Read In Pale Battalions Online

Authors: Robert Goddard

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Thrillers, #Historical, #Mystery, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Historical mystery, #Contemporary, #Early 20th Century, #WWI, #1910s

In Pale Battalions

BOOK: In Pale Battalions
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In Pale Battalions
Robert Goddard
Published:
2010
Tags:
Historical Mystery, Early 20th Century, 1910s, WWI
Historical Mysteryttt Early 20th Centuryttt 1910sttt WWIttt

SUMMARY:
Six months after her husband's sudden death, Leonora Galloway sets off for a holiday in Paris with her daughter Penelope. At last the time has come when secrets can be shared and explanations begin... Their journey starts with an unscheduled stop at the imposing Thiepval Memorial to the dead of the Battle of the Somme near Amiens. Amongst those commemorated is Leonora's father. The date of his death is recorded as April, 30th, 1916. But Leonora wasn't born until March 14th, 1917. Penelope at once supposes a simple wartime illegitimacy as the clue to her mother's unhappy childhood and the family's sundered connections with her aristocratic heritage, about which she has always known so little. But nothing could have prepared her, or the reader, for the extraordinary story that is about to unfold.

 

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A L S O B Y R O B E R T G O D D A R D

A V A I L A B L E F R O M B A N T A M D E L L

S i g h t U n s e e n

I n t o t h e B l u e

B o r r o w e d T i m e

H a n d i n G l o v e

P l a y t o t h e E n d

A N D C O M I N G S O O N

F R O M B A N T A M D E L L

N e v e r G o B a c k

B e y o n d R e c a l l

 

IN PALE

BATTALIONS

ROBERT GODDARD

D E L T A T R A D E P A P E R B A C K S

in pale battalions

A Delta Book

publishing history

Bantam Press edition published 1988

Corgi edition published 1989

Delta Trade Paperback edition / June 2007

Published by Bantam Dell

A Division of Random House, Inc.

New York, New York

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved

Copyright © 1988 by Robert and Vaunda Goddard Title page art from an original photograph by Lynn Cummings Delta is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Goddard, Robert.

In pale battalions / Robert Goddard. — Delta trade paperback ed.

p. cm.

eISBN: 978-0-440-33698-3

1. Country life—Fiction. 2. England—Fiction. I. Title.

PR6057.O3315 2007

823'.914—dc22

2006102572

www.bantamdell.com

v1.0

 

I N M E M O R I A M

Frederick John Goddard, First Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment

Born Kimpton, Hampshire, 18th August 1885

Missing, presumed killed in action,

Ypres, Belgium, 27th April 1915

H I S N A M E L I V E T H F O R E V E R M O R E

A C K N O W L E D G E M E N T S

The lines quoted at the beginning and end of the book are the opening and closing lines of a sonnet by Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895–1915).

The lines from the poem “Not Waving but Drowning” by Stevie Smith (1902–71), quoted on page 300, are reproduced by kind per-mission of James MacGibbon.

 

P R O L O G U E

This is the day and this the place where a dream turns a corner and a secret is told. This is Thiepval, where only the clamping mist of an autumn morning can hide the massive, brick-arched statement of our collective conscience that is the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. And this is where Leonora Galloway has brought her devoted daughter to begin her explanation of what has taken her most of a long life to understand.

To Monsieur Lefebvre, taxi-driver of Amiens, it is merely another fare, though more remunerative than most. A mother and daughter, elegantly dressed, breaking the rail journey from Calais to Paris, and requesting, in hesitant English-accented French, that he drive them the twenty-eight kilometres north-east along the flat, straight road to Albert, then up into the rolling hills above the Ancre valley to “
le Mémorial Britannique de Thiepval.
” He was scarcely likely to refuse, though to him such reminders of a long-ago conflict hold no appeal. Monsieur Lefebvre is himself possessed of a total and unaffected oblivion to the past and is comfortable in that condition. He has driven obediently to the place—the mist not at all restraining his speed—and sits now in his taxi, smoking a cigarette and watching the waiting-time tick up on his meter, flicking ash towards the sycamore trees fringing the car park and wondering idly how long his customers will decide to spend in this literally God-forsaken spot.

They left him some time ago and walked up the gravelled approach to the memorial, still hidden at that stage by mist and 2

R O B E R T G O D D A R D

screening fir trees. At length, it loomed through its seldom-worn shroud: huge, disproportionate, vaguely alien in the silent, cold-dewed modesty of the surrounding countryside. The two visitors spread anoraks on the long, curved stone bench that faces the Memorial and sit now, watching it slowly emerge into view as the mist begins to give way to the sun that burns above.

Leonora Galloway is a lady of seventy, tall, finely boned and well bred, grey-haired and slightly gaunt in a way that suggests youthful good looks: her graceful bearing owes more to taste and training than to delicacy of manner. Her daughter, Penelope, some thirty-five years her junior, appears, as they sit together, quite obviously her child: the same height, the same open, high-cheeked face, flaxen hair that flows to her shoulders but will one day be as grey and trimmed as her mother’s. Not as determined, perhaps, not as vigorous, but, if anything, more patient, more gentle, perhaps even more reliable. Part of Penelope’s charm lies in her early assumption of elderly virtues, part of Leonora’s in her resistance of them.

Earlier in the year, Leonora’s husband died suddenly at their cottage home in Somerset. She bore the blow with the fortitude expected of her. Now, six months later, she has set off for a holiday in Paris designed to aid her adjustment to the solitary life. Of her two children, Penelope was the obvious choice to accompany her, being long accustomed to such a life and possessing, unlike her married, more prosperous brother, one quality immediately endearing to Leonora: the capacity to think.

From Penelope’s point of view, there was also much to be said for the venture. Through thirty years of reliable memories, her mother has somehow contrived to evade her definition, her manner always brittlely restrained, her accounts of herself cautiously vague.

Penelope has been left with an abiding curiosity about the strangely distant, private woman who is her mother—a curiosity which, her daughter’s instincts have told her, this trip may at last satisfy.

Already, her expectancy has been encouraged. The break of journey in Amiens was unscheduled, the taxi drive to Thiepval unexpected. Here, she feels certain, the explanations will begin.

“I expect you’re wondering why we’ve come here,” Leonora remarks, her words breaking in on her daughter’s thoughts.

“Of course I am. But I’m sure you’ll tell me when you’re ready.”

It is something she remembers her father telling her long ago, a

 

I N P A L E B A T T A L I O N S

3

piece of good advice from a patient, self-effacing man: “Your mother will confide in you when she wants to, not when you want her to.”

The mist is thinner now, the brick-wrought statement of official mourning clearer as its backdrop shifts imperceptibly from muffled grey to verdant green and hazy blue. The two onlookers are dwarfed by the emergent edifice, a little shocked by its massive, graceless presence, huge and finely sculpted as it is.

“The sun will be out soon,” Leonora says. “Shall we go and look for his name?”

“Whose name?”

“My father’s. That’s why we’ve come here, you see.”

She rises from the bench, crosses the gravel drive and sets off across the wide lawn fronting the Memorial, her feet leaving dark prints behind her in the saturated grass. Penelope follows, patient as ever. To her the Somme means one battle, larger than most, amongst the mindless many of the First World War. She knows—because she has read of it—that thousands died there, her grandfather among them. Now, as she approaches the Memorial, she sees that the huge brick pillars supporting its central archway are faced in stone and that the stone is minutely etched with names. At last its vastness is in part explained, for the names are the thousands of the missing of the Somme. Penelope stares up at them, still ranked and filed for war, lists reaching higher than her eye can follow. She is taken aback. She has read of it, of course, but nobody has told her, nobody has prepared her for 73,412 men without a grave.

Leonora has gone ahead of her across the flagstoned plinth beneath the pillars, scanning the walls quickly, looking for the one she seeks. At the foot of one stone-wreathed column of names, she halts.

There Penelope catches her up and follows with her eyes the direction of her gaze. Near the top of the pillar, the names of the Hampshire Light Infantry are assembled in order of rank. At the head, Captains Arnell, Bailey, Bland, Cade, Carrington, Cromie . . .

and Hallows, Leonora’s maiden name. So there he is. Suddenly, to Penelope, it seems a long way to have come just for this.

“Why didn’t you come before, Mother? There must have been visits arranged for relatives. We could all have come together.”

“I hardly think so.”

“Why on earth not?”

 

4

R O B E R T G O D D A R D

“Because of what we’d have found here.”

“What do you mean?”

“Come and see.”

The two women move back towards the steps by which they as-cended to the Memorial. At the base of each of the two gigantic pillars flanking the steps is a metal door let into the wall. Leonora opens the one to the left. Within are stacked several dog-eared but faithfully preserved volumes constituting the Memorial register. She leafs through one until she finds the place she wants, then holds it up for Penelope to see.

“HALLOWS. Captain the Hon. John, son of Edward, Lord Powerstock, of Meongate, Droxford, Hampshire. Missing, presumed killed in action, Mametz, 30th April 1916, aged 29 years.”

The family’s sundered connection with the aristocracy is not new to Penelope. The Powerstock title ended, she knows, with this death on the Somme. Leonora’s mother died when she was only a few days old, leaving her to be brought up by her grandparents.

After their death, the Meongate estate was dismantled. Neither money nor title ever found its way to Leonora, nor reminiscence of an aristocratic childhood, through her, to Penelope.

“What’s wrong with this?” she says, after staring blankly at the entry.

“Come on, Penny. My father was killed on 30th April 1916, but I wasn’t born until 14th March 1917. Don’t you see now?”

“Ah.” Penelope smiles. “So that’s it. Well, this sort of thing was common enough in wartime, wasn’t it?”

“Oh yes. Common enough, I dare say.” Leonora replaces the book and pushes the door shut. “But not quite the point. I’ve always known my father wasn’t . . . well, wasn’t my father. Lady Powerstock made sure I knew and she made sure Tony knew as well.” “Then . . . where’s the harm?”

“There wouldn’t be any, if it were as simple as that.”

Leonora turns and walks back through the archway, past the pillar bearing her father’s name and on to the steps at the rear of the Memorial. These lead down to a cemetery of unknown soldiers.

BOOK: In Pale Battalions
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