Part of my goal as a reader is to continue to explore a diverse range of titles and share them with others. I love finding new books and authors. Today I am pleased to be sharing an excerpt of Tall Chimneys by Allie Cresswell as part of a blog tour presented by Rachel’s Random Resources.
By Allie Cresswell
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.
“There are certain human experiences that all writers quail at describing; childbirth, death and sex are three of them. These things are so individual and yet so universal. They are also, often, dramatic peaks in any story. It is almost impossible to depict them in a light that is credible, sensitive, realistic and yet impactful, and many writers fail in their attempt. Thankfully, as a mother, childbirth is something I have experienced for myself, and, while my children were not born as Evelyn’s is, I called on personal experience in describing labour.”
The light was fading, turning from opaque pearl to smoky amethyst. We went indoors and stoked up the drawing room fire. John went downstairs to make tea, while I arranged all the cushions so as to ease my back and aching legs. Later, John read to me from A Christmas Carol and I stroked my belly, and wondered if the baby could hear the sonorous tone of his voice as he read. The three of us curled up together in the depths of the sofa, and the warmth of the room wrapped itself around us, and the whole house stood sentinel over us in that remote, hidden glen, swathed in mist and clamped by cold, under the dome of the sky and the eye of God.
John still used the upper room of the gatehouse as his studio but he hadn’t spent a night there since his return from the Continent. It seemed a specious fallacy, now, a charade that fooled nobody. We usually slept in the housekeeper’s room, and kept ourselves discreetly and decorously below stairs in all our daily comings and goings, but, that night, when it was time to sleep, we damped down the fire and switched off the lights, and climbed the stairs to Mrs Simpson’s room.
Overnight the temperature rose, the mist dissolved and in the morning the house was bathed in pure, winter sunlight. The lawn and trees sparkled, drenched in dew like diamonds. John opened the curtains and immediately got that look in his eye which I knew presaged creativity.
‘Go and paint,’ I told him, nestling back into the pillows and resting the cup and saucer he had brought me onto my bump. ‘Go, while the light lasts, and paint something glorious.’
He looked at me. ‘I oughtn’t to leave you,’ he demurred.
‘Nonsense,’ I retorted. ‘I’m going to go back to sleep in a moment, so I’ll be no company for you.’
‘Oh, alright,’ he gave in.
I was as good as my word, back asleep within moments; I didn’t even hear the motorcar as it pulled out of the stables and laboured up the slush on the drive. I slept in the filtered sunlight that came in through the half-drawn curtains until midway through the morning when a change in its quality woke me. The blue had been replaced by thin cloud. Above the amphitheatre of the trees I could see it moving, quite quickly, from the east. I got up and drew myself a bath. From its depths I could hear the telephone ringing, but it would have been impossible – and dangerous – for me to try and answer it. I wallowed on, and presently it stopped ringing.
By the time I got downstairs it was midday, and I set about getting together some food to carry up to the gatehouse for John, later. This necessitated a trip to the hot house, where tomatoes were still to be had from the yellowing, spent trusses. On my way I let the chickens out, and collected the eggs – not many, at that time of year, but enough for an omelette for supper, I thought. The hens came out cautiously, eyeing the air, placing tentative feet down on the chill, wet ground. As I re-entered the house I could hear the telephone again, ringing in the butler’s pantry. I dropped the eggs and tomatoes into a handy basket and hurried through, but when I lifted the receiver there was only a click and a buzz like an angry wasp on the line. The only person I could imagine calling was the doctor, and I put a call through to him, but his telephone, too, rang on and on and nobody answered.
I continued to potter round the kitchen; folding laundry which had been drying over the range, getting distracted by a particularly delicious pie which Mrs Greene had sent down for us, opening one of the jars of pickled cabbage from the larder to eat with it. I dried and put away the glassware we’d used the night before. Time passed.
About three o’clock I locked up the hens. They had already retreated into the shelter and warmth of their accommodation, sensing, as I had not, the storm which was imminent. The air outside had turned bluish; the cloud overhead was much thicker, lower, and very dark. As I watched, fat flakes of snow began to float from the sky.
I packed up my basket and made ready for the walk up to the gatehouse. I would have to hurry.
The first pain came as I was bending to lace up my boots. It was sharper and much stronger than I had expected, and not in my back, as Rose had described, but in some hidden and hitherto unsuspected ventricle at my core. I took a sharp intake of breath and sat back on the settle, quelling panic. My instinct was to clench up the place where the pain had been, to resist the sense of prising pressure.
‘Relax,’ I told myself, ‘probably just wind. Shouldn’t have eaten that cabbage.’
But immediately it came again, more insistent, a sense of determined opening, the way I had seen Kenneth kick and rattle at a shed door which has swollen and warped over winter, breaking the seal which time and nature together have fastened shut. At the same time I was conscious of a trickle of warm liquid coming from me.
Clearly, the baby was on its way.
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.
I would like to thank Rachel and Allie Cresswell for allowing me to participate in the tour today alongside so many other wonderful blogs.