Linda Martin was back in Paris after an absence of nine years. With an English father and a French mother, she had grown up in France during the Second World War. When she was fourteen both of her parents were killed in a plane crash and she was sent to an orphanage in England where she remained for seven years. When she was offered a position in France as governess to nine year old Philippe, Comte de Valmy, she jumped at the opportunity to go back to the country she loved.
‘Those sweet, those stinging memories…things I had never before noticed, never missed, until now I saw them unchanged, part and parcel of that life that stopped nine years ago…I was back in France; that much of the dream of the past nine years had come true. However prosaic or dreary my new job might be, at least I had come back to the country I had persisted in regarding as my home.’
Arriving at the Château Valmy in Savoy, Linda found that her young charge was a reserved, lonely child, heir to a large estate kept in trust by his uncle after the boy’s parents died. It didn’t take Linda long to warm to the young boy and to discern that he was afraid of his uncle. His uncle had no time for his nephew and was cold and harsh towards him.
A shooting which narrowly missed Philippe, another near fatal ‘accident,’ and an unlikely romance, sets the scene for adventure, danger and uncertainty as Linda commits herself to take care of Philippe while trying to work out who the potential murderer might be.
This is the second book that I’ve read by Mary Stewart (the other being, Madam, Will You Talk?) and it was every bit as good as the first. It took a little longer for the story in Nine Coaches Waiting to develop, but it was also longer than the first.
There were some similarities between the two – a vulnerable but strong young woman, a lonely child who needed protection, the French setting, and a romance.
‘An owl called below me, down in the woods; called again. Its muted melancholy found too ready an echo in me. I felt tired and depressed. Too much had happened today; and the pleasant things…had somehow faded back out of mind and left me with this queerly flattened feeling.
I know what it was, of course. I’d lived with loneliness a long time. That was something which was always there…one learns to keep it at bay…’
Again, Mary Stewart’s writing is just lovely and each chapter is introduced by a literary quotation, e.g.
And this on the ability of poetry to educate the mind:
‘The cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land…yes, that was it. That was it. Not for the first time I was sharply grateful to Daddy for making poetry a habit with me. The best words in the best order…one always got the same shock of recognition and delight when someone’s words swam up to meet a thought or name a picture. Daddy had been right. Poetry was awfully good material to think with.’
There are some allusions to Cinderella and Jane Eyre intermingled in the story which were nicely done, as were the revelations of what underpinned the actions or thoughts of various characters.
‘Wrapped up in my loneliness and danger I hadn’t even seen that his need was the same as my own. He and I had hoed the same row, and he for a more bitter harvest.’
A great book to curl up with with a cup of tea and no interruptions, if possible, because Mary Stewart’s books are hard to put down – at least the two I’ve read so far have been.