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by Anna Gilbert

Pub Date: April 16th, 1996
ISBN: 0-312-14055-X
Publisher: St. Martin's

Gilbert's latest voluminous romance (A Walk in the Wood, 1989 etc,), rustling with mystery and old scandals, features broody characters tending inner fires of passion or revenge, an attractive heroine, and, again lovely English country environs. Esther Aumery, daughter of weak Edwin and spendthrift, flighty Flora, the owners of an elegant estate, will have reason to remember that summer morning in 1914 when she sees a horse-drawn cart, full of bundles, rattling down an unused road, driven by a man with a sick, desperate face. That same morning Daniel Godwain, the son of Edwin's land manager and Esther's best friend, discovers a bundle under a thorn bush containing a starving, dirty, flea- bitten young girl. Cleaned up by townswomen, the silent girl is sent off to the workhouse with a friendly peddler, but she disappears (along with some of his wares) on the way. Some years later, after a painful series of events, a chastened Flora and Esther, now an adult, will be forced to exchange their elegant estate for small rooms on a grimy city street. But even in such straitened circumstances Esther will find friends, a new life and, alas, new problems. Esther and Daniel, now passionately in love, will be cheated by misunderstandings and lost chances—their problems engineered by the cool, darkly intelligent Clarice Motte, occasionally appearing as a housemaid or visitor—or lodger?—at a house of shady repute near Esther's digs. And after Esther marries widower Gervase Lincoln—whose estate, Barbarrow, near her old home, has been vacant since 1902—Clarice steps forward, claiming to be Gervase's long-lost daughter (and heiress). And is she? Was she the child Daniel found that day in 1914, hidden under a thorn bush? And what of Daniel, who in spite of Esther's deep affection for kind Gervase, remains her true love—``idealized and unfulfilled''? The mysteries surrounding Clarice are solved abruptly in the novel's last pages, but Gilbert's narration otherwise is unhurried, easy, and leafy with pleasant sentiment. Great hammock reading.