|Read Extracts from Silhouettes In A Silent Land
Here are a few tasters from each of of the chapters in the book.
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From 'A Land Fit for Heroes'
Charlie’s feet felt heavy, his head throbbed, and the rancid smell made his stomach churn. The whiz-bangs flew over his head and with each whiz, he automatically lowered himself further into the clawing mud. The oozing water squelched around his ankles, and the grotesque faces of his dead companions half floated above the surface with wide, terrified eyes, open and staring straight into his soul. Rats with slick backed fur, giving the appearance of a well-groomed officer’s hair, scampered over the corpses. The limbless bodies were strewn along the narrow trench as far as his eye could see through the murky gloom. Randomly scattered amongst those whose lifeblood no longer flowed, were those whose fate was already sealed. At times, the sound of the screams could be heard between and above the sound of the shells. His rifle was caked with the same mud that clung to every part of his body. It mingled with the spattered blood of the men who lay at his feet. Then a few yards away he spotted Bertie, thankfully not amongst the dead or the dying. He began to clamber towards him, crawling through the mud and the flesh and the rats.
Suddenly another smell filled his nostrils, and over the ridge, a strange smog was floating in.
“Gas,” he screamed.
Hurriedly he pulled the body belt from his waist, and dashed it into the water jar just above his head.[i] As Charlie held the crude cloth mask to his face, his vision partly obscured by the foul smelling gas, he could just make out Bertie, not six feet away. Bertie’s arm was reaching out to him, body belt in hand, vainly gesturing towards the water jar. His eyes started to roll, and when he tried to shout he spluttered, frothy mouthed. All around him now Charlie was aware of screams even louder than before. He moved as fast as the claggy mass beneath him would allow, towards his friend. With his free hand he grabbed the body belt from his grasp, and stumbled back to the water jar. Slowly, so slowly, the world almost stood still. He turned, Bertie was lying face up among the other brave men of the Royal Sussex Regiment, his eyes bulging, his body convulsing. Charlie closed his eyes and for the briefest moment, he was in a faraway place and time.
The sun shone brightly on a warm spring day in the back streets of Brighton. He could hear the sound of street vendors plying their wares. Mothers were scolding their children and gossiping on doorsteps. The air was thick with the smell of smoking herrings, and there beside him was his best friend, Bertie. They were brandishing toy guns made from bits of discarded wood, and they laughed as only children at play do.
Involuntarily Charlie mouthed the words that had fallen from his lips in that far off place, so long ago:
“Bang bang, you’re dead Bertie.”
[i] The use of poisonous gas as a weapon was an act considered almost unthinkable, and effective masks were only just being developed.
From 'The Great Hall'
They packed their few belongings and climbed into a carriage hired for the purpose. They passed through tiny hamlets and bustling villages, busy market towns and country lanes. It was a beautiful autumn day and the journey was a pleasant one. Fieldfares and redwings were flocking together in the fields, after completing their long journey from across the sea. Song thrushes trilled from the hedgerows, and tufty-eared squirrels flashed red in the sunlight as they darted up and down the ancient oaks, collecting for their winter store. Passing by orchards dripping with ripened fruit, they could hear the mournful cry of a bullfinch fattening itself up for the inevitable lean time ahead. Here and there a few hardy butterflies still flitted across the chalk grasslands, their powder blue wings soaking up the last of the sun’s warmth. Through the overhanging woods they saw the tranquil waters of Brading Haven. They ascended gentle slopes and passed through fertile valleys and meadows. As they reached the summit of St John’s Hill, they saw before them on the crown of an adjacent hill, the town of Ryde, its houses gleaming amid the leafy backdrop.
From 'The Gamekeeper's Daughter'
So it was on that bright spring morning, with no awareness except in the here and now, the little birds were singing as if their tiny hearts would burst with the joy of creation. Closer to earth, there was no less activity. Although hidden by budding hedgerows, meadow grass and the diminishing canopy of last autumn’s foliage, animals and insects were on the move. The emerging plant life meant less time spent foraging and more time for wooing and nest building. Thousands of tiny eyes were opening after hibernation. A thousand pairs of miniature wings were drying in the sun after bursting forth from their winter’s rest, cocooned and safe beneath the soil. In the great elms along the edge of the wood, rooks were beginning to gather in great numbers. Soon it would be time for sport to begin again, and the rooks would be fair game for all whose land they ravaged. Their noisy rabble would be thinned, but never completely destroyed. Despite their annoyance to the inhabitants of both the manor house and the village, there is an almost universal consensus that the balance of nature be maintained, and the man employed to keep that balance was the gamekeeper.
From 'Providence, Perserverance and Progress
As he moved further away from the river, the streets began to get wider with more lamp light. Robert passed a watchman asleep in his wooden box and smiled wryly to himself at the ironic reality that he owed money to the Watch Rates,[i] money that paid this idler’s wages. He soon found himself in Drury Lane. Here the sights and sounds were in stark contrast to the darker side of the city. Vendor’s cries, each seeming louder than the next filled his ears. One minute the smell of the fish seller’s wares pervaded the air, and the next the smell of hot bread from the muffin man.[ii] All manner of itinerant tradesmen and women were advertising their merchandise. Apples roasting on charcoal, oranges and lemons[iii] from far off lands, cakes, potatoes, lavender, brooms, pots and pans, all these things and many more were on offer to those with enough coins in their pockets.
[i] The Watch Rates were paid "for better regulating the nightly Watch and Beadles". In the early 19th century, there was still no established police force and it was the responsibility of each parish to organise its own law and order. In London, Watchmen were employed. Known as “Charleys”. These men, often old men or men that couldn’t get other work had to stand up all night in a sentry box, which was usually made of wood. They had a staff, a sword and a rattle for raising the alarm, but they were rarely of any use and often slept or got drunk on the job. The 1806/07 Watch Rate Book for Wych Street shows that Robert owed arrears of 18s.8d and another 5s.10d for that year - a total of £1.14s.6d. By early 1808, he had increased his debt by another 5s.3d. This would have been an enormous amount to a man earning so little. This Rate Book shows that Robert had left Wych St and his arrears had been written off as 'Lost'.
[ii] “Do you know the muffin man who lives down Drury Lane?”
The “Muffin Man” and “Oranges and Lemons” are both well-known children’s’ nursery rhymes that originate from this area.
[iii] “Oranges and lemons say the Bells of Saint Clements”
There are two St Clements Churches in London, St Clement Dane and St Clement Eastcheap. Both claim to be the church in the rhyme. Whichever is true, it is probable that the oranges and lemons refers to the huge amount of such fruit that would have been have been carted past the churches from the Thames on route to the markets.
From Trouble at t'Mill
Charles greeted Joe, but as the young man came towards him, he could see that he was not in a socialising frame of mind.
“Hey up Joe!” he said, “Tha looks reyt worrit.”
“Ay so woult thi be if tha couldn’t put bread on table fer t’bairns,” Joe replied.
He lowered his voice and leaning across to Charles, he whispered:
“There’s a meetin’ tonight upstairs. If tha be interested I can get thi in.”
Charles had heard about such meetings from gossip about the parish, but he had not considered the fact that he might be involved.
“I don’t know Joe,” he responded after some thought, “I’m a bit fast aboon gettin’ on t’wrong side of t’law.”
“Law... law?” Joe’s face reddened as he tried not to raise his voice. “Eck Charlie, don’t be soft. Them fancy London folk wi’all their brass, mekkin’ laws aboon which folk are suited to feed their kin an’ which of us ain’t. T’workers hev tried reasonin’ wi’ ‘em but if t’mills keep gettin’ bigger and wages keep droppin’ us’ll all be workin’ long hours in ‘em, even us wives and bairns. Do tha really want Lydia and thi babbies workin’ in one ‘o them places?”
From 'A Sweep is as Lucky as Lucky Can Be'
Billy sneaked quietly past the group and made his way to a room at the back of the building. There he found a group of boys along with some older adolescents and young men indulging in the same leisure activities as their senior counterparts. Every one of the participants was unkempt and ragged. Most had faces and hands so black that their eyes appeared to shine out from their faces, like twin moons in a night sky. When they smiled their teeth took on a similar sheen, but smiling was not something they did as often as children should. The elder gamblers were preying on the younger more inexperienced members of the group, by relieving them of the pittance they had earned that day. Billy had not earned anything as usual. Mr Drew had often told him that he was giving him a roof over his head and food in his belly as well as “learnin’ ‘im a trade”, so what more did he want? On a good day, he did give him a penny or two, but Billy had long given up expecting it.
From 'When Dog's Howl'
After a brief silence, the wooden door creaked open and George saw an old woman wrapped in a grey shawl standing before him. She smiled at him revealing a row of cracked and missing teeth. George swallowed hard and attempted to smile back.
“Please missus can ‘ee help I?” he asked with a slight tremble in his voice.
“Come ye in ma bwoy, get warm by my ‘umble fire.”
George hesitated but the interior of the cottage looked welcoming and a few small spots of rain had begun to fall, so he slowly crossed the threshold.
Inside the old woman gestured for him to sit in a large armchair by the fire.
“I’ll get ye zum vittals,” she told him and went into a tiny pantry that led from the room.
George surveyed his surroundings. Along one wall was an old mahogany chest on which a large array of figurines and ornaments were randomly placed. There were chalk images of a cat and other animals, decorative stone jars and colourful, glass bottles that had long since disposed of their contents. On the mantelpiece was a small brass carriage clock that no could longer remember how to tell the time, and from either side of it two bright eyes were staring at the boy. George gave a start, but almost immediately realised that the eyes were made of glass and belonged to a stuffed white blackbird and a barn owl encased in dusty glass.
Along the opposite wall were oaken shelves stacked high with glass jars and bottles full of all kinds of strange looking herbs and liquids. Next to them was a crude set of weighing scales and a pestle and mortar. The floor was covered with tattered rush matting, and a black cat was licking her paws sleepily as she lay sprawled out near the hearth. In the corner of the room, beside a rack of various sized pots and pans was an old besom broomstick, and over the fire a large kettle was puffing out steam. The rain outside had turned into more than a shower and George felt strangely at ease in the cosy little room.
From 'Brandy for the Parson and 'Baccy for the Clerk
“I hear the drenk took ol’ Ed Towner las’ night. They faound him this marning lying cold on the stoanes just off the Haven. Sims he took ter tasting too much o’ that las’ run o’ brandy.”
William Cheal sat upright in his chair looking into the dwindling flames that were dancing to their swan song in the hearth. Their light flickered in his clear blue eyes and glowed upon each premature wrinkle on his weatherworn face. He stroked his greying whiskers and subconsciously puffed on his empty pipe as he poked at the fire in a vain attempt to prolong its dance.
“Sims daf’ ter me why any man in his right mind would touch ‘at stuff straight from the tub. I mean I like a drop o’ moonshine as much as any man, but ev’ryone knows it be too strong before it be let down.[i] It may make a man merry fas’, but it’s killed more good men than I care ter mind in my forty yeere on God’s earth,” he concluded.
Lydia, his wife sat opposite him nursing their newborn infant.
“I mind when I were a girl over Alfriston, when their weren’t so much need ter bring such stuff in. It was mainly the Owlers[ii] back then that took a livin’ from bein’ Free Traders, and they hurt no one except the King and those gridy men up in the Capital,” she sighed.
She looked down at the child now sleeping soundly at her breast.
[i] The spirits brought in were over 70% proof and they needed to be ‘let down’ by adding water and caramel colouring to avoid the risk of alcoholic poisoning. Many smugglers lost their lives through drinking it neat.
[ii] Smuggling started in the reign of Edward I, about 1300, when a customs duty was placed on the export of wool, which was in great demand in Europe. This was the first permanent customs system established in England, and until it was set up all trade in and out of England was free. In 1614, the export of any wool was made illegal, and so the volumes being exported increased the smuggling of wool. This was known as Owling after the owl like noises the smugglers made to communicate with each other. By 1724, the number of wool smuggling runs was reducing, as the French could get wool from Ireland for about the same price, but with less problems. Import smuggling became more common than export as excise was increased on items such as brandy and tea, the latter selling for eight times the cost price if duty had not been paid.
From 'Fallen Women'
Outside there was a chill in the air. Summer hadn’t yet fully taken hold and the nights still had the feel of spring. Margaret shivered. George placed his arm around her waist and offered her his jacket, which she accepted gratefully. It felt warm and smelt reassuringly of tobacco and cheap soap. The streets were almost as crowded as the pub. Working girls stood in doorways plying for trade. Lone drunks with bottles bought from one of the many drink shops staggered about aimlessly, and groups of friends both young and old passed by laughing and stumbling on their way. Suddenly George stopped and manoeuvred Margaret off the pavement and into the darkness of a twitten. At first as he began to kiss her, she felt excited. She had had her fair share of ‘boys’ but George was three years her senior and in her eyes a proper ‘man’. She responded to his embrace, but as his breathing became more laboured and his fumbling more forceful, she began to feel somewhat nervous. She tried to push him away, but he maintained his hold and began pulling up her clothing. By this time, her nerves had turned to anger and she drew back her hand and slapped him hard across the face. George released his grip and rubbing his cheek he stood back.
“What d’ye do that fur?” he asked angrily, “Ye was up fur it all right afore.”
Margaret couldn’t be bothered to explain. He wouldn’t understand. He was a man and all men were the same. She’d heard her mother say that often enough, and she was now starting to believe it.
From ' Jessie's Story'
The following morning the exhausted immigrants finally boarded their trains. They were still only half way through their arduous journey.[i] The sleeping quarters were clean and comfortable, if somewhat cramped. Four wooden seats faced each other and folded down into a bed at night. Also, a bunk pulled down from overhead. Food and water was served in the dining car. After their meal, Jessie and her family returned to their berth and settled back to take in the scenery. The first part of their journey to Montreal took them through a reasonably recognisable landscape. The region had been settled by the French in the seventeenth century, and the villages had a familiar European feel. They were perched on rolling hills that swept up from the banks of the St Lawrence River. The tin church spires that rose above the houses in each village, sparkled in the sunlight. Jessie, although still anxious, relaxed a little as the scene unfolding before her was not as alien as she had first imagined. Over the next two and a half weeks, the passengers slept, ate and stared from the windows of the steam train as it slowly traversed the vast continent.
[i] The distance from Liverpool to Quebec City is approximately 4700km. The train journey from Quebec to Edmonton would have covered approximately 4300km.
From ' The Hangman Beckons'
On 29th January, Cephas was trudging home, holding his tattered coat tight around him as he bent towards the piercing wind. His shoes had large holes in the soles, and his head was still bare. The ale inside his belly kept out some of the cold, but he cursed under his breath as he passed the fur-trimmed, well-heeled strangers returning to the comfort of a warm fire and a hearty meal. As he continued, he turned into Ship Street. Here he stopped briefly and looked up at the sign on one of the buildings. The words “Attree & Son, Solicitors” were blazoned across the door in bold letters.[i] Cephas spat, cursed again and hurried on.
“Tain’t fittin’,” he muttered to himself, “that ‘e ‘as it all and I ‘as nuthin’?”
He reached home and without bothering to speak to his wife, he ordered his daughter to fetch her coat.
“We goin’ tonight pa?” she asked him.
“Yes gal,” he replied, “Now ‘urry.”
Hannah was slumped in the corner, an empty gin bottle lying at her feet.
“Where ye goin’?” she slurred.
Cephas didn’t bother to answer. He grabbed his daughter’s arm and led her out into the night. It was getting dark and the wind was becoming stronger. Tiny flakes of snow scurried around in the freezing air, dancing upwards and touching the faces of the pair, before floating back down and disappearing into the ground below.
[i] William Attree was the first principal partner of the solicitors now known as Howlett & Clarke. He came from an old established Ditchling family. Cephas also descended from the Ditchling Attrees.
William was born in 1749. He established his practice in Brighton and in 1775, he bought a site in Ship Street for £50. On this, he built No. 8 and probably the adjoining house, No. 9. No. 8 was his residence and office combined until his death, and after that the residence and office of his son until 1830. In 1800, there were few attorneys in Brighton, so William Attree easily acquired a near monopoly of the best legal work in the town. Amongst his fashionable clients was the Prince of Wales.
He died on the 18th August 1810 and was buried five days later in Ditchling churchyard. William’s son Thomas became one of the most prominent men in Brighton. Known as ‘the King of Brighton’ because of the wide range of official posts he held, he owned, amongst other things, Queen’s Park.
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