Today I have an extract from The Secret of Summerhayes by Merryn Allingham as part of the blog tour. Sadly I wasn’t able to review this book as time hasn’t been on my side but I have added it to my tbr list as it sounds like a wonderful read.
About the book
A war-torn summer
A house fallen into ruin
A family broken apart by scandal…
Summer 1944: Bombed out by the blitz, Bethany Merston takes up a post as companion to elderly Alice Summer, last remaining inhabitant of the dilapidated and crumbling Summerhayes estate. Now a shadow of its former glory; most of the rooms have been shut up, the stunning garden is overgrown and the whole place feels as unwelcoming as the family themselves. What secrets does the hidden garden hold and what will it mean to uncover it?
Struggling with the realities of war, Alice is plagued by anonymous letters and haunting visions of her old household. At first, Beth tries to convince her it’s all in her mind but soon starts to unravel the mysteries surrounding the aristocratic family’s past.
An evocative and captivating tale, The Secret of Summerhayes tells of dark secrets, almost-forgotten scandals and a household teetering on the edge of ruin.
Published 27th July and available to purchase at Amazon.co.uk
The Secret of Summerhayes extract
Sussex, England, late April 1944
Something about the scene caught at him, some memory he couldn’t grasp. Behind him the tangled mass of alders – they were alders, weren’t they? – but before his eyes, a landscape he must have read about, or perhaps dreamt. He’d never been here before, that was certain. The last two years had been spent miles away, and though since January his regiment had been moving from camp to camp, this was the furthest west they had come. He pushed past the last few branches and received another scratch to add to all the others. The trees had long ago grown together to form an almost impenetrable barrier. The old fellow who’d given him a lift had heard the word Summerhayes and dropped him at what must have been the rear entrance. He should have stopped at the broken brick columns and found another way in, walked around the perimeter wall until he came to a main entrance. That was probably in the same ramshackle state, but the tanks would have bulldozed a path by now and the going would be easier. Very much easier. He should turn back.
But he didn’t. Something made him push on, that dream perhaps, a misty image he carried with him. Now that he was clear of the trees, he could see more than a few feet ahead. He appeared to be standing on what had once been a paved terrace. Beneath the heaps of dead winter leaves, he glimpsed terracotta. A Mediterranean colour, out of place in an English garden, or even an English wilderness. It appeared to circle what must have once been a lake but was now stagnant water, carpeted from one side to the other with giant water lilies. The air was slightly sour; it smelt of mud, smelt of must. In the centre of the lake, the remains of a statue, broken and chipped, rose strangely from out of the rampant vegetation. It was as though, wounded and maimed, it was trying to escape. Something about the place held him fast. He stood for a long time, feeling his pulse gradually slacken the rhythm of his heart seeming to align itself to that of the earth. What kind of craziness was that? He shook his head in disbelief and as quickly as the heavy backpack allowed, made his way to an archway in one corner of the clearing. The exit, he imagined, but it was as overgrown as everything else, its laurel leaves a dense mass.
He looked back before shouldering through this new obstruction. On one side of the lake, there had been a small summerhouse but its roof was smashed and a giant vine had weaved its way through the corpse. Directly across the water, there had been another building, and he could see immediately that it was one built to impressive proportions. Now all that remained of it were two or three shattered columns and the raised dais they stood upon. It seemed to have been some kind of temple, for the pediment had crashed to the ground and taken several pillars with it. Did English gardens have temples? He supposed they must. In that instant, the sun emerged from a passing cloud and glanced across the remaining pillars, its rays flashing pure crystal. He gave a low whistle. The building was of marble. Once upon a time, this had been a wealthy place.
With some difficulty, he pushed through the strangled archway but was immediately brought up short. He was acing what appeared to be an acre of grass and brambles, at least six feet in height, and with no path in sight. Here and there huge palm trees rose out of the oversized meadow, spreading their arms in a riot of tough, sword like prongs or half-tumbled to the ground, their hairy trunks dank and rotted. Between the palms, gigantic ferns hovered like green spiders inflated to monstrous size. He would never find his way through this, and he was running out of time. By now, everyone would have settled their billets, his men would be waiting for orders and Eddie would be wondering where the hell he’d got to. His pal would be brewing coffee and if he hadn’t had to do that damned detour, he’d be drinking it alongside him.
It had been a waste of time in any case; when he’d got to Aldershot, he’d found the regiment’s surplus equipment had already been despatched without any help from him. The logistics of constantly moving were a nightmare and he hoped this was the last camp they’d pitch before the push into Europe.
About the author
Merryn Allingham spent her childhood moving around as a soldier’s daughter, and the desire to travel stayed with her into adulthood when working for an airline introduced her to a vast range of people and adventures around the world. Later settling down in Sussex to raise a family, Merryn earned a PhD from the University of Sussex and for many years taught university literature until turning to her own writing. She has published six Regency period novels under the name Isabelle Goddard, and The Secret of Summerhayes is the 6th title under Merryn Allingham.