Share this:

Page 20

Ian watched Daniel in silence again, pinning Daniel with his gaze, something he rarely did with anyone but Beth and his children. Whatever thoughts ran behind those eyes, Ian gave no sign.

Finally Ian looked away then back down at Megan, kissing the top of her head. He glanced back at Daniel, but didn’t focus on him again.

“Yes,” Ian said.

Chapter 7

“Why do I have to be the countess?” Celine asked, pushing out her lower lip. “I still do not understand why you insisted we leave London, Violet. I’m not well.”

“I know, Mama. I’m sorry.”

Violet gazed out the window of their small boardinghouse flat, two floors above the street. Flaking plaster, exposed walls, and crooked shutters looked picturesque in this French seaside town, but the reality was cold and damp rooms with wind coming through cracks around the windows.

Though many people wintered in the cities of southern France, good for Violet’s trade, they did not come because it was terribly warm. About ten degrees warmer than England, yes, but hardly the tropics. Warmth was found farther south, in Italy and the Greek isles beyond.

“I liked being Madame Bastien,” her mother continued. “Madame Bastien was kind and helpful. The countess is such a haughty woman. Cool and distant. And the turban makes my head ache.”

“You do not have to wear the turban if you don’t want to.” Violet drew her shawl closer about her shoulders and turned from the windows.

Her mother sat in the warmest chair in the house, pulled next to the white porcelain stove. A knitted shawl wrapped her upper body, and she’d laid another over her knees. It was true that Celine easily took sick, and also that she must keep warm and well, because she was the real draw of their show.

“Why do I have to be the countess at all?” Celine asked fretfully. “It is difficult to remember to speak with a Russian accent all the time. They don’t come to see me because I’m a countess, or Russian, or whatever you’re having me be this time. They come for my gift.”

“I know,” Violet said.

Her mother was amazing. Her trances were real, Celine having no memory of what went on in most of them. She’d speak in a variety of voices, from the child who was her spirit guide, to men and women from all walks of life and all nationalities. Violet had never been able to decide whether the spirits truly spoke through her mother or whether she was simply an extremely gifted mimic. All in all, people came to see Celine perform, and even the most skeptical left entranced by her.

“Then why the costumes?” Celine asked.

“To attract punters,” Violet explained patiently. “They’ve not heard of us here. Once they’re inside the theatre, then they understand why you are special, and they’ll tell everyone they know. But we have to have a hook to make them come in the first place.”

“Jacobi always used to say that,” Celine said. “Tiresome man.”

“He was right.” Whatever Violet thought of Jacobi now, he had understood the importance of showmanship. “You must admit that we did very, very well in London as the Bastiens, the frail mother and her daughter, her guide.”

“The guide part is real, you know. I rely on you, dear Violet.”

Her mother did. Any thought that Violet would leave her—to travel, to be a wife, to do anything—was met with terror and weeping. Celine needed her Violet. How could she survive otherwise?

But while Celine was a slave to her weak health and her gift, she could also be keen-minded and strong as an ox when she wanted something.

“I still don’t understand why we had to leave London,” Celine said again. “We’d have found a way to come up with the rent. We had another performance at the end of the week.”

Violet didn’t answer. Neither she nor Mary had told Celine what had happened with Daniel Mackenzie, or the true reason they’d fled in the night.

Violet hadn’t seen any mention of Mr. Mackenzie in the newspapers here, but the French papers didn’t always take much notice of what went on in England. The few English newspapers she’d glimpsed had not screamed out about his death. For the most part, though, Violet was avoiding English newspapers, to preserve the fiction that she and Celine spoke little English. Even here, inside the boardinghouse, they spoke only French.

The story for the stage Violet had wrought was that Celine—now Countess Melikova, a widow—had been forced to flee Russia when her gift for clairvoyance was deemed too dangerous. She’d left the splendor of her late husband’s manor house for a peripatetic existence in France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, giving readings and séances for coin.

Violet was now Princess Ivanova, the countess’s deceased best friend’s daughter. Princess Ivanova had left a string of broken hearts behind her from Saint Petersburg to Budapest, and had been forced out of Russia because four men had fought to the death over her. She’d been told never to return. The princess and the countess had agreed to travel and live together, and here they were.

Violet and her mother had used the personas once before, in Italy, where they had worked well—at least, until the winter had turned unusually bitter, sending tourists home. Violet and her mother had moved to a milder climate then and transformed themselves into Romany women.

Violet turned to the window again to avoid her mother’s continuing questions about why they’d left London. Violet had relived the dreadful moment in the dining room of the London townhouse again and again—her fear clearing to reveal Daniel giving her a look of confusion before he fell to the floor.

Leave a comment

We will not publish your email address. Required fields are marked*

Related Novels