rowan tree blossom

Rough draft of the new novel's opening chapter.

India 1898

Melisande. How ridiculous a name for someone like her. She disliked it so much she had begged for another, but her parents, who were, in all other things, an indulgent Mama and a kindly Papa, stood firm. They were romantics, adored the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Holman Hunt and Burne-Jones being their favourites. They had a book full of reproductions of the group’s paintings and sighed over what Melisande thought of as the faux mediaeval worlds those painters created. Faux mediaeval worlds with faux mediaeval names, hence the preposterous Melisande. Her poor brother, christened Jervais Shirley, (he barely escaped Claudio Valentine,) had, at school, managed to be called the more acceptable Jeri, but what could she do with Melisande? She might have felt happier if she looked like a Melisande, fair of face, fair haired and willowy delicate, like the women in the portraits, but she was simply medium of everything, figure, height, hair, and eyes. A medium brown girl.

“Stop complaining and call yourself something else,” her brother told her on her eighteenth birthday.

“But I can’t,” Melisande protested. “You could make something useable from your names. What can I make from mine?”

Jeri gave her a brotherly grin. “Mel? Melli?

She eyed him. He winked. “As in smelly melli?” she asked sweetly.

Her brother backed away, putting the chaise lounge between them. “There’s always Sand or Sandi.”

“As in sand on a beach? I think not.”

“Well…” Jeri paused and his grin expanded into a thoroughly wicked smile. “Now how about Jane, now there’s a nice plain name?”

Melisande grabbed a cushion and hurled it at him. “As in plain Jane, you rude, unkind….” She shied another cushion. Jeri fled, laughing.

It was Mr Holyman, Richard, who solved the naming problem. He’d become one of the family ever since he’d arrived, delivering a collection of oddments of Arts and Crafts furniture and ornaments Papa had bought from his senior supervisor, who was returning home. Papa could never have afforded to ship from home the William Morris or Rennie Mackintosh Arts and Crafts things he and Mama so admired, but when the more affluent English families returned to England they would sell most of their things rather than ship them back to England. Sometimes there was a piece of Arts and Craft furniture or decorative ware to buy. Melisande felt sure every auctioneer in their part of India knew that Papa would buy the weird, old fashioned Arts and Crafts stuff, and sent it to him. Certainly collections came down river or up river every six months or so. She did like her William Morris chest though, but their home, so traditionally Indian in most ways, had pockets of this plain and angular furniture which neither fitted in nor looked right. It gave her the artistic shudders.

It was Richard who brought her chest, and when introduced to her as ‘Miss Allmark, our daughter, Melisande.’ had not even quirked an eyebrow. But he had smiled a most gentle and understanding smile.

“Dreadful isn’t it? Do I look like a Melisande ? I’m trying to change it,” she’d said.

“Melisande is a beautiful name,” Richard said. Mama and Papa had exchanged pleased smiles. “But I can understand why you aren’t happy with it.” His face expressed such kindness and sympathy.

Melisande sensed within herself his empathy of understanding like an explosion of joy. Someone who understood without teasing or denials. “The problem is finding the right name, a simple one. My family refuse to call me Patience or Prudence, and they don’t like Ruth.”

“All too plain for our daughter, and too Puritan,” Papa said.

Mama nodded. “Melisande is a lovely name, my dear.”

Richard inclined a gracious bow to Mama, turned to Melisande, “With your permission, Miss Allmark,” he said, with a little bow to her, “if you prefer it I shall call you Lisa.”

And Lisa it was.


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