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Authors: Lily Baxter

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BOOK: The Girls in Blue
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‘Daddy is still in London,’ Isabel said with a giggle. ‘He only comes down at weekends and not even then if he’s operating on Saturday morning.’

‘He’s a brain surgeon,’ Jack said proudly. ‘A top
class
brain surgeon, and Izzie’s mother is an actress.’

Miranda was doubly impressed. ‘Is she famous?’

‘She’s quite well known in the theatrical world,’ Isabel said modestly. ‘She’s in
Rebecca
at the Queen’s Theatre at the moment, although it does worry me that they’re both in London. If Hitler decides to bomb the capital I hate to think what will happen.’

‘That’s what the RAF is for, darling. We’ll stop the Luftwaffe before they have a chance to drop their bombs on London.’ Jack glanced at the Edwardian lantern clock on the mantelpiece. ‘I think perhaps we’d best get going. Time is the enemy today.’

‘I’ll just tell Mrs Beasley not to expect me back until later,’ Isabel said, moving towards the doorway. ‘If you’d like to wait for me in the car, I won’t be a moment.’

‘Isn’t she wonderful?’ Jack murmured as the door closed on her. ‘She’s the best thing that ever happened to me, Miranda.’

‘Yes. She’s absolutely lovely.’

‘Promise me that you’ll keep an eye on her while I’m away.’

‘How can I do that if our families are at loggerheads? What’s wrong with them?’

‘I don’t know, sweetheart. It’s something that happened before I was born, but it mustn’t be allowed to blight my relationship with the most perfect girl I’ve ever met.’

‘The silly old feud didn’t seem to bother Raif. He was a perfect gentleman.’

‘It looks as if I might have been posted to his squadron, so I’m going to do my best to sort this thing out once and for all. Anyway, let’s enjoy today. Come along, Miranda, we mustn’t keep Izzie waiting.’

Sitting in the dicky seat and being third party to a couple who were just starting out on what was obviously going to be a passionate love affair was not Miranda’s idea of a great day out. If she had been less fond of Jack she might have asked to be dropped off at home after the first half hour, but she suffered in silence and made an effort to play her part, although she really could not imagine that her presence made the slightest bit of difference. Chaperonage must have gone out with the high button boot, but if it helped smooth the path of true love, she was willing to do anything that would make her uncle happy.

They had lunch in a pub on the outskirts of the town but Miranda was the only one who seemed to have much of an appetite, and having trailed after the lovers in Thorncombe Woods following the Roman road as far as Black Heath, she was both footsore and weary. Eventually, after tactfully turning away while they kissed for the final time, Miranda led the way back to the car and tried to look as if being a chaperone was her ultimate choice
for
whiling away a Saturday afternoon. In the end their outing was curtailed by the fact that there was not enough petrol in the tank to take them very far, and Jack had to report to the air station before five o’clock.

Miranda climbed into the passenger seat and waited while Jack and Izzie said a fond goodbye. Their emotional parting on the steps of Thornleigh Court would have had the whole audience sobbing into their hankies had it been on stage, and Miranda had a lump in her throat even though she was relieved that her part in their clandestine meeting was now over. She tried valiantly to cheer Jack up as he drove home, but he seemed determined to act like a star-crossed lover and she sat in silence for the rest of the way.

Jack brought Chloe to an abrupt halt outside the coach house. ‘Oh, God, no,’ he muttered, as his mother emerged from the house and came striding towards them with her skirts billowing and hairpins flying in all directions. If the day had been less than wonderful for Miranda she could see that it was about to get worse. She realised that she had been gone for hours without having told anyone where she was going. The look on her grandmother’s face as she approached the car said it all. Jack leapt out of the driver’s seat to stand before his mother like a small boy caught stealing jam tarts from the larder.

‘Where the hell have you been, Jack?’ Maggie slammed the car door so violently that flakes of rust
showered
onto the concrete. ‘Your father and I have been out of our minds with worry. How could you be so thoughtless?’

He wrapped his arms around her rigid body. ‘I’m so sorry, Mother. I took Miranda for a last spin before Chloe is mothballed for the rest of the war, and I completely forgot the time.’

Miranda clutched her hands tightly in front of her. ‘I’m sorry, too, Granny. We had lunch in a pub and went for a walk in Thorncombe Woods. We didn’t stop to think.’

‘No, you didn’t. You’re just as thoughtless and selfish as your uncle. You might have met with a fatal accident or been strafed by German planes and left mortally wounded in a field for all we knew.’

George appeared in the coach house door, looking puzzled. ‘What’s all the fuss about, Maggie?’

She threw up her hands. ‘It’s these two. They’ve bowled up as if they’ve had a lovely day out.’

He smiled vaguely. ‘Well, I hope they have enjoyed themselves. For heaven’s sake, the boy has only had a few hours home leave. God knows what he’ll be facing when he reports for duty.’

‘Trust you to be on his side. I’ve been left to cope with a houseful of evacuees on my own. Nobody pays any attention to my feelings.’

‘As I recall you took them in, Maggie. It was your idea and had nothing to do with Jack or Miranda. Highcliffe isn’t a refugee camp, my dear. Perhaps
you
should have thought of that before you offered largesse to the masses.’

‘I took pity on a handful of unfortunate women and their children. I did my duty, and anyway they’ll be gone from here on Monday. The Red Cross have made the necessary arrangements.’ Maggie drew herself up to her full height. ‘But I’d expect more support from my family and a little common courtesy from my degenerate son.’

‘Come along now, Mother dear. You know what I’m like. I do things without thinking, and I’m desperately sorry if I’ve upset you.’ Jack shot an appealing glance at his father. ‘I think a tot of your so-called embrocation might be called for at this juncture.’

‘I’ve never called it that,’ George said, frowning. ‘And it’s definitely not for consumption and it certainly isn’t for topical application to the human body.’

‘But it’s very efficacious in times of stress, Father. Ask Elzevir and Farmer Drake.’

Maggie’s fierce expression faded into a guilty look that might have been comical at any other time. She nudged her son in the ribs. ‘That’s supposed to be a secret,’ she muttered beneath her breath.

‘No one knows about my experiments outside the family.’ George gave her a searching look. ‘Do they, Maggie?’

‘Of course not, dear. Go back to your laboratory. I’ll call you when dinner is ready.’ She turned to
Jack
, scowling ominously. ‘You’ve put your foot in it now, my boy. What a trial you are.’ She marched back to the house.

He turned to Miranda with a weary smile. ‘She’ll get over it. I’m her blue-eyed boy, after all. Come and talk to me while I pack my things. I’ll have to be off soon.’

‘Perhaps we’d better go round to the French windows and creep in through the drawing room,’ Miranda said tactfully. ‘We’re not too popular at the moment.’

‘Good plan.’ Jack fell into step beside her. ‘I’m sorry I’ve upset the old folks but it was worth it to spend the day with Izzie. I’m absolutely crazy about her.’

‘No! I would never have guessed.’

‘You wait until you fall head over heels for some young chap, you’ll know how it feels then.’ He stopped suddenly as they emerged from the shadow of the outbuildings onto the wide sweep of lawn at the back of the house. ‘This is what it’s all about, Miranda,’ he said, encompassing the view of the cliffs and sea with Portland rising from the mist with a wave of his hands. ‘This is what we’re fighting for, and now I’ve got a real reason to come through it all.’

‘You will be careful, won’t you, Jack? You won’t go all heroic and stupid on me?’

‘Careful is my middle name, sweetheart. It’s going to take more than the Luftwaffe to bring Jack
Beddoes
down.’ He turned to her, his expression suddenly serious. ‘You will keep in touch with Izzie, won’t you, Miranda? And if the worst should happen to me, I hope you’d continue to be her friend.’

She had never seen him in such a serious frame of mind and she struggled to find the right words of comfort. She nodded and reached out to hold his hand. ‘Of course I would, but you mustn’t think like that.’

He was about to say something but the French windows burst open and a rush of small children tumbled out onto the veranda and sped down the steps to the lawn. Rita followed them more slowly. She struck a pose. ‘The little sods have busted one of your gran’s china thingummytites. Got any glue?’

Chapter Six

HE HAD GONE
. Jack had left with his mother’s forgiveness and his father’s blessing, and only Miranda knew that he had a bottle of raw spirit packed in his overnight bag. Elzevir had given him a lift on his cart and Miranda suspected that another bottle of the euphemistically entitled embrocation might have changed hands by way of payment. She could only hope that her grandfather never discovered the illicit use of his attempt to solve the fuel shortages.

The evacuees had been fed and the younger ones were being made ready for bed. Miranda could hear sounds of merriment and a lot of splashing emanating from the bathroom as she made her way upstairs seeking the solitude of her own room. She had put up with Rita grumbling all the time they were helping Annie with the supper things, and she had narrowly escaped a lecture from her grandmother thanks to one of the young mothers who was convinced that her baby was mortally ill, although luckily it turned out to be nothing worse than colic and nappy rash.

Unused to living with a large family, Miranda had wanted nothing other than to curl up with a
book
, but the older children were still in the garden, rampaging through the shrubbery as they searched for a lost ball. Their shrieks and shouts were no doubt music to their mothers’ ears, but Miranda pulled down the sash, closing her window with a decisive bang. She had spent ages gluing the head and an arm back on one of the Dresden shepherdesses and she could only hope and pray that nothing else got broken. She was about to sit on the window seat and open her book when Rita burst into the room.

‘Do us a favour, ducks? Lend me something half decent to wear.’

‘Why? Where are you going?’

‘To town, of course. It’s Saturday night and I ain’t staying here with all those kids rushing around and screeching their heads off.’

‘But you don’t know anybody in Weymouth. Where will you go?’

‘I dunno, but there must be a dance hall of some sort, or maybe I’ll go to the flicks. I don’t suppose you’ve got any cash on you? I’m a bit short as it happens.’

‘Have you asked my grandmother if you can go out? I don’t think she’d approve of you going off on your own.’

‘She can’t stop me.’

‘She feels responsible for you, Rita.’

‘Very kind of her, I’m sure, but she’s got no say in what I do. If I can look after meself in London,
I’m
sure I can cope in this one-horse town. Come on, Miranda, don’t be stuffy. I’m going anyway, but all my duds are creased like rags and I’m flat broke.’

Miranda could see that Rita was going to do what she wanted no matter what anyone said. She opened the wardrobe and rifled through her clothes, selecting a crêpe de Chine dress with a delicate floral pattern on a white background. ‘Will this do?’

Rita’s eyes sparkled as she took it from her, holding it up against her slender frame. ‘I might have to pad the bust out with a couple of socks, but it’ll do fine. I don’t suppose you’ve got a nice pair of shoes that would go with it?’

She was about to say no, but she realised that Rita’s eagle eye had spotted the white high-heeled strappy sandals that her mother had bought for a friend’s wedding and had only worn once before passing them on. ‘They’re almost new,’ Miranda said hastily. ‘I haven’t had a chance to wear them yet.’

Rita bent down to snatch them from the shelf. ‘Don’t worry, love. I’ll break them in for you. Are you sure you won’t come with me?’

‘No, thanks. I’ve upset the family enough today.’ Relenting, Miranda reached for her handbag and took out her purse. ‘How much do you need?’

‘Ten bob should do it.’

‘Ten shillings. That’s half of what I’ve got.’

Rita took the note and stuffed it in her purse. ‘I’ll pay you back, ducks. If I’m going to be stuck here
for
a while I’ll need money, and there must be plenty of work locally. Although if this bloody war goes on much longer we’ll probably end up in the army; not that I’d mind being with all those soldiers. It might be quite fun.’ She undid the buttons on her frock and let it fall to the ground.

Miranda tried not to stare but she could not help noticing that Rita’s bra was obviously homemade and she was wearing navy-blue school knickers. ‘I don’t want to be rude, but those will show through.’

‘I know,’ Rita said, pulling a face. ‘Awful, ain’t they? But these are all I’ve got.’

Miranda opened a drawer at the base of the wardrobe and fished out some of her own undies. She tossed them onto the bed. ‘Help yourself.’

‘Are you serious?’ Rita picked up a Kestos bra and a pair of white silk panties. ‘These must have cost a fortune.’

‘My mother paid for them. She buys all my clothes for me.’

‘Lucky you.’

‘You can have them, Rita. I don’t want them back.’ Miranda averted her gaze as Rita stripped off her underwear.

‘I’ll still need them socks,’ she said, sticking out her chest. ‘You’ve got bigger boobies than me.’

Miranda retired to the window seat and picked up her book. ‘Granny locks the doors at ten. If you’re going to be later than that you’d better warn her.’

‘And have her tell me I’ve got to stay in and be
a
good little girl? Not bloody likely. I’ll get in somehow even if I have to pick the lock.’

BOOK: The Girls in Blue
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