TO SAVE HER CHILD, A MOTHER MUST MAKE AN IMPOSSIBLE CHOICE. 'Heartrending. Riveting. Definitely on my list of Ten Best Books of 2019 ' Sharon Maas, author of The Violin Maker's Daughter 'The characters and their moving stories will haunt you long after you finish the last page' Shirley Dickson, author of The Orphan Sisters Inspired by the children who escaped the Holocaust. P erfect for readers of The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris and My Name is Eva by Suzanne Goldring. Prague 1939. Young mother Eva has a secret from her past. When the Nazis invade, Eva knows the only way to keep her daughter Miriam safe is to send her away - even if it means never seeing her again. But when Eva is taken to a concentration camp, her secret is at risk of being exposed. In London, Pamela volunteers to help find places for the Jewish children arrived from Europe. Befriending one unclaimed little girl, Pamela brings her home. Then when her son enlists in the RAF, Pamela realises how easily her own world could come crashing down... Readers around the world adore THE CHILD ON PLATFORM ONE: 'OH MY HEART! Moved me deep from within. I cannot recommend it enough' The Writing Garnet 'Such a gorgeous book. I loved and believed in all the characters, and thoroughly enjoyed their stories. Incredibly researched, it felt authentic. And the ending moved me to tear s *****' 'OMG What an incredible read. It was so emotional about a Jewish girl. I was engrossed from start to finish and would highly recommend this book *****' 'This book was incredible... The story is realistic and believable. Once you start reading you will not want to stop *****' 'An emotional, haunting book filled with secrets throughout. Excellent *****' 'I loved the book and the way it was written. I will be reading more novels by Gill Thompson in the future as her interweaving of events with fictional characters is remarkable *****' 'This was a great book! There are secrets you will not see coming, but it makes it more heartwarming *****' 'It's not your normal evacuee story as it's intertwined with other stories which I really enjoyed. It had me gripped. I will be looking out for more books by this author *****' 'This is a very good book. I recommend you read *****'
Release date: December 1, 2019
Print pages: 324
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The Child On Platform One: Inspired by the children who escaped the Holocaust
There’s a light touch on his hand. He looks down. Her fingers on his white knuckles.
‘All right?’ she says.
He nods, then looks out of the window. The plane is climbing steeply, the runway already a biscuit-coloured blur. The landing gear folds itself in with a distant thump and the engine steadies to a low throb.
He wipes his forehead with the back of his sleeve and leans his head against the rest.
She squeezes his hand. ‘Well done. You’ll be fine now.’
Yes, he will be fine. He always is. But this time there is another anxiety. Not the journey but the destination.
He pats his jacket pocket and feels the firmness of the expensive cardboard against the warm wool. No need to take the invitation out again. He knows the words off by heart.
And suddenly he’s a young boy once more, excited to be going on a long journey to a land full of hope and opportunity. How was his eager twelve-year-old self to know what was really waiting for him?
He glances at his companion. They are deep into a long marriage; her face as familiar to him now as his own, her hair shorter than when they’d first met. His breath still catches at the sight of her. He reaches out to stroke her cheek. ‘I’m glad you’re here with me.’
‘Wouldn’t have missed it. It’s been a long time coming.’
He’s suddenly too choked to speak. He swallows and runs a finger round his shirt collar. ‘Forty years’ he says. His voice sounds hoarse.
‘Half a lifetime. But you got there in the end. Just as you said you would.’
The seat belt signs have gone off. She reaches under the seat, pulls a leather bag onto her lap, and reaches into it for her bottle of water. She passes it across to him.
He takes a long sip. She always knows the right thing to do.
‘I just wish I’d got there sooner. It’s too late for some people.’
‘Those who can will come. And remember who you’re doing this for.’
He nods, then turns to the window again. The horizon is striped with brilliant colours: turquoise, orange, green – all radiating from a fiery, sinking sun. They’ll soon be hurtling through a dark sky in their metal tube, for miles and miles until they reach Canberra. And the ceremony they will attend.
This day is the one he’s fought for. He closes his eyes and the faces of the past appear before him.
No one had listened to them then.
They would listen now.
Eva had already scraped back the piano stool and was about to slide the music books into her bag when Professor Novotny lifted a hand to delay her.
‘Just one more minute, my dear.’ His thin finger pointed skywards, in imitation of the number. ‘I have a piece I would like you to take home.’
While the professor rifled through the tottering pile of manuscripts on top of the piano, Eva cast a glance at the wooden clock on the wall. Four thirty. She hoped this wouldn’t take long. Already the conservatoire rehearsal room was gloomier than when the lesson had started, shadows stretching across the floor. Come on. Come on. She placed her fingertips on the yellow keys, allowing the cool ivory to calm her.
‘Ah, here it is.’ Professor Novotny was wheezing from the effort of finding the score. ‘Hector Berlioz. It’s a villanelle from Les Nuits d’Été. One of his lesser-known pieces.’ He switched on the overhead light and the room brightened.
‘A villan . . . ella?’ Despite her anxiety about the time, Eva was intrigued. She stood up as her teacher gestured for her to relinquish her place at the keyboard and positioned herself to the side of the piano, ready to watch Professor Novotny play.
‘Yes. A secular Italian song.’ The professor sat down on the padded piano stool with a thump. ‘This one is a celebration of spring and new love. Perfect piece for a young girl.’ He reached for the round black glasses on a cord round his neck, put them on as though preparing to play, then removed them again. The glasses swung loose on their moorings. ‘There’s to be a concert at the Rudolfinum next year, a tribute to Berlioz’s work. I thought you could perform the villanelle as your first public solo.’
Eva drew an indignant breath, but the professor flapped his hand at her.
‘Those children’s competitions don’t count.’
Those children’s competitions! She straightened her back. Hadn’t she won every one? Even the prestigious Dvořák Prize for Young Talent. A memory of lifting the heavy metal cup and hearing a crescendo of applause flashed into her mind.
The professor propped the folded pages of music against the metal prongs of the rest. ‘I’ll play you a bit. Please turn the page for me.’ The glasses were perched in position.
Eva took up her place behind her teacher, trying to remain still; it would be rude to appear impatient. But inside her head she was begging Professor Novotny to play only a few bars. She knew he worked her so hard because he was proud of her, and she was keen to be the best she could, but the ornate hands of the clock showed twenty to five now. Today of all days she couldn’t afford to be late.
‘Listen. You’ll hear the lovers wandering through the woods to gather wild strawberries.’
Eva flushed at the word ‘lovers’. Sometimes Professor Novotny spoke to her as though she was older than sixteen. But as he started to play, she did indeed hear the light, tripping sound of footsteps, and felt the freshness of the spring breeze on her face.
She peered over the professor’s shoulder. Beneath his tapered fingers, the printed notes skittering across the manuscript became an airy melody. Teasing, joyful. Eva had always seen notes as people. The rows of joined quavers – the short notes – were gangly lines of boys sporting over-large football boots at the end of their thin legs; or a straight band of dancers performing the Lúčnica, in black shoes, with their arms linked. The single crotchets – twice as long as quavers – were teachers, ramrod straight in front of a class. And the long minims were powerful generals, commanding their army’s attention by their stillness. But if Eva were a note, she’d be a really long one: a breve, strong and alone, surrounded by space and silence.
The professor finished playing with a flourish, then handed her the score. ‘Homework. Start tonight.’ The notes hovered in the air before the spring promise of the tune was smothered by the advancing autumn dusk. The sun must be even lower now. Eva’s stomach clenched. An allegro beat started up in her head.
She thrust the manuscript into her bag, then put on her coat. ‘Thank you, Professor Novotny, I’ll be sure to practise.’
‘Make sure you do. I want to hear you play it perfectly at your next lesson.’
‘Of course.’ Eva’s hand was on the doorknob, its polished surface greasy under her fingers. She darted another look at the clock. Nearly five. This villanelle had claimed even more time than she’d realised. She’d have to run like a wolf dog.
‘Goodbye, my dear.’
‘Goodbye, Professor Novotny. And thank you for the lesson.’
The professor bowed, the overhead light he’d snapped on earlier illuminating his bald head. Eva made her escape.
She ran through the darkening streets with the music bag clamped under her arm, her chest burning, her breath ragged. Yet in spite of her urgency, Berlioz’s melody still skipped through her head, and she tuned her footsteps to the chords pressed out by Professor Novotny’s liver-spotted hands. She was running through the woods with her lover, away from the stifling confines of the city, her senses alive to the sound of the birds and the sweet-sharp perfume of the strawberries. She could feel the boy’s breath on her cheek, his mouth on her lips, perhaps – if her face hadn’t already been red, she’d have blushed – his body pressed against hers. Only the pungent smell of coffee seeping out from under the door of the Kotva reminded her where she was. As she darted past the café, shadowy shapes lifted cups to their lips, gesticulated in conversation, or blew plumes of smoke from Stuyvesants whose tips glowed red in the gloom. How lovely to linger at the table with friends rather than having to rush home for the curfew.
Eva glanced up at the sinking sun. Mutti would have finished the chores by now, the challah already baked and resting on the lacy cloth, its plumply plaited crust shining with egg wash and oozing a fresh bread smell. She would have put on her grey dress, wrapped the gauzy scarf around her hair and gone downstairs to light the candles, whose silver holders gleamed from the polish that she’d given them earlier.
Abba, in his shiny black suit and prayer shawl, would have filled the Kiddush cup with sweet wine, his lips rehearsing the blessing for daughters that he’d speak later with his warm hands resting on Eva’s head:
May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
May God bless you and guard you.
May God show you favour and be gracious to you.
May God show you kindness and grant you peace.
If Abba had fathered sons, he’d have asked God to make them like Ephraim and Menashe, two brothers who lived in harmony. But there’d been no sons. Only Eva. A beloved only child.
A mist was rising from the surface of the Vltava, and Eva inhaled the wet air as she sped along the pavement. She couldn’t risk stopping to cough properly, so she tried to clear her throat in shallow breaths whilst running. She wasn’t used to going so fast. Most days her lesson ended on time, so she walked to the Josefov via well-lit streets. But with sunset approaching, the quickest route home was through the cemetery.
An animated mosso beat pulsed through her. Should she risk it? Perhaps the gates closed at curfew. Mutti had told her again and again to stick to the main roads. They’d be full of people on their way home from work. Longer but safe. Yet Eva paused on the pavement to peer at the winding path through the tombs. The ancient stones were crammed together as if the graves had been hastily dug, not placed in ordered rows like a modern cemetery. Wind threaded through the trees, causing the branches to shiver. To stifle the jump of her heart, she imagined she was performing at the Rudolfinum on a gleaming black Steinway, to a shadowy audience awed to silence by her playing.
She placed her palm against one of the dark metal gates and it yielded slowly. Perhaps it was a sign she should go through the cemetery. She could make up for some lost time this way.
Trying to rekindle Berlioz’s melody, to renew the thrills of spring and blot out the fears of autumn, she crept through the gate. The dew had already fallen and the leaves were damp underfoot. Creepers clung to her stockings and she had to kick her feet out to dislodge them. It would be foolish to run; the gravestones were too crowded, the path too meandering. But she hastened her steps, her senses alert for danger.
Inside the cemetery, tall horse chestnuts and sycamores diffused the low sun’s rays. Gravestones loomed either side of the path, inscribed with old symbols and ancient lettering. Abba had told her once that some of the graves held as many as ten bodies, all piled on top of each other to conserve space. In spite of her serge coat, Eva shivered.
She was halfway through when she heard the thud of boots, a harsh laugh, a sharp cough.
She froze. ‘Who’s there?’
No reply, but beyond the shadowy stones she caught a glimpse of biscuit-coloured cloth. Blood pounded affrettando in her ears.
‘Who’s there?’ she asked again. Her voice sounded hoarse.
A uniformed figure stepped out from behind a tree. A youth, maybe late teens, with a sweep of blond hair across his forehead.
‘What have we here: a young lady?’ His tone was leering, mocking.
Eva pulled her coat tighter, trying to ignore the gallop of her heart.
Another youth stepped forward. Then another. She wheeled round. Two more came up behind her. She was surrounded by five young soldiers, all wearing red armbands.
Was this what Mutti had feared when she’d warned her not to go into the cemetery? Eva had nodded solemnly at the time, but in her head she’d dismissed her mother’s advice. All parents said things like that, didn’t they? Of course she was careful. Although recently, even Eva had felt uncomfortable at the sight of German boys standing on street corners muttering to each other and pointing at passers-by. Those Hitler Youth seemed to be everywhere these days.
Surrounded by a ring of menacing young men in their distinctive uniforms, she wished desperately that she’d heeded Mutti’s words and ignored her lateness. Saliva pooled in her mouth, her throat too dry to swallow.
The first youth advanced towards her. ‘Don’t be frightened, pretty girl.’
Eva stood her ground, trying not to show her fear. But when she opened her mouth to shout for help, the boy reached forward and slapped his palm against her lips.
Eva darted terrified glances at the other boys.
The pressure of the youth’s fingers slackened, but he kept his hand close to her mouth, in case she tried to cry out again.
She clenched her fists.
‘Such beautiful clothes,’ he murmured, dropping his hand to stroke her coat. Eva couldn’t stop herself flinching. Or inhaling his sour breath.
Slowly he undid her grey buttons.
The other boys were watching, waiting.
‘Hold her arms.’
Eva struggled as the youth tried to take off her coat. But the boy behind her grabbed her wrists, until the garment was yanked off her and tossed onto the ground.
The youth reached forward again. He touched Eva’s cheek softly, then ran his finger under her chin, around her neck and down to the dent of her throat. He carefully edged up a section of the gold chain she always wore. She found herself mesmerised, in spite of her fear.
‘What a nice necklace.’ It was almost a whisper.
Did he want to steal it? Eva reached down and hooked her own finger under the thin metal links, pulling the whole chain out from under her collar so he could see the gold star on the end, the star that usually lay hidden under her blouse.
The boy gently removed it from her grasp, prising her fingers open one by one, and held the star up to the fading light.
The chain tightened against the back of Eva’s neck. She muted a protest at the pain.
‘How interesting.’ The boy’s eyes were on her face, but his words were addressed to his companions, who jeered and laughed.
The spell was broken. The boy let the pendant go abruptly. ‘She’s not for me.’ His expression hardened and he shoved Eva away. ‘All yours, Otto.’ He turned round and gestured to the smallest of the youths to come forward.
Eva let out a long-held breath as silently as she could. Dare she flee? The first boy had his back to her now; perhaps this was her chance. She lowered her head to charge through the gap.
But as the smaller boy was shoved forward by his mocking companions, their circle tightened to prevent his escape, blocking Eva’s too.
The lad approached her. He was slight, with hair so blond it was almost white and eyelashes so fair they were nearly invisible.
If he had been on his own, Eva could have defended herself. She was no coward. She’d have kicked and punched and spat until the boy released her. But surrounded by a leering wall of soldiers, she had no chance. She reached behind her, fingers scrabbling against the top of a gravestone, searching for a weapon. But if there’d been any stones placed along the rim, they’d long since vanished.
‘Come on, Otto, not scared, are you?’ The first youth, who’d retreated to become part of the wall, goaded the lad who was now standing in front of Eva.
‘Yes, come on, Otto, our balls are freezing.’
The boy laughed, the strangely eerie cackle betraying his nervousness.
Although the youths spoke German, Eva understood them perfectly. All the families in the Josefov spoke German at home. Her stomach tightened and her breath rasped in the cold air.
‘Please don’t hurt me, my parents are waiting.’ Her voice came out thin, reedy. Why couldn’t she make herself sound threatening? Perhaps she could appeal to the boy’s sense of honour. He seemed hesitant; maybe she could persuade him. If he realised how important it was for her to get home, he might leave her alone.
But as the other youths catcalled and whooped, making strange gestures with their hands, the boy responded to their raucous taunts. His eyes narrowed and his mouth pressed into a threatening line. He hawked up a gob of phlegm and spat on her. She let the slime trickle down her cheek, too terrified to wipe it off.
He yanked at her pendant and it broke immediately, the chain abandoned to the autumn leaves. A whoop went up from the group.
A different youth tore off her blouse in one violent movement. Another cheer.
Then they were all mauling her, ripping her skirt and stockings in a frenzy, their straining, sweating faces contorting in the moonlight, the air thick with their beery stench. And at the same time they were singing some ugly drinking song that had them bellowing out loud, flat notes in a terrible cacophony.
Eva wrapped her arms tight across her chest, desperately protecting her cream camisole. But someone wrenched her hands away and stripped it off her, the delicate fabric that Mutti had hand-sewn tearing under his fingers.
She was thrust backwards and pushed down onto her own coat, her head thumping against the soft lining.
Then the boys came at her again.
Afterwards, it was an owl that first penetrated her consciousness, hooting mournfully through the cold air. Her fingers dug into the wet earth; she inhaled the musty odour of leaves. But the animal reek of her own blood was still there. She curled her bruised body into a ball, trying to shut out the black miasma and the memory of the boy’s nervous laugh.
The time for the Shabbat blessing had long since passed. Eva’s anxious parents would be presiding over an empty table, asking themselves again and again where their devoted daughter could have got to, when she knew that all good Jews must be indoors by nightfall, on this most sacred of evenings.
Even from under Will’s bed, Pamela could hear Hugh hollering. She stretched out her hand another inch, wincing at the resulting pain in her armpit, until her scrabbling fingers reached the sock. Then she pushed herself backwards so that she and the sock were free of the bed’s bulging underbelly.
‘Coming!’ She shook the sock. So much dust had accumulated. Her son had only been home four weeks, and goodness knows how the sock had got there. But at least he had a complete pair now. She lifted the lid of his trunk, located the other sock – he’d never bother to find it himself – rolled the two neatly into a ball, then pushed them down the side. ‘The trunk’s packed now, Hugh,’ she called, pressing the lid shut.
There was a rapid tattoo of footsteps on the stairs and Hugh burst into the room. ‘Will’s in the car already,’ he said as he hoisted up the trunk. ‘Gosh, Pamela. What on earth have you put in this?’
Pamela grasped the other handle and followed her husband onto the landing. ‘The school wanted me to pack his cricket bat and pads for the new season, remember. So the boys can get some practice in.’ They’d had to take Will to Harrods to buy cricket whites. Pamela smiled at the memory of her son emerging from the changing room pretending to bowl to Hugh, who’d mimed a batting action in return. What a mercy Will had inherited Hugh’s strong, lean body and was good at sport. Pamela had worried herself sick that he’d be bullied when he first left for Cheam. But luckily his aptitude for team games had gained him respect among the other boys and teachers, and he’d settled in well.
It was tricky hauling the trunk down the stairs, and more than once it bumped against her knees. She hoped her stockings wouldn’t ladder. Hugh would get even more cross if she had to run upstairs for a new pair, but thankfully she couldn’t feel the telltale give of silk. Her dress came down to her calves anyway, so nothing would show as long as she was standing up. Besides, they wouldn’t hang around at the school – a quick embrace, strictly no tears, then Will would be off with his friends and she and Hugh would return to the car for the sad, silent journey home.
‘What’s Kitty doing anyway?’ said Hugh as he took the trunk’s weight from her to manhandle it through the front door.
‘Cooking. We’ve the Pallisers coming for supper tonight, remember.’ Hugh often invited guests over for the evening after they took Will back. Pamela had long since guessed he wanted to take her mind off missing him.
‘She should still come and help.’
‘It’s all right.’ Pamela took the handle again as they carried the trunk down the drive. ‘We’re nearly there now.’ She always felt awkward getting Kitty to do things. She knew she ought to treat Kitty as a servant rather than a friend, but it just didn’t feel right to order another woman around. When she was growing up, they’d all helped Mum. There certainly wasn’t enough money for servants. And even if they’d been able to afford them, people would just have said they were hoity-toity.
She slid into the back seat next to Will as Hugh slammed the boot shut. She put her arm round her son and he leant in for a cuddle. Pamela swallowed. She dreaded the time when Will stopped hugging her, or allowing his thick dark hair to be smoothed. Even now, when he was very tired, he would snuggle up to her on the sofa, his warm body pressed into hers. Once, when he thought she wasn’t looking, she caught him sucking his thumb. Hugh would have chastised him for that – ‘Boy of your age behaving like a baby, disgraceful’ – but Pamela imagined he’d have to suppress all self-comfort at school; it wouldn’t hurt to regress a bit once he was home.
At eleven, he was on the cusp of puberty. Perhaps by the time he came back for Easter he’d be taller, broader. She must make the most of his affection now. The journey to Cheam took less than two hours. He wouldn’t be hers for much longer.
Will turned his head to look out of the window, releasing himself slightly from her embrace, although he didn’t push her away.
‘Are you all right?’ she asked.
He looked back and nodded.
‘Looking forward to the new term?’
‘Rather. I can’t wait to meet up with Merrow-Jones and Carter – find out what they got for Christmas.’
It must be hard for Will hearing about his friends’ presents, when his own family didn’t celebrate Christmas. Another problem with not sending him to a Quaker school. Pamela squeezed his shoulder. ‘That’s good. And I expect you’ll want to show them your new cricket whites.’
Will put his hand over hers. ‘Everyone has cricket whites, Mother. But I’m looking forward to going down to the nets to practise.’
Pamela forced a smile. ‘Indeed.’
‘You’ll have to show us your new skills when you’re next home,’ called Hugh over his shoulder.
‘Can’t wait,’ Will replied.
‘Nor me,’ added Pamela. ‘Only four weeks until the next exeat.’
‘I can’t believe you’ve counted!’
Pamela looked at her son’s laughing face, the flushed cheeks, the bright eyes. Of course she counted: the weeks, the days, the hours. She never stopped.
As soon as they returned to Hampstead and Hugh had parked the car, Pamela rushed up the stairs to Will’s room. A fug of stale air met her when she pushed open the door. Already it smelled closed in, desolate, almost as if Will hadn’t slept there for four blissful weeks of the school holidays. Pamela went over to the bed to gather up her son’s old striped flannel pyjamas and fold them carefully. They were too small now. They’d had to buy new ones for school, along with the cricket whites.
Kitty would be wanting to wash them then tear them up to make dusters. But Pamela wouldn’t give them to her just yet.
It was an effort to powder her face, concealing the slide of tears, and go downstairs to check on Kitty. They’d planned the menu together days ago: mock turtle soup, creamed chicken, spinach and new potatoes, and pears à la condé. Pamela had deliberately chosen a plain menu. Something deep inside her still rebelled at extravagant food, and besides, the Pallisers were going through a tough time financially. They’d had to let their cook go: Josephine had to prepare their meals herself now. Pamela felt quite embarrassed that Hugh’s career was on the up while their friends were struggling. She wanted to treat them to a nice meal without making them feel uncomfortable.
Kitty was stirring the soup on the hob. Behind her, on the huge kitchen table, bowls, plates and tureens were laid out with military precision. A half-stripped chicken carcass lay beside them, next to the bowl of pears. Pamela looked round anxiously to check Felix was nowhere in sight.
‘All right, Kitty?’
‘Yes, ma’am. All under control.’
Pamela glanced at the chicken again. ‘Perhaps you could boil the carcass up for broth tomorrow. That’ll be fine for my lunch.’ They’d always done that at home. Mum could make a chicken last three days sometimes. Even with the six of them. Mind you, by the last day you’d be lucky to find a thin strip of it among the watery mass of pearl barley and vegetables.
‘Very well, ma’am.’ Kitty twisted a knob on the stove and the bubble of soup slowed a little.
‘Is there anything I can do?’
Kitty glanced round the immaculate kitchen. ‘Perhaps the place cards . . .’ she murmured.
‘Of course, I’ll write them straight away.’
‘Very good, ma’am.’
Pamela departed to fetch her fountain pen from the drawing room bureau. Above the noise of the soup, she thought she heard a sigh of relief.
Later, as she stood in front of Hugh to fasten his black tie, she found herself marvelling once again how the shy Quaker boy she’d met at the meeting house had turned into this successful, confident man. The more Hugh progressed in the Foreign Office, the more he seemed to shed his frugal upbringing, embracing the fancy lifestyle, the expensive clothes, the rich food with alarming ease. He even seemed to enjoy the concerts and operas they were obliged to go to. And sometimes Pamela felt a little ashamed that she did too.
She smoothed down her blue silk dress in the mirror. The colour was muted, the cut simple. She never wore jewels. But despite that, the figure reflected back at her still looked more like a society hostess than a girl with a modest, puritan upbringing. She firmed her lips as she dabbed Chanel perfume on her throat. Had she and Hugh been so easily changed by money? Her relief work, collecting clothes and food for German children, reminded her almost daily that many were less fortunate than they were. She really hoped that the more influential Hugh became, the more good they could do to help those poor persecuted families.
At dinner, the talk was all financial. Wall Street . . . the gold standard . . . budget reforms. Pamela found it difficult to concentrate. She was too busy checking the soup wasn’t too salty or the potatoes overcooked. Making sure Kitty had refilled her guests’ wine glasses, and that Hugh wasn’t drinking too much. When they had first started to entertain, they had had long discussions about the morality of serving alcohol. It went against all their Quaker teaching, but Hugh felt they shouldn’t impose their own beliefs on their guests, and Pamela had reluctantly agreed. These days Hugh joined them without a qualm.
It was a relief when Kitty brought out the port for the men, and she could lead Josephine into the sitting room for coffee.
Josephine had been quiet during the meal and Pamela wanted to draw her out. She poured the steaming coffee from the jug and handed Josephine a cupful. ‘Things no better?’ she murmured. By now it was second nature to emulate her friends’ educated tones; she’d long since abandoned the accent she’d grown up with. Another compromise on authenticity. But Hugh had persuaded her how important it was for her to fit in.
Josephine shook her head. ‘If Philip doesn’t find more work soon, I reckon we’ll need some of those provisions you’re collecting for foreign children.’ Her mouth twisted.
Pamela set the jug down sharply and some of the coffee spilled onto the table. She dabbed at it with her handkerchief. ‘You know we’ll help in any way we can.’
Josephine sighed. ‘Yes, I know. It just seems strange that you’re doing so much for the Germans when there are English children starving.’
Pamela half turned to pour a cup for herself. ‘Quakers don’t see different nationalities. People are all the same. If there’s a need, we’ll try to meet it.’
‘Very commendable,’ murmured Josephine, sipping her coffee.
Pamela smiled thinly. She knew the Pallisers resented her helping the German children, but she wasn’t going to give up her charity work. Not for anyone.
Thankfully the conversation soon turned to their own children. Josephine and Philip also had a son, James, in the year above Will at Cheam. Luckily he was on a scholarship so they hadn’t had to withdraw him. Sometimes they shared lifts, although they always went separately after the Michaelmas holidays. There was no room for both boys with all the luggage for the new term.
The Pallisers’ girls were still at Sarum Ha
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