Two generations come together to solve a trio of vintage mysteries
The paths of two different generations of women are fated to cross when researcher Rhiannon Harrowdine, fact-gathering for a book, traces the elderly widow of Battle of Britain pilot Harry Sartain. The Sartains once lived at Green Court, now an imposing country house health spa, and, at the time of the infamous Baedeker raids in 1942, were at the centre of a mystery that remained unsolved: the disappearance without a trace of a young student staying at the house.
As Rhiannon delves deeper, she uncovers layers of family history and other unexplained mysteries while, in her own private life, she struggles to balance the demands of two young children and a disintegrating marriage.
For the elderly Eveleen Sartain, the unexpected reopening of her distant, traumatic past is at first a painful and difficult experience. But the warm rapport she strikes up with Rhiannon breaks through a lifetime of reserve, opening the floodgates of bitter, hidden memories.
A complete story in itself, ORPHANS OF THE STORM, is the second in the Green Court trilogy – with some characters from the previous novel reappearing here.
She is still gripping the handle of the little attaché case with her other hand. She brings it up and hits him between the legs with it, with her all strength. Instantly, he lets go of her wrist with a roar of agony and swear words, clutching himself and bent double with pain. She doesn’t hesitate. She turns and runs.
Back through the grubby kitchen and into the hall, towards the front door.
Her hands are shaking as she fumbles with the lock, pulls it open and then rushes outside, along the path, out through the garden gate and along the busy street. She doesn’t dare look behind her, but dashes on blindly, almost colliding with the baker’s horse and cart as she darts across the road and heads in the direction of the station and safety.
As she glimpses it in the distance she slows down at last, out of breath, a stitch in her side making her limp a little now. She reaches the top of the steps and hurries down them, thankful to be anonymous, swallowed up in the Saturday morning crowds.
She makes her way first to the Ladies Room. Here, at last, is sanctuary. She sits down on a bench, leans back against the wall and closes her eyes. Though she’s planned this desperate escape for weeks, the enormity of what she has done suddenly terrifies her. She has no home any longer. No job, little money. Nobody in the world who she can turn to in this moment of crisis. Just the address of a girls’ hostel in London and a ten shilling note, all she’s been able to hide away from her aunt from the fifteen shillings and sixpence a week she earned as a junior drapery assistant.
She opens the lid of the little attaché case. A blouse – her best blouse, ivory crepe-de-chine – a good skirt and some underwear, cushion her most treasured possessions: two sepia photographs, carefully preserved – one of her mother taken for her twenty-first birthday, the other of her parents together, the baby Eveleen held in her mother’s arms. Her mother wears a frilled, high neck blouse with a cameo at her throat, her hair upswept; her father in his army uniform. He rests a fond, protective hand lightly on her mother’s shoulder, and a ghost of a smile plays at the corners of his lips. It is the last time they will ever be together; he is killed in action in France four weeks later.
There is a lump in Eveleen’s throat as she gently closes the lid of the attache case, and she presses in the clips to lock it. As she leaves the Ladies Room and makes her way to the ticket hall, she tries not to think of how different – how very different – her life would have been if only he had come back, if only her beloved mother had never fallen ill, and died so young.
But there is no purpose in Ifs. Ifs are pointless and useless. They do not solve anything. They leave you bitter, and angry, and wanting. Ifs make you dwell on the path you should have taken, would have taken, had you known what the future lay in store.
Fate, sometimes, takes a hand. It steps in and pushes us in the direction we had not thought to go. Fate had let Eveleen pick up that newspaper so thoughtlessly left in the staff cloakroom that day, and, turning the pages while she ate her frugal lunch, come upon the article about the hostel. The Girls’ Friendly Society. She had never heard of it till now. A place of safety for destitute and homeless girls. There was an address, the name of the person in charge and, glancing over her shoulder to make sure she wasn’t being observed, Eveleen had written it down and hidden the scrap of paper inside her cheap little fabric handbag. It was her secret. She would take it out for weeks afterwards, whenever she was alone, and stare at it, wondering if the escape plan it seemed to hold out to her would ever become reality.
The question was: could she summon up the courage to take that first step to freedom, and then see it through?
She had . . . and she’d never look back.
About the Author
Arabella Seymour was born and educated in London, England. She had her first novel published in her teens and later worked in London libraries before moving to Canterbury, Kent and turning to writing full time.
After having three novels published, Arabella went to work in Glenarm Castle in Northern Ireland and followed this by joining a housekeeping agency that took her to many fascinating assignments all over the country.
She later returned to Canterbury where, between 2008 and 2012, she was a member of a local re-enactment society. Arabella has a particular passion for family history and has contributed a short biography of her great-grandfather, Liberal Politian John Henry Bethell, to a local history project.
Arabella still lives in Canterbury, whose cathedral saw the marriage of her Huguenot ancestors during the reign of Charles II.
Praise for Arabella’s earlier books
“If you’re looking for a book that gives you intrigue and suspense, romance and tragedy, then here it is… This is a great read, as are all the novels by Arabella Seymour.” – MrMJD
“Interesting book with a super ambitious plot… it had me thinking about a few serious things like marriage, individuality and friendships.” – Ms.NoseinaBook
“The Devil’s Picture Book has everything a good book should have” – Boundless Book Reviews
“The deep and emotive style of writing really draws the reader into the plot” – Anderssen
“Main character is mysterious and absorbing and the writing accentuates that perfectly.
Definitely a must read!” – K Tucker