Victoria Holt

On the Night of the Seventh Moon

The Forest Idyll



Now that I have reached the mature age of twenty-seven I look back on that fantastic adventure of my youth and can almost convince myself that it did not happen as I believed it did then. Yet sometimes even now I awake in the night because, in my dreams, I have heard a voice calling me, and that voice is the voice of my child. But here I am, a spinster of this parish-at least those who know me think of me as such-though deep within me I believe myself to be a wife even as I ask: Did I suffer some mental aberration? Was it really true as they tried to convince me that I, a romantic and rather feckless girl, had been betrayed as many had been before and because I could not face this fact, had fabricated a wild story which none but myself could believe.

Because it is of the greatest importance to me to understand what really happened on the Night of the Seventh Moon, I have decided to set out in detail the events as I remember them, in the hope that by so doing, the truth will emerge.

Schwester Maria, the kindest of the nuns, used to shake her head over me.

“Helena, my child,” she would say, ‘you will have to be very careful. It is not good to be as reckless and passionate as you are. “

Schwester Gudrun, less benevolent, would narrow her eyes and nod significantly as she regarded me.

“One day, Helena Trant, you will go too far,” was her comment.

I was sent to the Damenstift to be educated when I was fourteen years old and had been there for four years. During that time I had been home to England only once, which was when my mother had died. My two aunts had then come to look after my father and I disliked them from the first because they were so different from my mother. Aunt Caroline was the more unpleasant of the two. The only thing she appeared to enjoy was pointing out the shortcomings of others.

We lived in Oxford in the shadow of the college in which my father had once been a student until circumstances-brought on by his own reckless, passionate conduct-had forced him to give up. Perhaps I took after him; I was sure I did, for our adventures were not dissimilar in a way; though his were never anything but respectable.

He was the only son and his parents had determined that he should go to the university. Sacrifices had been made by his family-a fact which Aunt Caroline could never forget nor forgive, for during his student days he had, in the company of another student, taken a walking holiday through the Black Forest and there he had met and fallen in love with a beautiful maiden, and after that, nothing would satisfy them but marriage. It was like something out of the fairy tales which had their origin in that part of the world. She was of noble blood the country abounded in small dukedoms and principalities and of course the marriage was frowned on from both sides. Her family did not wish her to marry a penniless English student; his had scraped to educate him for a respectable career and it was hoped that he would make that career within the university, for in spite of his romantic nature he was something of a scholar and his tutors had high hopes for him. But for both, the world was well lost for love; so they married and my father gave up the university and looked around for a means of supporting a wife.

He had made a friend of old Thomas Trebling who owned the small but lively little bookshop just off the High Street, and Thomas gave him employment and rooms over the shop. The young married couple defied all the evil prophecies of sarcastic Aunt Caroline and Cassandra-like Aunt Matilda and were blissfully happy. Poverty was not the only handicap; my mother was delicate. She had in fact when my father met her been staying at one of her family’s hunting lodges in the forest for her health’s sake. She was consumptive.

“There must be no children,” announced Aunt Matilda, who considered herself an authority on disease. And of course I con founded them all by making my existence felt almost as soon as they were married and appearing exactly ten months afterwards.

It must have been considered tiresome of them to prove everyone wrong, but this they did; and their happiness continued until my mother’s death. I know that the aunts disapproved of fate which, instead of punishing such irresponsibility, seemed to reward it.

Crusty Old Thomas Trebling who could scarcely say a polite word to anyone even his customers became a fairy godfather to them. He even conveniently died and left them not only the shop but the little house next door, which he had occupied until then; so that by the time I was six years old, my father had his own bookshop, which if it was not exactly a flourishing concern provided an adequate living; and he lived a very happy life with a wife whom he continued to adore and who reciprocated that rare brand of devotion, and a daughter whose high spirits it was not always easy to curb, but whom they both loved in a remote kind of way because they were too absorbed in each other to have excessive affection to spare for her. My father was no business man but he had a love of books, particularly those of an antiquarian nature, so he was interested in his business; he had many friends at the university and in our small dining room there were often intimate little dinner parties when the talk was often learned and on occasions witty.

The aunts came now and then. My mother called them the greyhounds because she said they sniffed about the place looking to see if it had been properly cleaned, and on the first occasion I remember seeing them at the age of three, I burst into tears protesting that they weren’`t really greyhounds but only two old women, which was very difficult to explain and did not endear me to them. Aunt Caroline never forgave my mother, which was characteristic of her; but she didn’`t forgive me either, which was perhaps less reasonable.

So my childhood was passed in that exciting city which was home to me.

I can remember walking by the river and my father’s telling me how the Romans had come and built a city there, and how the Danes had later burned it down. I found it exciting to see the people scurrying through the streets, scholars in scarlet gowns and the students in their white ties, and hearing how the Proctors prowled the streets at night preceded by their bulldogs. Clinging to his hand, I would go with him southwards down the Cornmarket right into the very heart of the city. Sometimes the three of us went on a picnic into the meadows; but I always preferred to be with one or the other alone for then I could have the attention I could never capture when the three of us were together. When we were by ourselves my father would talk to me of Oxford and take me out to show me Tom Tower, the great bell and the spire of the Cathedral, which he proudly told me was one of the oldest in England.

With my mother it was different. She would talk of pine forests and the little schloss where she had spent her childhood. She told me of Christmases and how they had gone into the forest to get their own trees with which they would decorate the house; and how in the Rittersaal, the Hall of the Knights, which was found in almost every schloss large or small, the dancers came on Christmas Eve and when they had danced, sang carols. I loved to hear my mother sing Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht; and her old home in the forest seemed to me an enchanted place. I wondered that she never felt homesick and when I asked her once and saw the smile on her face I knew how deep was the love she bore my father. I believe that it was then that I convinced myself that one day there would be someone in my life who would be to me as my father was to her. I thought that this deep, unquestioning, unshakable devotion was for everyone to enjoy. Perhaps that was why I was such an easy victim. My excuse is that, knowing my parents’ story, I expected to find a similar enchantment in the forest and believed that other men were as tender and good as my father. But my lover was not like hers. I should have recognized that. Tempestuous, irresistible, overwhelming, yes. Tender, self-sacrificing-no.

My happy childhood was overshadowed only by the visits of aunts and later the need to go away to school. Then followed holidays and a return to the exciting city which never seemed to change-indeed, said my father, it had been the same for hundreds of years; that was its charm. What I remember from that time is the wonderful sense of security I felt. It had never occurred to me that anything could change. I should always take walks with my father and listen to his accounts of the days when he had been a student; and it was such a joy to listen because although he spoke of them with pride there was no regret. I loved to listen to him as he talked reverently of his days at Balliol; I felt I was as familiar with the college as he was; and I could clearly understand his absorption in the life as he planned to spend the rest of his days there. He would proudly tell me of the famous people who had studied there. My mother talked of her childhood and sang Lieder to me, fitting her own words to melodies from Schubert and Schumann which I loved. She made little sketches of the forest and they seemed to have a fairy-tale quality which has always haunted me; she would tell me stories of trolls and woodcutters and some of the old legends which had been handed down from pre-Christian days when people believed in the gods of the North such as Odin the All-Father, Thor with his hammer, and the beautiful Goddess Freya after whom Friday was named. I was enthralled by these stories.