Prologue to Love

Foreword by: Hannah McGregor

What if the children of star-crossed lovers actually dealt with their families’ troubles?

Autumn Dean unexpectedly returns home from Europe to her father’s ranch in the Okanagan Valley, where she reconnects with Bruce Langdon, a stoic childhood friend grown into an accomplished rancher. Autumn and Bruce’s budding romance is halted by the revival of an intergenerational grudge between their two families that is shrouded in mystery. Autumn is insistent on uncovering the root of the hostility: a forbidden romance between her mother and Bruce’s father that had devastating consequences. As Bruce and Autumn circle the truth of what happened, they’re both haunted by the past, and must decide if they forge ahead together or alone. Originally published in 1931, Prologue to Love is a lush portrait of early 20th century BC ranch life, and an intergenerational tale of love and loss—and hope and redemption. This new edition features an introduction by Hannah McGregor.


Hannah McGregor

Hannah McGregor is an Assistant Professor of Publishing at Simon Fraser University, where her research focuses on podcasting as scholarly communication, systemic barriers to access in the Canadian publishing industry, and magazines as middlebrow media. She is the co-creator of Witch, Please, a feminist podcast on the Harry Potter world, and the creator of the weekly podcast Secret Feminist Agenda.


“Ostenso has written a beautiful novel that expertly depicts the choice between love and family, and while you may read Prologue to Love for the mystery and budding romance, you will stay for the grandeur of British Columbia.”—Miranda Marini, The Ormsby Review


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Chapter I

For one of those minutes that are not reckoned as time, but rather as a curious vessel to hold experience, she had stood still on the station platform, rapt and breathless and unmindful of the inquisitive glances that rested on her taut figure. The desire had been acute to fling out her arms to the circle of the mountains that rose from the valley like a prodigiously wrought gold and purple bowl filled with the wine of sundown in May. She had stood, aware of the cool star on the southern crest, and of the silver shallop of the new moon a-sail with its veiled and mystical cargo. Then the words had shaped themselves in silence upon her lips, words she knew now had paused far back in her childhood, waiting for her return: “You beautiful! Oh, you beautiful!”

Only a few moments before, she had checked her luggage without giving her name, and the slight narrowing of the old clerk’s eyes had brought a twitch of amusement to her mouth. She remembered him well enough, and although it was nine years since he had seen her—she had been but fourteen then—it was evident that some recollection stirred behind the old man’s eyes. Perhaps, after all, she might have told him she was Autumn Dean, so that he might be the first to know that the Laird’s daughter had come home. He was one of the “relics of Barkerville,” as her father used to call them affectionately, those old men who had become as legendary as that long-dimmed field of gold. It would have been fitting to tell him first, this old man who was the essence of everything to which she was returning, this fabulous, romantic northland of her girlhood. But it amused her to keep her secret a little longer, to be to herself alone the daughter of old Jarvis Dean, the Laird of the “Castle of the Norns.” That phrase brought an almost unbearable ennui for what had been when she herself had so named her father’s house.

The murmur of the valley town, like the warm sound of a human heart within the cool heart of the hills, lay below her now as she made her way quickly up the steep dark street to the house she remembered in the mountain’s cleft. A few new dwellings had appeared, the shade trees had grown, there was a denser thicket of shrubbery flanking the street, but the curious upward climb of the way was unmistakable. There, where the gravel road took a prankish turn as though seeking greater seclusion under the brow of the hill, old Hector Cardigan’s cottage peered through, half suspiciously as she had remembered it, as though it had made its way from the inner secrecy of the mountain and were of half a mind to return there. Her heart gave a little leap of delight as she saw the “monkey-puzzle” tree on the tiny front lawn, and the two somber, meticulously clipped yews on either side of the shell-lined walk. The ancient wrought-iron Italian lamp hung as of old in the narrow crypt of the porch, but instead of the wanly flickering oil wick, a dim electric bulb glowed steadily behind the parchment. Old Hector had had his house wired, then!

Her impulse was to go bounding up the steep little steps two at a time, as she had been wont to do, but she reflected quickly that Hector, grown older and more than ever given to solitude, from her father’s reports of him, might be startled at such an intrusion. Instead, she ran lightly up the flight to the carved, narrow, oak door, and clutched her handbag to still the excitement of her heart as she lifted the heavy brass knocker. She remembered that the knocker had been level with her eyes when she was a reedy kid of fourteen.

That was Hector’s step now, quick and military still in its precision. She could remember that long polished panel of hardwood floor of the hall within, polished to mirror luster by Hector himself, as no servant could do it, had the old man ever been able to afford a servant. The door opened quickly, boldly, in its old manner of brusque inquiry. And there stood Hector, erect and fiery, fastidiously groomed as of old, severely dinnerjacketed, his gray hair grayer now but combed as ever with sculptured nicety. He stood very little above her own height, so that it seemed to her that she was smiling on a level with his eyes.

As she waited for his recognition, a curious thing was happening. She had snatched off her hat and stood with her head flung back, her hair shaken vividly about her cheeks. Hector’s eyes were fastened upon her face with a look that grew from strange, incredulous amazement to something verging upon pain. His hand reached uncertainly out toward her, as though he expected her to vanish before his eyes, then his fingers grasped the door knob until the knuckles gleamed white. His face had become drained of all color, and although she saw that his hand leaned heavily on the door knob for support, Autumn laughed gayly, stepped over the threshold, and flung her arms about his neck.

“Hector, Hector! Don’t you know me, you old goose?” she demanded, shaking his shoulders as she smiled up at him.

A flush mounted like a brand over Hector’s brows. He stared back at her, a man in a dream. Then he ran his fingers over his eyes in a gesture of weariness. All at once his manner changed.

“Forgive me, child,” he said. “You—you startled me. I hadn’t expected—but here, come inside. My manners are abominable!”

They proceeded into the low, shadowed living room, Autumn pausing just within the door to let her eyes sweep over the place. She wanted to make sure that the character of this extraordinary room had not changed. No, except for an added piece or two, it was the same as when she had last seen it—a haunting medley of the centuries, the oak walls dim and secret with their tapestries, the Louis XIV Gobelin, the fragile and priceless Renaissance Grotesque with its quaint assembly vanishing irretrievably into the weave, vanishing back into the dead hands of the weaver, and the bold François Spierinx of Delft with its heraldry challenging Time. Autumn’s eyes moved quickly over the room, resting for a fleeting moment of delight upon one dearly remembered treasure after another, until Hector’s voice, from where he stood near the fireplace, recalled her.

“But—when did you get back, Autumn?” he asked, his voice firm now, with its old courtly inflection.

“I’ve just come. I walked right up here from the station.”

“But your father didn’t tell me you were coming home.”

Autumn tossed her hat and purse on the low Spanish settle, ruffled her fingers through her hair, and came over and stood beside him, her feet spread boyishly apart, her hands clasped behind her back. She looked at Hector with grave amusement.

“He isn’t expecting me,” she said lightly.

Hector started. Autumn looked at him sideways, frowning a little. Then he began fingering the black silk guard of his glasses, his lips tightening.

“He isn’t expecting you? You mean he doesn’t know you are coming home?’’

“Just so,” Autumn told him. “And I haven’t phoned the ranch, because I want to surprise him.”

Hector turned slowly away. “H-m-m, yes,” he said, thoughtfully. “It will be a surprise to him.”

“Besides, you old fraud, I wanted to surprise you. Think of it, Hector, it’s nine years since you saw me last.”

“Nine years! It seems impossible. Well—we’re getting older. I’m approaching my dotage, child. But you—you are eternal youth itself. You have the heritage of your mother.”

Autumn’s laugh pealed out deliciously. “But not her beauty, Hector!”

“That was what startled me when I saw you at the door. You are her image.”

He moved to the couch that faced the fireplace, seated himself, and clasped his hands between his knees. Autumn turned and looked down upon him, and a wave of swift pity for him swept over her, obliterating for a moment the bewilderment and dismay that were growing upon her at the strangeness of his reception. Time, the merciless invader, was storming the fine citadel of that gallant old soldier, and already had come an intimation of the ruin that was to be. Autumn went quickly and seated herself beside him, taking his brown hand in her own.

“Is this all the welcome you give me?” she asked. “You look as if I had brought you the plague. What’s wrong, Hector?”

He looked at her thoughtfully, then got to his feet.

“There’s nothing wrong, my dear. It’s just the surprise, I suppose. It has knocked me quite silly. Here—let me get you some tea.”

“No, no, Hector,” Autumn protested. “I had dinner just before I stepped off the train. Besides, I must hurry along before it gets too dark.”

“Yes, yes, of course. There’ll be time enough for visiting later on.”

“Plenty,” Autumn declared. “I’m coming in to spend a whole day with you just as soon as I get settled at home.”

“How are you going out?”

Autumn patted one of his brown hands affectionately. “I’m going to ride one of your hunters,” she told him. “It wouldn’t look right for the daughter of Jarvis Dean to go home in an automobile, would it?”

Hector smiled. “One of my hunters? I have only one left, my dear, but you are welcome. Are you going to ride in those clothes?”

“No. I’ll telephone for my luggage. I have a riding habit handy in a bag. You see, I had it all planned. Where is the telephone, Hector? Isn’t that frightfully stupid! It’s the only thing about the house I have forgotten.”

Hector pointed to a low Japanese gilt and black lacquer screen that stood below a seventeenth century brass lantern clock with a single hand. “Back there,” he said.

When she had arranged for the immediate transfer of her luggage to Hector Cardigan’s house, she returned to the fireplace. Hector had laid another log on the fire, and the pitch was snapping spiritedly. He had also brought out a remarkably cut old English decanter with a ruby glass snake wound about the neck. Two fragile wine glasses stood on the tray beside it, and the liquid within them glowed with a fixed and inviolate coruscation. On a Meissen porcelain plate were tiny frosted cakes and shortbreads.

“Oh, Hector! You sweet!” Autumn cried, kneeling before the wine to look at the light flaming through it. “I take back all I said about my welcome.” She seated herself upon a battered hassock and took the glass he offered her. She sipped the wine and reached for one of the tempting little cakes.

“Chablis, isn’t it?” she remarked.

Hector smiled at her over his glass, and it seemed to her that he was more his old self again, the surprising and eternally enigmatic old self that she had known, Puck and Pan and Centaur, all in one, and sometimes Ariel and sometimes Caliban—all the naïve and grotesque and impish legendary beings she knew.

“Your education is complete, I see,” he laughed. Autumn laughed too, and ate another cake in one mouthful.

“Oh, when I went over,” she said, “they were teaching children to drink so that they would stop begging for another war.” Her mood changed then and she frowned down at the last drop that lay in the crystal hollow of the glass. “Seriously, though, that’s why I wanted to come home, Hector. I had to get away from the constant reliving of a nightmare that my generation missed.”

“I know—I know,” Hector remarked.

“The only real thing in the pampered life of Aunt Flo was the loss of her son—my cousin Frederick, you know. I don’t know whether there is such a word or not—there ought to be—but Aunt Flo simply voluptuated in her loss. I couldn’t live with it any longer.”

“It isn’t the same back home as—”

“Oh, I don’t mean they are all like Aunt Flo,” she hastened to add. “But there is something smothery about England now, with all those hungry-eyed women stepping on each other’s toes. Do you know what I mean?”

“Yes,” Hector admitted. “I think I do. You wanted room to breathe in. Well, you are right, too. Only—your father isn’t the same man either. You will find him very difficult at times. He rarely comes to see me anymore—and you know how devoted I have been to him.”

“Father has always been difficult, Hector. But I’ve always loved him, nevertheless—and he has always loved me.”

“Certainly. He loves the ground you walk on. I think, perhaps, that was one of the reasons he didn’t want you to come back.”

“Listen, Hector,” Autumn said, shaking a finger at him, “I know father wanted me to stay in England. He wanted me to marry and settle down over there. Why?”

Hector coughed lightly and took another sip from his glass. “If Jarvis has any reason for not wanting you back here,” he said finally, “he’ll probably tell you what it is better than I could, my dear. Though, for that matter, I am inclined to agree with him in this, I think.”

“What do you mean by that, Hector?”

“I mean—you should not have come home,” Hector said abruptly.

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248 Pages
5.0in * 8.0in * 0.75in


November 18, 2020



Book Subjects:

FICTION / Romance / Historical / 20th Century

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