It looked like an ordinary root cellar—And if twelve-year-old Rose hadn't been so unhappy in her new home, where she'd been sent to live with unknown relatives, she probably would never have fled down the stairs to the root cellar in the first place. And if she hadn't, she never would have climbed up into another century, the world of the 1860s, and the chaos of Civil War…close this panel
It was a cold wet afternoon in October when Rose Larkin came to live in the house at Hawthorn Bay. Rain dripped from the branches of the big horse-chestnut tree in the front yard and hung in large drops from the tangle of bushes around the house. Rose stood in the driveway, where Aunt Stella had left her, feeling that she had never been in a place more dismal in all her life. Its bleakness seemed to echo her own sense of being completely abandoned. In the weeks since the death of her grandmother she had been shipped from relative to relative and finally delivered -- like a package, she thought bitterly -- to an aunt and uncle she had never seen.
Rose was an orphan. Her mother and father had been killed in a car crash when she was three years old, and she had gone to live with her mother’s mother in New York City. Her grandmother was a business woman who traveled all over the world. An austere woman, more dutiful than loving, she took Rose with her everywhere she went, which meant that Rose spent as much time in hotels as she did in their apartment on upper Fifth Avenue in New York.
Grandmother did not believe in schools. “They teach only what’s fashionable -- and that not very well,” she snorted. So every evening, from the day Rose was five, they did lessons together. Every morning Rose had to do homework. Every afternoon she was free to do as she pleased. Wet days she read or explored the hotel. Fine days she poked around shops or went to museums or movies in foreign languages. She often sat for hours in parks, watching people -- old people feeding the birds, shoppers, strollers, mothers or fathers with their children. Rose had never known other children and they fascinated her. She often longed to speak to them, sometimes even to become part of their games, but they frightened her. They were apt to be rough and make loud jokes, and she was afraid she wouldn’t know what to say to them. Her grandmother told her more than once that she was better off without them, that she would learn more about being an adult if she associated only with adults.
In consequence she didn’t know much about living with people. She and her grandmother were like two polite strangers together. Rose had learned early that when she was quiet and obedient her grandmother was pleasant -- and not so pleasant when she wasn’t. The death of her parents had left her with a nagging fear that her grandmother too might disappear if she misbehaved, so she became a stiff, self-possessed child about whom many said she was more like a china doll than a little girl. She didn’t look like a china doll. Her bright red hair was pulled tightly into two neat braids. She had a long nose and her face was pointed, which gave her a slightly elfish look and sometimes led strangers to expect mischief or humor until they looked more closely at her set chin, her mouth so firmly shut, and the guarded expression that was too often in her large gray eyes.
Without other children, an alien among adults, Rose came to the conclusion when she was about eight that she didn’t belong in the world. She believed she was a creature from somewhere else. She could no longer remember her mother or father, and she figured that the story about her having parents was made up to keep her from finding the truth. She hadn’t the least idea where she might have come from, but she had absolute faith that one day she would go back there. Meanwhile she did her best to mind her own business and keep out of everyone’s way. She was often lonely, but she had early accepted loneliness as a condition of her life.
The year Rose turned twelve, her grandmother decided she should go to boarding school in Paris. They went to Paris together, and the first night, in their hotel room, her grandmother had a heart attack. Rose was paralyzed with fear.
“Don’t stand there gaping, child,” her grandmother croaked between gasps of pain. “Call the desk. Get a doctor.” Feeling as though her feet were made of lead, like someone in a nightmare, Rose did as she was told, and she went along in the ambulance to the hospital and sat in the waiting room while her grandmother was wheeled off on a stretcher. She forced herself to think of nothing while doctors and nurses bustled around her. Half an hour later the doctor came to tell her that her grandmother had died.
Stunned, she managed a polite nod and said stiffly, “Merci, monsieur.” She took a taxi back to the hotel, phoned Great-Aunt Millicent in New York, and waited for Great-Uncle Arnold to come on the night plane. Her hands shook and she had no appetite, but otherwise she managed to remain calm and possessed all through the trip home and the funeral afterward.
She spent a week with each of her grandmother’s sisters, after which they had a meeting in Great-Aunt Millicent’s apartment. Rose sat rigidly on the edge of her chair. Uncle Arnold said he thought she ought to be sent to school, Aunt Millicent said she wasn’t sure what should be done, and Aunt Stella said, “Why not send her to Nan Henry’s?”
Janet Lunn is one of Canada’s most respected writers for children. Her books include The Root Cellar, Shadow in Hawthorn Bay, The Hollow Tree, and (with Christopher Moore) The Story of Canada. Her many distinguished awards, national and international, include the Vicky Metcalf Award for Body of Work, two Governor General’s Awards, the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year Award and the Canada Council Children’s Literature Prize, among others.close this panel