Fiction McConnochie, Mardi Coldwater

ISBN 13: 9780385502603

Coldwater

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9780385502603: Coldwater

A beautiful and mesmerizing debut, Coldwater is the tale of three sisters, the dangers of isolation, and the explosive repercussions when seemingly absolute power is challenged.

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Wolf live on Coldwater, a penal colony off the coast of Australia, where their father, Captain Wolf, rules the household with the same unyielding sternness he imposes on the inmates. The young women rarely venture beyond their corner of the island and meet no one but the prison guards. Their imaginations, however, know no boundaries, and together the three conjure up complex and magical lands. They vow to become novelists, dreaming of literary fame and of lives far from the harsh desolation of Coldwater.

As governor of the convict island, Captain Wolf is working on a masterpiece of his own–the perfect prison. His theories of prison management have proven remarkably effective: During his tenure, not one prisoner has escaped. The arrival of an unusual convict from famine-stricken Ireland seems an opportunity to create a model prisoner–until one of his daughters becomes obsessed with the handsome young man and the delicate balance the family has constructed is shaken beyond repair.

This remarkable story grew from the author’s lifelong curiosity about the Brontë sisters and their classic novels. Taking the few seeds that history reveals about Charlotte, Anne, and Emily Brontë, McConnochie has skillfully reimagined their lives and created a work of fiction as imbued with passion as their novels and as psychologically riveting as any contemporary thriller.

Mardi McConnochie’s first novel, told through the eyes of the Wolf sisters, is an unforgettable portrait of the love and fear, the trust and betrayal, and the potential for freedom in one extraordinary family.

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About the Author:

Mardi McConnochie is the author of several plays and currently works as a TV scriptwriter and editor. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One

Father is Shot

Charlotte

The first time Father was shot there was no warning.

I was in the kitchen peeling potatoes with Emily. The warm scent of baking bread filled the kitchen and I do not remember what we were talking about. I heard a gunshot somewhere outside. The troopers often liked to take pot-shots at the sea-gulls for target practice, and so I thought nothing of it. It was not until a second volley of shots rang out that I had the first inkling something might be wrong. I went to the window and looked out.

'What is it?' asked Emily disinterestedly. She had a bad head coming on and was out of sorts.

'I don't know,' I replied, but as I watched, I saw a detachment of troopers come hurrying up the rise toward the house. They supported a drooping figure between them--someone in an officer's uniform--and as they hurried toward me I recognized the shape of a head, a familiar form, the uniform. An officer wounded. Shot. Father.

I threw the kitchen door open and ran to meet them, with Emily a moment or two after me. Panic lanced through me. Was he hurt? Dead? I slipped and slithered down the hill.

'Father?'

He lifted his head and squinted at me, then gave me a ghastly sort of grin to show me he was still alive. His face was grey and there was dark, sticky blood oozing through the heavy fabric of his jacket. I thought I was going to collapse with terror. It looked like he'd been shot through the heart. My brain boiled. What should I do in this situation? What could I do to help? I had no idea. I had never been faced with a gunshot wound before. I tried to lend my arm, to assist Father into the house--to do something--but the soldiers shoved me out of the way. They swept into the kitchen and our dinner went flying as they stretched Father out on the kitchen table--to die, I thought.

'Send for the surgeon,' Father gasped.

The officer barked over his shoulder at one of the men. 'Go and get Fitzwilliam.' Then he turned to snap at me. 'Get something to stop the bleeding.'

Emily was already in motion, bringing clean dishcloths. I could not tear my face away from Father. His eyes had closed. Was it already too late? I saw his chest rise and fall. Not too late--not yet.

The officer opened Father's coat to inspect the damage. His white shirt was torn and horribly stained with blood, and beneath the shirt it seemed at first as if his chest had been torn open, it was so slick with blood. For a moment I fancied I could see through the sundered flesh to Father's heart. I could see it beating quite clearly, exposed to the air, so vulnerable, this organ of time, ticking his life away. But then I realized that the wound was not as large as I'd feared, and that the wound--ragged though it was, bleeding profusely though it was--had probably missed his heart. (Father kept in his study a fascinating chart showing a man without his skin, flayed for the purposes of science. It detailed the position of the organs, and the paths of the major veins and arteries. We had studied it in the schoolroom with a thrilled and uneasy awareness that we were looking at something forbidden, although we were not exactly sure why.)

The trooper came running back in. 'The surgeon's on his way, sir.'

The officer acknowledged this with a curt nod, then turned to me. 'You can manage here until he comes, miss?' I nodded dumbly. 'Then we'll get out of your way.'

I felt another surge of panic as the troopers began to withdraw from the kitchen. What kind of men were these to desert us, to desert their commanding officer in his time of need? What about loyalty? Didn't they care that he could be dying? Weren't they going to stay and help?

'He's going to be alright,' the officer said, and then he was gone. The sun shone coldly through the open door as it had before. There was a faint wintry smell of crushed grass and mud. The floor was littered with potato peel. And Father lay on the kitchen table, breathing harshly. I gazed down at him, transfixed by tiny details--a smudge of green on his cheekbone where he must have fallen; the tiny black dots of stubble on his jaw, etched sharply against the pallor of his skin; the change of colour and texture between his weather-beaten face and neck, and the exposed skin of his chest; blood; hair; a nipple, that odd, tender brown button. It had never occurred to me that my Father would be equipped with one. I reflected that I had never seen my Father undressed like this before, and my heart thumped, just once. I dragged my eyes back to his face, and in that moment, his eyes opened and looked straight up into mine. He smiled.

'Don't worry Charlotte. There's life in the old dog yet.'

A shadow fell across us, and Fitzwilliam came rolling in, bringing with him the heady savour of rum.

'What's happened?' he asked.

'Father's been shot,' I said shortly, not considering until the words were out of my mouth that perhaps I should refer to Father as Captain Wolf in this company.

'Let's have a look then.'

I stepped aside and allowed him to move to Father's side. 'The bullet shouldn't be too difficult to remove,' he said. He turned to Emily. 'We'll need some more of those dressings.'

Emily nodded, and left the room. Fitzwilliam turned to me. 'I'll need your assistance to wipe away the blood. There may be rather a lot of it. Do you think you can do that?'

'Of course,' I said, watching as he rummaged in his bag of instruments and produced a scalpel and a pair of nasty-looking pincers. His hands looked none too steady, but I told myself I was imagining it. My disquiet only increased as I watched him drop the scalpel on the floor, almost impaling his own toe. He shot me a furtive glance, then turned his attention to Father.

'Let's see about getting that bullet out, sir,' he said loudly. Father just nodded. Fitzwilliam brandished his pincers. 'This may hurt a bit,' he added.

Father's jaw clenched, and he fixed his gaze on a spot above the doorway as the surgeon began to probe the wound in his shoulder. Fresh blood streamed out and went coursing down Father's chest to seep onto the table. There was a faint click of metal on metal.

'Almost had it,' muttered Fitzwilliam. Father's eyes were still fixed rigidly on that point above the doorway. I felt sympathetically faint at the thought of that metal point probing cruelly-opened flesh. I reached behind me for a chair.

'Got it,' said the surgeon at last, as he held up the gory black pellet he'd extracted from Father's shoulder

'It seems such a small thing to make such a mess,' Father observed, trying to sound robust.

'Indeed,' said the surgeon, 'but if it had been just a whisker to the left you would have been with us no longer, sir.' To the left and down a bit, I thought, visualizing the position of father's heart as shown on the chart of the skinned man.

'You did a fine job, sir,' said Father. 'I congratulate you.'

I heard breathy singing coming from outside, and then Anne was there in the doorway, back from her walk, her bonnet dangling from one hand. When she saw the awful tableau she froze, her mouth falling open in dismay.

'Father?'

'It's nothing,' he said. 'Someone took a pot-shot at me. But they'll have to do better than that if they want to see the end of me.'

Emily came dashing in with an over-flowing armful of bandages. I thought I recognized one of my better petticoats, ripped to shreds, and gave Emily a hard look which she affected to ignore. 'Will this be enough?' she asked, a little breathlessly. 'I wasn't sure how much you'd need.'

'That should do nicely,' Fitzwilliam said, choosing not to point out that Emily had, as usual, gone completely overboard. She moved forward to hand the bandages to the surgeon, and suddenly caught a glimpse of Father, his shirt open, smeared with clotting blood. Her eyes widened, there was a quick intake of breath, and then without a sound, Emily's eyes rolled up and she fell to the floor in a dead faint.

Anne and the surgeon rushed forward to assist her.

'I think she hit her head!' said Anne.

'Quick, do you have any smelling salts?' asked Fitzwilliam.

I watched in disbelief as the surgeon whipped his coat off, rolled it up and placed it under Emily's insensible head while Anne went running for the smelling salts. Had they forgotten Father was bleeding to death?

'Would you like me to start on the bandaging?' I asked pointedly.

'Yes, thank you. If you feel you're up to it.'

Up to it? Of course I was up to it. I scooped up a handful of bandage and wadded it into a bundle. I pressed it tenderly against the wound.

'Could you hold that there for me?' I murmured. Father held it in place with his good arm, and watched, stoically, as I bound it in place.

'Is that too tight?' I asked.

'Perfect,' he replied. I met his eye and a look of complicity passed between us, a look that said how foolish women are, for I knew Father did not count me among their number.

Fitzwilliam revived Emily with smelling salts and helped her into a sitting position. 'Do you feel any better?' he asked solicitously.

'A little,' Emily said. 'I don't know what came over me.'

I know it is a commonplace that ladies of delicacy cannot stand the sight of blood. I have always held this view to be misguided--or, indeed, fraudulent, since most women, in the course of their adult lives, have ample opportunity to become accustomed to the sight of blood. It seemed perfectly clear to me that the only thing that had come over Emily today was the desire to be fussed over.

'Perhaps you should go and lie down,' Anne suggested.

'I think it was the sudden shock,' Emily murmured. 'I'm fine now, really.'

'You should go to bed,' Father said. 'Your health is so precarious.'

'But Father,' Emily said, an anxious note creeping into her voice, 'I haven't finished making the dinner.'

'Charlotte can do that,' said Father firmly. 'Bed. I'm not taking any chances.'

T...

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