The White Lady by Jacqueline Winspear: Featured Excerpt

From the creator of the best-selling Maisie Dobbs series, this heart-stopping novel—set in Post WWII Britain in 1947—follows the coming of age of former wartime operative Elinor White as she is drawn back into the world of menace she has been desperate to leave behind. Start reading an excerpt here!

It was the latter part of the following Saturday afternoon; the sun was low in the sky and dusk not an hour away as they walked along a well-trodden path to an area of woodland known to both girls. Following a detailed introduction to the weapon they would be using, it was time to begin. Isabelle stood at Elinor’s shoulder and pressed the Webley MK V1 into her right hand, then lifted her left hand to meet it.

“No, don’t touch the trigger yet, whatever you do. Just lay your right forefinger alongside the barrel, like so.” She lifted Elinor’s forefinger and positioned it to demonstrate her instruction. “How does it feel?”

“It’s heavier than I thought it would be. I don’t know if I can keep my arms up like this and hold the gun,” said Elinor, looking sideways at her instructor.

Isabelle smiled. “You don’t go around holding up your gun all the time—that’s for little boys playing soldiers with toy guns in the street. I’m going to teach you how to take out the pistol at speed, how to focus and to use your weapon to your advantage. Now, look at the target.”

Elinor stared at the first bottle resting on a tree stump some fifteen feet away.

“Bring down your right arm by your side and do not touch the trigger. When I touch your shoulder, raise it to the point I’ve shown you— but don’t shoot.”

 “I hope you don’t think I’m doing that,” said Cecily, standing to one side.

“Quiet please, Ceci—I’m already aware of what you will and won’t do, but for the moment your sister is concentrating.”

Elinor tried to ignore Cecily as she followed the instruction. She felt Isabelle touch her right shoulder. She raised the pistol, her left hand steadying the weapon, the forefinger of her right hand alongside the barrel. The barrel. She would have to learn these new words for something she never in her wildest imagination thought she would ever use.

“Good, and again,” said Isabelle.

Five times Elinor repeated the drill at the command of her teacher. Her shoulder ached and her knees had locked.

“Excellent,” said Isabelle. “Rest your body.” She reached for the gun and took it from Elinor.

“You have to remain strong in your legs, but try not to lock your knees—if you have to run and move through trees while keeping focused on a target, you can’t afford to have pins and needles anywhere in your body.”

Elinor nodded while pressing her fingertips into the muscles around her shoulder.

“Let’s start again. This time you’re going to do that again from a crouched position. Like so.” She held the Webley revolver and demonstrated the movement.

Three more times Elinor lifted and lowered the weapon on Isabelle’s command. She glanced sideways and saw Isabelle smiling, but tempered her excitement at the woman’s approval and waited for the next tap. Seconds later she felt the lightest touch on her left shoulder, lifted the revolver and eyed her target.

“Now, move your forefinger to the trigger, aim and fire.” Her teacher did not shout, instead she uttered the command in a soft yet strong tone, as if she were one of the nuns instructing the girls to sit down in church.

Without pause, Elinor brought back her forefinger, rested it on the trigger and pulled.

Flat on her back on the ground, Elinor could hear her sister laughing.

“I’m sorry, Linni. I had to do that,” said Isabelle, helping Elinor to her feet. “It’s called a recoil, and I have found that I can tell people to prepare for it, but they never listen or they brace so much that they miss the target, so I just save my breath and let them learn the hard way.” She brushed leaves away from the back of Elinor’s jacket. “Everything in one piece? Arms still in their sockets?”

Elinor nodded. “Then let’s go again.” Five times Elinor felt the tap on her shoulder. Five times she lifted the revolver and drew back her forefinger while simultaneously imagining more strength in her shoulders to absorb the shot’s upward kick. She held a vision of roots pulling her feet to the ground because she didn’t want to set her knees and end up with pins and needles. She wanted to be ready to run. Five times she hit one target after the next.

“Excellent,” said Isabelle. “We shall come again and practice, though I am very pleased with your progress, Linni.” Elinor watched as she turned to Cecily, who was frowning. “Now, Ceci—are you ready?” Even before Isabelle had finished her question, Cecily was shaking her head. Isabelle nodded. “It’s best not to do something if you don’t want to do it, but I think you will both be very good at the next tasks.”

“What next tasks?” said Cecily. “The blade and the pencil.”

Cecily giggled. “Sounds like something out of the handbook for nuns.”

Elinor thought that was a pretty good joke, though most of their nuns were kind, despite the fact that since the executions in the square they had been solemn, and prayers had become more and more intense. Prayers that the war might end and life could go back to being normal before everyone forgot what normal felt like.

“That’s a funny one, Ceci,” said Isabelle. “Want to know how to use them to protect yourself?”

Elinor thought the pistol was a much easier weapon, as she didn’t really think she could push a pencil straight into the eye of her attacker, or his ear, though with a fast move it could expedite a quick death. The knife was hard too. She learned that it took a great deal of effort to slide a knife into a man’s heart, or into his side, and she didn’t like the idea of being sprayed with blood as it pumped out of a jugular vein or an artery. But she knew one thing—if their lives were at stake, she would do all of these things to protect her family. There were only the three of them now, and though Cecily was a real pain in the neck at times, Elinor loved her. It was a fleeting thought that came to her as she lay in bed one night, but she suspected her father, mother and sister would remain the great loves of her life until the day she died.

Copyright © 2023 by Jacqueline Winspear. All rights reserved.

About The White Lady by Jacqueline Winspear:

A reluctant ex-spy with demons of her own, Elinor finds herself facing down one of the most dangerous organized crime gangs in London, ultimately exposing corruption from Scotland Yard to the highest levels of government.

The private, quiet “Miss White” as Elinor is known, lives in a village in rural Kent, England, and to her fellow villagers seems something of an enigma. Well she might, as Elinor occupies a “grace and favor” property, a rare privilege offered to faithful servants of the Crown for services to the nation. But the residents of Shacklehurst have no way of knowing how dangerous Elinor’s war work had been, or that their mysterious neighbor is haunted by her past.

It will take Susie, the child of a young farmworker, Jim Mackie and his wife, Rose, to break through Miss White’s icy demeanor—but Jim has something in common with Elinor. He, too, is desperate to escape his past. When the powerful Mackie crime family demands a return of their prodigal son for an important job, Elinor assumes the task of protecting her neighbors, especially the bright-eyed Susie. Yet in her quest to uncover the truth behind the family’s pursuit of Jim, Elinor unwittingly sets out on a treacherous pathyet it is one that leads to her freedom.

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