Easterleigh Hall at War

Contents

About the Book

About the Author

Also by Margaret Graham

Title Page

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Copyright

About the Book

England is at war and Easterleigh Hall has been turned into a hospital for the duration of the hostilities.

With its army of volunteers and wounded servicemen, cook Evie Forbes is determined that everyone will be properly provided for, despite the threat of rationing and dwindling supplies.

All the while she waits for letters from her fiancé and beloved brother, fighting on the Western Front.

Then the worst happens – a telegram arrives with shattering news. And Evie wonders if she'll have the strength to carry on ...

About the Author

Margaret Graham has been writing for thirty years. Her first novel was published in 1986 and since then she has written a further fifteen novels, and is now working on her sixteenth. As a bestselling author her novels have been published in the UK, Europe and the USA.

Margaret has written two plays, co-researched a television documentary – which grew out of
Canopy of Silence
– and has written numerous short stories and features. She is a writing tutor and speaker and has written regularly for Writers' Forum. She founded and administered the Yeovil Literary Prize to raise funds for the creative arts of the Yeovil area and it continues to thrive under the stewardship of one of her ex-students. Margaret now lives near High Wycombe and has launched
www.wordsforthewounded.co.uk
which raises funds for the rehabilitation of wounded troops by donations and writing prizes.

She has ‘him indoors', four children and three grand-children who think OAP stands for Old Ancient Person. They have yet to understand the politics of pocket money. Margaret is a member of the Rock Choir, the WI and a Chair of her local U3A. She does Pilates and Tai Chi and travels as often as she can.

For more information about Margaret Graham visit her website at
www.margaret-graham.com

Also by Margaret Graham

Easterleigh Hall

After the Storm

(previously published as Only the Wind is Free)

Annie's Promise

Somewhere Over England

(previously published as A Fragment of Time)

A Time for Courage

(previously published as A Measure of Peace)

At the Break of Day

(previously published as The Future is Ours)

Easterleigh Hall at War
Margaret Graham

For my fellow grannies of Words for the Wounded
With love and thanks

Acknowledgements

As a child I became aware that my paternal grandfather, an artillery officer, survived the First World War virtually unscathed, along with his four brothers. My maternal grandfather also survived, only to take his life later. War has long and relentless tentacles. As a result I have read extensively about the 1914–18 war since a child and I thank all those books, too numerous to mention specifically.

I founded and administer Words for the Wounded to raise funds for our present-day wounded, and to a great extent it has driven
Easterleigh Hall at War
. The needs of the wounded are pressing, and may be for the rest of their lives, which, given their youth, will be long.

My thanks to the fantastic Wellington on the Strand, especially Michal, Jose and Esther, for the support they have given my lunchtime procrastination in the writing of this novel. Perhaps I should make it respectable by calling it thinking time.

Chapter 1
Easterleigh Hall Auxiliary and Convalescent Hospital, Christmas 1914

EVIE FORBES MUTTERED,
‘Aye, well, what are we going to do about this kettle of fish?' She and Mrs Moore, the head cook, stood at the huge deal table in the kitchen of Easterleigh Hall, looking across at the two men who were cluttering up the place. Both women were trying not to cringe at the noise as one man stabbed a knife in and out of the sharpener, while the other stood at the range, scraping a spatula across the frying pan as he flipped onions. It was a kitchen in which Evie had been learning her trade as assistant cook since 1909, and nothing had prepared her for this.

Easterleigh Hall had been a private house, pre-war, but the owner, Lord Brampton, eager to be seen to be supporting the war effort, had ordered his daughter, Lady Veronica, to set up the hospital for the war-wounded on the premises. He and his good lady, however, immediately decamped to their more peaceful homes in London and Leeds, to better oversee his steelworks, coal mines, brickworks, munitions, and the resulting profits. Man and wife were not missed.

Evie felt Mrs Moore's touch on her shoulder. ‘Well, young Evie, I hear the vegetables calling. They need counting out for luncheon, so I'll leave you to sort out this little mess. Jack's your brother, after all.' She hobbled off, on feet beset with rheumatism, to the vegetable store at the other end of the vast kitchen.

Evie grinned, her hands on her hips. ‘So kind.' Her mind was still half on Bastard Brampton, as he was known, who had sent a demand for hampers of Home Farm produce to be delivered to his London house post-haste. This had not yet happened, so no doubt they'd receive a telephone call in the near future. At least that was one problem she would not have to deal with, and Lady Veronica had become adept at clicking the receiver rest and complaining of a terrible line, before hanging up on his bellows.

As Mrs Moore joined the cluster of kitchen volunteers in the vegetable store, Jack, Evie's elder brother, dark-haired, dark-eyed, with a pitman's scars, stabbed ever more savagely in and out, in and out of the sharpener in the corner. How could he not notice that the shrieks were a million times worse than chalk on a board?

But why would he, when he'd spent the last four months playing silly buggers on the front line in Belgium and northern France with God knows what noise and mayhem all around? And what was he really seeing, as he stabbed that knife? Evie shut her mind to it, and instead checked the cooking implements laid out on the table ready for the Christmas luncheon preparations, glancing at the clock, then at Annie, the kitchen assistant, who had just entered with cranberries from the housekeeper's preserve pantry. She placed the jars on the table, shaking her head at Evie, pointing at the clock and mouthing, ‘Come on, pet, sort it out.' She hurried out, heading for the preserve pantry again.

At that moment Jack dropped the knife, cursed, recaptured it from the flag-stoned floor, and stabbed once more. Evie knew she must do something but, instead, she found herself staring from her brother to Lieutenant the Honourable Auberon Brampton, the owner's blond son and Jack's superior officer, who was stirring, instead of flipping. Her instructions to him had been to leave the onions alone to sauté gently for the turkey and chicken stuffing.

There was a pause as Jack examined the knife. Then Mr Auberon, as they called him, returned to flipping the onions, which had begun to burn. As she looked, the smoke rose ever more black, greasy and acrid. How could he not notice, staring as he was? Both men appeared absorbed, but in what? Evie felt a huge sadness at their hunched shoulders, their old faces, when they were both only twenty-four.

These two, together with Simon, Evie's sweetheart, and Mr Auberon's valet, Roger, had arrived last evening on leave. They had come to find a bit of peace. It had eluded them. They couldn't rest, or concentrate, or talk at length about anything, or so they had informed Evie at nine o'clock this morning, standing like a troop of naughty boys in the doorway of the kitchen. They said that they'd decided to do something useful, and help towards Christmas, just as everyone else seemed to be doing.

So saying, her fiancé, Simon, had promptly deserted and headed into the gardens to reacquaint himself with his under-gardener chores, and these two had inched further into the kitchen to carry out Evie's hastily invented tasks. Roger, Mr Auberon's erstwhile valet, proposed to clean his master's boots, but no one in their right minds would put sixpence on that being true. He'd be more likely cadging cigarettes from any passing idiot, or pressing himself up against one of the young housemaids who knew no better.

‘We must have been mad to agree,' Mrs Moore muttered, materialising next to Evie again. ‘Good grief, we've well over sixty wounded soldiers to feed in less than two hours, not to mention nurses, volunteers, the staff, and visiting relatives. We need to sort this out, it's a pig's ear.'

Evie looked at the clock yet again, as though it might magically have slipped back an hour. It hadn't.

At least the turkeys, geese and hams were roasting, but the Christmas puddings needed boiling for a couple of hours, and the mince pies were stacked in the pastry pantry ready to be shoved into the ovens, once there was room. Much, but not all, of the invalid food had been prepared at 5 a.m. this morning, after Evie, Annie and the two kitchenmaids had shooed the mice from the kitchen, then washed the floor and lit the furnace for the ranges.

Mrs Moore repeated, digging her hands into her hessian-apron pockets, ‘Aye, as I say, a pig's ear. Come along, Evie, you'll get through to Jack, and well, you're friends of a sort with Mr Auberon. He thinks your cakes are grand and you said he asked you to be a friend to Lady Veronica whilst he was away.'

Evie hushed her. ‘I don't think anyone is to know that.'

Mrs Moore kept her eyes on the two men and laughed quietly. ‘Oh, lass, it's obvious. You and Lady Veronica are as tight as a drum and run this hospital as though you were both born to be bossy. I put it down to all that suffragette malarkey you have in common but whatever it is, it works. However, wielding responsibility takes practice, so get to it.' Mrs Moore pursed her lips and rolled her shoulders.

Evie pulled a face. ‘Oh, that's grand, and who precisely is head cook with shoulders that should accept that responsibility but, dear me, they seem to be too busy being rolled. I presume you're intent on retreat?'

Mrs Moore smiled. ‘Absolutely, since discretion is quite the better part of valour and you know right well, our Evie, that we share the role of head cook, what with my rheumatics and all what, so you just get on with it. Now, mind, if the wind changes, your face will stay that way, so think on. The girls are still brushing the carrots free of storage sawdust in the vegetable pantry and you need to use your influence on these two wee lost souls, especially the onion expert who is intent on burning the house down. What on earth were you thi—?'

Evie interrupted, watching the spatula flip once again, and the knife stab. ‘I was remembering that our patient, Captain Neave, said all he could smell when he first came here was the stench of blood, mud, and filth. I thought onions might break through that. Clearly not.'

Mrs Moore nodded, leaning against the table, wincing, and Evie knew she needed to sit for a while. ‘Evie, what on earth can they see that we can't?' She indicated Jack who was now looking at the floor as he stabbed, and then Mr Auberon who was also staring, but at the white splash-back tiles behind the range, holding the spatula quite still now. The smoke was on the increase and the onions were irredeemably black and blue from ill-treatment. Mrs Moore nudged her. ‘Quick now, get them out of here before the rest of the volunteers return from their break, you know how they talk.'

Evie sighed, for a servant didn't approach an owner, whatever relationship they might or might not have, but nevertheless stomachs would need filling. She worked her way quietly round the table, bracing herself, and raising her voice. ‘Why not leave this and walk in the fresh air, Mr Auberon. There has been no more snow since your arrival yesterday evening.'

Other books

This Christmas by Katlyn Duncan
An Appointment With Murder by Jennifer L. Jennings;John Simon
Cheap by Ellen Ruppel Shell
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
If You Believe in Me by Natalie J. Damschroder
Double Fake by Rich Wallace
Liar's Bench by Kim Michele Richardson


readsbookonline.com Copyright 2016 - 2022