Abdication: A Novel

Abdication: A Novel by Juliet Nicolson Read Free Book Online

Book: Abdication: A Novel by Juliet Nicolson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Juliet Nicolson
Tags: Fiction, Literary, General, Historical
was grateful to Evangeline for accepting almost single-handedly the nursing of their mother, who rarely spent a week without discovering she was suffering from some new ailment. She was plagued by aches and pains in every part of her body and Frank and Evangeline joked behind her back about their mother’s tedious “organ recital.” Eminent specialists had been unable to make a diagnosis. They could find no explanation for the intermittent fainting fits, shortness of breath and trembling limbs that could confine Mrs. Nettlefold alternately to the sitting-room sofa or, more extremely, to a demanding existence tucked for several days into her bed, waited on by her daughter. Evangeline felt persecuted, throttled and trapped and there had been occasions when she prayed her mother would not recover from her latest affliction.
    In the end, for the first time in Evangeline’s life, a wish came true and a weakened heart was given as the medical consensus of the cause of Mrs. Nettlefold’s eventual death. Seeing his sister homeless and, valuing the uniqueness of a sibling bond, Frank and his wife had offered Evangeline board and lodging. Because of her generally cheerful and phlegmatic presence, and despite her occasional clumsiness, her dependency never felt like an imposition.
    Six weeks ago, when the Baltimore morning post had been placed on the hall table, Evangeline had turned to the small pile of envelopes and the new Christmas issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, the publicationthat was her single, modest flash of self-indulgence. Most of the envelopes contained Christmas cards and shop catalogues filled with pictures of tempting seasonal highlights. She had saved the best for last. The sight of the stamp with its crowned head in profile always brought her a little lift of pleasure, for she knew who had placed that stamp on the envelope.
     
Cuckmere Park, Near Eastbourne, Sussex
10 December 1935
     
My dear Evangeline ,
We have not seen you for so long. Our plans to come over to the United States keep on getting interrupted by Philip’s demanding parliamentary schedule. But recently I was at a dinner party and found myself talking to an old schoolfriend of yours. I believe you knew her as Wallis Warfield, although you may not have heard that since leaving school she has been married (twice in fact!). Miss Warfield became Mrs. Spencer and then not long after her divorce (most painful I believe, as he drank) she married an Ernest Simpson who is half-American and has an English mother. So now your friend is Mrs. Simpson .
Although Wallis and Ernest settled here a few years ago, I do not know them well. During our chat the other night, I got the impression that Wallis, although devoted to her husband, was a little lonely, and would, I am certain, be much comforted by the presence of one of her countrymen here in England. In fact when I mentioned your name as a long-standing friend of our own family she lit up!
I wondered, dear child, if you might make two lots of people happy by agreeing to come over for a lovely long visit? Of course I do know how tight money is. Perhaps that final illness took its toll on your mother’s mind? I do hope you can manage to join me in blaming ill health for her otherwise inexplicable failure to remember you in the will?
Anyway, my dear, I am enclosing a small cheque that might help persuade you to book a passage on the first ship to England to sail after Christmas. That way you could be here with us at the beginning of the New Year. I can already hear your protests, but you must know that it is actually an act of pure selfishness on my part as the pleasure of having you here will be mainly mine. And if you stay with us long enough you will be in time to travel home on the new Cunard liner in the summer. I hear that RMS Queen Mary is even to have a dog-walking deck so perhaps (if we are careful to avoid any nasty quarantine rules—a convenient blanket could be readily to hand!) you could bring

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