Cover image for Rose of Nancemellin
Rose of Nancemellin
Macdonald, Malcolm, 1932-
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Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
410 pages ; 22 cm
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Headstrong Rose Tremayne knew right from the start that she wouldn't last as housemaid for the snobbish Lady Carclew. Her talents at mimicry (both vulgar and refined accents) ultimately propel her out of Cornwall -- and onto the stage. It isn't long before she is the toast of London's and New York's theater circles. But will she find true love? Perhaps...if she can think back to her life before she was famous -- and to a man she once knew.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Rose Tremayne, trapped in the monotonous life of servitude at the country estate Nancemellin, is too talented for her own good. Rose is an excellent ladies\q maid and becomes an even better impersonator as she mimics her upper-crust employers and her earthy coworkers. Once she tricks a handsome stranger into thinking that she is the master's daughter at Nancemellin and not the hired help, she tricks herself out of a job. Eventually Rose finds her way to the theatrical world, where her acting talents elevate her out of a life of servitude. Other interests besides finding work occupy Rose's mind. As she moves between the different classes, Rose meets assorted men who become friends and sometimes lovers, but which one does she really love? What readers could not help but hope that Rose succeeds in her dreams? Her journey though various walks of life makes a good story, but this talky novel will leave those hoping to be immersed in a different time and era wanting more. --Michelle Kaske

Publisher's Weekly Review

Prolific Macdonald's evocative yet overlong historical novel of theater life, set in London and America in the 1910s, is part Cinderella, part Pygmalion. Spirited and intelligent Rose Tremayne is a Cornwall housemaid whose self-education and uncanny talent for mimicry provide her with the essential tools for a successful career on the stage. Despite an early connection with Louis Redmile-Smith, a man from the more privileged side of the tracks, when tough times come unconventional Rose opts for taking a chance on her own. As Rose conquers first Drury Lane and then America, she and Louis's individually seesawing fortunes keep them apart. As many other men become interested, the question arises: is Louis really the man for her? None of the contenders for Rose's heart, including Louis, is so compelling as to make the reader root for one over the other. In fact, the focus here is on Rose's career rather than her potential romances. The budding actress's struggle to win fame and fortune is sufficiently compelling, though asides detailing the plots of plays, operas and comedic skits prove trying for the reader. Rose is both energetic and pleasant enough to succeed in a leading role, but she does commit one grave act of faithlessness that will make some wonder if she deserves a happily-ever-after. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Part One Stranger on the shore Rose gave Fenella's hair a final pat and said, "There!" She picked up the small hand-mirror and held it behind her mistress's head. Fenella, who had watched the maid's every move in the large, dressing-table mirror, turned her head to the left and surveyed herself with dissatisfaction. The view did not improve when she turned to the right, either. "Hold the glass properly, you stupid girl!" she snapped. The fact that Rose was twenty-three, five years her senior, and that she, Fenella, had not been looking into the hand-mirror in any case, was neither here nor there. She had asked for her hair to be plaited and coiled in this way; the result was hateful; so she had to vent her annoyance on someone.     Pity it was Rose, though. One might as well shout insults at a wooden post. You could call her any name under the sun and she'd never react. And if you asked her an insulting question -- like, `What on earth induced you to mess my hair up like this?' -- she'd always have some smart answer -- like, `I believe it is what you asked for, miss?' Which, of course, was true, so Fenella knew better than to give her the chance.     "Shall I redo it, miss?" Rose asked. "Put it back to the usual?"     "There isn't time now," Fenella said. "Anyway, that's why I wanted a change. The `usual' is just horrid. The real trouble is you've got no imagination." After a pause she added, "You might venture an opinion, you know. You could at least tell me it's not so bad, really."     "Well, miss," Rose began, "the last time I ventured an opinion, I seem to remember that you ..."     "Yes-Yes! But that was last time and this is now. Good heavens! One passes some trivial little comment and you immediately elevate it into ... I don't know -- an Eleventh Commandment or something."     The real trouble is , Rose thought, you are not one of nature's beauties and no amount of messing about with your hair is going to make the slightest difference. So, if you can't acquire -- or even frame -- a beautiful face, you could aim for a beautiful temperament, instead, ha ha . "Many have admired the `usual' arrangement, miss," she ventured. "However, there is one other possibility."     "What?" The girl was suddenly eager, her annoyance seemingly all forgotten.     Rose began to unplait the bun on Fenella's right side.     "What?" she asked again.     "I'll show you directly," Rose told her.     She combed the girl's hair into a long hank, brushed it, rolled it upward around the handle of the brush, and pinned the inner side of the roll above the girl's ear with a long, thin, tortoiseshell grip; the effect was as if a wave of hair were breaking upwards around the side of her head.     " Très soigné, hein? " Rose commented.     Fenella gave a little scream of delight. "Oh, Rose!" she exclaimed. "You absolute angel! You are quite utterly brilliant -- as I'm sure I've told you many times. Go on! Do it all like that! I'll get out more grips for you."     Rose worked in silence -- a small, personal oasis of silence in the vast desert of her young mistress's prattle.     "It's such a shame that Mama won't agree to take you and Mary along with us I shall miss our little chats you know and I'm sure the servants we'll hire in Egypt and the Holy Land will be quite quite horrid. I'm not really looking forward to it or not most of the time except that I suppose it will be quite fun to see all those sepulchres and pyramids and things. And the Sphynx! You're supposed to ask it a riddle I think. You must put your thinking cap on, Rose, and come up with a good one for me. I wonder if it speaks French? And another thing I thought of is my scrap book with all the college crests and family arms of the nobility. I've got all the dukes except Portland, stingy old thing. You could send him another letter. Sign it as my private secretary, perhaps that'll impress him. And I've got all the marquises so we could start on the earls next. You could go through Burke's and make a list, don't bother about foreign counts and countesses although they rank with earls, and we could start as soon as we get back. Don't forget the addresses of the country seats and their London clubs. Did I say Papa has decided to go to Damascus after all? We can hire a dragoman down on the coast and go up in a caravanserai, such romantic names! In Aleppo or somewhere, and go up by camel. Real camels. The book says that some of the houses in Aleppo are so close together they don't have any streets between them, not even pathways, and people walk across the roofs instead. Oh, dear, dear Rose -- I do so wish you were coming. Ouch! Careful with that pin you clumsy imbecile!"     The gong rang for dinner and for Rose's release.     Her name was not, in fact, Rose; it was Lucinda-Ella -- her mother's choice. `Very American!' people said, because Ella-Mae, her mother, was American, being the daughter of a Cornish miner, one of the thousands of `Cousin Jacks' who had gone over to try their luck as a Forty-Niner. She grew up there, in Nevada and Connecticut, and only came back because the man she wanted to marry, William Tremayne, had decided to return to his ancestral town, Falmouth, and take over the family greengrocery. But Lady Carclew had decreed that Lucinda-Ella was not a suitable name for a servant, not even for a lady's maid, and not even if it were contracted to Lucille; so she had commanded Lucinda-Ella to adopt the name of Rose, instead. However, to be quite honest, Rose herself was not too unhappy about the enforced change; her school chums had, of course, nicknamed her Cinderella and then shortened it to Cinders. And the name had followed her into the wider world, which was enough to make any girl miserable. After a few years as Rose -- as many as she could stomach here with the Carclews at Nancemellin House -- Cinders would fade from memory and she could seek another position as Lucille, the name she preferred above all.     The release offered by the dinner gong was not, of course, a release from her daily work. It was only half-past six and a whole evening of needlework, ironing, goffering, and invisible mending lay ahead of her still. For tomorrow they would begin packing the eight trunks and four travelling wardrobes that Sir Hector and Lady Carclew, together with Fenella and Noel, their daughter and son, would be taking on their two-month excursion to Egypt and the Holy Land.     She made her way to the back stair and so down to the servants' hall for supper. It was the same meal as the one the family called dinner (except that the servants' cuts were from the scrag end of the joint); the servants ate their dinner at noon, although, again, it was identical to the meal the family called luncheon -- allowing for the same preferential servings of the best bits. Lady Carclew feared that servants who ate luncheon at noon and dinner at six-thirty would soon get other ideas above their station.     On this particular evening the four Carclews were dining en famille . So they needed no more than three servants -- Mitchell, the footman, and Rogers and McCormick, two of the parlourmaids -- to tend their needs. There were twenty-three servants in all -- fourteen in the house, five in the gardens, three in the stables, and Rodda, the odd-job-man. The gardeners and stable `boys' did not eat in the house, so a mere nine were assembled for supper in the servants' hall when Rose joined them. They stood behind their chairs in strict order of precedence, waiting to say grace. Tregembo, the butler, was at the head of the table, facing his wife, the housekeeper, at the farther end. To his right stood Mrs Browning, the cook; to his left, Mary Hind, her ladyship's maid. And so on down through Penvose, Sir Hector's valet, Dunne, the third parlourmaid, Perkins, the assistant cook, Barley, the laundress, and Pennycuik, the scullerymaid. The tension in the air was higher than usual that evening for this was the moment when they were all to learn their fate at last. The speculation had raged among them in whispers for weeks -- ever since the Carclews had decided to go on their expedition; they had let it be known that they wouldn't be retaining the entire staff for the two months of their absence, so now an unlucky half-dozen or so were to be `let go.'     "For what we are about to receive, Lord, make us truly thankful," Tregembo said.     "Mmmnnn," came the tenfold response, its tail end being drowned in a scraping of chairs on the flagstone floor.     All turned their eyes to the butler, who remained standing and pretended to be surprised at their scrutiny. He picked up the carving knife and whetted its edge on the steel. He tested it several times before he was satisfied, then he looked all around and said, "This is not a monastery or nunnery, you know. Conversation of a decorous nature is permitted."     There was a dutiful ripple of laughter before they resumed their breathless vigil of his lips.     "Very well!" he sighed, speaking now as he carved. "Seven among us are to be kept -- the rest turned off."     "Seven!" exclaimed more than one among them -- those who considered themselves indispensable. The tone was jovial for the pessimists had expected no more than five.     "Those to stay are myself and Mrs Tregembo, naturally, Mrs Browning and Pennycuik ..."     The scullerymaid let out a little scream at this; as the lowest of the low she had quite expected to be the first to be turned off.     Tregembo silenced her with a frown and continued: "Miss Hind, you will be kept on, too. Also Miss Tremayne and Mitchell -- whom no one will inform before I get the chance."     Rose winked at Mary Hind. They had both suspected they would be kept on, because good lady's maids were snowdrops in June nowadays; all the same, it was a relief to have it confirmed.     "What -- not even one of the parlourmaids?" asked Dunne, their sole representative at this gathering.     "You may not be too unhappy, maid, when you hear the rest of the news," the butler replied. "Those who remain are to be on board wages!"     "No!" Rose and Mrs Browning cried in unison.     "I beg your pardon?" The butler drew himself up to his full five-foot-ten-and-seven-eighths.     "What's board wages?" Pennycuik asked.     "The run of your teeth and pocket money," the cook answered in disgust.     "That's so unfair," Rose said. "I say they should pay us our full wage or let us go."     "And don't forget to add that the moon is made of cheese," Tregembo sneered.     "We could insist," Rose said. "Surely if we all stick together ..."     "Aherrm!" The butler cleared his throat. "There'll be no talk of mutiny on this ship," he warned. "Or we'll all be out on our ears -- without a character -- which is a lot worse than board wages." He turned again to Dunne. "You may yet end up better than those who stay on," he said. "I've made inquiries of butlers in other households and I already know of two places where they're looking for parlourmaids or soon will be. And there were two pages of situations-vacant in the last Falmouth Packet , so I see little cause for weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth."     "How many were for lady's maids, Mister Tregembo?" Rose asked, expecting no better answer than a baleful glare, which was, indeed, all she got.     "You were trusting your luck a bit," Mary said when they were alone at last in the sewing room. "At supper tonight, I mean -- cheeking old Tregembo like that."     Actually, her real name was Marietta but her ladyship had vetoed that for the by now familiar reasons.     "Cheeking?" Rose answered. "What's cheeky about standing up for our rights?"     "The manner of it," Mary replied.     "Anyway, how much do they save by putting us on board wages for two months? Have you thought about it?"     "All I can think about is two months without that young ... without Master Noel -- I was going to say a rude word then -- without him pestering me morning, noon, and night. To say nothing of two months free of her ladyship's tongue. You must have thought the same?"     "Bloody Noel -- if that's what you were going to say -- doesn't pester me."     "Only because you're too tall for him. You intimidate him. Anyway, that's not what I meant. Go on -- do her! What did she come out with this evening?"     Rose glanced at the door, as if she could see through it to catch any eavesdropper. Then, flopping her head about in imitation of Fenella, she said, "Oh dear Wose, it's such a shame that Mama won't let me take you with us I shall sorely miss our darling chats you know and I'm sure the servants we'll have in Egypt and Palestine will be quite quite howwid. But I suppose it will be quite jolly to see all those pywamids and temples and things. And also the Sphynx! I'm going to ask it a widdle all on my own. You must set your bwain cogs whirwing, Wose, and think up with a good one for me. In Fwench, of course, because I do so wish to impwess ..."     "Stop!" Mary had laid aside her needle in self defence and was now pressing her ribs at each side. "Oh, help me loosen my stays, do! It hurts. It hurts." She caught her breath and pulled a punch on Rose's arm. "How d'you do that? Not just the voice but the way her head wobbles and everything. And the way she says `howwid' and `Fwench'! I wish you'd do it in the servants' hall just once ..."     "No!" Rose was alarmed. "And don't you ever dare suggest it, d'you hear! Someone would tattle and then I'd be for it. You're the only one who knows -- you and Mom and Dad -- so if word does get out, I'll know who to blame. Anyway -- to get back to what I was saying -- d'you know what they're saving by putting us on board wages for two months? Guess."     Mary shrugged.     Rose sighed. "It's important, my lover. It's a measure of their meanness. On each of us they save one month's wages -- right? They pay us one month's wages instead of two."     "Oh yes!" The simplicity of the calculation had not struck Mary until then.     "You live in the clouds, you know." Rose shook her head sadly. Then, in an equally perfect imitation of Lady Carclew, she went on: "In the case of cook we save three pinds, fifteen shillings. Mitchell -- three pinds, three shillings, end fawp'nce. Ouah two deah leedies' maids -- four pinds, one shilling, end eightp'nce. End thet little creachah in the scullery, whatsername? Penny-something. On her we save a hundred and fifty pennies -- or twilve end sixp'nce." Dropping back into her own voice she concluded, "Altogether that comes to ...?"     Mary dabbed her eyes and said she had no idea.     "Fifteen pounds, four shillings, and tuppence."     "You left out Mister and Mrs Tregembo."     Rose gave her a withering look.     Mary was shocked. "You mean you don't think they'll be on board wages, too?"     "What d'you think? He wouldn't have been as bright and breezy if he and Mrs T were treated like the rest of us."     "But he said ..."     "He very carefully didn't say -- if you were listening. He said vague things like, `It's the same for everybody' and `We're all in the same boat' but he very carefully avoided saying that he and she were also getting a cut. The thing is, they're robbing five of us of a month's wages just to save fifteen-odd quid! She's spent twice that much on one hat. That's what the five of us are worth to them -- half a hat!"     "Why d'you stick it, Rose? Why don't you look for a better place?"     "Because they're all the same. You find me a place where girls like us are appreciated ..." She saw the door open a crack while she spoke these words.     Young Noel poked his face around the door. "I'll show you this much," he said. "If you like it, I'll show you the rest." He sauntered in. "A place where girls like you are appreciated, eh?"     "Whoy, bless moy soul but 'tis the Young Maister!" Rose curtsied low as she put on a fake Cornish accent, imitating some up-country mummers who had tried to ingratiate themselves with a Cornish audience at Helston Harvest Fair last fall.     "Very funny, Rose," Noel said irritably as he oozed fully into the sewing room. "Please rise from that ridiculous posture."     "Whoi, thank'ee, maister, thank'ee, thank'ee, thank'ee!"     He ignored her and turned to Mary. "Anything I can do for you?" he asked. "Just to show you are appreciated. Read you a story? Or I could read you bits of Baedeker about Egypt -- kill two birds with one stone."     "You could kill these two birds with one paragraph ," Rose told him as she picked up her sewing again.     Mary crossed the room and shut the door again. "Why d'you bother?" she asked him as she returned to her place. "You know my feelings well enough by now. Why persist? You must surely be aware that it's fruitless."     His wide, alarmed eyes swivelled in Rose's direction while he tried to keep his face toward Mary.     "You think she doesn't know how you pester me?" Mary asked him. "We share a room, in case you've forgotten. D'you suppose she doesn't tell me how you badger her for advice on how to go for me? And d'you think I don't say a word to her about it, either?"     "How's a fellow to gain experience?" Noel sighed. "All the bucks at school talk of the fun they have with maidservants in the hols. What's wrong with ..."     "You're too choosy," Rose told him. She gave Mary a surreptitious wink. "That's your trouble. How many have you tried? What about Sally? Or Flora? Or Heather? Surely one of them ..."     "Who are they?" He frowned.     "They're the ones you call Rogers, McCormick, and Dunne."     "Oh, them!"     "Yes, them. They're not bad looking, you know -- if the light's right. Quite adequate if all you want is experience."     "But I haven't lost my heart to them -- not the way I have to Mary."     "I've told you not to call me that," Mary said angrily. "If your mother ever hears you call me Mary, she'll suspect something's up -- and then I'll be out on my ear."     "I'd look after you," he assured her. "I shall be quite rich one day, you know."     "Yes, well, come back then."     "No, honestly. When I'm twenty-three I come into my inheritance from my godmother. Over a hundred thou', you know." He sniffed and gazed superciliously at his fingernails.     Both maids pricked up their ears at this, though from their outward demeanour he would never have guessed it. Disappointed at their lack of obvious response, he said, "That stopped the conversation, eh!"     Rose said, "We're both thinking that you won't be twenty-three for another four years."     "Three and and a half," he replied.     "Very well -- three and a half," she repeated.     "I can borrow against it. Tyzack the pawnbroker has already said that if I need a little help ... you know."     "I'll tell you what," Rose said. "You pay me four pounds, one shilling and eightpence and I'll let you kiss me as much as you want for five minutes."     "Eh?" He was both stunned and intrigued. Rose had never done anything but treat him with contempt, sneering at him and saying things to wound. It was wonderful what the mention of spondulicks could do!     "So will Miss Hind, I'm sure," Rose added.     "I will not!" Mary exploded.     "Anyway, why four pounds, one and eight?" Noel asked. "Why so precise?"     "I was hoping you'd ask," Rose said in a much harder tone.     "Rose, leave it!" Mary murmured.     "I will not leave it!" She laid down her sewing and stared the boy in the eye. "For your information, young master, four pounds, one and eight is what your mother pays me -- and Miss Hind -- per month. That's fifty pounds a year -- to save you working it out. And it's what she's proposing to pay us for two months while you're away. Board wages. You may bet all Lombard Street to a china orange that we won't be working half time but we'll be paid as if we were. All I'm saying is that if just one member of the Carclew clan is prepared to show a little generosity, then so can I."     The young man's expression hardened. "You're not saying that at all, Miss Tremayne. You are calumniating my mother -- and trying to inveigle me into joining you. Well, I shan't -- so there!"     Gathering what was left of his dignity he turned on his heels and left the room.     "You do take risks," Mary said unhappily. "What if he blabs to her ladyship?"     "He won't. He wouldn't dare. He can't stand her, anyway. Besides, they could still send him to VPS camp while they go swanning off to the orient."     After a thoughtful silence, Mary went on, "Would you really do that -- let him kiss you for five minutes for four quid and a bit?"     "Well ... he's quite good looking," Rose replied. "It wouldn't be a fate worse than death." She laughed. "I'd make sure of that!"