Cover image for Tamsin Harte
Title:
Tamsin Harte
Author:
Macdonald, Malcolm, 1932-
Personal Author:
Edition:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, [2000]

©2000
Physical Description:
345 pages ; 22 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780312206284
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Young Tamsin Harte is skilled at living between two worlds in her Cornish village. After her wealthy father dies, Tamsin and her mother are forced to open a boarding house. Yet Tamsin aspires to much greater goals. If only she could win the heart of Master Victor Thorne, she would have all she wants in life. But could it be that her true love is already much closer at hand?


Author Notes

Malcolm Macdonald was born in 1932, the eldest of three brothers. While he was growing up, his family lived in Shropshire, Scotland, and South Africa, but they eventually settled in Cornwall. After school he studied fine art and then traveled, working at a variety of jobs, including teaching, farming, mining, and tunneling. The first of his many novels was published in 1961.


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The eponymous heroine of the prolific Macdonald's latest historical novel is a feisty young entrepreneur corralled into running a bed-and-breakfast with her mother after her beloved father's death. Tamsin and her mother have moved to a Cornish seaside resort and opened a guest house with their last remaining funds. Believing that only a wealthy husband will make her dream of opening a first-class hotel come true, Tamsin connives to meet a handsome young vacationer. She also makes the acquaintance of a crusty old seaman and his gorgeous fisherman son, and the Rolls Royce^-driving owner of the area's grandest hotel. A free spirit in that fateful summer of 1907, Tamsin skinny-dips with the maid of her wealthy new friends as well as with two men before she learns the facts of life, then becomes involved in a smuggling scheme. But no matter what she gets up to, Macdonald's determined heroine retains her light-hearted innocence and joie de vivre. --Diana Tixier Herald


Publisher's Weekly Review

Set in a Cornish fishing village at the turn of the last century, Macdonald's latest historical romance (after Like a Diamond) evokes the moment when England's rigid class structure first began to loosen and the upper class began to reconsider its conventional injunction against the self-made man, or in this case, woman. Tamsin Harte and her mother, Harriet, fall from the upper echelon of society when Tamsin's father dies and his shipping firm goes bankrupt. They open a boarding house to get by. Energetic, enterprising and ambitious, Tamsin discovers that she has a mind suited to business enterprises. (Her secret ambition is to build "the best hotel in Cornwall.") When it comes to romance, however, she is still bound by tradition. Though attracted to handsome fisherman David Peters, she cannot consider him as anything more than a friend, since he is not of the right class. Instead she sets her sights on Victor Thorne, a spoiled young man from an upper-crust family whose snobbish, scheming mother, Cicely Thorne, provides much of the story's conflict. Tamsin also finds herself attracted to Standish Coverley, a helpful and engaging man who owns the region's most posh hotel, but who appears uninterested in romantic liaisons with women. There is plenty of social intrigue and high adventure, including brandy smuggling, narrow escapes from the custom officers, fine dining and skinny dipping. Delightful descriptions of archaic Victorian-era practices, such as the use of "ladies' bathing machines," add historical color. Though a number of interesting and amusing secondary characters disappear or play disappointingly minor roles in the plot, Macdonald tells a lively and engaging tale. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One She saw them from quite a way off, strolling along the Esplanade toward her -- the Father, the Mother, the Young Master hanging back a bit, trying to look as if he didn't belong, and the Dutiful Daughter, clinging to her father's arm. There were dozens of families like them in Penzance that summer but something about this particular group held Tamsin's eye. Step by step, as they drew nearer, she began to evaluate them, as she was learning to do with everybody nowadays.     Paterfamilias, as he doubtless called himself, ought not to wear those mutton-chop whiskers; they were far too straggly and thin. And too pale to count. The cream blazer with the broad red stripes was a mistake, too; it made his face look all bleached and it showed up the ancient straw of his boater. Still, he could be quite rich. Men so careless of their person and dress often were.     Matriarch was a little harder to pin down (as her maid probably said to herself each day). Any woman of mature years who could choose to go abroad by day in an outfit like that was either devoid of all taste and sense or she was so rich she could afford to do it for a lark. The skirt was borrowed from a hospital matron; the blouse from a French matelot, collar and all; and the hat from Ascot, 1899 -- eight years out-of-date (and ten out-of-fashion even back then). She could at least have chosen white gloves; what was going through her mind when she selected the lavender instead?     Young Master was interesting, though -- and only partly because he had just set eyes on her and now, seemingly, could not take them off again. He stood two inches taller at once and began to walk with a swagger. The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo. He may have been of their flesh but he was of a different mould. For a start, he had a keen sense of dress and fashion, with his tapering trousers and spotless kid spats over white leather shoes, and his white blazer with silk edges and thin stripes, both of a blue to make you notice his eyes, and his blue cotton square tied with nonchalant care to thrust aside the dazzling ramparts of his shirt, which had fashionably short, rounded collars -- the first she had seen in Penzance this summer. And then there was his neat, military moustache with its waxed points, pricked in perfect symmetry, and his merciless but very kissable lips, and ...     But that was enough, or he'd start leaping to all the wrong conclusions. Tamsin would never be interested in him, except as a means to an end. Everything and everyone was just that nowadays -- a means to an end.     The Dutiful Daughter was the most interesting of all. The long, white, virginal dress, short enough to show schoolgirlish ankles in patent white kid boots, told of one who had not as yet come out. The red sash revealed a desire to complement, if not compliment, the Paterfam. The sailor collar might have done the same for the Matriarch if it had not been so obviously more appropriate for the younger female herself. And the straw boater, worn at the same insouciant angle as her elder brother's might indicate a touching desire not to leave him out of these flattering sartorial quotations, either. In short -- a girl so incapable of making up her own mind that she borrowed willy nilly from the little world around her.     Perfect!     Tamsin blessed the instinct that had led her to the Esplanade this afternoon.     She gazed out to sea, wondering which of those lobstermen were hauling cognac today -- and which of those French barques had dropped it -- until the little family drew level. Then she `noticed' Young Master's eyes upon her and gave an impatient little toss of her head. Pater and Mater, having already sailed by, saw nothing, but Dutiful D, turning to smile at her big bro, caught the gesture and giggled. Twenty paces farther on they both turned and looked back at her again. She saw them reflected in the glass of the shelter where she sat, for an obliging woman in widow's weeds had seated herself in the other bay, on the far side of that glass, turning it into a mirror.     "Some high-quarter folk, they!" said an old man at her other side, a man she had barely noticed until now.     A seaman, perhaps, to judge by his blazer and roll-neck pullover, both navy blue. Did he have `Saucy Sal' stitched across the chest?     No.     Still, the salt-tanned skin and yachtsman's cap said Old Man of the Sea.     "Do I know you?" she asked, meaning to cut him for his impertinence.     "Benny Peters," he said and touched the peak of his cap with the tip of his thumb.     She hesitated. Benny Peters? It rang a bell. One of the housemaids had mentioned the name only yesterday. A tragedy at sea ... a drowning ... the loss of two sons? Tamsin had listened with only half an ear. But her present hesitation lost her the indignant moral ground from which she could have spurned his advance.     "Miss Harte," she said. She even managed a smile.     "So what does Miss Tamsin Harte think to they folk, then?" He jerked his head after the family group, who were now half way toward the end of the constitutional mile.     "You know my name?" she replied.     "I've heard tell of 'ee -- you and your mother. Plymouth folk, they do say."     "Do they!"     "High-quarter folk fallen on harder times, they do say."     " They do say an awful lot, it would seem."     "Not true, then, is it?"     "It's none of your business!"     "That's a lack and no mistake." He chuckled.     She could not feel as cross with him as his impudence demanded; he was so mild and jovial.     "I only thought as one high-quarter young lady might have a better eye for what you might call the niceties of the situation than what I got. That's all. Sorry I spoke, I'm sure."     "Oh, I didn't mean to be rude ..."     He bounded back at once: "So what do'ee reckon, then? High quarter or not?" Again he jerked his head toward the family group. "Hardly can't see 'em now."     Hard to tell," Tamsin said. She still felt awkward at discussing people of quality with hoi polloi -- though she did it perforce with the chambermaids, Bridget and Catherine, almost every day of the week.     "'Tis the new sport in Cornwall," he said. "Tellin' apples from horseapples."     "So what d'you reckon to them?" She, too, nodded after the strolling family. She injected a little experimental tinge of Cornish into her voice -- educated Cornish, of course, or else she would have said, `to they.'     "They'm worth more'n they do show," he replied. "That's a lack, that is."     "You think so?" She made herself appear mildly surprised, though, of course, she had reached the same conclusion herself. Surprised and admiring.     Her condescension flattered him into an explanation he might not otherwise have bothered to give. "See they five there?" He inclined his head toward another family -- a boy, a young man, a girl in-between, and their parents -- walking up from the Newlyn end; the mother was glancing right and left with ferret eyes. All were in brand-new summer outfits. "That's new money, that is," the Old Salt added. "First generation."     "Parvenus!" She laughed. "You come down here to play the same game as me, Mister Peters!"     "How's that, then, Miss Harte?"     "Guessing which niche to put each Tom, Dick, and Mary into. How far d'you go?"     He winked. "All the way, maid -- if I'm left."     Six months earlier, Miss Tamsin Harte of Elburton Villa, Plymouth, might well have slapped his face for such gross insolence; but that Miss Tamsin Harte had been in the market for an eligible husband -- who would want his wife to be as unsullied by the vulgarity of the world as possible. This Miss Tamsin Harte, however, could no longer afford to hold herself so aloof; vulgarity had to be renamed -- re-evaluated, in fact, as part of life's rich rough-and-tumble. Her livelihood now depended on it.     So all this new Miss Tamsin Harte did was dig him in the ribs with one finger and say, "Now, now! None of that. Don't you try to guess their trades and occupations? Take this parvenu family, now -- what d'you think he does for a living?"     "Attorney's clerk? Floor walker? Highways surveyor? That sort o' caper. How about th'others -- the high-quarter lot?"     "My guess is the father doesn't work at all. He's `consolled up to the eyeballs,' as my father used to say, God rest him."     "Ay-men," he said automatically. "And the young 'un -- the one as couldn't take his eyes off of 'ee?"     "Really? I wasn't looking too closely."     "'Course not. Still, you got some opinion, I speck?"     "He's still at school, I'm sure -- not for the lessons but for the sake of the football. The `Idle Rich,' eh -- what a life!"     "'Twas yourn once, so I heard tell."     "What I meant was it's no sort of life at all, Mister Peters." He chuckled. "So if some ol' piskey now was to jump out o' thin air and offer 'ee such a life back again, you'd say no thank'ee, Mister, would 'ee?"     "If it meant bringing my father back to life, then ..."     "That's not what I meant -- and you do know it very well."     She insisted: "I was going to say that even if it meant bringing my father back, I'd say `no thank'ee, Mister' if it also meant I had to go back to living in idleness." She looked him up and down. "I think you'd have said the same at my age. You may live in idleness now but I can see you've earned it. You deserve it. That's different."     "Now we're cutting closer to the bone!" He sat up straighter and rubbed his hands. "What would 'ee do, then, maid -- with all the piskey's gold you could carry?"     "Oh, what wouldn't I do!"     "Such as?"     She wondered whether to tell him her secret. Then she thought why not? After all, it was nothing to be ashamed of -- they were quite alone in this bay of the shelter and there was no one else within earshot.     Her eyes strayed beyond him, fixing on a point near the western end of the Esplanade. "I'd build an hôtel," she told him. "Just there -- where there's a vacant lot. The best hôtel in Cornwall. Better than the Tregenna Castle. Better than the Falmouth Hôtel. Better even than the Queen's." She nodded toward it, for it stood directly opposite the shelter, on the landward side of the Esplanade. Then, feeling she had bared too much, she laughed and added, "I don't need your piskey gold, though. I'll have it all one day, you'll see. I've already started saving up." She opened her purse and showed him two sixpences. "There!"     He laughed, too, but she realized he wasn't entirely fooled into dismissing it as just one of those passing-cloud dreams.     "Two tanners!" he said. "I had two tanners once. `Bout your age, I was, too. And I belonged to dream of a vessel of my own -- just like you and your hôtel."     "And did you get it?"     He raised his walking stick and aimed it like a telescope at a fishing boat, about two miles out. "The Merlin . My son do sail 'er now. My son Peter, that is, my little Benjamin."     She knew then that her earlier half-memory had been correct. He was, indeed, the Benny Peters who had lost two sons at sea.     Meanwhile he reached out and gave her wrist a hesitant squeeze, "It can be done, maid."     "If you're a man," she said, "yes. A man can go off whaling, or drilling for oil in Texas, or hunting diamonds on the African coast ... I know all the ways a man can fund his dreams."     "I went whaling, me," he said, not even pausing to offer token sympathy for her plight. "And there was a maid along of us -- though none knew it. `Course, she bound her chest and cut her hair ... and chawed baccy and swore worse'n any man aboard."     The possibility intrigued her, though not in any practical sense. "But if none of the crew knew of it ..." she began.     "Till we come ashore," he added.     "And then?"     He grinned and patted his breastbone.     "And then?" she insisted.     "Well," he replied, "let's just say that if I hadn't found her out, 'twould be some other son by some other woman out there now." He gestured vaguely toward his boat.     The Idle Rich, having reached the end of the Esplanade, by the pasture earmarked for Tamsin's dream-hôtel, had turned and were starting to stroll back again.     Benny, seeing that her eyes rarely strayed from them for long, said, "I daresay they got 'nuff money for your hôtel, just in loose change round the house."     "People like that?" She laughed thinly. "They wouldn't even give me the time of day."     "Ah!" He raised a finger and grinned knowingly. "That would depend, now."     "On what?"     "On your nimbleness of wit -- that's what." He glanced all about them, including through the glass behind, where two boys were crossing the road. One was carrying a bucket and the other had two spades, to dig for lugworm bait. He turned to her quickly and said, "Would it be worth one o' they tanners to become `persona greater,' as they say -- with the Idle Rich? Yes or no -- quick?"     "Yes!" She swallowed heavily, for sixpence was a small fortune to her -- a week's tip from a guest at their boarding house. "Yes," she said again, just in case she changed her mind.     "Give it us, then." He held out his hand and then, raising his voice: "Boy! Come 'ere!"     The boys were going to ignore him until they caught sight of the silver coin. "I was first," said the first to arrive.     "Mebbe you won't be so keen when you do hear what you must do to earn `n," the old man said. "See these four fine-feathered folk coming up? When they do reach the steps 'ere, they'll go down to the beach. The boy who earns this tanner" -- he wafted it under their noses like toasted cheese -- "is to throw sand at the young maid's dress. And this maid 'ere" -- he jerked a thumb at Tamsin -- "she'll be right behind of 'ee, and she'll clip thee round the lug'ole and tell 'ee to be off. And she'll say she knows your mother and she's gwin to tell on 'ee. And all you do do is run off, baalin' like a calf on a dry cow. Now who do want the tanner?"     The first volunteer lost interest; his companion stepped into the breach and tried to claim his reward now.     But the old dog made it disappear with a magician's flourish. "Forehand pay is the worst pay of all," he said. "You shall have 'n once you've done your half o' the bargain. Step lively now -- here they come!"     Tamsin held her breath. Half of her wanted to carry out this exciting plan; the other half longed to take back the sixpence and run all the way home.     The moment the family started down the steps, she asked old Peters how he knew they'd do that.     "They belong to do it every day 'bout this-here time," he replied simply. "Go on now, maid. Carpet dee-em!"     For a moment she thought he was going to place a hand behind her b-t-m and propel her out of the shelter (and, for a moment, he even considered it, too). All he did, however, was take her elbow delicately between finger and thumb and gently ease her on her way.     The world swam around her as she crossed to the edge of the Esplanade. She had to keep swallowing, because her heart seemed to be trying to climb up out of her throat. She also had to keep remembering to breathe out.     The bribed boy came down behind her; his companion wisely stayed by the railings at the top, guarding the bucket and spades. The lad wasted no time but picked up a handful of dripping wet sand as soon as he reached the bottom of the steps, where the last tide had scooped out a small pool. He was no fool, either, for he threw that first handful directly at her, Tamsin. Thwack! it went, right between her shoulderblades. She had no need to act her outraged cry.     But even as she turned, a second handful went whizzing by and hit the Dutiful Daughter square on her left thigh -- and with enough impact to stick to her dress, her dazzling white dress, and leave a dark-grey streak all the way to the ground.     "You little devil!" Tamsin cried as she ran toward him, again without calling on her thespian reserves.     He was good, though. He stood, apparently aghast at his own miscalculation, until she was close enough to fetch him one good wallop. Then he fled like the wind.     "I know you!" she called after him. "I know where you live! I'll make you laugh on the other side of your face!"     She turned to the Idle Rich. "Sir! Madam! I am so sorry!" To the daughter she repeated the words: " So sorry! Here -- let me see what can be done."     She ran to the girl and, without a by-your-leave, began brushing away the clinging sand.     The girl, embarrassed, kept trying to say it was not necessary, that the sand was clean and would surely leave no mark once it dried ... and then she, in turn, started to brush the sand off Tamsin's back.     The sight was, apparently, comical enough to set the other three laughing -- at which the two girls stopped their mutual grooming and joined in.     The Young Master's eyes were on the boy, still, who was running to the far end of the beach. He was the first to speak. "What is that little wretch's name, Miss ... er?"     Tamsin bit her lip. "Did I call him a d-e-v-i-l?" she asked, spelling out the cuss-word. "Do forgive me, je vous en prie! I was just so angry ." To him she replied, "I don't actually know his name. I just said that to frighten him. But I have a fair notion where he lives, so he shan't escape chastisement, Mister ... er?"     The mother smiled and relaxed somewhat. This young lady obviously had enough savoir faire not to introduce herself to a gentleman before he had done her the same courtesy. "Allow me to present my children," she said. "This is my son, Victor Thorne, and his sister, Charlotte."     "Tamsin Harte." She bowed her head in Victor's direction and offered her hand to Charlotte, who shook it eagerly.     This emboldened Tamsin to offer her hand to Mrs Thorne, too, though she responded with somewhat less enthusiasm. Her husband made up for it, though. She had an inkling that this was the most exciting thing that had happened to them for weeks.     "Would you care to walk a little with us, Miss Harte?" Victor asked. "The sea breeze is so pleasant today and it will help dry off your beautiful dress."     He spoke in jest, surely, for this vaunted sea breeze smelled of low tide and dead sea creatures.     "You have a companion?" Mrs Thorne asked as she scanned the esplanade. "A lady's maid, perhaps?"     This, Tamsin realized, was the moment when it might all come crashing down around her. There was nothing for it but to take the point head-on. "Ah, Mrs Thorne, those days are over for me, I fear."     The woman frowned. "How so?"     "Once I dwelled in marble halls," she replied gaily, stretching the truth a little. "My father was one of the most respected shipping merchants in Plymouth. Indeed, in the West Country." She waved a lordly hand eastwards. "False modesty aside -- he was the most respected one in Plymouth. He employed sixty clerks and we had a villa on fifty acres at Elburton." She smiled, as if that were the end of the tale.     "And?" Mr Thorne prompted.     She shrugged and said, "Smash."     Then, seeing they did not understand (which was, in itself, understandable), she added, "My mother and I now own a guest house in Morrab Road." She waved a hand vaguely in the right direction. "A most superior guest house, to be sure, but undeniably a guest house nonetheless." She smiled at the mother. "I suppose you'd rather I didn't walk with you now? Believe me, I'd quite understand."     It was the simple truth but Mrs Thorne naturally felt obliged to deny that such a snobbish thought had so much as crossed her mind. Her husband and children chimed in with more genuine enthusiasm. Charlotte even took her arm to prove it.     Victor, who looked as if he'd like to join in on the other side, was still keeping an eye on the boy, Tamsin noticed. His lips looked even more kissable close-to. The lad had now run to the far end of the beach and was climbing the steps to the promenade (which, for some reason, did not become the Esplanade for another three or four hundred yards).     "To tell the truth ..." Tamsin began, and then thought better of it.     "Yes?" Charlotte squeezed her arm encouragingly.     "Well, I was heartbroken when Papa died -- naturally -- especially when his death revealed that we were almost penniless. I thought there was surely nothing left to live for ... everything gone ..."     "But you have kept your faith?" Mrs Thorne tried putting the words into her mouth; that little hesitation had bothered her. "You believe that God is working in His own mysterious way."     "Of course," Tamsin agreed. "And that faith you mention has been richly rewarded, too. You may dismiss it as sour grapes but I assure you -- I would not go back to our old way of life, now, not if ..." She hunted for some image strong enough to convince. "Not if the celebrated Cornish piskey were to pass his bottomless purse into my keeping -- there!"     She could feel her words had stirred Charlotte somewhat. The tension communicated itself directly. But Mrs Thorne was staring at her in disbelief. "You mean to say you actually prefer filling your house with inferior strangers and waiting on them hand and foot?" she asked.     "Well, Mrs Thorne, I don't exactly wait on them. We have servants for that -- as many as we ever employed living-in at Elburton, I suppose. No, I supervise the running of the house while my mother looks after the books and the kitchen. I had no idea that the world is such an interesting place and is full of such interesting people, inferior or no! I would not go back to those endless garden parties and yacht-club balls and croquet afternoons and" -- she shuddered at the word -- "cricket!"     "Steady the buffs!" Victor complained.     "Plays for Devon sometimes," Charlotte murmured, suppressing a giggle.     "Oh, I should love to play cricket," she protested. "It's the sitting on the boundary and watching it all happen a couple of hundred yards away."     "I think we should turn about now," Mrs Thorne said. "We are probably keeping Miss Harte from her, ah, exciting duties?"     "Not a bit, Mrs Thorne -- though it is so kind of you to consider it. I work mornings and evenings. The afternoons are all my own. I am often down here on the beach or the Esplanade." She squeezed Charlotte's arm to make sure she understood why she was dropping this pearl of information.     Charlotte squeezed back.     They turned and began their return stroll to the steps. Victor was pleased at this, for now he could watch the boy without having to turn round.     Mrs Thorne monopolized the conversation most of the way, outlining the many planned excursions she and her brood would be making over the coming days, all, alas, to places that would not allow her, Tamsin, time enough to get back for her evening duties. So unfortunate! Tamsin suspected that the planning had all taken place within the past thirty seconds. She remembered how she herself had been able to cut unwanted people from her life by assuring them that they must all meet for a good chinwag one day soon.     When they reached the steps, Charlotte looked down at her dress and said, "It's quite dry."     Tamsin brushed away all that had not already fallen of its own accord and said, "There! It's as if it had never happened."     She smiled at Mrs Thorne as she spoke. The woman seemed to take it as a promise not to presume upon their accidental acquaintance and too-hasty introductions; she smiled back happily. "I do hope we run across each other again, Miss Harte," she said, carefully not extending her hand.     "After you have completed all your adventurous excursions," Tamsin agreed. "We can have a good old chinwag about it."     She let go of Charlotte's arm, reassuring her with one last squeeze, and glanced toward Victor, who, she decided, might be quite fun, actually, for a brief summer fling. And if he were rich in his own right ... no, best not to think too far ahead.     Victor was still watching that wretched boy. Her eyes followed his and she saw that Mr Peters had come forward and was now leaning on the rails -- much too close to the stairhead for the youngster's comfort. He kept plucking at the old man's sleeve and glancing back over his shoulder to see if they were coming to get him.     When the promised sixpence changed hands, they had drawn close enough for anyone on the lookout to see it. Victor, who had been on the lookout ever since the incident itself, chuckled and looked at Tamsin. Finding her eyes upon him, he gave her a reassuring wink.     Deception, she had just discovered -- even a petty deception like this -- is something of a two-edged sword. Chapter Two When David Peters walked into the kitchen with a half-dozen fresh mackerel for their tea he called out to his father, "I saw you this afternoon."     "I seen 'ee, too," the old man replied as he came down the passage. "Out there. And I never needed no spyglass, neither." He sniffed at the fish, which were already gutted and scaled. "Call they wisht little things mackerel, do'ee?"     David ignored the jibe. "What's her name, then?" He asked as he picked off a few lingering scales around the gills of a couple of them.     "`Oo?"     "You know who -- the pretty maid in the white dress, that's who. Lucky I had the spyglass today and not the old woman!"     Benny started guiltily and put his finger to his lips.     "It's all right," David assured him. "I saw her next door with Mrs Oates." He laid the fish out head to tail to head to tail ... "These would make a good starry-gazey pie."     "You wouldn't be interested in the likes of that young maid," he told his son. "Anyway, she'd not give 'ee a second look."     "She spent enough breath on you."     "That's as maybe. You wouldn't hardly be interested," Benny said again. "And no more would she." He refused to be drawn any further.     He had his reasons, too. Victor Thorne, dressed for dinner, tapped lightly on his sister's boudoir door.     "Victor?" she called out.     He let himself in, closing the door silently behind him.     "You can do up my pearls," she said. Then, to her maid, "All right, Dobbs. Just make sure everything's in order for tomorrow and then, if Mrs Harper doesn't need you tonight, you may take the rest of the day off."     The `day' in question had already lasted thirteen hours.     "Miss Harte has frightened dear Mama out of her wits," Victor said when they were alone. "D'you think there's any danger she might actually arrange for us to go on all those dismal excursions?"     "Well -- what do you think of her?" Charlotte asked, smiling at him archly.     "That was going to be my first question to you," he replied.     "But I got in ahead of you." She waited while he pretended that the clasp to her brooch demanded all his attention. "Go on!" she had to say at last.     "I'm thinking," he said.     "I don't believe you. I'm sure you already know precisely what you think about the young lady. I know I do."     "Not thinking about that," he replied.     "About what, then?"     "About whether to discuss her with you at all. All right -- I'll risk it. She rigged the whole thing, you know. And that old sea salt was in cahoots with her."     Charlotte, torn between wondering what he was talking about and why he would have reservations about speaking his mind to her, asked, "What does that mean?"     "In cahoots? It means they were in league with ... they were in it together."     "No! I know very well what the words mean, but ..."     "I'm telling you they bribed that urchin to pretend to throw stuff at her and to hit you instead. I could read it in his eyes. And later I saw the old man give him a threepenny bit -- or it could even have been a sixpence. I wonder if he's some sort of relation of hers? Anyway, that whole scene was rigged."     "But why?"     "Why d'you think?" He tweaked the fine points of his rampant waxed moustachioes and surveyed himself in her looking glass.     "Are you asking me?" Charlotte said.     "Not really." He was plainly satisfied with his image.     "Well, I'll tell you, anyway. Contrary to your conceited opinion in the matter, I think she did it all in order to become acquainted with me! So there!"     "I suppose we all need our daydreams," he replied loftily, "but I always find that fantasies which lack even the faintest grounding in reality are just so unsatisfactory. That's my humble opinion, anyway. I could tell with half a glance that it is, in fact, me with whom she wishes to become acquainted. In fact, more than merely acquainted, I hope."     "Such airs, Maggie!" Charlotte told her favourite doll. " You know it's me she's interested in. And I know it's me. So that's all that matters. Let us leave him blinded by his own vanity."     "Well, there's one sure way to settle the business," Victor said. He had, of course, intended provoking some such argument from the outset.     "What's that?"     "Shall we take a little stroll along the Esplanade tomorrow afternoon, sister dear?" * * * Tamsin intended saying nothing to her mother of that afternoon's encounter with the Thornes. The trickery involved in engineering the meeting would give the poor woman a seizure. But Harriet Harte had already been told something of it by their neighbour, Mr Vissick, who ran Chynoweth, the guest house next door. She was now eager to hear more.     "Tell me about Mister Peters, dear," were her first words after they sat down to dine that evening. "Do the Peterses know anyone we know? Or knew?"     The thought that Mrs Peters, the woman who cut off her hair and bound her breasts to go whaling -- and who drank and cussed worse than any man aboard -- might have any friends in common with her mother was just too comical. Tamsin had to struggle not to laugh.     But she also needed time to discover how much her mother already knew, for she would have to tailor her own story to that.     Now it so happened that dinner was the one daily occasion on which Harriet Harte would not countenance the slightest mention of business; all such affairs, no matter how urgent, had to wait until the moment when, if there had been gentlemen present, she and her daughter would have retired to the drawing room. `One may be poor,' she often said, `but one still has to maintain one's standards wherever possible.'     So Tamsin replied, "Most of what I could tell you would have to wait until after we retire to the drawing room, Mama."     This fitted a common turn in their nightly talks with each other. Tamsin felt that her mother's restriction on commercial conversation belonged to their former life of leisure and frivolity; here, now, in their present straitened circumstances, it merely got in the way of all sensible dialogue. She often said as much, too, so her mother's hackles were well primed to rise at this first hint of tonight's instalment.     "Don't be absurd," she snapped. Then, curbing her annoyance and forcing herself to seem jocular once more, "Next you'll be telling me you engaged in commercial conversation with him -- a total stranger!"     Tamsin smiled apologetically, "And if I did? We'd still have to wait until we reached the sanctity of the drawing room. Or -- God send the day! -- are you beginning to see sense at last? Are you now saying you want to hear about it? Commercial or not?"     Her mother, realizing she'd been led into a trap, said nothing. Her lips worked as if she were chewing vigorously -- although she had not yet taken up a single spoonful of the fish soup before her.     Her daughter tasted a morsel. "No one can cook seafood half so well as Mrs Pascoe," she said.     Her mother did not know it but this was, in fact, the first shot of her daughter's latest campaign to improve their income. "One does not discuss such things either at table, dear," she replied. "You know that. And it's `half as well,' anyway."     "One did not discuss them in the days when one's livelihood did not depend upon it. I know that ."     "We shall maintain our standards for as long as we are able."     "However inappropriate they may be?"     Harriet fell silent again, though the excellence of Mrs Pascoe's fish soup had almost tricked her into agreeing.     Tamsin persisted. "And even if it actually harms us?"     Still silence.     "I declare that if the house went on fire, you'd not let me run out of doors before putting on my gloves!"     "Who says a whale's a bird?" her mother responded lightly. It was a family saying -- meaning `you are no longer talking any sense so let's change the subject.'     After a further silence, Harriet said, "I merely wondered how you happened to engage in conversation with Mister Peters in the first place."     "You mean did I break the ice or did he?"     "`Break the ice'? Where do you pick up such lamentable expressions?"     "Which would be more dreadful in your eyes -- me speaking to him first, or him speaking to me?"     "Tamsin, dear, I am trying my best to be pleasant and civil. Anyway, the correct English is my speaking first -- not me speaking first."     "It's a wonder anyone can speak at all, sometimes," Tamsin said to no one in particular. "While you are merely trying to be civil, I, on the other hand, am trying my best to make something of our present situation."     "Oh? And do you suppose I am not?"     Tamsin adopted a conciliatory tone. "I'm sure that, by your own lights, Mama dear, you are. But your lights warn of rocks we have already left far behind us. We sail in new, uncharted waters now, and there is so much more we could be doing -- should be doing."     "If your father were still alive ..." Harriet's lip trembled. But then she recalled that appeals to the dead father's memory had been proving less and less rewarding lately. Her lips compressed to a thin, bitter line. "... you wouldn't be talking to me like this," she concluded.     "If Papa were still alive," Tamsin said, "we should still have lost all our money. We should still have bought this place, or something very like it. And we should be doing our very best to recover our fortune."     "Then where's the difference? You still seem to be implying I'm not doing my best. I demean myself every single hour in this hateful business." She shuddered at being forced to utter the dreaded word. "Your father would call you a most ungrateful child, I'm sure."     "Well, Mama, there we must agree to differ."     "You wouldn't be speaking like this -- I know that."     "I quite agree with you -- but not for the same reason. I think Papa would already be doing all the things that we are neglecting -- things I'd like to see us doing."     "Oh! You keep trying to worm the conversation round to topics that you know are unseemly at a civilized dinner table -- it is most vexatious!"     "This house, this business , is our ..."     "Tamsin! Stop it this instant! I will not tolerate commercial discourse at my dinner table. I never have done and I never shall. So please respect my wishes, young lady. I know you're far too old to be sent to bed without supper -- so try to behave as if you knew it, too."     Tamsin wondered whether or not to develop a convenient headache. She decided against it, recalling that that particular tactic had been proving less and less rewarding lately. Instead she remarked, "I thought the Morrab Gardens looked especially lovely this morning." (Continues...)

Table of Contents

Part 1 Shelterp. 3
Part 2 The Facts of Lifep. 113
Part 3 Maiden Voyagep. 185
Part 4 An Outing to Francep. 281