Death of an Unsund Hero Blog Tour: Excerpt and Giveaway

Excerpt:



Chapter One


“How very nice, Mrs. Jackson.” Iyntwood’s elderly butler
settled into his chair by the window. “Why, it’s almost
like old times again.” George Hollyoak’s glance took in
the claustrophobic and over-furnished room: shabby velvet
chairs jostled with a heavy mahogany desk, taking up far
too much space in front of the win- dows, both of which
were swathed in heavy curtains in a dusty but strident
red plaid.
The dowager Countess of Montfort had died two years
ago and her character, or that of the late Queen Victoria,
whom she had revered, was still heavily imprinted on the
dower house furnished as a faithful replica of the old
queen’s beloved Balmoral Castle. Bright and, to Mrs.
Jackson’s flinching eye, brash tartans dominated most of the
reception rooms on the ground floor of Haversham Hall.
Mrs. Jackson was encouraged to see George Hollyoak
sitting in her new office. It had taken weeks to coax him to
visit her and now after all sorts of silly excuses here he
was. Though even with her old friend and mentor sitting at
his leisure with a cup of after- noon tea in his hand it wasn’t
really like old times, no matter how much they all wished it
were. The war had changed everything. Her face must
have reflected her thoughts as she followed his


2


DE AT H of a n UNSUNG H E RO


1


gaze around the oppressively furnished room. “Perhaps
not quite like old times.” Her guest smiled as he
observed a shaft of dust motes dancing thickly in the late
summer sunlight. “I must say you are looking well, Mrs.
Jackson, and so very smart in your uniform: Voluntary
Aid Detachment or Red Cross?” This was the first time he
had acknowledged that Iyntwood’s dower house had been
transformed into an auxiliary hospital.
“The hospital comes under the jurisdiction of the Red
Cross, but I trained with the VAD. I am not an assisting
nurse, so I am spared the traditional starched apron and the
rather claustrophobic cap,” she answered. Long aprons and
linen caps, in her experience, were worn by cooks, and
although Mrs. Jackson was not a snob, she was
conscious of little things like rank and station.
In acknowledging Haversham Hall’s new status the old
man evidently felt he might ask his next question. He
leaned forward, curiosity bright in his eyes. “And how are
you finding life in your new abode?”
Mrs. Jackson hesitated before she answered. She had
never liked Haversham Hall; it was as overbearing as the
Victorian age it had been built in and an ugly building in
comparison to the Elizabe- than elegance of Iyntwood. But
she had made the adjustment from being a senior servant to
Ralph Cuthbert Talbot, the Earl of Mont- fort, at his
principal country-seat, to the rank of quartermaster at
Lady Montfort’s new hospital far more easily than she had
an- ticipated. The real challenge had come when their
first patients had arrived, but this was something she was
not prepared to share with Mr. Hollyoak—not just yet.
“It is not as diferent as I thought it would be. Haversham
Hall is not Iyntwood, but it is a building I am familiar with,
and my duties here are similar to those of my position as
housekeeper at Iyntwood.” That’s not strictly true, she
thought, but it will do for now.
Her new job was not at all like her old one, any more than


TESS A ARLEN


2


this


DE AT H of a n UNSUNG H E RO


3


hospital was like many of the others that had sprung up
all over the country in the many private houses of the
rich and titled, speedily converted to cope with an
unceasing flow of wounded men from France. At
Haversham Hall Hospital there were no wards lined with
rows of beds, no operating theaters with trays of steel
surgical instruments, or hastily installed sluices and ster-
ilizers. Certainly there was an occasionally used sick bay
and a first aid room in what was known as the medical
wing, but they were merely a token adjunct. And it was
these diferences that were the cause for Mr. Hollyoak’s
initial reluctance to visit her and for his searching
question, “How are you finding life in your new abode?”
because Haversham Hall Hospital was not a conventional
Red Cross hospital, not by a long stretch of the
imagination.
She raised her teacup to her lips and took a sip. If she
was to help a man whose conventions were deeply
mired in the nine- teenth century to understand the value
of the hospital’s purpose, she must proceed with cautious
tact. She decided to start with a prosaic description of the
practicalities.
“I am responsible for the running of the hospital’s
housekeeping and for ordering all supplies, which means I
spend most of my time sitting at my desk filling in
requisition forms; the bureau- cracy of wartime, her ladyship
calls it. But we have plenty of nice young women from the
Voluntary Aid Detachment to help with the housekeeping as
well as some of our nursing duties. And I certainly need to be
well placed here on the ground floor of the house to su-
pervise them.” She did not add “every step of the way” because
that way of thinking made her resent how difficult it was to
work with inexpert help. To go with her cheerful tone she
exhibited her most optimistic smile. VAD girls from nice
middle-class families were a nightmare to train in
comparison to sensible, sturdy village women who were
ready to roll up their sleeves and had no roman- tic illusions
about their part in the war efort.
Having given her visitor the briefest outline of her duties,


TESS A ARLEN


4


she


DE AT H of a n UNSUNG H E RO


3


decided that she would wait for him to display genuine
interest— enthusiasm would be too much to hope for—in
what they were accomplishing here before she continued.
She ofered Mr. Hol- lyoak a plate of sandwiches: delicate
triangles of egg with cress. She had prepared them
herself, mashing the hard-boiled egg finely with a narrow-
tined fork and adding just the right amount of salt, pepper,
and cress to spread on lightly buttered crustless bread. He
took a sandwich and closed his eyes as he chewed and
swallowed the first bite.
“Perfect,” he said and smiled his appreciation, “quite
perfect. I need not say how much you are missed at
Iyntwood.” He took an- other bite of sandwich and then
slowly shook his head. “The house simply isn’t the same
without you.”
She detected real regret in his voice that she was no
longer his second-in- command in a servants’ hall now stafed
entirely with women. She knew how hard it had been for
him to adapt to her temporary employment by the Red Cross,
if it was indeed the Red Cross that paid her generous salary
and not, as she suspected, the Earl of Montfort. Perhaps
this is why I am reluctant to talk about the hospital, because
I find my new life so stimulating, and how­ ever inefficient
they are, I enjoy working with young and lively women
whose backgrounds are as varied as our duties. However
terrible this war was, it had certainly opened up a new
perspec- tive to those from other walks of life and in
particular the staid and confined life of an upper servant to
the aristocracy. All of this would be difficult to explain to a
man whose retinue of per- fectly trained footmen was
serving in the trenches of northern France.
“I know it’s wrong of me to say so, Mrs. Jackson, but
Iyntwood seems so quiet, so empty now that we are not
formally entertain- ing the way we used to. We all work,
just as hard, perhaps even more so, to maintain
standards but only because we have to make do with far
less staf. I am sometimes hard put to remember our


TESS A ARLEN


4


gracious lives before that terrible day in 1914.” Mr. Hollyoak
looked down into his empty teacup before he put it on the
table between them and she poured him a second cup.
“I am quite sure that none of us will ever forget that day, Mr.
Hol- lyoak.” She nodded her head in commiseration of the
old man’s many losses. Others might remember the fourth
of August, when Britain rallied to the flag, as one of the
loveliest days of a perfect summer, the sort of day that
Englishmen wrote poems about when they were far from
home. But what fixed it in her memory was that it was a
morning on which her ladyship had triumphed in a
particularly tricky inquiry at neighboring Bishop’s Hever
and a murder of such audacious cunning that just
remembering it still raised the hairs on the back of her
neck. Tea poured, she ofered her guest the sugar bowl
and silently counted the three sugar lumps he extravagantly
stirred into his tea. Mr. Hollyoak had always had a sweet
tooth and sugar was in short supply these days.
“No word from Dick Wilson, I’m afraid, Mrs. Jackson. It’s
been nearly a month now, and Dick was always like
clockwork with his letters before—we would have heard by
now if there was bad news, wouldn’t we?”
So it wasn’t just curiosity that brought you here, then.
More than likely the old man had come to see her out of
loneliness, perhaps for solace. Iyntwood’s hall boy at age
eighteen had been one of the first to join the British
Expeditionary Force to France in 1914. She took a sip of
tea. “Sometimes the post is a bit erratic, Mr. Hol- lyoak. Do
you remember when we didn’t hear from John for nearly two
months? And then dozens of letters came, all in one go,
each


and every one of them asking us to send socks?”
He nodded, willing to hope that all was well with the
youngest member of his servants’ hall. “I certainly do.” A
faint smile as he remembered their fastidious second
footman’s complaints after a winter of rain-filled trenches.
“That boy has enough socks for a battalion now.”


DE AT H of a n UNSUNG H E RO


3


She cut him a piece of Victoria sponge cake. “Ah, Mrs.
Jackson, you spoil me.” He sighed with contentment. “No
time for a good sponge cake belowstairs at Iyntwood
now that Mrs. Thwaite’s kitchen maids have all left to
become munitionettes at the Ban- bury factory.” Her face
betrayed no irritation but she inwardly bris- tled at the term
“munition-ette,” as the suffix made the dangerous job sound
diminutive—dainty, even. Is that what they are calling
them now—what’s wrong with “munition workers”? They
are prob­ ably required to wear ridiculous little caps with
frills, like waitresses at a Lyons Corner House, when they
pack those shells with their bare hands. She shrugged of
her annoyance and presented a pas- sive face as she
listened to Mr. Hollyoak’s gentle grumbling about lowered
standards. “Lord and Lady Montfort are most careful not to
overburden the staf these days, but Cook is so run of her
feet without her kitchen maids that she is threatening to go
and join them in Banbury. She says at least she would
know what was ex- pected of her.” He shook his head that
someone of Mrs. Thwaite’s age and status would even
consider factory work.
The image of the cook’s angry red face flashed into Mrs.
Jack- son’s mind. “She’s the last person in the world to be in
charge of explosives I would have thought,” she said before
she could stop herself.
Mr. Hollyoak chuckled. “Always a bit heavy-handed
with the pots and pans is our Mrs. Thwaite, but the lightest
touch when it comes to pastry and puddings. But, never
mind all of that . . . how is life finding you these days . . . I
mean, how do you . . .” he groped for the right phrase. “I
mean what do you make of all this?” He waved the last
bite of Victoria sponge around her office, clearly indicating
that he was now ready to hear more about the hospital. Mr.
Hollyoak was well aware, as everyone was in the village
and the county, that Haversham Hall Hospital had been
one of Lady Montfort’s bright ideas right from the start,
which was probably why he was picking his words so
carefully. Mrs. Jackson set down


TESS A ARLEN


4


her cup and saucer. She had no difficulty in recalling how
grim her ladyship’s mood had been when she had
returned from visit- ing an old family friend in Scotland. It
had been a bitterly cold evening in early December last
year. She was certainly a woman on a mission, if there
ever was one, when she came back from vis­ iting that
terrible place.
“I have never seen such tragic young men,” Lady
Montfort had announced to her housekeeper as she stood
in middle of her sitting room, still wearing her hat and
gloves and with her fur huddled closely around her neck.
“It was heartbreaking to see them, sitting so meekly in their
corners, seemingly quite unaware of where they were.”
“How is Mr. Barclay faring, m’lady?” Everyone
belowstairs at Iyntwood was fond of Oscar Barclay, a
particular friend of the Talbots’ only son, Lord Haversham,
who had alerted his mother to Mr. Barclay’s plight: a
casualty of the Battle of Loos, in France, and now a
patient at Craiglockhart Hospital in Scotland.
“He is sufering from what the army refers to in their
ignorance as shell-shock and what the doctors call
neurasthenia, Jackson. I hardly know how to describe
what has happened to that wholly decent and kind young
man; you simply wouldn’t recognize him. So pitifully thin . .
. he shakes at any loud or sudden sound. When he tries to
speak—he hardly uttered a word the whole time I was
there—he stammers so, his mouth trembles, and he . .
.” Lady Montfort’s eyes filled with tears and she stared
fiercely of into a corner of the room until she had regained
her composure. “The hospital was generous enough to put
me up in the staf wing while I was there. It is a dreadful old
building: run-down, drafty, and cold. All night I could hear
those poor young men crying out like souls in torment . .
.” She had tailed of and Mrs. Jackson had al- most
reached out to take her hand, that was how distressed
her ladyship had been. “They say nothing about their
sufering, noth- ing at all.” She had managed to continue


DE AT H of a n UNSUNG H E RO


3
in the flat monotone


TESS A ARLEN


4


people of her class used when they were embarrassed
about dis- playing emotion. “They politely lock down into
stammering or silence. There is no release for them it
seems—even when they manage to sleep they wake
screaming from their nightmares as they relive over and
over the horrors of battle.” Lady Montfort had gazed
down at the carpet for a moment to bring herself back
under complete control. “One of the doctors at
Craiglockhart, his name is Brock, believes that the act of
functioning—of doing simple and useful tasks that engage
the mind and body in healthy activities—is often
successful in helping these men to mend, or at least
recover something of their lives. All the way home on
the train I kept thinking about them and what the doctor
told me they were doing for them. It made me think that we
might be of use.”
However distressed she was, the Countess of Montfort
was a resilient woman. High-strung? Certainly, and Mrs.
Jackson was the first to acknowledge her ladyship’s little
ways, but her mistress was not without an inner strength and
vitality that never left her, even during these terrible days of
war. She had rallied from the horrors of her trip to Scotland,
and after several long walks in the frosty woodlands on the
estate with her husband had persuaded Lord Montfort not
only to ofer up Haversham Hall to the War Office as a
hospital for those young men who were on the road to
recovery from neurasthenia, but to make a substantial
donation to its running and upkeep.
Mrs. Jackson had no intention of trying to explain the
innova- tive new treatments used at the hospital to her
doubting friend sitting across from her. It had taken her a
while to overcome her natural skepticism in the first weeks
of her employment, especially to this new “talking cure”
that the doctors had come up with. It had barely made any


DE AT H of a n UNSUNG H E RO


3


sense to her at first and it was the last thing in the world
she would repeat to the old butler.
She got up and opened the window to let a little air into the
slight


TESS A ARLEN


4


stuffiness building in the room. “I have made the adjustment
quite nicely, Mr. Hollyoak, I am glad to say. It was difficult at
first. I was completely unprepared for how deeply distressed
our first patients were when they came here.”
The old man cleared his throat. “If I may just say this, Mrs.
Jack- son, I am veteran of the Boer Wars and I am
unfortunately fa- miliar with the distress war wreaks on its
soldiers. Conditions were indescribable at the Siege of
Ladysmith when I was deployed there during the African
wars. Our sufering was considerable, but none of us
shrank from what we had to do. Why, most of us sur- vived
by eating rats and existing on a canteen cap of water a day.
Typhoid carried of at least one-third of our number, maybe
even more. But you see, Mrs. Jackson, real men do not
hesitate to fight to the bitter end, no matter how hideous the
conditions are. I am not saying there were no cowards in my
day, of course there were and we gave them very short
shrift.” Mrs. Jackson concealed a smile and respectfully
nodded along as he remembered his war. How often had Mr.
Hollyoak regaled the servants’ hall with graphic and bloody
tales of the African wars? He had described getting over
typhoid as if he had shaken of a chill caught on some sort
of Boy Scouts camping trip. But what it boiled down to was
that in Mr. Hollyoak’s opinion, real men didn’t complain, even
under the worst of conditions, they merely got on with it;
only a cow- ard would hide out in a place like Haversham
Hall Hospital and talk about the horrors of war with his
doctor.
She summoned patience and tried again. “I
understand, Mr. Hollyoak. Until I came to work here I
thought of our patients as cowards too. Now I have to say
I have had a complete change of mind. Every one of our
officers say they want to return to the war as soon as they
are able. Our job here, you see, is to help them function so
they can lead their men in battle.” She saw Mr. Hol-
lyoak’s look of disbelief and she stepped it up a notch. “They
know they are thought of as cowards, they are painfully
aware of it. What


DE AT H of a n UNSUNG H E RO


3


is the expression they use in the navy—swinging the
lead?” Mr. Hollyoak acknowledged malingerers with a
fervent nod. “We are low in numbers this week as thirteen
of our twenty patients passed their Medical Board review
and are now on their way back to the Western Front, to
Mesopotamia, and Egypt. They went will- ingly and with
brave hearts.” She caught his eye and tried to hold his
gaze but he turned, reaching for his cup. When he had it
in his hand she sought his eyes again. “Strangely
enough, most of them here were decorated for
bravery—before they became seri- ously ill.”
He raised his eyebrows and took a sip of tea. Yes, I
thought that might surprise you. “There were six
Distinguished Service Orders alone among our first
fifteen officers, twelve of them mentioned in dispatches,
and four Military Crosses in our second group. One of our
officers was even recommended for the Victoria Cross. And
it is quite remarkable that straightforward, useful work in the
open air does so much to help restore our patients to
normal life—we call it ‘cure through function.’ ” He smiled
politely and gestured with his teacup to the comfortable
country house they were seated in, as if to say, Who
wouldn’t want to hide out the war here?
His eyes wandered to the little clock ticking away on the
chim- neypiece. She was losing him. She sought to
change the subject. “Well, enough of my work. It must be
wonderful to have Lord Haversham at home—is his arm
healing well?” The old man brightened up at the mention
of Lord and Lady Montfort’s son, who was home on
medical leave from the Royal Naval Air Service with a
fractured arm.
“Just plain ‘Captain Talbot’ is the title Lord Haversham
prefers these days,” he said with paternalistic pride. “The
highest scor- ing ace of his squadron and decorated three
times, but of course he plays all that sort of thing down.”
“He was always a modest young man.” Mrs. Jackson
did not want to precipitate another saga of heroic acts of
derring-do from


TESS A ARLEN


4


Mr. Hollyoak. Any man who fought in this war had her
admira- tion, and Mr. Hollyoak did rather go on. “I am glad
to hear that all is well at Iyntwood, Mr. Hollyoak. It certainly
looks like Lady Althea is doing a lot for the county with her
Women’s Land Army.” The war had curtailed the Talbots’
youngest daughter’s love of travel, and now that she was
safely marooned on the family estate she had involved
herself in representing the government’s volunteer force
that provided local farmers with labor. “I can’t believe the
jobs those young women are taking on, can you, Mr.
Hollyoak?” She took a bite of cake. “Up at dawn and out in
all weather. You have to take your hat of to them, don’t you?
I sim- ply don’t know what our farmers would have done
without them, especially with this bumper harvest.”
The old butler sighed and pursed his lips. His
handsome old head was imposingly leonine and when he
slowly shook it from side to side, as he did now, it gave
him all the appearance of an ofended biblical
elder—Moses when he returned from Mount Si- nai to find
the children of Israel had relapsed into drink and idol- atry
sprang to Mrs. Jackson’s mind and she bit the inside of
her cheeks to stop herself from laughing outright. “They
wear riding breeches.” Mr. Hollyoak put down his empty
cup with some fi- nality. “Most immodest and unattractive
in the female form.”


 

Giveaway:


 

Prize:

1 Copy of Death of an Unsung Hero.

Rules:

  1. Must be 18 years or older or have a parents permission to provide address to me and St. Martin’s Press. US Only (Sorry Intl. Folks publisher requirement)

  2. Must be following my blog.

  3. Extra Entry if you follow me on Instagram.

  4. Please comment below how you are following me and what is one book you are looking forward to reading this year.

  5. Giveaway book is provided by St. Martin’s Press.

  6. Giveaway ends on 3.30.18


 

1 comment

  1. Following via Bloglovin (Patricia https://www.bloglovin dot com/@marp).

    In addition to looking forward to reading Death of an Unsung Hero, I’m also really eager to read These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath.

    ReplyDelete