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The Willow Pool

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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‘Now see here, Meg Blundell! Isn’t no use gettin’ maudlin’. What’s done is done. Nuthin’ any of us can do about it. And maybe you’d better try to find that place in Scotty Road – ask them where you can sign on, for a start, and if they’ve got any jobs. Did you pay your stamps? They’ll have to give you dole if you did! First thing tomorrow you’ll have to snap out of it and get on with your life, ’cause if you don’t, bluddy Hitler’ll have won, won’t he? Can’t you see that that’s what he wants to do; knock the stuffing out of us so that when he invades we’ll throw up our hands without a fight?’

‘Do you think he’ll come, then?’ Since Nazi Germany had occupied France, it seemed only a matter of time before an invasion fleet set out for England.

‘Nah! He’ll have to get here first! Don’t forget we’ve got the sea all around us, girl, and a navy to protect us. Oh, it was easy for them stormtroopers to walk through Belgium and sneak round the end of the Maginot Line into France, but even Hitler can’t walk on water, don’t forget!’

‘But do you think that if it happened, we’d make a fight of it, like Churchill says? Would we fight on the beaches and in the streets?’

‘I think you should worry about that,’ Tommy said firmly, ‘if it happens. As far as I’m concerned, them Jairmans are taking their time making their minds up. Nearly a year since Dunkirk, don’t forget.’

‘So where’ll he go next?’ Meg persisted. ‘Hitler’s been very quiet lately, you’ve got to admit it. Hasn’t invaded anywhere …’

‘I wouldn’t say quiet exactly,’ Nell sniffed, thinking of the nights of bombing, ‘but I’m inclined to agree with you, girl. Hasn’t taken over anywhere this last year. Mind, there’s precious few countries left for him to grab.’

‘Except ours …’

‘And Sweden and Spain and Switzerland,’ Tommy offered. ‘Mind, them three’s neutral. Maybe it suits him to leave them alone – for diplomatic purposes, like. So that only leaves America and Russia.’

‘America’s too far away,’ Meg reasoned, ‘and Russia’s got a pact with Germany.’

‘Hitler don’t trust Stalin, for all that.’ Nell gave into temptation and placed the cigarette between her lips. ‘But forget about ’im. I’m goin’ to put the kettle on – make us a cup of cocoa. You got any dried milk, Meg?’

Nell Shaw had had enough of war talk, and she was tired. She would, therefore, have a cup of cocoa, her last cigarette, then take herself off to bed. Tomorrow, was another day. Time enough to worry about it when it came.

Meg snuggled into her mattress, pulled the sheet up to her chin, then stared unblinking at the ceiling. She had still not made up the sleep lost during the bombing but she could not forget the baby, wondering where it was now, and if someone had claimed it. But maybe its mother was dead too.

A tear trickled out of the corner of her eye and ran into her ear; a tear for a dead baby, not for herself, because Meg Blundell was alive, and that, in this city, was something to be thankful for. And tomorrow she really would start looking for a job because nobody could live on fresh air, and the money in her purse wasn’t going to last for ever. There was the money in Ma’s bankbook, of course, if things got really bad. It shouldn’t be too difficult to go to the post office, copy the simple, rounded writing of her mother’s signature.

‘Tsk!’ She groped for the matchbox and lit the candle at her bedside, looking at her watch with dismay. Half-past one in the morning and wide awake still!

‘Ma?’ she whispered.

But she heard no answer, nor felt one in her heart. Ma was back at Candlefold where she’d been happy, and was bonny again, with pale blonde curls and a wide smile, and standing in the sunshine beside the pump trough in the stableyard, waiting for Norah Bentley and Gladys Tucker. Or was she bobbing a curtsey as Nanny Boag sailed past with baby and perambulator? That little boy would be going on twenty-four now, and called up into the armed forces; married, perhaps, with a baby of his own.

She wished she could forget babies. Had that German pilot stopped to think, just for one second, what his bombs would do, or had he been as afraid, perhaps, as the people in the city he dropped them on? She hoped fervently he would never know peace of mind again, but she was as sure as she could be that he would sleep soundly when he got back to his aerodrome, thankful he was still alive. And anyway, wars were about killing, weren’t they? Our lot did it too.

The rattling of the letter box awoke her and she stretched and breathed in the acrid smell of a burned-out candle.

Dammit! Nine in the morning and Nell on the doorstep! Meg pulled back the curtains and opened the window to see the postman, holding a parcel.

‘Miss M. M. Blundell, is it?’ he called, squinting up.

‘That’s me! Hang on a minute!’

‘Fewd parcel,’ said the postman laconically. ‘All right for some, innit?’

But Meg only smiled and thought warm thoughts about Kip, who loved her, then read the green label in Kip’s handwriting, declaring the contents to be unsolicited food.

‘Well, then, and who’s the lucky one?’ Nell beamed from the doorway. ‘That young man of yours looks after you all right. Goin’ to see what’s inside, then?’

‘You open it, Nell. I’ll put the kettle on and do a slice of toast. Lovely day, isn’t it?’

‘Glorious. If you didn’t step outside this yard you’d never know there’d been any bombing. Pity the roads are in a mess still. We could’ve gone to Sevvy Park.’

Sefton Park was as near to being the countryside as Nell could want: trees and flowers and wide expanses of grass for sitting on. She’d had many a canoodle there in her courting days.

‘We’ll go there, Nell, just as soon as the trams get back to normal. We’ll take some sarnies and sit in the sun.’ The park was on the posh side of Liverpool, on the outskirts; the bombs wouldn’t have reached that far out. ‘But I’m going to see about finding a job or getting some dole to tide me over. And I’m going to try to get Ma’s money. I – I thought I could sign her name – it wouldn’t be dishonest, would it? When Ma died I didn’t give back her identity card. I could show them that …’

‘Then you shouldn’t have a lot of bother getting it. And it wouldn’t be as if it was hundreds of pounds you’d be askin’ for.’

‘No.’ That five pounds had been a fortune to Ma, though, and saved shilling by shilling. ‘But what has Kip sent?’ Her eyes ranged the array on the tabletop. ‘Ciggies? Think he must have meant them for you, Nell. And you’d better take the mints to Tommy; tell him he’s invited to Sunday tea.’

‘You’re a good girl, Meg Blundell. Give me your ration book. I’ll take it with Tommy’s and try to get half a dozen sausages out of the butcher.’

‘Ask him if he’s got a piece of off-the-ration suet, will you? Then we can have meat pie,’ Meg smiled, holding up a tin of steak.

She felt near contentment as she ate her breakfast. Mind, Nell wouldn’t approve of what she planned to do, but she had thought things over during the wakeful night. A job in a shop, perhaps; go the whole hog and sign up for the Army? There had been ATS girls at the Rialto dance, looking great in their uniforms. Bed and board and all provided, and leave four times a year – when there would be Tippet’s Yard to come back to, and Tommy and Nell.

All very well, but she had decided on neither, because until the Government told her to register for war work she was footloose, could go where she wanted and already she knew where that place was. Approximately, of course. You went to Ormskirk, took the train to Preston, then somewhere between there and a place called Whalley was a dot on the map so small she’d had difficulty finding it. And likely she would have difficulty getting there, an’ all, but she was as sure as she could be it was to Nether Barton she must go; find the house where Ma was now. It wasn’t until she did that she would know what to do with her life.

Candlefold had rarely been out of her thoughts since the night she discovered she had been born there, and now her roots were calling her back – just to take a look at the place and maybe hear Ma’s voice with her heart, telling her she wasn’t to fret and to straighten her back and hold her head high and get on with her life. The only bother, she knew, would be telling Nell, because Nell Shaw was going to take a lot of convincing!

Yet go there she must, because she knew in her heart that Candlefold – or Ma, was it? – had something to tell her.

She sighed, arranged the tins and packets in a straight line on the tabletop, deciding that for Sunday tea they would have steak pie – suet permitting, that was – and tinned fruit salad and tinned cream. And on Sunday, when they had eaten and were less likely to argue, she would tell Nell and Tommy what she intended to do.

Relieved that for the time being at least she had got her life sorted, she picked up Kip’s letter.

Darling Meg,

I wish you were here with me. It isn’t as hot as before but I have spent time on the beach in the sun. This is like a different world. Some things are in short supply, but there is fruit and plenty of tomatoes in the shops – no standing in a queue for two apples – and at the weekend whole families were on the beach with picnics. The girls here are beautiful and brown from the sun, but I haven’t seen one as lovely as you, Meg.

By the time you get this – if it doesn’t go to the bottom – I should be under way again and counting off the days till I see you.

Take care,

Love from Kip

She glanced at the date at the top of the letter, realizing it had been written long before the bombing. Would Kip know about it now, and be worrying about her and Amy? Dear, kind Kip, who thought she was lovely.

She rose to gaze into the mirror. Not lovely at all, Kip Lewis; perhaps pretty in parts – blue eyes that didn’t go with black hair; a good complexion, though pale. And she was slim, she supposed, but so were most people these days, thanks to rationing. And Nell had said she had good legs and should shorten her skirts a bit – but lovely? Not really.

She took the sixpenny airmail letter from the mantel, and pen and ink from the drawer.

Dear, kind Kip,

The parcel arrived safely this morning and you are very popular with the people in Tippet’s Yard, who will be having a luxurious tea on Sunday at number 1.

I saw Amy and the children yesterday, and they are all very well.

She stopped, frowning. Best not mention the bombing; just that they were all right and, anyway, if she did, the Censor’s Office would slice it out and the folded letter card would arrive looking like a paper doily!

Today is lovely and warm and the light nights a blessing. Nell has suggested a picnic in Sefton Park. (She says many thanks for the ciggies, by the way.)

She stopped again, reading what she had written. Not much of a letter to send to a man all those miles from home and planning to buy an engagement ring in Sydney.

I think of you often, Kip, and look forward to seeing you again, and wish you a safe journey home.

Take care, Kip.

All my love,

Meg

All my love. That sounded better than the rest of the letter, and a nice bit to end up with. She wished she could love Kip and want him that way. He was a good, kind man, and anyone with half a brain would jump at the chance to be his girl and wear his ring. And to marry him, and have an allowance every month from the shipping line he sailed for.

But that would not be enough, and she wasn’t able to love Kip as he deserved; not yet, anyway. And she had to love him – or any man she married – with all her heart and soul, and want him that way.

Once, twenty years ago, Ma had wanted a man that way; hadn’t thought of the consequences, only about being in love. And the fact that his name did not appear on her birth certificate was neither here nor there, Meg brooded, because Ma would have been deeply in love that way the night her daughter was conceived.
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