Blog Tour Extract
A tightly woven story full of secrets and lies with a breathtaking finale.
London 1920 – Troubled young dancer, Lily, is invited to remote Elmridge House, home of the wealthy theatre benefactor Dr Cuthbertson to escape her troubled past. An isolated guest room and a surprise pregnancy leave her longing to return to the stage and her London life. She soon discovers that Elmridge House is not all that it seems – the house holds secrets which make it difficult for her to leave.
Missensham 1942 – Young nurse Ivy Watts is called out to a patient at Elmridge House, home of the aloof Mrs Cuthbertson and reclusive Dr Cuthbertson. Ivy is entranced by the opulence of the house and its glamorous past, but when she tells her mother about Mrs Cuthbertson, her mother becomes fearful and forbids her from returning to the house.
What secrets does Elmridge House hold? And why does Lily’s mother live in fear of the mysterious Mrs Cuthbertson?
Perfect for the fans of Lesley Pearce and Susan Lewis.
I could not sleep after the woman’s visit. I lay awake in the darkness listening to the scrape of the ivy on the window and watching the dapple of moonlight on the ceiling. Even the knowledge that I had checked the locks several times did little to help my sleep and my thoughts were filled with memories of the desperate woman with the wavering eyes who had let herself into the kitchen and demanded drugs in return for money.
The sound of footsteps outside made me jump, but then came the jangle of keys and a curse as Bridget dropped them on the doorstep. I squinted at the clock – the hands were clumped together over the twelve. Bridget was due on the early morning shift and would get very little rest, but I was glad she was home and that I was no longer alone in the house. I drifted off to sleep.
Bridget rose to the drill of the morning alarm bell with a groan and, when I did not hear the clank of the water pipes, I knew that she must have put on her uniform without washing. I went into the kitchen in my housecoat but found her staring at a triangle of toast. Her usually delicate features now seemed drawn and pale and she had pinned her long chestnut hair tightly under her cap without styling it. She shook her head when I offered to make her tea, but when I asked her if she’d had a nice evening, her face broke into a wide grin, although she said nothing further and walked shakily to the front door, letting it bang behind her.
There had been a time when I first moved in to the nurses’ house that I had admired Bridget – she was only a few years older than me but was able to speak to both the patients and doctors with the authority typical of her class. Her face had a daintiness to it, and she had a warm smile for those she favoured. In those early days, Bridget had chatted to me about her life – of her smart family home in west London and the society parties she frequented with her sisters and cousins, but when I told her that I had only ever lived with my crippled mother in a tiny house in Missensham, her friendliness had faded to politeness and all that I learned about her life after that was what I overheard as she sat on the stairs and gossiped to her friends on the telephone.
Bridget’s short exchanges with me made it quite clear that the friendship I had longed for would not grow and we moved separately,inhabiting the same space but nothing more. On that morning, with her messy hair and her hangover, it had not seemed right to mention the woman who had visited in the night.
I watched Bridget through the sitting room window as she walked to work, the blue of her uniform flashing through the trees at the back entrance of the hospital. Had we been closer, she might have asked for my help that morning, but she did not and I felt that it was not right to offer it, so I consoled myself with the thought of her facing the stench of the morning round of bedpans alone.
I returned upstairs slowly. A glance through the open door of Bridget’s bedroom told me a little of her evening – there was an imprint of mascara on her pillow and an evening dress left on the foot of her bed where she had fallen in a drunken stupor. On her nightstand was an expensive bottle of perfume, still in a bag from Partridge’s Department Store.I wondered how she might have afforded it, but then I remembered the unwelcome night visitor and how she had thrust money at me, saying that I was just like my silly friend. I imagined Bridget taking the little rolled pound notes and folding them carefully into her purse.
I washed, dressed and ate breakfast. Then I remembered the little bottle of Luminal that I had put in my pocket the previous evening. I fished it out and returned it to Bridget’s bag. I felt that she was suffering enough that morning so did not need the extra worry of a little bottle of pills that was at worst stolen and at best mislaid. I walked down the path to the hospital in time to join the doctor on his morning rounds.
The church bell struck nine as I entered the backdoor of the hospital. I just had time to straighten my cap and run into the hallway and stand next to Bridget to welcome Dr Crawford as he entered through the main entrance.
The local doctor’s rounds were always a formal occasion, yet there was rarely anything that could not be handled by a good nurse. Most patients just needed the reassurance that only a man in a white coat could give. We trailed after Dr Crawford smiling and saying very little as he squinted at charts, held wrists and listened to chests.
Missensham Cottage Hospital only had two wards – one for men and one for ladies, each with eight beds. There was one toilet and one bathroom and a sluice room which also housed the medicine cabinet. There was also a little room at the back with only one bed, secreted away from the unknown to most. It was cleaned regular ly and the bed made, but then the door would always be shut again – it was a room kept clear for an emergency,the serious case that we hoped we would never see.
As for staff, there were few for the doctor to inspect. The matron had left for Queen Alexandra’s military hospital in London,leaving only Bridget, and I had joined fresh from a hurried period of training.There was a local girl, Violet, who covered the gaps in our shifts, but she had received no training other than the instruction to run to the nurses’ house should a problem arise.
Meals were brought in by a local woman, who also cleaned once a day, and the doctor from the surgery on the village green visited twice a week. There was also the odd visit from a district nurse or midwife. For the most part it was only Bridget and myself who staffed the wards. We would even take most of our breaks in the nurses’ house in case there was an emergency which required us to return to the main hospital building.
The doctor’s rounds were usually brief, but in recen tweeks the war had provided a little more interest and Dr Crawford took an unusually long time tending to the patients. There were a couple of soldiers –local men who had been brought back from their postings, the nature of their wounds meaning that they would survive but would not be returning to combat –and some bronchial patients, transferred from London to make way for the wounded. Otherwise, the patients were what could be expected in a small town that straddled the London suburbs and countryside – a farm hand whose leg had been crushed by machinery, old women with swollen ankles and a pregnant farmer’s wife who always ignored the doctor and said she would rather wait for the midwife.
I noticed that Bridget was lagging behind the doctor,her face was still pale and strands of hair crept from her cap on to her moist brow. Dr Crawford glanced at her disdainfully over his spectacles and, after the rounds were over, he permitted me to end my shift but asked Bridget to stay behind and help him with the medicines. She complained that she was due off shift, but he was insistent and I realised that he had a lecture on appearances planned for her as they dispensed the medicines.
I returned to the nurses’ house and made a cup of tea to take up to my bedroom, but as I passed Bridget’s room, my eye fell on the bottle of perfume again. Bridget was from a good family but the war meant that everything was becoming scarce and few people could afford such things. There were really only a couple of places that her good fortune could have come from,but only one place where I might find out.
I went back downstairs to the kitchen and opened the cupboard under the stairs. It was the place that we kept the medicine chest for our lady visitors, but it also contained equipment that Bridget would sometimes use when the ladies had come to us too late. As a nurse who had trained in wartime, most of my experience had been with the wounded and I lacked Bridget’s knowledge of such things. My role had always been limited to private adoptions– finding suitable homes for infants whose mothers had no alternative but to give them up – and the contents of the kitchen cupboard seemed strange to me. I did not know what the rubber tubes and syringes were for and it was something that Bridget would not tell me. When she had a patient in need of them, she would send me upstairs and I would hear nothing more than the grate of the kitchen table as it was pulled away from the wall and I would return to find nothing amiss except a strong smell of Dettol.