Verity Sparks, Lost and Found, page 1
About The Author
Other Books By Susan Green
Verity Sparks has found her father. But she has lost her gift – the ability to find lost things.
Papa Savinov, eager for Verity to become a proper lady, sends her to the exclusive boarding school Hightop House. But Verity is more interested in solving the case of the missing Ecclethorpe heiress.
As the investigation deepens, danger and intrigue grow closer. Will Verity’s gift return before it’s too late?
The Truth About Verity Sparks was awarded Honour Book for Younger Readers, CBCA Book of the Year Awards, 2012
I was looking for something.
But what was it? Mist swirled around me and I could see only as far as my outstretched hands. Grey shapes – were they trees or rocks? – loomed up and then vanished as I ran past. My ribs ached and my breath came in ragged gasps, but I couldn’t stop. I had to find it.
I looked down at my fingers, willing them to itch or tingle, to give me a sign, to show me what I was searching for. But they were just ten ordinary digits, like everyone else’s. How could I find it if I’d lost my gift?
It was cold. My nightdress clung damply around my ankles and my bare feet were almost numb. Keep going, I told myself. Don’t give up now.
What was that? The snap of a twig, a rustling sound. Something – or someone – was close by. I stopped, listening, but now all I could hear was my own breathing.
With my next step I stumbled and lurched forwards. I put my hands out to save myself but I was falling through empty space, plummeting down into the darkness. I screamed.
“Veroschka! Veroschka, it’s all right. Hush, ma petite. Hush now.”
“Oh, Papa!” I felt his arms around me and the quilted silk of his dressing-gown against my cheek. There was his familiar smell, of cigars and French cologne. “Oh, Papa. It was that nightmare again …”
“Just a dream. Nothing more.”
“I’d lost something and I couldn’t find it without my gift.”
“Hush, chérie. It doesn’t matter. It’s all for the best.”
“And I was falling.” Still trembling, I snuggled against him. It seemed so real – the desperate search, and then that awful second when I pitched forwards into the dark.
There were footsteps, and a short, plump figure with a candle appeared in the doorway.
“You all right, miss?”
It was Kathleen, one of our Irish maids.
“Miss Verity’s had a nightmare, that’s all,” said Papa.
“Warm milk?” she asked.
I shook my head, but Papa nodded. “Yes, please, Kathleen. Now Verity, it is scientifically proven that warm milk helps with the sleeping. And you need your sleep. After all, tomorrow is an important day, is it not?”
He sat with me while Kathleen prepared the milk, and stayed for a little while after I drank it. But when he left my bedroom, I lay there for a long time, restlessly turning this way and that. It was such an odd dream. And always the same; I was searching but not finding, and all the while not even knowing what I was looking for.
Some people think dreams are just crazy jumbles of real life and imagination. But I knew that dreams were worth paying attention to. Sometimes they had a meaning or a message. This dream was about my gift. My itchy fingers.
I hadn’t had itchy fingers since Alexander died, and I wondered if my gift – teleagtivism, the Professor called it – was gone for good. I used to form a picture of what I was looking for in my mind, concentrate and – it might sound silly, but this is the way it worked – my fingers would itch and somehow lead me to my object.
Before we had left England, I’d talked it over with Miss Lillingsworth. She was an old friend of the Professor’s, and I smiled, remembering her horsy face and kind eyes. It was she who’d helped me understand my psychic gifts in the first place.
“I can still find lost knitting needles and keys and Papa’s cigar case,” I told her. “I’m good at remembering where things are. But my gift seems to be gone.”
“I think I know why,” said Miss Lillingsworth. “Your gift has served its purpose. Every single thing that happened to you, from the day you finished Lady Throttle’s hat, led you to your father. Now that you and Pierre are reunited, maybe your psychic abilities are meant to simply fade away.”
I think Papa was actually glad I no longer had itchy fingers. My gift reminded him too much of that bad time last year, when Alexander was hunting me, stalking me like an animal, chasing me in the dark …
Perhaps Miss Lillingsworth was right. Perhaps I no longer needed my gift. So why did I keep having this dream?
The next thing I knew, daylight was streaming through the windows and Kathleen was standing in front of me with a tray.
“Come on, sit up now, miss,” she said in her kind, bossy way. “The master said you was to have your breakfast in bed.”
I glanced over at my clock. It was already half past nine. The morning was almost gone, and if I didn’t hurry, there would be no time for my writing. I was up to the fifth chapter, and I could hardly wait to get stuck into it again. Fifth chapter? I’d better explain. I had decided to become an authoress.
It was Mrs Morcom who had started me off, just before we – Papa and me, along with Mrs Morcom, Saddington Plush (or SP, as we all called him) and Judith and Daniel Opie – set sail for Australia on board the ship Herringbone.
“Here,” she said, handing me a book. “Something to do on the voyage.”
At first I thought it was a novel, for it was bound in leather, with marbled endpapers and a design in gold on the front cover. But when I opened to the title page, it said, in fancy lettering, “Verity’s Journal”. And the rest of the pages were blank.
“One does get awfully bored with one’s fellow passengers,” Mrs Morcom said, wrinkling her nose like a naughty monkey. “Just pretend you’re seasick and retire to your cabin.”
By and by, besides keeping a journal, I started to write a story as well. It was about a girl who worked in a hat shop, who had a mysterious talent. I’d changed all the names, of course, and made up lots of characters, but I had no need to ginger up the action. Fact really is stranger than fiction.
The clock chimed the quarter hour, and I realised I’d just wasted more of my precious time by thinking about the past. If I was going to be an authoress in the future, I’d better put on some bloomin’ speed right now. I hurried off to wash and dress.
“Verity! Where are you, chérie?”
Surely it wasn’t time for luncheon yet? But when I looked at the clock, I saw that two hours had passed. I put my pen down and blotted my page.
Papa came into the room and gave me a kiss on the cheek. But then he frowned. “You’re not ready. Have you forgotten that we are going out straight after lunch? We are to visit Hightop House Academy for Young Ladies.”
I had to stop myself from groaning. You see, Papa hadn’t given up his dream of making me into a proper young lady. Soon, he was going to Queensland on business, and though he said that the final choice was mine, I could tell he was determined to place me in Melbourne’s most exclusive girls’ school while he was away.
“Chérie, I just want us to make a good impression. After all, Mrs Rowland said that Mrs Enderby-Smarke is–”
“All she said, Papa, is that she is very particular.” I put my hand on his arm. I couldn’t imagine why he felt so anxious about this headmistress. “I’m sure she will be very impressed with you. You look so distinguished in that grey suit.” I sniffed. “And is that a gardenia in your lapel?”
But Papa would not be distracted. “I wish Mrs Rowland was coming along with us. I would feel so much better if she was there.”
Perhaps I should tell you who the Rowlands are. We met Mr Rowland on board the Herringbone. The voyage took a hundred and three days, and Papa and Mr Rowland had spent lots of time strolling the decks together in a manly style, talking and smoking cigars. Mr Rowland, who was born and bred in Melbourne, was full of information about the colonies. And he assured Papa that his wife would be delighted to take me under her wing.
“She will love to take you out with her,” said Mr Rowland. “Shopping expeditions, tea parties, charity bazaars and whatnot – there’s nothing Maria likes so much as society.”
Oh no. I’d met lots of society ladies when I was a milliner’s assistant, and most of them had heads as empty as a china doll’s. My heart sank.
“And our daughter Charlotte – Lottie – will be glad of a new friend.”
“See, Verity,” he said when we were alone. “With Mrs Rowland’s help, you will soon be meeting really nice people.”
“But I already know really nice people,” I said, thinking of SP, Judith, Daniel and Mrs Morcom.
“But you need to make new friends. The right sort of friends.”
It’s a funny thing, but though he was so rich and successful, deep inside Papa had a yearning for high society. Not for himself, but for me. He wanted me to be a social success here in the colonies. That was why we were living in this big fancy mansion called Alhambra in the fashionable suburb of St Kilda. And why Papa was so keen for me to go gallivanting to all those tea parties and charity bazaars.
I have to admit that I dreaded my first meeting with Mrs Rowland. But it turned out she wasn’t the flibbertigibbet I’d imagined. She was lively, all right, but kind and motherly as well, and Lottie became my first real friend here in Australia. Lottie was starting at Hightop House late in the year because she’d had scarlet fever and was only now strong enough to go to school. And with Papa and Mr Rowland soon to depart for Queensland to look at tin mines, it made sense that I start school as well. Or that’s what Papa said. I wasn’t convinced.
“Are you listening, Verity?”
“Yes, Papa. You were telling me that you are to accompany Mr and Mrs Rowland to a reception at Government House.”
Papa brightened a little at the thought, but it was only a few seconds before he was back to today’s visit. “You will put on your new dress, won’t you? And the hair ribbon I bought you the other day.”
“And please get the ink stains off your hands, chérie.”
I looked down at my blue-tipped fingers. Papa knew that I’d much rather spend the afternoon writing. Even though he tried not to show it, he disapproved.
As if he was reading my mind, he added, “A young lady shouldn’t spend too much time scribbling. You will strain your eyes, not to mention your brain.”
I wished Mrs Morcom was here, to tell him not to talk nonsense.
Papa gave me another kiss and, trying to walk quietly, which is hard if you are as big as Papa Savinov, he left my room.
HIGHTOP HOUSE ACADEMY FOR YOUNG LADIES
The weather looked uncertain, so Papa – who had ordered our coachman to get out the barouche – changed his mind, and asked for the brougham instead. Barouche, brougham – not only did I know the different kinds of vehicle, but I rode in them too. “Carriage trade” was what we milliners used to call those customers rich enough to have their own carriage. I was “carriage trade” now. Sometimes the changes to my life since I left Madame Louisette’s simply boggled me.
But enough of those thoughts. Off we went, and Papa was probably right to choose a closed carriage that day. It was autumn, and though last week had been warm and sunny, today a sharp wind was blowing down St Kilda Road, whirling the leaves off the trees. St Kilda Road was one of the finest boulevards in the city of Melbourne. It was wide and lined with trees and posh residences. Papa and I entertained ourselves by looking right and left at all the grand new mansions, but in the end, we decided that our house was better than the lot of them. Secretly I thought Alhambra was rather ugly, but I would never hurt Papa’s feelings by telling him so. Not like Mrs Morcom, who declared it was a monstrosity. Besides, how could I complain when I was living in luxury?
The carriage turned, and now we could see the Yarra River, winding along beside the road.
“How brown and muddy it is,” I said.
“The river bottom is on the top,” said Papa. “You see? That’s because here in Australia we’re in the Antipodes. You might say we’re down under. And for that reason, the rivers flow upside down.”
I looked at the river and then back at Papa. He was straight-faced, but at last he burst out laughing.
“I knew you were tricking,” I said with dignity, and then I started laughing myself.
“It is a shame that the river is so dirty,” said Papa. “There are so many factories upstream and they discharge all their waste into the river. But it is the same in London.”
I couldn’t help sighing at the mention of London. Australia was an adventure, but sometimes I was homesick. I missed the great city, with its miles of bustling streets and shops, the fine squares and parks side by side with slums, and everything such a mixture of old and new. When you learned a bit, like I did from the Plushes, you realised that walking through London, you were walking through history. Melbourne was so new. Everything looked unfinished.
“We are in Toorak now,” said Papa.
I could see houses and villas set in leafy gardens, and here and there a paddock with a horse in it, or an orchard.
“Very pretty, don’t you think, my dear? Is this it? Is this the school?”
Our coachman had stopped in front of a pair of stone gateposts.
Hightop House Academy for Young Ladies
Proprietresses: Mrs B Morrison & Mrs R Enderby-Smarke
The words were engraved on a shiny new-looking brass plate. The gates stood wide open but somehow the effect wasn’t welcoming. Perhaps it was because the wrought-iron bars reminded me of a gaol.
My heart sank a little.
Papa must have seen the look on my face.
“You don’t have to go to school if you really don’t want to,” he said. “Don’t worry, Veroschka. I will only enrol you at this academy if it is good enough for you.”
But was I good enough for the academy? That was the question.
Papa and I were shown into Mrs Enderby-Smarke’s study, where she sat behind a highly polished desk.
“You understand we cannot accept just anybody,” she said in an accent so refined you’d think she was Queen Victoria herself. “Mrs Morrison – my cousin, you know – established this school to cater to the crème de la crème of the colony. Indeed, one of our boarders is the daughter of Mr and Mrs Alistair McGryll of Gryll Grange near Hamilton in the Western District.”
Papa looked almost downcast.
Then Mrs Enderby-Smarke said, “That is why we are so pleased that Mrs Rowland has recommended you.”
And Papa, relieved that we came up to scratch, smiled broadly. “Bon,” he said. “I mean, that is good.”
Mrs Enderby-Smarke stood up. She was a short lady in her early fifties, wearing a dress of cinnamon-brown silk striped with blue, and with lots of hair piled up in a sort of tower on top of her head. Trying to give herself extra height, I guessed. Her eyes were small, and rather like brown pebbles. The hair, I decided on closer inspection, was partly wig.
“A recommendation like that makes all the difference.” She beamed a smile at Papa, and then turned it on me.
There are smiles, and then there are smiles. There was something about this one I didn’t like. For one thing, it didn’t reach her eyes. And for another, I felt like she was adding up the cost of my clothes.
“Hightop House is very much in demand,” she said smugly. “You are very lucky that we happen to have a place.” She spoke as if she was doing us an enormous favour. “And now, Mr Savinov, come and sit over here.” There were two armchairs and a spindly table by a window. “We will have a cup of tea and discuss the curriculum. And of course …” She gave yet another smile, and I was reminded of the barracouta fish one of the Herringbone’s sailors had showed me, “… the fees.”
While Papa and Mrs Enderby-Smarke talked, I looked around me. The walls were covered with murky engravings. I looked a bit closer and saw a pile of corpses in a snowy field. Ugh! It was titled Napoleon’s Retreat from Russia. How odd, I thought, to have gory battle scenes in a lady’s study. I glanced at her books. They weren’t what you’d expect on a headmistress’s shelves either. There were ten bound copies of London Society magazine, The Bazaar and Fancy Fair Book, Crickleworth’s Complete Compendium, The Polite Person’s Guide to Etiquette and one I owned myself, The Young Ladies’ Treasure Book and Complete Companion.
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