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The House of Pomegranates
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-683-1
Genre: Romance/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Length: 183 Pages
Published: May 2009

From inside the flap

A journey through Victorian London and an exploration of the human psyche when confronted by its own shadow, as experienced by Enid Thel, a parlour maid in the house of MP Quintin Brethren. Although Enid and the sinister Mr. Brethren soon become lovers, Enid has good reason to fear for both her own and her employer’s sanity, due to the obsessive and tyrannical nature of her employer’s love, and his jealousy of Olivers, his footman and Enid’s confidante. Mr. Brethren’s control over Enid tightens even more and she is observed in her every move. Enid’s fragile means of escape from her lover’s possessiveness is to secretly flee from his presence each night and wander the ‘nocturnal otherworld’ of London, which again contains its own peril.

The House of Pomegranates (Excerpt)

Chapter One

1st March, 1847

The passing of winter had commenced as my journey began. As the carriage drew near to London, I reflected: everything was soon to alter dramatically, and of this I was vaguely aware. How was I to form any clear impression of what lay ahead? If I had known that neither the darkest dream nor the strangest vision would have been sufficient to reveal it then perhaps I would not have a tale to tell at all. I was 21 years of age when my grandfather suggested it was high time I sought a situation, and did something useful with myself besides ’living in books’. He was a scholar, but when it became evident that I had inherited his thirst for knowledge, I could not help but notice his guilt increase daily with despair at my ’plight’.

"We cannot afford to ignore the nobler aspirations of man, Enid, but we cannot hope to sustain ourselves upon thought without labour; and what shall honest work bring to improve the mind and delight the spirit, you ask; why, nothing but victuals, timber, and lodgings, my dear child."

Naturally, I engaged in some menial work whilst a child, but only the bare minimum my grandfather suggested I did. Whenever the occasion arose I, the naturally melancholic, solitary child, would venture into the sun-dappled foliage of Penningdorm Wood, or would lie beneath the lordly beech tree with the golden light of heaven upon me, and such visions within that many an hour was passed in this lonely state of bliss. Sometimes I would become restless, and wonder what mood had so abruptly come upon me, and how it came about. I would hasten home, and strive recklessly to alleviate my wild impulses through the balm proffered by Swedenborg, Plato, and Virgil, among many others. In becoming more competent in rational thought and self-reflection, however, my feelings of bitterness and frustration at not receiving formal schooling increased. I did not dare to appeal to my poor grandfather about this constant and undeniable source of grief, for it was clear that his hard earned and scant income barely sufficed to afford our daily bread. Still, he was happy, although he harboured a few grievances, and his chief concern was my welfare. Thus, I would not for his sake inform him that I was anything less than satisfied with our lot.

And so it was initially for Grandfather’s benefit, that I agreed to apply for the position of a parlour maid in a wealthy home in London. I was confused at the prospect of this sudden change. My chief concern was not, as some may suppose, any deep regret at leaving my former life behind. Much as I would miss my only surviving kin, I knew he would be better off if I were to leave, and would be satisfied, I should think, that he could now account for having brought me up as an ’accomplished lady’. Books, of course, these I would surely pine for, but I had conceived of ways in which I could escape their entire absence, for once I had been informed that my employer, a bachelor of some 47 years of age, was also a prominent member of parliament; I was certain that a library of considerable dimensions would be a necessity to him, and secretly to me also.

I had only encountered one person who was to be a part of my new life; this was the housekeeper, Mrs. Canville, a formidable and imperious old lady. She it was who interviewed me four weeks ago outside of London. In being interrogated by the widow I felt a little intimidated. Initially, of course, I attempted to study her features thinking that I might detect something agreeable therein. She had an imposing stature, which was not alleviated by her composure of steel. Still, upon her marble countenance, to my calculations, dwelt a shade of forbearance, albeit subtly. She, however, whilst engaged in a similar study to my own, was occupied with finding fault.

"It seems clear to me, Miss Thel, that you are of a delicate constitution. The occupation of a parlour maid entails more than a pleasing face and a deferential manner. Your employer’s wishes must always be carried out whenever it is required of you. You must also be alert to the niceties of attention to dress, the arrangement of articles, particularly those required most often by your employer. It is essential also that you take care to make a good impression upon callers when receiving them; remember, your appropriate response reflects directly upon your employer."

Mrs. Canville’s discourse continued in the same vein. I recall leaving the meeting feeling bewildered, and yet eager; I longed to prove my competence and secretly was inflamed by a desire for new adventure.

The carriage’s deceleration roused me from my meditations, and entering upon a broad avenue lined with many lamps the white-stuccoed façade of a vast house came into view. An eruption of nervous energy made my heart beat wildly. I had been sheltered and protected by penury all my life; would privileged servitude provide the same? The carriage came to a halt.

Smoothing out the folds of my best dress I anxiously awaited the coachman’s descent, and the opening of the front door. An echoing silence filled the evening air, whilst an amber glow coloured the pale columns that rose far above the wrought iron railings that guarded a subterranean level of the house. The words engraved ’House of Pomegranates’ flashed deviously near the entrance. The door swiftly opened, and before me was not, as I had anticipated, Mrs. Canville, but a manservant who was the butler.

"Ah, welcome, we’ve been expecting you; Miss Thel, is it? Do come through."

I must confess that this fellow, Paddy Blackwood, was (much to my relief) not to my notion of a typical butler. He was around 50 years old, of a wiry physique, and in his amiable visage was not a trace of affectation or pomposity. I immediately warmed to him.

As we entered the hall, I tried to conceal my admiration of the interior. Every surface, from the marble chequered floor, to the ornate ceiling roses, seemed to emit their own inherent radiance. Whatever reaction I displayed, Paddy did not appear to notice, but explained in his warm, southern Irish accent what lay beyond each door we passed. I could not quite understand why I was being treated more as a guest than a new servant, but as I was soon to discover, such cordiality amongst those with whom I was to live would be limited to the select few.

After passing upstairs, and through a network of corridors Paddy knocked upon a heavy oaken door, announced my presence, and left. I entered to find myself within a splendid red room. Seated upon an ottoman by the window was Mrs. Canville absorbed in her needlework. Even her statuesque person seemed dwarfed and less imposing due to the sheer scale of the room. She did not acknowledge me, and so I proceeded to look about the library. Daring to see which books dwelt amidst such magnificence I recognised Coleridge, Dante, and Rousseau.

"Miss Thel. Please do not touch the master’s literary collection. I hope you are not starting as you mean to go on."

I collected myself. "I do apologise, Mrs. Canville, I do have rather a passion for books, and could not contain myself."

Inexplicably, she was pacified. "You are literate, Miss Thel? Well, I don’t know if that is a curse or a blessing. We should keep it to ourselves, though, for the meantime."

I did not comprehend her meaning, but did not question the matter further as she asked me to be seated. She proceeded to explain in detail my duties, which were to begin at supper that evening, and stated that my uniform should be worn when I had dined with the other servants below stairs. Much of my rota was simple to memorise, apart from certain details so excruciatingly minute that I could only wonder why they were observed at all. With the daily tasks rather dictatorially clarified, I inquired about my employer.

"Quintin Brethren is a very private man, and a benevolent employer. Whilst he is not a harsh man, it is not always easy to read his moods. I’m sure your fellow workers will concoct all sorts of fabulous tales about Mr. Brethren, but you must pay them no heed whatsoever. We have, I can assure you, had trouble with many a servant, especially the ones that currently hold a position here. Because they are treated with kindness they decide they may do as they please whenever mine, Blackwood’s, or Mr. Brethren’s back is turned. Do not be shocked, but the girl who was parlour maid previously to you was in disposition very similar to yourself-apart from your penchant for books-and we could have supposed her the last person who would cause grief in this house. Within 6 months she altered completely, that is to say, she became licentious. We discovered that she was earning extra money for herself by parading the London streets of a night. When I informed her of her dismissal, she merely raised an eyebrow, and said ’There’s plenty more out there, and I’d rather have that than what I get in here’."

This tale did not surprise me. I had heard how popular prostitution was becoming among young women for earning an easier, more lucrative wage. I was still rather puzzled as to why the girl changed so rapidly, and only since her employment here. I thought of Paddy, so natural and sincere, and fell into incredulity concerning the integrity of the other servants. Mrs. Canville narrowed her eyes again.

"You may go among the wolves now, Miss Thel," meaning I was to go downstairs, "but first do something about your hair, if you please."

I noticed her disapproval of my red hair from the first, which I was used to leaving loose, because I had always been allowed to do as I wished, and because I detested following conventions. I nodded, and by the time I reached the servants landing I was a little melancholy already. My whole life was to be made of rules from now on; from these I was to earn my shelter and my living. Perchance it was the unwelcoming atmosphere that hung over the wooden stairway, or the dank air that was unwholesome to my chest (and with which I had suffered as a child). No, I considered it was merely my pride that was wounded. I could never be the fruit of all I had dreamt, for the axe was most certainly laid to the tree.