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Lesley Pearse returns with Survivor, the stunning third instalment in the Belle series.
Mariette Carrera is a defiant and strong-willed seventeen-year-old. Her doting parents, Belle and Etienne, fear for her reputation in their small, gossipy New Zealand hometown. So, with the world on the brink of war, Mari leaves home on the SS Rimutaka, bound for London.
Armed with the freedom she's longs for since childhood, Mari quickly falls for Morgan, the handsome cockney steward on board ship. But once she reaches London, there are other temptations.
Mari loves her new life, sophisticated friends and adoring aunt and uncle. Caught up in a whirl of dances and parties in the flittering West End, and earning her own money as a typist, finally she feels she is mistress of her own future.
Until it is all snatched away by the war.
As London endures the blitz, Mari's new life is blown apart. Forced from her loving new home, she ends up alone in the East End, worlds away from the glamorous London she knows. But there, amidst the destruction and despair, she finds the chance to make a difference. the only way that Mari can survive this war is to fight, with all the strength, selflessness and compassion with her . . . and only then will she find true happiness.
Because Mari is a survivor . . .
About the Author
Lesley Pearse's novels have sold over five million copies worldwide. Her fifeen most recent books, including The Promise and Belle are huge bestsellers and available as Penguin paperbacks. Lesley lives near Bristol and has three daughters and two grandchildren.
Russell, New Zealand, 1931
'Mariette is so . . .' Miss Quigley paused, her thin lips pursed as she searched for a suitable adjective to describe her errant pupil. 'So defiant!'
Belle resisted the temptation to smile at the schoolmistress's description of her eleven-year-old daughter. When Belle was a child, it was often said of her too.
It was around half past four, and Miss Quigley had called on Belle after dismissing her pupils for the day.
Belle had shown the teacher into the parlour as a mark of respect, but she had no intention of offering tea as she didn't want to encourage the woman to linger. 'I think what you are seeing is just a sign of a strong character. What exactly has she been up to that you find so distressing?'
'I have no particular incident to illustrate it, but she challenges everything I say. Just the other day I was telling the class how many New Zealand soldiers lost their lives in the Great War, and she claimed that France lost twenty-five per cent of her men.'
'But that's true,' Belle said. 'I wouldn't call it defiance to point that out – especially when her father is French and fought for his country.'
It was tempting to add that Etienne had been awarded the Croix de Guerre for his courage, but he wouldn't like her to boast about that.
Miss Quigley crossed her arms. 'But she has a view on everything! I also get very irritated by her teaching the other children dubious French phrases.'
'I think you'll find there is nothing dubious about them, she just likes the sound of the language. I doubt very much that it is anything more than, 'Please pass me a pencil,' or, 'It's very hot today.' Both her father and I wish her to be bilingual, and we are delighted with her progress.'
Miss Quigley's disapproving sniff was evidence that she regarded teaching a child French as something subversive. 'She is overconfident.' She rapped this out like an insult. 'She's always the first child to speak out, takes the lead in everything.'
'I'm very sorry you find that troubling.' Belle thought this dried-up old stick of a schoolmistress should concentrate her energies on helping the less able children in the school and be glad she had at least one pupil who liked to learn. 'I would have thought a teacher would like to see such enthusiasm – it is, after all, a compliment to your teaching.'
'Pride cometh before a fall,' the schoolmistress retorted with another disapproving sniff. 'She may be a big fish in this little pool, but how will she manage when she comes up against even bigger fish?'
'A confident child will adjust.' Belle was growing cross. 'Now, shall we discuss her progress at school? I assumed that was what you came for?'
'She reads and writes very well,' Miss Quigley said begrudgingly. 'She is quick at arithmetic too. But she distracts the other children when she has finished her work and prevents them from finishing theirs.'
'By talking to them?' Belle felt they were at last getting somewhere.
'Then I'll tell her that she mustn't do that. But maybe you could give her more work or another job to keep her occupied?'
Belle had realized some time ago that Miss Quigley had taken against Mariette. She didn't think it was because the girl was quicker or smarter than other children of the same age, but purely because neither Mariette nor Belle sucked up to her the way that so many of the other children and mothers in Russell did.
A plain, thin and reserved woman in her late forties, Miss Quigley had arrived in Russell to teach around the same time that Belle had married Etienne. Rumour had it that she'd chosen to come to Russell to be nearer Silas Waldron, a widower who live in Kerikeri, whom she'd met in Auckland. Perhaps she'd hoped friendship would blossom into love and marriage, but it obviously hadn't.
It was never going to be easy for a single woman with no close friends or family in the area to adjust to living in such an isolated community after living in a big city. Miss Quigley had little in common with her pupils' mothers, whose lives revolved around their husbands and families, and she probably found them rather backward-thinking.
It didn't help that she was so starchy and prim – she had no small talk and rarely smiled, let alone laughed – and if she had hoped she might find a husband amongst the wealthy men who came here to fish for marlin in the summer, she was out of luck. Belle doubted any of them would want a plain middle-aged woman who looked like she'd spent her life sucking lemons.
'If you will forgive my plain speaking, Mrs Carrera, I do think you should curb Mariette's wild spirit by encouraging her to take up more ladylike pursuits than sailing. As I was coming here, I saw her pushing the boat out from the jetty with her dress tucked up in a most ungainly manner.'
Belle was suddenly all ears and looked at the schoolmistress in alarm. 'You saw Mari taking the boat out? Wasn't her father with her?'
'No, she was alone, shouting back to someone on the shore like a fishwife.'
'Why didn't you tell me that straight away?' Belle ripped off her apron and made for the door. 'Do you really think we'd allow an eleven-year-old to sail alone?'
'That's my point, she's defiant,' Miss Quigley replied. But her point was lost because Belle was already out of the door, leaving her alone in the parlour.
Belle ran at full tilt along the shore towards the jetty, her heart thumping with fear. Etienne had promised to take Mariette out for a sailing lesson in the dinghy after school today, if he finished work early enough. But if Miss Quigley was to be believed, Mariette thought she had learned enough to sail the boat alone.
It was a beautiful, sunny October day, with just enough wind to make it ideal sailing weather, but Mariette wasn't strong or knowledgeable enough to control a sailing boat on her own. She had been told this by her father dozens of times. A sudden squall of wind could capsize the boat, and she could be struck on the head by the boom. Although she could swim well, the water out in the bay was still very cold at this time of year, and in some parts there were dangerous currents.
Seeing Charley Lomax up ahead, Belle called out to him. 'Mari's taken the boat out alone. Can you find Etienne for me?' she yelled. 'And if you see Mog, tell her too.'
Charley Lomax was one of Russell's characters, about fifty, hard-working when he was sober, but he went on benders that could last for days. He lived in a squalid shack at the back end of town, but Etienne liked him and they often worked on building jobs together.
The man waved his hand to signal he understood what she'd said and ran off so fast it was clear that he was sober today.
Belle stopped running for a moment as she had a stitch. Putting her hand up to shield her eyes, she scanned the bay. Their dinghy had a red sail, and when Etienne first bought it Belle had often stood here watching him put it through its paces. She had been worried when he started taking Mariette out with him to teach her, and she still wouldn't let him take Alexis or Noel as the boys were only eight and seven respectively and not strong swimmers yet. But she had relented with Mariette because the girl loved everything about the sea and boats and liked being alone with her father.
She spotted the dinghy, which was going at a fair lick, way out in the bay. Mariette was just a tiny dot leaning back from her perch on the side to keep the boat balanced. Belle's fear was that the girl hadn't the strength in her arms to bring the boat about, and she was heading straight towards the open sea where the waves would be heavy.
Belle turned at the sound of Mog's shout and saw her racing towards her, clutching Alexis and Noel's hands. She collected the boys from school most days as they came out half an hour earlier than Mariette, and she usually took them for a walk so they could let off a bit of steam.
At any other time Belle would have marvelled that a woman of fifty-nine with a slight limp could run so fast. But Belle could only think of the danger her daughter was in.
'Mari's out there, alone,' she shouted back to Mog, pointing to the boat in the distance. 'Do you know where Etienne is?'
Mog reached her and doubled over with the exertion of running. 'Charley went to get him. He's only at the Baxters' place,' she wheezed out. 'He'll go straight to the jetty and take the other boat to get her. You'd better go with him to help.'
'If she capsizes out there, she'll drown,' Belle said in a quavering voice as they continued towards the jetty. 'I've told her a million times how dangerous the sea can be. Why does she always have to challenge everything?'
'Calm down, Belle,' Mog said. 'She's a naughty girl, disobeying you. But if you can still see the boat upright, then there's no need to panic yet. Etienne will be here before you can say Jack Robinson.'
Mog was right about that. As they reached the jetty, a cloud of dust heralded Etienne's arrival in the old truck.
Although fifty-one now, the years had been kind to him and he was still as lean and strong as he had been on their wedding day. He had more lines around his blue eyes, and his hair was more white than blond, but he still had the power to make women's hearts flutter a little, especially Belle's.
As she expected, he didn't stop for explanations, recriminations or suggestions, just told Alexis to run home and get a warm blanket, asked Mog to wait with Noel, then grabbed Belle's hand and charged down the jetty to where their small fishing boat was moored. He leapt in and started the engine while Belle hastily cast off and then jumped into the boat with him. Etienne pushed off from the jetty with a boathook and, within seconds, they were heading towards the dinghy.
Etienne looked at the little craft in the distance. 'She's hand-ling it well,' he said with a certain amount of pride, but then glanced at Belle's terror-struck face. 'We couldn't have expected to have docile, obedient children, Belle! Mari has inherited the worst and the best of both of us.'
Belle was tempted to say he should never have bought the dinghy – and she'd never forgive him if Mariette was drowned, or even hurt – but she didn't, because she knew
Etienne would never forgive himself if anything happened. Besides, she had agreed that all children living by the sea should learn to swim and to sail, so she was every bit as responsible.
Neither of them spoke again, both silently willing the fishing boat to go faster. As they drew closer, they could clearly see that Mariette was struggling against the force of the wind in the sail.
'She's hanging on to the line for grim death and forgetting to use the rudder to put it about,' Etienne said. His teeth were gritted with fear for her because, if she continued as she was, the dinghy would be out on the open sea very soon.
As they chugged towards her, a sudden squall came up and, to their horror, the little dinghy flipped over in an instant and Mariette was thrown out into the sea like a little rag doll. They saw her fall, heard the splash, and yet she disappeared instantly.
'Where's she gone? I can't see her!' Belle gasped.
The water around Russell had been calm, but out here it was very choppy and the shock of sudden immersion in extremely cold water would make it hard for anyone to swim, especially a small girl.
'Mari!' Etienne yelled out at the top of his voice. 'Can you hear me?'
They had around fifty yards before they reached the capsized boat, and Belle was beside herself with fear as she scanned the water looking for her child. She glanced at Etienne and saw that his jaw was set grimly as he slowed down in readiness to jump into the water.
'Take the wheel and circle the dinghy, slow and wide,' he said. As she did so, he pulled off his boots. 'Shout and wave this if you spot her,' he added, handing her a piece of red cloth.
He dived into the sea, surfacing some ten yards ahead.
Belle did as she'd been instructed, slowly circling the capsized boat, calling out to Mariette as she searched the water with her eyes. Etienne kept diving under the water, then resurfaced moments later, only to plunge down again.
Terror threatened to overwhelm Belle, who was imagining that at any minute Etienne would come to the surface holding the body of their lifeless child. She tried to keep the lid on her panic by reminding herself that they knew Mariette hadn't been hit by the boom, so she wasn't unconscious, and that she could swim like a fish. But every second that passed without sight of her daughter meant she might have already drowned.
'Please God, keep her safe,' she whispered frantically as Etienne once again dived down.
Then, as if her prayer was answered, she saw her. A small and frightened white face emerged from a wave, and Belle saw that the girl was reaching out for the keel of the upturned dinghy.
'Stay there, Mari,' Belle yelled out, waving the red rag frantically. 'Papa's coming to get you. Hold on tight!'
Etienne emerged on the other side of the keel.
'This side! She's on this side of the boat,' Belle screamed and pointed.
Etienne raised one hand to let her know he'd heard. As he swam round the capsized boat, Belle steered the fishing boat in closer.
It took Etienne no more than a couple of minutes to reach Mariette and, holding her up, he swam with her towards Belle and passed her up into Belle's arms.
'I'll just go back to the dinghy and get it upright. We can tow it back to Russell,' he shouted out from the water, then turned and swam back.
'Oh, Mari, you are such a naughty girl,' Belle exclaimed as she stripped off her child's soaked dress and wrapped an old coat of Etienne's around her. 'I was afraid you'd drowned.'
'Papa told me if I ever capsized, I was to stay with the boat,' she sobbed out, coughing and bringing up sea water. 'But I couldn't see it over the waves, and I was so scared. I was swimming the wrong way. I turned round and then I saw it.'
Belle hadn't the heart for lectures now, she was too relieved that Mariette was safe, so she hugged her tightly to her chest, watching Etienne righting the dinghy and fixing a tow line to it. There wasn't much he didn't know about boats – he'd learned to sail as a small boy in Marseille, and he was always in demand with the boat owners in Russell, both crewing for them and doing repairs – but he didn't know much about children, and she was angry with him for encouraging an eleven-year-old to think she knew enough to be out on the open sea alone.
If Miss Quigley hadn't noticed Mariette pushing the dinghy out, it might have been another hour or more before Belle went looking for her. Once out of the bay, the current would have swept the child away and perhaps her little body would never have been found.
But she said none of that to Mariette, who had had a big enough fright as it was. For now, all she wanted to do was warm the child up and hold her tightly.
Etienne was right in saying their daughter had inherited both the best and the worst of her parents. She was as fearless as her father, and as determined as her mother. She was also devious, opinionated and disobedient. Her looks too came from a blend of the pair of them, with her strawberry-blonde hair which was curly, like Belle's. She had Etienne's high cheekbones, but Belle's deep-blue eyes and wide mouth. She wasn't exactly pretty, but there was something arresting about her features, in the same way as there was with Etienne's.
'Are you very cross with me?' Mariette asked in a small, shaky voice once her father was back on board and stripping off his wet clothes.
'Yes, I am,' Etienne replied, looking very fierce. 'I've told you dozens of times that you are never to take the boat out alone. I can't believe that you would disobey me. You were very lucky that we found out where you were in time and were on our way to you. It isn't just about being a strong swimmer, the sea is very cold and even a grown man like me can become paralysed in the water in no time at all. Do you know what it would have done to your whole family, if you had drowned?'
'You'd all be very sad,' she said, hanging her head and trying to retreat further into the old coat Belle had wrapped her in.
'Not just sad, broken-hearted,' he said as he squatted down in front of her. 'You are just a little girl, you might have learned to sail quite well in calm water with a gentle wind, but you haven't got enough muscle yet to control a boat in a strong wind. You must learn to obey me and your mother, Mariette. We don't stop you from doing things just to be mean to you, but to keep you safe.'
'I'm s-s-s-sorry,' she stammered out, partly from being cold but also because she was in trouble. 'I wanted you to be proud of me, that I could sail so well.'
'You'd make us much more proud of you, if you were obedient,' Belle said, getting up to start the engine. 'If it wasn't for Miss Quigley spotting you, we wouldn't have known you were out here until it was too late. I hope you'll take this as a warning and never go off anywhere again – in a boat, a car or walking – without first asking either me or your father if it's alright.'
'I won't,' she sobbed out. 'Please don't be angry with me.'
Belle looked back at her daughter. She had snuggled into Etienne's side, the way she used to do when she was five or six. Her hair had been pure blonde then but, in the last few years, it had become more coppery and curly and Belle kept it plaited tightly or it became an unruly mop. She had mastered a wide-eyed, butter-wouldn't-melt look from an early age, which Belle and Etienne found endearing but sometimes worrying because she played both them and others with it. She was truly penitent, for now, but Belle was well aware that she was the kind of child who would never be meek and obedient. The very next time she took it into her head to do something that she shouldn't, today's lesson would be forgotten.
When they'd been choosing a name for her and Etienne had suggested Mariette, because it was his mother's name, he had laughingly told her it meant Little Rebel. Was it the name that made her behave that way?
No baby was ever wanted more. Belle had been told when she lost a baby while married to her first husband, Jimmy Reilly, back in England that she was unlikely to be able to have any more children. As things turned out, with Jimmy being severely wounded in the war, and all the problems that brought with it, Belle accepted that she was never going to be a mother, and she tried very hard to put babies out of her mind. But she had never quite succeeded. It was always a sore place inside her, a constant source of sorrow.
Then, right at the end of the war, Spanish flu flared up and, along with tens of thousands of others, Jimmy caught it and died, as did his Uncle Garth, Mog's husband.
Belle and Mog came to New Zealand to start a new life. And yet, young as Belle was, she had no expectations of finding another man to love. She once heard someone refer to her and Mog as the 'Two English Widows', and she guessed that was what everyone called them. She thought then that they would grow old together, making a living at dressmaking and millinery, and that the closest they would get to a child would be watching out for their neighbours' children.
Then Etienne, a man she had loved and thought had been killed in France, turned up looking for her. To this day she still considered it a miracle; she had accepted at that point in her life that she was never going to feel love and passion ever again.
She had shocked the people of Russell by failing to hide her desire for the gallant Frenchman, but she didn't care. She thought God – or just fate – had stepped in to make up for all the sorrow in the past. She was four months pregnant when they married, and no bride in history could ever have gone to the altar so proudly or joyfully.
So much had happened since then – hardships, disappointments, periods of great anxiety. And yet, having Etienne at her side, and the joy that came with each of their three healthy, beautiful children, made even the most troubled times seem insignificant.
But now, as Belle glanced over to Mariette again, she realized that children could bring even bigger heartaches than any of the bad things she'd experienced in the past. Mariette was far too brave and reckless for her own good, and as headstrong as both her parents. By the time she was fifteen or sixteen, her boldness and sense of adventure were likely to make her rebel against the quiet, sedate life here in Russell and search out excitement elsewhere. Belle knew only too well what dangers lay in wait for young girls, and just the thought that Mariette might be subjected to some of those made her blood run cold.
Mog had taken the boys home, and left two blankets on the jetty. Etienne wrapped Mariette in one of them, put the other around his bare shoulders and, after securing the boat, he lifted Mariette into his arms to carry her home.
Back at the house in Robertson Street, Mog and the boys were waiting on the veranda. The binoculars on the table were evidence that they'd been watching the rescue anxiously from the shore and had only returned home when they knew Mariette was safe.
Mog was never one for dramatics; she just held out her arms for the shivering child and said she had a warm bath ready for her and that Etienne should get in it afterwards.
'Are you going to smack her bottom?' seven-year-old Noel asked, somewhat hopefully.
Both boys had Belle's dark hair, and their eyes were cobalt-blue, darker than hers, but they had their father's facial expressions – suspicious, watchful. Yet neither of them was as adventurous as their elder sister. Etienne always laughed when that was remarked upon, and said, 'Give them time!'
'Don't be silly, Noel,' Alexis said. 'She's had enough of a fright nearly getting drowned.'
Belle smiled at his superior tone. He used it often, as if to point out to Noel that he was a year older. He reminded Belle of her late mother, Annie, with his strong features and the same tendency to be frosty. But, fortunately, Alexis was sens-ible and could always be relied on to do as he was told.
Later that evening, after the children had eaten their supper and gone to bed, Mog fetched the bottle of brandy she kept in the pantry, and poured a measure into three glasses.
They were in the kitchen, the washing-up done and put away, darkness had fallen some time ago, but the golden glow of the oil lamp made it snug and conducive for a family talk.
'I know you're both worried about Mari,' Mog said as she handed a glass each to Belle and Etienne. They had both been ominously quiet throughout the evening meal; all three children had picked up on it and had gone to bed without the usual delaying tactics. 'But perhaps it was a good thing she had a bad scare today. I doubt she'll be so quick to take such a risk again.'
Mog had bought the little clapboard house when she and Belle first came to Russell, but Etienne had extended it considerably since he married Belle. They were still waiting for electricity to come to Russell, but the kitchen was now much bigger and there was a separate wash house with a copper to heat up water for both baths and washing clothes. Etienne had built two rooms on to the side of the house for Mog, which she could access from either the hall or from the veranda along the front of the house. Above Mog's rooms were two new bedrooms, the boys sharing one and Mariette in the other.
They told people Mog was Belle's aunt, which was a far easier explanation than the truth. Mog had, in fact, worked as a maid for Annie Cooper, Belle's mother, and had virtually brought Belle up. Years later, Mog had married Garth Franklin and Belle had married Garth's nephew, Jimmy Reilly. Except for a couple of years when Belle was in America and Paris, and the time she spent as an ambulance driver in France during the war, she and Mog had always lived together. To Belle and Etienne's children she had the role of much-loved grandmother. As such, her opinion about the children – or, indeed, any other family matter – was always valued.
'I agree, Mog.' Etienne nodded. 'A bad scare is one of the best ways to teach a child about danger. Luckily, no real harm was done today, except to we adults. I think I would sooner be back in Ypres again than relive those heart-stopping moments while I was searching for Mari in the sea. I know it was the same for you on the shore, Mog, and poor Belle still looks shaken up.'
'We should get rid of the dinghy,' Belle burst out. 'Maybe Mari will be too scared to do it again, but one of the boys might try.'
Etienne took Belle's hands in his and smiled in understanding. 'We live in a place where the sea is an ever present danger, and we rely on boats to get about. It was the same for me as a boy in Marseille. I know it is far better to teach them to respect the dangers of the sea, and to handle a boat well, than to try to keep them away.'
'I agree. There is danger everywhere for children,' Mog said. 'Climbing trees, strangers who might wish to harm them, picking the wrong berries, infectious diseases, the list is endless. We can't protect them from everything. You know that better than anyone, Belle!'
Belle sighed. 'Yes, I do, but I thought that by bringing our children up here, in such a beautiful place, the chances of anything bad happening would be lessened. Do you know what Mari said to me as I tucked her in tonight? 'I'd like to be a heroine like Grace Darling, or Joan of Arc. I don't want to work in the bakery or sew dresses.' If that's the sort of thing she daydreams about, how on earth can we hope she'll marry a good, hard-working man and have a parcel of children?'
Etienne laughed. 'She's only eleven, Belle. I bet you had such daydreams too at that age.'
'Only about making beautiful hats,' Belle retorted. 'I didn't imagine rescuing people in a rowing boat, or leading a country to war.'
'I used to dream of meeting Queen Victoria,' Mog said. 'What about you, Etienne?'
'Having lots to eat,' he said. 'But then I was half starved most of the time.'
'So you two achieved your dreams,' Mog laughed. 'I didn't, I couldn't even face the crowds to watch Queen Victoria's funeral procession. You shouldn't worry about Mari daydreaming of being a heroine, it won't hurt her to aspire to something brave and good. Besides, wait till the boys get bigger, they'll do things that will turn your hair white. You can't wrap any of them in cotton wool. You just have to teach them the right values, point them in the right direction and pray! One day, you'll sit out on the veranda with one of your many grandchildren in your arms and feel really smug because everything turned out well.'
Mog was always the voice of reason, and both Belle and Etienne loved her for it. It didn't matter what happened – Etienne losing money in an ill-fated attempt to start his own vineyard, a fire in the kitchen that meant they had to rebuild the house, or even the cow that wandered into the garden while they were out for the day and ate most of the plants and vegetables before they returned home and chased it out – Mog could always find the silver lining in the cloud. Belle remembered, after the fire, Mog saying that it was a good thing as they'd always planned to extend the house anyway. She even joked that if the vineyard had been a success, they might have all started to drink too much.
She was a happy soul with a simple philosophy that as long as she had her beloved family around her, enough food to eat and a roof over her head, nothing could hurt her. At fifty-nine she still had the energy of a woman ten years younger. She might wear glasses now, her hair might be snow white and her face wrinkled, but she was still a force to be reckoned with. Even now, when banks were foreclosing on mortgages and there was a worldwide depression, she remained optimistic, convinced nothing bad was going to happen to them.
'It's the years before the children settle down with children of their own that worry me,' Belle said. But she said it with a smile because, with Mog and Etienne beside her, she mostly felt invincible.
As the three of them sipped their brandy, Mog looked at Belle appraisingly. At thirty-six Belle was still a very beautiful woman, her curly hair as dark and luxuriant as it had been at twenty, and the few laughter lines around eyes, and the few pounds she'd gained in the last few years, added to rather than subtracted from her attractions. She was a woman men lusted after, and because of that some of the matrons of Russell watched her like hawks. But they didn't need to, Belle's heart was firmly in Etienne's keeping, she had eyes for no one else. Belle was safe with him too, he had no interest in other women, and only a complete fool would dare risk Etienne's wrath – one look at his cold blue eyes, the faint scar on his cheek, was enough to know he wasn't a man to upset.
Mog could remember only too well her reservations when he first turned up here to find Belle. He might have been a hero in the war, but the way he'd lived before that didn't bear close scrutiny. But she saw the light in Belle's eyes when she looked at him, sensed that he was her destiny, and so Mog had to accept him.
She loved him like he was her own son now. And he had proved himself again and again. He was strong, dependable, loving and faithful, with a wonderful sense of humour that never left him even in the most difficult times. Whether he was fishing to bring food to the table, doing building work, clearing land, or rocking one of the babies to sleep in his arms, he gave it his all. So maybe his plan of planting a vineyard had failed – something some of the more spiteful people in Russell liked to remember with delight – but, on balance, he'd been a good provider, and he was well liked in the community.
'What are you thinking about?' Etienne asked, looking at Mog with one fair eyebrow raised quizzically.
'Only how glad I am that it worked out for you two,' she said. 'We all did the right thing in coming to New Zealand, didn't we?'
'We certainly did,' Belle said with a smile. 'When I despair of us ever getting electricity here, modern plumbing and decent roads, I think of how cold and wet it would be back in England.'
'Times are going to get harder for us all, though,' Etienne warned. 'It's two years now since the Wall Street crash, seven million out of work in America, and things are getting as tough here. With farmers getting nothing for their produce, and factories in Auckland folding, the ripples will soon spread out to us.'
'It won't stop rich people coming here to fish and sail, though, will it?' Belle asked. Over the last ten years, they'd seen a big increase in the number of people arriving for the summer, mainly due to the American writer and sportsman Zane Grey coming to Russell in 1926 to catch marlin. The Duke and Duchess of York had spent a few nights in the harbour on HMS Renown the following year, and there had been scores of other rich and important people coming ever since. Mog and Belle had benefited from these visitors, mostly carrying out alteration work on clothes they'd brought with them, but Belle had sold quite a few hats and Mog had made shorts, skirts and blouses for wives who found their clothes were too formal for Russell.
As for Etienne, he'd taken out countless fishing parties on his boat, whole families wanting to picnic on a beach, and acted as a ferry boat for holidaymakers. Earlier in the year, the road from Russell to Whangarei had been completed, and this summer was the first when visitors would be able to arrive by road, even if it was as winding as a corkscrew.
'Maybe rich people will still come, but the little campsites all around here are already feeling the pinch now that people in the cities are losing their jobs,' Etienne pointed out. 'We may have to tighten our belts before long.'
'We'll be fine,' Mog said firmly. 'We might not have any money in the bank, but we have no debts and all three of us can turn our hands to anything. But what we should be doing now is deciding how we are going to handle Mari. By tomorrow she'll have forgotten what a close shave she had, so she ought to be punished in some way to remind her how serious it was. She is also a little too big for her boots. Miss Quigley was right in saying she's defiant, and that isn't good in an eleven-year-old.'
Belle bristled. 'She's just confident, that's all. I won't bring her up like you and Annie raised me, virtually a prisoner.'
'That's unfair, Belle,' Etienne spoke out. 'Mog had to keep you close as a child because there were dangers all around you in London. Mog doesn't want to do that with Mari.'
'Of course I don't,' Mog said. 'All she needs is some gentle curbing. She's been coming and going as she pleases for some time now. She should be helping around the house more, learning cooking and sewing, not climbing trees and playing ball with boys all the time. Another four years and she'll be a young woman, and I don't have to tell you, Belle, what dangers that can bring.'
Belle pursed her lips.
'Oh, don't give me that holier-than-thou look,' Mog said impatiently. 'Let's face it, between the three of us we know every last kind of trouble young people can get into. There's a lot less temptation here than there was back in London, or in Marseille. But it may be too dull for our youngsters. That will make them look for mischief.'
Etienne grinned. 'You are right, Mog, as you always are.
I'd be happier if Mari daydreamed of having a hat shop, or becoming a ballet dancer. But as that is unlikely, then we'll just have to steer her towards something safer than becoming another Joan of Arc.'
'Who told her about Joan of Arc anyway?' Belle looked accusingly at Etienne.
He did one of his Gallic shrugs. 'I tell the boys about King Arthur, so I tell Mari about a peasant girl who led her countrymen into battle. I thought you wanted equality for women?'
'I did. I do. But once you have a daughter, you just hope she'll marry a good, kind man and live happily ever after.'
'I hope for that too,' Etienne agreed. 'But I also want Mari to aspire to bigger things. She is clever, maybe her path is to be a doctor, a lawyer, or to succeed where I failed, with her own vineyard. We must do all we can to channel her strengths in the right direction.'
- Product Details
Number Of Pages: 608
Published: 29th January 2014
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 23.0 x 15.5 x 4.3
Weight (kg): 23.3
Edition Number: 1