Dean / THE SHADOW QUEEN
Although Blue Ridge Summit nestled high in Monterey County’s mountains, on June 19, 1896, no cooling breezes relieved the stifling heat.
In a vacation cabin attached to the small town’s Monterey Inn, Alice Warfield was struggling to give birth to her first child. She and her husband, Teackle, were from Baltimore and were on an extended vacation in Blue Ridge Summit because of its reputation as a health spa and because Teackle was a consumptive. The plan had been for their family physician, Dr. Neale, to travel out to Blue Ridge Summit in time for the birth. The baby, though, was uncaring of the plans made for it, and when Alice had gone into labor seven weeks prematurely, the doctor hurriedly dispatched from Baltimore was a newly graduated student of Dr. Neale’s, Dr. Lewis Allen.
“We’re nearly there, Mrs. Warfield!” the young man said exultantly, sweat beading his forehead. “Now when I say pant, pant as if your life depends on it.”
Through a sea of unimaginable pain, Alice panted.
“And now push! PUSH!”
Alice pushed, and as above the bed the blades of a ceiling fan creaked and whirred, a red-faced squalling baby girl slithered into Dr. Allen’s hands.
“It’s a girl!” His voice was charged with emotion, his relief that there had been no complications vast.
An exhausted Alice eased herself up against sweat-soaked pillows. “Oh, let me see her, Dr. Allen! Is she all right? Has she all her fingers and toes?”
As the baby kicked and squirmed in his hands, Dr. Allen said in deep sincerity, “She’s perfect in every way, Mrs. Warfield. In fact, she’s fit for a king!”
“That is what the doctor said to your mama the instant you were born, Bessie Wallis, and as I said then to your now dear-departed daddy, Dr. Allen knew what he was talking about, for Warfields and Montagues—your mama is a Montague—are two of Maryland’s oldest, most illustrious families and they have connections to British royalty, and not many people can claim that distinction in Baltimore!”
Because Bessie Wallis’s dear-departed daddy had died young, he’d had no opportunity to earn a fortune of his own or to inherit one, and so, being penniless, Bessie Wallis and her mother had been invited to live with Grandma Warfield in her big tall house on East Preston Street.
Bessie Wallis loved living there and hearing Grandma War- field talk about how special the Warfields and Montagues were. Something she didn’t like was a sense of tension she didn’t understand, but which she knew was caused by her dear-departed daddy’s bachelor brother, Solomon, who also lived with Grandma Warfield. Uncle Sol wasn’t a very tall man, but his imposing physique and erect bearing made him seem so. He had narrow eyes and a luxuriant well-clipped mustache, and he wore stiff high collars and wide formal ties that he fastened with stickpins.
Bessie Wallis was a little afraid of him—and knew her mother was, also.
Another cause of tension was the friction between her mother and grandmother. Grandma Warfield insisted on family prayers every morning, and her mother often referred to her as “a pious old bat.” In return, her grandmother called her widowed mother “flighty.” Flighty was another word Bessie Wallis didn’t understand, but she knew it was something not very nice simply from the way her grandmother said it.
When Bessie Wallis was five, her happy life on East Preston Street came to an end in a way that left her confused and deeply troubled. She’d been in her favorite secret place, sitting beneath the giant chenille-covered table in the dining room. The cover reached nearly to the floor and made a wonderful darkened den. She was playing house in it with her two best dolls, Mrs. Vanderbilt and Mrs. Astor, when the dining room door opened and she heard her Uncle Sol say hoarsely, “All I want is for you to be nice to me, Alice. Surely it’s not too much to ask? A little kiss now and then. You give other people kisses, don’t you? So why not me?”
Bessie Wallis couldn’t imagine her mother kissing anyone apart from her and she was just about to come out from under the table and say so, when she realized her mother was crying.
The sound froze her into absolute stillness. Even though her mother was a widow, she never cried. “Life is made to be enjoyed, Bessie Wallis,” she would say merrily, dancing her around their bedroom, her azure blue eyes sparkling, her golden hair swept up to the top of her head with tortoiseshell combs. “Promise me you’ll never grow up into a sourpuss like Grandma Warfield.”
Her mother wasn’t being merry now.
Bessie Wallis heard her say defiantly, through tears, “I’ve been widowed for four years and who I kiss is my own affair.”
Bessie Wallis held her breath, certain that her uncle would now apologize for having made her mother cry. He didn’t. Instead he said in a harsh, desperate voice, “You’re lying, Alice! I know you’re lying!”
All that Bessie Wallis could see was her uncle’s booted feet and, a little distance away, her mother’s tiny size three feet. Then, so suddenly it made Bessie Wallis gasp, her uncle closed the gap between himself and her mother and though she couldn’t see him doing so, she knew he had seized hold of her by her arms.
“You sleep only two rooms away from me, Alice! It’s a torment I can bear no longer! You have to be nice to me, Alice! You have to!”
Bessie Wallis dug her nails into the palms of her hands, not knowing what to do, certain that neither her mother nor her uncle would want to know that she was in the room listening to them.
“No, Sol!” Her mother’s voice was hysterical as she struggled against him. “Please, no!”
There came the sound of material ripping.
Bessie Wallis pushed Mrs. Vanderbilt and Mrs. Astor to one side, knowing that no matter how cross her mother and her uncle were going to be with her, she had to run and beg her mother not to be so upset. After all, being nice and polite to her uncle wasn’t such a hard thing to be. Her Grandma War- field had told her that she, Bessie Wallis, always had to be nice and polite, that being so was a sign of good breeding.
She caught hold of the fringe of the table cover and pulled it to one side. As she did, her mother and Uncle Sol, still struggling, fell against an occasional table. A Chinese vase toppled to the floor, splintering into giant shards.
“Damnation!” Her uncle let go of her mother, staring in horror at the destruction of a family heirloom worth thousands of dollars.
With a gasp her mother whirled away from him, hurtling out of the room fast as light, the door yawning wide behind her.
Her uncle made a sound like a sob and brought his fist down hard on the mantelshelf.
He had his back to her, and Bessie Wallis let the table cover fall back down. Not for another twenty minutes, when her uncle also left the room, did she leave her hiding place.
Later that day her mother left East Preston Street and, taking Bessie Wallis with her, moved into a residential hotel. Although her mother never said so, Bessie Wallis knew why they had moved. It was because her pretty mother no longer wanted to live in the same house as Uncle Sol.
A year later, when she was six, they moved again, this time to go and live with her Aunt Bessie, her mother’s sister. Her mother still took her to visit her grandmother, and she still sat on a little petit-point-covered stool at the side of her grandmother’s rocking chair listening to stories such as the one about Robert de Warfield, who, a long time ago, had been a friend of King Edward III of England and of how Robert had been so chivalrous and faithful in serving him that the king had made him a Knight of the Garter, which was, her grandmother had said, the highest honor in the whole of the kingdom.
Another of her favorite stories was of Pagan de Warfield, who had accompanied William the Conqueror from France and fought beside him in the great Battle of Hastings. “And just as Robert was rewarded for his chivalry, so was Pagan,” her grandmother had said with pride. “He was given a grant of land near Windsor Castle—the castle that kings and queens of England still live in—and it was named Warfield’s Walk in his honor.”
These stories of her long-departed antecedents made Bessie Wallis feel special and different from everybody else, and at school she worked hard to make sure that everyone knew she was special and different. She wore a green pleated skirt when everyone else wore a navy one, and at playtime, because her grandmother had also told her she was descended from the great Indian chief King Powhatan, she sometimes stuck a feather in the back of her braided hair.
The first day she had done so, John Jasper Bachman—who was the most popular boy in the class and who had once bloodied the noses of two older boys when he’d found them tormenting the school’s pet rabbit—said, “Your feather looks swell, Bessie Wallis. How about you be an Indian princess when we play cowboys and Indians?”
His invitation was a great honor because the boys never allowed girls to join in with them when they ganged together at break time, and joining in with them was something Bessie Wallis had longed to do for ages and ages. After that, when the boys found out she didn’t cry if she fell down and grazed her knees when playing football, and that she didn’t complain about being tagged first in games of chase, it became understood she could join in their games any time she wanted to.
Bessie Wallis wanted to often, and she knew it was something that would never have happened if it hadn’t been for John Jasper—and if John Jasper hadn’t been someone all the other boys took notice of.
Another way that she found to be different was in being cleverer than everyone else. Her homework was always meticulously done. In class, her attention never strayed. She was a star pupil, always the center of attention, and that was how she intended things to remain.
The day she was suddenly faced with a rival started out with her teacher, Miss O’Donnell, telling everyone she had an announcement to make. “A new girl will be joining our class later today.” There was touch of color in Miss O’Donnell’s normally pale cheeks. “She is English and has only just arrived in America, and so we must try very hard to make her welcome.”
“Please, Miss. What is her name, Miss?”
The question came from Violet Dix. The Dixes were one of the city’s oldest families, but Violet never could get it into her head that it was vulgar to address Miss O’Donnell merely as “Miss.”
“The new girl’s name is Lady Pamela Denby.”
Clamor broke out as everyone in the class wanted to know why the new girl had such a funny Christian name.
“ ‘Lady’ isn’t a Christian name,” Miss O’Donnell said when she had restored order. “It’s a title. Lady Pamela’s father is an English duke. Daughters of dukes are addressed as ‘Lady.’ ”
John Jasper, whose desk was immediately in front of Bessie Wallis’s, shot up his hand. “Is that what we have to call her, Miss O’Donnell?”
Miss O’Donnell shook her head. “No, John Jasper. In the classroom and in the playground, Lady Pamela will be known simply as Pamela. Now we will spend a little time on multiplication and division and then, after break, we will have history.”
When Miss O’Donnell briefly left the classroom at break time, Violet Dix and her friend, Mabel Morgan, zeroed in on Bessie Wallis, eager to point out that the new girl came from a far more distinguished background than she did.
“A duke is someone who is royal, or nearly royal,” Mabel, the class know-it-all said, happy at a chance to deflate Bessie Wallis’s infuriating self-importance, “and that’s a lot more than you are, Bessiewallis Warfield.”
By the way Mabel said her name, Bessie Wallis knew Mabel was running her Christian names together in a way she hated, and she itched to slap Mabel’s gleefully smug face.
“And though you pretend to be nearly royal, you ain’t,” Violet Dix put in spitefully, abandoning the careful diction Miss O’Donnell insisted on and remaining a step or two behind Mabel so that Bessie Wallis wouldn’t easily be able to hit her. “Worse than that, you and your ma ain’t even got any money. My ma says the two of you live on rich relatives’ charity and that you wouldn’t even be at Miss O’Donnell’s if it wasn’t that your Uncle Sol pays the fees.”
Bessie Wallis balled her fists and stepped forward in order to push Mabel out of the way so she could get to Violet. Violet screamed and was saved as Miss O’Donnell walked in on them to announce it was time for their history lesson.
Bessie Wallis seethed all the way through the first part of the lesson, but when Miss O’Donnell asked, “Who knows who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London?” her hand went up immediately in order to answer.
Before she had time to do so, John Jasper beat her to it, leaping from his seat and yelling, “Guy Fawkes!”
Bessie Wallis was so mad at him and her nerves so strained, she seized hold of her pencil box and smacked him over the head with it.
Instead of being aggrieved, he hooted with laughter.
Miss O’Donnell didn’t laugh. Instead, as a punishment, she made Bessie Wallis sit outside the classroom in the corridor. She was still there when Miss Smith, the school secretary, turned into it accompanied by a girl Bessie Wallis had never seen before.
“What are you doing outside the classroom, Bessie Wallis?” Miss Smith demanded, walking briskly toward her.
Well aware the girl must be Pamela Denby, and not wanting to be humiliated, Bessie Wallis said swiftly, “I was feeling faint, Miss Smith. Miss O’Donnell thought there would be more air out here than in the classroom.” The friendly amusement in Pam- ela’s eyes—eyes that were a mesmerizing sea green—showed that she, at least, didn’t believe a word of her explanation.
Bessie Wallis was overcome by a feeling she’d never experienced before: the feeling that, for the first time ever, she’d met her match.
“We’re having a history lesson,” she said at last, when she could trust her voice to be steady. “It’s about Guy Fawkes and how he tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament.”
Pamela shot her a wide complicit smile. “That’s good. I’m English. I know all about kings and queens.”
What neither of them could know, as the school secre- tary ushered them into the classroom, was that for as long as they lived, their lives would be inextricably entwined, and that though for the most part they would be best friends, they would also sometimes be enemies. Beyond her imagination was that both of them would enslave a king and that one of them would marry him.
Excerpted from The Shadow Queen by Rebecca Dean. Copyright © 2012 by Rebecca Dean. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.