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Elizabeth Buchan

Consider the Lily

Elizabeth Buchan - Consider the Lily

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Consider the lily… waxen, exotic, doomed to bloom for its short, sweet season. Consider the rose… tenderly beautiful yet resilient, twining its way into the English garden…

Winner of the 1994 Romantic Novelists’ Association Novel of the Year Award, Consider the Lily is a glorious fusion of love and gardening, of family life and coming to terms with loss. A haunting, passionate story played out between three people, it is also a poignant and beautiful novel of England between the wars that propels the reader into its own rich and nostalgic world.

Read An Extract

‘Daisy.’ Kit slid his arms around her and held her tight. Dust blew in from the road and the wind whipped around them. Daisy shivered inside the prison made by his body.

‘Luggage labels, Kit, and telephone calls. That’s what it boils down to. I think we should end this conversation. There isn’t any point in it.

Kit took Daisy by the shoulders and forced her to face him. ‘But you do understand?’

Wild with hurt, and with despair because it had all gone wrong, she lost her temper. ‘What is there to understand?’ she blazed.

In the fading stormy light, her face turned pale, foxlike and unreadable. Her eyes narrowed in rage, and her hair lost its brightness. For a moment, her beauty and sureness were gone, and she seemed out of her depth.

As quickly as it had erupted, Daisy’s anger died. ‘Kit, I’m sorry. That was unforgiveable.’

‘I have to go home to Hinton Dysart,’ he repeated, teaching her the fact as if to a child. ‘I cannot abandon it or my father, and I have nothing to offer a wife at the moment except a mountain of debt.’

It was on the tip of her tongue to ask, ‘Since when did a huge house and garden constitute nothing?’ Instead she said, ‘And I have nothing to offer you?’

‘Please. Don’t’

She stood by the carved stone pot and deadheaded the geraniums. As she watched the faded petals yield to the mistral, she contemplated the wounds of a love affair – its humiliations, its quicksands, and spoilt promise. ‘I thought it would be different, Kit’ she said miserably. ‘I thought we would make it.’

Her mother was right. Kit had been warned off.

‘Daisy!’ All rivers, however clear, flow over mud, and mixed into Kit’s passion for Daisy was a sediment – and a wariness – that stemmed from a long time back. ‘I wish I could make you understand, my darling Daisy. Everything’s all right. Truly.’

‘Oh Kit.’ With one of her graceful, unpredictable gestures, Daisy turned to Kit, and her arms snaked up his chest and around his neck. ‘Are you sure?’ She pressed her body into his and willed him to say: Come with me.

Tempted to say ‘to hell with it’, aching from the contact, Kit hesitated – and thirty seconds passed that were to colour the rest of his life.

With a waft of bruised geranium, Daisy released him, turned and made her way across the lawn to the terrace. ‘I’ll see you in London,’ she called.

‘Daisy.’ In panic at the peremptory leavetaking, Kit moved too fast, slipped and fell onto a knee. Wincing, he scrambled to his feet while Daisy’s diminishing figure slid in and out of the shadows, insubstantial and unearthly. Then he limped after her, caught up and grabbed one of the straps of her pink dress. ‘Don’t say it like that.’

Daisy waited for Kit to drop his hand. ‘I understand, Kit, really I do. Look, I’ve been meaning to tell you. There’s someone else… someone who wants to marry me.’ Her beauty had returned and in the stormy afternoon, she seemed lit up by the drama of the moment and by an emotion he did not recognize. ‘His name is Tim, and I’m probably going to say yes.’

Kit’s grip on her shoulder was savage and she cried out.

‘You’re making it up.’

‘No.’

‘I can’t believe it.’

With a shrug Daisy moved away. ‘it was fun, wasn’t it, Kit? I enjoyed our time together.’

‘Fun…’ The word hung in the dusk. Kit stood motionless as she walked towards the house. ‘Yes, it was,’ she called over her shoulder. ‘I shall think of it when I’m back in London.’

‘Daisy. Listen to me…’ Kit was planted into the stone.

‘It didn’t take much, did it?’ A thin, disembodied voice floated back to him.

‘To do what?’ he called out, forgetting there were other people in the villa. ‘To do what, Daisy?’ he bellowed in bewilderment.

‘To be put off.’

Daisy vanished through the curtains at the french windows.

***

The overnight train from Nice to Paris clacked out the message and Matty, a book unread in her lap, listened to it. Sometimes it sounded as hard and metallic as Aunt Susan, and at others it whispered as the train glided over points and down gradients.

Perhaps she was a little light-headed with fever from the infected bites, for strange thoughts filtered in and out of her brain. They drifted, tantalizing and out of reach, and she tried to catch them – rebellious, daringly coloured butterflies in the bell-jar of her mind.

The mirror in the compartment swung to the rhythm of the train, and her reflection became a many-angled composition. There was her blotched face, so different from Daisy’s beauty, which Matty would never have. The demon of jealousy stirred. So unlovable compared to Daisy, it whispered, so uninteresting, so unformed.

No sponging on their good will.

Outside the window, France slid past, the lights of towns and villages beaded along the track. Already it was cooler, and when they nosed between foothills of the Alpes-Maritimes a scent of pine overlaid the smoke.

Matty poured water into the basin and began to wash for dinner. Two years ago, she had been browsing through a selection of American periodicals and had come across an article by the American feminist, Emma Goldman, which she had never forgotten. Emma had said ‘True emancipation begins neither in the polls, or in the courts. It begins in a woman’s soul.’

Matty well remembered her shock when she read the words – a sense that she had encountered something daring and grand in scope. Of course, she did not consider they applied to her – Emma was much too heroic for the soul that huddled inside Matty’s delicate frame, the stepping stones to Emma’s bold state of mind too far apart.

And yet. And yet.

No sponging on their good will.

She thought back to the Villa Lafayette, criss-crossed with vivid sensation – sun, sea, the intensities of falling in love, jealousy. Marcus and Flora. Daisy and Kit. Mosquito bites. Sweat-bathed nights. Unfamiliar longings.

He wouldn’t want me, Matty told herself. Hugging a mental picture of a remote figure who made conversation about Damascus and roses. Never. But then, she added that was not surprising. She wouldn’t have wanted herself.

She began to dress.

Reviews

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An outstanding, beautifully written and memorable story' - Good Book Guide 'And old fashioned novel in the best sense of the word.

Chicago Tribune

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A gorgeously well written tale: funny, sad sophisticated.

The Independent

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The literary equivalent of an English country garden.

Sunday Times

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In her way Elizabeth Buchan is a chronicler of time and atmosphere as adept as Jane Austen.

Birmingham Post

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Superb characterisation, an absorbing love story and wonderful evocation of an English country house and garden make this a joy to read.

Annabel

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An excellent story... strong imaginative power... wonderful atmosphere

Joanna Trollope