In the Mirror – a Peacock Danced Read Online Justine Bothwick

Categories Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance Tags Authors:

Total pages in book: 103
Estimated words: 92647 (not accurate)
Estimated Reading Time in minutes: 463(@200wpm)___ 371(@250wpm)___ 309(@300wpm)

Set against the lush backdrop of early 20th-century India, In the Mirror, a Peacock Danced – the debut novel from Justine Bothwick – is the moving story of one woman’s journey back to herself.
Agra, 1938: Eighteen-year-old Florence Hunt has grown up riding horses past the Taj Mahal and chasing peacocks through her backyard under the critical gaze of her father. Increasingly enamoured with his work on the booming railway, Florence yearns to know more, but finds herself brushed away, encouraged only to perform the more ladylike hobbies of singing and entertaining guests. So when a dazzling young engineer walks into her life, she finds herself not only gripped by secret lessons in physics but swept entirely off her feet.
Portsmouth, 1953: Fifteen years later, Florence finds herself pregnant and alone in post-war England – a far cry from her sun-drenched existence in India. Struggling to cope with the bleakness of everyday life in a male-dominated world, Florence is desperate to find the woman she used to be. But when someone from her past reaches out, Florence might just have a chance to start over.

Soaring from the shimmering heights of the big top to the depths of heartbreak, can Florence find the happiness, independence, and passion she once had in order to start living again?


Part I

Chapter One

AGRA, 1938

It was a morning for wraiths and spirits, with a swirling fog that shrouded the December sun. Florence shivered and kicked her horse into a canter down the road towards the gate of the fort. The speed of the animal, the percussion of hooves battering the dried mud, settled her thoughts.

The Red Fort was full of ghosts, or so they said, and last night she had dreamt of her mother flickering in and out of its empty rooms and courtyards. She didn’t believe in ghosts, not really, but she’d awoken in the dark of her room, early on the morning of her eighteenth birthday, with a sense of longing. The dream had disturbed her, an echo of a laugh remaining as she sat up in bed. Her first thought had been the cemetery, but visits there failed to move her. The Fort, however, was full of shadows and silent corners where it might just be possible to hear her dead mother’s voice once again.

The gates appeared ahead, indistinct at first, russet columns flanking a large door. At the entrance, the guard, a man she had known since she was small, raised a hand as she jumped to the ground and looped the reins over a post. She walked along the side of the wall until she came to a door hidden behind a pillar, lifted the latch, and slipped inside.

She headed away from the residential quarter towards the far side, which had been left to crumble and decay after the sieges of the previous century. In places she had to clamber over rubble and broken walls, or squeeze through jagged gaps where, according to her father, once had stood jewelled thrones inlaid with precious stones. Plundered the lot, we did, her father liked to say. And what for? A handful of private museums and exclusive exhibitions where no one will ever see them. Florence tried to shake his voice from her head. The gloomy corridors opened out into a large, rectangular space, flanked by fine, marble screens. A thousand stars perforated the walls so they seemed as delicate as lace.

The exercise and activity, however, had erased the strangeness of the dream and lifted her mood, and Florence thought perhaps she ought to be more pragmatic about things, rather than give way to fanciful notions of communing with the dead. She sat in a corner of the courtyard, where the sunshine was beginning to filter through the mists, and raised her face to the light. Of course, it was all because of the argument with her father the night before, not even an hour after she had arrived from Simla. Two days by bullock cart, car, and train, and she had stood on the platform, gritty-eyed and in need of a bath. The rest of her pals dispersed with tearfully smiling mothers and stiff-backed fathers, but Florence had to wait until Ravi appeared, apologising that Mr Harry Sahib was having lunch at the Club and had taken the car.

At home, the first person to greet her had been Sita. At least there was Sita, with her gentle embrace, the familiar scent of cardamom on her skin and jasmine in her hair. ‘You are grown again. Taller than me now,’ she had said smiling up at her. It was true. It was the first time Florence had been aware of her height, looking down at the woman who had raised her, protected her, had always been there as a salve to the hurt of her father’s moods.