By Sara Sheridan
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Additional info for The Secret Mandarin
Harriet whistled as she worked, very pleased at this development, for it would greatly ease her workload. Jane’s too, I suppose, for though principally in the house for Henry, the girl would also undertake duties for Helen and Thomas. With William’s money in hand, Jane had placed a newspaper advertisement. She offered ten pounds a year plus board and we had over twenty enquiries. We interviewed the more eloquent applicants—a mixed bag of ages and experience. Jane was drawn towards the older women, the more prim the better.
A mere five years before, we had had another photograph taken. John, their eldest boy, now away at school, was held by Jane while I had little Helen on my knee. All of us were in jovial spirits that day. I was playing Cleopatra at the Olympic and had not yet encountered William. The kohl around my eyes had been almost permanent that summer. The dark lines did not come off fully until weeks after. They lent me an air of mystery, a sense of the forbidden. In India the women wear kohl. They paint their skin with henna and scent themselves with moonflowers.
He raised his voice. ‘You go back to the stage and you will be dead to the children. ’ He meant it. And in that moment I knew that I’d never act again. Having the baby had changed me. It had changed everything. The day had come and gone when I would risk anything for a chance to play Rosalind. I had been foolish but still my blood rose and I could feel the colour in my cheeks. If I did not leave and could not go back to the stage then I would be a spinster—the children’s penniless, spinster aunt.
The Secret Mandarin by Sara Sheridan