Love's Melody Lost
When the music deserted her, she lost her passion, her heart, and ultimately her soul. In a gothic setting of silences and secrets, a woman came to awaken her desire. 1997 (384 KB)
Anna Reid drove with one hand holding a torn scrap of paper against the wheel. As she watched for road signs in the unfamiliar back roads of Cape Cod Bay, she tried to decipher her own scribbled writing. The early spring morning was unseasonably warm, and she had put the canvas top on the old Jeep down to enjoy the sun. The breeze that blew through her hair smelled of salt water, seaweed and ocean creatures. It was a welcome change from the heavy air and city smells she had grown used to over the years in Boston. As she followed the winding road that led ever closer to the sea, she mused over the strange turns her life had taken.
Somehow, much of the story seemed like someone elseís to her now. Looking back on the last ten years of her life, Anna felt as if she had been sleepwalking through her days. When just out of college, she had married a man who shared the same values as she and who seemed to have the same vision for the future. Anna had a degree in botany that she couldnít use, so she worked part-time in a florist shop to help defer the cost of law school for Rob. Eventually, they accumulated all the material trappings of a successful young couple of the eighties, including a renovated brownstone in a gentrified area of the back bay, a new BMW for Rob, and a Jeep for Anna. Anna had financial security, the correct circle of literate female friends, and an adequate, if not particularly exciting, love life.
Rob was content and Anna was bored. As Rob worked longer and longer hours to keep pace with the other young attorneys in his firm, Anna found herself with less and less to do. They had a maid twice a week and every modern convenience available. Neither of them had been eager for children, so Anna couldnít even mingle comfortably with the women of their social set who spent much of their time on the Commons with their strollers and their offspring. The frequent obligatory office socials became more of a burden than a diversion, and she and her husband grew steadily apart.
She couldnít fault Robóneither of them had really stopped to question the direction their life was taking, but had merely followed the conventional path expected of them. It wasnít until they had been married for nine years that Anna began to wonder what she was doing in a life that left her feeling empty. Finally, they admitted that their marriage was in trouble, and they tried counseling. They found, in fact, that over the years they had both changed, and their goals were now very different. Divorce seemed the only reasonable solution. They were both a little confused as to how this had occurred, but their parting was amicable and fair. Anna refused alimony, and Rob arranged an equitable distribution of their property and assets.
So, at thirty-two, Anna had a used Jeep, a third floor walk-up in the student enclave near Boston University, and a microwave oven she rarely used. She was nearing the end of her first year of graduate school in landscape design, and the proceeds from her divorce settlement were nearly exhausted. She needed to find work, and she wasnít certain how she could manage a full-time job and complete graduate school as well. She scoured the newspapers for a part-time position, but none seemed to suit her schedule or her skills. She was beginning to despair when she came across an ad in the classifieds that seemed possible. "Live-in house manager needed. Must do some clerical work and drive. Salary and schedule negotiable."
She called the number listed and arranged an interview. Oddly, the interview was conducted by a senior attorney in one of Bostonís most prestigious law firms. She discovered that the location was forty minutes outside of Boston and required little in the way of advanced secretarial skills. She had been assured she would have ample opportunity to arrange her duties around her class schedule. The job seemed perfect, and it was hers if she wanted it.
She accepted immediately, terminated her lease, and packed the essentials of her life. Everything fit comfortably in the rear of her Jeep. Now she was headed to Yardley Manor, officially in the employ of one Graham Yardley. Her employer, she had learned after insistent probing, was a former musician who lived in a secluded estate on the coast. David Norcross, the attorney who interviewed her, had been reluctant to provide much in the way of details, and Annaís curiosity had been piqued. Despite the mystery surrounding her destination, Anna was elated. She had a job, and her life was headed in a direction of her own choosing.
Anna eventually turned onto a tree-lined lane that led to a large old Victorian edifice. It stood alone on a bluff above the sea. The circular drive was cracked in places with clumps of vegetation attempting to displace the offending concrete. The house also showed signs of disrepair. Shutters hung askew, paint curled from the wood surfaces, and several windows on the upper stories were boarded over. She frowned at the overgrown formal gardens that clearly had not been tended in years. There was an air of sadness reflected in the decline of this once beautiful estate, and Anna felt herself immediately drawn to the place. It was as if it were a living presence in need of care. She pulled to a stop before the grand staircase which led to a wide verandah. She approached the pair of heavy ornate oak doors with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. She took a deep breath as she rang the bell.
Slowly, the doors creaked open and a small gray-haired woman peered up at her.
"Yes?" The woman inquired uncertainly.
"Iím Anna Reid. I was hired by Mr. Norcross as a housekeeper."
The little womanís face broke into a thousand tiny lines as she smiled and extended her hand. "I am Helen Green, and I, my dear, am the housekeeper! You are here to manage our household affairs, and I am so glad you have arrived!"
Anna grasped her hand automatically, her mind in turmoil. "But, Mr. Norcross indicatedó"
Helen pulled her inside, saying, "Iím sure that Mr. Norcross explained things as he knew them, but Graham is not very good at keeping the poor man informed. What we need, my dear, is someone to oversee the property as well as to manage Grahamís personal affairs. Graham will explain it all to you later. Come with me now! Let me show you to your rooms."
Anna hung back in confusion. What exactly was it she was supposed to do here? She had no experience in managing an estate, and from the brief glance she had had of Yardley Manor, it was definitely in need of managing! Still, she instinctively liked the spry elderly woman who hurried down the long hall to a wide central staircase, and the house captured her immediately. Even in its current state of neglect, it was magnificent. As she followed the housekeeper through the dark mahogany-paneled hall, she caught glimpses of the adjoining rooms through partially-opened doors. Thick imported carpets, brocade-covered sofas and ornate, carved tables graced the high-ceilinged rooms. Yardley Manor managed to project an air of elegance even in its present state.
"Perhaps I should speak with Mr. Yardley first," Anna suggested, as Helen stopped before a door on the second floor. "There might be a problem. Iím not sure Iím going to be suitable for the job."
Helen turned toward her with a strangely quiet, penetrating gaze. "Graham will meet with you at tea this afternoon. The two of you can straighten all of this out then. Now, come, my dear, and let me get you settled."
Anna realized that she had no choice but to wait. The room Helen led her into was bright and airy, and the wide windows captured her attention immediately. They faced the heart of the estate - two hundred yards of terraced gardens which gave way to a tangle of wild brush growing up to the edge of a rocky bluff. A tiered stone wall rimmed the edge of the cliff, which fell a hundred feet down into the pounding surf. Beyond that was only the blue of sky and water. The view was breathtaking.
Anna could just make out the garden paths, now narrowed and overrun by the steady encroachment of natural flora untended for years. Here and there stone benches were still visible under the trees, marking the spots which had once provided strollers a place to rest and enjoy the surrounding beauty. To the rear left was a wide flagstone terrace , ringed by a stone balustrade which supported dozens of climbing rose bushes, desperately in need of pruning and cultivation. Beyond that stretched the formal rose gardens, clearly the showpiece of the estate when they had been at their height. Now all she surveyed lay in ruins, a sad reminder of what had been, like a faded photograph of a time long gone. She was amazed to find her throat tighten around sudden tears - she was so moved by the decline of this once proud manor. It was such a waste, when all it needed was care. She shrugged her melancholy aside; she had her own life to worry about resurrecting. She turned back to the room she was hopefully going to inhabit.
"Oh!," Anna exclaimed, observing the room. She was delighted to see a high canopied bed, a lovely antique dresser and matching table. The interior of the house, clearly Helenís domain, had been lovingly maintained. The neglected state of the exterior and grounds was clearly not from lack of funds. From what she had seen so far, most of the furnishings appeared to be priceless estate pieces. She felt like she had stepped back in time, and the otherworldliness of her surroundings appealed to her. Her life was in transition; she herself was transforming into a person of her own choosing. It seemed fitting that her new life should begin in a place so different from her past.
"Itís all so beautiful!" she exclaimed, unable to hide her excitement.
"Isnít it though?" Helen looked up from where she was busily turning down the covers on the bed. "Iíve always loved the view from here. My rooms face that way, too. Iíve come to know the look of the sea in every season."
"Have you been here long?"
"Oh, goodness, yes. My family has been employed by the Yardleys for forty years. I wasnít yet twenty when my husband and I came. This was just the summer house then, of course. We spent most of our time at the Philadelphia home. Itís only sinceówell, Iíve been here for the last fourteen years."
"And Mr. Yardley lives here year round as well?"
Helen hesitated once again, then merely responded, "Yes."
Anna was eager for any information that would clarify the strange circumstances of her new job, but was reluctant to pry. The little housekeeper seemed just as reluctant to discuss the issue of Annaís employment.
"Whatís in here?" Anna called, pointing to a door opposite the large bed.
"Your sitting rooms and bath." Helen pushed the door open, revealing a large room with a stone fireplace. French doors led out to a balcony, and several comfortable chairs and tables formed a sitting area before the hearth. A modern bath adjoined the room.
"Itís wonderful!" Anna exclaimed. "I never expected anything like this!"
She tried to temper her enthusiasm, reminding herself she might not be staying. She realized how much she had been counting on this position, and how comfortable she already felt.
"Are your rooms like this?" she asked, trying to disguise her worry. What am I going to do if I have to leave?
"The very same," Helen exclaimed. "Now, Iíll leave you to get settled. Youíll have to bring your own bags up, though. Iím afraid thereís no butler! Tea will be at four in the library. Iíll come to take you down then."
"I really should wait to unpack until I speak with Mr. Yardley. I might not be staying."
"Posh," Helen replied, giving Anna a quick hug. "Of course youíll be staying!"
Anna hoped that Graham Yardley agreed.
"Just make yourself comfortable in here, dear," Helen said as she showed Anna into a large room filled with floor to ceiling bookcases and fine leather furniture. Helen lit a fire in the huge stone fireplace. The evenings by the sea were cool despite the deceptive warmth of the waning afternoon sun. "Graham will join you soon."
When Helen left to prepare the tea, refusing all help from Anna, Anna examined her surroundings. An oil portrait above the fireplace caught her eye. Anna recognized the bluff below Yardley. A lone figure stood on an outcropping of stone, one arm draped over a bent knee, commanding the vista of sea and sky. Deep black hair, wild and windblown, framed chiseled features and piercing dark eyes. A flowing black great coat was open to expose a ruffled white shirt, tailored trousers, and black boots. A pair of black leather gloves, clasped loosely in one hand, completed the picture of the lord of the manor. It was an image from another time, brooding and untamed. Anna was surprised to see by the date that it was done only fifteen years before. Anna imagined this was Mr. Yardley, and he certainly appeared to be all that the master of such an estate should be. Aristocratic, handsome, and austere. She supposed she would soon discover that for herself.
Anna pulled a small footstool in front of one of the large chairs in the central seating area. She extended her legs toward the warmth and leaned back, watching the crackling fire, wondering if she wouldnít soon be headed back to Boston. She was nearly asleep when a deep voice behind her startled her from her reverie.
Anna turned, stifling a gasp of surprise as she found herself face to face with the figure in the portrait. Standing before her was one of the most striking women Anna had ever seen. Her portrait, however arresting, had not done her justice. She was quite tall, with thick black hair brushed back from an exquisitely sculpted face. Her eyes, perhaps her most compelling feature, were nearly black, as the artist had depicted, and contrasted sharply with her pale, luminescent complexion. The oils however had not conveyed the intensity of her gaze, nor the glacial severity of her bearing. Anna tried not to flinch at the scar which marred the handsome face, running from just below her hairline across the broad forehead to one elegantly arched brow.
Anna stared, completely at a loss as the woman approached. The dark-haired woman leaned slightly on an ornate walking stick, but despite a slight limp, she was imposing in finely tailored black trousers and an open-collared white silk shirt. A gold ring with some sort of crest adorned the long fingered hand that she held out to Anna.
"I am Graham Yardley," the woman stated simply. It was delivered in a tone that left no doubt as to whom was the master of Yardley Manor.
Anna rose quickly, grasping the outstretched had. She was instantly struck by the delicacy of the fingers that held hers briefly. She cleared her throat, which felt suddenly dry, and answered, "How do you do? Iím Anna Reid."
"Sit down, please," Graham said somewhat tersely, turning toward the chair facing Annaís. Anna, still a little stunned, was about to sit when she heard Helen at the door.
"Graham! Be careful!" Helen cried.
Even as Helen called a warning, Graham stumbled over the small footstool in her path and lost her balance. She reached out, struggling not to fall. Instinctively, Anna grasped her about the waist, surprised at the willowy strength in Grahamís reed-slender form. Anna steadied the taller woman against her, aware of the rapid pounding of Grahamís heart.
"Are you all right?" Anna cried in alarm. She could feel her shaking.
Graham pulled away sharply, her dark eyes furious, her body rigid with tension. She steadied herself, her hand nearly white as she clenched her walking stick.
"Helen! How did that footstool get there?" Graham demanded angrily.
"It was my fault. I moved it," Anna said quickly, alarmed more by her employerís physical distress than her anger. The woman was still trembling, though she was trying hard to hide it. "Iím sorry." She looked from Helen to Graham in confusion.
Graham drew a shaky breath, struggling for composure. Suddenly, with horrifying clarity, Anna realized that Graham Yardley was blind. That realization brought a flood of sympathy, and she said without thinking, "Oh God, Iím so sorry. I didnít know!"
"How could you know," Graham rejoined roughly, reaching behind her with one hand to find the armchair. She lowered herself slowly, her expression betraying none of her discomfiture. She would not be humiliated further by enduring empty condolences. "There is no need to dwell on it. Be seated."
Helen came quickly to her side, watching Graham with concern. She extended a hand as if to touch her, then quickly drew back. "Iíve put the tea in its usual place. Will you need anything else?"
"No. Leave us."
As Helen stepped away, Graham held up her hand, her voice softening. "Itís fine, Helen. You neednít worry. On second thought, could you bring us some sherry?"
As she spoke, Anna could see her host relax with effort against the cushions. Her face lost its edge as well, reflecting the sudden gentleness of her tone. Anna found her expressive features captivatingóas well as quite beautiful.
Helen smiled tenderly. "Iíll get it right away."
They sat in silence as Helen brought glasses and poured the sherry. She handed Anna a glass and left Grahamís on the small table near her right hand. The silence continued for a few moments after the housekeeper pulled the heavy library doors closed behind her. When Graham reached for the glass and raised it to her lips, her hand was steady again.
"Forgive me," she began in her deep mellifluous voice, "I havenít asked if your accommodations are suitable."
"The rooms are wonderful," Anna replied "The view of the sea is exquisite." Instantly she regretted her remark, but Graham merely nodded, a distant look on her face.
"I know. I always stayed in that room when I was a child."
Anna willed herself to be calm, and tasted the sherry. It felt warm and comforting as she swallowed. She couldnít stop staring at the woman across from her. Her mere physical presence was imposing - defined less by gender than by the pure elements of beauty and elegance, much as a classical sculpture is often androgynous at first glance. She was aristocratic, her every movement refined. She was scrupulously polite, and obviously used to being in charge. She was aloof, remote, unapproachable. She was more than a little intimidating!
"Did Mr. Norcross explain what your duties are to be?" Graham continued, unaware of Annaís discomfort.
"Not in detail. Iím afraid I may not be what youíre looking for. I have no experience managing a household."
"Really?" Graham remarked dryly, raising an eyebrow. "Mr. Norcross led me to believe that you had been married and now live independently. That sounds as if you have managed at least two."
Anna laughed. "Neither was much of a challenge. Can you tell me what it is that you require?"
Graham sighed slightly, turning toward the fire. In profile signs of fatigue lined her face, and Anna caught glimpses of gray streaking her dark hair. Anna guessed her to be ten years her senior, but despite her commanding tone and rigid control, Anna sensed a weariness that had nothing to do with the years.
"I needóassistanceówith handling correspondence, reviewing accounts, running the day-to-day affairs of the estate. Helen cannot handle all of this any longer, and Iócannot do it alone. I have never had anyone else do it, and I donít want Helen to think that Iíve lost confidence in her. It has simply become too much. You would also have to do some rather menial chores, Iím afraid. Helen no longer drives, and it is difficult getting deliveries out here." She stopped, making an impatient gesture with one graceful hand. "We need someone at Yardley, it seems, who can manage in the world beyond our gates."
Her tone was bitter, and Anna could only imagine how hard it must be for a woman of such obvious independence to admit she needed a stranger to assist her.
"Ms. Yardleyó" she began.
"Please, call me ĎGrahamí," Graham interrupted, "otherwise I will feel truly a relic." She smiled slightly, and Anna caught a fleeting glimpse of her haunting beauty. When she allowed her feelings expression, she was even more intriguing.
"GrahamóI am in something of a desperate situation myself. I want to continue in graduate school full-time. Without this job, I wonít be able to afford to do thatónot and keep a roof over my head, too. Iím afraid Iíll need some help, but I would like to try this very much." She meant every word, and her sincerity showed in her voice. She didnít add how drawn she was to Yardley the moment she saw it, or how right it felt to be here. She couldnít admit even to herself how much the woman before her captured her imagination, and her curiosity. She very much wanted to learn more of Yardley, and itís compelling master.
Graham ran a hand through her hair, leaving it tousled, and sighed again.
"It seems we are both in need of some assistance, then. Shall we agree to try it for a month or two?"
Anna smiled in relief. "Iíd like that very much."
Graham rose, crossing to the door with deliberate steps. "Iíll send for you when I need you. Good evening."
With that she was gone, her footsteps echoing in
the quiet house. Anna glanced up at the portrait, wishing it could tell her who
Graham Yardley was.
Anna awoke very early the next day, as much from excitement as from the strangeness of a new house. It would take a little time to get used to the night noises of the old structure, the rhythmic pounding of the surf, and the absence of city traffic below her window. The quiet seclusion of Yardley Manor had truly transported her to a new world. After Helen retired to her rooms the previous evening, Anna stayed up reading in her sitting room. She must have dozed for it was quite late when she was startled awake by a noise outside in the hall. She listened intently for a few moments, thinking she heard footsteps pause before her door. But then there was only the gentle creak of the shutters in the wind. Smiling to herself, she got ready for bed. As she lay awake, waiting for sleep to come, she mused over her first meeting with her new employer. Rarely had anyone caught her attention quite so dramatically. Graham Yardley was impossible to describe in ordinary terms. Anna was quite sure she had never met anyone like her. As she drifted off to sleep, the image of the dark-haired aristocrat lingered in her mind.
Shaking herself to dispel the last vestiges of sleep, Anna pushed back the heavy comforter and reached for a tee shirt. She moved quickly across the chilly room to the window, anxious for her first glimpse of Yardley in the morning. Looking down across the lawns, she was surprised to see a figure at the edge of the bluff, facing out toward the ocean. She recognized instantly the tall, slender figure of Graham Yardley. As the sun rose, it struck her face, outlining her chiseled profile in stark relief against the sky. Standing so still, her hair windblown, one hand clasping the ebony walking stick, she appeared hauntingly alone.
As Graham began to make her way carefully up the steep slope to the house, Anna stepped back from the window. She didnít want her employer to see her watching. Almost instantaneously she remembered that Graham could not see her. The fact of Grahamís blindness saddened her deeply. She wondered why that should be, since she scarcely knew her. Perhaps it was the poorly concealed pain in her voice or the fierce pride beneath the tightly controlled surface. But more than that, Anna was moved by Grahamís apparent isolation from the world. To Anna, that was the greatest tragedy of all. Anna experienced life as a feast for all the senses. It was that love of life that drew her to the miracle of growing things and motivated her desire to design living spaces where people could exist in harmony with nature. The environment was the canvas of Annaís dreams. It troubled her unaccountably to think that Graham Yardley had withdrawn from that. Anna looked down into the ruins of the Yardley estate, imagining the beauty that once existed there, and she longed to know it as it had once beenóflowering with new growth, rich with the pageantry of life.
She turned to dress with a sigh, reminding herself that the reasons this solitary woman chose to live secluded here by the sea were no concern of hers. What did concern her was that she had work to do, although exactly what that work was to be, she wasnít quite certain she yet understood.
When she entered the kitchen, she found Helen busy baking. The clock over the large oven showed the time as 6:20.
"My goodness," Anna exclaimed, "what time did you get up?"
Helen smiled up at her as she placed biscuits on a tray to cool. "Five oíclock. I canít seem to sleep late, no matter what! Old habits die hard, I guess. When all of the family was about, Iíd have breakfast ready and the table in the dining room set by now. Mr. Yardley was a banker, and he always worked here after breakfast for a few hours before he left for town. He said he couldnít work without my breakfast. Thomas, that was my husband, was the general caretaker. He managed the grounds and oversaw most of the staff. Heís been gone almost twenty years. My son worked here too before he went off to college. Heís a doctor now. Lives in California. Even though everyone is gone, I still stick to my old routines." She pushed wisps of gray hair back from her face and straightened her apron. "How did you sleep?"
"Wonderfully," Anna said, eyeing the biscuits appreciatively. She realized she was starving.
Helen caught her look and laughed. "Have one. Iíll have the rest ready in a minute. I was just taking a tray to Graham."
"Oh, wonít she be joining us?" Anna asked, strangely disappointed.
"Sheís in the music room. She takes all her meals in there," Helen informed her, a fleeting expression of concern crossing her face. "Sheís been up for hours, I imagine. Iím not sure when she sleeps."
"How did she lose her sight?" Anna dared ask.
Undisguised pain crossed the older woman's features fleetingly. "A car accident." She looked as if she might say more, but then quickly busied herself at the stove again. Anna regarded her silently. Helen obviously cared for Graham a great deal. Anna wished there were some way to ask Helen more about her solitary employer, but she knew instinctively that Helen would never discuss anything of Grahamís personal life with her. It was clear that Helen guarded Graham's privacy as carefully as did the woman herself.
After a sumptuous meal of biscuits, eggs and country ham, Anna insisted on helping Helen straighten the kitchen. As they worked, she said, "Youíll have to give me some idea of how I can help, Helen. I want to be useful."
Helen nodded. "I know this all must seem strange for you. Graham told me that you were a student and would need time for your studies. Iíve made a list of things we need, but it shouldnít take too much time."
Anna laughed and said she was sure she could manage. She was touched that both Helen and Graham were concerned about her needs. While she had been married, Rob had acted as if it were a great inconvenience whenever she needed time for herself. She reminded herself that all that was in the past.
"Let me see the list."
It was only 10 A.M. when Anna returned and began unloading the Jeep. It was a clear April morning, the air crisp and fresh. She felt wonderful and hummed as she climbed the steps to the kitchen. She called as she went, "Hello! Helen, Iím back!"
She was surprised when Graham pushed the door open. She was wearing an immaculately tailored pale broadcloth shirt tucked into loose-fitting gray gabardine trousers, somehow managing to look casual and elegant at the same time. Anna recognized the understated quality of her attire, the fit so perfect she must have all her clothing made for her. Despite her informal dress, Graham was the image of sophistication.
"Hello," Anna called softly, wondering why this woman made her feel so shy.
"Good morning," Graham replied, sliding the door back while Anna carried a bag of groceries to the counter. Graham stood listening for a moment, then to Annaís surprise said, "Let me help you."
Anna started to protest, and then stopped herself. She had gleaned from their brief meeting how critical Grahamís independence was to her. Any suggestion that maneuvering the steps with packages in her arms might be dangerous would certainly provoke that formidable temper. "Of course. My Jeep is parked just to the right of the steps. The tailgate is down."
Graham nodded and started down the stairs. Anna watched her, noting that her slight limp was hardly noticeable this morning. Graham moved cautiously but confidently forward, her left hand lightly trailing along the side of the vehicle. When she reached the rear, she looked upward at Anna, who was still standing on the porch.
"Since youíre here, why donít you hand me something to carry in?"
"Of course," Anna said, blushing as she realized she had been staring. Why did it seem like Graham knew that? She hurried to pull a box from the Jeep. She handed it to Graham, who cradled it against her chest. Anna didnít move until she saw Graham up the steps safely and through the door. Then she grabbed up the last of the bags and rushed inside. She found Graham emptying the box onto the long counter top. Now and then Graham would turn an object over and over in her hands, her long fingers exploring the shape. Anna was fascinated by the delicate movement and caught herself once again staring at her enigmatic employer.
"Olive oil," Anna said when Graham frowned over the bottle in her hands. "I think I buy that brand because I love the shape of the bottle."
Graham nodded, caressing the curves of glass, committing the shape to memory. "Sensuous, isnít it?" she remarked quietly, as if speaking aloud without realizing it.
Anna blushed for no reason she could understand. "I never thought of it that way, but youíre right."
Graham set the heavy bottle down abruptly and straightened her back, her face suddenly remote.
"When youíre done here, Iíd like you to join me in my study. Itís the last room on the right."
"Iíll be there in a minute," Anna
replied as Graham quickly left the room. She sorted the rest of the parcels,
then poured a cup of coffee from the pot Helen had left steeping on the stove.
As she headed down the hall, she tried not to think about the fact that it wasnít
the bottle she had found so sensuous, but the intimate way those graceful hands
had held it.
Her attention was immediately drawn to a magnificent grand piano that stood before double French doors. The doors were open to an enormous flagstone patio. It was the same terrace overlooking the long slope to the sea cliffs which Anna had first seen from her bedroom windows. Opposite the piano was another fireplace with a comfortable appearing sitting area. Grahamís breakfast tray lay on a small table before several large leather chairs. Graham sat at a large walnut desk, stacks of papers and envelopes piled before her. Sunlight streamed into the room, highlighting the angular planes of her face.
"What a lovely room," Anna exclaimed.
Graham raised her head, a slight smile softening her features. "Isnít it? Soon, the roses at the edge of the terrace will nearly obscure the view."
Anna glanced at her in surprise before remembering that Graham hadnít always been blind. "How sad," she thought, never to see the roses bloom again.
Perhaps it was the appreciation she heard in Grahamís voice, or the sight of the rose bed Graham alluded to nearly obliterated by wild growth, that prompted her to speak impulsively.
"You know," she began hesitantly, "the grounds are badly in need of attention. All the gardens are overgrown- many of the paths are nearly obliterated. They are literally choking to death. The house is suffering from weathering and could use repair, too."
Grahamís face was remote. "I hadnít realized. We havenít had a gardener here in years," she added absently, unwillingly remembering Yardley in another life. She forced her thoughts back to the present. "Perhaps you could look into it. Make any arrangements you think necessary."
Anna adopted her employerís formal tone, afraid that she had given offense. "I will, thank you. Iíll keep you informed, of course."
Graham waved her hand dismissively, her mind clearly elsewhere. "I thought we might go through some of this correspondence. Itís been neglected for months."
Anna took a seat beside the desk, availing herself of the opportunity to study her employer. Close to her now in the light of day, she could see the fine lines around her eyes, and the abundant gray streaking her coal black hair. The scar on her forehead scarcely detracted from the symmetrical arch of her full, dark brows, the high cheekbones or the strong chin. Her lips were soft and full, in striking contrast to the stark planes of her face. Her eyes were dark and clear, and although Anna knew them to be sightless, the gaze which fell upon her was penetrating nevertheless.
"Why donít we begin with these," Graham said, indicating a stack of unopened envelopes by her left hand. "If you could read them to me, Iíll tell you which ones need a reply. Thereís a tape recorder there for you to make notes."
For the next hour they sorted mail into piles, some to be discarded, some to be forwarded to Grahamís attorney, and some that needed Grahamís personal attention. Anna was surprised at the scope of Grahamís financial involvements, and a little overwhelmed.
"You know, some of this is quite beyond me," she said at length. "You need more than someone who can barely balance her own checkbook."
Graham stretched her long legs out and shrugged, apparently unconcerned. "Never mind. Youíll learn." She stood and walked to the open doors. She leaned into the breeze, her hands in the pockets of her trousers. Anna observed her with interest, trying to imagine how one experienced a world one couldnít see.
"Itís nearly one oíclock, isnít it?"
Anna glanced at her watch. "A few minutes before."
Graham nodded, crossing to the long buffet on the opposite side of the room. She reached into a small refrigerator enclosed within and withdrew a bottle.
"Would you like some champagne? It seems a reward for our efforts would be appropriate."
Anna smiled. "Iíd love some."
Anna watched intently as Graham confidently set two crystal glasses on a silver tray, opened the bottle, and placed it carefully in an ice bucket. Turning to Anna, she held out the engraved silver tray.
"If you could take this, we can sit on the terrace. If you donít mind the slight chill to the air," Graham added, raising a questioning eyebrow.
Reaching for the tray Anna smiled. "Iíd rather be outside no matter what the temperature."
She followed Graham across the flagstone terrace to a round wrought-iron table near the ornate open stone balustrade. The sea breeze blew up from the ocean, ruffling Grahamís hair. Graham faced the water, a slight frown on her face.
"Are you quite sure youíre not cold?"
"Iím wearing a sweater," Anna replied softly, moved by Graham's thoughtfulness. Graham herself was more exposed in her thin silk shirt. "Can I get you something warmer?"
Graham took a seat next to the glass-topped table and shook her head. "It doesnít seem to bother me."
Graham slid her hand across the table to the tray, deftly found the glasses, and expertly poured their champagne.
"Thank you," Anna said, accepting the glass. Graham nodded slightly in response, and together they turned toward the sea. Silently they basked in the spring sun, not quite warm yet, but full of promise. Anna found herself surprisingly content in the presence of her austere employer. Despite her reserve, Graham displayed moments of warmth and quick humor that were quite engaging.
"Graham," Anna began at last, "Iíd like to see what I can do with the gardens. There is so much beauty here, and it needs care. Iíd enjoy doing it myself."
Grahamís expression was guarded. "David Norcross told me that you are a landscaper. Tell me about it."
Anna sketched her history for Graham, passing quickly over her marriage to describe the last year of her life. She explained her classes and found herself revealing her hopes of some day having her own business.
"You mean to be more than a gardener, then," Graham commented seriously.
Anna laughed. "I love the physical work, but I also want to be involved in the actual design."
"Youíll need help with Yardley. There was a time when we employed two gardeners here full-time."
Anna nodded. "And youíll need to hire someone again. But I can handle the formal gardens myself."
"But if I understood you correctly, you have your own work to do!" Graham protested. "My work alone, never mind Helenís needs, will keep you busy enough! It would seem that undertaking to save Yardley too would be quite a task." Although her tone was lightly mocking, her face was quite serious.
Anna was strangely touched that Graham gave any thought to Annaís work, let alone considered it important. What a surprise this woman was!
"I donít need to go to school this summeróin fact, I can really use the break. And, besides, working here at Yardley will give me a chance to practice some of my ideas. Thereís so much that needs to be done. I promise, if I canít handle it, Iíll be the first to say so!"
Graham spoke softly, her voice dreamlike. "You canít imagine how lovely Yardley was in the spring. There were blossoms everywhere, new life seeking the sun. I would walk for hours through the gardens, just looking at the colors. The interplay of the different hues in the sunlight was like a symphony for the eyes. I couldnít wait to get hereóout of the city, away from the crowds. After a long tour we - " She stopped abruptly, a quicksilver flash of pain passing across her face. The hand that held the fine crystal flute tightened. Anna feared for a moment Graham would break it in her hand.
Anna tried to imagine what it would be like to know she would never see another spring. Saddened, she felt an uncommon tenderness for this woman who had lost so much. Impulsively, she said, "Youíll know when the roses bloomóyouíll be able to smell the blossoms in the air."
"Yes." Graham saw no reason to explain that she rarely walked about during the day. At night, in the dark, it didnít matter that she couldnít see. She would not have to imagine what she was missing in the sunlight. Impatiently she shook her head. She thought she was long past such regrets. "Do what you like. If you find that you need help, hire someone. Iíve arranged a household account at the bank in your name."
"Oh, no! You hardly know me!"
"I know what I need to know." Graham rose abruptly, suddenly anxious to be done with this conversation. She did not want to remember - any of it. "Iíd like to see you tomorrow at one oíclock. We can continue with the papers then."
Anna stared after her as Graham disappeared into
the house. She wondered how Graham would spend her time until next they met.
Each time she saw her, she was left with more questions and greater curiosity
about her secretive host.
Anna stretched her back, cramped from the long hours in one position. She surveyed her progress. Graham was rightóshe was going to need help. Nevertheless, she was happy with the start she had made in the gardens below the terrace. In two weeks she had pruned back the rose bushes and bordering shrubs, and had rescued most of the perennials from the thick vines that had encroached upon them over the years. Since her mornings had quickly become filled with managing the affairs of the house, she worked mostly from midafternoon until dusk. The Yardley household itself required little attention. Whatever needs Helen had were easily accomplished on Annaís trips into the city for her classes. However, Graham owned property in both Boston and Philadelphia. Much of the financial matters were directed to the attorneys, but Anna found herself becoming quite adept at dealing with building managers, contractors, and accountants over the phone.
Several times a week, she assisted Graham with her business affairs, a task she had come to enjoy. From their afternoon meetings, Anna was slowly gaining an impression of Grahamís many dimensions, despite her carefully guarded exterior. Anna found her to be impatiently dismissive of any and all financial matters, despite the fact that she was clearly wealthy. If engaged in quiet conversation she was attentive, gracious and altogether charming. However, when forced to confront the affairs of the estate she made decisions quickly, occasionally displayed flashes of temper when annoyed, and seemed altogether uninterested in the practical issues that occupied most people. Whatever captured Grahamís mind when she suddenly fell quiet, her attention clearly eclipsed by some internal voice, Anna sensed it had nothing to do with the world she herself was familiar with.
Despite the fact that they spent several hours together nearly every day, Anna knew so little of her. Graham easily drew Anna into discussions of her life, but she never spoke of her own past. Anna became more and more intrigued as the days passed. She wondered what thoughts, and more importantly, what feelings, lay hidden beneath the silent unreadable features.
Anna sighed and tossed her trowel into the toolbox. Despite her fatigue, the hard physical labor satisfied her. Her days were full, and she was coming to view Yardley as her home. She looked forward to breakfast and dinner with Helen, only wishing that Graham would join them. Each evening, Helen took a tray to the music room before serving their own meal. After Anna and she cleaned up together, Anna retired to her rooms, often falling asleep before the fireplace. She never saw Graham in the evening, and she came to realize that she missed her formidable presence.
She carried her tools around to the gardenerís shed in the rear of the property. As she passed by the terrace, she noticed that the doors to Grahamís music room stood open. The lace curtains wafted out on the late afternoon breeze. Glancing in, Anna was surprised to see Graham seated at the piano. It was the first time she had ever seen her playing. The notes of a haunting melody reached her easilyósoft, and gently flowing, but so incredibly sad! Without thinking, she drew nearer, captured by the beautiful music. Standing before the open doors, she watched Graham as she played. This was a Graham she had never seen. Her eyes were nearly closed, and as her body moved commandingly over the keys, her face reflected the essence of the music. She was lost in the melancholy notes, critically alone. Annaís throat constricted as she watched and listened, knowing with certainty that at that moment, Graham Yardley and her music were one. She remained unmoving until Graham finished, then stepped softly away. The image of Graham, staring sightlessly down at her hands on the silent ivory keys, remained etched indelibly in her mind.
"Graham asked that you join her in the music room when youíre free," Helen called to her as she passed through the kitchen.
"Yes, thanks," Anna replied absently, still disquieted by the scene she had just witnessed, unable to say exactly why. She showered quickly and was soon knocking on the closed doors of Grahamís study.
"We need to deal with some of the personal correspondence," Graham said perfunctorily when Anna joined her. "We have been getting too many calls lately."
"Certainly," Anna answered, instantly aware by Graham's tone that she was disturbed about something. She wished she could ask her what troubled her, but Grahamís unapproachable demeanor prevented even that simple inquiry. Ignoring her disquiet, she crossed to her usual seat at the desk and began to peruse the letters Graham had obviously ignored for months. Anna was amazed at the scope of the solicitations. She began to read aloud at random, for all the letters were similar in theme.
"These two conservatories have written several times in the last two years requesting that you teach a masterís class," Anna informed Graham, who had begun pacing soon after Anna began reading messages to her. Anna had never seen her so agitated before.
"Tell them Ďnoí," Graham replied curtly, her face grim.
"There are a number of inquiries regarding your concert availability," Anna said quietly, subdued by the well-known companies seeking to engage Graham as a guest performer.
"Throw them away," Graham said flatly. She stood with her back to Anna in the open terrace doorway, and the hand she rested against the frame was clenched.
"Thereís a graduate student at Juilliard Ė sheís written and called several times. She says sheís writing her doctoral thesis on your early works-" Anna faltered as Graham caught her breath sharply. "She would like to arrange a meeting with you, and perhaps discuss your current-" Anna was stunned to silence as Graham whirled toward her, her face furious.
"I donít perform, I donít compose, and I donít give goddamned interviews. Go through whateverís there and deal with it! I donít want to hear anything more about it!"
Anna stared as Graham searched for her walking stick with a trembling hand. She had never seen Graham misplace anything in her surroundings before. It was heartwrenching to see her falter uncertainly as she tried to orient herself.
"Itís against your chair," Anna said quietly. She looked away, giving Graham time to compose herself. She knew Graham could not see her, but it seemed wrong somehow to watch her private struggles.
"Graham-" she ventured tentatively, not wanting to add to Grahamís obvious distress. "These things look important- I canít just throw them away. I donít think I can answer them without your help."
Graham paused at the door, her back to Anna, rigid with her struggle for control. "Iíve given you my answer to all of them - Ďnoí. Word it any way you want, but handle them yourself in the future. Thatís what Iím paying you for. Donít bring them up to me again."
Anna risked Grahamís ire with one last attempt. "If you could just give me some idea-
"Enough Anna," Graham said wearily as she pushed open the heavy door to the hall. "Itís done."
Anna was more than curious, she was shocked, both by what she had read as well as by Grahamís reactions. She had very little exposure to formal music, but even she could appreciate from the nature of the requests that Graham was no ordinary musician. The magnitude of Grahamís response was even more bewildering. Anna wanted very much to understand what had just happened, but she could not ask Graham. Anna knew Graham well enough by now to know she would never discuss something so obviously personal, let alone something that caused her such anguish. Her pain was clearly evident, but Anna sensed that Graham would never admit to it. It was the nearly palpable intensity of that pain more than anything else that propelled her from the room in search of Helen. She found her sewing in the library.
"We need to talk Helen," Anna said gravely as she joined the older woman in the seating area.
Helen regarded her first with surprise, then, at the sight of Annaís distress, with apprehension. "What is it?"
"Itís Graham," Anna replied. "Tell me who she is."
"Oh my goodness!" Helen pronounced, "That would be quite a task! Iíve known Graham since she was just a baby. Mrs. Yardley died when Graham was only three, and I guess I became the closest thing she ever had to a mother. Lord forgive me, but I think I love her more than my own flesh and blood. I wouldnít know where to begin!"
Anna was beginning to expect Helenís evasions whenever Graham was the subject, but she was too shaken by the strange scene with Graham to accept more non-answers. It was enough that Graham shut her out with her unimpeachable graciousness and impenetrable emotional barriers.
"Start with these!" Anna demanded, holding up a fistful of envelopes. "Carnegie Institute, Paris Conservatory, London Philharmonic Ė and a dozen others. You should have seen what these did to her! Sheís suffering, and you know she wonít admit that, let alone explain it. Iím supposed to be here to assist her. I canít be of any help to her if both of you keep me in the dark!"
Helen regarded her solemnly, a lifetime of guarding Grahamís privacy warring with her concern for Grahamís well-being. In the end she finally conceded that Graham needed someoneís help, and Anna cared enough to ask. She decided the time had come for one of them to trust someone. She set her sewing carefully aside and crossed to the library shelves. She took down several heavy leather bound books and handed them to Anna.
"I think this is what youíre asking about."
Anna opened the cover of the first volume to find press clippings, articles, and reviews, all of them about Graham. The earliest dated back over thirty years. With an increasing sense of wonder, she studied the chronicle of Grahamís life.
Graham Yardley had first come to the attention of the music world when she was only six years old. By then she had studied the piano for three years. The young music teacher her father first employed soon recognized that the headstrong young child was advancing far too rapidly for normal instruction. An interview was arranged with a famous instructor at the Curtis Institute, who accepted the little girl as a pupil. By six she was giving recitals, by her teens she had appeared as a guest soloist with a number of internationally renowned orchestras, and by twenty she had won not only the Tschaikovsky competition, but every prestigious music competition on every continent. Not only had she been lauded for her innovative interpretations of classical works, but for her own compositions as well. Her talent seemingly knew no bounds.
The decade of her twenties was a time of intense international touring and performances. The London Times, the Paris Review, the Tokyo press and dozens of others celebrated her as the next heir to Rubenstein and Horowitz. There didnít seem to be enough superlatives to describe her. Seemingly she had not yet reached her peak when the coverage simply stopped. Anna was left with a void, staring at empty pages, desperately seeking some further glimpse of the great pianist all the world had welcomed.
"My god, Helen," she murmured, closing the books gently, swallowing the urge to cry. Laying them aside, she met Helenís questioning gaze. Just as she knew Helen was waiting for her to comment, she knew that her response would determine what else Helen might share. In the end, all she could do was speak from her heart.
"Sheís really quite special, isnít she?"
Helen smiled softly. "Itís strange that you should say that Ė I always thought of her that way - special. People who didnít know her thought her genius came easily. I knew that whatever she was born with, the music she made came from her heartís blood. When she was working, you couldnít drag her away from the piano. For days and nights unend sheíd go without sleeping - Iíd practically have to force myself into the room with a tray of food. Sheíd be pacing or playingóstruggling with some refrain. When sheíd finally come outóĎstarvingí, sheíd say, -- she would look so happy! I knew she loved it; you could feel her excitement when she had gotten it just right!"
Helen paused, searching for words to portray a personality that by its very uniqueness defied simple description. The icon the world had worshipped was merely the public image of the complex, complicated, and all too human woman Helen had known.
"Sheís been called so many things. A gifted child prodigy they said when she was six, a remarkable composer they said when she was twenty, and at thirty they called her a master. Some things they said arenít written down in those articles. There were those who called her arrogant, temperamental, an egotistical perfectionist. All those things were true, but she was so much more to those who knew her! Whatever she demanded of others, she demanded ten times that from herself. She put all of herself into everything she did, and expected the same from others. She was the force that drove all of us, and in return she gave us beauty beyond belief. We made allowances I suppose, for her temper and her arrogance. She was never cruel or malicious, simply so intense, so consumed by her music! She was the light of our lives!"
Anna sat quietly, trying to imagine Graham like that, wishing she had known her. When she thought of the tormented, anguished woman who would not even hear of the world she had once ruled, Annaís heart ached. Where was that imperious virtuoso now?
"What happened to her Helen?"
"The accident changed everything," Helen said with a finality that warned Anna not to probe for details.
"Helen," Anna began tentatively, "I heard Graham playing todayóit was so beautiful! Why doesnít she perform any longer?"
Helen shook her head. "She wonít play for anyone anymore. Hasnít since the accident. She was in the hospital for months. When she was finally released, she came immediately to Yardley. Sheís lived here since then. Her father was alive back then, of courseóitís been over ten years. He stayed on at the main house in Philadelphia, and I came here to be with Graham. He visited, but I knew it was hard for him to see her so changed. At first friends would call, and so many important people from the music world, but she wouldnít see them. For months she barely spoke, or left her room. After a while, she began to go outside, mostly at night. She wouldnít let me help her. Sheís always been so stubborn, even as a little girl!" Helen smiled at some memory. "It broke my heart to see her stumble. Sometimes she fell, and it was all I could do not to run out to her. But, oh! Such pride-! I knew it would hurt her more if she knew I could see her like that."
It was physically painful for Anna to imagine what Graham had suffered, or the extent of her loss. Neither could she imagine that the stubborn independent woman she was coming to know would simply give up.
"But, Helen! She's still so strong. Whatís happened to her?!"
"She didnít go near the piano for that whole first year, and I feared for her mind, I really did. I can never remember Graham without her music! When at last she began to play again, I thought everything would be all right. But the music was so sad! I donít care about that anymoreóIím just happy that she plays at all."
"It doesnít make sense! She can manage quite well, and with a little helpó"
Helen looked alarmed. "Oh no, my dear. Itís not because of her injuries. I only wish it were. Graham lost something much more than her sight in that accident. She hasnít composed a piece of music since she came home from the hospital. Itís as if the music left her that night Ėafter she had lost so much already!"
"But what--" Anna began, confused.
Helen stood suddenly, gathering her things. "Iíve gone on too long, Iím afraid. I must sound like a silly old woman to you."
"Oh, Helen. I know better. It must have been so hard for you all these years!"
Helen smiled. "To have Graham home, alive, was all I wanted. If only I could see her happy again! I wish you could have known her óso accomplished, so full of life. She loved her music so, and the world loved her! When she toured, the concert halls would be full! People stood for hours to hear her play. Oh, she was something to seeólike a young lion, so graceful and proud!"
"She still is, you know," Anna said softly. "I heard her play, I felt her musicóit was one of the most powerful things I ever experienced."
Helen looked at Anna strangely. "You can see it, then?"
"Oh, yes!" Anna exclaimed. "She has such passionóin her hands, in her voiceóeven in those beautiful eyes!"
Helen touched Annaís face tenderly, then turned quickly away. "I think it will be good for us that you have come."
When Anna found herself awake and restless at
midnight, she returned to the library. She curled up in the large leather chair,
books open in her lap, compelled to revisit Grahamís past. She searched the
newspaper and magazine images of the vigorous artist, struck by her vitality and
fierce passion. The photos of Graham on stage, lost in the rhapsody of her
music, were among the most arresting portraits Anna had ever seen. Anna was
stirred as if by the memory of someone she had once known and now missed. There
was a sense of loss that felt deeply personal. As Anna lay tossing later that
night, searching for sleep, the strains of Grahamís music echoed in her mind.
Reluctantly, Anna conceded to Grahamís wishes. When more than a week had passed with no further overture from Graham to address her personal correspondence, Anna wrote replies. Since she had no specific instructions, she simply stated that Ms.Yardley appreciated the inquiries but was not presently available. She could bring herself to neither leave the letters unanswered nor to close the door on Grahamís previous life. It was too final and felt much too much like death. Grahamís death. It was beyond tragic to accept that the Graham Yardley she had glimpsed in the yellowing pages of history was gone forever. Anna could not accept it, not when Anna heard her walk the halls late into the night, or awoke to the sight of her outlined against the dawn at the cliffsí edge. Stubbornly Anna clung to the hope that Graham herself had abandoned, the hope that the music would someday return to Yardley.
Frustrated that she could not help Graham, she worked instead to restore her home. Summer was approaching, and Anna had taken the task to heart. She hired carpenters and painters to work both outside and in, tending to the multitude of small details that had been neglected for a decade. She finally relented and hired a landscaping crew she had seen advertised in the university paper. They would be helping her clear the wide expanse of nearly wild growth that covered the rear slopes and the bluff above the sea.
When Anna walked down one morning to the sea cliffs where Graham stood nearly every morning at dawn, she was terrified to find the path almost totally obscured with roots and vines. She couldnít imagine how Graham had avoided injury all this time. To make matters worse, the sea wall was crumbling into the surf a hundred feet below. There was precious little safety in that spot, especially for a woman who could not see. Anna knew it would be useless to ask Graham not to go there. Anna could envision the reaction that would produce! And, in truth, Anna didnít have the heart to bring it upówhatever compelled Graham to visit that desolate point of land morning after morning didnít matter. Anna couldnít ask her to give up one more thing in her life. She simply hired a contractor and had the stone abutment repaired.
Late one May morning when Graham entered her music room, she immediately sensed another's presence. She stood still just inside the door, trying to discern the unexpected visitor. Anna had made it clear to the various workers that Grahamís music room was not to be violated.
"Anna?" she inquired with faint surprise.
"Yes," Anna answered uncertainly. She was standing with her back to the door and hadnít realized Graham was there until she spoke. She hadnít expected Graham at all. She was rarely about during the morning.
"What is it that youíre doing?" Graham asked as she crossed the room. Her voice wasnít critical, merely curious.
"Iím putting a vase of flowers on the mantle. I just picked them." she replied quietly. She was well aware that she had not been invited into Grahamís study, but neither had Graham told her she was not welcome to go anywhere in the house she desired.
"To what purpose?" Graham asked darkly, "Did you think I might enjoy the color?" She didnít want reminders of what she could no longer see! Anna caught her breath as Graham stalked to the French doors, flinging them open to stand in the archway, her back to Anna.
"I thought you might enjoy the beauty of their scent. I only wish that you might enjoy the sight of them as well." Her voice quivered with both anger and uncertainty. She didnít want to hurt her, but she couldnít stand to see her deny all that remained to her. She stared at the rigid back, not realizing she was holding her breath, wondering if she had pushed this volatile, wounded woman too far. She waited for the hot flare of temper.
Graham drew a long steadying breath. "Forgive me," she said quietly. "That was unconscionably rude of me. Please accept my apology."
"I didnít mean to upset you," Anna replied. "You neednít apologize."
"I thought I could smell the roses on the wind last night," Graham said softly, her back still to Anna. The rigid stance relaxed, to be replaced by a weariness too often evident in her whip-slender frame.
Anna approached her cautiously, afraid Graham might retreat if startled. "Yes, theyíre in bloom again now. Theyíve been waiting so long."
"Have they?" Graham questioned, her gaze fixed on some distant point beyond the open terrace doors. "I would have thought they had simply perished by now."
"Their roots are deep, and strong," Anna said softly, wondering if they still spoke of the flowers. "The soil of Yardley is rich and fertile; it has nourished them all this time."
Graham stood very still, aware that Anna was close beside her. The air about them was filled with the perfume of new life.
"Nourishment alone is not always enough - living things need more than that. They would not have survived indefinitely without care," Graham said softly.
"No," Anna replied, swallowing the ache in her throat, "but they didnít have to." Impulsively, Anna grasped Grahamís arm. "Walk with meóIíll show you."
Graham tensed at the first touch of Annaís hand
upon her arm. The sensation was so foreign it startled her. Then, with the grace
born of her breeding, she tucked Annaís hand in the bend of her elbow.
"All right," she agreed, allowing Anna to lead the way.
As they strolled the meandering paths, Anna stopped frequently to describe the young flowers, drawing Grahamís hand to the soft buds.
"Daffodils?" Graham asked as Anna brought a petal to her face.
Anna smiled. "Yes, - wait," she said, plucking another blossom. "And this?"
Graham cupped her fingers around Annaís hand, bending her head over the flower nestled there. Softly, she inhaled. "Wisteria?" She looked up to Anna expectantly.
Anna stared into the questioning eyes, struck by there expressiveness. For an instant, she was certain that Graham could see her. She would give anything to make it so! Graham sensed the stirring of her emotionsóAnnaís hand trembled slightly in hers.
Anna released the breath she hadnít realized she was holding.
"Youíre very good. Right again!" she said, her voice thick with an emotion she couldnít name.
Graham slipped the blossom from Annaís grasp and tucked it into the pocket of her shirt.
The simple gesture touched Anna. It pleased her unaccountably to bring the gardens to life for Graham. Each smile that passed Grahamís lips, however fleeting, felt like a gift. Oddly, she was even enjoying their physical closeness. Even though Graham could maneuver the garden paths perfectly well, she made no move to remove the hand that Anna kept on her arm. Anna found herself curiously aware of the muscles rippling under her fingers as they walked. She forced herself to pay attention to the uneven terrain, trying to ignore the unusual fluttering in her stomach.
Graham stopped suddenly, a puzzled look on her face. She turned to her right and stretched out her hand.
"Where are the lilacs?"
Anna was startled that Graham should know. Grahamís ability to orient herself in her environment continued to astound her. "Youíre right, of course. Theyíre here, but they were so badly overgrown that they havenít flowered in years. I cut them back. In a year or two theyíll flower again."
Graham leaned on her walking stick and sighed. So much was gone! "Iím sorry. They were always so lovelyóthey were my favorites, I think, after the roses."
Anna place her hand over Grahamís, whispering, "Theyíll be back."
Graham shook her head, her expression once again dark. "There are some things, Anna, that once lost, simply cannot be restored. There is no use in struggling to reclaim them. That path leads only to greater disappointment."
"I cannot accept that," Anna insisted. "One must hope."
Graham remained silent as they made their way to the house. She knew only too well that with the passage of time, even hope would die.
Helen carried a tray into the music room as she did each evening, placing it on the table beside Graham. Tonight, Graham seemed lost in thought. She held a flower in her hand, tracing the petals absently with a fingertip. As Helen turned to leave, Graham called to her.
"Sit a moment, wonít you?"
Surprised by the unusual request, Helen sat anxiously waiting. Although she and Graham spoke often, their conversations were always casual. Graham never discussed her deepest thoughts, and never sought Helenís advice. Even as a child she tended to make announcements about her intentions, such as the time she informed her father she wasnít going back to school. She never did. She had been eight.
"Would you like some champagne?" Graham asked as she filled her glass from the bottle by her side.
"Oh goodness, noóyou know how silly I get when I drink that!"
Graham smiled. "You just talk a little moreóyouíre never silly."
Helen leaned to touch Grahamís arm gently. "Is everything all right, dear? Is there something we need to talk about?"
"Anna," Graham replied after a moment. "Do you think sheís happy here? It must be very lonely for a young woman so far away from the city, with no friends nearby."
Helen had known the woman before her since the day she was born. She had seen her through triumph and great tragedy. She had watched her lock her heart and mind and great talent away in the empty rooms of this house for a dozen years. This was the first time in all those years that Graham had mentioned another person, let alone noticed someone enough to question their happiness. Annaís presence had penetrated Grahamís self-imposed isolation, and that was close to a miracle. Helen chose her words with care.
"She seems to love it here, Graham. Why, I can hardly remember what it was like before she came."
Graham made an impatient gesture. "Nor I. But thatís not the point. Yardley is our homeówe chose this place, this life, you and I. Anna didnít. We mustnít take advantage of her kindness, or herócaring."
Helen thought she had an inkling of what really concerned Graham. Anna was an unusual woman. She appreciated Grahamís notoriety, had understood her fame, and yet she was not overwhelmed by it. In Grahamís entire life, there had been very few who had ever dared approach her with friendship. Her imposing personality and public stature prevented ordinary relationships. People were either afraid of her intensity, or her temper - or they wanted something from her. She had had many followers, and many would-be friends, but it was rare that anyone tried to know her. Grahamís personal attachments had most often been the source of her greatest disappointments. After all these years alone, she would surely distrust any type of intimacy.
"Graham, Anna is a grown woman. And sheís made a lot of hard decisions in her life. Leaving a marriage is hard, even when itís not a good one, and I imagine striking out on her own without much security was hard, too. But, she is strong and independent, and she knows what sheís about. Sheís here because she wants to be, and if she becomes unhappy, I imagine sheíll do something about that herself. I donít think thereís anything to worry about."
Graham relaxed perceptibly. "Helen?"
"What does she look like?"
Helen appreciated what a difficult question that was for Graham to ask. Graham knew the description of every piece of clothing in her closet, and insisted that each item be returned from the cleaners in a certain order. She never asked for assistance in dressing, never asked for help if she needed something to eat, never asked for any help at all. The only concession she made to her lack of sight was the necessity of keeping the furniture in one place. For her to make a direct reference to her inability to see was unheard of.
"Oh, lord, that is a hard one," Helen exclaimed, nonplused.
Graham rose impatiently, reaching a hand up to the mantle, her face turned toward the fire. "I know that she is almost my height, and strong. I could feel that in her hands when she took my arm in the garden. She laughs softly when something pleases her, and she loves the land. She knew how to bring the flowers to my mindís eyeó" She halted in frustration, unable to complete the picture of the woman who was so often near, but whom she could not see.
"You already know the best parts of her, Grahamóher goodness, and warmth, and her wonderful love of life."
Graham turned around, her fists tight. "Yes, but what does she look like? What color is her hair? Her eyes? What does she wear? Helen, I canít see her!"
Helen longed to go to her, to stroke the anger and frustration away. She knew very well that Graham would not allow it, would not allow any sign of sympathy.
"Her hair is blonde, rather like honey, and cut back away from her face. Her eyes are very blue, like the ocean on an August morning. When sheís excited about something, her skin flushes a light rose and her eyes sparkle. In my day, weíd call her wholesome. She has the kind of strong body women have these days--you can tell sheís fit, but, she flows in the right places, too."
"How long is her hair? What colors does she wear?"
"Her hair just touches her collar, and itís not so much curly as wavy. It blows around in the wind, like your does, all wild and free. When sheís working outside she sometimes ties it back with a bandanna round her forehead. She likes to wear those loose trousers with the drawstrings at the waist, and tee shirts, -or those menís shirts that are made for girls. Lovely colorsópurples, dark greens, deep golds."
Graham had become very still as Helen talked. The tension slowly left her body.
"Does that help?" Helen asked her.
Graham nodded, concentrating on the picture forming in her mind.
"Sheís not at all like Christine, is she?" Graham asked softly.
"Oh my dear, not a bit."
Anna waited impatiently in the kitchen. Helen had been gone for so long! She had been starving when she came in for dinner, but the longer Helen was absent, the more anxious she became. Graham had been so subdued on their way back to the house, Anna was certain something was wrong.
"Is Graham all right?" she asked the moment Helen rejoined her.
Helen looked at her in surprise. What had gotten into the two of them? They were both so jumpy! "Yes, dear, sheís fineóshe just wanted to talk to me about a few household thing. Now, why donít we eat before everything is completely cold."
Forcing herself to relax, Anna poured them each some coffee and joined Helen at the kitchen table. She tried to appear nonchalant.
"I was just a little concerned. She spends so much time alone, and sheís so very sensitiveó"
"Thatís her nature," Helen commented. "All she ever wanted was to play the piano. Her father had to force her to do anything else. He adored her, though. I thought he would go mad himself after the accident. For so long we didn't know if she would live, and then when she finally opened her eyes, he was sitting right there by her bed. She put her hand out to take his. She didnít say anything for the longest time; we didnít know that anything was wrong. It did break his heart when she said, so quietly, that she couldnít see him. Oh, it was a horrible time!"
Anna closed her eyes with the pain of the image, of Graham so brutally injured, of a family so hurt. Some part of her longed to change the past, to undue the horrible suffering.
As if sensing her thoughts, Helen said, "We all felt so helplessó" She shook herself, rising briskly. "It doesnít change things, does it, to wish for the past to be different?"
"What was she like, before the accident," Anna asked quietly. As each day passed she wanted to know more. She was certain that the key to Grahamís silence and her pain was hidden in her past. Anna couldnít stop thinking that if she could only understand what had caused Graham to withdraw from all she had been, she would find some way to reach her. Exactly why that mattered so much to her she couldnít put into words, but she knew she had never been so affected by anyone in her life. Maybe it was just knowing what an incredible genius Graham Yardley possessed, and that the loss of such a gift went beyond personal tragedy.
Helen laughed. "She was a regular hellionóshe never got on well in regular schools. Not that she wasnít bright - she was always good at whatever she tried. Itís just that she never wanted to do anything except play the piano. She said once that when she looked at the world, she heard music. It was her language, as natural to her as talking is to us. All you ever had to do was listen to her play to know what she was feeling. Itís the one place she could never hide. When her father put her in the music school, with tutors at home, she did much better. From the time she was young she was in the company of adults, and she never had a childhood. She had been all over the world by the time she was fifteen. She grew up surrounded by people who wanted things from her - a piece of her fame, a piece of her passion. Her music might have been pure, but the world it thrust her into wasnít. Sometimes I feared it would destroy her!" Helen sighed. "She loved a good party, though, and, oh, what a good dancer! She made up for all the hours she spent lost in her work by being a little wild. But we all forgave her for the times she worried us, because she was such a wonderóshe brought us all so much happiness."
Anna tried to imagine Graham that way, infused
with energy and enthusiasm. That there were great depths to her sensitivity Anna
had no doubtóbut Grahamís passionate embrace of life had disappeared. What
Anna couldnít explain was her own desire to rekindle it.
Anna respected Grahamís wishes, and did not mention the abundant correspondence that still arrived regarding her former career. Graham remained for the most part an easy person to work for, and if it werenít for the fact that Anna was acutely aware of Grahamís deep unhappiness, she would have found Grahamís company more than satisfying. On those occasions when they escaped from the drudgery of paperwork to relax on the terrace, Graham seemed sincerely interested in Annaís life. Anna enjoyed their times together, only wishing for some way to make Grahamís rare smile linger.
Unexpectedly at first, Graham began to appear in the garden while Anna was working. She would stand nearby, often wordless for long lengths of time, and then simply disappear. Eventually she started to ask Anna what it was that she was doing. Graham would listen attentively, then smile to herself as she made a mental note of a new shrub or planting. She was slowly creating a new vision of Yardley with Annaís help. As the days passed, her visits became more frequent. Anna found herself looking forward to these encounters. On those days when Graham didnít appear, Anna finished her work strangely restless and unsatisfied.
Late one morning Anna glanced up to find Graham close by. Her hands were thrust into the front pockets of her trousers, and she leaned forward with a perplexed expression on her face.
"What are you wondering?" Anna asked, leaning back to see her tall companion.
"What youíre planting. This isnít the rose garden, or the English garden, or the perennial bedóin fact, this isnít anything at all as I recall." Graham gestured toward each of the gardens as she spoke.
"Youíre right on all counts. This is the kitchen garden."
Graham frowned. "We donít have a kitchen garden. Helen always said she couldnít grow weeds, and IóI never had the time." Her expression became distant, a response Anna was coming to recognize. Whatever the memory, it was painful.
Anna reached into her carry all. "Here," she said, placing a pair of soft work gloves into Grahamís hand. "Put these on."
Graham turned the gloves over in her hands, clearly at a loss. Anna found her consternation appealingóshe was usually so commanding. Had Graham known her bewilderment was apparent, Anna knew she would have been embarrassed.
"So you can help plant the tomatoes," Anna said matter-of-factly. "Weíre making a garden so we can grow our own vegetables this summer." She knew she was risking alienating her reclusive employer, just when she seemed to be emerging from her isolation, but she had to try. The gardens seemed to bring Graham some peace. Anna only hoped her instincts were correct. She was quite sure that no one had ever suggested to Graham Yardley that she dig in the dirt.
Graham hefted the gloves. "I donít need these."
Anna studied Grahamís hands. They were long-fingered and delicate, ribboned with fine blue veins beneath soft pale skin. The supple fingers suggested strength, but they were not meant for rough work. Anna had seen Grahamís hands on the keyboard, how they moved with certainty and grace. She had heard the music from those hands on the night breeze. She did not need newspaper accolades to know they were exquisite instruments in themselves.
"You do need them," Anna said softly. "Please put them on. I canít let you do this without them."
Graham hesitated for a moment, then nodded. She slipped them on, then asked, "Where do you want me?"
Anna grasped her sleeve. "Here, on my right. Give me your hand." She placed a seedling in Grahamís palm. "There are twelve of these in each flat. Make a hole six inches deep, then put the seedling in, pot and all. Press the earth firmly around the peat pot, so there are no air pockets. Put the plants a foot and a half apart. Move straight to your right back toward the house. All right?"
Graham brought the young plant to her face. It smelled like warm sunshine. For a moment she was lost in the comfort of it.
Anna watched the transformation of her elegant features. Graham cradled the tiny plant reverently, her face losing its stark tension, relaxing into a gentle smile. The tenderness she hid so well was plainly evident now. Abruptly Graham emerged from her reverie, and with a shake of her head, her expression was once again inscrutable.
"I can do that," she said with her usual confidence. With utter disregard for what must be five hundred dollar trousers, she knelt beside Anna as directed.
"Good," Anna replied. She watched Graham work for a while, amazed at her self-assurance and dexterity. She also noted the care with which Graham handled the delicate new life. She was a wealth of contradictionsóremote, emotionally distant, intimidating, and yet she showed such tenderness and sensitivity in the small gestures that she didnít realize were so revealing. Anna found it hard to take her eyes off her. Eventually she forced herself back to work, and the time passed in companionable silence. As the sun climbed above them, Graham paused to roll up the sleeves on her shirt. She leaned back and Anna caught a glimpse of her face.
"Graham," Anna called, "turn towards me."
Graham swiveled around, a questioning look on her face.
"Oh hell. Youíre burning!" Anna cried in consternation. She hadnít thought the sun was that strong, but then it occurred to her that part of Grahamís pallor was from her rare time outside. She knew Graham walked the grounds late into the night. Only recently had she begun to venture out during the day. Anna grabbed a tube of sunscreen and knelt by Grahamís side. "Put this on your faceóand your arms, too."
"Are you sure?" Graham questioned reluctantly.
"Of course Iím sure!" Anna exclaimed, angry at her own carelessness. "You should see how red you are!" The instant the words were spoken, she wanted them back. "Oh, god! Iím sorry!"
Graham opened the tube. "Well, Iím notóI know what I look like with a sunburn."
Anna thought she looked more striking than ever with color in her face. "Itís not that bad, but if it gets any worse, I think Helen will kill me."
"Better now?" Graham asked as she covered her hands and face with the lotion. She lifted her head toward Anna for inspection. Her hair was windblown and tumbled over her forehead in disarray. Sunlight etched the angles of her face in gold, a dazzling contrast to the rich black of her hair and eyes. She was unknowingly stunning, and as Anna gazed at her something visceral shifted in her depths.
Shaken, not wanting it to show, Anna reached for the tube. "Here, give it to me," she said hoarsely.
She brushed the cream across Grahamís jaw and down the side of her neck. "You missed a spot," she said softly, cupping Grahamís chin gently in one hand. Graham struggled not to pull away. Anna sensed her discomfort and wondered why. Was it her blindness that made her so, or something else?
"Thank you," Graham remarked seriously when Anna took her hand away. The touch of Annaís fingers on her skin had startled her. Even Helen rarely touched her, and Graham had not thought she missed it. She had little need of contact with anything save the keys of her piano. Still, her breath caught in her throat at the sensation of Annaís fingers on her face. She struggled to control her expression, aware that she was trembling.
"Youíre welcome," Anna replied, moving away. She had a hard time forgetting the look on Grahamís face when she innocently touched her. It looked like fear.
"Graham!" Helen cried when Graham walked into the kitchen. "Oh my gracious! Did you fall? Are you hurt?"
"Iím fineówhy?" Graham answered in surprise. She felt better than fine, in fact, she felt strangely exhilarated.
"Why, youíve got dirt streaked on your face, and your shirt is a sight!" Graham took meticulous care in dressing, and Helen could never remember her with so much as a crease out of line on her tailored trousers.
Graham frowned. "I was gardeningóapparently rather messily. Just how bad do I look?"
When Helen got over her astonishment, she laughed with delight. God bless Anna for this! "Iím afraid you wouldnít like it. You look - disheveled."
Graham put down the glass she was about to fill. "Iím going to shower," she said stiffly. She left with as much dignity as she could.
Helen looked after her, tears threatening to fall.
Less than a week later Graham was startled by a knock on the door of the master suite. Helen never disturbed her when she was in her rooms. She rose from the chair that faced the open windows, calling, "Yes?"
"Graham, itís Anna. I have something for you."
Graham opened the door to admit her, a question in her eyes. By way of explanation, Anna placed a package in her hands.
"These are for you," she said, suddenly shy. It had seemed like such a good idea when it first occurred to her. With Graham standing in front of her, as unassailable as always, she wasnít sure.
Continued - Part 2
Return to The Bard's Corner - Radclyffe