Seeds of Yesterday
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Seeds of Yesterday
Now a major Lifetime movie event—Book Four of the Dollanganger series that began with Flowers in the Attic—the novel of forbidden love that captured the world’s imagination and earned V.C. Andrews a fiercely devoted fanbase.
They escaped their mother’s hellish trap years ago, but a cruel history of lies and deceit has come full circle…
The forbidden love that blossomed when Cathy and Christopher were held captive in Foxworth Hall is one the Dollanganger family’s darkest secrets. Now, with three grown children and even a new last name, the pair seem to have outlived a twisted legacy. But on their son Bart’s twenty-fifth birthday, when the spiteful and disturbed young man claims his rightful inheritance, the full, shattering truth of their tainted past will be revealed at Foxworth Hall—the place where the nightmare began, and where Christopher and Cathy were once just innocent flowers in the attic…
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Seeds of Yesterday – V.C. Andrews
And so it came to pass the summer when I was fifty-two and Chris was fifty-four that our mother’s promise of riches, made long ago when I was twelve and Chris was fourteen, was at last realized.
We both stood and stared at that huge, intimidating house I’d never expected to see again. Even though it was not an exact duplicate of the original Foxworth Hall, still I quivered inside. What a price both Chris and I had paid to stand where we were now, temporary rulers over this mammoth house that should have been left in charred ruins. Once, long ago, I’d believed he and I would live in this house like a princess and prince, and between us we’d have the golden touch of King Midas, only with more control.
I no longer believed in fairy tales.
As vividly as if it had happened only yesterday, I remembered that chill summer night full of mystical moonlight and magical stars in a black velvet sky when we’d first approached this place, expecting only the best to happen. We had found only the worst.
At that time Chris and I had been so young, innocent, and trusting, believing in our mother, loving her, believing as she led us and our five-year-old twin brother and sister through the dark and somehow scary night, to that huge house called Foxworth Hall, that all our future days would be colored green for wealth and yellow for happiness.
What blind faith we’d had when we tagged along behind.
Locked away in that dim and dreary upstairs room, playing in that dusty, musty attic, we’d sustained ourselves by our belief in our mother’s promises that someday Foxworth Hall and all its fabulous riches would be ours. However, despite all her promises, a cruel and heartless old grandfather with a bad but tenacious heart refused to stop beating in order to let four young and hopeful hearts live, and so we’d waited, and waited, until more than three long-long years passed, and Momma failed to keep her promise.
And not until the day she died—and her will was read—did Foxworth Hall fall under our control. She had left the mansion to Bart, her favorite grandson, my child by her own second husband, but until he was twenty-five, the estate was held in trust by Chris.
Foxworth Hall had been ordered reconstructed before she moved to California to find us, but it wasn’t until after her death that the final touches were completed on the new Foxworth Hall.
For fifteen years the house stood empty, overseen by caretakers, legally supervised by a staff of attorneys who had either written or called Chris long distance to discuss with him the problems that arose. A waiting mansion, grieving, perhaps, waiting for the day when Bart decided he’d go there to live, as we’d always presumed one day he’d do. Now he was offering this house to us for a short while, to be our own until he arrived and took over.
There was always a catch in every lure offered, whispered my ever-suspicious mind. I felt the lure now, reaching out to ensnare us again. Had Chris and I traveled such a long road only to come full circle, back to the beginning?
What would be the catch this time?
No, no, I kept telling myself, my suspicious, ever-doubting nature was getting the better of me. We had the gold without the tarnish . . . we did! We did have to realize our just rewards some day. The night was over—our day had finally come, and we were now standing in the full sunlight of dreams come true.
To actually be here, planning to live in that restored home, put sudden familiar gall in my mouth. All my pleasure vanished. I was actually realizing a nightmare that wouldn’t vanish when I opened my eyes.
I threw off the feeling, smiled at Chris, squeezed his fingers, and stared at the restored Foxworth Hall, risen from the ashes of the old, to confront and confound us again with its majesty, its formidable size, its sense of abiding evil, its myriad windows with their black shutters like heavy lids over stony dark eyes. It loomed high and wide, spreading over several acres in magnificent but intimidating grandeur. It was larger than most hotels, formed in the shape of a giant T, only crossed on each end to give it an enormous center section, with wings jutting off north and south, east and west.
It was constructed of rosy pink bricks. The many black shutters matched the roof of slate. Four impressive white Corinthian columns supported a gracious front portico. A sunburst of stained glass was over the black double front doors. Huge brass escutcheon plates decorated the doors and made what could have been plain rather elegant and less somber.
This might have cheered me if the sun hadn’t suddenly taken a fugitive position behind a passing dark cloud. I glanced upward at a sky turned stormy and foreboding, heralding rain and wind. The trees in the surrounding forest began to sway so that birds took alarmed flight and screeched as they flew for cover. The green lawns so immaculately kept were quickly littered with broken twigs and falling leaves, and the blooming flowers in geometrically laid-out beds were lashed to the ground unmercifully.
I trembled and thought: Tell me again, Christopher Doll, that it’s going to work out fine. Tell me again, for I don’t really believe now that the sun has gone and the storm is drawing nearer.
He glanced upward, too, sensing my growing anxiety, my unwillingness to go through with this, despite my promise to Bart, my second son. Seven years ago his psychiatrists had told us their treatment was successful and that Bart was quite normal and could live out his life without needing therapy on a regular basis.
To give me comfort Chris’s arm lifted to encircle my shoulders. His lips lowered to brush my cheek. It’s going to work out for all of us. I know it will. We’re no longer the Dresden dolls trapped in an upstairs room, dependent on our elders to do the right thing. Now we’re the adults, in control of our lives. Until Bart reaches the stated age of inheritance, you and I are the owners. Dr. and Mrs. Christopher Sheffield from Marin County, California, and no one will know us as brother and sister. They won’t suspect that we are truly descendants of the Foxworths. We have left all troubles behind us. Cathy, this is our chance. Here, in this house, we can undo all the harm done to us and to our children, especially Bart. We’ll rule not with steel wills and iron fists, as was Malcolm’s way, but with love, compassion, and understanding.
Because Chris had his arm about me, holding me tight against his side, I gained strength enough to look at the house in a new light. It was beautiful. For Bart’s sake we’d stay until his twenty-fifth birthday, and then Chris and I would take Cindy with us and fly to Hawaii, where we’d always wanted to live out our lives, near the sea and white beaches. Yes, that’s the way it was supposed to be. The way it had to be. Smiling, I turned to Chris. You’re right. I am not afraid of this house, or any house. He chuckled and lowered his arm to my waist, pressuring me forward.
Soon after finishing high school, my first son Jory had flown to New York City to join his grandmother, Madame Marisha. There, in her ballet company, he’d soon been noticed by the critics and was given leading roles. His childhood sweetheart, Melodie, had flown east to join Jory.
At the age of twenty, my Jory had married Melodie, who was only a year younger. The pair of them had struggled and worked to reach the top. They were now the most notable ballet team in the country, a team of perfect, beautiful coordination, as if they could reach each other’s mind and signal with a flash of their eyes. For five years they’d been riding the crest of success. Every performance brought rave reviews from the critics and from the public. Television exposure had given them a larger audience than they could ever have gained by personal appearances alone.
Madame Marisha had died in her sleep two years ago, though we could console ourselves by knowing she’d lived to be eighty-seven and had worked up until the very day she passed away.
Around the age of seventeen, my second son Bart had transformed almost magically from a backward student into the most brilliant one in his school. By that time Jory had flown on to New York. I had thought at the time that Jory’s absence had brought Bart out of his shell and made him interested in learning. Just two days ago, he had graduated from Harvard Law School, the valedictorian of his class.
Chris and I had joined Melodie and Jory in Boston, and in the huge auditorium of Harvard Law School we’d watched Bart receive his law degree. Only Cindy, our adopted daughter, was not there. She was at her best friend’s house in South Carolina. It had given me new pain to know that Bart could not let go of his envy of a girl who’d done her best to win his approval—especially when he’d done nothing to win hers. It gave me additional pain to know that Cindy couldn’t let go of her dislike of Bart long enough to help him celebrate.
No! she’d shouted over the telephone, I don’t care if he did send me an invitation! It’s just his way of showing off. He can put ten degrees behind his name and I still won’t admire or like him—not after all he did to me. Explain to Jory and Melodie why, so their feelings won’t be hurt. But you won’t have to explain to Bart. He’ll know.
I’d sat between Chris and Jory and stared, amazed that a son who was so reticent at home, so moody and unwilling to communicate, could rise to the top of his class and be named valedictorian. His impassioned words created a mesmerizing spell. I glanced at Chris, who looked proud enough to burst before he grinned at me.
Wow, who would have guessed? He’s terrific, Cathy. Aren’t you proud? I know I am.
Yes, yes, of course, I was very proud to see Bart up there. Still, I knew the Bart behind the podium was not the Bart we all knew at home. Maybe he was safe now. Completely normal—his doctors had said so.
To my way of thinking, there were many small indications that Bart had not changed as dramatically as his doctors thought. He’d said just before we parted, You must be there, Mother, when I come into my own. Not a word about Chris being there with me. “It’s important to me that you be there.”
Always he had to force himself to speak Chris’s name. We’ll invite Jory and his wife down, too, and, of course, Cindy. He’d grimaced just to say her name. It was beyond me how anyone could dislike a girl as pretty and sweet as our beloved adopted daughter. I couldn’t have loved Cindy more if she’d been flesh of my flesh, and blood of my Christopher Doll. In a way, since she’d come to us at the age of two, she was our child, the only one we could claim as truly belonging to both of us.
Cindy was sixteen now, and much more voluptuous than I’d been at her age. But Cindy hadn’t been as deprived as I. Her vitamins had come from fresh air and sunshine, both of which had been denied four imprisoned children. Good food and exercise . . . she’d had the best. We’d had the worst.
Chris asked if we were going to stay out here all day and wait for pelting rain to drench us both before we went inside. He tugged me forward, urging me on with his cheerful confidence.
Gradually, step by slow step, as the thunder began to crash and swiftly come closer, with the swollen, heavy sky zigzagging with frightening electrical bolts, we approached the grand portico of Foxworth Hall.
I began to notice details I’d missed before. The portico floor was made of mosaic tiles in three shades of red intricately laid to form a sunburst pattern that matched the glass sunburst over the double front doors. I looked at those sunburst windows and rejoiced. They hadn’t been here before. Perhaps it was just as Chris had predicted. It wouldn’t be the same, just as no two snowflakes were the same.
Then I was frowning, for to all intents and purposes, who ever saw the differences in falling snowflakes?
Stop looking for something to steal the pleasure from this day, Catherine. I see it on your face, in your eyes. I vow on my word of honor that we will leave this house as soon as Bart has his party and fly on to Hawaii. If a hurricane comes and blows a tidal wave over our home once we’re there, it will be because you expect that to happen.
He made me laugh. Don’t forget the volcano, I said with a small giggle. It could hurl hot lava at us. He grinned and playfully spanked my bottom.
Quit! Please, please. August tenth will see us on our plane—but a hundred to one you’ll worry about Jory, about Bart, and wonder what he’s doing all alone in this house.
That’s when I remembered something forgotten until now. Waiting inside Foxworth Hall was the surprise Bart had promised would be there. How strangely he’d looked when he’d said that.
Mother, it will blow your mind when you see— He’d paused, smiled, and looked uneasy. I’ve flown down there each summer just to check things over and see that the house wasn’t being neglected and left to mold and decay. I gave orders to interior decorators to make it look exactly as it used to, except for my office. I want that modern, with all the electronic conveniences I’ll need. But . . . if you want, you can do a few things to make it cozy.
Cozy? How could a house such as this ever be cozy? I knew what it felt like to be enclosed inside, swallowed, trapped forever. I shivered as I heard the click of my high heels beside the dull thuds of Chris’s shoes as we neared the black doors with their escutcheons made decorative with heraldic shields. I wondered if Bart had looked up the Foxworth ancestry and found the titles of aristocracy and the coats of arms he desperately wanted and seemed to need. On each black door were heavy brass knockers, and in between the doors a small, almost unnoticeable button to ring a bell somewhere inside.
I’m sure this house is full of modern gadgets that would shock genuine historical Virginia homes, whispered Chris.
No doubt Chris was right.
Bart was in love with the past, but even more infatuated with the future. Not an electronic gadget came out that he didn’t buy.
Chris reached into his pocket for the door key Bart had given to me just before we flew from Boston. Chris smiled my way before he inserted the large brass key. Before he could complete the turning action, the door swung silently open.
Startled, I took a step backward.
Chris pulled me forward again, speaking politely to the old man who invitingly gestured us inside.
Come in, he said in a weak but raspy voice as he quickly looked us over. Your son called and told me to expect you. I’m the hired help—so to speak.
I stared at the lean old man who was bent forward so that his head projected unbecomingly, making him seem to be climbing hills even while standing on a flat surface. His hair was faded, not gray and not blond. His eyes were a watery pale blue, his cheeks gaunt, his eyes hollowed out, as if he’d suffered greatly for many, many years. There was something about him . . . something familiar.
My leaden legs didn’t want to move. The fierce wind whipped my white, full-skirted summer dress high enough to show my thighs as I put one foot inside the grand entrance foyer of the Phoenix called Foxworth Hall.
Chris stayed close at my side. He released my hand to put his arm around my shoulders. Dr. and Mrs. Christopher Sheffield, he introduced us in his kindly way, and you?
The wizened old man seemed reluctant to put out his right hand and shake Chris’s strong, tanned one. His thin old lips wore a cynical, crooked smile that duplicated the cock of one bushy eyebrow. My pleasure to meet you, Dr. Sheffield.
I couldn’t take my eyes off that bent old man with his watery blue eyes. Something about his smile, his thinning hair with broad streaks of silver, those eyes with startling dark lashes. Daddy!
He looked as our father might have looked if he’d lived to be as old as this man before us—and had suffered through every torment known to mankind.
My daddy, my beloved handsome father who’d been the joy of my youth. How I’d prayed to see him again some day.
The stringy old hand was grasped firmly by Chris, and only then did the old man tell us who he was. Your long-lost uncle who was, ostensibly, lost in the Swiss Alps fifty-seven years ago.
Quickly Chris said all the right words to cover the shock that obviously showed on both our faces. You’ve startled my wife, he politely explained. You see, her maiden name was Foxworth . . . and she has believed until now that all her maternal family was dead.
Several small, crooked smiles fleeted like shadows on Uncle Joel’s face before he pasted on the benign, pious look of the sublimely pure in heart. I understand, said the old man in his whispery voice that sounded like a faint wind rustling unpleasantly in dead, fallen leaves.
Deep in Joel’s watery cerulean eyes lingered shadows, dark, troubled shadows. I knew without speaking that Chris would tell me my imagination was working overtime again.
No shadows, no shadows, no shadows. . . but those I created myself.
To lift myself above my suspicions of this old man who claimed to be one of my mother’s two older and dead brothers, I gazed with interest around the foyer that had often been used as a ballroom. I heard the wind pick up velocity as the thunderclaps drew ever closer and closer together, indicating the storm was almost directly overhead.
Oh, sigh for the day when I’d been twelve and stared out at the rain, wanting to dance in this ballroom with the man who was my mother’s second husband and would later be the father of my second son, Bart.
Sigh for all that I’d been then, so young and full of faith, so hopeful that the world was a beautiful and benign place.
What had seemed to me impressive as a child should have shrunk in comparison to all I’d seen, since Chris and I had traveled all over Europe and had been to Asia, Egypt, and India. Even so, this foyer seemed to me twice as elegant and impressive as it had when I was twelve.
Oh, the pity of that, to still be overwhelmed! I gazed with reluctant awe, a strange aching beginning in my heart, making it thud louder, making my blood race fast and hot. I stared at the three chandeliers of crystal and gold that held real candles. Each was fully fifteen feet in diameter, with seven tiers of candles. How many tiers had there been before? Five? Three? I couldn’t remember. I stared at the huge mirrors with gold frames that lined the foyer, reflecting the elegant Louis XIV furniture where those who didn’t dance could sit and watch and converse.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way! Things remembered never lived up to expectations—why was this second Foxworth Hall overwhelming me even more than the original?
Then I saw something else—something I didn’t expect to see.
Those dual curving staircases, one on the right, the other on the left of the vast expanse of red and white checkered marble. Weren’t they the same stairs? Refurbished, but the same? Hadn’t I watched the fire that had burned Foxworth Hall until it was only red embers and smoke? All eight of the chimneys had stood; so had the marble staircases. The intricately designed banisters and rosewood railing must have burned and been replaced. I swallowed over the hard lump that lodged in my throat. I’d wanted the house to be new, all new . . . nothing left of the old.
Joel was watching me, telling me my face revealed more than Chris’s. When our eyes locked, he quickly looked away before he gestured that we were to follow him. Joel showed us through all the beautiful first-floor rooms as I remained numb and speechless, and Chris asked all the questions, before at last we settled down in one of the salons and Joel began telling his own story.
Along the way he’d paused in the enormous kitchen long enough to put together a snack for our lunch. Refusing Chris’s offer to help, he had carried in a tray with tea and dainty sandwiches. My appetite was small, but as was to be expected, Chris was ravenous and in a few minutes had dispatched six of the tiny sandwiches and was reaching for another as Joel poured him a second cup of tea. I ate but one of the miniature tasteless sandwiches and sipped twice from the tea, which was steaming hot and very strong, expectantly anticipating the tale Joel would tell.
His voice was frail, with those gritty undertones that made it seem he had a cold and speaking was difficult. Yet soon I forgot the unpleasant sound of his voice as he began to relate so much of what I’d always wanted to know about our grandparents and our mother when she was a child. In no time at all it became clear that he’d hated his father very much, and only then could I begin to warm up to him.
You called your father by his Christian name? My first question since he’d begun his story, my voice an intimidated whisper, as if Malcolm himself might be hovering somewhere within hearing.
His thin lips moved to twist into a grotesque mockery of a smile. “Of course. My brother Mel was four years older than I, and we’d always referred to our father by his given name, but never in his presence. We didn’t have that kind of nerve. Calling him Daddy seemed ridiculous. We couldn’t call him Father because he wasn’t a real father. ‘Dad’ would have indicated a warm relationship, which we didn’t have and didn’t want. When we had to, we called him Father. In fact, we both tried not to be seen or heard by him. We’d disappear when he was due home. He had an office in town from which he conducted most of his business and another office here. He was always working, seated behind a massive desk that was to us a barrier. Even when he was home, he managed to keep himself remote, untouchable. He was never idle, always jumping up to take long distance calls in his office so we couldn’t overhear his business transactions. He seldom talked to our mother. She didn’t seem to mind. On rare occasions we’d seen him holding our baby sister on his lap, and we’d hide and watch, with strange yearnings in our chests.
“We’d talk about it afterward, wondering why we’d feel jealous of Corrine, when Corrine was often just as severely punished as we were. But always our father was sorry when he punished her. To make up for some humiliation, some beating, or being locked in the attic, which was one of his favorite ways to punish us, he’d bring Corrine a costly piece of jewelry, or an expensive doll or toy. She had everything any little girl could desire—but if she did one wrong thing, he took from her what she loved most and gave it to the church he patronized. She’d cry and try to win back his affection, but he could turn against her as easily as he could turn toward her.
When Mel and I tried to win gifts of consolation from him, he’d turn his back and tell us to act like men, not children. Mel and I used to think your mother knew how to work our father very well to get what she wanted. We didn’t know how to act sweet, or how to be beguiling, or demure.
Behind my eyes I could see my mother as a child, running through this beautiful but sinister home, growing accustomed to having everything lavish and expensive, so that later on when she married Daddy, who had earned a modest salary, she still didn’t think about how much she paid for anything.
I sat there with wide eyes as Joel went on. Corrine and our mother didn’t like each other. As we grew up, we recognized the fact that our mother was jealous of her own daughter’s beauty, and the many charms that enabled her to twist any man around her fingers. Corrine was exceptionally beautiful. Even as her brothers we could sense the power she would be able to wield one day. Joel spread his thin, pale hands on his legs. His hands were gnarled and knotted, but somehow they still maintained a remnant of elegance, perhaps because he used them gracefully, or perhaps because they were so pale. “Look around at all this grandeur and beauty—and picture a household of tormented people, all struggling to be free of the chains Malcolm put on us. Even our mother, who’d inherited a fortune from her own parents, was kept under stringent control.
“Mel escaped the banking business, which he hated and had been forced into by Malcolm, by jumping onto his motorcycle and racing away into the mountains, where he’d stay in a log cabin he and I had constructed together. We would invite our girlfriends there, and we did everything we knew our father would disapprove of deliberately, out of defiance for his absolute authority.
One terrible summer day Mel went over a precipice; they had to dig his body out of the ravine. He was only twenty-one. I was seventeen. I felt half dead myself, so empty and alone with my brother gone. My father came to me after Mel’s funeral and said I’d have to take the place of my older brother and work in one of his banks to learn about the financial world. He might as well have told me I’d have to cut off my hands and feet. I ran away that very night.
All about us the huge house seemed to wait, very quiet, too quiet. The storm outside seemed to hold its breath as well, although I could glimpse the leaden gray sky growing more and more swollen and turgid. I moved slightly closer to Chris on the elegant sofa. Across from us in a wing-back chair, Joel sat silently, as if caught in melancholy memories, and Chris and I no longer existed for him.
Where did you go? asked Chris, putting down his teacup and leaning back before he crossed his legs. His hand reached for mine. It must have been difficult for a boy of seventeen on his own . . .
Joel jerked back to the present, seeming startled to find himself back in his hated childhood home. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t know how to do anything practical, but at music I was very talented. I caught a freight steamer and worked as a deckhand to pay my way over to France. For the first time in my life I had calluses on my hands. Once I was in France, I found a job in a nightclub and earned a few francs a week. Soon I grew tired of the long hours and moved on to Switzerland, thinking I’d see all the world and never return home. I found another job as a nightclub musician in a small Swiss inn near the Italian border and soon was joining skiing parties into the Alps. I’d spend most of my free time skiing, and in the summer, hiking or bicycling. One day good friends asked me to join them on a rather risky trip, to downhill ski from a very high peak. I was about nineteen then, and the four others ahead were laughing and yelling at each other and didn’t notice when I lost control and went tumbling headlong into a deep ice crevice. I broke my leg in the fall. I lay down there a day and a half, partly in shock, when two monks traveling on donkeys heard my weak cries for help. They knew how to get me out—but I don’t remember much about that, for I was weak with hunger and half out of my mind from pain. When I came to, I was in their monastery, and smooth, bland faces were smiling at me. Their monastery was on the Italian side of the Alps, and I didn’t know a word of Italian. They taught me their Latin as my broken leg healed, and then they used my slight artistic talent to help them paint wall murals and decorate handwritten scripts with religious illustrations. Sometimes I played their organ. By the time my leg was healed so I could walk, I found I liked their quiet life, the artwork they gave me to do, the music I played at dawn and sunset, the silent routine of their uneventful days of prayers and work and self-denial. I stayed on and eventually became one of them. In that monastery, high in the mountains, I finally found peace.
His story was over. He sat looking at Chris, then turned his pale but burning eyes on me.
Startled by his penetrating gaze, I tried not to shrink away and show the revulsion I couldn’t help feeling. I didn’t like him, even though he faintly resembled the father I’d loved so well, and certainly I had no reason to dislike him. I suspected it was my own anxiety and fear that he’d know that Chris was really my brother and not my husband. Had Bart told him our story? Did he see how Chris resembled the Foxworths? I couldn’t really tell. He was smiling at me, using his own kind of failing charm to win me over. Already he was wise enough to know it wouldn’t be Chris he had to convince . . .
Why did you come back? asked Chris.
Again Joel tried to smile. One day an American journalist came to the monastery to write a feature story about what it was like to be a monk in today’s modern world. Since I was the only one there who spoke English, they used me to represent all of them. I casually asked if he’d ever heard of the Fox-worths of Virginia. He had, since Malcolm had made a huge fortune and was often involved in politics, and only then did I learn of his death, and that of my mother. Once the journalist had gone, I couldn’t stop thinking about this house and my sister. Years can easily blend one into the other when all days are alike, and calendars weren’t kept in sight. Finally came a day when I resolved that I wanted to go home again and talk to my sister and get to know her. The journalist hadn’t mentioned if she had married. It wasn’t until after I came to the village, almost a year ago, and settled into a motel that I heard of how the original house had burned one Christmas night and my sister had been put away in a mental rest home, and all that tremendous fortune had been left to her. It wasn’t until Bart came that summer that I learned the rest—how my sister died, how he inherited.
His eyes lowered modestly. Bart is a very remarkable young man; I enjoy his company. Before he came, I used to spend a lot of my time up here, talking to the caretaker. He told me about Bart and his many visits to talk to the builders and decorators, how he had expressed his desire to make this new house look exactly like the old one. I made it my business to be here when Bart came the next time. We met, I told him who I was, and he seemed overjoyed . . . and that’s the whole of it.
Really? I stared at him hard. Had he come back thinking he’d have his share of the fortune Malcolm had left? Could he break my mother’s will and take away a good portion for himself? If he could, I wondered why Bart wasn’t very upset to know he was still alive.
I didn’t put any of my thoughts into words, just sat on, as Joel fell into a long, moody silence. Chris stood up. It’s been a full day for us, Joel, and my wife is very tired. Could you show us to the rooms we are to use so we can rest and refresh ourselves?
Instantly Joel was on his feet, apologizing for being a poor host, and then he was leading the way to the stairs.
I will be happy to see Bart again. He was very generous to offer me a room in this house. However, all these rooms remind me too much of my parents. My room is over the garage, near the servants’ quarters.
Just then the telephone rang. Joel handed me the telephone. It’s your older son calling from New York, he said in that stiff, gritty voice. You can use the phone in the first salon if both of you want to talk to him.
Chris hurried to pick up another phone as I greeted Jory. His happy voice dispelled some of the gloom and depression I was already feeling. Mom, Dad, I’ve managed to cancel a few commitments, and Mel and I are free to fly down and be with you. We’re both tired and need a vacation. Besides, we’d like to get a look at that house we’ve heard so much about. Is it really like the original?
Oh, yes, only too much so. I was filled with joy that Jory and Melodie were coming to join us, and when Cindy and Bart arrived, too, we’d be a complete family again, all living under the same roof—something I hadn’t known in a long time.
No, of course I don’t mind giving up performing for a while, he said cheerfully in answer to my question. I’m tired. Even my bones feel weak with fatigue. We both need a good rest . . . and we have some news for you.
He’d say nothing more.
We hung up, and Chris and I smiled at each other. Joel had retreated to give us privacy, and now he reappeared, tottering uncertainly around a jutting French table with a huge marble urn filled with a dried flower arrangement, speaking of the suite of rooms Bart had planned for my use. He glanced at me, then at Chris before he added, And for you as well, Dr. Sheffield.
Joel swiveled his watery eyes to study my expression, seeming to find something there that pleased him.
Linking my arm with Chris’s, I bravely faced the stairs that would take us up, up, and back to that second floor where it had all begun, this wonderful, sinful love that Chris and I had found in the dusty, decaying attic gloom, in a dark place full of junk and old furniture, with paper flowers on the wall and broken promises at our feet.
Midway up the stairs I paused to look down, wanting to see something that might have slipped my notice before. Even as Joel had told us his story, and we’d eaten our sparse lunch, I’d stared at everything I’d seen but twice before, and never had I seen enough. From the room where we’d been, I could easily look into the foyer with its myriad mirrors and fine French furniture placed stiffly in small groupings that tried unsuccessfully to be intimate. The marble floor gleamed like glass from many polishings. I felt the overwhelming desire to dance, dance, and pirouette until I blindly fell . . .
Chris grew impatient as I lingered and tugged me upward until at last we were in the grand rotunda and again I was staring down into the ballroom-foyer.
Cathy, are you lost in memories? whispered Chris, somewhat crossly. Isn’t it time we both forget the past and move on? Come, I know you must be very tired.
Memories . . . they came at me fast and furious. Cory, Carrie, Bartholomew Winslow—I sensed them all around me, whispering, whispering. I glanced again at Joel, who’d told us he didn’t want us to call him Uncle Joel. He was saving that distinguished title for my children.
He must look as Malcolm did, only his eyes were softer, less piercing than those we’d seen in that huge, lifesize portrait of him in the trophy room. I told myself that not all blue eyes were cruel and heartless. Certainly I should know that better than anyone.
Openly studying the aged face before me, I could still see the remnants of the younger man he’d once been. A man who must have had flaxen blond hair and a face very much like my father’s—and his son’s. Because of this I relaxed and forced myself to step forward and embrace him. Welcome home, Joel.
His frail old body in my arms felt brittle and cold. His cheek was dry as my lips barely managed a kiss there. He shrank from me as if contaminated by my touch, or perhaps he was afraid of women. I jerked away, regretting now that I’d made an attempt to be warm and friendly. Touching was something no Foxworth was supposed to do unless there was a marriage certificate first. Nervously my eyes fled to meet Chris’s. Calm down, his eyes were saying, it’s going to be all right.
My wife is very tired, reminded Chris softly. We’ve had a very busy schedule what with seeing our youngest son graduate, and all the parties, and then this trip . . .
Joel finally broke the long, stiff silence that kept us standing uncomfortably in the dim upstairs rotunda and mentioned that Bart would be hiring servants. Already he’d called an employment agency, and, in fact, had even said we could screen people for him. He mumbled so inaudibly that I didn’t catch half of what he said, especially when my mind was so busy with speculations as I stared off toward the northern wing and that isolated end room where we’d been locked up. Would it still be the same? Had Bart ordered two double beds put in there, with all that clutter of dark, massive, antique furniture? I hoped and prayed not.
Suddenly from Joel came words I wasn’t prepared for. You look like your mother, Catherine.
I stared at him blankly, resenting what he must have considered a compliment.
He kept standing there, as if waiting for some silent summons, looking from me to Chris, and then back to me before he nodded and turned to lead the way to our room. The sun that had shone so brilliantly for our arrival was a forgotten memory as the rain began to pelt down with the hard, steady drive of bullets on the slate roof. The thunder rolled and crashed overhead, and lightning split the sky, crackling every few seconds, sending me into Chris’s arms as I cringed back from what seemed to me the wrath of God.
Rivulets of water ran on the windowpanes, sluiced down from the roof into drains that soon would flood the gardens and erase all that was alive and beautiful. I sighed and felt miserable to be back here where I felt young and terribly vulnerable again.
Yes, yes, Joel muttered as if to himself, just like Corrine. His eyes scanned me critically once more, and then he was bowing his head and reflecting so long five minutes could have passed. Or five seconds.
We have to unpack, Chris said more forcefully. My wife is exhausted. She needs a bath, then a nap, for traveling always makes her feel tired and dirty. I wondered why he bothered to explain.
Instantly Joel pulled himself back from where he’d been. Maybe
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