The Rose of Sebastopol

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9780753823743: The Rose of Sebastopol

The #1 international bestseller about love, war and betrayal from the author of The Alchemist's Daughter

In 1854, adventurous Rosa Barr travels to the Crimean battlefield with Florence Nightingale's nursing corps. For Mariella Lingwood, Rosa's cousin, the war is contained within the letters she receives from her fiancé, Henry, a celebrated surgeon who also has volunteered to work in the shadow of the guns. When Henry falls ill, Mariella impulsively takes an epic journey to the ravaged landscape of the Crimea and the tragic city of Sebastopol. What she finds there, as her world beings to crumble, is that she has much to learn about secrecy, faithfulness, and love...

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About the Author:

Katharine McMahon is the author of The Alchemist's Daughter. A former English teacher, writing instructor, and actress, she lives in Hertfordshire, England.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Table of Contents

 

Title Page

Copyright Page

 

PART ONE

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

 

PART TWO

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-one

 

PART THREE

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

 

PART FOUR

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-one

Twenty-two

 

PART FIVE

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

ALSO by KATHARINE McMAHON

 


After Mary

 

The Alchemist’s Daughter

g. p. PUTNAM’S SONS
Publishers Since 1838
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA Penguin
Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada
(a division of Pearson Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL,
England · Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin
Books Ltd) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124,
Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd,
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New Zealand Ltd) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

 


Originally published in the United Kingdom by Phoenix 2007
First published in the United States by G. P. Putnam’s Sons 2009

Copyright © 2007 by Katharine McMahon

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any
printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage
piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.
Purchase only authorized editions.

 


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
McMahon, Katharine.
The rose of Sebastopol / Katharine McMahon.—1st American ed.
p. cm.

eISBN : 978-1-101-01635-0

PART ONE

One

ITALY, 1855

 

 

 

We arrived in Narni late on a Sunday evening. Although the door to the Hotel Fina was locked, the driver roused a servant who stumbled out with creasy shirt-tails, brought in our luggage, and showed us to a bedroom smelling of unwashed feet. Nora took away my cloak and bonnet, then I snuffed the candles and lay down. A man was shouting in the distance, perhaps the worse for drink. Instead of sleeping I rode through the night as if still in a carriage jolting over badly made roads across the plains of Italy. Eventually I heard a clock strike five, and the rumble of a cart in the square outside, and I fell asleep to the sound of women’s raised voices and the clash of a pail against stone.

When I woke, a blade of sunlight sliced between the shutters and it was nearly mid-morning. Nora was standing over me with a breakfast tray and a letter from Mother, which I didn’t read. None of the clothes in my port-manteau was fit to wear, being too crushed, so I put on my traveling dress again and said we would go out at once. In the lobby I struggled to make myself understood by the proprietress, who was dressed in black and whose mouth was pulled down at the ends, as if from despair, but when I showed her Henry’s address she drew us a rough map.

Narni was an ancient town built near the top of a hill and the Hotel Fina was at its center, on a little square. What with the cluster of women round a fountain and the confusion of streets and shop-fronts, there was no telling which direction was the right one, so we set off at random up a flight of steps and under an arch. The sun was very hot, the street oppressively narrow, and our traveling clothes too heavy, so we stopped under a shady porch while I consulted the map.

A cluster of children formed round us; I gave one the names, “Via del Monte, Signora Critelli,” and he set off back the way we’d come. We re-crossed the little square, and this time plunged into a steep street with the houses built so close on either side I could almost touch them. Washing of the most intimate nature hung from balconies or was suspended like dingy carnival flags from wall to wall. I was surprised to find Henry lodging in such a poor quarter.

Eventually the child paused in front of an open doorway where there was a smell of wet stone and flowers, because someone had just watered a pot of narcissi. I hovered at the entrance, my resolve gone, wishing that I had never left England or that at the very least had sent Henry a note to let him know I was on my way. Now that I was here, I wondered whether he would think it appropriate. I was also afraid of seeing him ill. What if he didn’t recognize me, or I him? Unlike Rosa, I never knew what to do in the face of sickness. I glanced at Nora but she raised an eyebrow as if to say: You got us into this, don’t expect any encouragement from me.

In the end I crept along the passage to a kitchen, where a woman stood with her arms plunged into a washbowl. She squinted at me through the droplets of water that trickled into her eyes.

“Dr. Henry Thewell? ” I asked.

She gaped, dried her face, first on a towel then her skirt, leant her hand on the door-frame, and let fly a torrent of Italian which ended at last in a question.

I shook my head. “Non capisco. Inglese. Mi chiamo Mariella Lingwood. Mari-ella. I am engaged to be married to Dr. Thewell. Dov’è Henry Thewell?

I had learnt from watching my father that it is better, in moments of crisis, to speak quietly rather than to shout. Certainly Signora Critelli calmed down; she went on talking but less rapidly, wiped her hands again, gestured that I should get out of the way, and led me up a narrow flight of stairs to a landing where she knocked sharply on a door, flung it wide, and announced me with the words: “La signorina inglese.”

I took a step further, and another.

The room was in semi-darkness, because though one shutter was half open, a drab blue curtain covered the window. Through the gloom I saw that the room was small and contained a narrow bed, a wash-stand, a table heaped with books, and a low chair with a rush seat, upon which an untouched tray with a roll, a jug, and a cup had been left. There was a smell of cold coffee and damp linen.

Henry was in bed but he’d raised himself on one elbow, and even in the darkness I saw the eager brilliance of his eyes and that his hair had grown so long it flopped over his brow. We stared at each other. Then I stumbled across the room, knelt by the bed, and held him.

My bonnet was knocked sideways as he covered my face with hot kisses. I wept and seemed to flow out of myself when I felt his lips on my hair, ear, and neck. Though I was distantly aware that the door behind us had closed abruptly and that we had been watched, I didn’t mind. I clasped his too-thin arms as his hands caressed my back and I helped him with my bonnet ribbons, wondering how I could ever have doubted that I did the right thing in coming here. I realized that I had waited most of my life to have Henry kiss my throat, even to let him fumble with the buttons of my gown and pull loose the neck of my shift. My skin contracted as his lips closed on my breast. His breathing came in rasping pants between kisses.

I fell back on the pillow, smoothed his hair, and felt him grow heavy in my arms. Astonishingly, he slept. For perhaps half an hour I didn’t move though I lay half off the bed, my bonnet dropping from my neck, a draught swaying the curtain, and the clop of a mule’s hooves on the street below. Because my hair was caught by the weight of his head, all I could see was a fragment of cracked ceiling, a broken frieze, and the shifting blue-gray curtain. I kissed him again and again, tiny, weightless kisses on his hair, which was far softer than I had ever imagined, like a cat’s fur, and I thought: All these weeks he has been alone, watching that curtain and waiting for me. I was afloat in the miracle of his touch, the strangeness of a male body half covering mine, the fact that this was Henry, whom I had missed so much in the past months that even the blood in my veins ached for him.

Then I tightened my hold, because although never in my wildest imaginings had I expected such a loving, needy reception as this, nor had I really thought to find him so weak that he was confined to bed. I had always relished his energy and the hardness of his arm under my hand but now he was frail as a bird. And he smelt entirely different from the Henry who never failed to delight me with his scent of good soap, balsam, or camphor. Instead the odor of confined flesh reminded me of the Governesses’ Home.

As he woke, his breath grew uneven on my neck. When he moved his head, my skin was damp and hot from where his cheek had rested on me. I closed my eyes as my breast tightened under his circling fingertip.

This is Italy, I thought, no-one will know. And anyway, what do I care?

“My dear love,” he whispered, “I thought you would never come.”

His finger was making a diminishing spiral on my nipple, so my words were disjointed: “I wasn’t sure you would want me here. And yet I wouldn’t be stopped, even by you, so I thought it best just to come without letting you know.”

“You are my love, my love.”

“Your letters sounded so lonely I thought I must come.”

He nuzzled his cheek into my bosom and pressed his face to my neck, drawing me closer and closer under him. I didn’t mind that he had the smell of fever on his breath, I was scarcely conscious of anything except the heat of him as he murmured: “I thought I might never see you again. I thought you were gone.”

“Of course you’d see me again.”

“But you never answered me. You never said a word. It was killing me.” He laid his head beside mine on the pillow and reached out to turn my face towards his. I had time to see how pale his skin was, and that because his moustache had been shaved off his mouth was as full-lipped and boyish as when I first knew him. Then he said: “Let me look at you at last. My Rosa. My dear love. Dearest Rosa.”

Two

1840

 

 

 

Henry’s mother, Euphemia, known as poor Aunt Eppie, was my father’s cousin. After her marriage to Richard Thewell, a Derbyshire innkeeper, the pair moved south and for a few years managed a prosperous hostelry near Radlett in Hertfordshire. Their subsequent tragic history was only spoken of behind closed doors, so I had to pick it up piecemeal.

Thewell, not astute enough to anticipate that the new railway would kill his business, took to the bottle. Meanwhile, soon after the birth of their only son, Aunt Eppie began to suffer from a wasting disease. The business duly failed and my father rescued the family by moving them into one of the little villas he’d just had built in Wandsworth, a mile or so from our house in Clapham. While the boy, Henry, was at school, poor Aunt Eppie spent her mornings with us at Fosse House, working on the household linen and teaching me to sew. I never met her husband, whose drinking put him beyond the pale, although I once heard Mother describe him to her friend Mrs. Hardcastle as ineffectual.

Eppie was a small, high-cheekboned creature, who had nothing in common with Mother except that both were from Derbyshire and fiendishly hardworking. Mother couldn’t stand sewing, Eppie was never happy without a needle in her hand; Mother was the daughter of a squire, Eppie of a tailor; Mother was too busy to spend more than an hour or two on my lessons each day whereas Eppie taught me to crochet imitation guipure lace, work an edge of Plaited Slav stitch on a linen tablecloth, and put pin tucks into the bodice of a muslin blouse. We worked side by side in the morning room, and I remember the smell of her perspiration, the way a girlish froth of hand-worked lace framed her fiercely parted hair and pallid forehead, the tension in her hands and back as she sewed. She reeked of sickness; her breath was rotten.

By the time I was eight, she was too frail to come to the house, though Mother took me to visit her once in the Wandsworth villa. She lay on a mountain of pillows, her face lost in the flaps of her nightcap, a bit of smocking with the needle threaded through dropped among the folds of her quilt. Her smile was apologetic and she couldn’t speak because of her cough. After that she faded from my life altogether, though I inherited her skill, her small collection of books on stitchcraft, and a leather sewing case containing needles, scissors, hooks, and pen-knife, with mother-of-pearl handles. Mother was suddenly busier than ever, managing the Thewell household as well as our own, arranging a funeral, and seeing the widower shipped north to an aunt who was to help him recover from the blow of his wife’s death. Meanwhile, we were to take the boy in.

When Henry took up residence in our quiet household, he was a thin-faced youth with an unhealthy complexion and eyes blank with suffering. “He’ll only be with us while he finishes school or until his father’s back on his feet,” said Mother. “He’ll sleep in the room next to yours and be out each day. We’ll hardly notice him.”

But I did notice him, I noticed everything about him: the cautious sounds of his rising in the morning, his meager breakfast of tea and toast, his easing himself out of the house as if afraid of making the air stir as he shut the door, his return at six o’clock and disappearance into his room as soon as the evening meal was over. I noticed that he had long fingers like his mother and that he was never without a book. Even at mealtimes there was one sticking out of his pocket, and when he set off for school in the morning I ran to an upstairs window and watched him open a volume and begin to read. It was a wonder he didn’t fall over but he was skilled at avoiding obstacles, even with his eyes on the page.

He and I had nothing to say to each other. After all, he was a boy and eight years older than me. And his dead mother, poor Aunt Eppie, shimmered between us. I assumed he was sadder even than I was about her death but I couldn’t tell how much.

However, one we...

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McMahon, Katharine
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Descripción W&N, 2007. Estado de conservación: New. A spellbinding story of love, secrecy and courage, set against the backdrop of the Crimean war, from the author of THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER. Num Pages: 416 pages. BIC Classification: FA. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 196 x 129 x 27. Weight in Grams: 290. . 2007. Paperback. . . . . . Nº de ref. de la librería 9780753823743

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Descripción W&N. Estado de conservación: New. A spellbinding story of love, secrecy and courage, set against the backdrop of the Crimean war, from the author of THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER. Num Pages: 416 pages. BIC Classification: FA. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 196 x 129 x 27. Weight in Grams: 290. . 2007. Paperback. . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Nº de ref. de la librería 9780753823743

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Descripción Orion Publishing Co, United Kingdom, 2008. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The Ukraine, Russia and the Crimea are taking centre stage in the world today but this spellbinding story of courage and love takes us back to the original Crimean war.Russia, 1854: the Crimean War grinds on, and as the bitter winter draws near, the battlefield hospitals fill with dying men. In defiance of Florence Nightingale, Rosa Barr - young, headstrong and beautiful - travels to Balaklava, determined to save as many of the wounded as she can. For Mariella Lingwood, Rosa s cousin, the war is contained within the pages of her scrapbook, in her London sewing circle, and in the letters she receives from Henry, her fiance, a celebrated surgeon who has also volunteered to work within the shadow of the guns. When Henry falls ill and is sent to recuperate in Italy, Mariella impulsively decides she must go to him. But upon their arrival at his lodgings, she and her maid make a heartbreaking discovery: Rosa has disappeared. Following the trail of her elusive and captivating cousin, Mariella s epic journey takes her from the domestic restraint of Victorian London to the ravaged landscape of the Crimea and the tragic city of Sebastopol. As she ventures deeper into the dark heart of the conflict, Mariella s ordered world begins to crumble and she finds she has much to learn about secrecy, faithfulness and love. Nº de ref. de la librería AA29780753823743

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Descripción Orion Publishing Co, United Kingdom, 2008. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The Ukraine, Russia and the Crimea are taking centre stage in the world today but this spellbinding story of courage and love takes us back to the original Crimean war.Russia, 1854: the Crimean War grinds on, and as the bitter winter draws near, the battlefield hospitals fill with dying men. In defiance of Florence Nightingale, Rosa Barr - young, headstrong and beautiful - travels to Balaklava, determined to save as many of the wounded as she can. For Mariella Lingwood, Rosa s cousin, the war is contained within the pages of her scrapbook, in her London sewing circle, and in the letters she receives from Henry, her fiance, a celebrated surgeon who has also volunteered to work within the shadow of the guns. When Henry falls ill and is sent to recuperate in Italy, Mariella impulsively decides she must go to him. But upon their arrival at his lodgings, she and her maid make a heartbreaking discovery: Rosa has disappeared. Following the trail of her elusive and captivating cousin, Mariella s epic journey takes her from the domestic restraint of Victorian London to the ravaged landscape of the Crimea and the tragic city of Sebastopol. As she ventures deeper into the dark heart of the conflict, Mariella s ordered world begins to crumble and she finds she has much to learn about secrecy, faithfulness and love. Nº de ref. de la librería AA29780753823743

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