Guernsey Retreat

By Anne Allen

General fiction, Romance, Crime & mystery

Paperback, eBook

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5 mins

Chapter 1

1939 – September – Guernsey

Betty woke with a start. For a moment she wondered what had disturbed her but then the sound of shouting cut across the silence of her bedroom. Groaning, she swung her legs out of bed, and grabbed the old, patched dressing gown that Roland insisted should be thrown out. But she hated throwing things away and pulled the belt tight around her thickening waist before tiptoeing out into the passage.
Darkness enveloped her but as she crept towards the stairs she could see lights in the hall, guiding the way. She trod softly downstairs, knowing that her appearance would only provoke the men further. Roland, her employer and now fiancé, and Archie, his nephew and her one-time lover. She could guess what they were fighting about – her. Their voices echoed around the expanse of the hall as Betty’s bare feet hardly touched the granite-tiled floor as she headed for the library – Roland’s domain and the source of the shouting.
Her heart pounded as she hesitated outside the door. She hated the thought the men were now at loggerheads and, from what she could hear through the slightly ajar oak door, close to blows. Peering through the gap, she could just make out their figures. Roland sat behind the imposing mahogany desk he’d inherited from his grandfather. He glared at Archie, who leaned over the desk, his fists thrust towards his uncle. With his back to the door Betty couldn’t see his face, but guessed it would be red with anger. He’d always had a temper on him.
‘I’ll marry who I like! I won’t be told what I can or can’t do by some young whipper-snapper who doesn’t know when he’s well off.’ Roland thumped the desk before standing up, looking down at Archie. ‘I took you in out of duty after that benighted sister of mine died. And in spite of what you claim, I never promised to adopt you and make you my heir. Why would I, while there was still a chance I’d marry and have children of my own?’ He marched around the desk to stand proud and tall in front of Archie. Betty’s heart swelled with love as she squinted through the crack. You tell him, Roland! Cocky braggart! He can’t hold a candle to you.
‘And now I am marrying and about to become a father and count myself the luckiest of men. But I’ll not see you homeless, boy–’
‘You’re damn right you won’t!’ Archie shouted, causing Betty to jump. ‘You owe me, Uncle. I’ve worked hard for you these past seven years and been paid a pittance. I didn’t complain, thinking I’d inherit one day. But now you tell me I’ll get nothing and it’s not right!’ Archie’s fists were now clenched by his side, his head thrust close up against Roland’s. Betty’s heart beat faster. Oh, dear God! Don’t let them start fighting, I couldn’t bear it.
‘I paid you the going rate for the work you’ve done, such as it was. You’re not exactly the hardest worker I’ve employed, boy. And as we don’t even know who your father was, I’m not legally obliged to provide for you.’ Roland paced around and Betty only caught a glimpse of him now and then.
‘You can stay here at La Folie if you like, after Betty and I are wed and leave for Canada. I want us to be far away now war’s been declared. Stay here as my steward until the fighting’s over and we can return–’
‘No!’ Archie’s voice, harsh and desperate, filled the air. Betty held her breath, her hands placed protectively on her stomach. She caught a glimpse of Archie as he grabbed something from the desk before lunging forward out of sight. A loud cracking sound, followed by a groan, propelled her through the door.
At the sight of her beloved Roland stretched out on the floor, blood pouring from an ugly gash on his head, she felt everything go black and crashed to the floor. The next thing she knew, strong arms lifted her up and sat her down roughly in a chair. As her head cleared, she looked up at Archie’s face a few inches in front of her.
‘Why did you come down, you daft woman! Thought you’d be asleep,’ Archie growled.
‘What have you done? Roland…?’ Betty twisted her head to try and see her fiancé but Archie blocked her vision.
‘I…I didn’t mean to hit him that hard. He hit his head on the corner of the desk as he went down.’ He screwed up his face and gripped Betty’s arms. ‘He’s out cold. I–’
Betty drew on all her strength and managed to push Archie from her, before crawling across to where Roland lay.
‘Oh, my God! Don’t say you’ve killed him!’ she cried, kneeling beside Roland’s inert form. ‘Here, help me turn him over.’
Archie knelt and rolled Roland onto his back. One look told them both that he was dead.
Tears splashed down as Betty hugged Roland’s battered and bleeding head. She rocked back and forth, a keening sound escaped from her lips.
‘He got me so mad about me not inheriting anything. I’m family! He owed me–’
Betty was hot with rage.
‘He owed you nothing! Like he said. Why couldn’t you have been satisfied with being steward? Thanks to your greed I’ve lost the man I love and my child is fatherless before it’s born. Oh, Roland, Roland!’
She carried on rocking, as sobs racked her body. Roland’s blooded face filled her with horror. They had planned to see the vicar about the banns that very day, wanting to marry at the end of the month. She had been so happy, so looking forward not only to marrying Roland, but to the adventure of sailing off to Canada. Away from the inevitable reality of war. Roland had often said that the Channel Islands were particularly vulnerable, with the islanders not standing a chance if Hitler decided to invade.
But now…Thanks to Archie and that temper of his, she was a widow before she was a wife. And carrying the child that had filled Roland with such joy and pride.
‘We…we have to bury him, Betty. And then get away from here. I’m not going to hang for this…’
Betty looked up sharply. ‘What do you mean "we"? This is all your doing, not mine. I’ve just seen you kill my…my love in cold blood! I’ll have no part in your trying to cover it up. Once I tell the police–’
Archie grabbed her arms and shook her till her teeth rattled.
‘You’re not telling no police nothing! If you so much as start to spill the beans to anyone, I’ll say you did it. A lover’s tiff. It’ll be your word against mine. Either way, you’d be an accessory and would hang as well.’
Betty’s head reeled with grief and anger.
‘You won’t get away with that! Everyone knows how much we loved each other. And I’m carrying his child! Why would I…I kill him?’
‘I wouldn’t say you meant to. It was an accident. Just like it was with me. But they still might find you guilty of murder and you’d hang. So,’ he said, letting go of her bruised arms, ‘we have to get away. And soon.’
Betty tried to focus on what Archie was saying. Was it true? They were alone in the house and there was no-one to support her. The rest of the staff lived out and wouldn’t return until the morning. Her parents were dead and she had no other family. Although considered a bright pupil at the Girls’ School, Betty had found it difficult to get a good job until Roland appointed her his housekeeper. It was Archie who’d got her the position, when they’d been sweet on each other, three years ago. That had not lasted long, not once she discovered his awful temper. And Archie hadn’t reckoned with her falling in love with Roland. And he her.
‘But where can we go? And what’ll we do for money?’ Betty sat dazed on the floor, still cradling Roland’s head. Surely this was all a bad dream and she’d wake up and everything would be as it was. The two of them off to St Phillipe’s to see the vicar…
Archie paced around, tugging at his hair, as if that would give him inspiration.
‘We’ll have to get away from the islands. Get to England somehow.’
‘But I don’t want to go to England! This is my home, where I belong–’
‘Not anymore it isn’t! It’s not safe for either of us now. I just need to think…’ He pulled up short. ‘I know. That Ed Sarre owes me a favour. He can take us in his fishing boat. I’ll make up some story that Roland wants us to leave quickly now that war’s been declared and that he’s flying out to join us once he’s locked up the place. As for money, there’s plenty here worth a bob or two and Roland always kept a wad of cash in the safe, so we’ll be all right. But first we have to bury him. And quick, before it gets light.’
Betty found herself dragged roughly to her feet and forced to find a sheet in which to wrap Roland. She moved around as if in a trance, her mind shutting her off from the reality of what was happening. All she knew was that her life was about to change. And not for the better.



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