Authors: Emily Grayson
Once upon a time, her mother would begin, and Carsonâ¦
The atmosphere inside an overnight train is very much itsâ¦
Disoriented from all that had happened to her aboard theâ¦
So then they were in love. Full-flowering, astonishing love, theâ¦
Carson reached behind her, found the chair cushion, slowly satâ¦
Two days later, Carson and Alec traveled back to Parisâ¦
The first letter arrived four days after she arrived home:â¦
All she could think about, looking down at him inâ¦
This week,” she'd said, referring to when she would callâ¦
Carson Weatherell lived long enough to be able to crossâ¦
nce upon a time,
her mother would begin, and Carson Weatherell to this day retained a strong memory of being a very young girl in a canopy bed curling up tighter, closer. The stories were always the same: a beautiful princess marries a handsome if fairly shallow prince, and spends her entire married life living in the same kind of splendor to which she's always been accustomed. “Someday,” her mother would assure Carson when the story was over, “you will be that princess.” Then she would kiss her daughter on the forehead and turn to leave the room.
The Weatherells were by far the wealthiest family in their town of Marlowe, Connecticut, a fortune made generations earlier in nautical supplies. Each generation of Weatherell men tended
to the fortune as though it were a fire, stoking it worriedly and religiously, and eventually passing on to the next generation the responsibility for keeping the flame alive. And each generation of Weatherell women enjoyed spending that fortune, fashioning homes for their families that were at once comfortable and luxurious, and inevitably the envy of all the neighbors. In 1936, among the expansive homes of Marlowe with low stone walls and endless lawns, the Weatherells' was the most gracious. It would be unfair to say that Carson took her circumstances for granted; there was, after all, a depression on, and the papers were full of stories about bank runs and breadlines. Still, that outside world could seem distant indeed, if you had just turned eighteen, possessed blond hair, hazel eyes, and very pale skin, and understood that your wealth and your unambiguous beauty gave you a certain power, especially over boys.
All of which made Carson no different from any of her friends at schoolâor “school,” for what the Miss Purslane Academy for Girls offered the haughty, daydreamy girls enrolled there tended to fall under the category of either etiquette or horsemanship. Mostly, what these girls were taught was to be just like their mothers. To the extent that any one of them had a responsibility or an ambition, it was this, and this, in Carson's view, was a perfectly fine goal to set for oneself. After all, what else was there for a princess-in-waiting to do?
In the late spring of that year, however, Philippa Weatherell received a letter from London. The return address was Claridge's Hotel, and the letter was from Philippa's younger sister, Jane. Jane had always been a bit of a renegade, running off to London to marry a man no one in the family really understood. Though Lawrence Emmett was impeccably bred, an Englishman with starched cuffs and collar who'd been to Eton and Cambridge, he had a stern and sarcastic manner that put most people off. But Jane seemed genuinely in love with him, and the couple, childless, had stayed on in London, where Lawrence now worked for the Ministry of Defence, and where they lived in a beautifully appointed suite at Claridge's.
“My dear Pippa,” the letter began:
I know it's been a while since I've written, and please let me offer my apologies, for there's really no excuse. But Lawrence's work keeps us quite busy, sending us off to weekend house parties and the like. It's really a bit of a bore (how many poor little foxes can these men chase, for God's sake?), and I've been pestering good old Lawrence to take me away somewhere exciting, and FINALLY he's agreed to take me to the Continent in June: first Paris, and then Portugal, to which I haven't been in years, though I have happy memories of swimming off the coast there with Lawrence years ago, drinking local, fruity sangria, and eating those delicious fried almonds
that they always used to serve. (I wonder if they still do?)
Why am I telling you all of this? you may wonder. Well, Pippa dear, I would very much like to do something special for my niece, Carson, who I have not seen since she wasâ¦oh, twelve or thirteen, I believe, and who has now just graduated from high school, so you tell me. As her aunt and godmother, I would like to offer her a special gift. Lawrence and I have talked it over and we wonder if Carson would care to join us in London next month, to travel first to Paris with me for a week or so, and then accompany Lawrence and me on our sojourn to Portugal. It should prove to be a delightful trip; we'll be traveling by trainâfirst-class carriage from Paris to Lisbonâand we've already booked two sleeping compartments, one for Lawrence, and one for Carson and myself. (So you see? You CAN'T say no! We would lose our entire deposit on the second sleeping compartment!) Once in Portugal, Lawrence and I have rented a lovely, not-too-pretentious villa on the coast in Sintra, not too far from Lisbon, complete with small staff.
I think Carson will have the time of her life, and at the end of the summer we shall return her to you, bronzed and happy and ready to begin her adult life back in Connecticut. (No doubt soon to be marrying a young man you've probably already got your eye on for her, hmmmm, Pip?)
I know you will worry about Carson, as any
mother would while her daughter is in new and unfamiliar circumstances, but we promise to take excellent care of her. Of course there is lots of talk about political unrest in Europe, what with the German situation and all, but Lawrence feels that, for the foreseeable future, Europe is stable (with the exception of Spain, of course), and I do trust him in these matters. Please let Carson come. It will be so much fun, not to mention the fact that, as you well know, an introduction to European ways is de rigueur for any young American lady entering society.
Your loving (and hopeful) sister,
In fact, Jane was right; Philippa did have her eye on someone for Carson, though she'd told no one her thoughts on the matter. But then, she didn't need to. It was obvious. It was
If Carson Weatherell was a princess, then surely Harris Black would be her prince.
The Black family had moved to Connecticut from Minnesota only a few years earlier, and lived in an estate right on the water. Gordon Black owned buildings and hotels, and his wife owned shoes, plenty of them, and their son, Harris, sweet-natured and easygoing, was as good-looking a specimen as Carson. He was tall and muscled, with a cleft in his chin that seemed to have been surgically placed there, so perfect was it. He was the richest boy in town, she was the
richest girl, their parents knew one another and got along, and both Carson and Harris seemed to want the same things in life, which were no different from what their parents had wanted before them. Of
the two of them would one day become a couple, eventually to live together ever after, perhaps even happily so. This was more than assumed; it was to be
Which was why, on the evening of the Memorial Day dance at the country club, the unofficial opening of the summer social season in Marlowe, Connecticut, Carson found herself experiencing an illicit thrill in watching Harris's response to her newsâor, more accurately, in watching Harris's attempts to
his response to the fact that she would be spending the summer abroad.
“Really?” he said, when Carson's mother slipped this bit of information into the conversation as if she were merely making an observation about the evening's fashions, which was in fact what she had been doingâshe and Miranda Black both. Harris had been twisted halfway around in his chair, drumming his fingers on the white linen tablecloth in time with the orchestra, distractedly appraising the couples on the dance floor. Now he looked from Carson to Philippa and back again to Carson. “Is that wise?” Harris said. “There's talk of war, after all.”
It was his mother who answered him, dismissing the thought with a wave of the paper fan she'd been using to cool herself. “There's always talk of war,” Miranda Black said. “It's what men
If women waited for talk of war to subside, we should never travel abroad.”
The four of themâHarris and Carson and their mothersâwere sitting at a table decorated with a red, white, and blue bunting Liberty Bell centerpiece. Mr. Black and Mr. Weatherell had removed themselves to the other side of the dance floor, where they stood among a group of men at the bar, discussing business perhaps, orâas Miranda Black suggestedâwar.
“I'm sure you're right, Mother,” Harris said. “But anyone who's seen the latest news from Germanyâ”
“Since when have you taken such an interest in world affairs?” his mother interrupted, giving her son a curious smile. “I don't believe I've ever seen you reading anything but the sporting news.”
“I merely thoughtâ” Harris began. He looked down at his lime rickey, gave the glass a couple of twirls, then glanced back up at Carson. “What I mean to say is, I suppose I'd assumed that Carson would be
He turned slightly red, as if he hadn't meant to place quite so much emphasis on the
of the matter. Harris would be going off to college in the fallâYale, like his father before him, and his father's father before that. So it only would have made sense if he was planning to spend the summer before college at home, attempting to win the attentions of the elegant and aloof Carson Weatherell. It had made sense to Carson, anyway, when she'd thought about her summer, and now she
saw that it had made sense to Harris, too. And to be honest, she couldn't say that his slightly flustered response to the news of her change in plans displeased her.
“Well,” Harris's mother said, “Carson
be here, she'll be
and she will be the better woman for it.” Miranda Black was fair-haired and overweight, and she had no trouble speaking with authority. “You know,” she went on, fixing her son with a cautioning look, “this is a splendid opportunity for Carson. It will expand her horizons. She'll learn how to be a proper hostess. She'll learn how to dress. She'll learn to tell a Vermeer from a Veronese. And one day she will be a better wife for having taken the so-called grand tour, just as Philippa and I did in our day, isn't that right, Philippa dear?” she added, turning to Carson's mother.
But before Philippa could answer, Harris cut in.
“Well, why don't we hear from Carson herself?” he said. “Everyone seems to know what's best for her. Maybe she has an opinion on the subject of her own future?”
His mother drew back slightly in her chair, as if summoning her resources for a response, but before she had a chance to say anything, Philippa spoke.
“Nonsense,” she said. “Your mother is right, Harris. This trip is just what Carson needs. It's the best thing that could have happened to her. It's her chance to go and see the world before she comes back here and settles down for good. Isn't
that right, Carson dear?” she said, and then she reached out and closed a hand over her daughter's, pressing it into the white tablecloth hard enough to make an impression in the soft fabric, as if sealing some sort of unspoken pact.
One week later, Carson set sail for London on the
She brought so much luggage with her that to the uninitiated it might have appeared as though she were planning on moving permanently to the continent of Europe. But she was only doing as her mother advised: if you're going to go abroad, do it in style. There was a bon voyage party in Carson's stateroom while the ship was docked in New York; her parents were there, as were their friends the Blacks, as was champagne. There were pops and whoops. There were shouts and laughter. There were toasts to Carson's health, to her good fortune, to upcoming adventures. And there was, in the end, an awkward moment when the parents said farewell and hugged her good-bye and withdrew from the cabin, and Harris lingered behind. He raised his champagne flute to Carson, as if to propose a toast, but he said nothing. Instead, he took one last gulp, placed his glass on the table next to the champagne bucket, and said, “Well, I imagine I'll see you when you return.”
I return,” Carson said.
She regretted it immediately. She didn't know why she'd said it. Maybe because nobody was listeningânobody but Harris, and he didn't
really count, since they were the same age and had never needed to worry about keeping up appearances around each other. Anyway, Carson hadn't meant anything by it; of course she would be returning. Where else did she have to go? It was a joke, a gesture, part of the Carson Weatherell come-hither armor, and she supposed she had expected Harris to return the jest in kind:
Oh, yes, I'm sure you'll find everything you've ever wanted in some little village in the provinces of Portugal. And who knows? Perhaps you'll even meet a mysterious stranger.
Instead, his face had clouded briefly, at least before he had a chance to recover. But then he did recover, and Carson reassured herself that she hadn't wounded him, not in the least. Harris raised his chin and smiled, and he gave her a friendly if appropriately hesitant peck on the cheek, and then he stepped outside the stateroom to leave Carson alone on her maiden voyage.
Not entirely alone, of course. That would have been unseemly for a single young woman of her station. A chaperone had been sent with her for the crossing, a little woman named Mrs. Adele, who had worked for the family in one capacity or another for many years, and who would return to Connecticut once she'd safely delivered Carson to Claridge's. But Mrs. Adele's dour presence hardly counted as companionship, and when Carson confessed that she really wasn't much of a conversationalist and would prefer to keep to herself except at meals, the relief seemed mutual.
So Carson did just that for much of the crossing: she kept to herself. Often she stayed in her stateroom to sip flat champagne and read one of the romance novels she'd brought with her (the current one, by a Mrs. Lucille Lovett Davies, was called
Alice of the Springtime,
and was about a young woman of simple circumstance who falls in love with a Scottish laird). Other times, Carson sat by the rail and looked out at the green-black ocean, thinking how far she was from home, and how far she was from her destination, and wondering why, after all, she was going to Europe in the first place. She knew it was “the thing to do.” Some of her friends from school were making similar trips that summer, and everyone had seemed so excited by the prospect of going abroad, talking about the clothing they were going to buy and the landmarks they were going to visit and, yes, the mysterious strangers they were going to meet.