The Dark Cottage - Mary Cholmondeley - ebook

Mary Cholmondeley began writing with serious intent in her teens. She wrote in her journal in 1877, "What a pleasure and interest it would be to me in life to write books. I must strike out a line of some kind, and if I do not marry (for at best that is hardly likely, as I possess neither beauty nor charms) I should want some definite occupation, besides the home duties." She succeeded in publishing some stories in The Graphic and elsewhere. Her first novel was The Danvers Jewels (1887), a detective story that won her a small following. It appeared in the Temple Bar magazine published by Richard Bentley, after fellow novelist Rhoda Broughton had introduced to George Bentley. It was followed by Sir Charles Danvers (1889), Diana Tempest (1893) and A Devotee (1897).The satirical Red Pottage (1899) was a best-seller on both sides of the Atlantic and is reprinted occasionally. It satirises religious hypocrisy and the narrowness of country life, and was denounced from a London pulpit as immoral. It was equally sensational because it "explored the issues of female sexuality and vocation, recurring topics in late-Victorian debates about the New Women." Despite the book's great success, however, the author received little money for it because she had sold the copyright.A silent film, Red Pottage was made in 1918. Diana Tempest was reissued in 2009 for the first time in a century.Later works such as Moth and Rust (1902) and Notwithstanding (1913) were less successful. The Lowest Rung (1908) and The Romance of his Life (1921) were collections of stories, the latter, her final book, dedicated to the essayist and critic Percy Lubbock. Lubbock later commemorated her in Mary Cholmondeley: A Sketch from Memory (1928) (font: Wikipedia)

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The Dark Cottage

Mary Cholmondeley

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The soul’s dark cottage, battered and decayed

Lets in new light through chinks that time has made.

Edmund Waller.

Part 1: 1915

John Damer was troubled for his country and his wife and his child.

At first he had been all patriotism and good cheer. “It will be a short war and a bloody one. The Russians will be in Berlin by Christmas. We shall sweep the German flag from the seas. We are bound to win.”

He had stood up in his place in the House and had said something of that kind, and had been cheered.

But that was a year ago.

Now the iron had entered into England’s soul, and into his soul. He had long since volunteered, and he was going to France tomorrow after an arduous training. He had come home to say good-bye.

He might never come back. He might never see his Catherine, his beautiful young wife, again, or his son Michael, that minute, bald, amazing new comer with the waving clenched fists, and the pink soles as soft as Catherine’s cheek.

And as John Damer, that extremely able successful wealthy man of thirty, sat on the wooden bench in the clearing he suddenly realised that, for the first time in his life, he was profoundly unhappy.

How often he had come up here by the steep path through the wood, as a child, as a lad, as a man, and had cast himself down on the heather, and had looked out across that wonderful panorama of upland and lowland, with its scattered villages and old churches, and the wide band of the river taking its slow curving course among the level pastures and broad water meadows.

That river had given him the power to instal electric light in his home, the dignified Elizabethan house, standing in its level gardens, below the hill. He could look down on its twisted chimneys and ivied walls as he sat. How determined his father had been against such an innovation as electric light, but he had put it in after the old man’s death. There was enough water power to have lit forty houses as large as his.

Far away in the haze lay the city where his factories were. Their great chimneys were visible even at this distance belching forth smoke, which, etherealised by distance, hung like a blue cloud over the city. He liked to look at it. That low lying cloud reminded him of his great prosperity. And all the coal he used for the furnaces came from his own coal fields.

But who would take care of all the business he had built up if he fell in this accursed war? Who would comfort Catherine, and who would bring up his son when he grew beyond his mother’s control?

Yet this was England, spread out before his eyes, England in peril calling to him her son who dumbly loved her, to come to her aid.

His eyes filled with tears, and he did not see his wife till she was close beside him, standing in a thin white gown, holding her hat by a long black ribbon, the sunshine on her amber hair.

She was pale, and her very beauty seemed veiled by grief.

She sat down by him, and smiled valiantly at him. Presently she said gently: