Skip to main content



The Care and Management of Lies: A Novel of the Great War

Chapter 1
June 1914

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 pronounced it  “’spective.” Tom would return to the business of running the farm, which, it was predicted, he would manage a good deal more efficiently than even his father, in time. This had been the forward-thinking Jack’s intention, though the patriarch could not have known just how forward-thinking his plans were, or that by his forty-fifth birthday he would be dead, his life shortened by a heart attack. Jack had been predeceased by his wife, Mary, who had passed away just one year earlier, having ignored a lump on her breast until such a time as saving her life was well beyond the skill of any doctor, even if Jack had been disposed to withdraw sufficient funds from the bank to take her to a good hospital.

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 fightmore 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 away the moorings tying Thea to her family, allowing her to leave the farm and begin to establish a sense of herself. The other side of the blade separated her from Tom. For all her moments of resentment when she considered evidence suggesting that Tom was the more favored child, it was obvious as he grew that she would have fought battles to protect him, and might even have given her life for him, because Thea loved her brother beyond measure. And in return, Tom had nothing but adoration for his older sister, and had understood how his parents’ preference had wounded her. He would wink at Thea across the table when his father admonished her for not being as good as Tom with the sheep, or the horses, or he would come to her later and ask for her help with some task on the farm, or inquire if she would like to walk down to Micawber Wood. It was as if he were putting a precious piece of china back on a high shelf after it had been knocked down, handling it with care in case the crack might become a break. Tom had missed Thea with a terrible ache when she went away to school, even though there was little discord in the farmhouse during her absence, and he liked the calm.

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.

The seemingly benign offering represented a dig not lost on Kezia, who accepted with grace, kissing her friend on the cheek. “Dear Thea, how thoughtful of you.” The book was laid bare of its wrapping. “Oh. How . . . nice. The Woman’s Book.” She leafed through the first four pages. “Well, this has everything, doesn’t it? ‘Contains Everything a Woman Ought to Know.’ ” Kezia looked up from the book and smiled at Thea, unshed tears pricking her eyes. “Now you can be assured I’ll be the perfect wife for your darling brother.”

“I thought it might be something you could use—it has all you might need to learn about being a woman in the home. There’s a section on cookery, though I think you’ll find my mother’s old copy of Mrs. Beeton somewhere in the kitchen, just in case. She was a fair plain cook, so I doubt she ever needed it.”

“Then there will be nothing missing in my reference library of housewifery.” Kezia closed the book and patted the cover.  “And there will doubtless be times when this will be a lifesaver,” she said, setting the book to one side, her smile forced.

She knew the gift was Thea’s comment on her life to come, as if any depth of intellectual inquiry on her part would henceforth extend no further than a list of ingredients for the next meal or the best way to black a stove. The book had hurt her pride, though she knew very well that Thea—she had a mind to call her Dorrit again, to get under her skin—was more than aware of her Achilles’ heel. Kezia had never had reason to cook, or clean, or tend house. Even while lodging in Tunbridge Wells after she’d taken up her position at Camden, every meal had been prepared for her, and at school she took her meals in the staff dining room. After she was married—inthree days, nineteenhours, and fifteen minutes—and became mistress of Marshals Farm, the feeding of men and boys would be up to her. She would be stoker of the farm’s engine.

Thea thought Kezia saw the land through rose-colored glasses, never having paid attention to the running of the farm. For a farmer’s wife there was only toil from well before the first light of dawn, until the wick was turned down at night—even with help from Ada Beeney, the girl who came in from the village to light the fires, scrub the floors, and fetch and carry, it was a hard life. Kezia was an intelligent, educated woman; Thea knew that, and cherished the well of conversation that had been a hallmark of their friendship. But Kezia was also a dreamer. Once that ethereal quality had enchanted Thea—she had never met anyone like Kezia. Now her friend’s naïveté festered under her skin. It was as if Kezia saw her future on the farm in a bubble, a life in which she would spend her days with daisies in her hair, wandering across sun-drenched fields bringing bottles of fresh lemonade and warm scones to her strong farmer husband, her one true love, who would sweep her into his arms with joy and gratitude.

“By the way,” said Thea, flicking newspaper pages as if to underline the fact that she had better things to think about than white lace, and no need for books on keeping proper house and being a woman, “did you read about this business going on with Austria and—where was it?—yes, Serbia. It’s all to do with the archduke and his wife being assassinated in Sarajevo. Anyway, I do hope any trouble blows over before August. I don’t want my walking tour of the Alps ruined—Edith, Avril, and I have been planning it for such a long time.” She turned another page, having recited the names of her new friends to accentuate her separation from Kezia. Indeed, Thea had no real interest in what happened in the Balkans, or anywhere else on the other side of the English Channel, but the news gave her an opportunity to test Kezia. “Of course, what happens on the world’s stage won’t worry you, will it? After all, by the time I’m picking edelweiss, you’ll be dealing with that noisy coterie of women from the village who come to wash and mend pokes ready for the hops. There’ll be a multitude of piece-workers swarming the farm to put up with. And it’ll be down to you to keep the farm books—that’s after making breakfast for the men at half past five in the morning. Fortunately for you, they bring their own dinner, the men, which is just as well, because Tom’s like my father, ready to eat a horse when he comes in for his tea at six o’clock. You’ll need the best part of the afternoon to prepare a meal fit for a king.” She sighed. “I sometimes wonder whether you’ve ever grasped just how much hard work it all is. Three meals a day to be cooked, on top of everything else on your plate. Anyway, it’s a pity you’ll have your hands full—you might have liked to come to Austria. That is, if Tom would allow it. They say the Alps are beautiful beyond measure.”

Kezia, who was herself not above needling, picked up the book again, resting it on her lap. “Oh, I’ve seen the Alps, Thea—don’t you remember? I went with my dear father and mother when I was fifteen. For the whole summer. You might recall that you were invited to join us, but your father put his foot down—I think it was because my father’s a man of the cloth and we were the guests of an Austrian parson, an old family friend.” She smiled. “Anyway, Tom and I will be so thrilled to see you again when you come home—and when you come to stay, we’ll have your old room ready and waiting.” She paused and patted the book’s cover. “Do you realize that in four days you’ll be raising a glass to Tom and me? To our future, to the happiness we bring to the farm again, and the home we build together. The two of us making the house a home again.”

Thea turned away at the word again.

Kezia lay back on the narrow bed in her room, watching fronds of lilac blossom scratch against the window, framed in dawn light. A cotton robe was loose around her body, naked and still warm from her bath. She ran her fingers through her hair, free of pins and splayed across the pillow, and looked at the white dress upon its hanger, hooked on the picture rail. It was a fine piece of stitchery, with lace laid across soft lawn and petticoats underneath, cut to accentuate her slenderness. A high neckline embellished with pearls would draw attention to her prominent cheekbones, though she hoped a tiny scar at the side of her left eye, reminder of a childhood accident, was not too visible. In time her mother would come to wake her, though she must know that her daughter had hardly slept. Soon Thea, dear Thea, her best friend, would knock on the door, ready to be her maid of honor on this day, when she would be wed to Tom Brissenden. In six hours, I will be wed, thought Kezia. And in the silence of her room, her childhood room in her parents’ house, she loosened the robe and allowed her fingers to trace a line across her breasts, then downwards, traversing her belly to her thighs. Before this time tomorrow, before twenty-four hours had passed, Tom’s hands would grasp her, and his body would press against hers, and at last it would be done. She would belong forever after to Tom, beloved Tom whom she had known for years, even before it seemed they had seen each other at last. Until that moment, Tom had always been Thea’s younger brother—young Tom, capable Tom, sensible Tom. Tom who worked the farm, who brought home from college fresh ways of drawing income from the land, and who had toiled to win the respect of workers who were his father’s men. Tom who had a laugh like sunshine, and who had kissed her for the first time when he was twenty-three and she two years older, would be her husband, her spouse, her helpmeet and lover. Kezia rolled over on the bed and closed her eyes. This was the body she would give to Tom—the man who was still a boy when she’d first come to Marshals Farm. But Tom, now tall and capable, with hands callused and worn and shoulders broad from working the land, was her Tom, dear Tom whom she would love for the rest of her days.

Tom and his best man, Edward—Edward was a farmer in Sussex; they had met at the agricultural college—were staying at a local inn. He would have preferred to be married from the farm, but he could not argue with custom—and it was custom that the marriage took place in the bride’s parish. He had tried, once, to press his point, arguing that Kezzie—he had called her Kezzie, it seemed, since they first met—had lived most of her life in Kent, attending school and working at Camden after college in London. And though he knew she too would have chosen the village church, he did not wish to cross either her mother or her father, for to do so would be tantamount to arguing with God, and though he was not a churchgoing man, he wouldn’t take a chance on anything untoward coming to pass on the big day. Now, while Kezia was awake, imagining the hours ahead, Tom slept. There were few days for him to call his own, but today he would rest his head until at least half past nine. Edward would wake him. In time, with Tom dressed in the suit he had bought for his father’s funeral, the two men would walk to the church to await his bride. Tom was not nervous; he had no qualms regarding his choice of the woman he would lie next to every night for the rest of his life. Old head on young shoulders, they said about him. When all was said and done, even Thea—grudgingly—agreed they were a good enough match. Despite Kezia having few skills to prepare her for keeping a house and being a farmer’s wife, the foundation of their union would be Tom’s solid nature and Kezia’s ability to lighten their days.

It might seem to some that Tom was one who kept his thoughts to himself, who would never be caught supporting this opinion, or that argument. He was solid even as a boy, someone who knew what he had to get on with, so proceeded to get on with it. The men who worked for his father had come to respect his straightforward manner, and—increasingly— the finality of his decisions. No one, not even Edward, not even his mother, who swore she could read both her children blind, had intuited the depth of his enchantment with Kezia Marchant.

At first it had been a crush, a boyish beating of the heart first experienced when his sister brought her friend home to the farm and introduced her to the family. His babyish name for Thea was Dorry, for that was all he could pronounce when he first began to form words, so the name had been kept, albeit with a Dickensian twist. Of late Tom had felt rather put out when asked to call his sister Thea. It seemed as if the childhood bond was lost, as if someone had snipped the fine yarn that had joined them from the moment he reached for her hand to steady his attempt at walking, saying, “Dorry, Dorry.” But Tom was not a complainer, so he called her Thea and referred to her as such ever after.

He had looked forward to Kezia’s visits to the farm, anticipating her noticing him, drawing him into the conversation.

“Hello, Tom. Dorrit tells me that you’ve your own flock now—you’ll have to show me.”

The boy had flushed; the mother noticed, and the father raised an eyebrow as he cast a glance towards the girl who would one day become his daughter-in-law, though he would not live to see the day. When the engagement was first announced, he accepted it with a smile, slapping his son on the back, though without obvious enthusiasm.

If Tom had been asked to explain, to describe to another, why he had chosen Kezia for his wife, he might—predictably—have shrugged his shoulders and said that he had better things to do than talk about private matters. But in his heart and soul, he knew very well why he wanted Kezia by his side. The childhood crush, a time when a single look from Kezia, just a comment of interest or observation, would flood his body with warmth, had developed into something more over the years. He admired Kezia; he took account of the way she held herself, of her confidence. Her dress was neither ostentatious nor plain, but always drew attention from passers-by—a second look by a woman, the raising of a gentleman’s hat. Her features might have seemed sharp on another woman—eyes that moved quickly from person to person in a conversation with family and friends—and she had dexterous hands, large hands, really, for a female; yet in her movements she was deliberate and thoughtful.

Whether walking on the farm or meandering around the shops in London, Kezia would stop to peruse anything that caught her eye, and would not be rushed. Thea had found this trait annoying at times, cursing Kezia as their bus pulled out in the distance or as they arrived late at the cinema, forfeiting the first fifteen minutes of the picture on account of something Kezia just had to see. Later, though, Thea found she missed those little things about Kezia that had once been the source of some frustration. Kezia had a throaty laugh that, when she came to know the family, seemed to have no governor. Jack Brissenden would laugh with her, and Tom would notice the sparkle in Thea’s eyes as she tried not to giggle, at which point he could not help but laugh. Only his mother executed control—her cheeks twitched, but her stare was less than warm. Tom knew then that his mother was jealous of Kezia, for it irked her that all her family was in love with this girl who seemed to know little of the country, and nothing of the farm.

What Tom knew, now, was that he wanted Kezia by his side. His work was hard, and despite his apparent success in managing without his father’s guidance, he often felt as if wolves paced the perimeter of his land. Not only had he been fortunate in his inheritance, but his father’s foresight had bolstered his chances of running a good farm in what were proving to be troubling times. Jack had realized that Tom would need more tools to serve the land than he had ever had in his day, if the land were to serve him in turn, and his son after him, God willing. He might have the theory of agricultural college under his belt, along with a deep innate understanding of the soil, but the days were long, and a farm could take its pound of flesh in return for a good harvest. Tom wanted to come home to a warm, fragrant kitchen, a fire in the hearth at night, and a woman with whom he could share his joys, his worries, his laughter—and he so wanted laughter. In truth, his parents had thought Kezia unsuitable, and would have preferred to see him paying court to a daughter of the countryside, to a girl who understood what it was to put her apron on in the morning and take it off at night only when her spouse had made his way up the creaking farmhouse stairs to the room above. She would bank up the fire, swab the red tile floor just one more time. Not before she had settled the wicks in flickering lamps would she take to the staircase and then to their bed. In marrying a Brissenden, Tom’s mother had set aside a desire to continue her education, and devoted her heart to the farm, had given her spirit to the business of her husband, her complexion to worry, and her hands to hard work. Though her formal learning had ended early, she had been a steady reader in her day, and now she harbored envy that Kezia, with her light touch in the world, the way she skimmed across the surface of concern, might find the softer way of being a farmer’s wife that had eluded her.

Edward nudged Tom as the organ bellows wheezed, drew breath, and exhaled fresh energy into the ancient church. The “Wedding March” filled the rafters with joy. Tom felt a line of perspiration run down his neck and along his spine, and fingered the starched collar that would leave a red horizontal stripe on his skin. He felt a warm blush reach his cheeks and ears, and thought the entire congregation must see this sign of his delight, fear, anticipation, and—yes—excitement. Edward nudged him again. And again.

“Look, you bloody fool. Look and remember. She’s right beautiful.” He pronounced the word “boodiful” in his rounded rural Sussex brogue.

So Tom turned his head, and at once a shaft of light seemed to render all others invisible as Kezia walked towards him, one hand on her father’s arm, the other clutching a bouquet of white garden blooms—her mother had begun to cultivate a bed of white flowers next to the house on the day Tom had called to ask for Kezia’s hand. No veil could keep the bride’s wide smile from captivating her groom, and no crown of orange blossom could shadow the coppery nut-brown hair drawn back in a braided bun. Kezia had been the wife of his heart for years, long before the minister asked who giveth this woman and her father lifted her hand towards his; long before he set a ring of gold upon her finger, and long before the bells pealed and they walked past a blur of faces as man and wife. And she would be his wife for as long as they both might live. God willing.

The Care and Management of Lies: A Novel of the Great War
by by Jacqueline Winspear