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Authors: Sadie Jones

Tags: #Fiction, #General

Small Wars

BOOK: Small Wars
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Small Wars

A Novel

Sadie Jones

For Tim Boyd

Contents

Map

Prologue

An English rain was falling onto the instruments of the…

Part One

Limassol

Chapter One

The army had rented them a house in Limassol, quite…

Chapter Two

The Episkopi Garrison was west of Limassol. The narrow road…

Chapter Three

Even up in the hills, the walls of the village…

Chapter Four

Clara lay against Hal in the close darkness. The blankets…

Chapter Five

Clara was upstairs with the children and Adile was sweeping…

Chapter Six

The boy Hal had handed over to the Special Investigations…

Chapter Seven

‘All right, Davis, thanks very much.’

Chapter Eight

In March and April the hillside behind the garrison and…

Chapter Nine

The three years of the conflict so far had seen…

Chapter Ten

After the high hills there were the plains. You reached…

Chapter Eleven

The sun rose pinkly, touching the tops of the mountains…

Chapter Twelve

They’d had to open up the mess to drink, because…

Chapter Thirteen

In slow half-sleep, Hal heard Clara washing herself and the…

Part Two

Episkopi, July

Chapter One

There were no more slow mornings stretched out on sheets…

Chapter Two

Hal walked through the dark narrow tunnel towards the lighted…

Chapter Three

The garrison was almost empty. The buildings of the barracks…

Chapter Four

They had been told that the beach was safe. At…

Chapter Five

Lawrence Davis was glad he had pursued Clara Treherne to the…

Chapter Six

The colonel’s house was distinguished by its size, being set…

Chapter Seven

Hal left Burroughs’s house and walked back to the Land…

Chapter Eight

The summary hearings were held immediately, within forty-eight hours of…

Chapter Nine

Lawrence Davis wasn’t surprised when his batman came to tell him…

Chapter Ten

Privates Francke and Miller were transferred and attached to separate…

Chapter Eleven

Davis, confounded by his treacherous weakness in bringing Grieves and…

Chapter Twelve

Corporal Kirby had found that strong British tea and a…

Chapter Thirteen

When he woke up, his head hurt all over and…

Part Three

Nicosia, September

Chapter One

The hotel in Nicosia was a big 1920s building of…

Chapter Two

Clara didn’t tell Gracie she was pregnant. In late September,…

Chapter Three

Hal sat at the breakfast table and drank his coffee,…

Chapter Four

Kirby drove him straight to Nicosia, to the hospital where…

Chapter Five

Then there was the telling. She had been in an…

Chapter Six

Gracie might have been a general for all the soldiers…

Chapter Seven

They drove to RAF Nicosia as the sun went down.

Part Four

England, October

Chapter One

They came down the metal steps of the plane at…

Chapter Two

Hal had walked in only partial darkness. A low yellow…

Chapter Three

Clara could not drive. That is, she knew how to…

Chapter Four

Colonel Burroughs put in a long-distance call to Hal’s father…

Chapter Five

The long car passed the sentry guards at the gates…

Chapter Six

Clara’s stitches were taken out the day after Hal had…

Chapter Seven

The very heavy sky threatened rain. It was a little…

Chapter Eight

The next morning there was a row with the landlady…

Chapter Nine

It was Sunday, 11 November. The Wards, who did not…

Author’s Note

Acknowledgements

About the Author

Other Books by Sadie Jones

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

Prologue

Sandhurst, July 1946

An English rain was falling onto the instruments of the band, onto their olive green uniforms and the uniforms of the cadets as they marched. The quiet rain lay in drops on the umbrellas of the families watching, on the men’s felt hats and the women’s gloved hands; it dampened the grey and green countryside around them and put beads of water onto everything.

The band played ‘Auld Lang Syne’. The sound of the commands of the cadets and of the marching feet seemed to promise a bright future that was grounded in England and in discipline; the love of one made strong by the application of the other.

The families stood in a crowd ten deep, bordering the parade square. The small band and the marching cadets were between them and the long, white, columned building. The cadets held rifles and wore dark green battledress. The wool of their uniforms was dense and damp in the weather. The marching feet and rifles and tilted heads made patterns, so that their mothers could hardly tell one from another and felt embarrassed about it, but proud too, because their sons had become part of a greater body and did not stand out.

Some mothers and fathers had seen the passing-out parades of other sons, and many of the fathers remembered their own. This parade, in 1946, like England herself, lacked opulence but had its own austere ceremony. It was not the sunny, decorative ceremony of established peacetime, but resolute and businesslike, as if these men, like those of only a few months before, would be dispatched immediately into battle.

There was almost no self-consciousness at the emotion of the occasion: it was designed to be emotional and there was nobody there who did not feel it. The only time Hal Treherne could remember his father choked with feeling was in describing the day of his own Sovereign’s Parade.

Hal was not choked with feeling: he had only the desire to do well that he always had, immense pride, like a physical thing, and a powerful eagerness to meet his future and to conquer it. He wasn’t thinking about these things though; he was thinking about the precise execution of this small part of his training, drilled, redrilled, and accomplished. It was afterwards, as they stood in silence for inspection by the Princess Elizabeth – rifles up to the shoulder, eyes front – then, suddenly, he felt it, a sort of overflowing, and he had to blink and focus carefully on the far trees.

There was almost total quiet as everybody watched the young princess walk down the line of cadets. Hal could hear the sound of the footsteps approaching. He knew that she was the embodiment of his country, that he was doing his best to please and that he always would. He thought of God – his hazy, humble idea of God – and dared to hope he could please Him, too.

Hal, flanked by his peers and not alone, thought briefly of his father, watching him from the crowd, with all his battles behind him, and of his mother, next to him, quietly satisfied. Then his mind focused again on the exact present. The group of officers, aides and the princess came into the side of his vision, and across it, and his eyes didn’t waver. He could see the top of her cream-coloured hat out of focus at the bottom of his field of vision. She paused briefly, she passed him and she moved on, and the small group with her moved on too, down the line.

Hal’s girl was called Clara Ward. She was watching from the crowd with her parents and younger brother and later, at the Sovereign’s Ball, she would dance with him. Clara was the sister of Hal’s friend James. Hal had gone back with James to stay with his family a few times in Buckinghamshire, and that was how they had met.

Clara and James’s family house was a village house, a wide red-brick villa, with white painted door and gate, white sills and sashes and a big garden. It had a lilac tree, apple trees, roses and a well-kept lawn that had a stream with a small bridge over it. Clara and her two brothers had grown up there and gone to and from their various schools and the house showed the small scars of their childhood in its crooked swing and worn carpets.

It was a house for Christmases and summers, for school holidays, rocking horses and chickenpox. It had seen wooden toys, rattles, satchels and raincoats and then, later, it had seen evening clothes and beaded bags on thin chains left on the hall chairs as Clara and James, tired from their parties, went upstairs to bed.

Hal had seen Clara for the first time one weekend, in the first weeks of his training.

They had arrived after tea on a Saturday. James had been talking to his father about money, and Hal had thought he’d better go out into the garden for a smoke and to be out of the way.

There was a blueish dusk just settling and Clara was coming into the drawing room; she had her arms full of wet flowers, and Hal – avoiding a small table – had almost bumped into her. He had apologised and they had shaken hands awkwardly. Her hand was wet from the flowers. Hal said, ‘You must be James’s sister,’ and Clara answered, ‘Yes, I’m Clara.’

She said ‘Clara’ as her brother did – to rhyme with ‘dare’ or ‘fair’ – and then, ‘Are you Hal?’

‘Yes. Hal,’ and he had been silenced by her voice and the look of her, and had not known what to say.

They stepped around each other. He had gone out into the garden and had his cigarette; she had gone into the kitchen to put the flowers in water, but the picture of her stayed in his mind. She was pale and had dark brown hair, the colour of conkers or a bay horse, and her eyes were marine blue. She was seventeen then; he was nineteen.

Hal had set about seeing more of Clara with determination, and over the few months of his training he would come back with James whenever they were allowed a weekend.

His own parents’ house was near Warminster, in Somerset, not far from Stonehenge. It was faced with dark grey and had a well-proportioned front and other older and more complicated sections attached and interlocking behind. It bore the wind that came off Salisbury Plain stoically, with barely a rattle of its Victorian windows. Hal was always happy to be back in the big chilly rooms, with their familiar echoes; the gilt-framed paintings, the grim colours of the house, and its coldness, were nourishing to him. Although before visiting the Wards, he had never noticed the look of his own house before, he still felt more comfortable with its discomfort than he ever did in that light village house. He was happy with the silent mealtimes and bare boards of home, but he needed to be near Clara, and tolerated her jolly, messy family well enough to see her.

Hal and Clara had written to one another, letters more intimate than they ever were face to face. He called her his ‘red, white and blue girl’ – for her colouring – and when he asked her to come with him to the Sovereign’s Parade and ball it wasn’t surprising, but it was significant.

Clara stood with her parents and younger brother, trying to pick out Hal and James from the lines of cadets, straining up onto her toes to see over the people in front, while twenty feet away, Arthur and Jean Treherne, in the front row, watched too.

Arthur Treherne and George Ward could not have been more different. George was a kind, fastidious man, and smallish. His trousers had one soft crease at the ankle and his overcoats spoke of dim offices and hatstands in domestic hallways. James was the first of their family to go into the army as a professional soldier, and they had watched his absorption into that world with something like dread.

George was a civil servant; he had gone to work every day from the red-brick villa in Buckinghamshire, returning each night to Moira, Clara and their two sons. He had fought briefly in the First War. It had been – still was – the unequalled crisis of his life. He didn’t feel soldiering was anything one would choose to do, and was sharply aware that the greater part of his wish for continued peace in the world was so that his sons would not have to do the things he had done, and that his daughter would not have to be a soldier’s wife. And yet here he was, his powerful distate – and fear – mixing with a pride that was almost beyond his control.

Hal’s father, Arthur, was a soldier, had been a soldier, and would always, whatever he wore or wherever he went, be a soldier in every aspect. He had Hal’s height and colouring – although his dark blond hair was faded now with grey, and his bones, like a steel frame revealed, were closer to the surface. Arthur watched the parade with none of the Wards’ ambivalence, his leather-gloved hand clamped over his wife’s as it rested on his arm. He had neither anxiety nor regret, but simple, deeply felt pride in his son, whose progression was expected, a long anticipated stepping-stone to a distinguished future.

The slow rain became no more than mist when the parade was over, carrying the smell of wet grass and rifle shot as the birds started to sing again. The new officers and their families stood in groups on the parade square. Around them was parkland, big vague trees undisturbed now by sharp volleys of fire. Women shivered in the chill summer air and held their husbands’ arms. Clara Ward stood shyly by her brother James, and teased him, and hoped that Hal would come over.

Hal was with his father and mother, with very little to say after the congratulations were over. He twisted his head to look over his shoulder at Clara with her family and felt nervous suddenly of what they might talk about all evening. He wanted to be alone with her. He wanted not to have to get to know her – which seemed a frightening process – but to know her already.

The Wards went back to Buckinghamshire, after the Sovereign’s Parade, to change into evening dress for the ball. The Trehernes went to a hotel they had found in the high street in Godalming because they lived too far away to be going back and forth. His parents drank warm gin and tonic in the downstairs bar, while Hal went up to his room, which overlooked the road.

He put his belt and jacket on the bed, paced up and down and thought about Clara. She was a foreign country to him, but one he felt he’d always known, like the countries coloured pink on the atlas, that he had been familiar with through his childhood. Like a far-off place of treasures and spices that still was English, in his mind she waited for his visit; she was India.

Clara’s dress was midnight blue. The idea was that it would match her eyes. It was strapless, and had clear beads on the skirt, which was net and there was a lot of it. Her bosom felt very bare and white; she had tried several different ways of wrapping her stole around herself to cover up. Her mother’s dress – a casualty of Clara’s yards of net – was stiff, brownish taffeta, seven years old and making what she hoped was its last appearance.

James was wrestling with Bill on the landing, they were shaking the floor with their thumping. Bill was fourteen and already too old for wrestling on landings, and James really should have known better, twenty years old and still in his battledress from the parade.

Clara sat on the bed in her evening gown, listening to the noises of their fighting and laughing. She felt an intense nostalgia. They would all leave home. Everything would change. Clara felt she could reach out and touch her childhood: it was all around her in the house, still living. She rested her hands lightly on the edge of the bed, as her mother’s footsteps came up the stairs and reached the boys on the landing. ‘Do be quiet! Stop that!’

She came into Clara’s room and sat next to her, lifting the material of her skirt away from her legs so as not to crush it.

‘Silly boys,’ said Clara.

Her mother took her hand. ‘Shall we set your hair?’

Clara nodded but neither of them stood up; they sat together, quietly, with the sound of the boys fighting and a wood-pigeon in the garden outside.

At the ball, all the women were in long gowns, but only half of the men in black tie because the young officers were in the mess kit of their new regiments, standing out brightly against the sombre black dinner jackets of their fathers and guests.

Hal had waited by the door to the ballroom at the beginning of the evening and when he saw Clara walking towards him he felt again the odd stillness with which she affected him. It wasn’t just being tongue-tied, or nervous – although that was part of it – it was more that he was overwhelmed by her.

She was with her family. His own parents had already gone away into the crowd. His father was with a large group of officers and retired officers at the other end of the ballroom and paying no attention to Hal, or who he might or might not be with, but the Wards hovered for a moment while Hal and Clara gazed at each other.

‘Do you know where they’re sending you?’ said George, abruptly, to Hal.

‘Clara has told us already, George,’ said Moira, and she and Clara exchanged a smile. George, though, continued to stare at Hal.

Hal had an uneasy feeling that this kindly man did not like him. He didn’t seem the sort of father one would expect to be jealously protective of his daughter, but Hal knew his attention to Clara displeased George somehow. Hal wasn’t somebody who’d ever had a conversation about the workings of his or anybody else’s mind in his life. His own family limited their conversation to the dogs, occasional social engagements and his father’s pronouncements on war or politics, none of which had equipped Hal to fathom the more intimate aspects of human interaction. He had no means with which to approach the problem of George Ward not liking him, and thought only that if he behaved properly, as he intended to do, it would somehow work itself out.

James was grinning somewhere near Hal’s left shoulder, hoping to torment them.

‘Go away, James,’ said Clara, and – at last – her parents took him with them and left Hal and Clara together.

‘Everything all right?’ said Hal.

‘Oh, yes,’ said Clara.

He noticed she wore red lipstick, which she hadn’t when they had met before. It suited her, but the glamour of it, with the dress, was unnerving. ‘Would you like some punch?’ he said.

‘Yes. Where is it?’

‘Over here. Come along.’

They went through the people together and arrived at a waiter with a large full tray.

‘Or a cocktail?’ Hal looked down at her, frowning.

‘I don’t mind,’ said Clara.

BOOK: Small Wars
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