After we were through the gates, my mother turned to us.
"Well, we made it," she said humorously. "They let us in this time." She smiled and raised her eyebrows, waiting for us to answer. My mother was small and lively, with thick light brown hair parted on one side and held with a barrette. She wore her clothes casually; sweaters, and long full skirts.
We said nothing to her. We disapproved of my mother's levity, all of us: Sam and Jonathan, my two older brothers; Abby, my older sister; and me, Joanna. I was the youngest, and the most disapproving.
Inside the gates, the road meandered sedately through the Park, which was on the slopes of a small steep mountain. Up on the top, along the ridge, the land was still wild and untouched. Deer moved delicately through the thickets, and we had heard there were bobcats, though we had never seen one. Down along the narrow paved roads all was mannerly, a landscape of wide lawns, great towering shade trees and luxuriant shrubberies. Unmarked driveways slid discreetly into the road's docile curves. Set far back, even from this narrow private interior road, were the houses. Tall, ornate, gabled and turreted, half-hidden by brick walls, stonework, and the giant old trees that surrounded them, they stood comfortable and secure within their grounds.
Our grandparents' house was called Weldonmere, and it stood below the road, at the bottom of a wide sloping oval of lawn. The driveway traced a long semicircle, starting from one corner of the front lawn, swooping down to the house at midpoint, then back up to the road again. Along the road stood a screen of trees: dogwoods, cherries, and an exotic Japanese maple, with small fine-toothed leaves, astonishingly purple in season. Down the hill, protecting the house with its benevolent presence, stood a great copper beech, dark and radiant. Its dense branches, like a vast layered skirt, swept down to the lawn, and beneath them were deep roomy eaves, where we played in the summer. Now all these trees were bare, and mantled with snow.
Weldonmere was white, with pointed Victorian gables and round neoclassical columns. At the front door was a big porte cochere, and above it the house rose up three stories to the scalloped blue-black slates of the roof.
My father stopped the car under the porte cochere, and we cascaded out. Huge darted alertly into the bushes, his long nose alive to a new universe. We children, following our parents through the brief shock of cold air, lurched stiffly into the big square front hall. We stood among the suitcases on the Turkey carpet, blinking in the light of the chandelier. Our parents called out to the household in a general and celebratory way.
"Well, hello! You're here!" Grandpère appeared in the doorway to the living room. Grandpère was tall and dignified, with a neat thick silver mustache. He held himself very straight, like an officer, which he had been, or a rider, which he still was. There was about him an air of order, he was always in charge. Grandpère carried his gold watch on a chain in his pocket, and he wore a waistcoat, which was pronounced "weskit." He was a formal man, courtly, but kind. Underneath the mustache was always the beginning of a smile.
"Hello, Robert! Sarah, children." His voice was deep, his manner ceremonial. He included us all in his smile, and he opened his arms in a broad welcoming gesture.
Excerpted from A Perfect Stranger by Roxana Robinson Copyright © 2005 by Roxana Robinson. Excerpted by permission of Random House, 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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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