Standing barefoot on a Tuscan hillside as dawn broke across the horizon, she realised this was the first time she’d stopped running since Paul had died. In five months she’d stayed nowhere longer than a week, always trying to stay one step ahead of her memories, afraid that if she stopped too long they’d engulf her. She’d found herself straying across the continent, drifting from one city to the next, across borders into a neighbouring country. Places she’d known throughout childhood had drawn her most strongly, pausing for a few days before her memories caught up then it was time to move on to somewhere else, somewhere she hadn’t known. She’d come to Tuscany a little over a week ago now, exhausted and wrung out, clutching the address of a name she’d once known long ago in her hand. She’d taken one look at the face that had once meant so much to her and begun to cry, finally grieving for Paul. And so she’d stayed. The baby’s arrival was imminent now – any day – they’d said. The child they’d been so afraid they’d never have: they’d left it too long, too late, if only they’d met and married sooner. But they hadn’t and this was how it was. A cool breeze ruffled the hem of her dress and the grass between her toes tickled as it moved gently. Somewhere in the distance, someone called her name. With one last longing glance at the scene before her, she turned in response.
Carla had been eighteen years old when she’d first encountered Rosemary Charlesworth and appointed as the four year old’s nanny. At fifteen she’d left her family’s Tuscan village, picking her way across the country in search of adventure and eventually ending up in Rome. Through a combination of good luck, good fate and good fortune coupled with natural charm and an ability to always land on her feet, she’d wound up at the British Embassy as domestic staff, seen but never heard. It was through the latter that she’d picked up enough English that some months later when Frederick Charlesworth, new on his posting, had struck up a conversation with her early one morning that she’d been able to respond. He’d been taken by Carla, enough to offer her a position as nanny to his young daughter. Although mildly sceptical by the upturn in her fortunes, Carla had accepted and it had been the start of a seven year journey across the continent with Frederick and Rosemary.
Frederick Charlesworth had already been old when he’d married and everyone had expressed their surprise that such a vivacious, lively young thing as Constance Pettigrew would settle for a man some thirty years her senior. But the whirlwind romance, begun on a London underground train during the last few months of the War had taken hold of them both and they’d been married by Christmas. Their blissful happiness hadn’t lasted, Constance dying in childbirth less than a year after the wedding. Frederick had been fiercely protective of his newborn daughter, determined that they’d never be parted. There had been further reservations, his career in the diplomatic service hardly being conducive to keeping a small baby with him. So he’d stayed in London for a year before heading to Paris and, despite objections from both families, taking Rosemary with him. It was the start of a journey that took them across Europe from Paris to Madrid to Rome to Vienna to Athens to Prague to Berlin before Frederick’s sister, Rosemary’s Aunt Martha, had finally put her foot down firmly enough and insisted that Rosemary come back to England for her education.
And so eleven year old Rosemary had found herself in England, shivering on a cold train station on a September afternoon, surrounded by girls of her own age she felt she could never possibly get to know. She’d grown up largely with Carla’s company and that of assorted governesses her father had brought in, friends of her own age was a particularly alien concept as she was always the only child of the embassy. She seemed older than her years, solemn faced and appearing to bear the weight of the world on her shoulders and the other girls found they didn’t quite know what to make of her. Through her school years she lived for her summer holidays when she could go out to join her father on his postings – to Helsinki and Stockholm and Brussels – Christmas and Easter holidays were spent with her aunt, dreadful weeks that seemed to go on forever. A natural love of and interest in history saw her to Oxford once she was finished with school, finding herself more at home there than she ever had at school. The War had broken out at the start of her second year and, on completing her degree, she’d moved to London and taken up a secretarial post in the War Office. Her father’s death during the War meant she’d had no qualms in accepting a governess post in Canada after the War. And there she’d stayed, quite happily, for a number of years before and advert in a situations vacant page had caught her eye.
She was never entirely sure what had attracted her to the Chalet School. She’d left her own boarding school determined that she’d never go back into that environment but her years in Canada as a governess had started something – a need for her to pass on her learning and need to understand the past to understand the present to more than just a few select children. An English school on the continent seemed the perfect opportunity and so she’d applied, half expecting to not get the position and it had come as a pleasant surprise when she’d been offered the post. She hadn’t quite known what to expect from it but it was so far removed from her own boarding school experience that she’d soon understood why so many of her fellow mistresses were Old Girls. Already in her thirties, she was the sort of woman who hadn’t given much thought to marriage or anything of that ilk so when she’d met Paul it had come as somewhat of a shock. They’d met at a mutual friend’s dinner party on Christmas holiday, found themselves sat next to each other, started talking and never looked back. During term time they’d written long letters to each other and by the beginning of the summer holidays they were engaged and keen not to wait for a wedding. Rosemary had worked a term’s notice and they’d been married before Christmas, moving into their tiny flat in west London after the wedding. For the first time in her life, Rosemary felt that she was somewhere she could settle down.
Of course it hadn’t happened that way. Six months later Paul was dead. Eight months later, having realised she was pregnant and feeling trapped by the ‘what ifs’ in the flat they’d shared, she’d flung the bare essentials into her suitcase and caught the boat train to Calais, criss-crossing a continent in places still rebuilding itself after a destructive war and finally, with blind hope, arriving in a small village in Tuscany. She’d stayed in touch with Carla whilst at boarding school, long letters yearning for the days of her childhood. Carla had always replied somewhat diplomatically, hunting for the positive in the few clues Rosemary’s letters gave about her school life. Their correspondence had stopped with the outbreak of the war although Carla had never been far from Rosemary’s thoughts. When the need to stop running had caught up with her, Rosemary’s thoughts had turned to the earliest constant in her life. Sitting in a hotel room in Florence she’d made the decision to pursue the address scribbled on a scrap of paper that she’d moved from one diary to the next. She had no idea if Carla was still alive, let alone even still in the village she’d gone back to before the war. All she had was a hope, a need to be with the closest thing to a mother she’d ever known.
This is the first thing I've written in the CS-verse in... well, a long time. This particular piece has been several years in the brewing (okay, I got distracted by other things). It was first plotted in October 2006 over various alcoholic beverages in Athens, a city whose history was really the starting point. I'm not sure where this is going but I do know I am stubborn enough to finish it once it takes hold in my imagination. I'm currently in the throes of reading all of the John Le Carré so the temptation to make Rosemary's father a George Smiley-esque spymaster was quite high, but I resisted.
Essentially, I think we can just say that I'm fascinated by EBD's 'minor mistresses', the ones who just get casual mentions in passing, and always want to flesh them out a bit. Any inconsistencies with EBD are my own because they suit my plot better... ;) Also, mostly I'm going to use chapter titles from lyrics of Laura Pausini songs - the title is also a song by Laura with Andrea Bocelli.
Roughly translated the chapter title means 'the solitude between us', from the Laura Pausini song 'La Solitudine'. I'm still working on a vague timeline...