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Follies

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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      Follies
Rosie Thomas

From the bestselling author of The Kashmir Shawl. Available on ebook for the first time.They were three modern women. They came to Oxford University full of hopes and dreams and would leave forever changed.Helen: shy, quiet and hopelessly in love with Lord Oliver Mortimore, the dazzling, self-destructive blond who lives for fast cars, drink and drugs.Chloe: glamorous and confident, abandoning a high-powered career and broken affair, obsessively drawn to her philandering English professor.Pansy: stunning heiress and aspiring actress, driven to prove she is more than an irresistible magnet to the men who flock to her.Together for one unforgettable year, they would share a lifetime of emotions and a very special friendship…

Follies

BY ROSIE THOMAS

Contents

Title Page (#u7fc21230-bb3e-59f4-b489-66be753e5b49)

Michaelmas Term

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Christmas

Six

Hilary Term

Seven

Eight

Nine

Easter

Ten

Trinity Term

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Summer

Fifteen

Keep Reading

About the Author

Also by Rosie Thomas

Copyright (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Publisher

Michaelmas Term (#u33195f01-9141-5db1-86d1-a990d5a298d4)

One (#u33195f01-9141-5db1-86d1-a990d5a298d4)

In a moment, she would see it.

The train swayed around a long curve, and then rattled over the iron arches of a little viaduct. Helen pressed her face against the smeared window, waiting.

Then, suddenly, it was ahead of her. The oblique sun of the autumn afternoon turned the spires and pinnacles to gold, and glowed on the rounded domes. The light made the stone look as soft and warm as honey, exactly as it had done for almost four hundred years.

The brief glimpse lasted only a few seconds, then the train shuddered and clattered into an avenue of grimy buildings and advertisement hoardings. But when Helen closed her eyes she saw it again, a sharp memory that was painful as well as seductive. She loved the place as she had always done, but she was a different person now. She shouldn’t have come back. Home was where she was needed now, not here under these honey-gold spires. Yet her mother had insisted, her face still grey with strain. And Graham, with all the sudden maturity that had been forced upon his thirteen years, had told her that it would break their mother’s heart to see Helen give up now. So she had repacked her cheap suitcase with her few clothes, the paperbacked texts and the bulging folders of notes, and she had come back.

Helen opened her eyes again as if she couldn’t bear to think any more.

The train hissed grudgingly into the station and she stood up as the doors began to slam. Two foreign tourists, encumbered with nothing more than expensive cameras, reached to help her with her luggage. A deafening crackle overhead heralded the station announcement.

‘Oxford. Oxford. This is Oxford.’

The tourists smiled at each other, pleased to have their destination confirmed. They bowed to Helen before they left her.

Where else? she thought. Even the air was unmistakable, moist with the smell of rivers and the low mists that the autumn sun never shone strongly enough to dispel. The yellow and gold leaves in the roadway beyond the station entrance were wet, and furrowed by bicycle wheels.

Helen picked up as much of her baggage as she could manage and went in search of a taxi. It was an unaccustomed luxury and uncertainty sounded in her voice as she told the driver, ‘Follies House, please.’

The oak door was heavy, and studded with iron bolt heads. A drift of crisp, yellow-brown leaves had blown up across the threshold, giving the house an abandoned air.

Helen stopped pulling at the iron ring that hung unyieldingly in place of a doorknob and stepped back to peer at the narrow windows set in the high wall. There was nothing to be seen, not even a curtain in the blackness behind the glass. The traffic, roaring close at hand over Folly Bridge, seemed miles away. It was the gush of running water that filled the air, the river racing between the mossed arches of the old bridge.

Helen glanced down at her luggage, piled haphazardly in the pathway where the taxi driver had left it. Her mouth set in a firm line and she turned back to bang on the door with her clenched fist.

‘Anyone … at … home?’ she shouted over the hammering.

From startlingly close at hand Helen heard footsteps, and then a rattle before the door swung smoothly open.

‘Always someone at home. Usually me,’ the fat woman answered. Helen remembered the facts of the loose grey hair, the billowing, shapeless body and the alert little eyes in the dough-pale face. What she had forgotten was the beautiful smile, irradiating the face until the plainness was obliterated. ‘I’m sorry to disturb you, Miss Pole,’ Helen murmured. ‘The door wouldn’t open. Helen Brown?’ she added, interrogatively, afraid that the woman might have forgotten, after all.

‘You call me Rose, pet. I told you last term, when you came for a room. Don’t forget again, will you? Now then, for the door you need a key.’ The ordinary-looking Yale swung at the end of a strand of dirty orange wool. Rose fitted it into the lock and showed Helen how the door moved easily on the latch. ‘Simple, you see.’ Rose waved towards the stairs. ‘No-one to help with your stuff, I’m afraid. Gerry’s never here when you want him, and I’m far too infirm.’ The smile broadened for an instant, then the fat woman turned and disappeared into the dark as quickly as she had materialised.

Helen scuffled through the leaves and stepped into Follies House.

The hall was dingy and smelt of cooking, but the grandeur was undimmed. It was high, four-square and wood-panelled to the vaulted plasterwork of the Jacobean ceiling. The bare wood stairway mounted, behind its fat balusters, to the galleried landing above. In the light of an autumn afternoon the atmosphere was mysterious, even unwelcoming. Yet Helen felt the house drawing her to it, just as she had done the first time. It had been a brilliant June morning when she had applied to Rose for a room. ‘Not my usual sort,’ Rose had told her bluntly. ‘Mostly I know them, or know of them. Reputation or family, one or the other. But you’ve got a nice little face, and Frances Page won’t be needing her room next term, not after all this bother.’

‘I know,’ Helen had said humbly. ‘Frances is in my College. She told me there might be space here.’

‘Oh well,’ Rose had said, looking at Helen more closely. ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were a friend of Frances?’

And so it had been arranged.

Now, after the long, sad summer, she was here. Usually her family had come with her, driving up to her College in the little car. Helen shook her head painfully. This time she was alone, standing in the muffling quiet of a strange house. Again, through the stillness, she heard the pouring gush of the river as it tumbled past the house and on under the bridge, and the sound soothed her. Determinedly, one by one, she hoisted her cases and boxes over the doorstep and into the hall. With the last one she kicked the door shut on the fading yellow light outside and began to climb towards her room with the first load.

Follies House was square, and the first-floor gallery ran round the staircase which led off up to the third floor. Servants’ quarters, she thought with a faint smile, as she panted up into a smaller corridor, even dustier, with uneven, wide oak floorboards. There was no name-card on the low oak door in front of her, but the room was hers just the same. Helen pushed open the door and dropped her burden gratefully on the worn carpet.

The room was the smallest of Rose’s undergraduate quarters, Helen knew that, but the size was unimportant. What mattered was the view. It was a corner room, no doubt freezing cold in the coming damp of the Oxford winter that already seemed to hover in the air. But there were windows in two of the walls, square windows with stone facings set in the red Jacobean brickwork, with cushioned window seats in the recesses beneath them.

Helen knelt on one of the seats and, through the fog of her breath on the cold glass, stared out over Oxford. Due north, ahead of her, was Carfax with its ancient tower, the crossroads that was the nominal centre of the city. Beyond that lay Cornmarket with its chain stores and shoe shops, and beyond that the dignified spread of North Oxford.
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