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Authors: Marcia Willett

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Memories of the Storm

BOOK: Memories of the Storm
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Marcia Willett's early life was devoted to the
ballet, but her dreams of becoming a ballerina
ended when she grew out of the classical
proportions then required. She had always loved
books, and a family crisis made her take up a new
career as a novelist – a decision she has never
regretted. She lives in a beautiful and wild part of
Devon with her husband, where she loves to be
visited by her son and his young family.

For more information on Marcia Willett
and her books, see her website at

Also by Marcia Willett




This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

ISBN 9781407036458

Version 1.0

61–63 Uxbridge Road, London W5 5SA
A Random House Group Company


ISBN: 9781407036458

Version 1.0

First published in Great Britain
in 2007 by Bantam Press
a division of Transworld Publishers
Corgi edition published 2008

Copyright © Marcia Willett Limited 2007

Marcia Willett has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs
and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

This book is a work of fiction and, except in the case of historical fact,
any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library.

This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

Addresses for Random House Group Ltd companies outside the UK
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2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1

To Father Keith and the Sisters at Tymawr



All day she'd been waiting. A gust of wind, lifting
the bedroom curtain so that it cracked and billowed
like a sail, had shaken her from a troubled sleep
just after dawn. The corner of the curtain caught a
photograph standing on the rosewood chest and
tumbled it to the floor. She struggled up, the
ragged fragments of her dream still wheeling in her
head like a cloud of bats, and pushed back the quilt
murmuring, 'Oh, no. Oh, no,' as if some terrible
calamity had taken place. The glass was smashed:
one shard remaining, long and jagged and curving
upward, which seemed to cut the photograph in
two, separating the four figures. Holding it in her
hand she stared down at it, frowning in the halflight
from the window. She and Edward smiled out
with all the strong confidence of youth whilst the
two other boys appeared dimmer by comparison,
still imprisoned beneath the glass.

On reflection, this image was appropriate. She
and Edward, the younger daughter and the eldest
of the boys, had formed a natural alliance based on
their mutual love of poetry and music that had set
them a little apart from the two middle boys, who
were athletic, strong and vigorous, and from the
oldest of all the siblings: the gentle, domestic,
sweet-tempered Patricia. How proud their mother
had been of her sons; how disregarding of her two

Hester tilted the frame, looking for herself in the
old, faded photograph. Is that how she'd been in
that last summer before the war: chin tilted, with an
almost heart-breaking look of fearless expectation?
Edward, much taller – cheerful and careless in an
open-necked shirt – had his hand on her shoulder.
Their cousin and Edward's contemporary, Blaise,
must have been behind the camera.

Abruptly she laid the photograph face downwards
on the chest. The breaking of the glass
had caused some kind of parallel rupture in her
memory, cracking open the concealing layers of
forgetfulness. She was seized by a sudden, formless
panic – as if the break presaged bad luck. That was
connected with mirrors, not ordinary glass, she told
herself firmly. Yet tremulous anticipation, speeding
her heartbeat and sharpening her hearing, pulsed
into her fingertips and made her clumsy as she
collected together the sharp fragments.

Downstairs, wrapped in her warm, faded shawl,
she placed the larger pieces of glass on the draining
board and bent down to take the dustpan and brush
from the cupboard under the sink. Watched by an
enormous, long-haired tortoiseshell cat, disturbed
from his slumbers by the Aga, she put the kettle
to boil on the hotplate, found a torch and went
upstairs again to sweep up the remaining pieces of
glass. The torch's beam picked out tiny shining
specks scattered across the polished boards and the
silky faded rug as, painstakingly on her knees, she
swept up each one.

Later, after breakfast, she went out through the
French windows and stood on the paved terrace
above the river. The shining, tumbling water,
shouldering its turbulent way between grassy banks,
was silvered and glossed by the sun, which glinted
through the naked canopy of the overarching trees.
The strong south-westerly wind roistered in the
highest branches of the tall beeches, plucking at
the few remaining leaves and whirling them down
in showers of gold. They floated away downstream,
past the open meadowland where sunlight and
water fused and dazzled, until they were lost to

Hester rested her hands lightly on the stone
wall. There had been heavy rain up on the Chains
during the night and the boulders below the terrace
were covered by the weight of water flowing down
the Barle, but she could see their smooth, rounded
shapes. It was here, just here, that Edward had
fallen – no wall, back then, to break his headlong
crash onto the boulders beneath – and she, held
back by the urgent hands of her sister-in-law, had
been prevented from trying to reach him.

Along with the vivid memory of the scene –
Edward entering unexpectedly through the French
doors from the dark rain-swept terrace to see his
wife in the arms of his oldest, closest friend – came
the familiar sense that something was not quite
right. In Hester's mental picture of the drawingroom
that evening there was always an unexpected
flash of colour, a shape that eluded her but which
she knew was out of place: mysterious shadowy
corners, golden pools of lamplight spilling across
polished wood, bright reflections in the mirror
above the fireplace where blue and orange tongues
of flame licked hungrily at the wood in the grate.
A newspaper, casually flung down, was sliding
from the chintz-covered cushions of the long sofa
under the window, where damson-coloured damask
curtains had been pulled against the wild night,
and it was there, from just behind the sofa, that
something pale but bright flickered suddenly out
into the firelight – and just as suddenly disappeared.

A noise distracted her. Opening her eyes,
glancing down, Hester saw a party of mallard being
borne rapidly along on the bosom of the river.
Quacking enthusiastically, they paddled furiously
into the quieter waters beneath the trees and came
splashing up the bank and onto the lawn. Hester
turned back into the house, picked up the end
of a loaf from the table as she passed through
the kitchen, and went out across the grass to
meet them. She laughed aloud to see their comic
waddling as they rolled from one flat splayed
foot to the other whilst the females still made
their hoarse insistent cry as they approached.
She forgot her premonition whilst enjoying the
antics of the ducks but, once their daily ration was
finished and they'd plunged back into the river,
she was immediately prey again to a formless

It was almost a relief when she heard the telephone
bell as she was finishing an after-lunch cup
of coffee. Willing herself to be calm, she recited
her number clearly into the mouthpiece and was
almost shocked to hear her god-daughter's voice.
Whatever she'd been expecting she hadn't imagined
it to have anything to do with Clio.

'Listen, Hes. The weirdest thing. I've met someone
here called Jonah Faringdon whose mother
stayed with you at Bridge House during the war
after her own mother was killed in a raid. She was
called Lucy Scott. Mean anything to you?'

Lucy. Little Lucy. Hester took a deep breath.

'Yes. Yes, indeed it does. She was a small child, of

'I was wondering if I could bring Jonah back
with me this evening? Give him some supper and
have a chat and then I could drive him back to
Michaelgarth or . . .' A slight hesitation.

Hester found that she was responding automatically
to the unspoken request.

'He could stay the night here. You won't want to
be turning out again. If he's agreeable to it and he's
not expected back.'

'That would be great. We'll both have to be back
here tomorrow morning anyway. He's a playwright,
by the way. It's all shaping up very well and there's
a real buzz already. I'm so glad I offered to help
Lizzie out. We'll tell you everything later on. Can't
quite say when we'll be home but sometime early
evening. I'll do the supper and make up his bed.

'Quite OK.'

'Sure, Hes? You sound the least bit muted. It's
just such a fantastic coincidence, isn't it?'

'Yes. Oh, yes, it is. Extraordinary. I can hardly
believe it.'

'It's really weird. He can't wait to see the house
where his mother stayed. And you, of course.'

'Of course. And I shall look forward to meeting

When she picked up her cup again the coffee
tasted cold and bitter, so she set the cup back in its
saucer. Her hands trembled very slightly and she
covered them with the folds of her shawl. Little
Lucy: so many memories crowding in, some happy,
some poignant – and bringing with them a tiny
twist of guilt. She'd always regretted that she'd
never said goodbye to Lucy. Her departure had
been so unexpected, so precipitate, and Hester
had had other, more desperate demands to which
she'd had to attend. It was too late when she'd
realized that she hadn't said goodbye to the child;
too late when she'd begun to wonder if she should
have made certain that Lucy was safe.

Deliberately she turned her mind to happier
recollections. For just over a year Lucy had lived
with them at Bridge House and the whole family
had loved her and taken her to its heart. Out of all
the memories, one shone more clearly than the
others, and Hester smiled a little, remembering.

Every morning before breakfast, Hester and Lucy
go together to feed the chickens. Each carrying her
pail of mash – Lucy's is a small red plastic seaside
bucket – they cross the lawn and pass through the
gate into the little meadow. Since the early years of
the war most of the grass has been dug up so as to
grow vegetables to feed the family, but part of it has
been fenced off and here the fat red hens have their
house: a rather ramshackle wooden building with a
good strong door to shut against the fox. Hester
knows how Lucy likes to go inside the little, lowroofed
house, to put her hand into the prickly
straw-lined laying boxes and feel the smooth eggs
waiting. As the hens squawk and scuttle around the
feeder, Hester waits whilst Lucy fills her empty,
food-encrusted pail with the precious eggs. Nor
does she neglect to examine the grassy margins of
Hester's well-dug vegetable patch: the hens are
allowed free range and there is sometimes treasure
to be found in a clump of grass or a patch of nettles.

Hester watches, tenderly amused by the spectacle
of the little girl – her long brown hair falling over
flushed cheeks, her small careful hands parting the
long grasses – and she enters into the excitement,
new every morning, at the discovery of an egg laid
secretly away from the little wooden house by a
wayward hen. She bends to peer into the pail, held
triumphantly aloft – 'Oh, well done, Lucy. Won't
Nanny be pleased!' – and smoothes back the
long hair, retying Lucy's ribbon. Lucy's brown eyes
sparkle with delight and she takes Hester's hand as
they go back to the house.

Hester realized that she was holding her hands
tightly together within the folds of the shawl, as
if she were clutching at something long since
vanished. Sitting back in her chair she made a
conscious effort to relax. It would be several hours
yet before Clio would be home.

Because of the storm the journey from Michaelgarth
was full of natural drama. It was nearly
dark when they set out and rain beat relentlessly
upon the windscreen of Clio's little car. In the
tunnel of light made by the headlamps Jonah
watched the trees bending in the wind, their twiggy
fingers lashing the car's sides. He was feeling rather
apprehensive. It was one thing to come down
to the country home of the actress Lizzie Blake to
talk through ideas for the film event she was
planning; quite another to be speeding through the
countryside with this rather dynamic girl who'd
picked him up yesterday from the train at Tiverton

As they drove away from Michaelgarth, Jonah
had the oddest sensation that the whole matter was
out of his control; that events were being just as
efficiently stage-managed as one of his own plays.
The difficulty was that he couldn't quite decide
whom, in this instance, the producer or the director
might be.

'I have the feeling that meeting Hester is important
to you,' Clio was saying, changing gears,
glancing to the right before turning into another
narrow lane. 'Not just an idle enquiry but something
more than that.'

He remained silent for a few seconds, surprised
by her prescience, remembering his mother's unexpected
response when he'd phoned a few days

'I shall be on Exmoor for the weekend,' he'd told
her. 'Lizzie Blake has this idea of running a film
event in the grounds of her country place and
linking it up with the Porlock Arts Festival. She's
persuaded a West Country television company to
show a thirty-minute drama all written, filmed,
acted and produced by sixth-form students, as long
as it's up to a reasonable standard. I'm one of a
group of professionals who has to show them how
it's done. Rather fun, by the sound of it. Lizzie was
Margery Kempe in my play
The Pilgrim
. Do you
remember meeting her and Piers when we brought
it to the Festival Theatre?'

'Of course I remember them both,' Lucy had
answered. 'This is so strange, Jonah. I was thinking
about Exmoor only last night, being there
in the war at Bridge House.' He heard her give a
huge sigh. 'I wonder if they are still there, the

'I could ask around.' He'd tried not to sound
too eager. 'Bridge House. That's the one in the
photograph, isn't it?'

'It's all so long ago.' She'd retreated hastily, as if
she'd been caught with her guard down and was
regretting it. 'Nobody will remember.'

'They might. Piers' family has lived on Exmoor
for ever. I'll ask him if he knows the Mallorys at
Bridge House.'

And so he had, with astonishing results.

'To tell the truth,' Jonah admitted now, in answer
to Clio's question, 'it's as if something's happening
that I've always been half expecting ever since I first
saw a photograph of my mother as a little girl in the
garden at Bridge House.' He hesitated, not yet
ready to discuss his mother's reluctance to talk
about that period of her history. It seemed disloyal,
somehow, to try to describe her reaction of fear and
denial to a girl that he'd known for such a short
time. 'When I was a small boy it was so strange, to
see my own mother as a child, even younger than I
was. She lost both her parents as a result of the
war and generally she doesn't talk about it so I
was rather surprised when she mentioned Miss

BOOK: Memories of the Storm
8.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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