Authors: Margaret Graham
Evie and her family have struggled to keep Easterleigh Hall, now a hotel, running during the depression, and with war looming, she worries for the children, who have to find their way in a changing world.
Bridie is learning her trade at her mother Evie's side, and is becoming a talented chef. Her cousin James has run away to fight in Spain, leaving the family devastated.
And Tim, the boy Bridie has always loved, shocks everyone by joining the Black Shirts and going to Germany, discovering too late that he's playing a dangerous game.
Heartbroken at Tim's defection, Bridie isn't sure she can ever forgive him. But somehow these three must find a way to reconcile, because if war does come, they will need each other more than everâ¦
Margaret Graham has been writing for thirty years. Her first novel was published in 1986 and she 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 and numerous short stories and features, and has co-researched a television documentary, which grew out of
Canopy of Silence
. She is Contributing Editor for
, and is also a writing tutor and speaker. She founded the Yeovil Literary Prize and now that she lives in High Wycombe she has launched and runs the charity
. WforW raises funds for the recovery of wounded troops by donations, literary festivals and the Independent Author Book Award writing prize.
She has âhe who must be disobeyed', four children and three grandchildren who think OAP stands for Old Ancient Person. They have yet to understand the politics of pocket money. Margaret is a member of the WI, her local U3A. She does Tai Chi, and eats too much.
Easterleigh Hall at War
After the Storm
(previously published as Only the Wind is Free)
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)
For fellow writers: Pat â born to dance and Michael â forever Ambridge.
They lead me astray â yes, it is that way round.
At eleven on the day of Jack Forbes' wedding, Evie Brampton, part owner of Easterleigh Hall hotel, head cook and wife of the Honourable Auberon Brampton, roared with laughter and chased Lady Veronica Williams down the yard steps, heading for the kitchen.
âNearly got you,' Evie called as they entered the boot hall, but Ver darted ahead into the kitchen, laughing too.
Behind them, Mrs Moore manoeuvred her way down the steps, shouting, âYou're in your forties, not a couple of bairns, you daft pair, and this is no way to sort out the final preparations for your brother's wedding buffet, Evie. And you, Bridie Brampton, for the love of God, come away from the stables; your mam needs to test your canapÃ©s. That horse can do without your strokes for now.'
Evie and Ver raised their eyebrows, laughing so hard they had to hang on to one another as they leaned against the nearest range. It was still warm from the cooking of quiches. Ver whispered, âHas she finished bossing?'
Evie shook her head and the laughter continued as Mrs Moore heaved herself down the last of the steps, still issuing a stream of orders. Finally, they heard her call, âBridie, pet, come
Evie might be your mam but she's still your boss. And everyone remember to wash your hands before you touch anything, if you don't mind. By, it would all go to pot if I wasn't here.'
Evie and Ver pulled themselves together, straightening their pastel-coloured silk outfits. Evie set her wedding hat more firmly on her head and skirted the huge kitchen table, heading for the apron hooks against the end wall. Ver said, following her, âCrikey, eighty and still in full voice, bless her cotton socks.'
Evie laughed again as she threw an apron to the woman who was her best friend, hotel partner and sister-in-law. âHow will we get ourselves from A to B if she ever
properly retire? It truly doesn't bear thinking about. I just love her so much.'
She shouted, knowing that Mrs Moore would hear because she'd be entering the boot hall by now. âThe forties aren't old, so very there, but those in their eighties are ancient.'
The two women heard Mrs Moore's great booming laugh, and rushed into the scullery to wash their hands, thrilled that Jack and Gracie were married at last. They headed into the cool pantry set alongside the scullery, and within seconds they were putting the desperately extravagant gift of Russian caviar onto the pastry bases, set on wire trays, that Bridie
had baked at five this morning. The job done, Evie saw her anxious daughter hovering in the doorway and picked up a couple of the pastries.
Ver nudged her. âCome on, then, Evie, let's taste 'em.' The two women grinned at each other, then held their noses as they ate the canapÃ©s. They grimaced. âMam,' Bridie whispered, her hazel eyes wide as she stared at Evie. âAre they really that bad?'
Mrs Moore appeared and put her arm around Bridie's shoulders. âNo, pet. If they were, your mam would be thinking of a nice way of telling you. That daft expression means the canapÃ©s are nigh on perfect. They're just being silly, because they're heady that your Uncle Jack and Auntie Gracie have regularised things.'
She steered Bridie to the huge pine table, above which hung the gleaming copper pans that had been in use since before even Mrs Moore had joined Easterleigh Hall. Evie followed, smiling. Mrs Moore and Bridie, the young and the old, stood together at the far end. The old had experienced so much, before and during the awful war when they were a hospital, and the years after when Easterleigh Hall had become a hotel. The young, fresh and eager, was soaking up the handed-down knowledge like a sponge.
Behind them, at the end of the ranges set along the left-hand wall, the furnace gurgled. Evie had stoked it up before they left for the blessing in the church, and that should see it through for a few
more hours. Over everything hung the heavy smell of baked potatoes, which were keeping warm in the end range, and would be served with the buffet.
Evie gazed around, and waved to the kitchen and laundry staff taking a break in the staff hall before putting on their finery. First, though, they would take some buffet treats across to the Neave Wing Convalescent Centre, which as usual had its fair share of patients recovering from injuries, though not war induced any more. They would then join in the fun.
âOur very own Easterleigh Hall hotel. Seventeen wonderful and peaceful years,' Evie murmured, overcome with emotion. Ver slipped her arm through hers, saying, âThey have been, haven't they?'
During that time the hotel had grown, only stalling slightly during the years of economic depression. The Neave Wing had continued its care of the injured, and Jack and Mart had been able to keep most of their men employed at the pits they managed for Auberon. They were hoping that they might open yet more seams, but the problem was selling the coal at a viable rate in these parlous times.
Of course the hotel had to be cautious, but, following on from the war, the kitchen staff were experts at making something excellent out of very little. Many returning guests were ex-patients, whom Evie loved, and who had eventually eased themselves out of the darkness of their wounds and their memories into the sunlight.
At the thought of war and darkness, she faltered. Were such times returning again? There had been trouble between the communists and the fascists in Hawton last week, and similar outbreaks had occurred in many major towns. There was still nationwide unemployment, the Nazis were in charge in Germany and had taken back the Rhineland. There were strikes and anarchy in regions of Spain.
It was too concerning to contemplate, and she concentrated on Mrs Moore and Bridie, who were heading for the wedding cake. It stood on three tiers at the end of the pine table, hidden from view beneath swathes of muslin to await, as promised by Bridie, the great unveiling.
Evie murmured, âI just hope that everything improves, Ver. Not just in the world, but here, in our family.' Ver said nothing, just tightened her mouth and reached forward, touching the table for luck. Evie did the same, for she could feel her joy sliding away.
Damn Millie. Jack's wife had run off with a German prisoner of war based near Easterleigh Hall, but eighteen months ago she had written to him out of the blue, offering him a divorce which would enable him to marry Gracie. They had all celebrated that the woman was finally giving Jack his freedom after all these years. These celebrations, though, had been cut short when Millie had begun writing to her son, Tim, whom Jack and Gracie had brought up in the face of her abandonment. Not just writing but inviting him over to Germany, and so it had started.
Evie whispered to Ver, for what seemed like the millionth time, âGood grief, Ver, we now have a member of our family who is a fascist. It doesn't seem possible.'
Ver nodded. âI know.'
Evie glanced at the clock. Eleven twenty. They'd have to report for the photographs when the bridal party returned from the church. What on earth was keeping them? Bridie and Mrs Moore weren't ready either, it seemed, for they were still deep in conversation.
Evie moved closer to the table and the lists she had made last week, which were laid out in two piles. She leafed through them, checking them off again in her mind: the quiches in the cool pantry, the chicken legs, the ham, the potato salad, the forced lettuce, the . . .
Ver cut in, leaning close to Evie so that the others couldn't hear. âOf course, Millie will be encouraging Tim in his politics, bloody woman. She always was a poisonous baggage. Think of the trouble she and that POW caused before they scarpered, destroying Harry Travers' hives, blowing up the cedar tree, stealing the silver. Now she wants her son back, body and soul, probably because he's too old to be dependent on her.'
Evie gripped her friend's hand. âWe don't know that, she might have changed,' she whispered.
Ver's smothered laugh was harsh. âDon't be ridiculous. More than half the pleasure of her reunion with
her son will be the pain his conversion gives Jack and Grace, not to mention the rest of us. But don't forget, Tim's in his early twenties, Evie darling. There's still time for him to get himself sorted out.'