21 Mar 2019

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Blog Tour Book Extract / Two Silver Crosses by Beryl Kingston

Nobody is to know where we are. You must forget England. That part of your lives is over.’
Twins Ginny and Emily Holborn have everything they could ever need in their Wolverhampton home: a loving family, a garden to play in, and staff waiting to attend to their every need. Until, one summer day in 1926, they disappear without a trace.
Ten years later, bright-eyed solicitor Charlie Commoner is given his first job: track down the still-missing Holborn twins. Despatched to France, he’s left to unravel a web of infidelity, mystery, and terrifying family secrets.
Let bestselling author Beryl Kingston sweep you away on a journey from London to Paris, through tragedy and triumph in the search for two sisters wearing two silver crosses.
Two Silver Crosses was originally published in 1992.



Beryl Kingston is the author of 30 novels with over a million copies sold. She has been a writer since she was 7 when she started producing poetry. She was evacuated to Felpham at the start of WWII, igniting an interest in one-time resident poet William Blake which later inspired her novel The Gates of Paradise. She was an English teacher from 1952 until 1985 when she became a full-time writer after her debut novel, Hearts and Farthings, became a bestseller. Kingston continued writing bestsellers for the next 14 years with titles ranging from family sagas to modern stories and historical novels. She currently lives in West Sussex and has three children, five grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.

Chapter One

Just turn over on your side, Mrs Holborn, dear,’ the midwife coaxed. ‘Turn on your side, there’s a good girl.’
Hortense Holborn was too far gone to understand her. She was very young and very frightened and to add confusion to fear the baby had started much too early. So instead of having her darling Edouard home on leave the way he’d planned it, he was away at the front fighting the Germans, or lying wounded somewhere or dying or blown to bits. Oh no, no, no. She mustn’t think that. If only he were here, safe in her arms, and she safe in his. If only… Oh this awful pain and this awful war that tears people apart! ‘Je’n peux pas!’ she groaned, retreating into her native language because she hadn’t got the energy to speak English. She hadn’t got the energy for anything, not even to lift her head from the pillow. ‘Je’n peux pas!’
I don’t think she can understand what you’re saying, Mrs Bonney,’ the midwife’s young assistant said. ‘She don’t seem to hear you, not to my way a thinking.’
Quite right, Joan,’ Mrs Bonney said. ‘But I’m sure she can hear, poor girl. She don’t understand, that’s the way of it. And no wonder with all this stopping and starting. It’s enough to try the patience of a saint.’
It had been a complicated labour. When it started, three exhausting days ago, it had seemed straightforward enough, although premature. But then for some unaccountable reason it had completely stopped and, despite hot baths and two enemas and three doses of castor oil, it had refused to start up again until early that morning. And now it was proceeding much too slowly for Mrs Bonney’s peace of mind.
For this was no ordinary confinement. For a start the poor girl was expecting twins, and at nineteen she was barely old enough for one baby leave alone two, and as if that weren’t complication enough, the babies would be the first grandchildren of the great Mr Holborn who owned GS Holborn’s Munitions, which was one of the biggest factories in the district, if not the biggest. And they were being born in his splendid house with a fine nursery waiting for them, all newly furnished and decorated, with enough toys on the shelves to stock a shop and the proverbial silver spoon ready for their mouths. So it certainly wasn’t the sort of confinement that could be taken easily by anyone concerned.
Turn on your side, Mrs Holborn, dear,’ the midwife tried again. ‘You’d be easier on your side.’
There was a discreet knock at the bedroom door. Mrs Bonney clicked her tongue with annoyance at being interrupted but signalled with her eyes that her assistant was to go and attend to it.
It was Miss Agnes Holborn, their patient’s sister-in-law, and to Mrs Bonney’s surprise she had a soldier standing beside her. It couldn’t be Mr Edward, could it? Surely not. Mr Edward was at the front. Everybody knew that. But it was, looking very fine in his officer’s uniform, polished boots, khaki cap and all.
How is she?’ he whispered, stripping off his gloves. His long face was drawn with anxiety and there were dark shadows under his eyes. ‘Agnes sent me a telegram. I got here as soon as I could. Please let me see her.’
His request put Mrs Bonney into a quandary. Ordinarily husbands would never be allowed into the bedroom while a labour was going on. It wasn’t hygienic. Or proper. Their place was outside pacing the carpet. But this was 1916 and they were all in the middle of a war, and he’d come all the way from the battlefield to be with this poor little French wife of his. And besides, he might be able to get her to do what they said, even if it wasn’t hygienic.
And while she was dithering, Hortense made up her mind for her, calling out to her husband in her own language, her face suddenly bright with renewed vigour, her voice stronger and more alive. ‘Edouard! Edouard! It is you, is it not, my love. Oh come to me quickly, quickly. I’m so frightened.’
He was into the room in three strides, regardless of permission, tossing his cap on to a chair, reaching the bed, sweeping her into his arms, holding her close, kissing her damp dark hair. ‘Don’t be afraid, my dearest. I’m here. You’re safe with me.’
Mr Edward,’ Mrs Bonney protested. ‘You can’t…’
But he could. He was. Smiling up at her with weary blue eyes, the light brown hair above his temples still pinched by the pressure of his cap, his long face tanned and more lined than she remembered it from the last time she’d seen him in the village, his expression clearly pleading with her. There was a scurry of frantic activity at the other end of the bed as Joan flung a sheet across their patient’s swollen abdomen for decency’s sake.
Oh dear,’ Mrs Bonney said. ‘I’m not sure this is…’
But he went on smiling at her, hopefully.
Very well,’ she decided. ‘You can stay. But just for a little while mind, because it really isn’t proper. We’ll rig a sheet up.’
You’re a pearl!’ Edward Holborn said.
So the sheet was rigged, with two ends tied to the tops of two high-backed chairs one on each side of the bed so as to stretch a screen of white cloth between the birth and its begetter. And as if his arrival were all the medicine Hortense needed, the labour began to speed up. Soon it had settled into an encouraging rhythm.
Now we’re getting somewhere,’ Mrs Bonney reported with great satisfaction from behind her screen. ‘Does she need a drink, Mr Edward, could you ask her?’
Hortense lay back in her husband’s arms and gave herself up to the power of the birth. When a contraction took hold there was nothing in the world except remorseless pain, squeezing and squeezing, but as it ebbed away Edouard was still there, sponging her forehead and kissing her fingers and telling her she was a dear, brave girl. And as long as he was there, she knew instinctively that she could and would get through, bad though it was. Her darling, darling Edouard, who loved her to distraction and whom she loved with all her heart. ‘Oh, Jesus mercy. Mary help,’ she prayed clutching his hand. ‘Here comes another one.’
The first baby was born as the evening began to draw in and the mirror over the mantelpiece turned rose with reflected light. A five-pound girl with a mop of thick dark hair, the skinniest legs, her father’s long nose and eyes so tightly shut they looked red and swollen.
Emilie,’ her mother said in English. ‘We’ll call her Emilie.’
Fifteen minutes later the second baby slid into the world. At four-and-three-quarter pounds she was even skinnier than her sister and had the same dark hair and the same matchstick limbs; but her eyes were open wide. They were large and round and very dark blue, and they gazed at the world in the wise, solemn way of the newly born. It was the sight of those eyes that lifted her parents to tears of wonder and happiness.
Virginie,’ her father said to her as she was placed in her mother’s arms beside her sister. ‘You have two names because you have two nationalities like your sister. Emily/Emilie. Virginia/Virginie. Isn’t your mother the cleverest girl to have two such beautiful babies?’
I only hope Mr Holborn thinks so,’ Mrs Bonney muttered to Joan behind the screen. Old Mr Holborn was a difficult man at the best of times and everyone knew he wanted grandsons to carry on the business.
But when he came in much later that evening to view the new arrivals the old man was quite taken with them. ‘They’re as like as two peas in a pod,’ he said to Hortense, putting down a rough forefinger for Virginia to grasp. ‘Two little funny faces, aren’t you? They’ve got your thick hair, my dear. But the Holborn nose, poor little things. Still I suppose we had to expect that, eh, Edward? We run to noses in this family.’
I think they’re beautiful,’ Edward said, giving his father a warning grimace.
They’ll do,’ Mr Holborn said. And for him that was praise. ‘How long are you staying?’
Ten days,’ Edward told him. ‘I’ve put my leave forward.’
You boys can wangle anything,’ his father said admiringly. ‘How’s it going out there?’
Oh much the same,’ Edward said laconically. ‘You know how it is.’
And his father agreed that he did. Although, in point of fact, like most other people back at home, he didn’t have the remotest idea about life in the trenches.
But what did any of that matter now, with these two delightful babies safely delivered and a midwife on call night and day and the young assistant, Joan, to live in and take care of them all?
I think they’re the prettiest little things I’ve ever seen,’ Agnes said. ‘You are lucky, Edward.’ And it wasn’t just his good fortune in having two new daughters that she was talking about.
Every time Agnes saw him with Hortense, caught up in the glow of their passion for one another, she yearned for and was envious of their obvious happiness. She couldn’t imagine anything better than to love like that and be loved in return. Not that it was likely to happen to her now, for she was twenty-eight, going on twenty-nine, with a plain rather pasty face, timid blue eyes, that awful Holborn nose and lank brown hair like her brother’s. And although she did her best to disguise the fact with flowing blouses, tunics and dresses that were cut very full, she was already developing the dumpy figure of a middle-aged woman. But there was no unkindness in her and her envy was more vicarious tenderness than jealousy. Love was wonderful; she knew it and was happy to bask in the reflected warmth of it, even if she couldn’t experience it herself. ‘You’re very, very lucky.’
Yes,’ her brother said. ‘I know. Your turn next, eh, Sis?’
Agnes decided it was best to ignore that. ‘They’re so alike,’ she said. ‘How will you tell them apart?’
That is easy for the moment,’ Hortense said, speaking English with her pretty French accent. ‘Emilie does not open her eyes.’
Shouldn’t she?’ Agnes said, stroking the baby’s silky head.
Oh, she’ll do it in time,’ Edward said. ‘Won’t you, poppet?’
But two days passed, and the baby’s eyes were still swollen and tightly shut. And when Mrs Bonney came in on the second evening to check her charges and settle them for the night both lids were decidedly sticky.
How long’s this been going on?’ she said to Joan, frowning down at the child.
There was no sign of it at her last feed. Was there, Mrs Holborn?’
Well, it won’t do!’ the midwife disapproved. She held out her hand to her assistant for cotton wool and cleaned both eyes thoroughly, throwing the pads into the nursery fire afterwards. ‘If they’re no better by the morning we shall have to have the doctor in. You’ll keep an eye on that, Joan, won’t you? Are they feeding well?’
Oh yes,’ Hortense said happily. ‘They are – how do you say? – gourmandes.’
Greedy,’ Mrs Bonney guessed. ‘That’s good.’ But she could see how well they were being fed from the colour of their skin and the way their limbs were already beginning to round out. A good mother, this little French girl, for all her youth and her apparent fragility. And very pretty in her foreign way with that olive skin and all that thick curly hair. It was the heart-shaped face that did it, and those big brown eyes. Always a fetching combination. It was a pity the babies didn’t take after her. But they’d probably grow better looking with time. Babies often did. ‘Now let’s have a look at you, my dear,’ she said. ‘Is my Joan looking after you?’
Oh yes,’ Hortense said again, smiling at Mrs Bonney’s assistant. ‘She is to keep me company tonight while the party is ’appening.’
Oh!’ Mrs Bonney said. ‘We’ve got a party, have we? Well we’ve certainly got something to celebrate.’
Ah no!’ Hortense said. ‘It is not for ze babies, you understand. It is for ze company. For GS Holborn’s.’
It’s their staff do,’ Joan explained. ‘They have it once a year.’
Mrs Bonney changed her mind about the party. ‘Well, I hope they don’t make a disturbance, that’s all I can say,’ she warned. ‘You need peace and quiet when you’re lying-in, my dear, and they should see that you get it.’
But, in fact, Mr Holborn’s staff parties were usually rather sober affairs because they were held in the great hall. A daunting place, built in the medieval style with oak beams and a minstrel gallery, it was two storeys high with huge windows stretching from floor to ceiling on one wall and a fireplace on another big enough to contain two wooden settles on either side of the fire.
Mr Holborn moved among his guests, talking to each in turn and checking they all had enough to eat and drink, but except for a handful who’d been with the company for a long time and were used to it, most of the guests were ill at ease. They shuffled their feet and cleared their throats when their employer approached and were obviously relieved when the annual ordeal was over.
Agnes Holborn was even more ill at ease than they were. She’d played the hostess at these events ever since her mother died when she was barely seventeen, but she’d never found it easy because she was shy in company and always conscious of how unattractive she was. But she felt she owed it to her father to do her best, so her best she dutifully did. At least at this party she had the babies’ arrival to talk about and the wives would be interested in that.
Which they were, of course, saying how lovely it must be and how nice to have twins and asking what they were to be called. And Agnes shared her good news so happily she didn’t notice that she was being watched.
She turned to move on to another table and found one of her father’s ‘young men’ standing in her way and smiling as though he knew her.
Miss Holborn?’ he said, giving her a little bow.
Yes,’ she said, returning the smile politely. ‘I don’t believe we’ve met, have we? Mr…?’
Everdale,’ he said. ‘Claud Everdale. I’m one of the sales team with the British Expeditionary Force.’
You’re in the army?’ she asked. All the young men she met seemed to be in the army these days.
This one wasn’t. ‘Not yet,’ he confided. ‘I’m part of the Derby scheme, so you won’t have to search for a white feather. I’ve taken the shilling and got my number and all that sort of thing, but they think I’m more use to them providing your father’s guns.’
I’m sure you are,’ she said, thinking what a handsome young man he was, so tall and dapper with his dark hair neatly oiled and a narrow moustache on his upper lip. And he was wearing a nice white shirt under his dark suit.
I know you’ll think this the most frightful cheek,’ he said, smiling at her, ‘but I suppose you wouldn’t honour me with a dance, would you? To tell you the truth I’ve only just joined the firm, so I don’t know anybody, and I’ve been looking at you for ages and you’ve got such a beautiful face that I wondered…’
Oh come now, Mr Everdale,’ Agnes protested. ‘I do have a mirror you know.’
I’m sure you have,’ he said. ‘But what does that show you? Features. That’s all you see in a mirror. I’m talking about your expression. Believe me, Miss Holborn, you have the most beautiful expression I’ve ever seen. Kind and loving, if you don’t mind me saying so. Really beautiful. But lots of men must have told you that…unless of course they were blind.’
Agnes didn’t know what to say because, of course, nobody had ever told her she was beautiful. She was confused and charmed and flattered, despite her honest knowledge of her own worth, or the lack of it. And besides, he was looking at her with such open admiration, how could she doubt what he said, ridiculous though it was? After all Hortense thought Edward was handsome and they did say beauty was in the eye of the beholder. ‘Well…’ she said finally.
He assumed a rueful expression but continued to gaze into her eyes. ‘I’ve offended you,’ he said. Then he shook his head as if he was changing his mind. ‘I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have spoken. It is cheek.’
No. No,’ Agnes said, plucking at her pearls.
But he continued. ‘I withdraw my request, Miss Holborn. I’ve no right to ask you anything. You wouldn’t want to dance with the likes of me.’
Oh no. Not at all,’ Agnes said, feeling she had to reassure him. Usually she retreated as soon as the music began because she was much too awkward to want to dance with anybody except Edward, but she could hardly say that when he’d asked her so politely, had said so many charming things and was looking at her like that. ‘I mean, I should be very happy to dance with you.’
His eyes flashed such excitement that it gave her a sudden frisson of pleasure. ‘You would?’ he said. ‘Oh, you don’t know what this means to me. Which one? Do I have to mark a card or anything?’
She was warmed by his ignorance. ‘We don’t use cards on these occasions, I’m glad to say,’ she explained. ‘My father likes things to be informal.’
Then may I claim the first dance you’ve got free?’
You may,’ Agnes said. And she was suddenly warm with hope. It was impossible, ridiculous. But she couldn’t help feeling it. The hope that at long, long last she’d found a man who would love her as Edward loved Hortense. Oh wouldn’t that be wonderful!
You’ve made me the happiest man in the room,’ he said, giving her another half bow and striding across the room to join the other salesmen who were standing against the wall.
Well?’ they asked him.
It’s in the bag,’ he said. ‘First dance. That’s ten bob you owe me, Jack.’
You toe-rag!’ his friend Jack said with admiration. ‘So now what? I suppose you’ll be marrying her next.’
Just watch me!’
She’s old enough to be your mother.’
Give it a rest. I’m twenty-two.’
And she’s pushing thirty.’
But she’ll inherit half the firm, Claud Everdale thought. Everybody in the company knows that. When old man Holborn goes it’s to be divided between her and her brother. And that was what was important. She’ll inherit half the firm and I’ve interested her already.