Georgia Evans grew up in England, in a village in the Mole Valley, her early years filled with family stories about survival and loss during WW2. The magical word of Brytewood and its unusual inhabitants came from a childhood spent surrounded by the remnants and scars of war and the old magic and folklore of the North Downs all given the free reign of a writer’s imagination. And who’s to say where History ends and Fiction begins?
The village of Brytewood in Surrey is the setting for my new series.
You won’t actually find Brytewood on any map of SE England, but the inhabitants are too busy coping with war and disruption to worry about a mere detail like that.
The first book opens in September 1940. Brytewood is in the path of the looming invasion, chock full of evacuees, and missing most of its young men, but everyone is coping and making do and mending.
To a casual observer Brytewood seems like any other village in that part of the country, but watch carefully. Some of the inhabitants have secrets of their own.
Deeper into the woods, someone crawled towards her. Assuming injuries, Alice called, “I’m coming. I’m a doctor.”
It was a stranger. One of the workers from the hush hush munitions camp up on the heath, perhaps? What in heaven’s name was he doing rolling on the damp ground? As Alice bent over him, he looked up at her with glazed eyes. Drunk perhaps? But she didn’t smell anything on his breath.
“What happened?” as she spoke, she saw the stains on his sleeve. Blood loss might well account for his weakness. She looked more closely at him and gasped. Part of the branch of a tree was embedded in his upper arm. How in heaven’s name? Had to be drunk. If there wasn’t enough to do, she had to cope with boozers who impaled themselves on trees. Seemed that was his only injury. No bleeding from the mouth or nose. Heartbeat was abnormally slow but steady, his breathing shallow and his skin cold to the touch. Shock and exposure would explain all that. Best get him out of the damp.
“Look,” she said, trying her utmost to keep the fatigue out of her voice. “I need you to walk to my car. I’ve my bag there and I’ll have a look at your arm. Then I’ll take you down to my surgery in Brytewood and call an ambulance.”
The odd, glazed eyes seemed to focus. “Thanks,” he croaked.
“What’s your name?”
He had to think about that one. Definitely recovering from a wild night. “Smith.” Really? Aiming for anonymity perhaps? “Paul Smith.”
Alice got behind him and propped his shoulders until he was sitting. “Come along, Mr. Smith,” she told him. “I’m going to give you a boost and you have to stand. I can’t carry you.”
They succeeded on the second go and made slow progress toward her car, Alice supporting Mr. Smith from his good side. He was a lot lighter than anticipated as he slowly staggered toward the road. He supported himself against the hedge, as Alice opened and closed the gate, but once they emerged from the shade into the thin afternoon sun, he collapsed.
Thank heaven for her father’s old shooting brake. She got her patient into the back so he was lying against the sack of potatoes the Jacksons had insisted she take with her.
“Mr. Smith, I’m going to examine your arm. I’m afraid I’ll have to cut your shirt sleeve.”
Taking the nod as agreement, Alice snipped off the sleeve. The shirt was good for nothing but rags anyway. Her first observation had been right: several chunks of fresh wood had penetrated the flesh of his upper arm. “How did you did this, then?” she asked as she opened her bag and reached for sterile swabs and Dettol.
And cried out as he grabbed her free hand in a viselike grip and bit her wrist.
He was more than drunk. He was insane. Alice tried to push him away but he held on, digging his teeth into her flesh. She finally grabbed his nose until he gasped for breath and released her.
“Behave yourself! I’m a doctor. I’m here to help…” She broke off when she saw he’d passed out.
Something was really wrong. Maybe she should take him straight to the hospital in Dorking but she had patients waiting to take care off. She’d call for an ambulance at home.
Throwing a blanket over him, she got into the front and drove home as fast as safety and the twisting lanes permitted.
As luck would have it, Sergeant Pendragon was sitting at the kitchen table with Gran. He might be getting on a bit, but he was still hale and brawny and had no difficulty getting the semiconscious Mr. Smith to her examining room. Gran pulled back the curtains to let the last of the daylight in.
“Anything else I can do you for, Doctor?” Howell Pendragon asked. He’d lived in Brytewood forty years but still retained the sing song cadence of his native Anglesey.
Alice shook her head. “Thank you, no. I’ll just clean up his wound.”
It was easy enough too. Mr. Smith lay still, muttering as she probed for the deeper splinters, but seemingly still semiconscious. She’d never seen shock quite like this and, not for the first time, she wished her father were here, with his lifetime of experience. But he wasn’t.
Alice made her strange patient as comfortable as she could, covered him with a couple of blankets and carried the used kidney dish and bundle of bloody gauze away.
In the kitchen, Gran handed her bread and cheese. “I know you’ve had no lunch and it’s a while yet before I’ll have tea ready.”
“Thanks, Gran.” Still chewing, Alice picked up the phone. “Dorking 207, please.”
“Doctor Doyle?” the telephonist said, “It’s Jenny Longhurst. How are things up at the Watsons’?” News traveled fast and working in the telephone exchange, Jenny kept up with most of it.
“Melanie had a pair of beautiful boys.”
“Oh! Lovely! Can’t wait to tell everyone. Now, the ambulance depot you said? Anyone hurt?”
“Nothing serious.” Alice hoped. She was connected in a trice, while, no doubt, Jenny and her cohorts spread the news about the Watsons’ new arrivals over the wires.
“An ambulance for a splinter in the arm? We’re busy down here. There’s a war on, you know.”
Alice was almost too weary to be polite. Almost, but not quite. Thirteen years of convent education left its mark. “He has massive injuries to his right arm from multiple penetration of wood shards. Also appears to be suffering from shock, aggravated by exposure over an undetermined period. I need an ambulance just as soon as you can get one up here.” She never felt comfortable pulling the ‘Me Doctor, you mere subordinate’ line but if needs must…
“Alright then, Doctor Doyle. We’ll have someone out there to pick him up. Might be late.” Better late than never. “You have his particulars?”
“Yes.” She’d appropriated his wallet from his jacket pocket. “Name: Paul Smith. Address on the driver’s license is Chelmsford, same as his ration book and…”
“What’s he doing down here then?”
“He’s going?” Gran asked as Alice put up the receiver. “Good thing too. Something’s not right about him.”
“Yes, Gran, his right arm is injured.”
“Not that, my girl. I mean wrong.” Alice held back the sigh, Gran was starting off again. “Howell Pendragon thought so too and if you’d use the talents your were born with, you’d see as clearly as I do. That Mr. Smith has no life presence. No soul.”
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