The Care and Management of Lies, p.1Jacqueline Winspear
With love and gratitude, always
Every intelligent person in the world knew that disaster was impending, and knew no way to avoid it.
—H. G. WELLS
The home front is always underrated by generals in the field. And yet that is where the Great War was won and lost.
—BRITISH PRIME MINISTER DAVID LLOYD GEORGE,
What is certain, is that war will not leave us as it found us.
—WOMAN AT HOME,
About the Author
Also by Jacqueline Winspear
About the Publisher
A tactful woman is one who will never hurt another’s feelings. She will always respect the little foibles of her friends and refrain from holding them up to ridicule.
—THE WOMAN’S BOOK
by Florence B. Jack, first published in 1911
The country was in the early weeks of a summer that would become memorable for its warmth and, despite worries farther afield, there was a sense of being cocooned in Englishness. If ever the natural world conspired to create the perfect summer, then this was the beginning of a charmed season. People—country people—would reflect on this time and remember cricket on the village green, with ladies seated, drinking tea, while men and boys ambled back and forth between the stumps, the ricochet of leather on willow accompanying a run here, a sprint there, followed by light applause from members of the audience not already lulled into an afternoon doze on the pavilion veranda. A gentle sound, as if small glass beads had been run across fine writing paper, would on occasion fill the air when a light breeze caught leaves so fresh they might have unfurled especially for these days. In London, the heat became oppressive as it wafted down into the subterranean tunnels of the Underground. On the street, horses grew impatient with their sweat, stamping their feet when required to stand. Cabbies, too, were becoming ill-tempered—well, perhaps no more ill-tempered than usual. Women might have perspired, but only to the extent that embarrassment could be dealt with by an extra handkerchief well placed and a parasol set just so. It might have been possible to forget, for a moment, that the country had been beset with strikes, and that the government was at the time preoccupied with “The Irish Question.” A stench from the Thames, her tributaries and canals, would be intolerable within a month, and for the poor there was at least no fog, no pea-soup smog, and no biting winter to endure, though hardship and disease still cast a pall over their lives. The city’s poor lived a different life, remember.
Kezia Marchant had been staying for a few days with her most beloved and dearest friend, Dorothy Brissenden, at Queen Charlotte’s Chambers, the women’s boarding house close to Russell Square where Dorothy had lodged for some five years. Both women were twenty-seven years of age, and in late afternoon were comfortably seated by a sunlit window in the confined quarters that Dorothy—Dorrit, to her family and those who had known her since childhood—had lately referred to as her “gaff.” This was a new locution for Dorrit, once so correct and unassuming—or so it might seem, at first blush—even for a farm-born country girl. Having spent the earlier part of the morning window-shopping for items they could not afford and would consider it profligate to indulge in anyway, they’d had tea and were lazily leafing through a pile of women’s monthly books a fellow boarder had given Dorrit. Though a picture of idleness, each woman offering a comment here or an observation there as she licked a finger to turn the page, they were endeavoring to reestablish the companionship enjoyed in earlier years. Kezia was distracted by considerations of marriage—she would be wed to Dorrit’s younger brother, Tom, in just four days, and since her engagement eighteen months ago this past May, her thoughts had been peppered by a commentary that became ever more resonant as time passed. “In a month, I will be a married woman.” Or, “By the time I wear my winter coat again, I will be wed.” Or, “When I walk into this shop next time, I will be Mrs. Tom Brissenden.” This propensity to reflect upon her anticipated status would continue until the day of her wedding.
Though the two women appeared to be animated by their connection and intermittent conversation, the more intuitive onlooker might have detected something amiss, which further consideration would reveal to be the bonds of friendship loosened by choices each had made, as if one were a boat and the other the harbor. It is the nature of the vessel to set sail, and of the harbor to remain solid, waiting until the boat returns laden with tales of travel and experience, of rough seas and calm. If this thought had crossed her mind, Kezia Marchant—at this point Marchant for just four more days, mind—would have recognized that she was the harbor. She was a well-read, academically adept woman, and of late she had felt—but not consciously acknowledged—an irritation blended with sadness at this turn of events. The once mild yet solid Dorrit had changed.
They had been friends since girlhood, from their first day at the prestigious—and in this instance prestigious also meant expensive—Camden School for Girls in Tunbridge Wells, where both were recipients of a scholarship to fund an otherwise unaffordable education, plus their keep as boarders. Kezia’s father, a vicar in a small town at the London edge of Kent, had always been a staunch supporter of his daughter’s education and took delight in her intellectual gifts. Such was their love that she had seen herself as the adored Margaret to his Sir Thomas More. But Reverend Marchant—whose family lived in an ivy-clad Georgian rectory with a housekeeper, scullery maid, and cook, as would befit a man of the cloth in safe tenure—had not the funds to finance his daughter’s attendance at Camden, so was overjoyed when news of the scholarship was received.
Jack Brissenden farmed land deeper into Kent, outside the town of Brooksmarsh and not a mile from the village of Turndene. His father and grandfather before him had worked the same land until their hands were raw, until they were bent and spent and the earth was ingrained in the folds of their skin. He was not short of a bob or two, but could see no point in spending good money to further his daughter’s learning. A scholarship amounted to free coin, however, and was therefore not to be turned down. Jack knew that his son Tom—Dorrit’s brother and, more recently, Kezia’s fiancé—would in time take over the farm. So as far as Jack was concerned, investment in the broadening of Tom’s mind, of his view of the world—especially that of commerce, of buying and selling for market—was not such a bad thing at all if the family were to continue this run of prosperity, which was the cause of some envy among others of his ilk. Thus, unlike that of many local young farmers in the making, Tom Brissenden’s education had extended beyond apprenticeship to his father. He had been sent to the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, so that from beyond the borders of his Kentish home, he might open his mind to fresh ideas about working a holding of not inconsiderable acreage. He would gain, as Jack suggested when he announced Tom’s departure, “a new perspective” on a farmer’s life. He p
Kezia and Dorrit had been inseparable from the day they were allocated neighboring beds in Camden’s austere Austen House dormitory. Austen House was one of four “houses” to which girls were assigned for all sporting endeavors, for academic competition, and to instill a sense of camaraderie among pupils. Dorrit had expressed more of an allegiance to the novels of Elizabeth Gaskell and had rather hoped to be assigned to Gaskell House, though Kezia had idolized Jane since first reading Persuasion. It was later, during a visit to the farm at Dorrit’s invitation, that Kezia met Tom, to whom she would soon be wed. In fact, if she had glanced at the clock while Dorrit was speaking, she would have known that at that very moment in four days she would have already walked down the aisle of her father’s church, where the vicar from a neighboring parish had officiated so that her father could give her away.
Upon matriculation from Camden—“old girls” referred to themselves as “Cammies”—both Kezia and Dorrit had commenced further studies in London, at a teacher-training college in Chelsea, again with scholarship assistance in pursuit of their chosen calling, the education of children. And from there they parted ways; with Kezia accepting the offer of a position as English mistress for the upper school at her beloved Camden, while Dorrit remained steadfast in her refusal to leave the city. Dorrit’s choice was made in defiance of her father, who thought the village school more than good enough for a young woman in wait for a husband, who—if Jack had pressed his preference—would one day be a son of farming Kent. She was employed at a private academy close to Regent’s Park, where her daily charges were the younger sons and daughters of the better-off. She assuaged her guilt—Dorrit had acknowledged within herself a sharp leaning towards the establishment of a more equitable society—by taking food parcels to the East End poor. She suspected that those in receipt of her largesse thought she was a bit stuck-up. Dorrit, in turn, could not understand a word the East Enders said, outside a grateful, “Fanks, miss.”
The nub of Kezia’s doubt regarding Dorrit had for some time been the latter’s immersion in the world of suffrage. Not that Kezia disapproved of the vote for women, but she had noticed Dorrit becoming more forceful, and suspected her friend was being sucked into something quite dangerous. It was one thing to march; one thing, even, to clamor for the attention of politicians, and to wear a green banner across her chest while pressing pamphlets into the hands of passers-by, all to further the cause of ending the disenfranchisement of women. But Kezia considered it another thing altogether when Dorrit’s language became increasingly belligerent; the word fight spiced with the venom of a viper. Whenever Kezia visited Dorrit in recent months, she departed with the sense that something was being hidden from her, as if soiled laundry had been shoved under the bed to make room on a chair for an unexpected guest. As a further surprise, Kezia’s very best friend had announced on Friday evening that she would be known as Dorrit no longer. With her father dead and buried, she explained, there was no longer any reason for her to endure her family’s obsession with Charles Dickens, a trait inherited from her grandfather, who had named every field on Marshals Farm in honor of the author’s work—Marshals itself being an abbreviation of Marshalsea, the debtors’ prison where Dickens’s own father had languished. The family had suspected that the chosen name was by way of a warning—unless they worked hard and took care with money, a similar fate might await them. Jack’s mother had put her foot down upon becoming mistress of the house, and insisted upon the alteration that changed the farm’s name, stating that it was enough to be stuck in the kitchen all day; she would not have the shadow of a prison thrust upon her home. Had Jack Brissenden prevailed at the time of his son’s naming, Kezia would be engaged to a young man named Pip.
Dorrit had informed Kezia that she was in future to be known as Dorothea—abbreviated to “Thea” for friends—and she would be grateful if Kezia would pay tribute to their friendship and address her as such. In fact, if she heard the name Dorrit from any quarter, she would ignore it. Though it might seem that her social leanings would have caused Dorrit to cherish her given name, in truth she was glad at last to be rid of it.
Kezia felt as if she were in mourning, as if she had lost something very precious. How she had admired Dorrit—Thea—even from those early days at Camden. Though Thea was a quiet girl then, it had seemed to Kezia she could do anything, drawing upon a solid strength from the land that raised her. The Dorrit she loved as if she were a sister could ride a horse like the wind, and knew how to light a fire without a match. Dorrit would not draw back from the task of cleaning a pheasant or pulling the neck of a chicken, and would march across muddy fields as if the ground beneath her feet would never give to her step, for she owned it. Now she had become this woman of the town, a strident Amazon who peppered conversation with the word fight more times than she may have realized.
If Kezia continued to feel a little sorry for herself, blaming the fissure on Dorrit—how could you suddenly begin calling someone by another name, she thought, unless that is, it were the surname you were changing?—then Thea, as she would now forever be known, or ignore all attempts to gain her attention, also felt pushed aside. When was it, exactly, that Tom and Kezia looked at each other and saw themselves as joined, without her in the middle to reflect one to the other? At what point had she become unnecessary, ceasing to be Tom’s first confidant, and Kezia’s dearly adored sister—of the heart, if not in name? When had Tom grown up enough for Kezia even to have noticed him? Had he always loved her, since she first came to the farm, sitting down at the kitchen table as if she were a visitor from another world? And she was. Jack Brissenden had never held with the church—especially a town church. He considered churches, with their spires and towers, with their buttresses and chancels, naves and narthexes, as useful only for the official naming of children, for the joining of two people in matrimony, and, of course, for the burying of the dead. Thea wondered how he might have felt about that now, having been committed to the cold earth not six months past.
Thea often felt an acute sense of unfairness when she considered the features that marked Tom and herself as brother and sister, an unequal division of the shared traits in appearance and demeanor that seemed to bless him while rendering her less attractive—in her estimation, at least. Their mother’s fair hair was light and sun-kissed on Tom, even in winter. Yet on Thea, that same tone became straw-like by late spring, and dull and mousey in the dim light of shorter days. Dark eyebrows, long lashes, and hazel eyes gave Tom’s face definition. Thea considered those lashes to be wasted on Tom—why had she not been blessed with such bounty? And how she hated those same brown eyebrows on her own face, so much so that as a girl at Camden, she had filched a pair of tweezers from the school infirmary to rectify the situation. Her error had been in allowing Kezia and another friend to pluck away the offending hairs. It was some time before her eyebrows grew back enough to allow another try at shaping them.
Tom was a good height for a man, but Thea was three inches shorter than Kezia, who was in turn just one inch shorter than her husband-to-be, though of the two women, Thea was the physically stronger and more adept. Even in childhood, as Tom’s accomplishments were lauded by their mother and father, Thea pushed herself to match him, and surpass him if she could. The scholarship to Camden was a blessing, though it was a sword with two edges. One neatly cut aw
Thea’s irritation with the forthcoming union between her best friend—was Kezia still her best friend?—and her brother had rendered her less than generous in her wishes for them. She could not see Kezia as a farmer’s wife, and neither could her late mother, who had maintained from the first indication of a courtship that she would not share her kitchen with another woman, even if that woman was dear Kezia, who had first visited the farm when she was but thirteen years of age. Of course, such potential discord never came to pass. However, it was under the influence of this prejudice that Thea had bought her friend a gift in advance of the wedding. It was a book chosen—if truth be told—for the title alone. Thea leafed through only two or three pages at most before paying for the heavy tome, knowing she could pass it off as a worthy offering from the bridesmaid to the bride.
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