The Moonlit Garden

By: Corina Bomann

Prologue

London, 1920

Helen Carter gazed in bewilderment at her reflection in the mirror. Her deathly pale cheeks were marbled by rivulets of tears mingled with makeup, and her exotic, amber-colored eyes gleamed strangely below thick layers of dark eye shadow, making her look like a silent movie star.

Helen had never been particularly interested in the cinema—her passion was for music alone—but at that moment she really did feel like a character in a movie. The scene that had just played out could easily have been penned by one of those scribblers who hung around outside film studios, screenplays in hand, in the hope of catching the eye of a producer.

Helen laughed bitterly before letting out a brief sob. Once again, her eyes filled with tears, which were stained black before sliding down her cheeks.

A few minutes ago everything had still been fine. Her glittering career as a violinist beckoned; the world was her oyster. She had been due to play Tchaikovsky on the stage of a London concert hall in half an hour. King George V would be present with his queen consort, an honor they only rarely granted to musicians.

Helen had always been lucky. She had been discovered as a child prodigy at the age of seven, and now, having just turned eighteen, she was fêted as one of the best musicians in the world. In Italy, the newspapers were already declaring her, an Englishwoman, to be the true heir of Paganini. When her agent had shown her the headline, she had smiled. Let people believe what they would! She knew to whom she owed her success. She remembered only too well the promise she had made.

And now that woman had turned up. She had followed her like a shadow almost everywhere she went for three days now. As Helen walked the streets of London, she caught glimpses of her. Whenever her gaze wandered out the window while practicing, she saw her across the street. The first day Helen had thought it a mere coincidence, but as the sightings were repeated over the next two days, she began to feel nervous. Every so often she encountered crazy admirers, women included, who would do anything to get her on her own for a moment.

Trevor Black, her agent, had dismissed her concern when she told him about it.

“It’s only an old woman, harmless, if a little mad.”

“Harmless? Mad people are never harmless! Perhaps she’s hiding a knife in her bag,” Helen had replied, but Trevor seemed convinced that the old woman meant her no harm.

“If she’s still bothering you after the concert, we’ll inform the police.”

“Why not now?”

“Because they’d only laugh at us. Just look at her!”

Trevor had pointed through the window to where the stranger could be seen at the end of the street. Her figure was a little stooped, her clothes old-fashioned, and her features Asiatic. Helen had no idea why this woman should be stalking her. She was momentarily reminded of her childhood, but she quickly pushed the thought to one side.

She was now sure that the stranger really had been watching her, waiting for an opportunity to speak to Helen alone. She had somehow managed to worm her way into the dressing room shortly after Helen had sent Rosie off to see how full the auditorium was.

Helen’s first instinct had been to call for help, but there had been something hypnotic about the woman that made it impossible for her to cry out. What the visitor told her during the brief conversation made something give way inside her, and Helen shouted at the woman to leave.

She had obeyed, but her assertion still hung in the room. Of course it was possible that she was lying, but something told Helen that was not the case. Everything fit together. Long-forgotten images, memories of words spoken, thoughts—they all suddenly made sense.

Helen looked at the violin lying nearby. Before her visitor had appeared, she had wanted to practice a couple of particularly difficult passages one final time, but there was no hope of that now.

With shaking hands, Helen gripped the instrument and turned it over. As her fingers slid over the rose burned into it, a face appeared in her mind’s eye. The face of the woman who had given her this violin. Was it really possible?

As the door behind Helen was pushed open, the violin made a strange, hollow sound. A broken string lashed her skin, leaving a red welt. Shaken, Helen watched drops of blood well up along the cut as the memory of her cruel music teacher stirred a surge of anger inside her. In her rage she felt like jumping up and throwing the violin into a corner, but Rosie’s kind face appeared behind her in the mirror.

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