New Year's Eve
On the radio show they were asking people what kind of a New Year's Eve did they really want. It was very predictable. Those who were staying at home doing nothing wanted to be out partying, those who were too busy and rushed wanted to go to bed with a cup of tea and be asleep before the festivities began.
Cathy Scarlet smiled grimly as she packed more trays of food into the van. There could hardly be anyone in Ireland who would answer the question by saying that they really and truly wanted to spend the night catering a supper party for a mother-in-law. Now that was the punishment posting tonight, feeding Hannah Mitchell's guests at Oaklands. Why was she doing it then? Partly for practice, and of course it would be a good way to meet potential customers. Jock and Hannah Mitchell knew the kind of people who could afford caterers. But mainly she was doing it because she wanted to prove to Hannah Mitchell that she could. That Cathy, daughter of poor Lizzie Scarlet, the maid who cleaned Oaklands, who had married the only son of the house, Neil, was well able to run her own business and hold her head as high as any of them.
Neil Mitchell was in his car when he heard the radio program. It annoyed him greatly. Anyone looking at him from another car would have seen his sharp, handsome face frown. People often thought they recognized him; his face was familiar from television, but he wasn't an actor. He just turned up on the screen so often, pushing the hair out of his eyes, passionate, concerned and caring, always the spokes-person for the underdog. He had the bright burning eyes of a crusader. This kind of whining and moaning on a radio show really drove him mad. People who had everything, a home, a job, a family, all telephoning a radio station to complain about the pressures of life. They were all so lucky and just too selfish to realize it. Unlike the man that Neil was going to see now, a Nigerian who would give anything to have the problems of these fools on the radio program. His papers were not in order due to bungling and messing, and there was grave danger he would have to leave Ireland in the next forty-eight hours. Neil, who was a member of a lawyers' group set up to protect refugees, had been asked to come to a strategy meeting. It could go on for several hours. His mother had warned him not to be late at Oaklands, it was an important party, she said.
"I do hope that poor Cathy will be able to manage it," she had said to Neil.
"Don't let her hear you calling her poor Cathy, if you want your guests to get any food," he had laughed.
It was idiotic, this nonsense between his mother and his wife; he and his father stayed well away from it. It was obvious anyway that Cathy had won, so what was it all about?
Tom Feather was going through the property section of the newspaper yet again. A puzzled look was on his face. He lay across the small sofa-there was never room for his long limbs and big frame unless he draped himself somehow over the whole thing. If he could put a chair at one end for his feet to rest on, it was fairly comfortable; someday he would live in a place where there was a sofa big enough to fit him. It was all very well to have the broad-shouldered rugby-player's build, but not if you needed to sit down and study the Premises Vacant ads. He shook out the newspaper. There had to be something he hadn't noticed. Some kind of premises with a room that could be made into a catering kitchen. He and Cathy Scarlet had worked so hard to make this happen. Since their first year at catering college they were going to set up Dublin's best home catering company. The whole idea of serving people great food in their own homes at reasonable prices was something that fired them both. They had worked so hard, and now they had made contacts and got the funding, all they needed was somewhere to operate from. Cathy and Neil's little town house in Waterview, though very elegant, was far too small to consider, and the flat in Stoneyfield where he lived with Marcella was even tinier. They had to find somewhere soon. He was half listening to the radio program. What would he really like to do on this New Year's Eve? Find the perfect place for their company to set itself up, and then he would like to stay at home with Marcella and to stroke her beautiful hair as they sat by the fire and talked about the future. No, of course that wasn't going to happen.
Marcella Malone worked in the beauty salon of Hayward's store. She was possibly the most beautiful manicurist that any of the clients had ever seen. Tall and willowy, with a cloud of dark hair, she had that kind of oval face and olive skin that schoolgirls dreamed of having. At the same time, she had a quiet, unthreatening way about her that made older, uglier, fatter people take to her despite her beauty. The clients felt that some of her good looks might rub off on them, and she always seemed interested in whatever they had to say.
They had the radio on in the salon, and people there were talking about the topic. Clients were interested and joined in the argument, nobody really got what they wanted on New Year's Eve. Marcella said nothing. She bent her beautiful face over the nails that she was doing and thought how lucky she was. She had everything she wanted. She had Tom Feather, the most handsome and loving man that any girl could want. And even more, she had been photographed recently at two very good connections. A knitwear promotion and at a charity fashion show where amateurs had modeled clothes at a fund-raiser. This looked like the year it could all happen for her. She had a very good portfolio of pictures now, and Ricky, the photographer who had taken them, was giving a very glitzy party. A lot of media people would be there and she and Tom had been invited. If things worked well she would have an agent and a proper modeling contract, and she would not be working as manicurist in Hayward's by this time next year.
It would have been lovely for Cathy if Tom could have come with her to Oaklands. Moral support and company in that kitchen, which held so many bad memories for her, and also it would have halved the work. But Tom had to go to some do with Marcella, which was fair enough, it was going to help her career. She was so beautiful, Marcella, she just made people stop and look at her. Tall and thin, with a smile that would light up a night. No wonder she wanted to be a model, and it was amazing that she wasn't established as one already. But then Neil had said he would help and also they had hired Walter, Neil's cousin, to be barman. And she had kept it fairly simple, nothing too tricky; she and Tom had slaved on it all morning.
"It's not fair, your doing all this," Cathy said. "She's not going to pay us, you know."
"It's an investment ... We might make a rake of contacts," he said good-naturedly.
"There's nothing in this lot that could make anyone sick, is there?" Cathy begged him.
She had a vision of all Hannah Mitchell's guests going around holding their stomachs and groaning with some terrible food poisoning. He had said she was getting sillier by the hour, and he must be mad himself to have such an unhinged business partner. No one would have lent them money if they realized how the cool-looking Cathy Scarlet was actually a bag of nerves.
"I'll be fine with real people," Cathy reassured him. "It's just Hannah."
"Give yourself plenty of time, go there early, fill the van with swirling music to calm yourself down and ring me tomorrow," he soothed her.
"If I survive. Enjoy tonight."
"Well, it's one of those noisy things at Ricky's studio," he said.
"Happy New Year, and say it to Marcella too."
"This time next year-imagine ...," he said.
"I know, a great success story," Cathy said, looking much brighter than she actually felt.
It had been the way they got by. One being over-cheery and optimistic when the other was in any way down or doubtful. And now the van was packed. Neil wasn't home, he had to go to a consultation. He wasn't like an ordinary lawyer, she thought proudly; he didn't have office hours or large consultancy fees. If someone was in trouble, he was there. It was as simple as that. It was why she loved him.
They had known each other since they were children but had hardly ever met. During all the years that Cathy's mother had worked at Oaklands, Neil had been away at boarding school and then hardly home during his college years. He had moved out to an apartment when he was called to the Bar. It was such a chance that she should have met him again in Greece. If he had gone to one of the other villas, or she had been cooking on another island that month, then they would never have got to know each other and never fallen in love. And wouldn't Hannah Mitchell have been a happier woman tonight? Cathy told herself to put it out of her mind. She was still much too early to go to Oaklands, Hannah would just fuss and whimper over things and get in her way. She would call and see her own parents. That would calm her down.
Maurice and Elizabeth Scarlet, known to all as Muttie and Lizzie, lived in the inner city of Dublin in a semicircle of old, stone, two-story houses. It was called St. Jarlath's Crescent, after the Irish saint, and once the dwellings had all been occupied by factory workers who were woken by a siren each morning to get them out of bed. There was a tiny garden in front of each house, only ten feet long, so it was a challenge to plant anything that would look halfway satisfactory.
This had been the house where Cathy's mother had been born and where Muttie had married in. Although it was only twenty minutes from Cathy and Neil's town house, it could have been a thousand miles, and maybe even a million miles from the rarefied world of Oaklands, where she was going tonight.
They were delighted to see Cathy turn up unexpectedly with her white van. What were they doing to see the New Year in? she wondered. They were going out to a pub nearby where a lot of Muttie's associates would gather. The men he called his associates were actually the people he met up in Sandy Keane's betting shop, but they all took their day's business very seriously and Cathy knew better than to make a joke about them.
"Will there be food?" she asked.
"At midnight they're going to give us chicken in a basket." Muttie Scarlet was pleased at the generosity of the pub.
Cathy looked at them.
Her father was small and round, his hair stood in wisps and his face was set in a permanent smile. He was fifty years of age and she had never known him to work. His back had been too bad, not so bad he couldn't get up to Sandy Keane's to put something on a sure thing in the three-fifteen, but far too bad for him to be able to get a job.
Lizzie Scarlet looked as she had always looked, small and strong and wiry. Her hair was set in a tight perm, which she had done four times a year in her cousin's hair salon.
"It's as regular as poor Lizzie's perm," Hannah Mitchell had once said about something. Cathy had been enraged-the fact that Hannah Mitchell, who had expensive weekly hair appointments at Hayward's store, while Lizzie Scarlet was down on her hands and knees cleaning Oaklands, should dare to mock her mother's hairstyle was almost more than she could bear. Still, there was no point in thinking about it now.
"Are you looking forward to the night, Mam?" she asked instead.
"Oh, yes, there's going to be a pub quiz with prizes too," Lizzie said. Cathy felt her heart go out to her undemanding parents who were so easily pleased.
Tonight at midnight at Oaklands Neil's mother would have a mouth like a thin hard line and would find fault with whatever Cathy produced.
"And have they all rung in from Chicago?" she asked.
Cathy was the youngest of five, the only one of Muttie and Lizzie's children still in Dublin. Her two brothers and two sisters had all emigrated.
Mike and Marian, the twins, left when they were eighteen, and the next two had followed them like steps of stairs. They were all married now except Marian, and the word was that she was going out with a fellow from a Polish background. Two grandchildren so far, who wrote strange inexplicable colored greeting cards to a land where they had never been, to grandparents they had never met. Lizzie knew every heartbeat of their lives, an ocean and half a continent away.
"Every one of them rang the whole way from Chicago," she said proudly. "We were blessed with our family."
Cathy knew they had all sent dollars to their mother as well because they sent the envelopes to her address rather than to their parents' home. No point in driving their father mad with temptation, letting him see American money when he knew surefire winners were waiting up in Sandy Keane's betting shop dying to gobble it up.
"Well, I'd like to be with you tonight," Cathy said truthfully. "But instead I'll be disappointing Hannah Mitchell with whatever food I produce."
"You took it on yourself," Muttie said.
"Please be polite to her, Cathy, I've found over all the years it's better to humor her."
"You did, Mam, you humored her all right," Cathy said grimly.
"But you won't start making a speech or anything, not tonight?"
"No, Mam. Relax. I agreed to do it, and if it kills me I will do it well and with a smile on my face."
"I wish Tom Feather was going with you, he'd put manners on you," Lizzie said.
"Neil will be there, Mam, he'll keep me in control." Cathy kissed them good-bye and practiced her smile as she drove to Oaklands.
Hannah Mitchell had contract cleaners these days, now that there was no more poor Lizzie to terrorize. Twice a week four women swept in, taking no nonsense from anyone, vacuuming, polishing, ironing and bringing their own equipment in a van.They charged time and a half for working on New Year's Eve. Hannah had protested at this.
"Up to you, Mrs. Mitchell," they had said cheerfully, in the knowledge that plenty of other people would be glad to have their house cleaned on a day like this. She gave in speedily. Things were definitely not like they used to be. Still, it had been worth it, the house looked very well, and at least she wouldn't have to lift a finger. That Cathy with all her grand notions was in fact able to serve a presentable meal. She would be coming shortly in that big white deplorable-looking van: even the women who came to clean the house twice a week traveled in a far more respectable vehicle. She would come into the kitchenhuffing and puffing and throwing her weight about. Poor Lizzie's daugh-ter, behaving as if she owned the place. Which, alas, she probably would one day. But not yet, Hannah reminded herself with her mouth in a hard line.
Hannah Mitchell's husband Jock stopped on the way home from his office to have a drink. He felt h...Revue de presse :
“In Scarlet Feather, Binchy again proves herself a master storyteller…. A great read.”— USA Today
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“Classic Binchy.” —Boston Globe
“Another great, big heartwarmer of a novel.” —Boston Herald
“Luscious and satisfying…[readers] will be sorry for this warm and charming tale to end.” —Chattanooga Times
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Description du livre Dutton, 2000. Hardcover. État : F+. Large Print Edition. Almost no usage showing. Clean/tight. ; Large 8vo; 857 pages. N° de réf. du libraire 14875
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