Intrigue, romance, and scheming aboard the Titanic
This updated edition of the popular Richard Peck novel, available in time to commemorate the anniversary of the Titanic's fateful voyage in 1912, starts with a chilling prophecy. When Miranda begins her position as maid-servant to the glamorous and selfish Amanda Whitwell, Amanda wastes no time in using Miranda to suit her own cruel purposes. Miranda becomes the lynchpin to a plot that Amanda devises to marry an American who can maintain her lavish lifestyle, but also keeps the rogue she loves close at hand. However, destiny intervenes, and they board the ill-fated Titanic. This story has all of the romance, glamour, intrigue, and tragedy of the Titanic but ends, satisfyingly, with redemption and forgiveness.
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Richard Peck has written more than thirty novels, and in the process has become one of the country’s most highly respected writers for children. In fact The Washington Post called him “America’s best living author for young adults.” A versatile writer, he is beloved by middle-graders as well as young adults for his historical and contemporary comedies and coming-of-age novels. He lives in New York City, and spends a great deal of time traveling around the country to speaking engagements at conferences, schools, and libraries.
Mr. Peck is the first children’s book author to have received a National Humanities Medal. He is a Newbery Medal winner (for A Year Down Yonder), a Newbery Honor winner (for A Long Way from Chicago), a two-time National Book Award finalist, and a two-time Edgar Award winner. In addition, he has won a number of major honors for the body of his work, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the ALAN Award, and the Medallion from the University of Southern Mississippi.
“Oh no, the Titanic cannot sink.”
The ship shuddered and the hiss of steam ceased. Over the chorus of hundreds of far-off voices crying out, I heard music again, a mournful, stately melody now that broke as I listened, notes scattered to the wind.
The ship began to slide. It shook, and there were explosions deep within it. Boilers giving way, perhaps. Or the collapse of kitchen crockery. Or the great crystal chandeliers thundering down on parquet floors. The Titanic, her stern standing high out of the water, was sliding into the sea.
The water rose to meet me. I threw a leg over the rail and balanced there, watching the strange, rolling waterfall that surged beside the ship’s hull. I was not six feet above it. I leaped out into the maelstrom, and the water’s first icy blow knocked me senseless and stopped my breath.
Also by Richard Peck
Are You in the House Alone?
Bel-Air Bambi and the Mall Rats
Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death
Close Enough to Touch
Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt
The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp
The Ghost Belonged to Me
Ghosts I Have Been
The Great Interactive Dream Machine
Here Lies the Librarian
The Last Safe Place on Earth
A Long Way from Chicago
Lost in Cyberspace
On the Wings of Heroes
Remembering the Good Times
Representing Super Doll
The River Between Us
A Season of Gifts
Secrets at Sea
Secrets of the Shopping Mall
Strays Like Us
The Teacher’s Funeral
Those Summer Girls I Never Met
Through a Brief Darkness
Unfinished Portrait of Jessica
Voices After Midnight
A Year Down Yonder
NOVELS FOR ADULTS
New York Time
This Family of Women
Past Perfect, Present Tense
Monster Night at Grandma’s House
Invitations to the World
The books we read when we’re young follow us all through life. A book I found long ago—or maybe it found me—led after years to the book in your hand, Amanda Miranda.
In the summer of 1955 I was coming back from college in England. This was still the Golden Age of transatlantic ocean liners, and I was aboard the mighty Royal Mail Ship Queen Elizabeth.
I wandered into the ship’s library one blustery day at sea, and there was a copy of a new blockbusting bestseller. It was Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember. And so I settled down in a deck chair on the biggest, fastest, grandest ship afloat to read a minute-by-minute account of how the biggest, fastest, grandest ship of its day sank on its maiden voyage. The Titanic. I took it to heart. We were still three days from docking in New York.
A Night to Remember is a reminder that there’s more high drama in real life than in any fiction. Still, many years later when a publisher commissioned me to write a historical novel, I knew where I’d set the high moments of the story.
All fiction begins with research. I spent four years with the deck plan of the doomed Titanic pinned up on my writing room wall. I took three hundred pages of notes. After all, there were still some living survivors of this, the most famous disaster in history, and I wanted to get it right.
I added only two characters of my own to the passenger list. They are a young English lady, a knight’s daughter, and her maid. Amanda and Miranda are two young women on a collision course with one another even before a mountain of ice rises out of the sea to claim its victims.
In the years since I wrote Amanda Miranda, the remains of the storied Titanic have been found on the ocean’s floor. A landmark movie has been made with a theme song still played everywhere. And now, suddenly, it’s been a hundred years since the great ship went down.
This centennial edition of Amanda Miranda invites you back to a story inspired by all that high drama, and lost glory.
Table of Contents
The Wisewoman lived in the last soft fold of earth before the sea. Some said her rude cottage on the Isle of Wight was built from the stones of the ancients. Stones that once lay on Ashey Down in patterns that only the prehistoric priests could read.
But the folklore was false. The rough rock walls of the Wisewoman’s house had never been ancient altars, though they glowed gray with mystery in the hill twilights.
A century earlier the Wisewoman would have been burned as a witch. But the new twentieth century had dawned, bringing a breath of change even to this island, where once the old Queen Victoria had been happiest. But the small woman who had ruled an empire was gone. Her royal Osborne House, not ten miles from the Wisewoman’s garden gate, was sealed, and her century had slipped into history.
Smoke from the long liners to America blackened the horizon. Their tall prows knifed out of Southampton port across the narrow water called The Solent to conquer the ice-strewn Atlantic. The world beyond this tiny island that clung to England seemed to stir, sending a ripple of anticipation back across the crouching velvet hills.
And so the Wisewoman wasn’t burned or hounded out of her home. She was allowed to live, though not in peace. For she figured in the nightmares of all the local children, and they in hers. By day they dared one another to advance on her cottage. When they supposed that dusk hid them, the bolder ones crept through the Wisewoman’s tangled garden and threw small stones at her roof. Often enough she spied them from her crooked window: a dozen urchin faces, pale as cabbages sprouting down her garden rows.
But the Wisewoman was not easily frightened. First and last, she was a businesswoman and the least superstitious soul on the Isle of Wight. She turned a handy profit in the herbs and roots that any cottager might raise in a shady dooryard garden. And she harvested her crops by moonlight only because her customers expected it of her.
As a brewer of home remedies, the Wisewoman was not remarkable. What she could do really well was to foretell the future. More than once she had foreseen in a lovesick lad, creeping to her door for a love potion, the precise moment of his death, though it be forty years in his future.
Once a gaggle of young girls dared each other up the Wisewoman’s flagstone path, intent on having their fortunes told. Instead of being assailed by the fumes of a witch’s brew, the girls were settled in a row on a bench and offered tea in thin china cups. They soon went their way, none the wiser about their futures. It was the Wisewoman’s plan, for she saw early death clinging to the oldest child and would neither lie to her nor frighten her.
There was, the Wisewoman reasoned, no market for this sort of knowledge. Therefore she never turned a profit from prophecy. Only once, startled by a stranger at her door, did she break silence to speak in baffling language of the young woman’s future.
Rattling down Nansen Hill, the wagon driven by Josiah Cooke grazed the railing on Dunnose Bridge. The old plow horse staggered but strained on, over the hump of the bridge into the easier dust of the road. But the rusting linchpin on the rear wheel had worked loose. Twenty paces on, it fell free, and the wagon collapsed.
Josiah was pitched off his high perch and sent sprawling across the horse’s broad rump. His wife shrieked once, and two shapeless legs in much-mended black stockings flailed the air as she slipped sideways into a mound of bright wildflowers. Mary Cooke, wedged between her parents, slid more slowly to earth and joined her mother.
They were a hardy trio, no strangers to trouble. Mrs. Cooke leaped to her feet, adjusting her black skirts—and Mary’s. Josiah untangled himself from the hind legs of the horse and gazed without hope at the wagon, the only thing he owned outright in the world, sagging half in the ditch.
Their only luck was that they were in sight of Bonchurch, on the seaward side of the island. Josiah Cooke trudged off toward the village in search of a wagonman who might spare him a mallet and a linchpin. Mrs. Cooke settled against the flowery bank and gave way to her usual complaints. There was hardly a hint of autumn in the breeze blowing up from the Channel. Still, she pulled her shawl up to her eyes.
“Stand back from the road where you won’t be seen, Mary!” she barked. “Then tuck up your skirts, you simple baggage! How will it look to arrive at your first job grass stained? Though at this rate we’ll never see Nettlecombe this day, and then where will you be, I should like to know.”
Mary Cooke gladly withdrew from her mother. She strolled into the field, her skirts held above her shoe tops, though no strangers were passing on the road to be inflamed by her beauty. Because she never answered back, she didn’t mention that even on foot they could reach Nettlecombe before dark. Then Mary would have the opportunity to exchange one bondage for another.
She walked with quickening steps across the unmown grass until her mother’s whining voice was lost in the Channel winds. A sudden gust tugged at Mary’s black hair, anchored in a severe knot. Had she dared, she would have raced against the wind until she was in sight of the sea. Instead, she wandered with her thoughts.
Mary Cooke had lived all her eighteen years at Whitely Bank, the farmers’ village that stands where the roads to Shanklin and Ventnor cross. Both these rough roads lead finally to the sea, and she had forever felt the restless tides stirring inside herself. But she’d never more than glimpsed the green-gold waves that scalloped the beaches of the seaside towns. And it wasn’t the carnival atmosphere of the resort towns Mary dreamed of. She’d been reared to shun pleasure. It was the restless, rolling sea itself that flooded her dreams, sometimes beckoning her to destruction, sometimes to new life. But always its call led her far away. Always.
She wandered on in the September stillness. For when her mother and father delivered her to Nettlecombe, these drifting moments would surely end.
To fulfill her mother’s plan, Mary Cooke was to go into service for the Whitwell family, whose estate stretched west from Nettlecombe. Mrs. Cooke had trained Mary for her lifetime of service as other girls were prepared for their wedding days. “Someday,” her mother would say in a voice grown strangely soft, “you will serve a great family in a fine house.”
And so in the cramped cottage where Josiah Cooke sheltered his small family, Mary was taught to serve. She learned to set a proper table, and to carry a heavy tray and open a thick door with her free hand, at an age when other girls were too awkward to cross a threshold without sprawling.
And she’d learned silence. To speak of the rebellion that often welled in her throat was unthinkable. But there was little silence in the Cooke household. Mrs. Cooke filled the empty evenings with her endless memories. She had been in service herself, across the water in Hampshire, before marrying a bumpkin who’d buried her at Whitely Bank.
She’d been driven from the proud panorama of a great country house where she was trusted everywhere, from drawing room to attics. Where she took her tea with the governess and the housekeeper themselves. Where her lady called her “my treasure” as she turned back the swansdown sheets.
She had left the rustle of gray silk for the manure-stained tatters of a farmer’s wife. All she could hope for now was to create in Mary a servant who might nearly rival herself. There was justice in this, Mrs. Cooke was certain. For Mary was the unwanted child whose coming had forced her to leave her lady’s house in hasty disgrace.
“Never,” Mrs. Cooke would say at the end of an evening, “never turn your back upon your betters. . . . Always keep your eyes down. . . . Speak clearly when they find it necessary to speak to you. . . . Note their every need.”
Mary had been allowed a little schooling, for her mother knew the value of a well-spoken servant. She had learned to read, to write a clear hand, and to add the figures of a household account. She had heard poetry for the first time and was haunted by her teacher’s mournful chanting of the verses:
Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide, wide sea!
And Mary had learned to speak in a tone respectful enough to suit the persons of quality, the gods and goddesses she was being shaped to serve.
Now the Whitwells of Nettlecombe were to receive a new servant. Whether Mary would find her place scouring the roasting pans or dressing the young lady of that house depended very much on the impression she made at the outset.
* * *
As she drifted farther from the broken wagon, Mary slipped free of all her hard-learned lessons. She climbed a stile and started up a fold of earth where the tang of salt air grew sharper. She might have appeared to be running away. But there was no place to go. She was at the Wisewoman’s cottage before she realized it. The little stone house rose half out of the earth before her eyes. As she noticed the door, it opened.
The Wisewoman could tell at first glance that she was not being visited by a client. And she favored the young girl in the shapeless dress with a formal nod that none of her clients ever got from her.
“I meant no harm. I was only passing,” Mary stammered from the front gate. But the quiet tones she’d learned were lost in the singing sea wind.
The Wisewoman nodded again and swept her hand back to the open door, inviting her in. Uncertainly Mary walked up the stepping-stones of a dooryard overgrown with red chickweed.
“You have lost your way, perhaps.”
Confused by kindness, Mary only stared at the old woman, whose neck was webbed with wrinkles as fine as ivory lace. The very old woman and the very young one found each other beautiful in a wordless moment. “Lost or certain of your course,” the Wisewoman said at last, “come and rest yourself.”
To be received like this was beyond Mary’s experience. The old woman had to gesture twice before Mary would sit in her presence.
More like a cool cave than a parlor, the cottage’s only room served as the Wisewoman’s kitchen and pharmacy. Mary’s eyes roamed the apothecary bottles lining the walls. Above, the rafters were hung with bunches of drying herbs and heather, pale silver and paler lavender. She wondered at their uses.
The Wisewoman placed a gold-rimmed cup of black tea in the girl’s hand. She allowed the silence to lengthen while astonishing images of Mary’s future played across her inner eye.
At last, bested by curiosity, Mary asked, “Is this a ...
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Book Description Littlehampton Book Services Ltd, 1980. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0575028416