Victoria Holt

The Shadow of the Lynx



Even as I stood on the deck and the Carron Star slipped away from the dockside I had to keep assuring myself that I was really leaving England, that I was making a clean break with the old life, and was in fact sailing away into the unknown. There I, stood in my tartan cape, which flapped open in the breeze to show a serviceable skirt of the same material, my straw hat tied on with a long grey chiffon scarf, seventeen years old, travelling to the other side of the world with a man whom, a month ago, I had never seen and of whose existence I had been unaware.

On the wharf people were waving handkerchiefs, many of them surreptitiously wiping their eyes as they smiled bravely. There was no one to wave goodbye to me.

A middle-aged man with bold eyes and mutton-chop whiskers sidled close—too close.

“Any friends over there?” He was surveying me speculatively.

“No,” I replied.

He was smiling in a familiar fashion. Travelling alone? ” A voice behind me said: ” My ward is travelling with me. ” And there was Stirling, his greenish eyes glinting derisively, his voice with the faint Australian accent clearly demanding to know why a stranger should dare to address his ward.

The man moved away awkwardly. Stirling did not speak to me. He merely stood beside me, leaning on the rail, and I was aware of a warm, happy feeling of security: I knew in that moment that I had taken a step away from the all-enveloping misery in which I had been living during the past weeks. I had lost the one I loved beyond everyone and everything; but here was Stirling and he was beside me— ‘my guardian’ as he called himself. It was not strictly true; but I liked it.

I think it was at that moment that I began to feel that Stirling and I were meant for each other.

But that is not the beginning. I should perhaps start when I was born since that is where all stories start; but they really been even before that. I often wondered about the prelude to my birth. I tried to picture my parents together-what was difficult because I never saw my mother. It was not a fact which worried me particularly, because there was my father Thomas Tamasin—and possessing such a father, why should I fret because I had no mother?

She had ‘gone away’ as he put it when I was a year old. It was not until I was six years old that I understood what that meant.

Life was amusing lived with Thomas Tamasin. I believed that the two of us were enough. Why should we have wanted a third person? Even a mother would have been an intruder.

We had a series of housekeepers whose duty was to look after me; and it was not until I was six that I heard the word ‘abandoned’. It was used by the housekeeper to a friend who had called to see her at our house which was then in north London. (We were constantly moving about to suit my father’s enterprises, which were numerous. ) I was sitting beneath the kitchen window, which was wide open, watching ants purposefully marching back and forth on the crazy paving.

“Poor mite!” said the housekeeper.

“What she misses is a mother.”

“And him?”

“Oh … him!” Laughter followed.

Then: “She left him, didn’t she?”

“So I’ve heard. She was a fast piece of goods. On the stage or something.”

“Oh … an actress!”

“No good anyway. Young Nora was not much more than twelve months old when she went off. There’s something wrong with a woman who’ll abandon a child at that age. He ought to have married again.”

“That what you tell him?”

“Go on with you?”

Abandon! I thought. And the child who had been abandoned was myself.

“What’s abandoned?” I asked my father when he came home.

“Left. Run away from.”

“It’s not a nice thing to be, is it?”

He agreed it wasn’t.

“People would only abandon what they didn’t like,” I commented.

He admitted this was probably so, and I didn’t tell him that I knew I had been abandoned because it would have hurt him. I was always careful not to hurt him, just as he was not to hurt me. In any case, having him, what did I care that I was abandoned?

We never talked about my mother. There were so many other things to talk about. There were his plans for making a fortune though not so much making it as spending it. There was always some project afoot. At one time he was going to put an invention on the market which would revolutionize the daily life of millions of people. I liked invention times because then he stayed at home working in the room at the top of the house and it was comforting to have him near. I would sit close to his work bench and we would talk for hours of what we would do when his genius was recognized and the world was profiting from it.

“Ourselves included,” he would say with that laugh of his which was like water running down a drainpipe and which always made me laugh too. He made a spring lock which didn’t work as it was intended to; he made mechanical toys which never quite achieved their purpose, except one which was a boy on a seat which swung over the top of a rail, but even he used to get stuck up there sometimes. He sold a few of these and we had a saying: “Remember the boy on the swing?” It was his great success; but it was not the fortune he was after. He tried market gardening, and for a period we lived in the country; but he wanted to experiment all the time, to produce something different; an ordinary living was not good enough for him.

“When my ship comes home .. he would say, and that was the prelude to our favourite game. We sailed round the world in our imaginations we found places on the map and said, ” We’ll go there. ” We were always together in these imaginary journeys; we had adventures in which we met sea monsters more awe-inspiring than anything encountered by Sinbad. Sometimes he wrote them down and he sold one or two to a magazine. Our fortunes were made, he declared. Why hadn’t he realized that he was a literary man? But that didn’t work either. He wanted to get rich quickly.

He had inherited a little money and this he set aside for my education.

That was an indication of his care for me. However improvident he might be in all else, he was determined hat I should be secure. He wanted me to go to the best schools, he told me. I said I wanted only to be with him. So I should, he assured me, but while he was making our fortune I had to go to school. I went to several and learned quickly the sooner to get away from it all.

It was just after my fifteenth birthday that he decided to go after gold. This was the greatest opportunity, this was the miracle. His life had been strewn with great chances which so far had proved to be mirages, but this was different. This would in truth make our fortunes.

“Gold!” he said, his eyes smouldering.

“We’ll be millionaires, Nora.

How would you like to be a millionaire? “

I thought I should like it very much, but where did we get this gold?

“It’s there in the earth, waiting to be picked up. AU you have to do is take it.”

“Then why isn’t everyone a millionaire?”

“There speaks my practical daughter. It’s a good question and there’s a simple answer. It’s because they’re not as wise as we are going to be. We’re going out to get it.”

“Where is it?”

“It’s in Australia. They’re finding it all over the place.”

“When do we start?”

“Well, Nora, just at first I’ll have to go alone. It’s no place for a girl who has to get educated.”

That was the moment of fear and the blank despair in my face must have frightened him.

“You have to learn the three Rs; you have to talk and act like a lady if you’re going to be a millionaire.”

I reminded him that I was already acquainted with the three Rs. I also knew how to talk and act like a lady and did so except when I lost my temper.

“Well, you see Nora, you’re too young just as yet. You stay behind for a while. I’ve found a good school where they’ll look after you and in next to no time I’ll be back. We’ll be millionaires and start enjoying life. What would you like to do? Where would you like to go? There’s no limit. We can start making plans without delay. The fortune is as good as in our pockets.”

He convinced me as he always could and he persuaded me to go to Danesworth House.

“Only a few months, Nora. Then … all the money in the world. Everything you can wish for.

Now what will you have to start with? “

I said: There are lots of people looking for this gold. Sup pose it takes years for you to find it? “

“I tell you, Nora, I have the Midas touch.”

“I could be your housekeeper. I could cook for you, look after you.”

“What! My millionaire daughter! No. We’re going to have someone to look after us … for ever more. No more partings. No more intruders.

That’ll be the day. And all you have to do is wait awhile at Danesworth House while I go and get the gold. “

That was how he talked, forcefully, persuasively and so vividly that we were able to live in our imaginations through all the extravaganza he planned for us.

So I went to school and he sailed across the world; and every day I waited for the letter which would tell me that he had found his fortune and that we were millionaires.

School was just a tiresome bore. I was less in awe of Miss Emily and Miss Grainger than most of their pupils. I was good at my work; I avoided trouble; I was not interested in school girl mischief. I only lived for the summons. I used to picture how it would come. In a letter perhaps: “Come to Australia at once.” Or perhaps he, who loved surprises, would come to the school to take me away. There would be a summons to the study; and there in that cold add room he would be standing; he would catch me up in his arms to the astonished disapproval of Miss Emily or Miss Grainger for which he would care nothing and he would shout: “Pack your bags, Nora. You’re leaving.