“I wouldn’t expect anything else from the daughter of a whore.”
“We’d rather not have your sort here, but charity dictates that we must bear it.”
Carey’s mother had been a prostitute, a drug addict, a criminal. She had abandoned Carey, left her for dead in a park. Carey had been unwanted from the moment she was born and probably, let’s face it, since long before her birth. The Howards – Jocelyn and Andrew – had taken her in out of charity, but she had always been a sad disappointment to them. She had never been able to rise above her background.
But this, surely, was not the background of which the Howards had spoken. Mrs Maynard was clearly a wealthy woman, as was her daughter. She was connected with an exclusive boarding school, with a worldwide reputation. Marie Claire de Mabillon had grown up in this environment, had attended the Chalet School, had been a dancer with the Sadlers Wells ballet. *Could* she be Carey’s mother? Was it possible that a young woman with such a golden life had descended into the life the Howards had described on so many occasions? Or had they been wrong?
“I—I don’t really know who my mother was. I was told… things… but I don’t know whether they were true.” Because that was a possibility, one Carey had come to realise in the last few days. The Howards – Mrs Howard in particular – were not nice people. And she could quite imagine Mrs Howard lying about Carey’s mother.
“Well, when were you born?” asked Mrs Maynard briskly.
“1 November, 1976,” replied Carey dutifully. She could see Mrs Maynard doing quick sums in her head.
“Well, that would fit,” she said eventually. “Do you know nothing about your mother?” Carey bit her lip. Should she confess what the Howards had told her? Maybe Mrs Maynard was wrong, and she didn’t have anything to do with Marie. But what if she was right – what woman wanted to hear that sort of thing about her daughter? Haltingly, she passed on what she had been told. Mrs Maynard looked sceptical.
“Well, if Marie was your mother, that all seems highly unlikely. I saw her about four months before she died, and she certainly wasn’t any of those things! The cheek of it!”
“Yes, but Mrs Maynard, I’m sure M-Marie wasn’t any of those things! That’s not to say she’s my mother!” But Mrs Maynard was adamant.
“Nonsense! Why else would somebody have sent you those things? No, they knew you were her daughter, or could see what was jolly obvious! Clear as a pikestaff. And I’d like to have a word with these Howards of yours, because it strikes me they have some explaining to do! Fancy telling a child that sort of thing about her mother, true or not!” She stood up, rather creakily, and moved round to the front of the desk. Bending her tall frame over the chair where Carey sat, she cupped the younger woman’s chin in her hand.
“You listen to me, Carey! Your mother was a lovely, talented girl, who would have loved you very much. I’m not sure why she… she killed herself, but I do know that it was nothing to do with not wanting you. And now you’ve found her family, and you must always remember that we are your family too. Never forget that! You will always belong here.”
That night, lying in the narrow school bed, Carey realised that Mrs Maynard, a stranger, was the first person ever to offer her a home. And she wept, bitterly, because it had taken this long.