Use code DAD23 for 20% off + Free shipping on $45+ Shop Now!
The Wild Rose
Formats and Prices
- Trade Paperback $16.99 $22.99 CAD
- ebook $11.99 $15.99 CAD
- Hardcover $49.00 $63.00 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 1, 2009. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available from:
It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.
—SIR EDMUND HILLARY
Did all English girls make love like a man? Or was it only this one?
Max von Brandt, a German mountaineer, wondered this as he stroked the hair out of the face of the young woman lying next to him in the dark. He’d been with many women. Soft, pliant women, who clung to him afterward, extorting promises and endearments. This woman wasn’t soft, and neither was her lovemaking. It was hard and quick and without preliminaries. And when it was over, as it was now, she would turn away, curl into herself, and sleep.
“I don’t suppose there is anything I can say. To make you stay with me,” he said.
“No, Max, there isn’t.”
He lay on his back in the dark, listening as her breath slowed and deepened, as she drifted off to sleep. He couldn’t sleep. He didn’t want to. He wanted to make this night last. To remember it always. He wanted to remember the feel of her, the smell of her. The sound of the wind. The piercing cold.
He had told her he loved her. Weeks ago. And he’d meant it. For the first time in his life, he’d meant it. She’d laughed. And then, seeing that she’d hurt him, she’d kissed him and shaken her head no.
The night passed quickly. Before the sun rose, the woman did. As Max stared ahead of himself, into the darkness, she dressed, then quietly left their tent.
He never found her beside him when he woke. She always left the tent or cave or whatever shelter they’d found while it was still dark. He’d searched for her in the beginning, and always he’d found her perched somewhere high, somewhere solitary and still, her face lifted to the dawn sky and its fading stars.
“What are you looking for?” he would ask, following her gaze.
“Orion,” she would answer.
In only a few hours, he would say good-bye to her. In the time he had left, he would think of their first days together, for it was those memories he would hold on to.
They’d met about four months ago. He’d been traveling in Asia for five months prior. A renowned Alpine climber, he’d decided he wanted to see the Himalayas. To see if it was possible to conquer Everest; to take the world’s highest mountain for Germany, for the fatherland. The kaiser wanted conquests, and better to satisfy him with a beautiful mountain in Asia than a wretched war in Europe. He’d left Berlin for India, traveled north through that country, then quietly entered Nepal, a country closed to Westerners.
He’d made it all the way to Kathmandu before he was apprehended by Nepalese authorities and told to leave. He promised he would, but he needed help, he told them; a guide. He needed someone to take him through the high valleys of the Solu Khumbu and into Tibet over the Nangpa La pass. From there he wanted to trek east, exploring the northern base of Everest on his way to Lhasa, the City of God, where he hoped to ask permission of the Dalai Lama to climb. He had heard about a place called Rongbuk, and hoped he might find an approach there. He’d heard of one who might be able to help him—a woman, another Westerner. Did they know anything about her?
The authorities said that they did know her, though they had not seen her in several months. He gave them presents: rubies and sapphires he’d bought in Jaipur, pearls, a large emerald. In return, they gave him permission to wait for her. For a month.
Max had first heard of the woman when he’d arrived in Bombay. Western climbers he’d met there told him of her—an English girl who lived in the shadow of the Himalayas. She’d climbed Kilimanjaro—the Mawenzi peak—and had lost a leg on Kili in a horrible accident. She’d almost died there. Now, they said, she was photographing and mapping the Himalayas. She was trekking as high as she could, but the difficult climbs were beyond her. She lived among the mountain people now. She was strong like them, and had earned their respect and their liking. She did what almost no European could—moved over borders with goodwill, receiving hospitality from Nepalese and Tibetans alike.
But how to find her? Rumors abounded. She had been in China and India, but was in Tibet now, some said. No, Burma. No, Afghanistan. She was surveying for the British. Spying for the French. She’d died in an avalanche. She’d gone native. She’d taken a Nepalese husband. She traded horses. Yaks. Gold. He heard more talk as he made his way northeast across India. In Agra. Kanpur. And then, finally, he’d found her. In Kathmandu. Or at least he’d found a hut she used.
“She’s in the mountains,” a villager told him. “She’ll come.”
Days passed. Then weeks. A month. The Nepalese were growing impatient. They wanted him gone. He asked the villagers again and again when she was coming, and always he was told soon. He thought it must be a ruse by the wily farmer with whom he was staying to get a few more coins out of him.
And then she’d arrived. He’d thought her a Nepalese at first. She was dressed in indigo trousers and a long sheepskin jacket. Her shrewd green eyes were large in her angular face. They assessed him from beneath the furry fringe of her cap. Turquoise beads hung from her neck and dangled from her ears. She wore her hair in a long braid ornamented with bits of silver and glass as the native women did. Her face was bronzed by the Himalayan sun. Her body was wiry and strong. She walked with a limp. He found out, later, that she wore a false leg made of yak bone, carved and hollowed for her by a villager.
“Namaste,” she’d said to him, bowing her head slightly, after the farmer had told her what he wanted.
Namaste. It was a Nepalese greeting. It meant: The light within me bows to the light within you.
He’d told her he wished to hire her to take him into Tibet. She told him she’d just returned from Shigatse and was tired. She would sleep first, then eat, and then they would discuss it.
The next day she prepared him a meal of rice and curried mutton, with strong black tea. He’d sat with her on the rug-covered floor of her hut and they’d talked, sharing a pipeful of opium. It killed the pain, she said. He’d thought then that she was referring to her damaged leg, but later he realized that the pain she spoke of went much deeper, and the opium she smoked did little to dull it. Sadness enfolded her like a long black cape.
He was astonished by the depth and breadth of her knowledge of the Himalayas. She had surveyed, mapped, and photographed more of the range than any Westerner had ever done. She kept herself by guiding and by publishing papers on the topography of the mountains for Britain’s Royal Geographical Society. The RGS would soon publish a book of her Himalayan photographs, too. Max had seen some of them. They were astonishingly good. They captured the fierce magnificence of the mountains, their beauty and cold indifference, like no other images ever had. She never went to the RGS in person, for she would not leave her beloved mountains. Instead she sent her work to be presented there by Sir Clements Markham, the RGS’s president.
Max had exclaimed over her photographs and the precision of her maps, amazed by both. She was younger than he—only twenty-nine—and yet she’d accomplished so much. She had shrugged his praise off, saying there was so much more to do, but she couldn’t do it—couldn’t get high enough to do it—because of her leg.
“But you’ve had to climb in order to do this much,” he said.
“Not so high, really. And not on anything tricky. No ice fields. No cliffs or crevasses,” she replied.
“But, it’s all tricky,” he said. “How do you climb at all? Without . . . without both legs, I mean.”
“I climb with my heart,” she replied. “Can you?”
When he had proved to her that he could do that, that he could climb with love and awe and respect for the mountains, she agreed to take him to Lhasa. They’d left Kathmandu with two yaks to carry a tent and supplies, and had trekked through mountain villages and valleys and passes that only she and a handful of sherpas knew. It was hard and exhausting and unspeakably beautiful. It was brutally cold, too. They slept close to each other in a tent, under skins for warmth. On the third night of the trek he told her he loved her. She laughed and he’d turned away, upset. He’d meant it, and his pride had been deeply wounded by her rejection.
“I’m sorry,” she said, placing a hand on his back. “I’m sorry, I can’t . . .”
He asked if there was someone else and she said yes, and then she took him in her arms. For comfort and warmth, for pleasure, but not for love. It was the first time in his life his heart had been broken.
They’d arrived three weeks ago at a bleak Tibetan village at the base of Everest—Rongbuk, where she lived. They waited there while the woman, who was known and well connected, used her influence to get him papers from Tibetan officials which would allow him to enter Lhasa. He stayed with her in her house—a small whitewashed stone structure, with a smaller building tacked on that she used to house her animals.
She’d taken photographs during those days. Once he’d seen her try to climb. She attempted an ice field when she thought he wasn’t watching, with her camera strapped to her back. She was not bad even with only one leg. But then she suddenly stopped dead and did not move for a solid ten minutes. He saw her struggling with herself. “Damn you!” she suddenly screamed. “Damn you! Damn you!” until he feared she would start an avalanche. At whom was she yelling? he wondered. At the mountain? Herself? At someone else?
His papers had finally come through. The day after he received them, he and the woman left Rongbuk with a tent and five yaks. Yesterday, they’d reached the outskirts of Lhasa. It had been their last day together. Last night, their last night. In a few hours, he would begin the trek to the holy city alone. He planned to stay for some months, studying and photographing Lhasa and its inhabitants, while he tried to obtain an audience with the Dalai Lama. He knew his chances were slim. The Dalai Lama tolerated one Westerner—the woman. It was said that on occasion he would drink with her, sing Tibetan songs with her, and swap bawdy stories. She was not going into Lhasa this time, however. She wanted to get back to Rongbuk.
Max wondered now, as he rose in the cold gray dawn, if he would ever see her again. He quickly dressed, packed a few things into his rucksack, buttoned his jacket, and walked out of the tent. Four yaks, presents for the governor of Lhasa, were stamping and snorting, their breath white in the morning air, but the woman was nowhere to be seen.
He looked around and finally spotted her sitting on a large, jutting rock, silhouetted against the sky. She sat still and alone, one knee hugged to her chest, her face lifted to the fading stars. He would leave now. With morning breaking. With this image of her forever in his mind.
“Namaste, Willa Alden,” he whispered, touching his steepled hands to his forehead. “Namaste.”
“Aunt Eddie, stop! You can’t go in there!”
Seamus Finnegan, sprawled naked across his bed, opened one eye. He knew that voice. It belonged to Albie Alden, his best friend.
“For heaven’s sake, why not?”
“Because he’s asleep! You can’t just barge in on a sleeping man. It’s not decent!”
Seamie knew that voice, too. He sat up, grabbed the bedcovers, and pulled them up to his chin.
“Albie! Do something!” he yelled.
“I tried, old chap. You’re on your own,” Albie shouted back.
A second later, a small, stout woman dressed in a tweed suit threw open the door and greeted Seamie loudly. It was Edwina Hedley. She was Albie’s aunt, but Seamie had known her since he was a boy and called her Aunt Eddie, too. She sat down on the bed, then immediately jumped up again when the bed squawked. A young woman, tousled and yawning, emerged from under the covers.
Eddie frowned. “My dear,” she said to the girl, “I earnestly hope you have taken preventive measures. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself with a baby on the way and the father en route to the North Pole.”
“I thought it was the South Pole,” the woman said sleepily.
“It was,” Seamie replied.
“Has he told you about all the children?” Eddie asked the girl, lowering her voice conspiratorially.
Seamie started to protest. “Eddie, don’t . . .”
“Children? What children?” the woman asked, her sleepy look gone now.
“You know he has four children, don’t you? All illegitimate. He sends the mothers money—he’s not a complete bounder—but he won’t marry any of them. They’re completely ruined, of course. London girls, all of them. Three left for the country. Couldn’t show their faces anymore. The fourth went to America, the poor dear. Why do you think the whole thing with Lady Caroline Wainwright ended?”
The girl, a pretty brunette with a short bob, turned to Seamie. “Is this true?” she asked indignantly.
“Entirely,” Eddie said, before Seamie could even open his mouth.
The girl wrapped the duvet around herself and got out of bed. She picked her clothes up off the floor and huffed out of the room, slamming the door on her way.
“Four children, Aunt Eddie?” Seamie said, after she’d gone. “Last time it was two.”
“A gold digger through and through,” Eddie sniffed. “I saved you just now, but I won’t always be around at times like these, you know.”
“What a pity,” Seamie said.
Eddie leaned over and kissed his cheek. “It’s good to see you.”
“Likewise. How was Aleppo?”
“Absolutely splendid! Stayed in a palace. Dined with a pasha. Met the most extraordinary people. A Tom Lawrence among them. He traveled back to London with me. He’s staying in the Belgravia place and—”
There was a loud, resounding boom as the house’s heavy front door slammed shut.
Eddie smiled. “Well, that’s the end of that one. Won’t be seeing her again. What a tomcat you are.”
“More of a stray dog, I’d say,” Seamie said ruefully.
“I heard about Lady Caroline. It’s all over London.”
“So I gathered.”
Seamie had come to Highgate, Eddie’s beautiful Georgian brick house in Cambridge, to recuperate from a brief and heady love affair that had soured. Lady Caroline Wainwright was a privileged young woman—wealthy, beautiful, spoiled—and used to getting what she wanted. And what she wanted was him—for her husband. He’d told her it would never work. He wasn’t good husband material. He was too independent. Too used to his own ways. He traveled too much. He told her any bloody thing he could think of—except the truth.
“There’s someone else, isn’t there?” Caroline had said tearfully. “Who is she? Tell me her name.”
“There’s no one else,” he’d said. It was a lie, of course. There was someone else. Someone he’d loved long ago, and lost. Someone who’d ruined him, it seemed, for any other woman.
He’d finished with Caroline, and then he’d hightailed it to Cambridge to hide out with his friend. He had no home of his own to go to, and when he was in England, he tended to bounce between Highgate, his sister’s house, and various hotels.
Albie Alden, a brilliant physicist, taught at King’s College and lived in his aunt’s house. He was constantly being offered positions by universities all over the world—Paris, Vienna, Berlin, New York—but he wanted to stay in Cambridge. Dull, sleepy Cambridge. God knew why. Seamie certainly didn’t. He’d asked him many times, and Albie always said he liked it best here. It was peaceful and quiet—at least when Eddie was away—and he needed that for his work. And Eddie, who was rarely home, needed someone to look after things. The arrangement suited them both.
“What happened?” Eddie asked Seamie now. “Lady Caroline break your heart? Didn’t want to marry you?”
“No, she did want to marry me. That’s the problem.”
“Mmm. Well, what do you expect? It’s what happens when you’re a dashing and handsome hero. Women want to get their claws into you.”
“Turn around, will you? So I can get dressed,” Seamie said.
Eddie did so, and Seamie got out of bed and grabbed his clothing off the floor. He was tall, strong, and beautifully made. Muscles flexed and rippled under his skin as he pulled his pants on, then shrugged into his shirt. His hair, cut short on the sides, long and wavy on the top, was a dark auburn with copper glints. His face was weathered by the sun and the sea. His eyes were a frank and startling blue.
At thirty-one years of age, he was one of the world’s most renowned polar explorers. He’d attempted the South Pole with Ernest Shackleton when he was still a teenager. Two years ago, he’d returned from the first successful expedition to the South Pole, led by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen. In demand all over the world, he’d embarked on a lecture tour shortly after returning from Antarctica and had traveled nonstop for nearly two years. He’d come back to London a month ago and already he felt it, and everyone in it, to be dull and gray. He felt restless and confined, and couldn’t wait to be gone again on some new adventure.
“How long have you been in town? How are you liking it? Are you going to stay for a bit this time?” Eddie asked him.
Seamie laughed. Eddie always talked this way—asking a question, and before you could answer it, asking ten more.
“I’m not sure,” he said, combing his hair in the mirror above the bureau. “I may be off again soon.”
“Another lecture tour?”
“No. An expedition.”
“Really? How exciting! Where to?”
“Back to Antarctica. Shackleton’s trying to get something together. He’s quite serious. He announced it in the Times last year, and he’s already drawn up some very detailed timetables. All he has to do now is scare up some funds.”
“What about all the war talk? Doesn’t that worry him?” Eddie asked. “People talked about nothing else on board the ship. In Aleppo, too.”
“It doesn’t worry him a bit,” Seamie replied. “He doesn’t give much credence to it. Says it’ll all blow over, and wants to sail by summer’s end, if not earlier.”
Eddie gave him a long look. “Aren’t you getting a bit old for the lad’s life? Shouldn’t you settle down? Find a good woman?”
“How? You chase them all away!” Seamie said teasingly. He sat down on the bed again to put his socks on.
Eddie flapped a hand at him. “Come downstairs when you’ve finished dressing. I’ll make us all some breakfast. Eggs with harissa sauce. I bought pots of the stuff back with me. Wait till you taste it. Simply marvelous! I’ll tell you and Albie and his boffin friends about all my adventures. And then we’ll go to London.”
“To London? When? Right after breakfast?”
“Well, perhaps not right after,” Eddie conceded. “Maybe in a day or two. I’ve got the most fascinating man staying in my town house whom I want you to meet. Mr. Thomas Lawrence. I was telling you about him just a moment ago, before your paramour nearly slammed my door off its hinges. I met him in Aleppo. He’s an explorer, too. And an archaeologist. He’s traveled all around the desert, knows all the most powerful poohbahs, and speaks flawless Arabic.” Eddie suddenly stopped speaking and lowered her voice. “Some people say he’s a spy.” Eddie said this last word in a whisper, then resumed her normal, booming tone. “Whatever he is, he’s thoroughly amazing.”
Eddie’s words were punctuated by a sudden clap of thunder, followed by the pattering of rain against the mullioned windows, one of which had a cracked pane.
“Water’s coming in,” she said. “I must call the glazier.” She sat watching the rain for another minute. “I never thought I’d miss the English weather,” she added, smiling wistfully. “But that was before I’d seen the Arabian desert. It’s good to be back. I do love my creaky old house. And creaky old Cambridge.” Her smile faded. “Though I do wish the circumstances of my return were different.”
“He’ll be all right, Eddie,” Seamie said.
Eddie sighed heavily. “I hope so,” she said. “But I know my sister. She wouldn’t have asked me to come home if she wasn’t terribly worried.”
Seamie knew that Mrs. Alden, Albie’s mother and Eddie’s sister, had wired Eddie at Aleppo, asking her to return to England. Admiral Alden, her husband, had taken ill with some sort of stomach complaint. His doctors had not yet figured out what was wrong with him, but whatever it was, it was bad enough to keep him in bed and on pain medication.
“He’s made of tough stuff,” Seamie said. “All the Aldens are.”
Eddie nodded and tried to smile. “You’re right, of course. And anyway, that’s about enough moping for one morning. There’s breakfast to attend to and then I must call the glazier. And the gardener. And the chimney man, too. Albie’s done nothing in my absence. The house is dusty. My mail is up to the rafters. And there’s not one clean plate in the entire kitchen. Why doesn’t he get that girl from the village up here to do some cleaning?”
“He says she disturbs him.”
Eddie snorted. “I really don’t see how she could. He never comes out of his study. He was in it when I left two months ago. And he’s in it now, working harder than ever, even though he’s supposed to be on sabbatical. He’s got two more boffins in there with him. I just met them. Dilly Knox, one’s called. And Oliver Strachey. They’ve got blackboards and charts and books strewn all over. What on earth can they be doing in there? What can possibly be so fascinating?”
“Hardly. It’s all just numbers and formulas,” Eddie said dismissively. “That boy needs a wife. Even more than you do, I daresay. He’s far too odd and absentminded to continue without one. Why is it that you have more women after you than you can possibly cope with and poor Albie hasn’t any? Can’t you push some of your admirers in his direction? He needs a good woman. And children. Oh, I would so love to hear the happy noise of little ones in my home again. How wonderful those years were when Albie and Willa were little and my sister would bring them here and they’d swim in the pond and swing from that old tree—that one right there,” Eddie said, pointing at the huge oak outside the bedroom window. “Willa would climb so high. My sister would plead with her to come down, but she wouldn’t. She’d only climb higher and—”
Eddie suddenly stopped talking. She turned and looked at Seamie.
“Oh, crumbs. I shouldn’t have spoken of her. Do forgive me.”
“It’s all right, Eddie,” Seamie said.
“No, it isn’t. I . . . I don’t suppose you’ve had a letter from her recently, have you? Her own mother hasn’t. Not for the last three months anyway. And she’s been writing to Willa twice a week. Trying to get word to her about her father. Well, I suppose getting letters to and from Tibet is a rather tricky business.”
“I suppose it is. And no, I haven’t heard from her,” Seamie said. “But I never have. Not since she left Africa. I only know as much as you do. That she nearly died in Nairobi. That she traveled through the Far East afterward. And that she’s in the Himalayas now, looking for a way to finish the job.”
- "...enjoy the ride: 600-plus pages of romance, harrowing exploits, cinematic backdrops, cliffhangers, and plot twists."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Sep 1, 2009
- Page Count
- 640 pages
- Hachette Books