Genre: Literary Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 12 December 2017
Estimated Page Count: 420
Amazon UK: www.amazon.co.uk
Amazon US: www.amazon.com
Considered a troublesome burden, Evelyn Talbot is banished by her family to their remote country house. Tall Chimneys is hidden in a damp and gloomy hollow. It is outmoded and inconvenient but Evelyn is determined to save it from the fate of so many stately homes at the time - abandonment or demolition.
Occasional echoes of tumult in the wider world reach their sequestered backwater - the strident cries of political extremists, a furore of royal scandal, rumblings of the European war machine. But their isolated spot seems largely untouched. At times life is hard - little more than survival. At times it feels enchanted, almost outside of time itself. The woman and the house shore each other up - until love comes calling, threatening to pull them asunder.
Her desertion will spell its demise, but saving Tall Chimneys could mean sacrificing her hope for happiness, even sacrificing herself.
A century later, a distant relative crosses the globe to find the house of his ancestors. What he finds in the strange depression of the moor could change the course of his life forever.
One woman, one house, one hundred years.
Evelyn and Sylvester Ratton have an antagonistic relationship throughout the entire book. He is her nemesis, always undermining her plans and spoiling her happiness. He is the state manager at Tall Chimneys, with authority to do anything he wishes. She is a girl only just out of school, inexperienced and yet with a strong character. In this excerpt we get an inkling as to what motivates Ratton.
It was the end of the summer. September came in with squally showers. The housemaids had no end of trouble getting the linen dry. I returned to my cosy morning room, where I had the fire lit, and wrote a long letter to Joan describing all my adventures but fearing they would be plebeian indeed compared to hers.
Then Mr Ratton came back, and we were back to square one. My morning room was not my own, my walks intruded upon, my rides made burdensome by his company. He made no reference to what had occurred on the north wing landing but I knew from the way his eyes lingered on my person that he thought about it often, and more with frustration than with any shame or regret.
One afternoon, as we took tea in the library and rain like pebbles hurled itself against the window, precluding any escape outdoors, he began, uninvited, to tell me something of himself; the youngest of many, like me, of a respectable but somewhat impoverished family who had nothing to offer the youngest child. He had been well-educated but not at one of the illustrious schools, then forced to make his own way which, he flattered himself, he had done with some credit. ‘You,’ he said, with some significant emphasis, ‘you must understand entirely my situation, sharing it as you do. Youngest children like us, even of good families, must be prepared to make their own way. I’m sure it has occurred to you, that before too long you’ll have to look to your own resources?’
I looked at him at a loss. I had had no such thoughts.
‘You cannot imagine remaining here indefinitely,’ he observed. ‘This spot is so very retired, so backwards, when out there, in the world, things are moving on at such a pace, especially for women.’
I felt his comment as a severe deprecation - it made me cringe with shame - but I made no response.
‘Goodness, yes,’ he mused allowed, ‘one wonders what doors will not be open to them in future. They admitted a woman to the Bar a few years ago, and now a woman is governor of the BBC. Whoever thought such a thing? But even if you do not aspire so highly, there are jobs for women in offices, as nurses, even attached to the military although, naturally, not in a combative role. I met your brother in the military, as it happens,’ he went on, helping himself to another buttered teacake. ‘We were comrades in arms. I saved his life. Has he ever mentioned that to you?’
I shook my head.
‘No? Well, there’s a debt owed, let’s leave it at that, and George is conscious of it. He has promised me advancement. I’m wasted here, in this god-forsaken county, as you are. George knows it. There are things abroad he wants me to set up for him. His father in law will help. America is a land of great opportunity for those with a nose for business and a respectable name.’
It occurred to me that Mr Ratton was announcing his imminent departure from Tall Chimneys. I could only rejoice, but I kept my jubilation to myself. ‘It must be very gratifying to my brother,’ I murmured, ‘to have people he can rely on, if he intends a new business venture. The Americas are a very exciting prospect, I’m sure.’
‘Indeed yes,’ Mr Ratton enthused. ‘You see the situation exactly. A scion of an ancient English family, no matter how minor here, is counted as very splendid there. Anything English is bound to be successful. I’m assured we will be made most welcome, doors will open up to us on every side. We’ll play the family card very heavily, meanwhile I’ll attend to all the business. We cannot fail to achieve our aim.’
It gradually dawned on me he had ceased speaking of himself, singular, and was now speaking in the plural: what ‘we’ could expect; openings and introductions which would be made available to ‘us.’
‘Will George be an active participant, then, in the venture?’ I enquired. Perhaps Tall Chimneys would be moth-balled if George and Rita were going to America. Where, I wondered, would that leave me?
Mr Ratton gave a strangled cough and, I thought, almost blushed, but it could have been the heat from the fire. ‘That will hardly be necessary,’ he said, with a sort of lewd coyness I didn’t understand. ‘I’m sure I can manage all aspects of the matter very well without George’s assistance.’ He gave me a straight look, one eyebrow slightly raised. ‘No,’ he concluded. ‘George won’t accompany us, but he is in favour, if you are willing. I have that most certainly from his own lips. He is in favour. I have his backing and, not to put too fine a point on it, in this day and age, for people like us, well, we could both do a lot worse.’
Realisation came upon me like a bucket of ice cold water. His proposal (for such, I gathered, it was) appalled me. ‘I am not willing,’ I said, coldly.
He put his cup back on its saucer, not one whit deterred. ‘We will see,’ he said.
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MEET THE AUTHOR
Allie Cresswell was born in Stockport, UK and began writing fiction as soon as she could hold a pencil.
She did a BA in English Literature at Birmingham University and an MA at Queen Mary College, London.
She has been a print-buyer, a pub landlady, a book-keeper, run a B & B and a group of boutique holiday cottages. Nowadays Allie writes full time having retired from teaching literature to lifelong learners.
She has two grown-up children, one granddaughter and two grandsons, is married to Tim and lives in Cumbria, NW England.
Tall Chimneys is the sixth of her novels to be published.
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