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In Pale Battalions
 
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In Pale Battalions [Format Kindle]

Robert Goddard
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Chapter One


Childhood memories fit their own intricate pattern. They cannot be made to conform to the version of our past we try to impose upon them. Thus I could say that Lord and Lady Powerstock and the home they gave me at Meongate more than compensated for being an orphan, that a silver spoon easily took the place of my mother's smile. I could say it--but every recollection of my early years would deny it.

Meongate must once have been the crowded, bustling house of a cheerful family, as the Hallowses must once have been that family. Every favour of nature in its setting where the Hampshire downs met the pastures of the Meon valley, every effort of man in its spacious rooms and landscaped park, had been bestowed on the home of one small child.

Yet it was not enough. When I was growing up at Meongate in the early 1920s, most of its grandeur had long since departed. Many of the rooms were shut up and disused, much of the park turned over to farmland. And all the laughing, happy people I imagined filling its empty rooms and treading its neglected lawns had vanished into a past beyond my reach.

I grew up with the knowledge that my parents were both dead, my father killed on the Somme, my
mother carried off by pneumonia a few days after my birth. It was not kept from me. Indeed, I was constantly reminded of it, constantly confronted with the implication that I must in some way bear the blame for the shadow of grief, or of something worse, that hung over their memory. That shadow, cast by the unknown, lay at the heart of the cold, dark certainty that also grew within me: I was not wanted at Meongate, not welcomed there, not loved.

It might have been different had my grandfather not been the grave, withdrawn, perpetually melancholic man that he was. I, who never knew him when he was young, cannot imagine him as anything other than the wheelchair-bound occupant of his ground-floor rooms, deprived by his own morbidity, as much as by the lingering effects of a stroke, of all warmth and fondness. When Nanny Hiles took me, as she regularly did, to kiss him goodnight, all I wanted to do was escape from the cold, fleeting touch of his flesh. When, playing on the lawn, I would look up and see him watching me from his window, all I wanted to do was run away from the mournful, questing sadness in his eyes. Later, I came to sense that he was waiting, waiting for me to be old enough to understand him, waiting in the hope that he would live to see that day.

Lady Powerstock, twenty years his junior, was not my real grandmother. She was buried in the village churchyard, another ghost whom I did not know and who could do nothing to help me. I imagined her as everything her successor was not--kind, loving and generous--but it did me no good. Olivia, the woman I was required to address as Grandmama in her place, had once been beautiful and, at fifty, her looks were still with her, her figure still fine, her dress sense impeccable. That we were not related by blood explained, to my satisfaction, why she did not love me. What I could not explain was why she went so far as to hate me, but hate me she undoubtedly did. She did not trouble to disguise the fact. She let it hover, menacing and unspoken, at the edge of all our exchanges, let it grow as an awareness between us, a secret confirmation that she too was only waiting, waiting for death to remove her husband and with him any lingering restraint on her conduct towards me. There was an air of practised vice about her that was to draw men all her life, an air of voluptuous pleasure at her own depravity that made her hatred of me seem merely instinctive. Yet there was always more to it than that. She had drawn some venom from whatever part she had played in the past of that house and had reserved it for me.

My only friend in those days, my only guide through Meongate's hidden perils, was Fergus, the taciturn and undemonstrative major-domo, "shifty" as Olivia described him and certainly not as deferential as he should have been, but none the less my sole confidant. Sally, the sullen maid, and humourless Nanny Hiles both went in awe of Olivia, but Fergus treated her with an assurance, bordering on disrespect, that made him my immediate ally. A cautious, solitary, pessimistic man who had expected little from life and consequently been spared many disappointments, perhaps he took pity on a lonely child whose plight he understood better than she did herself. He would take me on covert expeditions through the grounds, or down to the wooded reach of the Meon where he fished of a quiet afternoon, or into Droxford in the trap, when he would buy me a twist of sherbet and leave me sitting on the wall outside Wilsmer's saddlery whilst he went in to haggle over a new bridle for the pony. For such brief moments as those, kicking my heels on Mr. Wilsmer's wall and eating my
sherbet in the sunshine, I was happy. But such moments did not last.

It was Fergus who first showed me my father's name, recorded with the other war dead of the village, on a plaque at the church. Their Name Liveth for Evermore, the inscription said, and his name--Captain the Honourable John Hallows--is all that did live for me. I would stare at it for what seemed like hours trying to conjure up the real living and breathing father that he had never been to me, seeing only those stiff, expressionless, uniformed figures preserved by photographs in back copies of the Illustrated London News, glimpsing no part of his true self beyond the neatly carved letters of his name.

As for my mother, of her there was no record at all, no grave, no memorial of any kind. Fergus, when I questioned him, prevaricated. My mother's grave, if she had one, was far away--and he did not know where. There were, I was to understand, limits to what even he could tell me. Whether he suggested it or not I cannot remember, but, for some reason, I decided to ask Olivia. I cannot recall how old I was when it happened, but I had followed her into the library, where she often went to look at a painting that hung there.

"Where is my mother's grave?" I said bluntly, partly intending the question to be a challenge. All hatred is, in time, reciprocated and I had come to hate Olivia as much as she hated me; I did not then appreciate how dangerous an enemy she could be.

She did not answer in words. She turned aside from that great, high, dark painting and hit me so hard across the face that I nearly fell over. I stood there, clutching the reddening bruise, too shocked by the pain of it to cry, and she stooped over me, her eyes blazing. "If you ever ask that question again," she said, "if you ever mention your mother again, I'll make you suffer."

The mystery of my mother thenceforth became the grand and secret obsession of my childhood. My father's death, after all, had a comforting simplicity about it. Every November there was an Armistice Parade in the village to commemorate the sacrifice of Captain the Honourable John Hallows and the many others like him. Though not permitted to join the Brownie troop that took part in the parade, I was allowed to go and watch and could imagine myself marching with all the little girls who, like me, had lost their father. But, at the end of the parade, they went home to their mothers; I could not even remember mine.

Sometimes, though, I thought I could remember her. It was impossible, of course, if what I had been told of her was true, but Olivia had succeeded in making me doubt everything I had not personally experienced, and there was one dim, early memory, seemingly at the very dawn of my recollection, to sustain what I so wanted to believe.

I was standing on the platform at Droxford railway station. It was a hot summer's day: I could feel the heat of the gravel seeping up through my shoes. A train was standing at the platform, great billows of smoke rising as the engine gathered steam. The man standing beside me, who had been holding my hand, stooped and lifted me up, cradling me in his arms to watch the train pull out. He was stout and white-haired. I remember the rumble of his voice and the brim of his straw hat touching my head as he raised his free hand to wave. And I was waving too, at a woman aboard the train who had wound down the window and was leaning out, waving also and smiling and crying as she did so. She was dressed in blue and held a white handkerchief in her right hand. And the train carried her away. And then I cried too and the stout old man hugged me, the brass buttons on his coat cold against my face.

I recounted the memory to Fergus one day, when we were returning from a mushrooming expedition. When I had finished, I asked him who he thought the old man was.

"Sounds like old Mr. Gladwin," he replied. "The first Lady Powerstock's father. He lived here . . . till she sent him away." By she Fergus always meant Olivia.

"Why did she do that?"

"She'd have had her reasons, I don't doubt."

"When did he go?"

"The summer of 1920, when you were three. Back to Yorkshire, so they say. A proper caution, was
Mr. Gladwin."

"Who was the pretty lady, Fergus?"

"That I don't know."

"Was she . . . my mother?"

He pulled up and looked down at me with a frown. "That she was not," he said with deliberate slowness. "Your mother passed away a few days after she had you. You know that. No amount of wanting is going to make you remember her."

"Then . . . who was the pretty lady?"

His frown became less kindly. "I told you: I don't know. That Mr. Gladwin, he was a close one. Now, look to that napkin or you'll pitch your breakfast into the lane--and mine with it."

If the pretty lady wasn't my mother, who was she? What was old Mr. Gladwin, my great-grandfather, to her? There were no answers within my reach, just the secret hope I went on harbouring that maybe my mother wasn't really dead at all, just ....

From Publishers Weekly

Set in England during and after WW I, this is the story of three generations: the two Leonoras, mother and child (and their husbands, both handsome, adoring, young army officers), and of Penelope, who at length unravels the twisted skeins of her mother's and grandmother's past to discover herself. In the prologue, the younger Leonora, now a grandmother, takes her daughter Penelope to France to visit the memorial to those killed on the Somme in 1916. Her father, Captain John Hallows is listed there, but, Leonora points out, he died more than a year before her birth. By way of explanation, Leonora relates the story of her childhood as an orphan in the mansion of Meonsgate sp ok in Hampshire, under the tyranny of her greedy, power-hungry step-grandmother. Young Leonora eventually escapes to a happy marriage and finally discovers the truth about her parentsespecially about her mother, who had been described to her as a whorethrough the device of a stranger's tale: not an ancient mariner's, but an old soldier's. But there is more, and Penelope is the one who hears the true storyor is it? Goddard ( Past Caring ) has crafted a marvelously intricate plot, deftly and subtly unveiling, through different narrative voices, the mystery at the core of this intense, shocking tale. 50,000 first printing; $50,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild alternate.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Commentaires client les plus utiles
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Robert Goddard's finest work 29 août 2013
Format:Broché
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, from beginning to end. I can understand why another reviewer found the book boring : there are no car chases or gun-fights. Just exquisite characterisations, scene descriptions, dialogue and suspense. And a twist at the end that was well worth waiting for. Not a book for comic lovers but a treasure for those looking for a perfectly crafted work that one can read again and again and each time find more pearls of writing. Thoroughly recommended.
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2.0 étoiles sur 5 very boring 29 avril 2013
Par paulwoods
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
I have other of his books but this is not up to the usual standard the storyt is weak and just boring
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 a fascinating book 6 février 2012
Par Meunier
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
a fascinating book. Aussi bien l'intrigue que le contexte historique font de ce livre une lecture fascinante. L'édition en langue française est également de grande qualité.
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 étoiles sur 5  58 commentaires
36 internautes sur 37 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 One of the best books I've ever read!! 19 mai 2001
Par Jenn - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
If you haven't ever read Goddard, start here, please! This book, despite dealing with some really thorny issues such as war, mistaken identity, blackmail, and abuse, retains such a misty quality about the narrative that you feel as if you are walking in someone else's dream. The mystery, far from being, shallow and gorey, like some American thrillers, insteady takes it's tension from a deep, involved and complicated series of realtionships and webs of lies that intruige the mind.
The story begins and ends with a mother taking her daughter on a walk through the WWI battlefield monuments of France, and explaining what has consumed her for most of her life: who her father was. The answer, given to her by a strange old artist, will surprise you.
If you want a deep, intelligent mystery, you must read this book!
16 internautes sur 16 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Hard to Put Down 17 février 2006
Par Jolee - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
With so many plot twists and turns this is a book you can't put down until you've finally finished it. Most of the book is set during the time of World war I. Without being preachy the reader has insight to how the characters feel about the war, and how it changes their lives. Few, if any WW I vets are left to tell their story, I think that Robert Goddard gives us a little understanding into what fighting in the trenches meant, and the waste of lives that ensued. All the characters are well developed, but yet the author still manages to surprise the reader. Just when the reading thinks he/she has worked out the plot, there is another twist that leaves the reader breathless and wanting more. This is my favorite Robert Goddard book.
12 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A wonderful variation on a familiar theme 13 août 2007
Par Stan Vernooy - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
This is the story of a woman's search for the truth about the identity of her parents and the circumstances of her birth and early childhood. It is certainly not the first book I've ever read on that theme, but it is the best.

The woman, Leonora, was born during the first World War. Her father was a war hero who died in the murderous killing fields of the European slaughter. But wait a minute: the dates - her own birth and her purported father's death - don't match up. What is the real truth?

Leonora remembers Olivia, her witch of a step-grandmother, and and of course remembers what Olivia told her about her origins. But there wasn't much detail there, and Olivia was so spiteful that anything she said had to be taken with a grain of salt. And over the course of her life, Leonora manages to piece together the truth. Maybe.

Leonora learns some of the stories by virtue of her own research, and some other things she learns accidentally when she is contacted by people who were in a position to know SOME of the story. It is that word "some" that makes this book so fascinating. No single individual or set of documents is able to produce a logically consistent explanation for everything that happened. There is always at least one loose end. But Leonora persists, and finally, as an elderly woman, she believes she has pieced together the whole story.

The book is told flashback fashion, as Leonora relates the entire story to her daughter Penelope, who is by now a grown woman. And it can't escape the reader's attention that almost every bit of information Leonora has acquired has come to her as part of an oral history, related by someone who might have his or her own axe to grind. Once we come to the end, however, the bits and pieces hang together logically - in fact, brilliantly logically, as they always do with Goddard. Somehow the uncertainty about whether we really have the entire truth seems to make the ending more satisfactory, not less.

For me, one criterion for evaluating a book is: does each page make me want to read the next one? Perhaps more than any other writer, Goddard answers that question with a resounding "Yes." He is simply the best writer I have ever read for constructing complex plots that fit together logically with no holes. This is as good an introduction as any to his impressive talent.
8 internautes sur 9 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Engrossing! 13 novembre 2004
Par V. Ackroyd - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
It was poignant reading this book the week of Remembrance. While I have read many books about WWI, I never cease to be affected when I read another. This book is very well written. It has that soft, English quality with depictions of stately manor homes, weather, proper English gentlemen. But it also uncovers the seedy underside that is so often depicted about Victorian-Edwardian England: perversion, abuse, dishonor. This tale though has some very unusual twists to it and every time I thought I had figured the whole story out, it took yet another one.
I have read one other Goddard and this is by far his best!
5 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Where has he been? 18 janvier 2009
Par Barbara Alves - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
I recently discovered this author after reading a column by Stephen King about his favorite books of 2008. He mentioned this author and how dazzled his was by the excellence of his writing. I agree! I recently purchased this and two other of his novels, and I plan to read them all. Mr. Goddard combines historical backgrounds with very compelling fiction. Treat yourself today and purchase one of Mr. Goddards novels. You won't be able to put the book down.
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