Devonshire Deborah Wait for Me

ISBN 13: 9781473617353

Wait for Me

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9781473617353: Wait for Me

Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire, is the youngest of the famously witty brood of six daughters and one son that included the writers Jessica and Nancy, who wrote, when Deborah was born, “How disgusting of the poor darling to go and be a girl.” Deborah’s effervescent memoir Wait for Me! chronicles her remarkable life, from an eccentric but happy childhood roaming the Oxfordshire countryside, to tea with Adolf Hitler and her sister Unity in 1937, to her marriage to Andrew Cavendish, the second son of the Duke of Devonshire. Her life changed utterly with his unexpected inheritance of the title and vast estates after the wartime death of his brother, who had married “Kick” Kennedy, the beloved sister of John F. Kennedy. Her friendship with that family would last through triumph and tragedy.

In 1959, the Duchess and her family took up residence in Chatsworth, the four-hundred-year-old family seat, with its incomparable collections of paintings, tapestry, and sculpture—the combined accumulations of generations of tastemakers. Neglected due to the economies of two world wars and punitive inheritance taxes, the great house soon came to life again under the careful attention of the Duchess. It is regarded as one of England’s most loved and popular historic houses.

Wait for Me! is written with intense warmth, charm, and perception. A unique portrait of an age of tumult, splendor, and change, it is also an unprecedented look at the rhythms of life inside one of the great aristocratic families of England. With its razor-sharp portraits of the Duchess’s many friends and cohorts—politicians, writers, artists, sportsmen—it is truly irresistible reading, and will join the shelf of Mitford classics to delight readers for years to come.

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About the Author:

Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, was brought up in Oxfordshire, England. In 1950 her husband, Andrew, the 11th Duke of Devonshire, inherited extensive estates in Yorkshire and Ireland as well as Chatsworth, the family seat in Derbyshire, and Deborah became chatelaine of one of England’s great houses. She is the author of Counting My Chickens and Home to Roost, among other books, and her letters have been collected in The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters and In Tearing Haste: The Correspondence of the Duchess of Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor. Following her husband’s death in 2004, she moved to a village on the Chatsworth estate.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1 We Are Seven

Blank. There is no entry in my mother’s engagement book for 31 March 1920, the day I was born. The next few days are also blank. The first entry in April, in large letters, is ‘KITCHEN CHIMNEY SWEPT’. My parents’ dearest wish was for a big family of boys; a sixth girl was not worth recording. ‘Nancy, Pam, Tom, Diana, Bobo, Decca, me’, intoned in a peculiar voice, was my answer to anyone who asked where I came in the family.

The sisters were at home and Tom was at boarding school for this deeply disappointing event, more like a funeral than a birth. Years later Mabel, our parlourmaid, told me, ‘I knew what it was by your father’s face.’ When the telegram arrived Nancy announced to the others, ‘We Are Seven’, and wrote to Muv at our London house, 49 Victoria Road, Kensington, where she was lying-in, ‘How disgusting of the poor darling to go and be a girl.’ Life went on as though nothing had happened and all agreed that no one, except Nanny, looked at me till I was three months old and then were not especially pleased by what they saw.

Grandfather Redesdale’s huge house and estate in Gloucestershire, Batsford Park near Moreton-in-Marsh, was inherited by my father in 1916. It was too expensive to keep up and was sold in 1919. My father looked for somewhere more modest near Swinbrook, a small village where he owned land, fifteen miles from Batsford. There was no house there suitable for a family of six children and a seventh on the way, so he bought Asthall Manor in the neighbouring village. I was born soon after the move and my earliest recollections are of the ancient house and its immediate surroundings. Asthall is a typical Cotswold manor, hard by the church, with a garden that descends to the River Windrush. It was loved by my sisters and Tom, and the seven years spent there were probably the happiest for parents and children, the proceeds of the sale of Batsford giving the family a feeling of security that was never repeated.

There was, and is, something profoundly satisfying in the scale of Asthall village. It was a perfect entity where every element was in proportion to the rest: the manor, the vicarage, the school and pub; the farmhouses with their conveniently placed cowsheds and barns; the cottages, whose occupants supplied the labour for the centuries-old jobs that still existed when we were children; and the pigsties, chicken runs and gardens that belonged to the cottages. Before cars and commuters, you lived close to where you worked and the shops came to you in horse-drawn vans. This was the calm background of a self-contained agricultural parish, regulated by the seasons, in an exceptionally beautiful part of England.

My father planted woods to hold game, as well as a short beech avenue leading up to the house, and his dark purple lilacs outside the garden wall are still growing there after nearly a hundred years. The house itself needed much restoration. My mother’s flair for decoration and her talent for home-making ensured that the French furniture and pictures from Batsford were shown at their best. My father installed water-powered electric light – just the sort of contraption he adored; drawing heavily on his umpteenth cigarette, he would lean over the engineer, itching to do the job better himself. He made sure he had a child-proof door to his study by putting the handle high up out of reach. Sometimes we heard the voice of Galli-Curci singing Farve’s favourite aria, coming loudly from the outsize horn of his gramophone – a twin of the one in advertisements for His Master’s Voice. In another mood he might put on ‘The Diver’ (‘He is now on the surface, he’s gasping for breath, so pale that he wants but the stillness of death’), sung by Signor Foli in a terrifying and unnaturally low bass voice.

With foresight, or perhaps by luck, Farve converted the barn a few yards from the house into one large room with four bedrooms above and added a covered passage, ‘the cloisters’, to connect the two buildings. Tom and the older sisters lived in the barn, untroubled by grown-ups or babies, and made the most of their freedom. My father, who was famous for having read only one book, White Fang, which he enjoyed so much he vowed never to read another, entrusted Tom, aged ten, with the task of choosing which books to keep from the Batsford library. Nancy and Diana later said that if they had any education, it was due to the unrestricted access they had had to Grandfather’s books at Asthall. Later, a grand piano arrived for Tom who showed great musical promise. Music and reading were his passions.

 

The First World War was not long over and life for the survivors was limping back to normal. There was little to record in our family in the first few years of my life. Nancy went to Hatherop Castle, a finishing school nearby, and was taken to Paris with a group of friends, where she first saw the architecture and works of art that inspired in her a lifelong love of that city. She wrote enthusiastic letters to our mother about the shops, the food and the days spent at the Louvre. Pam busied herself with her ponies, pigs and dogs. Tom was at Lockers Park prep school in Hemel Hempstead. His orderly mind was already preparing for a career in the Law and he paid Nancy to argue with him all day during the holidays. Diana was an unwilling Girl Guide and played the organ in church, putting into practice her theory that ‘Tea for Two’, if played slowly enough, did very well as a voluntary.

The years at Asthall passed in a haze of contentment from my point of view. I was aware of The Others but they were so old and seemed to Decca (Jessica, my daily companion) and me to be of another world. It was not until later that I got to know them. Unity, next up in age from Decca and not yet in the schoolroom, made her huge presence felt but, although always kind to me, she was not an intimate. Our life in the nursery consisted of the daily round, the common task, secure and regular as clockwork.

At the age of five we started lessons with Muv, who followed the admirable Parents’ National Education Union (PNEU) system with its emphasis on learning through direct contact with nature and good books, and its disapproval of marks, prizes, rewards and exams. She taught us reading, writing and sums, and read us tales from the famous children’s history book, Our Island Story. She was a natural teacher and never made anything seem too difficult. At the age of eight, I moved on to the schoolroom and a governess (trained at the PNEU’s Ambleside College) and never enjoyed lessons again.

Our nursery windows overlooked the churchyard with its graves of wool merchants long since dead, the beautiful tombs topped with fleeces carved in stone. We were fascinated by funerals, which we were not meant to watch but of course we did. Decca and I once fell into a newly dug grave, to the delight of Nancy who pronounced fearful bad luck on us for ever. At that age, I was sure Farve would be buried by the path leading to our garden and even today I expect to see his big toe sticking up through the turf, which is what he warned me would happen if I misbehaved.

Beyond the churchyard to the left were stables, kennels and a garage. Early on at Asthall my father had a horrible accident in the stable yard: he was getting on to a young horse when it reared and fell backwards on to him, breaking his pelvis. The injury did not heal properly and, unable to throw his leg over a saddle, he never rode again. To the right of the churchyard was the vicarage. We adored the vicar’s wife and long after we had left Asthall, Pam and I used to ride over and trot briskly up the drive, shouting for ginger biscuits. Across the road was the kitchen garden with its glasshouses and glorious white peaches, reserved strictly for grown-ups. Unity and our cousin Chris Bailey committed the heinous crime of sneaking into the greenhouse and stealing some peaches. There was a stony silence throughout the house while they were reprimanded by my father, which made a big effect on the younger ones. Farve has gone down in history as a violent man, mainly because of Nancy’s portrayal of him as the irascible Uncle Matthew in her novels. While he could indeed get angry, he was never physically violent and his bark was far worse than his bite. We would tease him, goad him as far as we dared, until he turned and roared at us.

As soon as I could walk I shadowed Farve, struggling to keep up. He used to pick me up, throw me on to his shoulder and carry me over winter ditches and summer stinging nettles; the comforting feel of his velveteen waistcoat is inseparable from my memories of him. I must have been a great nuisance, but we saw eye to eye about everything. He took me fishing in the magic moment of the year when the mayfly were hatching and let me carry his net. As time went by, he showed me how to slide it under the hooked trout – no talking, no jerking – and land it on the bank. The sound of a reel when a line is cast on a trout rod equals early summer to me and the smell of newly cut grass, cow parsley, thrushes and ‘All the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire’ (Edward Thomas’s Adlestrop is not far from Asthall) take me back to our stretch of the Windrush. No health, no safety, no handrail on the single planks that were our bridges as we crossed and recrossed over the river. It was paradise and I knew it. The river water had its own smell that rose from the easily stirred-up mud, and many years later when swimming among the weeds and mud in a pond high above Chatsworth, in the company of moorhens and mallard, nostalgia for the river at Asthall was almost too much and I was six again.

My father loved the river, described in the estate agent’s brochure when Asthall was sold as ‘of the most attractive character to a fisherman, including rapids, ge...

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