Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Life of a High-Spirited Aristocratic Child

I recently released my novel Birthright, in which I wanted to show how lively. clever and independent my heroine Deborah de Kronengold was even as a five-year-old in the sheltered world of the very rich aristocracy.

Here’s an excerpt:

IT HAS OFTEN BEEN WRITTEN that the Kronengolds are different from other people. On a spring afternoon in 1951, when Deborah de Kronengold was nearing her sixth birthday, she learned she was different from other Kronengolds.

She had always known she was different in one way, of course: her red hair. She yearned to have brown hair like her mother, whom she adored. Her mother appeared thoughtful when Deborah demeaned her own hair color, not happy or indulgent, as she usually seemed when they were alone together. At those moments she would hug Deborah or reach forward impulsively to take her daughter's hand and tell her how fortunate she was to have such beautiful hair. But in the very possessiveness of her grip, Deborah could sense her mother's worry.

A beautiful child with bright blue eyes from which a startling and precocious intelligence shone, Deborah was the only daughter of one of Britain's richest families. Despite such gifts, she had remained an affectionate little girl, sweet and considerate, but she possessed a prodigious store of energy.

From the very first, Nanny Duhamel, a young Frenchwoman hired to watch over Deborah and perfect her French, had found herself unable to cope with Deborah's high spirits and curiosity. "It is the red hair ... that red hair," the harried nursemaid usually grumbled desperately as she raced after Deborah like a white kite the child suddenly yanked here to chase a squirrel or there onto some playground apparatus that brought her to the very rim of danger—and always when the inexperienced young woman least expected it.

Nanny Duhamel breathed a sigh of relief at the end of this particular spring afternoon, when she could finally shepherd Deborah out of Hyde Park through the Park Lane exit in the direction of home. The Frenchwoman considered the day far more successful than most. Deborah had not added a new scrape to the small scabs that covered her knees and elbows like shifting squall clouds, and her hat and dress were still reasonably clean.

The woman and her charge were only a couple of blocks from the house when, without warning, Deborah's face suddenly lit with a smile and she sprinted off. She had caught sight of her older brother, Richard, who had spent the day with his school friends, all out on spring "hols." Following at his back like a square-sailed galleon was his elderly Nanny Stock, too old to take on an energetic new charge like Deborah, but kept on out of obligation by the family. She both protected Richard and propelled him with a subtle dominance the young Frenchwoman admired, but feared she would never master.

Richard was nine, three years older than Deborah. Like his parents, Richard had dark hair and eyes. His skin was pale and his physique very thin, conveying an impression of delicate health. As Deborah approached him, she could already sense that his attitude toward her now would be the sort of tolerant disdain he had increasingly adopted when they were in public, particularly when he was with his friends. "You're a child," he took pains to explain to her at such moments, "a tedious, silly child." The first time, she was too offended to react. The next time she had kicked him in the shins as hard as she could, and had been rewarded with a punch in the arm and then a slammed door between them. The exclusion had hurt far more than the blow.

Deborah fell into step beside Richard and tried to begin a conversation, but all his attention was focused on the yo-yo he snapped down and up ahead of him as he walked, and Deborah was forced to fall silent beside him and watch. He had promised to play with her the night before and refused when he became absorbed in his stamp collection. He had then told her they would play today, and Deborah was eager for his company. She glared at the yo-yo as if at a mortal enemy.

The Kronengold mansion rose like a gray fortress above one entire side of a park-like square in the Mayfair section of London. A black iron fence, like giant hair combs set on their spines, guarded the stone building's periphery. As they neared the front gate, Richard loosened the string around his middle finger, permitting Deborah her opportunity. She ripped the yo-yo out of his hand and raced ahead, the red hair whipping behind her like a cavalry flag. Richard gave chase, but she was too quick, bounding onto the stone pediment and statue at one side of the entrance and then scampering up the iron stanchion beside it to the top. Her hat had blown off, the white stockings had ripped, but Richard could not reach her. Balanced atop the narrow iron beam, feet planted between the pointed spikes, smiling at her advantage over him, she raised the yo-yo above her head.

"Richard, if you climb after me, I'll throw it into the traffic."

Nanny Stock had already gripped Richard's arm, her responsibility seen to.

"Viens ici! Viens ici, je t'en prie!" Nanny Duhamel's face tipped up to Deborah, white with fear. She wanted to run into the house to summon help from one of the male servants, but feared to leave Deborah for an instant.

"Please ... please ... come down," she begged helplessly, her arms bound to her sides, as if with ropes, by the possibility that an impulsive move on her part might cause the child to slip.

Deborah ignored her. "Richard, if I give it back, do you promise to play with me after supper until bedtime?"

"It's no concern of mine what you do with it," he answered. "I have another."

His indifference was infuriating to her after days of it. "You're a liar, Richard Edgar Henri de Kronengold! This one is your favorite."

She drew back her arm and studied his face. His mouth was quivering faintly.

"And we play Family," she pressed.

"Snakes and Ladders," he countered reluctantly.

"Young lady, you are coming down!"

Her father's voice. She looked toward the sound. He and her grandfather were striding toward her; she had not noticed the arrival of the black Rolls limousine that brought Father and Grandfather back from the bank. Grandfather's mansion spread over the next adjacent side of the square, so they occasionally rode home in one car. Her father was tall and strong, quite capable of reaching and lowering her.

"Snakes and Ladders," Deborah swiftly agreed, and bent toward her father. Looping her arms around his neck, she dropped into his arms. "Good afternoon, Father."

Read more: Birthright.

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