour, the clamour, the ticker-tape festoons. The frenzy, the crush, the sweat, the huzzahing, the thrum of her hummingbird heart.
Water hastily splashed into a basin, cold flannel on warm skin, a spritz of Chypre, a hasty coiffure, a pirouette before a silvered pier-glass, the swish of silk as she descended the stairs.
Charades! Waltzes! The crackle of a log fire, the fizz of Dom Pérignon, a mandarin glow of lanterns, candied fruit in glazed dishes, a scattering of spilled almonds, a frisson, a glance as his hand brushed hers.
The woods at Canteleu: pine needles underfoot, ghosts soughing in bare branches, the gleam of holly berries in the undergrowth, a carillon wind-borne from the Cathédrale. His greatcoat around her shoulders, a graze of gabardine, his arms, his touch, his scent, his lips, his voice. . .
‘You smell of moss,’ he said. ‘You taste of apricots.’
24 November 1918
I told you about the artist member of the staff, I think. He is thoroughly amusing and tremendously popular wherever he goes - you couldn’t help liking him . . .
2 December 1918
You ask his Christian name - he, and I too, like to cover it up as much as possible, as we both hate it. His name is Albert Charles, but he is called Scotch. He is nice and straight and tall and is altogether adorable (but then, of course, I
21 December 1918
Don’t worry about me, I’m quite flourishing and happy. I do know, we both know, that this has all happened rather suddenly, but that just can’t be helped . . .
27 December 1918
I expect you can guess what Scotch’s present was to me?!! A ring, of course, an awfully nice little one – plain gold and plain setting with a fascinating dark blue stone in the middle . . .
3 January 1919
Scotch found, tucked away in a dusty corner of an antique shop, a little Egyptian charm – most fascinating – a little figure of a devil or something . . .
12 January 1919
As the matter stands now we will get married in spring. I am waiting to hear what you think about the whole business. Isn’t money a silly nuisance? What on earth do young married people usually start living on?
THE AROMA OF
coffee drifted under the door of the bedroom on the third floor of the hotel. Was that what had woken her? Or had it been the tinny sound of the church bell striking the hour? Or the squabbling of sparrows under the eaves? Or the plangent French accents floating up from the narrow street below? It was hot already outside – she could tell by the haze that shimmered beyond the open window. What a blissful way to wake up! Lying between crumpled linen sheets with her husband of two months beside her . . .
She turned to take him in her arms, but he was gone. Of course he was. Scotch was no slugabed. He was on the go from the moment his eyes opened in the morning until the moment they shut last thing at night, after making love to her.
She’d read about lovemaking of course, in romance novels, the ones she’d be ashamed to be seen borrowing from the library. In those books the heroines swooned and yielded and languished, and Jessie had deplored their inertia. In contrast, the feelings she had for Scotch were exuberant, galvanising; the way he looked at her charged her with an astonishing energy; his touch exhilarated her.
Her friend Tuppenny had quizzed her about ‘the act’ and the only comparison that Jessie could come up with in response – ‘even better than being happy!’ – was pitifully inadequate. Sex in all its wonder and absurdity thrilled her, and she was, as her new husband had learned to his amusement, quite shockingly unshockable.
Jessie felt that familiar cat-who-got-the-cream smile curve her lips – a smile she wore habitually when she thought of Scotch – and eased herself into a stretch. What was in store for them today? A lazy breakfast followed by a trip to the beach at Raguenez – a painters’ paradise that lay a short train journey away, to the west. She would explore the coves and read and swim and write letters – she hadn’t written home for weeks – and Scotch would take out his watercolours and brushes and work away until it was time for their picnic.
A knock came to the door, and Jessie reached for the broderie anglaise wrapper draped over the cast iron bedstead.
‘Madame? I have brought your
café au lait
‘Come in, Suzette.’
The door opened, and a little girl of about ten years old came into the room, carrying a dish of coffee, and a pitcher. Water slopped over the rim as she lifted a foot and kicked the door shut behind her.
‘Bonjour, Suzette. Thank you, poppet – that coffee smells good. Is Scotch at breakfast downstairs?’
‘Yes. If you don’t get down there soon you’ll find that he’s guzzled all the croissants.’ Suzette set the brimming cup down on the bedside locker, then crossed the floor to set the pitcher by the wash-stand. ‘It’s a beautiful day. Scotch says to hurry up and stop wasting it.’
‘He’s a big bossy boots.’ Jessie cupped her hands around the coffee and took a sip.
‘Are all husbands bossy?’
‘I don’t know – I’ve never had one before.’
‘You’re lucky to get one,’ Suzette told her, perching on the edge of the bed. ‘My cousin was in tears yesterday, and when I asked her what was wrong, she said that she’d never get a husband, ever, because all the young men she’d fancied were dead. She said that her
had told the girls they’d all be spinsters and they’d just have to get used to it, and never have children, only cats, and that they should be glad to have jobs. Will that happen to me?’
‘Oh no, Suzette. There will be lots of boys who will want to marry you, when you’re old enough.’