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From Chapter 1: Coming Home
All about me the large house loomed dark, mysterious, and lonely. The shadows whispered of secrets, of incidents best forgotten, and hinted of dangers, but said nothing at all about the safety and security I needed most. This was my mother's home, my dead mother's home. The longed-for home that had called to me when I lived in that mountain shack in the Willies; called loud and sweet into my childish ears so I had been beguiled by thoughts of all the happiness waiting just for me, once I was here. Here in these rainbowed rooms of dreams fulfilled I'd find the golden pot of family love -- the kind I'd never known. And around my neck I'd wear the pearls of culture, wisdom, and breeding that would keep me free from harm, from scorn, from contempt. And so like a bride I waited for all those wonderful things to appear and decorate me, but they didn't come. As I sat there on her bed, the vibrations in her room aroused the troubled thoughts that always crowded into the darkest corners of my brain.
Why had my mother run away from a house like this?
Poor Granny had led me out into that cold, wintry night so many years ago, to visit a cemetery where she could tell me I wasn't Sarah's first child, and show me my mother's grave. My mother, a beautiful runaway Boston girl named Leigh.
Poor Granny with her ignorant, innocent brain. What a trusting soul she'd been, believing her youngest son Luke would sooner or later prove himself worthy enough to lift up the scorned, and ridiculed name of Casteel. "Scumbags," I seemed to hear ringing like church bells in the darkness an around me, "no good, never will be no good, none of 'em..." and my hands rose to my head to shut out the sound.
Someday I'd make my granny proud, though she was dead. Someday when I had my string of degrees I'd go again to the Willies, to kneel at the foot of her grave, and I'd say all the words that would make Granny happier than she'd ever been in life. I didn't doubt in the least that Granny up in heaven would smile down on me, and she'd know at last one Casteel had made it through high school, then college...
What an ignorant innocent I was to arrive with so much hope.
It had all happened so fast: the plane landing, my frenzied scramble to find my way through the crowded airport to the luggage carousel, all the worldly things I'd thought would be so easy, but they weren't so easy. I was scared even after I found my two blue suitcases that seemed amazingly heavy. I looked around and floundered, filled with trepidation. What if my grandparents didn't come? What if they had second thoughts about welcoming an unknown granddaughter into their secure, wealthy world? They had done without me this long, why not forever? And so I stood and waited, and as the minutes passed I became convinced they'd never show up.
Even when a strikingly handsome couple advanced toward me, wearing the richest clothes I'd ever seen, still I was nailed to the floor, unable to believe that maybe, after all, God was at last going to grant me something besides hardship.
The man was the first to smile, to look me over really carefully. A light sprang into his light blue eyes, bright, like a golden candle seen through a window on Christmas Eve. "Why, you must be Miss Heaven Leigh Casteel," greeted the smiling blond man. "I would know you anywhere. You are your mother all over again, but for your dark hair."
My heart jumped in response, then plunged. My curse, my dark hair. My father's genes spoiling my future, again.
"Oh, please, please, Tony," whispered the beautiful woman at his side, "don't remind me of what I have lost..."
And there she was, the grandmother of my dreams. Ten times more beautiful than I had ever pictured. I had presumed the mother of my mother would be a sweet, gray-haired old lady. I'd never imagined any grandmother could look like this elegant beauty in a gray fur coat, high gray boots, and long gray gloves. Her hair was a sleek cap of pale shining gold, pulled back from her face to show a sculptured profile and unlined face. I didn't doubt who she was, despite her amazing youth, for she was too much like the image I saw every day in the mirror. "Come. Come," she said to me, motioning for her husband to sweep up my bags and hurry. "I hate public places. We can get to know each other in private." My grandfather sprang into action, picking up my two bags, as she tugged on my arms, and soon I was hustled into a waiting limousine with a liveried chauffeur.
"Home," said my grandfather to the chauffeur without even looking his way.
As I sat between the two of them, finally my grandmother smiled. Gently she drew me into her arms, and kissed me, and murmured words I couldn't quite understand. "I'm sorry we have to be so abrupt about this, but we don't have much time to spare," said my grandmother. "Miles is heading straight for home, Heaven dear. We hope you don't mind if we don't show you around Boston today. And this handsome man next to you is Townsend Anthony Tatterton. I call him Tony. Some of his friends call him Townie to irritate him, but I suggest you don't do that."
As if I would.
"My name is Jillian," she went on, still holding my hand firmly between both of hers, while I sat enthralled by her youth, by her beauty, by the sound of her soft, whispery voice that was so different from any I'd previously heard. "Tony and I plan to do everything we can to see that you enjoy your visit with us."
Visit? I hadn't come for a visit! I had come to stay! Forever stay! I had no other place to go! Had Pa told them I was coming only to visit them? What other lies had he put in their heads?
From one to the other I glanced, so afraid of embarrassing myself with tears I knew instinctively they'd find in bad taste. Why had I presumed that cultured city folks would want or need a hillbilly granddaughter like me? A lump came to choke my throat. And what about my college education? Who would pay for that if not them? I bit down on my tongue in order not to cry or say the wrong thing. Perhaps I could work my way through. I did know how to type...
And in their black limousine I sat for long moments completely stunned by the enormity of their misunderstanding.
Before I could recover from this shock, her husband began to speak in a low, husky voice, using words that were English, but strangely pronounced: "I think it best that you know from the beginning that I am not your biological grandfather. Jillian was married first to Cleave VanVoreen, who died about two years ago, and Cleave was the father of your mother, Leigh Diane VanVoreen.
Again stunned, I felt myself shrink. He was so much the kind of father I'd always wanted, a soft-spoken, kindly man. My disappointment was so devastating I couldn't fully experience the joy I had once upon a time expected to feel when I knew my mother's full name. I swallowed again, and bit down even harder on my tongue, letting go of the image of this fine, handsome man being of my own flesh and blood, and with great difficulty I tried to picture Cleave VanVoreen. What kind of name was VanVoreen? No one in the hills and hollers of West Virginia had been called anything as odd as VanVoreen.
"I feel very flattered that you look so disappointed to hear I am not your natural grandfather," said this Tony, his smile small and pleased.
Puzzled by his voice, by his tone, I turned questioning eyes on my grandmother. For some reason she blushed, and the flood of color into her lovely face made her even more beautiful.
"Yes, Heaven dear, I am one of those shameful modern women who will not put up with a marriage that isn't satisfying. My first husband didn't deserve me. I loved him in the beginning of our marriage, when he gave me enough of himself. Unfortunately, that didn't last long. He neglected me in favor of his business. Maybe you've heard of the VanVoreen Steamship Line. Cleave was inordinately proud of it. His silly boats and ships demanded all his attentions, so even his holidays and weekends were stolen from me. I grew lonely, just as your mother did..."
Tony interrupted: "Jillian, look at this girl, would you! Can you believe those eyes? Those incredible blue eyes, so like yours, so like Leigh's!"
She leaned forward to flash him a cool, chastising look. "Of course she's not Leigh, not exactly. It's more than just her hair color, too. There's something in her eyes...something that isn't, well, as innocent."
Oh! I had to be careful! I should think more about what my eyes might reveal. Never, never should they even guess what had happened between Cal Dennison and me. They would despise me if they knew, just as Logan Stonewall, my childhood sweetheart, despised me.
"Yes, you're right, of course," agreed Tony with a sigh. "No one is ever duplicated in every detail."
Those two years and five months I spent in Candlewick, just outside of Atlanta, with Kitty and Cal Dennison, had not given me the kind of sophistication I needed now, not as I had previously thought. Kitty had been thirty-seven when she died, and she'd considered her advanced age intolerable. And here was my grandmother, who had to be much older than Kitty, and she didn't appear even as old as Kitty, and as far as I could see she had a strong hold on confidence. Truthfully, I'd never seen a grandmother who looked so young. And grandmothers in the hills came in very young ages, especially when they married at twelve, thirteen, or fourteen. I found myself speculating on just how old my grandmother was.
In February I'd be seventeen, but that was still months away. My mother had been only fourteen the day I was born; the same day she died. If she'd lived, she'd be thirty-one. Now I was rather well read, and from all the facts I'd learned about Boston bluebloods, I knew they didn't marry until they finished their educations. Husbands and babies weren't considered essential to the lives of young Bostonian girls as they were back in West Virginia. This grandmother would have been at least twenty when she married the first time. That would put her in her fifties, at least. Imagine that. The same age as I remembered Granny best. Granny, with her long, thin white hair, her stooped shoulders with her dowager's hump, her arthritic fingers and legs, her pitifully few garments drab and dark, her worn-out shoes.
Oh, Granny, and once you'd been as lovely as this woman.
My intense and unrelieved study of my youthful grandmother brought two small tears to shine in the corners her cornflower blue eyes so much like my own. Tears that lingered without falling.
Made brave by her small, unmoving tears, I found a voice: "Grandmother, what did my father tell you about me?" My question came out tremulously low and scared. Pa had told me he'd talked to my grandparents, that they would welcome me into their home. But what else had he told them? He'd always despised me, blamed me for killing his "Angel". We had Pa told them everything? If so, they'd never learn to like me, much less love me. And I needed someone to love me for what I was -- less than perfect.
Those shining blue eyes swung my way, totally void of expression. It bothered me how empty she could make her eyes, as if she knew how to turn all her emotions off and on. Despite those cool eyes and those tears that defied gravity, when she spoke her voice was sweet and warm; "Heaven dear, would you be a darling girl and not call me 'Grandmother'? I try so hard to retain my youth, and I feel I have been successful in my endeavors, and being called 'Grandmother' in front of all my friends who think I am years younger than I actually am would defeat all my efforts. I'd be so humiliated to be caught in a lie. I confess I always lie about my age, sometimes even to doctors. So please don't be hurt or offended if I ask that from now on you just call me...Jillian."
Another shock, but I was growing used to them by now. "But...but..." I sputtered, "how are you going to explain who I am? -- and where I come from? -- and what I'm doing here?"
"Oh my dear, sweet dear, please don't look so hurt! In private, maybe on rare occasions, you could call me...oh, no! On second thought that just won't work. If I allow you...you'd forget and thoughtlessly call me 'Grandmother.' So I am right to start us off like this. You see, dear, it's not real lying. Women have to do what they can to create their own mystique. I suggest you start right now lying about your own age. It's never too soon. And I will simply introduce you as my niece, Heaven Leigh Casteel."
It took me a few moments to take this in and to find the next question. "Do you have a sister whose surname is the same as mine, Casteel?"
"Why no, of course not," she said with an efficient little laugh. "But both of my sisters have been married and divorced so many times no one could possibly remember all the names they've had. And you don't have to embroider anything, do you? Just say you don't want to talk about your background. And if someone is rude enough to persist, tell that hateful someone your dear daddy took you back to his hometown...what did you say the name was?"
"Winnerrow, Jill," supplied Tony, crossing his legs and meticulously running his fingers down the sharp crease of his gray trouser leg.
Back in the Willies most women competed to become grandmothers at the earliest age possible! It was something to boast about, to be proud of. Why, my own granny had been a grandmother by the time she was twenty-eight, though that first grandson had not lived a full year. Yet, still...that granny at age fifty had looked eighty or more.
"All right, Aunt Jillian," I said in another small voice.
"No, dear, not Aunt Jillian, just Jillian. I have never liked titles, mother, aunt, sister, or wife. My Christian name is enough."
Beside me her husband chuckled. "You have never heard truer words, Heaven, and you may call me Tony."
My startled eyes swung to him. He was grinning wickedly.
"She may call you 'Grandfather' if she wishes," said Jillian coolly. "After all, darling, it does help for you to have family ties, doesn't it?"
There were undercurrents flowing here I didn't understand. From one to the other my head turned, so I paid very little attention to where our long car was headed until the highways broadened into freeways, and then I saw a sign that said we were heading north. Uneasy about my situation, once again I made my feeble attempt to find out what Pa had told them during his long-distance telephone call.
"Very little," answered Tony, as Jillian bowed her head and seemed to sniffle, from a cold or from emotion, I couldn't tell. Her lace handkerchief delicately touched her eyes from time to time. "Your father seemed a very pleasant fellow. He said you had just lost your mother, and grief had put you into deep depression, and naturally we wanted to do what we could to help. It has always pained us that your mother never kept in touch with us, or let us know where she was. About two months after she ran away, she did write us a postcard to say she was all right, but we never heard from her again. We tried our best to find her; even hired detectives. The postcard was so smeared it couldn't be read, and the picture was of Atlanta, not Winnerrow, West Virginia." He paused and covered my hand with his. "Dearest girl, we are both so very sorry to hear about your mother's death. Your loss is our loss as well. If only we could have known of her condition before it was too late. There is so much we could have done to have made her last days happier. I think your father mentioned...cancer."
How horrible for Pa to lie!
My mother had died less than five minutes after my birth, shortly after she named me. His lying deceit made my blood run cold and drain down to my ankles, leaving a hollow ache in my stomach so I felt sick. It wasn't fair to give me lies on which to build a solid foundation for a happy future! But life had never been fair to me; why should I expect anything different now? Damn you, Pa, for not telling the truth! It had been Kitty Dennison who had died days ago! Kitty, the woman he had sold me to for five hundred bucks! Kitty, who had been so ruthlessly cruel with her scalding hot bath, her quick temper and ready blows before illness stole her strength.
Desperately, as I sat with my knees together, my hands nervously twisting on my lap and trying not to ball into fists, I rationalized that maybe this lie had been very clever of Pa.
If he had told them the truth, that my mother had died years and years ago, perhaps they would not have been as willing to help a hillbilly girl who had grown used to her deprived situation and accustomed to being motherless.
Then it was Jillian's turn to comfort me. "Dearest Heaven, I am going to sit down with you one day very, very soon and ask you a million or more questions about my daughter," she whispered hoarsely, choking up and forgetting to blot her tears. "At this moment I am just too upset and emotional to hear more. Indulge me, darling, please."
"But I would like to know more now," said Tony, squeezing my hand that he had again captured. "Your father said he called from Winnerrow, and that he and your mother lived there all their married lives. Did you like Winnerrow?"
At first my tongue refused to form words, but as the silence stretched and became uncomfortably thick, I finally found what wasn't truly a lie, "Yes, I like Winnerrow well enough."
"That's good. We would so hate to think that Leigh and her child were unhappy."
I allowed my eyes to meet his briefly before they fled again to stare almost blindly at the passing scenery. Then he was asking: "How did your mother meet your father?"
"Please, Tony!" cried Jillian, in what appeared to be great distress. "Didn't I just say I am too upset to hear the details? My daughter is dead, and for years she didn't write to me! Can I forget and forgive her for that? I waited and I waited for her to write and plead for forgiveness! She hurt me when she ran away! I cried for months! I hate to cry; you know that, Tony!" She sobbed rough and harsh, as if truly sobbing were new to her throat, then touched her eyes again with her lacy bit of cloth. "Leigh knew I was emotional and sensitive and I would suffer, but she didn't care. She never loved me. It was Cleave she loved best. And in truth she helped to kill the father who couldn't put himself back together once she was gone...so I have just made up my mind, I am not going to let grief for Leigh rob me of happiness and ruin the rest of my life with regrets!"
"Why, Jill, I never thought for one second you would let grief ruin your life. Besides, you have to remember Leigh had seventeen years of life with a man she adored, isn't that so, Heaven?"
I continued to stare blindly out of the side windows. Oh dear God, how could I answer that without spoiling my chances? If they knew, and obviously they didn't know, it might change their attitude toward me. "It looks like it might rain," I said nervously, staring outside.
I pushed backward on the rich suede seat and tried to relax. Jillian had been part of my life for less than an hour, and already I guessed that she didn't want to hear of anyone's problems, neither mine nor my mother's. I bit down harder on my lower lip, trying to keep from showing my emotions, and then, like the blessing white lies could sometimes be, my pride came back in full-dress parade. I sat straighter. I swallowed my tears. I vanquished the throat lump. My shoulders stiffened. And to my utmost surprise, my voice came out, strong, honest, sincere:
"My mother and father met in Atlanta and fell deeply in love on first sight. Daddy rushed her to his parents in West Virginia so she'd have a decent house in which to stay that night. His home was not exactly in Winnerrow, more on the outskirts. They were married in a proper church ceremony, with flowers, witnesses, and a minister to say the words, and later they drove away to honeymoon in Miami. And when they came back Daddy had a new bathroom added to our house just to please my mother."
A dead silence that went on and on -- didn't they believe my lies?
"Why that was very nice, considerate," murmured Tony, looking at me in the oddest way. "Something I never would have thought of, a new bathroom, but practical, very practical."
Jillian sat with her head turned, as if she didn't want to hear any of the details of her daughter's married life. "How many people lived with your parents?" persisted Tony.
"Only Granny and Grandpa," I said defensively. "They were crazy about my mother, so much they called her nothing but Angel. It was Angel this, and Angel that. She could do no wrong. You would have liked my granny. She died a few years ago, but Grandpa still lives with Pa."
"And what day and month were you born?" quizzed Tony. He had long, strong fingers, and his nails shone.
"February the twenty-second," I said, giving the right date but the wrong year -- I gave the year Fanny had been born, one year after me. "She'd been married to Pa for more than a year," I added, thinking that sounded better than a birth that came just eight months after marriage, which might have betrayed some frenzied need my parents had had for bedding down with each other...
And only when the words were out of my mouth did I realize just what I had done.
I had trapped myself. Now they thought I was only sixteen. Now I could never tell them about my half brothers Tom and Keith, and my half sisters, Fanny and Our Jane. And it had been my solemn intention to enlist the help of my mother's parents so I could put my family back together again under one roof. Oh, God, forgive me for wanting to secure my own place first!
"Tony, I am tired. You know I have to rest between three and five if I am to appear fresh for that dinner party tonight." A slightly troubled look shaded her expression before it quickly cleared. "Heaven dear, you won't mind if Tony and I step out for a few hours tonight, will you? You'll have a TV in your room, and there's a wonderful library on the first floor with thousands of books." She leaned to put a soft kiss on my cheek, smothering me with her perfume that already filled the enclosed space. "I would have canceled, but I completely forgot until this morning that you were due..."
Numbness tingled in my fingertips, perhaps because I had my fingers locked so tightly together. Already they were finding reasons for escaping me. No one in the hills would leave a guest alone in a strange house. "It's all right," I said weakly. "I feel a little tired myself."
"There, you see, Tony, she doesn't mind. I told you she wouldn't. And I'll make up for it, Heaven dear, really I will. Tomorrow I'll take you riding. Do you know how to ride? If you don't, I'll teach you. I was born on a horse ranch and my first horse was a stallion..."
"Jillian, please! Your first horse was a timid little pony."
"Oh, you are such a bore, Tony! Really, what difference does it make? It just sounds better to learn on a stallion than on a pony, but Scuttles was a dear, a sweet little dear."
It didn't seem so nice to be called "Heaven dear" now that I knew she called everyone and everything "dear." And yet, when she smiled at me, and touched my cheek lightly with her gloved hand, I was so greedy for affection I trembled. I wanted more than anything for her to like me, eventually to love me, and I was going to try to make it happen fast, fast!
"Tell me that your mother was happy, that's all I need to know," whispered Jillian.
"She was happy until the day she died," I whispered, not really lying. She had been happy, foolishly happy, according to Granny and Grandpa, despite all the hardships of a drafty, miserable shack in the hills, and a husband who couldn't give her anything like what she was accustomed to.
"Then I don't need to hear anything more," crooned Jillian, putting her arm around me and pulling my head into the deep fur of her coat collar.
What would they say if they knew the truth about me and my family?
Would they just smile and think soon enough I'd be gone, and what difference did I make after all?
I couldn't let them know the truth. They had to accept me as one of their own kind; I had to make them need me, and they didn't yet know that they needed me. And I was not going to be scared and let them see my vulnerability.
Yet, they spoke a different kind of English than I did. I had to listen very carefully; even familiar words sounded strange in their pronunciation. But I was determined to see that I'd soon be accepted in their world, so different from all that I had known. I was smart, quick to learn, and I'd find a way sooner or later to find Keith and Our Jane.
The perfume I'd considered delicate at first was now inundating me with its heavy base of jasmine, making me feel giddy and totally unreal. Thoughts of my stepmother Sarah came fleetingly to mind. Oh, if Sarah could only once in her life have a bottle of Jillian's perfume! A jar or box of Jillian's silky face powder!
The rain that I had predicted earlier began with a soft drizzle, and in seconds sheets of water drummed on the blacktop. The driver slowed and seemed to take more care, as all three of us behind the glass barrier stopped talking and sat each with our own thoughts. Going home, going home, that's all I had in mind. Going to where it's better, prettier, where sooner or later I'll feel truly welcomed.
My dream was happening too fast for me to drink in all the impressions. I wanted to save and savor all of this first ride to wherever they were taking me, and ponder the memories later, when I was alone. Tonight, alone in a strange house. Better thoughts came. Oh, wait until I write and tell Tom about my beautiful grandmother! He'll never believe someone so old could look so young. And my sister Fanny would be so jealous! If only I could call Logan, who was only a few miles away, living in some big college dorm. But I had been gullible and naive enough to fall for Cal Dennison's seduction. Logan didn't want me now. He would no doubt hang up if I phoned him.
Then, as the driver made a right turn, Jillian began to ramble on and on about the plans she would soon make to entertain me. "And we always make Christmas a special event, we go all out, so to speak."
Now I knew. She was telling me in her own way I could stay through Christmas. And it was only early October...but October had always been a bittersweet month: goodbye to summer and all the bright and happy things; wait now for winter, for all the cold and bleak and stark things.
Why was I thinking like this? Winter wouldn't be cold and bleak in a fine rich house. There would be plenty of fuel oil, or coal or firewood, or electric heat, whatever, I'd be warm enough. By the time Christmas had come and gone, I'd have added so much fun to their lonely household, neither one would want me to go. No they wouldn't. They'd need me...oh, God, let them need me!
Miles passed, and to lift my spirits and my confidence, suddenly a brilliant sun peeked through the dreary clouds. Trees in vivid autumn colors lit up, and I believed God was going to shine his light on me after all. Hope sprang into my heart. I was going to love New England. It looked so much like the Willies only without the mountains and the shacks.
"We'll soon be there," said Tony, lightly touching my hand. "Turn your head to the right and look for a break in the tree line. The first glimpse of Farthinggale Manor is a sight to remember."
A house with a name! Impressed, I turned to him and smiled. "Is it as grand as it sounds, is it?"
"Every bit as grand," he answered somberly. "My home means a great deal to me. It was built by my great-great-great-grandfather, and every first son who takes it over improves it."
Jillian snorted, as if contemptuous of his home. But I was excited, eager to be impressed. With great anticipation I leaned forward and watched for the break in the trees. It came soon after. The chauffeur made the turn onto a private road marked by high, wrought-iron gates that arched overhead and spelled out with ornate embellishments Farthinggale Manor.
I gasped just to see the gates, the imps and fairies and gnomes that peeked between the iron leaves.
"The Tattertons affectionately refer to our ancestral home as Farthy," informed Tony with nostalgia in his voice. "I used to think when I was a boy there wasn't a house anywhere in the world as fine as the one where I lived. Of course there are many that exceed Farthy, but not in my mind. When I was seven I was sent to Eton because my father thought the English know more about discipline than our private schools do. And in that he was right. In England I was always dreaming of coming home to Farthy. Whenever I felt homesick, which was most of the time, I'd close my eyes and pretend I could smell the balsam, fir, and pine trees, and more than anything, the briny scent of the sea. And I'd wake up aching, wanting to feel the damp, cool morning air on my face, wanting my home so badly it physically hurt. When I was ten my parents gave up Eton as a hopeless cause, or else I'd be forever homesick, and I was allowed to come back, and oh, that was a happy day."
I could believe him. I'd never seen such a beautiful and huge house, made of gray stone so it sort of resembled a castle, and not unintentionally, I believed. The roof was red and soared, forming turrets and small, red bridges that assisted one in reaching portions of the high roof that would have been inaccessible otherwise.
Then Miles pulled the limo to a slow stop before the tall and wide steps that led to the arching front door. "Come," called Tony, suddenly excited, "let me have the pleasure of introducing you to Farthy. I love to see the amazement on the faces of those who view it for the first time, for then I can see it freshly all over again myself."
And with Jillian following less than enthusiastically behind us, we slowly ascended the wide stone stairs. Huge urns were beside the front door, holding graceful Japanese pine trees. I could hardly wait to see the inside. My mother's home. Soon I'd be inside. Soon I'd see her rooms and her belongings. Oh, Mother, at last I'm home!
Copyright © 1986 by Vanda Productions, Ltd.