To Charles Arthur
and Cathy Runciman
Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart and his friends can only read the title.
About the Author
Also by JoJo Moyes
About the Publisher
I would like to thank a number of people who in their various ways helped make this book possible, most importantly Nell Crosby of the Saffron Walden Women's Institute and her husband, Frederick, for providing me with their memories and mementos of life in a 1950s seaside town.
Likewise Neil Carter, general manager of Moonfleet Manor in Dorset, for his insights into the renovation and running of a country house hotel. And Moonfleet's beauty therapist, Tracie Storey, for, among other things, explaining what pickling is.
Heartfelt thanks again to Jo Frank at AP Watt for handholding, motivating, and occasional whip-cracking services to writing. And to Carolyn Mays of Hodder and Stoughton and Carolyn Marino of HarperCollins for not just tactfully spotting the wrinkles, but allowing me the time and space to iron them out. Thanks also to Hazel Orme for her forensic line editing skills, and for teaching me more about grammar than I ever learned at school.
I'll raise a metaphorical glass to Sheila Crowley for being an unstoppable force and also for showing me the interior of some of the best pubs and restaurants in London. And to Louise Wener for being a sounding board and partner in crime, and for reminding me periodically that cocktails are of course an essential element of the whole publishing process.
Thanks to Emma Longhurst for persuading an old hack that publicity can be fun and to Vicky Cubitt for being endlessly prepared to indulge those of us who work from home with an ear. Closer to home, I must thank Julia Carmichael and the staff of Harts for their support; Lucy Vincent, without whom I would have never got any work done; and Saskia and Harry for sleeping occasionally and thus allowing me to do it. To Mum, and Dad, as ever. And most of all to Charles. Who puts up with it. And me. Not necessarily in that order. One day we'll talk about something else in the evenings . . . honest. . . .
My mother once told me you could discover the identity of the man you were going to marry by peeling an apple and throwing the skin, in one piece, over your shoulder. It formed a letter, you see. Or at least sometimes it did; Mummy so desperately wanted things to work that she simply refused to admit that it looked like a seven, or a two, and dredged up all sorts of Bs and Ds from nowhere. Even if I didn't know a B or a D.
But I didn't need apples with Guy. I knew from the first moment I saw him, knew his face as clearly as I knew my own name. His was the face that would take me away from my family, that would love me, adore me, have beautiful little babies with me. His was the face I would gaze at wordlessly as he repeated his wedding vows. His face was the first thing I would see in the morning and the last in the sweet breath of night.
Did he know it? Of course he did. He rescued me, you see. Like a knight, with mud-spattered clothes in place of shining armor. A knight who appeared out of the darkness and brought me into the light. Well, the station waiting room anyway. These soldiers had been bothering me while I waited for the late train. I had been to a dance with my boss and his wife, and I'd missed my train. The soldiers had had an awful lot to drink, and they kept talking and talking to me and just wouldn't take no for an answer, even though I knew jolly well not to talk to squaddies and turned as far away from them as I could and sat down on a bench in the corner. And then they got closer and closer, until one of them started grabbing at me, trying to make out that it was some sort of joke, and I got terribly afraid, as it was late and I couldn't see a porter or anyone anywhere. And I kept telling them to leave me alone, but they wouldn't. They just wouldn't. And then the biggest one--who looked brutish--he pushed himself against me with his horrible, bristly face and his stinking breath and told me that he would have me, whether I liked it or not. And of course I wanted to scream, but you see I couldn't because I was absolutely frozen with fear.
And then Guy was there. He came bursting into the waiting room and demanded to know what the man thought he was doing and said he was going to give him a real thrashing. And then he squared up to the three of them, and they swore at him a bit, and one of them lifted his fists back, but after a moment or two, like the cowards they were, they just swore a bit more and ran.
And I was shaking and terribly weepy, and he sat me down on a chair and offered to get me a glass of water so that I would feel a little better. He was so kind. So sweet to me. And then he said he would wait with me until the train came. And he did.
And it was there, under the yellow station lights, that I first looked at his face. I mean really looked. And I knew that it was him. It was really him.
After I told Mummy, she peeled an apple, just to see, and threw it over my shoulder. To me it came up looking like a D. Mummy swears to this day that it was clearly a G. But by then, we were way beyond apples.
Freddie had been ill again. Grass this time, apparently. It sat in a foaming, emerald pool in the corner by the tallboy, some of the blades still intact.
"How many times do I have to tell you, you dolt," shrieked Celia, who had just trodden in it while wearing her summer sandals. "You are not a horse."
"Or a cow," added Sylvia helpfully from the kitchen table, where she was sticking pictures of domestic appliances laboriously into a scrapbook.
"Or any bloody animal. You should be eating bread, not grass. Cake. Normal things." Celia picked her shoe from her foot and held it by two fingers over the kitchen sink. "Ugh. You're disgusting. Why do you keep doing this? Mummy, tell him. He should at least clean it up."
"Do wipe it up, Frederick dear." Mrs. Holden, seated in the high-backed chair by the fire, was checking the newspaper for the timing of the next broadcast of Dixon of Dock Green. It had provided one of her few compensations since the resignation of Mr. Churchill. And that latest business with her husband. Although of course she mentioned only Mr. Churchill.
Both she and Mrs. Antrobus, she told Lottie, had watched all the episodes so far, and thought the program simply marvelous. Then again, she and Mrs. Antrobus were the only people on Woodbridge Avenue with televisions, and they took some delight in telling their neighbors quite how marvelous nearly all the programs were.
"Clean it up, Freddie. Ugh. Why do I have to have a brother who eats animal food?"
Freddie sat on the floor by the unlit fire, pushing a small blue truck backward and forward along the rug, lifting the corners as he did so. "It's not animal food," he muttered contentedly. "God said to eat it."
"Mummy, now he's taking the name of the Lord in vain."
"You shouldn't say 'God,'" said Sylvia, firmly, as she stuck a food mixer onto mauve sugar paper. "He'll strike you down."
"I'm sure God didn't actually say grass, Freddie dear," said Mrs. Holden distractedly. "Celie darling, could you pass me my glasses before you leave? I'm sure they're making the print smaller in these newspapers."
Lottie stood patiently by the door. It had been rather a wearing afternoon, and she was desperate to get out. Mrs. Holden had insisted that she and Celia help her prepare some meringues for the church sale, despite the fact that both girls loathed baking, and Celia had somehow managed to extricate herself after just ten minutes by pleading a headache. So Lottie had had to listen to Mrs. Holden's fretting about egg whites and sugar and pretend not to notice when she did that anxious fluttery thing with her hands and her eyes filled with tears, and now, finally, the horrid things were baked and safely in their tins, shrouded in greaseproof paper, and--surprise, surprise--Celia's headache had miraculously disappeared.
Celia placed her shoe back on her foot and motioned to Lottie that they should leave. She pulled her cardigan around her shoulders and straightened her hair briskly in the mirror.
"Now, girls, where are you going?"
"To the coffeehouse."
"To the park."
Celia and Lottie spoke at the same time and stared at each other in mute accusatory alarm.
"We're going to both," said Celia firmly. "Park first, then for a coffee."
"They're going off to kiss boys," said Sylvia, still bent over her sticking. She had pulled the end of one plait into her mouth, and the end, which emerged periodically, was silkily wet. "MMMMMMwaahhh. Mwah. Mwah. Eeyuk. Kissing."
"Well, don't drink too much of it. You know it makes you go all unnecessary. Lottie dear, make sure Celia doesn't drink too much of it. Two cups maximum. And be back by six-thirty."
"In Bible class God says the earth will provide," said Freddie, looking up.
"And look how sick you got when you ate that," said Celia. "I can't believe you're not making him clean it up, Mummy. He gets away with everything."
Mrs. Holden accepted her glasses and placed them slowly on her nose. She wore the look of someone who was just about managing to stay afloat in rough seas by insisting against all evidence that she was actually on dry land.
"Freddie, go and ask Virginia to bring a cloth, will you? There's a good boy. And Celia dear, don't be horrid. Lottie, straighten up your blouse, dear. You've gone peculiar. Now, girls, you're not going off to gawp at our new arrival, are you? We don't want her thinking the residents of Merham are some kind of peasants, standing there with their mouths hanging open."
There was a brief silence, during which Lottie saw Celia's ears flush ever so slightly pink. Her own were not even warm; she had perfected her denials over many years and against tougher interrogators.
"We'll come straight home from the coffeehouse, Mrs. Holden," said Lottie. Which could, of course, have meant anything at all.
IT WAS THE DAY OF THE GREAT CHANGEOVER, OF THOSE arriving on the Saturday trains from Liverpool Street and those who, only marginally less pale, were reluctantly heading back to the city. On these days the pavements were crisscrossed by small boys hauling hastily constructed wooden trolleys piled high with bulging suitcases. Behind them exhausted men in their good summer suits linked arms with their wives, glad, for the sake of a sixpence, to begin their annual holiday like kings. Or at least without having to lug their own cases to their lodgings.
So the arrival was largely unseen and unremarked upon. Except, that is, by Celia Holden and Lottie Swift. They sat on the bench of the municipal park that overlooked Merham's two-and-a-half-mile seafront and gazed rapt at the moving van, its dark green bonnet just visible beneath the Scotch pines, glinting in the afternoon sun.
Below them the breakwaters stretched away to the left, like the black teeth of a comb, the tide easing its way backward across the damp sands that were dotted with tiny figures braving the fierce, unseasonal winds. The arrival of Adeline Armand, the girls decided afterward, had been an occasion to match the arrival of the queen of Sheba. That is, it would have, had the queen of Sheba chosen to arrive on the same week it was announced that rationing had ended. This meant that all those people--the Mrs. Colquhouns, the Alderman Elliotts, the landladies of the Parade and their like--who could normally be relied upon to pass judgment on the extravagant ways of newcomers who arrived with whole truckloads of trunks, large paintings that featured not portraits of family members or scenes of horses galloping but huge splotches of color in no particular pattern at all, inordinate numbers of books, and artifacts that were quite clearly foreign were not standing silently at their gates noting the steady procession disappearing into the long-empty Art Deco house on the seafront but were queuing at Price's Butchers on Marchant Street, just for the sheer pleasure of buying a cut of meat without a ration book.
"Mrs. Hodges says she's minor royalty. Hungarian or something."
Celia looked at her friend, her eyes widening. "She is. Hodges spoke to Mrs. Ansty, who knows the solicitor or whoever it is was in charge of the house, and she is some kind of Hungarian princess."
Below them a scattering of families had appropriated the little stretches of beach between them and could be seen seated behind straining striped windbreaks or sheltering in beach huts against the blustery sea breeze.
"Armand's not a Hungarian name." Lottie put her hand up to stop her hair whipping into her mouth.
"Oh? And how would you know?"
"It's just rubbish, isn't it? What would a Hungarian princess be doing in Merham? She'd be up in London, no question. Or Windsor Castle. Not in a sleepy old dump like this."
"Not your end of London, she wouldn't." Celia's tone verged on the scornful.
"No," Lottie conceded. "Not my end of London." No one exotic came from Lottie's end of London, an eastern suburb liberally dotted with hastily erected factories, which backed onto the gasworks in one direction and acres of unlovely marshes the other. When she had first been evacuated to Merham, some eleven years ago, she'd had to hide her incredulity when sympathetic villagers asked her if she missed it. She had looked equally nonplussed when they asked if she missed her family. They tended to stop asking after that.
In fact, Lottie had returned home for a year after the war ended, and then, after a series of fevered letters between Lottie and Celia, and Mrs. Holden's oft-stated belief that not only was it nice for Celia to have a little friend her own age but also that One Really Had to Do One's Bit for the Community, Didn't One?, Lottie had been invited to return to Merham, initially for holidays and gradually, as those holidays extended into school time, for good. Now Lottie was simply accepted as part of the Holden family, not blood perhaps, not entirely a social equal (you were never going to get rid of that East End accent entirely), but someone whose continued presence in the village was no longer to be remarked upon. Besides, Merham was used to seeing people coming and not going home. The sea could get you like that.
"Shall we take something? Flowers? So that we have an excuse to go in?"
Lottie could tell that Celia felt bad about her previous comments, as she was now bestowing what she considered her "Moira Shearer" smile, the one that revealed her lower teeth. "I haven't got any money."
"Not shop bought. You know where we can find pretty wild ones. You get enough for Mummy."
There was, Lottie acknowledged, the faintest echo of a resentment in that last sentence.
The two girls slid off the park bench and began to walk toward the edge of the park, where a single cast-iron railing signified the start of the cliff path. Lottie would often walk this route in summer evenings when the noise and suppressed hysteria of the Holden household became too much. She liked to listen to the sounds of the gulls and the corncrakes skimming the air above her and remind herself who she was. This kind of introspection Mrs. Holden would have considered unnatural, or at least overly indulgent, and Lottie'
s gathering of small bunches of flowers was a useful insurance. But almost ten years of living in someone else's house had also ingrained a certain canniness, a sensitivity to potential domestic turbulence that belied the fact that Lottie was not quite out of her teens. It was important that Celia never regard her as competition, after all.
"Did you see the hatboxes going in? Must have been at least seven," said Celia, stooping. "What about this one?"
"No. Those wilt in minutes. Get some of the purple ones. There, by the big rock."
"She must have a heap of money. Mummy said the house needs loads doing to it. She spoke to the decorators, and they said it was an absolute tip. No one's lived in there since the MacPhersons moved to Hampshire. Must be--what, nine years?"
"Don't know. Never met the MacPhersons."
"Dull as dishwater, the pair of them. She had size-nine feet. It hasn't got a single decent fireplace, according to Mrs. Ansty. They all got looted."
"The gardens are completely overgrown."
Celia stopped. "How do you know?"
"I've been up there a few times. On my walks."
"You sly thing! Why didn't you bring me?"
"You never wanted to walk."
Lottie looked past her to the moving van, feeling a silent rush of excitement. They were well used to people coming--Merham was a seasonal town after all; its seasons punctuated by new visitors, their arrivals and departures ebbing and flowing like the tides themselves--but the prospect of having the big house occupied again had added a certain breathless anticipation to the last fortnight.
Celia turned back to her bunch of flowers. As she rearranged them in her palm, her hair was lifted by the wind in a golden sheet.
"I think I hate my father," she observed aloud, her eyes suddenly fixed on the horizon.
Lottie stood still. Henry Holden's dinners with his secretary were not a subject she felt qualified to comment upon.
"Mummy's so stupid. She just pretends nothing is happening." There was a brief silence, interrupted by the rude cry of the gulls hovering above them.
"God, I can't wait till I leave this place," Celia said finally.
"I like it."
"Yes, but you don't have to watch your father making an ass of himself." Celia turned back to Lottie and thrust her hand at her.