RATING: VERY GOOD
I stayed up late finishing this book. I couldn’t put it down. As I suspected, there was something going on between Charlotte and Ivo. At first, I thought that Charlotte had been prevented from marrying Ivo, but then I realised that she was an ambitious, cruel woman, who just wanted to get her own way all the time.
I hate it when people take advantage of someone’s naivete and that is what Charlotte does. Using Cora’s ignorance, she befriends her, but all the time she was planning to take her revenge. It is her that manipulates the painter so that he persuades Cora to be painted. Unfortunately, Cora’s plans for the painting only feeds Charlotte’s triumph. Cora wants to give the painting to her husband as a present, and she throws a party which she invites lots of people to. The silly girl doesn’t bother to see the painting first, and even though Bertha tries to warn her, Cora brushes her off. Then disaster strikes. Louvain has painted Cora in a wanton pose, and everybody sees it, and Ivo doesn’t like it at all.
The next thing she knows is that Ivo blames her for his humiliation, but he does know that Charlotte arranged for everything. Then Ivo tells her that he is going to India with Prince Edie, and he will be back in spring for the birth of the baby. That way people will have forgotten about the painting by then, and his anger will have gone. So Cora spends most of her pregnancy in Lulworth alone with just Bertha and the other servants, who don’t respect or obey her the way she wants.
When she is nine months pregnant, to her dismay her mother-in-law, who she can’t stand, comes, and she tells her that Ivo returned two days ago, and Cora wonders how he didn’t send word or came back straightaway. The following day Cora goes into labour and she sends Bertha to call the doctor, who is in London. It is a long delivery, but Cora finally gives birth to a baby boy, who she calls Guy, and after she wakes up after having a rest, Ivo is there. After the birth of his baby, Ivo is happy, and Cora feels as happy as when she was on their honeymoon.
A peak moment in the novel is the weekend when Guy is to be christened and the Prince of Wales is invited to Lulworth. Everybody is there: Duchess Fanny, Sybil, Reggie, Cora’s parents, and Charlotte and Odo Beauchamp. Apart from them, Teddy, the first man Cora kissed is there; he is to work for an artist and asked Cora to visit her. The first night that weekend Odo gets drunk, and in front of everybody he tells Cora how naive she is, and she should know that Charlotte has been more than friends with Ivo, and she was waiting for him when he docked after his expedition in India. Cora is terribly upset, and it is the Prince of Wales, who saves the situation, telling her to show her a statue in the garden.
Cora is terribly upset and refuses to see Ivo. He comes to the bedroom, and his attitude is strange. Instead of trying to reassure his wife, he keeps smiling enigmatically. That night she wakes up and goes to the nursery to feel her baby against her skin, and then Ivo comes to her and hugs her, telling her that what he had told her before was right: he has everything he needs.
I can’t understand how after Odo’s words, Charlotte stayed in Lullworth and Cora didn’t even try to kick her out. Ivo even has the never to escort her to the tent where Cora has arranged for a picnic to take place. Cora can’t stop thinking about her husband and Charlotte, and the intimate exchange she witnessed the night before when he was playing the piano and Charlotte was turning the pages for him. She tries to talk to her mother, but she is no help as she tells her that this is her life now and she has to stay put. Teddy comes to her, talking to her about love and suggesting her they could elope together. Teddy tells her about seeing Ivo at the station with Charlotte when he was on his way to America to marry her.
When she talks to Bertha, the maid decides to tell her the truth. She shows her a pearl that she picked up when they first met Charlotte Beauchamp. It was the night Cora fell off the horse and Ivo found her. Charlotte was wearing a necklace of black pearls, which came apart and the pearls scattered on the floor. Bertha has one of these pearls, and Cora realises that it is the same as the ones in her necklace. Bertha also tells her about what Jimmy had told her. The Duke got a note from Charlotte when he returned from India, and Ivo went to her.
Cora decides to talk to Charlotte, who receives her with a smile of satisfaction. She tells her that it is her Ivo loves, but he was angry when she married Odo. The identical necklaces show that he just wanted to punish Charlotte by giving Cora something she had previously given Charlotte, showing that she was not special. Cora even finds a button between her sheets, which she knows belong to Ivo, and she gets angry.
After that, she makes a decision. She tells Teddy to rent some rooms in London, and the next day she will go with him. She also tells Bertha that they must go in secret with the baby. However, Bertha has to tell Jimmy, who is upset that Bertha should choose her mistress over him, and he tells Ivo.
Ivo is waiting for Cora as she is about to leave with Bertha and Guy, and he begs to be heard. Cora nods her consent, and Ivo tells her about his story with Charlotte. He always liked her as she was so lovely, but he wasn’t the only one to like her. He knew that his brother Guy loved her as well, and Charlotte played with both of them, but her predilection was Ivo. When Guy found them together, he got so upset that the next thing Ivo knew was that Guy had fallen off his horse and broken his neck even though he was an excellent rider. Ivo knew that he was the reason why his brother had died, but Charlotte was stoic and even satisfied, saying that they would marry and she would be a duchess. Yet, Ivo couldn’t stand her at this moment and refused her. Charlotte married Odo, the richest man she had met even though he was not a good man. The affair with Ivo started shortly afterwards, and Ivo admits that it was after a rendezvous with Charlotte in the forest that he found Cora injured after falling off the horse.
Ivo swears that even though he needed to marry someone rich, it was her freshness, honesty, and confidence that made him fall in love with her. He could have married any rich woman, but he wanted her. He swears that he never was unfaithful after they got together even though Charlotte started to harass him. He tells her that he gave her the necklace of black pearls to make Charlotte know that he loved Cora now. When Cora asks him about the button she found in Charlotte’s bed, he tells her that he never was with Charlotte in bed, but the night before he came, kneeling before him and wanting him to take her, and in that position her hair got tangled in one of his buttons, and it must have come loose.
Cora realises that Ivo is honest, and the end is quite happy with both of them together.
I really enjoyed the novel. It was engrossing, and even though I didn’t like Ivo at times, I think he redeemed himself in the end.