Tapestry of War
It's the final leg of the Blog Tour for Tapestry of War and today I have an extract from Chapter Two for you. You can also read Chapter One on the Allison & Busby website (link below).
In Alexandria, Fran finds her life turned upside down as Rommel’s forces advance on the idyllic shores of Egypt. In place of the luxury and stability that she is used to, she finds herself having to deal with loss, heartache and political uncertainty.
Meanwhile, on the Firth of Clyde, Catriona works day in, day out nursing injured servicemen. As the war rages on, the two women’s lives become entwined – bringing love and friendship to both.
That evening they had been due to attend a garden party given by the city’s most distinguished Englishman to welcome new naval personnel to Alexandria. The party, though, had been put back until the following afternoon, because the air raids had become so much more frequent recently, and it was becoming difficult to do anything out of doors in the evening. Blackouts meant you couldn’t open up the house to the outside, and the few tiny candles allowed made gardens gloomy places after dark.
Instead, therefore, the Trevillians invited their nearest neighbours for cocktails, and for a couple of hours they sat outside under the light of the stars, and watched the light display created by yet another evening of raids. Bombs never fell out here among the villas of the wealthy. The Germans concentrated their fire around the Western Harbour, where the navy had its ships. Houses downtown had taken bad hits, but here you could sleep in your own bed, and the noise of the raids was more bothersome than threatening.
The noise meant you had to speak up, but Fran was happy just to sit back and watch, letting her parents and the Eatons talk amongst themselves. She was both weary and restless at the same time. Her experience of this morning was too raw in her mind for her to take much from an evening among middle-aged people she’d known all her life, chatting about the relentlessly familiar just as she’d heard them do for years.
And yet she wouldn’t have had the energy this evening to seek out any of her own friends, and there were precious few of her own age group left in Alexandria anyway. It suited her mood to sit back on a cane chair with a glass
in her hand and nothing required of her. She swilled her gin lightly, letting the ice clink against the glass, and listened with half an ear.
‘The war has destroyed international markets for Egyptian cotton,’ Bill Eaton was complaining. ‘There’s nothing to trade any more, and we’ll soon be closing the stock exchange for lack of business.’
Fran raised a private eyebrow, unseen in the gloom. Her father had a small smile on his face, and she waited to see what he would reply.
‘Are you worried that we’ll all be ruined for the want of a few cotton futures, Bill?’
Bill Eaton almost harrumphed. ‘Ruined no, but things aren’t what they were.’
‘No,’ Alan Trevillian replied. ‘The economy is struggling, but the British have bought up all the cotton from the last harvest. We’ll survive.’
‘At rock-bottom prices!’ Bill Eaton protested. ‘They say old Minton has lost everything.’
Alan Trevillian looked sceptical. ‘I rather doubt that. Minton will have taken the bulk of his fortune out of the country. It’s the small cotton farmers who are really suffering.’
Bill Eaton merely grunted. Egyptian peasants weren’t his concern. Fran looked across at her father, catching his eye, and he winked at her. She grinned over her glass. Her father was on good terms with his neighbours, but he was on a different plane to them, and to so many of the narrow Brits here. He was a far-thinking man with a generous view of the world, and a wry eye always open to its absurdities, and she loved him.
He was approaching fifty years old, but might have passed for ten years younger, with just a hint of grey touching his dark hair, and not an inch of spare flesh on his lean frame. He could be Italian, Fran thought, with his brown eyes and skin, and he had passed the same colouring on to her. It fitted very well in this cosmopolitan city, where the mix of French, Italian, Greek, Arab and Jew had created a unique commercial hub found nowhere else in the world.
And Alan Trevillian, brought up here in Egypt, the son of an eminent irrigation engineer, lived Alexandrian life to the full. He spoke four languages, drank endless cups of Turkish coffee over business each morning in the cafes by the stock exchange, and had an impressive network of friends and contacts across all of the city’s communities. The wealthiest financiers respected him, and those who worked for him held him in high regard. But above all he loved Egypt, loved it and cared about it and all of its people.
In contrast, Fran’s mother Barbara was more typically English in style, fair and neatly elegant in a restrained style, holding herself at a slight distance from the more exotic ladies of Alexandria, in their make-up and Paris fashions. She supported her husband loyally, but had built her own life among the British women of Alexandria. Since the desert war had begun, sending floods of helplessly injured soldiers to the city’s straining hospital, Barbara and her friends had manned kitchens, run clubs, and held weekly events for servicemen in their homes, in a very British demonstration of unity.
She was the calmest, most unfretful of parents on the outside. Standards of behaviour had to be maintained, but only insolence had brought down severe penalties when Fran and her brother Michael were growing up. Michael was the apple of Barbara Trevillian’s eye, the one who could get away with almost anything, and now that he was in the desert army, Fran occasionally glimpsed the worry that hid behind her mother’s British sangfroid. But never a word was spoken except to wonder mildly whether he had enough socks, and to regret that he was missing their cook’s most prized dishes.
As they drank their cocktails that evening, Fran studied them all and thought how individual was the life that Egypt offered them. The bombing raid came to an end and they sat on for a while, allowing themselves some brighter lamps as more drinks were served. The evening air was balmy after the heat of the day, and a pleasurable breeze circled around them. Their servant Mustafa set out freshly prepared snacks on a low table between them, hot chicken on skewers, roasted almonds, and little plates of cinnamon-spiced pasta. He moved almost silently between them, and an easy hush settled on the company.
Soon the Eatons would head home, and Fran would seek her bed. She hoped that there would be no more air raids that night. Sometimes they had none, other times two or three, and there was no rhythm to them, except that they had got so much worse since the Germans had overrun Greece, and now had their planes stationed on Crete, just a couple of hundred miles away in the Mediterranean. Alexandria was the Allies’ Naval HQ, a natural target, and things were unlikely to get any better.
Her father would not be on the yacht patrol again for at least a couple of weeks, and tonight he would sleep. Fran hoped that she would sleep too, but above all she hoped that her young French boy was sleeping in his hospital bed, that the Free French who had poured such anger on their countrymen had now been moved on from Alexandria, and that everyone else was safely under curfew on their ships. The night felt peaceful now, and Fran hoped that the same brief calm could give them all a full night’s rest.
You can find Chapter One from this novel over on Allison & Busby website:-