A Tender Tomorrow


By Carole King

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In the elegant isolation of a Victorian mansion in Cape May, New Jersey, Autumn Thackeray, the once proud heiress of a once proud family, learns that she is “ill-suited to service.” Her family’s fortune diminished, she has taken a position as a companion to the mother of Cain Byron, a complex and ungracious young gentleman who is accustomed to giving orders and expecting them to obeyed without question, especially by the women of his household. His temper is infamous, and his domineering and masterful ways dictated by his upbringing and his social status. But Autumn has been reared by open-minded and generous parents; she will not be intimidated by Cain’s tyrannical manner. And she will not be seduced by his attraction to her. She will be no man’s “light o’ love.”





For Robert Moffat it is a matter of a goddess, though he is unable in his simplicity of reasoning to conceptualize such a notion. He imagines his goddess, not symbolically as a lodestone—a ruling passion in a blind hierarchy of moldy tradition, but literally. He strokes his great graying beard as he peers across the bay. From his vantage in the topmost room of the Cape May light, where he eats and sleeps, he can see the house, a mansard-roofed smear against the moon. It stands on a spit of land at the tip of a bluff over which the sea darts and swells and sometimes soars, and he watches it till the fog thickens sensibly and the moon fades and then vanishes beneath a wilderness of clouds. Except that he is standing upright, Robert no longer knows what is up or down, east or west. He turns from the tall, many-layered windows that rattle in the wind and lumbers up the circular iron stairway to light the tower lamp and to signal the arrival of the fog with one- two- three long blasts of the horn. What might seem like comfort to some only mourns the emptiness and loss of those in pain. Robert descends and pours himself a large draught of whiskey and lights his pipe. Glancing toward the windows, he is relieved he can no longer see the house. Again, he turns away and seats himself before his fire. He lays his head back. His reflections wander in shadowy, shifting currents of awareness, and he finally comes to a central truth: It is not fitting that a man should see so far or be so high. A sensible man stays in the thick of things, where he knows the world as it really is, not as he wishes it to be. Up here with the sea birds and the angels, a man might imagine all kinds of things—stubborn, wayward things he should not be thinking. A man should not place himself so high.

Robert has not attended his telescope in some minutes, and he rises tiredly to do so. He appreciates his work and his isolation, but more and more, he finds himself approaching the work, at least, with a fair amount of disinterest. He observes that Delaware Sound, silvered by the soft light from the tower lamp, is clear of sails as far as he can see, then trains his glass north and eastward on the intracoastal waters and southward to the open sea. Robert checks his compass. His headings are correct. He swings the glass and his view sweeps the bay. No sail is visible on the rising, wind-dashed waters. This is good, he tells himself. This is good. No vessel should be a'sea on a night like this. He logs his observations and resumes his seat and his whiskey. Robert gazes into his fire and finally picks up the neat parcel of notes, wrapped in ribbon, which he keeps always on the table near his chair. He does not read them though, preferring this night merely to hold them. Before long he finds himself dozing. And his dreams are of her, the authoress of those pretty testimonies. She comes to him from across the bay, from across time, arms beckoning, and she calls his name, and smiles and laughs and gazes into his eyes in such a loving, knowing fashion that his body trembles and his heart tips in his breast. He allows her love to fill him, for if he tries to grasp it, he will become pained and terrified of its loss. And so his goddess caresses his soul and purifies his senses.

The horn! He has not signaled the fog for who knows how long. Robert lurches awake. He climbs the circular staircase and pulls the heavy cord attached to the signal. Two and then three times it sounds. Robert descends again into his small parlor. He re-lights his pipe, then leans down, picking up the bundle of letters that had fallen at his feet. He smiles at how quickly we abandon sweetness when duty calls. And Robert Moffat knows his duty. He looks once more toward the windows that overlook the bay. The glass echoes many layers of a fire-lit reflection, and each layer is the same—a ghostly old man with a great graying beard, a smoldering pipe, and a packet of ribbon-tied memories.



Chapter 1

Her name was Autumn Thackeray. She was gently bred, tranquilly raised, and always treated with open-handed kindness. Autumn had traveled by coach, a rackety public vehicle, from Philadelphia to Cape May, New Jersey. She had taken her leisure, such as was allowed in the course of her journey, in public rooms, eaten public food, and slept fitfully, sitting up, only when she could no longer keep her lids from falling. And now she stood on a public road, abandoned by even the uncertain protection of her traveling companions and the harsh-mouthed coachman. It was night. The air was washed in blown spume and fog, salty with the sea that thundered somewhere beyond. She glanced down at the trunks, baskets, and boxes scattered at her feet, the aggregation of a life. Her gaze lifted and traveled upward to a series of glowing lights in the distance. That, the coachman had informed her, was her destination, Byron Hall. She drew her muffler more securely around her shoulders, placed her hands firmly into her sable muff and began a brisk walk toward the lights. She had proceeded about halfway between the road and the house, when a woman's shriek rang out. Autumn stopped, stunned, waiting. Again, she heard the chilling scream. It came from where the lights were. She could not see the house, but her gaze was riveted in that direction. Hearing a third scream, more a screech this time, she bolted toward it. She set aside her fear and the fact that she was running practically blind; if someone was in danger, she must help. She came abruptly to a halt. The house was before her, its massive front door flung open, flooding the darkness with a yawning, bloodless light. A young woman, shawl flying, hair streaming, flew from the house as if she'd been thrown, shrilling curses, more angry it seemed than afraid. "He's a monster, he is," she shrieked at Autumn as she hurled herself into the fog. Autumn looked back toward the house. The door hung open. Against the illumination from inside, there appeared the alarming, dark figure of a man. Catching her breath, Autumn stared. The man was tall, of a muscular girth and rough-seeming. He shouted a curse into the night. Autumn swallowed and licked at her lips. They stood, the two figures, he framed in light, she at its fringes. He seemed to glare, though she could not see his eyes, seething in a silhouetted rage, in her direction. She wondered if he noticed her and if she should proceed or wait for an invitation. The thought almost made her laugh. Such a man did not issue invitations. She pressed her hands against the frenzied palpitations of her heart. She had come all this way, had weathered unimaginable discomfort. She would not await an invitation. A decision made, she pressed on, up to the house. The man at the door loomed menacingly, and the nearer Autumn got to the house the more ruggedly dangerous he appeared. He was dressed in lean-cut riding breeches and a lawn shirt, the sleeves of which were rolled up on his forearms. He snapped a riding crop against his long booted leg.

"Are you Miss Thackeray?" he called to her. The sudden resonance of her name spoken in this place by this odd and terrible man startled her.

"Yes," she replied, disallowing her voice to entertain the absurdity of a quiver. She must not appear timid or strained before this proudhearted individual. Throughout the long, humiliating days of the past year, she had poised herself constantly for attack. She lifted her chin, set her shoulders, and approached the house. "I had been in hope that someone would meet me at the coach stop," she said coolly, with found courage. "My luggage is lying willy-nilly in the road, soaking up all this wet." The man did not speak. As she mounted the porch steps and stopped before the door, she noted that his perusal of her was unnecessarily intense. "Your question indicates I was expected," she said. When again the man did not speak, she resumed. "My correspondence stated precisely the time of my arrival." Impatiently, at his further silence, she looked beyond him into the house. "Might I be admitted? It is awfully damp out here." In reply, the man nodded tersely. Autumn proceeded past him into the entryway and noted its contrast to the figure of the man who had—for lack of a better phrase—greeted her. The hallway was a spacious chamber with a thick gold-patterned carpet, muted wallpaper of a tasteful yellow hue, and a glimmering crystal chandelier that lit a grandly curved rosewood staircase. Spanning the height and breadth of one wall near the entry was an oil painting of a distant tall ship heeling on a gold-tinted sea. The painting's carved wooden frame caught the light of the candles above. "It is a Hassam," she said reverently.

"One of his seascapes," the man offered. "He comes down now and then to paint our bay." Autumn looked at the man who seemed so abruptly civilized. He swung the great door closed and unknotted the scarf at his neck. He used it to wipe unceremoniously at his forehead. She immediately amended her judgment.

"You're young," he observed.

"Some might say so."

"Not twenty, I'd wager."

"Nearly that." She lifted her chin a notch. "In any event, I wonder that my age is your business, sir. Though you know who I am, you've not identified yourself to me." A smile threatened at the corner of the man's lips, but did not reach the depths of his onyx gaze.

"Insolent, too," he said. "And you recognize art." He swiped once again at his forehead, displacing a tangle of rude black curls that hung loosely, and at the moment, glistened with perspiration. To Autumn's horror, he tossed the offending cloth onto a brilliantly polished center table and extended his paw of a hand. "I'm Cain Byron."

"How do you do," she managed, making her own hand available. "Is it Doctor Byron?" The man nodded. This then was the person with whom she had so daintily corresponded for the past two months on the subject of his mother's need of a companion. From his letters, Autumn had formed a very different picture. She had envisioned an aging man, an elegant and learned man, tidy in his habits and appearance—in short, a doctor. She averted her eyes, hoping her new employer would not perceive the disappointment, the disapproval, and the despondency in her heart.

Still grasping her hand, he said, "Come with me." Autumn found herself being towed along, nearly stumbling, down a lengthy corridor and into a room closed off by a pair of thick pocket doors. Once inside the room, having gained her balance and her hand, she noted that, though lit only by a flickering hearth fire and a few candles, the room was cozy and decorated with a lightness of hand. The hearth, which she could see plainly, was of white painted plaster and gold leaf. The mantel was crowded with a display of framed photographs, probably of family members. The walls were papered with a deep green neo-Grecian design and a tasteful ceiling border in the popular "Plume" pattern. A plush Oriental carpet had been placed in the center of a polished, parqueted floor. Autumn took in the outlines of side chairs, slipper stools, and a round center table draped with layers of velvet and lace. Her drifting gaze halted at the unexpected sight of a figure lying huddled on a couch outside the circlet of light provided by the fire. It moved as Autumn stepped toward it.

"Who is it?" asked a voice chafed with dryness.

"It is me, Mother," said Cain Byron. His voice was edged with annoyance. "Where is Mrs. Inman?"

"She . . . went to get me . . . something, I suppose. Oh, how the hell do I know?" Autumn's eyes widened. She glanced at the doctor, but he seemed unfazed by his mother's rude language. For all the coarseness of her speech, there was a vague, frail quality in her voice. Her head rolled to one side as though she had been fatigued with the effort of speech, and she exhaled with a soft, audible sigh. She was swathed in a thick draping of woolen fabric.

"How long have you been alone?" Cain Byron persisted. Beneath the heavy blanketing, the woman might have shrugged. Dr. Byron uttered a curse. "Stay with her," he ordered Autumn and strode from the room, slapping the riding crop against his thigh. Unsure of what ailed the woman—Dr. Byron's correspondence indicated that she had a "nervous disorder"—Autumn knelt beside her.

"Can I do something for you?" she asked uncertainly. There seemed so much that might be done for her. "Mightn't we untangle some of these blankets?" Receiving no answer, Autumn took the initiative. She began to adjust the coil of woolen fabric that entrapped the woman. Looking down into her face, Autumn saw that the woman was not old, middle-aged perhaps, no more than fifty, her face unlined, even pretty, though pale and sunken around her eyes and cheeks. Her head drifted from side to side.

"So sleepy," she whispered. "Always so . . . damnably . . . sleepy." She sounded more defeated than ill.

Abruptly the room erupted with light and sound. The doctor had returned. He carried a lantern and was followed by a heavy-breasted woman dressed in a prim cap and an apron, her hands folded before her.

"And there she was," Cain Byron was saying, "lying there with no comfort, no solace." Mrs. Inman's manner was as starched as her apron and cap.

"If I don't get up them preserves, doctor, the fruit'll rot in the bin—"

"The fruit be damned, woman," he returned. "Look at her!" He directed his light toward his mother's form. "Is this the way you care for your mistress?"

"I beg an apology," the woman returned in a rolling Irish lilt that sounded not in the least apologetic, "but since you run off Alma Louise and all the other girls, I'm just the one here—"

"By the gods, Careem Inman," Cain interrupted, "if this happens again, I shall dismember you and toss you into the sea, you blathering Celtic witch." Autumn's mouth fell open, but Mrs. Inman simply rolled her eyes and moved to her charge. Helping her to her feet, she shepherded the invalid from the room. "You," he said to Autumn, "follow me." He led her to another room, which seemed to be the doctor's private parlor. This room was plushly decorated in the Turkish mode, with deep jewel-like colors. Chairs and couches were covered in thick, tufted crimson velvet, and heavy draperies were tasseled with gold fringe. A brass and green Tiffany floor lamp shed a dark emerald wash over the room. Autumn supposed the effect was meant to be restful. A small fire crackled on a hearth that was made of black marble. Above it was the startling sight of a framed portrait of an older, more handsomely dressed Cain Byron glaring into the room. Dr. Byron noted the direction of Autumn's stare. "My late father," he said, then directed Autumn to seat herself in a chair made, oddly, of animal horns. She did so hesitantly. She watched as he lit a slim cigar. He did not sit down, but paced the room like a restive leopard.

"You must understand, Miss Thackeray, if you are to acquire this position in my household, there will be no allowance for laxity or negligence. My mother is very ill. Her medicines must be administered faithfully, and she must be watched constantly. I shall brook no delinquency." The doctor bent a cutting gaze on Autumn. His words had come, she thought, not so much out of loving concern for his mother, but out of an apparent desire to control his environment. And he had said "if." Had they not corresponded these last months and had they not agreed ultimately that she would be hired? "My mother," the doctor was telling her, "suffers, as I mentioned in my letters, from a nervous disorder. She is under the care of my colleague, Dr. Winslow Beame, a most capable specialist in women's problems. He practices in New York, but has kindly deigned to accommodate me in this case. We were at Harvard together, Win and I, and he is a most congenial fellow." Autumn's pale brows drew together. She wondered what the man's personality had to do with his competence as a doctor of medicine. Still, amending her expression, she asked about Mrs. Byron's treatment.

"A combination of medication and complete rest," Dr. Byron answered. "She must be absolutely shielded from any disturbance of body or mind. If you are to be placed in the position of her caretaker, you must, Miss Thackeray, be prepared to devote yourself to that purpose. Can you promise that?"

Autumn nodded. She needed no second thoughts to make such a vow. In shielding Mrs. Byron from the harshness of the world, she would also be shielding herself. She glanced up at her inquisitor. He lifted a dark brow in anticipation of her response.

"It will be my pleasure to protect your mother from the cares of the world, Dr. Byron. I will enfold her as I would my own dear mother," she said, adding hastily, "if I should be fortunate enough to obtain this position." In truth, it galled Autumn to make that qualification. Had she not traveled all this way for that very purpose? Had he not agreed in his last letter to hire her? Manipulative exhibitions of power had always angered her. She dimpled her most appealing smile, however, and lowered golden lashes over an amber gaze. Autumn needed this job.

"Dr. Beame visits once a month, Miss Thackeray. It is imperative that he find my mother composed. Otherwise, he threatens to take her back to New York for treatment. Win runs Belle Vue, a woman's sanitarium in the city. I am told it is a pleasant place, but mother is terrified of being confined there. So you see, it is most important to me that she be prepared for his examination."

"When will he visit next?"

"He arrives tomorrow," answered Cain Byron. "It is with some urgency, then, that I ask you to make this commitment to me."

To me! "Of course, Dr. Byron," Autumn said, standing and smiling. "I shall see that your mother is arranged most appealingly for Dr. Beame's visit. Should I be fortunate enough to deserve the position." Clearly the man needed her, but Autumn took no chances. His arrogance was such that he might send her packing out of spite. He had apparently run off others and selfishly had consequently left his household in a despairing state of disorder.

Cain Byron took a last draw on his cigar and then snuffed it out. He took in the confident figure before him, and Autumn realized that her confidence might imply a strong will. Her smile faded and her shoulders fell just a note, and she lowered her eyes. "You have the position," the man informed her.

"Thank you, sir," Autumn said with a small curtsy. She even allowed a bit of relief into her expression. "May I take it that my things will be brought up from the road?" Cain nodded.

"I am curious, Miss Thackeray," he said after a pause. "You are obviously a lady of some quality. Why would you seek out such a position?"

Some quality! "As I mentioned in my first letter to you, Dr. Byron, my family has suffered financial reverses. I would rather not discuss the subject, however, for it is most embarrassing."

"So you have been forced to take this position," he stated.

Autumn nodded, then attempting lightness, she said, "But you mustn't think I am not prepared for subservience. I have been around servants all my life—"

"In the posture of mistress," he mentioned quietly, finishing her unspoken thought.

"Of course," agreed Autumn. "But, it is precisely because of that exposure that I am capable of understanding the obligations of those in service." For the second time that evening, a smile threatened Cain Byron's stern countenance. His black gaze seemed to absorb her as the black hearth tiles absorbed the firelight. In his eyes, she saw herself reflected: The neat dimensions of her brown velvet carriage suit, the arranged upsweep of her pale tawny curls, the tilt of her bonnet, and the small plumes that decorated it. She perceived, moreover, the slim dimensions of her form and realized her own vulnerability in the face of this man's towering conceit. She swallowed audibly, covering the sound with a small cough. "Might I be shown to my room?" she asked. Lifting her chin in defiance of her abrupt realization, she regarded Dr. Byron evenly. "My long travels have exhausted me, sir." The man's returning gaze might have signaled admiration, but he turned abruptly and savagely pulled at a long brocaded cord.

"Mrs. Inman will see you up to your room," he said. "I shall see that your bags are brought in." With the words, he withdrew.

Autumn felt her whole body relax. She could barely credit the tension she had been feeling. She took a long breath and came to the realization that a posture of servility was going to be more difficult to maintain than she had imagined. It was one thing to be humble if one's employers were kind—as she had been to her servants, when she'd had them—but it was another to be expected to shrink into submissiveness in the face of deliberate hostility and intimidation.

"Will you follow me, miss?" Autumn turned to find Mrs. Inman behind her. She held a lantern. "You'll be up on the third floor." Autumn followed the woman from the room, glad to be quit of its lavish decadence. The two passed along the corridor, around a corner, through a gallery off which was the kitchen, buttery, and several other rooms, and finally, up a narrow wood staircase. This, Mrs. Inman assured the younger woman, was the staircase she was expected to use at all times. The front staircase was never to be utilized by the servants. Autumn took in the footworn steps and the small fluted gas fixtures that brushed the wall with the barest illumination. At the second floor landing, they passed beneath a huge overarch of ornamental fretwork, the same decoration that adorned all of the archways, both upstairs and down. They crossed a wide, carpeted gallery where tall pocket doors closed off what Autumn could only imagine were exceptionally beautiful chambers perhaps facing the sea and ascended a second flight of stairs to the third floor of the mansion. "Your room is up here," Mrs. Inman told her, "next to Mrs. Byron's. There's a connecting door, don't you know, for you must be available to her at all times." The woman moved aside as she pushed open a thick door. Autumn stepped into the room. As Mrs. Inman lit the candles that stood in tall pewter holders about the room, the meanness of the chamber was revealed. The ceiling was low and slanted, and there was only one window—a small darkly tessellated one, at that. At Autumn's stricken expression, Mrs. Inman offered, "I know it don't seem like much, but the tester's clean, the bed ropes have been tightened, and I had one of the boys air the mattress and the carpet this very morning." An unaccustomed sympathy crept into the woman's tone. "'T isn't easy, is it? A girl like yourself having to come to this."

Autumn glanced at her.

"You know my circumstances?"

Mrs. Inman nodded sagely.

"'T is easy to see, miss, you're not servant stock. Why, just look at yourself." She led the younger woman to a darkly veined standing mirror. "It isn't only in the dress, though that's patrician enough, it's the whole picture." Mrs. Inman pronounced the word "pitcher." "'Tis easy to tell you're an aristocrat." Autumn did not feel much like an aristocrat as she gazed at the distorted, lantern-washed reflection. "You've got good bones—fine bones, I like to say. And that hair of yours might've spun out from an autumn moon. And them eyes, miss! They're like the topaz crystals that hang from the chandelier in the front parlor. Wait'll you see that! It's something to behold."

Autumn smiled. "Why Mrs. Inman, you are waxing positively poetic."

"I'm a poet and don't know it, but my feet show it," said the woman gleefully. "They're lo-o-o-ng fellows!" It was a popular joke about the poet who had reigned over a good part of the mid-to-latter half of the nineteenth century and was in currency in prim drawing rooms and taverns up and down the eastern seaboard, but it became for Autumn an almost drowning release. She doubled over with unrestrained laughter, and Mrs. Inman, happy that her little jest had been so well-received, joined her. Together, the two women fell into the thickness of a small sofa near the hearth and enjoyed for some moments the pleasure of their amusement. It was in this unguarded pose that they were found by a young groom who brought Autumn's luggage to her room. The fellow halted just inside the door and smiled.

"Having a party, Mrs. Inman?" he asked. Mrs. Inman repeated the joke, and the young man chuckled. "That's an old one," he observed. "Still, if it brings you a smile, what's the harm?" He divested his broad shoulder of the largest of Autumn's trunks, and set down another.

"The harm," said a voice from the dark hallway, "is that all this hilarity is bound to disturb my mother." The people inside the room sobered, and Cain Byron stepped across the threshold. He regarded them all coldly, his arms filled with hatboxes, cases, and baskets. He dropped his burdens unceremoniously where he stood. "Had you planned, Miss Thackeray, to relocate your entire household to mine?" Autumn stood.

"I only brought what I felt might be necessary for my entrance into an important household, Dr. Byron." She had no desire to inform him that his household had, unfortunately, become hers. She had nowhere else to go.

"I can assure you," the man returned icily, "your society will be with my mother only. There will be no dallying for you, miss. You will spend your time in this room or in my mother's. So you might as well have left most of this frippery in Philadelphia." He turned and stalked from the room. Autumn heard the echo of his booted feet long after he had passed from the hallway, and she remained speechless. Her silence, however, masked a roiling anger. Mrs. Inman touched her shoulder hesitantly.

And the young man, who followed his master from the room said solemnly, "This won't be a party for you, miss."

"I'll fetch you a tray," Mrs. Inman said as she, too, left the room.


On Sale
Jun 15, 2001

Carole King

About the Author

Carole King had her first No. 1 hit in 1961, at age 18, with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”. Collaborating with former husband Gerry Goffin, the team went on to write more than two dozen chart-toppers, including “One Fine Day”, “The Loco-Motion”, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, and “(You Me Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman.” Her 1971 solo-album, Tapesty, won 4 Grammys, and earned her the record for longest time an album by a female artist has remained on the Billboard Charts (6 years), as well as the longest time holding the #1 position (15 consecutive weeks).

King, in addition to writing more than 100 top-selling songs has recorded 25 solo albums. In 2007 she and longtime collaborator James Taylor reunited and recorded Live at the Troubadour. Released in 2010 the album debuted at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and The Troubadour Reunion Tour became the second highest grossing Tour of that year. She has won numerous lifetime achievement honors and has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, “Hit Parade” Hall of Fame, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Carole King continues to entertain audiences the world over.

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