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The Clockmaker's Daughter
Author:Kate Morton

The Clockmaker's Daughter

Kate Morton



PART ONE

THE SATCHEL





I

We came to Birchwood Manor because Edward said that it was haunted. It wasn’t, not then, but it’s a dull man who lets truth stand in the way of a good story, and Edward was never that. His passion, his blinding faith in whatever he professed, was one of the things I fell in love with. He had the preacher’s zeal, a way of expressing opinions that minted them into gleaming currency. A habit of drawing people to him, of firing in them enthusiasms they hadn’t known were theirs, making all but himself and his convictions fade.

But Edward was no preacher.

I remember him. I remember everything.

The glass-roofed studio in his mother’s London garden, the smell of freshly mixed paint, the scratch of bristle on canvas as his gaze swept my skin. My nerves that day were prickles. I was eager to impress, to make him think me something I was not, as his eyes traced my length and Mrs Mack’s entreaty circled in my head: ‘Your mother was a proper lady, your people were grand folk and don’t you go forgetting it. Play your cards right and all our birds might just come home to roost.’

And so I sat up straighter on the rosewood chair, that first day in the whitewashed room behind the tangle of blushing sweet peas.

His littlest sister brought me tea, and cake when I was hungry. His mother, too, came down the narrow path to watch him work. She adored her son. In him she glimpsed the family’s hopes fulfilled. Distinguished member of the Royal Academy, engaged to a lady of some means, father soon to a clutch of brown-eyed heirs.

Not for him the likes of me.

His mother blamed herself for what came next, but she’d have more easily halted day from meeting night than keep us apart. He called me his muse, his destiny. He said that he had known at once, when he saw me through the hazy gaslight of the theatre foyer on Drury Lane.

I was his muse, his destiny. And he was mine.

It was long ago; it was yesterday.

Oh, I remember love.

This corner, halfway up the main flight of stairs, is my favourite.

It is a strange house, built to be purposely confusing. Staircases that turn at unusual angles, all knees and elbows and uneven treads; windows that do not line up no matter how one squints at them; floorboards and wall panels with clever concealments.

In this corner, there’s a warmth, almost unnatural. We all noticed it when first we came, and over the early summer weeks we took our turns in guessing at its cause.

The reason took me some time to discover, but at last I learned the truth. I know this place as I know my own name.

It was not the house itself but the light that Edward used to tempt the others. On a clear day, from the attic windows, one can see over the River Thames and all the way to the Welsh mountains. Ribbons of mauve and green, crags of chalk that stagger towards the clouds, and warm air that lends the whole an iridescence.

This was the proposal that he made: an entire summer month of paint and poetry and picnics, of stories and science and invention. Of light, heaven-sent. Away from London, away from prying eyes. Little wonder that the others accepted with alacrity. Edward could make the very devil pray, if such were his desire.

Only to me did he confess his other reason for coming here. For although the lure of the light was real enough, Edward had a secret.

We came on foot from the railway station.

July, and the day was perfect. A breeze picked at my skirt hem. Someone had brought sandwiches and we ate them as we walked. What a sight we must have made – men with loosened neckties, women with their long hair free. Laughter, teasing, sport.

Such a grand beginning! I remember the sound of a stream close by and a wood pigeon calling overhead. A man leading a horse, a wagon with a young boy sitting atop straw bales, the smell of fresh-cut grass—Oh, how I miss that smell! A clutch of fat country geese regarded us beadily when we reached the river before honking bravely once we had passed.

All was light, but it did not last for long.

You knew that already, though, for there would be no story to tell if the warmth had lasted. No one is interested in quiet, happy summers that end as they begin. Edward taught me that.

The isolation played its part; this house stranded on the riverbank like a great inland ship. The weather, too; the blazing hot days, one after the other, and then the summer storm that night, which forced us all indoors.

The winds blew and the trees moaned, and thunder rolled down the river to take the house within its clutches; whilst inside, talk turned to spirits and enchantments. There was a fire, crackling in the grate, and the candle flames quivered, and in the darkness, in that atmosphere of delicious fear and confession, something ill was conjured.

Not a ghost, oh, no, not that – the deed when done was entirely human.

Two unexpected guests.

Two long-kept secrets.

A gunshot in the dark.

The light went out and everything was black.

Summer was curdled. The first keen leaves began their fall, turning to rot in the puddles beneath the thinning hedgerows, and Edward, who loved this house, began to stalk its corridors, entrapped.

At last, he could stand it no longer. He packed his things to leave and I could not make him stop.

The others followed, as they always did.

And I? I had no choice; I stayed behind.





CHAPTER ONE

Summer, 2017

It was Elodie Winslow’s favourite time of day. Summer in London, and at a certain point in the very late afternoon the sun seemed to hesitate in its passage across the sky and light spilled through the small glass tiles in the pavement directly onto her desk. Best of all, with Margot and Mr Pendleton gone home for the day, the moment was Elodie’s alone.

The basement of Stratton, Cadwell & Co., in its building on the Strand, was not an especially romantic place, not like the muniment room at New College where Elodie had taken holiday work the year she completed her master’s. It was not warm, ever, and even during a heatwave like this one Elodie needed to wear a cardigan at her desk. But every so often, when the stars aligned, the office, with its smell of dust and age and the seeping Thames, was almost charming.

In the narrow kitchenette behind the wall of filing cabinets, Elodie poured steaming water into a mug and flipped the timer. Margot thought this precision extreme, but Elodie preferred her tea when it had steeped for three and a half minutes exactly.

As she waited, grains of sand slipping through the glass, Elodie’s thoughts returned to Pippa’s message. She had picked it up on her phone, when she’d ducked across the road to buy a sandwich for lunch: an invitation to a fashion launch party that sounded as tempting to Elodie as a stint in the doctor’s waiting room. Thankfully, she already had plans – a visit to her father in Hampstead to collect the recordings he’d put aside for her – and was spared the task of inventing a reason to say no.

Denying Pippa was not easy. She was Elodie’s best friend and had been since the first day of Year 3 at Pineoaks primary school. Elodie often gave silent thanks to Miss Perry for seating the two of them together: Elodie, the New Girl, with her unfamiliar uniform and the lopsided plaits her dad had wrestled into place; and Pippa, with her broad smile, dimpled cheeks and hands that were in constant motion when she spoke.