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Love Comes at a Cost


  Spring 1944 was well advanced as the Crawshaw Troupe moved their entertaining base to East Anglia. The transfer was achieved by packing their stage, piano, props, costumes and players into one enormous van and three cars. They had almost reached their destination now, and weary though they were, they would have to be polite and responsive to the kind people who would be housing them for the year.

  The convoy slowly separated. The van peeled off to the left along a narrow gravel drive, leaving the three cars to continue on into town.

  “Are you sure about this Madeline? We haven’t a hope in hell of turning round in this narrow lane if we’ve taken the wrong...”

  “Keep going, oh ye of little faith,” she said with casual confidence. This had to be the right road, she was fairly sure of it. But she stirred a little restlessly in the seat. She had a letter and newspaper cutting in her pocket from Phyllis, and a quick glance at it this morning before setting out had shocked her. She was desperate for a little privacy in which to read it.

  Frank grunted and put his foot on the accelerator, and the van lurched forward along the uneven drive. Ancient birch trees gracefully lined their route now, the fresh green leaves trailing down in cascades around their elegant silver trunks, as though reaching down to caress the moving vehicle. The reddening sun filtered through upon them, like the final anthem to a splendid day.

  Then they rounded a sharp bend and slowed, carefully edging across a small hump backed bridge. Before them was spread an old Elizabethan manor house, still surrounded by a placid moat.

  Madeline stared at it for a moment in disbelief. This was no farmhouse. The thick brick and timber facade with its iron-studded wooden door and cosy leaded windows, looked as though it had sprung straight from a history book, and could have played host to the magnificent Queen Elizabeth on one of her stately progressions around the country.

  “Pull in over there, would you Frank?” Rudy pointed to a wide gravel area to their right. Then he turned quickly to Madeline. “This doesn’t look much like a farmhouse. Would you go and ask them for directions, my dear? We haven’t got much light left if we need to find another turning.”

  She jumped down and went pull on the massive iron bell chain suspended from a bracket by the front door, now seriously doubting her navigation skills.

  Somewhere inside, she could hear the bell ringing. There was a long pause then the door opened, and she was greeted by a beautifully dressed, sprightly lady in her early fifties, with a friendly, smiling face.

  Madeline held her hand out. “I’m so sorry to trouble. I’m Madeline Hanson of the Crawshaw Troupe. We are looking for the Hamilton farm and appear to have taken a wrong turning.”

  “No, my dear, you have come the right way, but it’s not an easy turning to find. I’m Shelagh Hamilton. I’m so relieved you’ve reached us before dark. I was considering asking my husband to walk down to the main road to direct you.”

  A fit looking gentleman a few years older than his wife, appeared behind her and placed his hand gently on her shoulder. Mrs Hamilton smiled. “This is my husband, William. He will guide you round to the barn so you can park the van under cover. But do come straight back, and I’ll put the kettle on for you. You must be parched after your long drive.”

  Briskly Mr Hamilton led their little cortege back across the bridge and through the trees, and after a five-minute drive, they arrived at a big stone flagged courtyard. On one side stood an ancient, thatched barn that was to be their headquarters. Its door had been thrown wide open for them, and they could see a vast stone floor, spotlessly swept and cleaned. A second barn was filled with farm equipment, and the third side of the courtyard comprised of row of modern stables. Beyond that, the broad swelling landscape of open fields and hedges stretched grandly into the distance.

  Madeline’s eyes were instantly attracted to the stables. There were several sets of well-polished tack hanging in the darkened interior. “I see you keep horses, Mr Hamilton.”

  “Mmmm,” he nodded, and grimaced wryly. “But they’re something of a liability now that my sons have been called up. None of our land girls are able to ride, and the horses need daily exercise.”

  She turned quickly to him with a smile of delight. “I could help you with that, Mr Hamilton. I was brought up in the country. It would be a pleasure to go out for a ride after the bustle of entertaining.”

  His eyebrows rose and he laughed, an attractive spark of genuine humour. “My dear, that’s kind of you. I’d imagined you would all be city people with no interest in horses. Would you care to ride round the farm with me tomorrow morning? We could take the horses for a good gallop before we sit down for breakfast.”

  She was aware of a growing sense of excitement at the prospect. Her shoulders straightened, and she breathed in deeply. She had not ridden for months, not since the last time she had visited her grandfather. Already she could feel the tension and tiredness easing out of her muscles, and the rush of fresh air through her hair. “I would like that very much indeed, but I’m just aware that we need to start rehearsing at nine in the morning…”

  “What a lazy stop in bed,” he teased. “I’m out at six every morning, and back for breakfast at eight. If you can manage such an early start, I’ll meet you here.”

  “Oh, I will most certainly be here,” she promised and looked out over the countryside. She had a feeling she was going to enjoy staying with the Hamilton family.

  The van had caught up with them now and Frank was manoeuvring it into the near corner of the barn. Ten minutes later, they were guided by a short cut back to the house, crossing the tranquil moat by a small brick-built foot bridge.

  The house was indeed old but curiously homely. They were guided in through the back door into an enormous, friendly kitchen that must have dated from the late sixteenth century. A dark stone flagged corridor linked this to the entrance hall, and from there they were shown into the dining room. The walls were panelled in dark oak, but the entire room was brightly illuminated by the evening sun which flooded in through tall windows, each of them comprising many small leaded diamonds of glass.

  Mrs Hamilton was bustling around bringing food to the table, and with a welcoming gesture she directed them to their seats. Two robust looking young women dressed in uniform shirt and dungarees, were already seated and waiting. And within minutes, they were tucking into a delicious meal and exchanging information about their work.

  Mrs Hamilton seated herself at last and smiled at the newcomers. “I must apologise for my son’s absence. He’s taken one of the girls into Norwich today to visit the market. I can’t imagine what’s keeping them.”

  For the first time Madeline noticed that there were two empty seats at the table, and places had been laid for them. That was strange. She had understood from Mr Hamilton that all his sons had been called up to active service and were no longer here to help him.

  As soon as she decently could that night, Madeline retired to the bedroom she had been allocated. She was exhausted. But the small newspaper cutting that Phyllis had sent to her was burning a hole in her pocket and she needed privacy in which to read it.

  She sat down on the soft feather mattress, took the small slip of paper from her pocket and smoothed it out on her knee, then at last plucked up her courage to study the clip in detail.


  The headlines proclaimed:

Businessman Freed

  She shivered. It was frightening to think that that perverted man was loose on the world again, free to do more harm as he willed.


Bernard Belaugh, clothing manufacturer, released after serving only half of his prison sentence. Plans are already under way for him to take control of three production plants in Leicester. He will be installing a revolutionary new manufacturing system to improve uniform output.

  So that was the bribe he had used to gain his freedom. He must have been planning and negotiating this for months. But all she could see was that Phyllis would find life extremely difficult now. She would have to fight every inch of the way if she wanted to retain control over the business she had been managing very successfully for the last four years.

  With the War Office behind him, though, Belaugh would have the power to oust her from her own business and wrest control for himself.

  She folded the cutting and placed it inside her book, then sighed. At least she had no cause to have anything further to do with him.

  She looked up suddenly. She could hear footsteps scrunching on the drive. Voices drifted up from the front of the house, a tipsy female giggle turned into a demure, “Sh Mr Hamilton. They’ll hear us.”

  Then a deeper voice rumbled quietly, and the giggle came again. “Oh yes. Let’s.”

  Then their two voices were raised hilariously in song.

  Curiosity overcame Madeline and she peeped around the curtain in time to see two shadowy figures stagger unsteadily up to the door of the house and enter. She smiled. She had a feeling Mrs Hamilton wouldn’t be pleased with her son in the morning, coming in drunk and disorderly like this. She remembered Matthew’s first experiments with alcohol and girls. It was all part of the learning process. The noises continued for a few minutes, then silence settled over the slumbering house.



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