Authors: Linda Newbery
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
Epub ISBN: 9781407097732
SET IN STONE
A DEFINITIONS BOOK 978 0 099 45133 4
First published in Great Britain by David Fickling Books,
a division of Random House Children’s Books
David Fickling Books edition published 2006
Definitions edition published 2007
3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4
Copyright © Linda Newbery, 2006
The right of Linda Newbery to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.
Set in New Baskerville
Definitions are published by Random House Children’s Books,
61–63 Uxbridge Road, London W5 5SA,
a division of The Random House Group Ltd.
Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at:
THE RANDOM HOUSE GROUP Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Cox & Wyman, Reading, RG1 8EX
For Peter Thomas, and long overdue
‘To handle stone is to handle the stuff of life and death, of time and change, the mysteries of the Earth itself . . .’
Set in Stone:
‘Newbery’s masterpiece of storytelling’
‘The story succeeds so brilliantly not through sensationalism but the virtuosity of the style . . . It exactly captures the genteel diction of Victorian times and the seething world of lust, shame and cruelty beneath it’
‘An absorbing, thoughtful, jigsaw puzzle of a book, the shifting complexities of its plot and the half-understood perspectives of its narrators bringing to mind Wilkie Collins or Henry James. But if its atmosphere is that of a Victorian mystery, the setting combines the richly imagined detail of a George Eliot novel with the grace and light of a Vuillard painting’
Books for Keeps
‘An intensely admirable and intriguing novel’
‘The protagonists’ unreliable narratives keep readers on the edge of their seats as the shocking nature of their secret is gradually, teasingly revealed in this lyrical novel’
‘Linda Newberry has very successfully recreated the nineteenth century voice reminiscent of the Brontes and Austen . . . an incredibly gripping read’
‘This novel calls to mind the writings of the Bronte sisters . . . the atmosphere of that grand Victorian house, with all its intrigue and hierarchy, is electric . . . a gripping page-turner’
‘I found myself bathing in the wonderful descriptions . . . Newbery writes with grace and immediacy’
‘An utterly compelling story . . . Linda Newbery has a secure grasp of her material, the complexities of her plot and the detail of the age, with natural handling of a broad, enlightening vocabulary and a sense of style’
The School Librarian
‘Incredibly heady stuff! . . . Strong characters, clever plot twists and shocking revelations. Highly recommended’
Also by Linda Newbery:
THE SHELL HOUSE
Watercolours and Oil Paintings
The poster is almost obscured by the press of people entering the gallery. Wineglass in hand, I position myself to one side, a spectator at my own exhibition; as the guests file in, I assume a genial smile, and prepare to wear it for the duration of the evening.
Nowadays there are many such occasions, enough to make me droop at the prospect of yet another. How easily we tire of novelties, once their gloss has faded! Twenty years ago, I dreamed of this tedious social duty as the height of my aspiration. If I had thought then, at the start of my career, that people would flock to see my work – and not only to look, but to pay handsomely for it; that I should be fêted,
flattered, invited to dine, to comment, to make speeches; that I should be regarded as someone touched by the Muse, not quite in the run of common men – I should have thought it a wishful dream. But this has become the pattern of my life, no longer yearned for. My name, now, seems to stand apart from me. It is a valued signature, two words that command a price; its syllables are spoken by people who consider themselves connoisseurs.
‘Ah, Mr Godwin!’ The woman bearing down on me, social smile stretching her lipsticked mouth, scarf draped artfully round her neck and secured with a brooch, is of the wearisome type I often meet at such viewings. ‘Let me have your attention, before you’re quite besieged! I am so curious – do tell me . . .’ Manicured fingers touch my sleeve; perfume mingles with cigarette smoke. ‘The Wild Girl. She intrigues me so very much. Who is she, I wonder? Do tell.’
I avert my eyes from the archness of her gaze, and block my ears to her gush. Across the gallery, my Wild Girl stares at me from her ebony frame. Although her expression is seared into my mind, although my own hand made every brushstroke that defines her, I cannot look on her without feeling a fresh twist of pain. Her hair, of that rich, extraordinary shade I used to amuse myself by defining – the colour of newly opened chestnuts in their cases, of beech leaves against snow, of polished pennies, of a kestrel’s wing – tumbles over her shoulders. Her eyes, not quite green, not quite blue, hold mine in a blend of exultation and pleading. This is my reason for painting her: to hold
this moment in suspension, to keep for ever the possibilities it holds.
In the next instant it will be too late. Her plea will remain unanswered, and I will have failed.
My heart clenches.
I do this to her, my Wild Girl. I bring her to these fashionable galleries, I expose her to these scavengers with their ravenous eyes and their predatory cheque-books. Do they really see her? Twenty years ago she would have been as invisible as the rest of my work. Now, because she carries my name (but not her own), she is the object of speculation. Fickle fashion has decreed that my work is collectable.
The Wild Girl
is a desirable commodity.
But not for sale. No, never.
‘Come, now, Mr Godwin!’ My inquisitor plucks at my sleeve and peers closely into my face. ‘Please don’t be coy! Is there a story here, I wonder? Such a beauty – she is someone you loved, maybe? She is a real girl – yes, surely.’
I catch the eye of the gallery owner. Knowing how I dislike being cornered, he threads his way towards us, summoning a waiter to refill our glasses. I see my chance to escape.
‘She is herself,’ I answer, sidling away. ‘She is someone I met many years ago.’
It was an impulse stirred by the moon over the Downs that made me decide to complete my journey on foot. Such a night as this, I thought, standing outside the railway station in the moonlight that seemed almost liquid silver, is too great a gift to ignore behind drawn curtains and closed doors. It is to be fully experienced with all senses – lived, inhaled, absorbed.
It had been arranged that my new employer, Mr Farrow, would send a pony-chaise to meet me, but a series of misfortunes had delayed my arrival. My London train had departed late, and I had missed my connection; he must have given up expecting me until the morrow. At this hour there was no conveyance of any kind to be seen. At first wondering whether to spend the night in a local tavern and continue next morning, I then had the idea of walking. I asked the stationmaster to put my trunk aside until morning, explained that my destination was Fourwinds, and showed him the address.
‘Mile or so up the lane there, all uphill, then turn left down a rough old track by a copse. Stick on that track and it’ll bring you to the gates.’ He seemed to feel unduly put upon by my request to store the trunk, and began, with a grudging air, to haul it towards the ticket office.
‘I shall send for it in the morning,’ I told him.
He accepted without comment the coin I gave him for his trouble. I shouldered the small pack in which I had my necessaries, and set off at once, past a coaching inn – with no coaches to be seen – and out of Staverton in the direction he had indicated.
As the sounds from the inn and the lights from the stationmaster’s house receded, I found myself alone, and very tiny, beneath the vast, starred expanse of sky. Coming from the London suburb of Sydenham, where I had lived all my life, I had rarely experienced such isolation as this, such silence. And yet, as my ears attuned to my new surroundings, it was not silence I heard: my feet trod steadily on the stony road; I heard the hooting of an owl, the screech of some unseen creature in the verge, the faintest rustle of grasses sighing against each other. I was on a high, open road, curving over the swell of hillside that I saw as the flanks of some prehistoric animal, deep in slumber. The moonlight was so strong as to throw my shadow beside me on the road as a mute companion; and so I found myself not quite alone after all, taking a childish pleasure in my shadow-self as it matched me stride for stride. I could see quite clearly my road curving ahead, and the clump of trees, inky black, that marked my turning point.
From here, my track took me sharply left. Chalky and bare, it formed rough undulations over the ground, leading me to the brow of a low hill; chalk stones grated underfoot. Fourwinds, the house at which I was to take up employment, apparently lay in a very isolated spot, for I could see no sign of habitation, no friendly lamp in a farmhouse window, no plume of smoke from a shepherd’s humble croft. I felt very conscious of travelling from one stage of my life to the next: every step away from the road carried me farther from London, my mother and sister, the art school and my friends there; each tread brought me nearer to the house and its inhabitants, of which, and of whom, I knew very little.