Chapter Two: Family Friction

Grace, May, 1940

I was quite ill and spent the next two weeks in hospital. I was lucky to have Doctor  treating me as well as the orthodox medical staff or I may have been much worse.  As soon as the delirium passed I asked after my friend. My stepmother, who was at my bedside, informed me that Mabel was much better, having visited the hospital with her family a few days ago. They had not been allowed to see me. ‘Why not?’ I asked.   

“Because.” Mother replied, icily. “You have been too ill to have any visitors.”  One look at her face told me the subject was closed.  I was too tired to argue, so turned over and went back to sleep, relieved to learn of Mabel’s recovery.  

After being discharged from hospital, at my parents’ insistence, I accompanied them to the Cottage to convalesce. My brother Mack, who was down from Oxford, kept me company. We spent a lot of time together, often listening to the news on the wireless. War seemed to loom even closer. We heard the reports of how Hitler’s armies were jack-booting their way through Norway and Denmark. Meanwhile, our army had experienced heavy casualties in the Sudan. Although there had been no more bombing locally since that one isolated incident, it was obvious the authorities feared the Germans were going to succeed in invading all of Western Europe.  If they reached France, it would mean only a narrow strip of water separating us from the Nazis. Mack could talk of nothing else.  Although I was troubled, war had taken second place in my thoughts. Finally, I could contain myself no longer and asked Mack if he’d heard any news of Mabel. 

“Really, Grace.” He exclaimed. “I don’t know why on earth you’re worried.  You nearly died because of her for God’s sakes. And the embarrassment it caused Mother and Dad, you spending a night un-chaperoned in a servant’s house. The residents could talk of nothing else for days..”

“Well, I’m glad to have given them all something to talk about. You’d have done the same if you’d been there. I couldn’t just walk away. She was so ill.” My younger brother regarded me solemnly over the top of his thick spectacles.  Like me, he was no oil painting, but had a pale, interesting face.   His large brown eyes were expressive and one could often read his thoughts when looking into them, as I did now.  He would never have ventured into a labourer’s cottage.  His wide mouth broke into a grim smile, as he replied.

“You know very well I would do no such thing.  I’ve always lacked gumption, not like you and Bruce.  By the way,” he deftly changed the subject. “He’s due home on leave next week.  Finished his training and will soon be posted.  Fancy. A Spitfire pilot.  And an officer, no less.”

I was not to be deterred. “Of course I know Bruce is coming home.  We’ll all have to put up with his insufferable wife.  I’m determined to get back to my flat before they arrive.  But stop changing the subject. In a way, it was lucky I got bronchitis or there would have been an almighty row.  So I can’t take the risk and ask Mother or Dad about Mabel.  But I know she hasn’t come back to work or she would have popped in to see me. Please tell me what’s going on.”

“Calm down. As far as I know, nothing’s going on.  Mabel’s still not sufficiently recovered to return to work. I know her daughter’s telephoned to ask after you. Mother probably will have given her short shrift.  But that-” A sharp rap on the door interrupted Mack.  It was Saunders, announcing a visitor.  Mack left, returning a few moments later looking flustered. 

“It’s that son, Mabel’s son, he wants to come up and see you. I told him I’d ask you but it really is most unacceptable even if Mother and Dad are out.  The servants might see him. And Tara is lurking about as usual.”

“Ah, but you didn’t dare send him away did you Mack or I may have killed you? Look, bring him up.  Just for a second. Tara will be off messing about with her wretched horses and Saunders can be bribed to silence later.” Being a loyal, easily intimidated younger brother Mack left to do my bidding. Luckily I was fully dressed that day.  I ran my Pearson and Masons’ hairbrush through my loosened hair and sat in the chair beside the bed.  I felt quite weak, heart thumping uncomfortably, my face burning.  Worried I may have a fever, I felt my forehead. It was quite cool.  The door opened.

I looked into his eyes and realised my discomfort had nothing to do with ill health.  I’d forgotten how handsome he was. He looked magnificent in his uniform, like a Greek god. “At last, a chance to see you,” he exclaimed, never breaking eye contact as he advanced to the edge of the bed. It seemed quite natural for me to place my trembling hand in his.  “We’ve been worried sick, especially Mum. I’ve called round twice before but they wouldn’t let me see you.”  He hesitated and lowered his eyes, which looked suspiciously wet.  He paused, then cleared his throat. Snatching his hand away, he began to pace the room.

“The way they’ve behaved you’d have thought we deliberately infected you.   Mom’s lost her job and Joyce blames you.  No one would speak to her when she telephoned, you know.  Bloody hell, you’d think we were animals or something.” He turned towards me, face contorted with rage. But I read the hurt in his eyes.  I just stared. I knew nothing of what had happened. No one had dared tell me my friend had lost her job. I felt overwhelmed with guilt, certain that Mabel and her family had been humiliated as a result of my misguided philanthropy. 

I drew a ragged breath.  “I’m so sorry for the outrageous behaviour of my family.  If I’d had any inkling of their reaction, I’d never have come to your house. I didn’t have pneumonia but a chest infection, so I’m sure I didn’t catch the disease from your mother, who’s been like a mother to me as well, you know. Please tell her,  whatever it takes, I’ll have her re-instated, I swear it.”  I paused, feeling ill from the effort of such a long speech. 

His expression softened.“ I know it’s not your fault. I’m glad you’re better.” His voice was low. “As for getting Mum her job back, she wouldn’t work here again if they begged her. She’s got her pride as well.  But she says to tell you, you’re welcome in our house anytime.”  His eyes searched my face.  “I’d better get off before there’s more trouble, but when you’re up and about I’d like to take you out. To thank you for what you did.  If you’d come.” 

I didn’t hesitate. “I’d love to, thank you.”

“Well goodbye for now, Grace.” So saying, he was gone, leaving me with only the caress of his soft voice.

Fortunately, Saunders kept quiet about my visitor and there were no repercussions.  I was furious about Mabel’s dismissal, but feeling I could trust no one, kept my own counsel. Certain Mother was the instigator, I was dismayed Dad had gone along with her. He’d never been a snob or so I’d always believed until now.  The household was busy preparing for Bruce’s homecoming and my solemn silence went unnoticed.  Determined to move back to my flat as soon as possible, it wasn’t long before I was out of bed and taking a daily stroll with Mack.

One afternoon we ventured into the grounds of the mansion.  The sunken gardens had burst into a splendour of exotic growth, the bamboo soaring towards the sun.  I looked up at the House, there at the top of the hill, its red brick pillars rising majestically from the earth, its faceless windows staring back at me, turrets and parapets raking the sky.  What was going on inside those walls that I had called home for so many years?  A flurry of activity was taking place in the courtyard; we could hear the drone of engines, slamming of doors and the muffled voices of the service-men. We remained, listening for a few moments. A wave of fear swept through me. The war seemed to have drawn closer. Only that morning, we’d heard on the news that Holland was likely to be the next country to fall to the German onslaught.

My fears were confirmed when the Air Marshall visited Dad the next morning.  They had been ensconced in the study for a good two hours, when Dowding left abruptly, having received an urgent telephone call.  At dinner that evening Dad pledged us all to secrecy, before confiding. “Hugh’s convinced the fall of France is imminent, that our only defence against invasion lies with the RAF.  He’s spent four years trying to persuade the government to give more resources to Fighter Command.  Poor Hugh, he feels as if he’s been banging his head against a brick wall. He’s always at odds with Churchill. We should prepare ourselves for the worst.  Doctor warned us things are about to escalate.”

“Good God Dad, of course things are getting worse.  You should see all the activity over at the House.  It’s right here under our own noses.  I want to join up now. I don’t want to go back and cool my heels at Oxford when all this is going on.”

“Mack, what’s got into you?  You sound like your sister.”  Mother glared in my general direction.

“Your mother’s right Mack, it’s quite enough having two members of the family in the Forces. Besides you probably wouldn’t be accepted with your poor vision, you know that. Just be patient.  Finish your degree. It may be your last chance.” Dad turned to me.“ As for you dear. How are you feeling?”

This was the opening I’d been waiting for.  “I’m quite well now, thank you Dad.  I’m planning to return to my flat tomorrow and to the farm in a few days.”

“ Oh good.” Mother sounded relieved.  “We need the room for Bruce and Madeline.  But you must come here for your meals, of course.”

The next morning Saunders delivered me to my flat with enough supplies to last for weeks. Relishing my independence, I spent a quiet day pottering about. That evening, to celebrate Bruce’s arrival, a family dinner had been planned.  I soaked in a luxurious bath, before preparing myself for the reunion. I took great pains over my appearance. I was delighted to discover I could now squeeze into my blue taffeta dress without difficulty.  I scrutinised my reflection in the mirror. I was no great beauty like my gorgeous sister-in-law, but for once, I  was pleased with my efforts.  I’d lost a lot of weight from my face. When I sucked in my cheeks and squinted, I could almost delude myself I had Marlene Deitrich cheekbones.

I was strolling across the village green when I saw a familiar figure making his way towards me. As he approached, silhouetted against the evening skyline, I recognised his broad shoulders and the set of his head, tilted slightly to one side.  It was Stan.

“Hello.” He fell into step next to me. “Heard you were home.  I was just on my way to the Angel and thought I’d call in and see if you fancied a pint.  But it looks like you’re on your way out so-”

Worried a refusal would cast me in a similar light to the rest of my family, I replied at once. “Yes, my brother’s home on leave and we’re having a reunion. But I’ve got time for a quick drink.”  I couldn’t believe what I was saying.  I abhorred public houses. Girls of my class didn’t frequent such establishments.  I’d only ever been in one once, years ago.  Pubs were still very much the preserve of men. But remembering Mack saying I had gumption,  I smiled to myself as I followed Stan to the entrance.  ‘Let’s hope none of the residents see us.’

As the doors swung open I was hit by a wave of sound; the hum of voices, the chink of glasses and the pounding of a piano accompanied by a chorus of song. The old favourite ‘Danny Boy’ reverberated around the packed, smoky room.  I noticed many people in uniform as Stan led us past a sea of faces to a smaller room, mystifyingly labelled ‘Snug.’ Here we found a table and sat down.  I asked for a glass of sherry and while he went to fetch it,  tapped my foot in time to the music. On the farm I’d learned many of the hop-pickers’ songs.  I especially liked dancing and had once fancied myself a budding performer. When my stepmother had compared me to a light footed baby elephant, after she’d come to see me dance in a school concert, I’d abandoned such ambitions. Lost in memories of resentment, I didn’t look up when the door swung open and a man entered the room, taking a seat in the opposite corner.  Stan returned shortly afterwards and we sat in silence, having little choice but to listen to the music.  He sang along softly, having a rich baritone voice.

I’d almost finished my drink when the music stopped.  “How’s your Mother?” I had to shout to make myself heard. 

“Not too bad,” he replied. “Thanks to your family, she’s had a good rest.”  He smiled as he said this, which took the sting out of his words. “And you? Are you all right now? I didn’t get you into trouble the other day, did I?”  

“Oh no, of course not, I am twenty-five years old, after all.”  I threw back my head and laughed to emphasise my lack of concern.  But Stan did not return my smile,  an expression of annoyance crossing his features as he looked beyond me. Suddenly, a strong arm encircled my shoulders from behind.

“Grace,” a voice boomed. “Gracie Wacie, what on earth are you doing in here?”  I was lifted from my chair and found my face buried in the scratchy material of a military uniform.  I returned the hug, delighted to see my older brother Bruce. 

“Let go of me you fool.” I laughed and struggled from his grasp.  By now, Stan’s face looked like thunder.  Bruce obliged and sat down at our table.

“Never thought I’d ever see you in a pub, Grace.  Now who’s this?” He winked in Stan’s direction, then leaned over, arm outstretched for a handshake.  “Bruce Simmonds. RAF….home on leave…then off to give the Jerries a bloody nose. What about you, old man? Army?  Navy?  Not RAF are you?”

Stan returned Bruce’s smile.  Such a likeable fellow, he was impossible to resist.   He also never stopped talking, and before Stan could reply, continued. “Just thought I’d escape from the old home fires for a bit, sample the local beverages. Bloody good beer in here, eh Stan?  Don’t get much chance to drink when you’re on duty.  Only just finished my training, as a matter of fact. Getting posted next week to God knows where.”

Bruce carried on, never waiting for a response.  I ‘d never seen him quite this verbose as he prattled on about his role in the war.  I was conscious of Stan’s position; he being a mere member of the Home Guard. After ten minutes of Bruce, he’d obviously had enough and rose from his seat.  I felt quite relieved he was leaving. “Fancy a pint, mate?” 

Bruce agreed, thanking him profusely. Stan turned to me. “Grace?”  His use of my name sounded frightfully intimate. What was my brother to think?  What would he say to my parents?  I decided to stay, so that, on our way back to the Cottage, I could blackmail Bruce into keeping quiet about meeting me here with Stan.

“Nice chap. Handsome brute. But bit of a rough diamond. Where did you meet him?  You’re a dark horse Grace and no mistake.  Madeline’s back at the Cottage. She wouldn’t set foot in a place like this for all the tea in China. You’ve always been a spunky filly, I’ll give you that.” I regarded my brother fondly.  He was devilishly handsome, blonde hair brilliantined in the latest fashion, stocky build set off to perfection by his officer’s uniform, which picked up the blue of his eyes.

“Yes well that may be so, but we wouldn’t want Mother to know I’ve been in here, so keep quiet, won’t you Bruce?” My voice sounded strained.  My brother’s smile wavered.

“You’re not having a bit of slap and tickle are you?  This fella’s not married?”

“Shut up, Bruce, he’ll be back any minute.   No, I am not indulging in any slap and tickle, no he’s not married he’s just a friend.  I did him a favour and he bought me a drink as a thank you.” I whispered, frantic Stan would overhear.

“Ha. Ha. Ha.” Bruce brayed. “Some favour! Say no more sis.” 

“Sssh.”  I hissed. “Here he is,” as Stan returned.  We stayed in the pub for another half hour, Bruce telling stories about the RAF while Stan, appearing quite relaxed, laughed at my brother’s anecdotes. I began to feel restive.  I wasn’t looking forward to arriving late for dinner with an inebriated Bruce. Mother would be furious. Eventually, I stood up and announced it was time for us to go.

“Yesh,” lisped Bruce, by now almost incoherent.  “I shuppose we should, the meal ish in my honour after all. Coming Stan?”

I couldn’t disguise my alarm as I looked across the table at Stan. Flushed with embarrassment, he laughingly replied,” Oh no, thank you Bruce.  I’m not invited.”

“Ish my party and I just invited you.” Bruce insisted. Stan and I exchanged a look of complicity. 

“I’ll get him out,” I mouthed.  “Thanks for the drink.” He smiled and waved me away. I pulled my lurching brother along beside me and when he began to protest gave his hand a hard squeeze. 

“Oh no! Not the ol’ mangle hands again.” Bruce cried as we made our slow way to the Cottage.

Mother was waiting for us just inside the doorway. “My goodness, Grace, where have you two been? The meal is nearly ruined.”

“I just bumped into Bruce-.”

“In the pub,” Bruce interjected. “With her fancy man, Stan.” We had by this time reached the sitting room where Tara, Mack, Dad and Madeline awaited us

All of them stared at me in surprise.

“Nonsense Bruce, you’re drunk!” I disputed.” You must have been hallucinating or something.  When is dinner ready Mother?  I, for one, am starving.” 

“Not so fast Grace, darling.” My simpering sister-in-law drooled.  “What was this you were telling us, Bruce?  Hallucinating were you?”

Bruce realised he’d put his foot in it and pretended he couldn’t remember what he’d said.  But Madeline was persistent. My family had never approved of her and she grasped at any opportunity to exact revenge on the Simmonds clan. “No, you must remember darling, something about Grace and - What was his name?”

“Stan,” shrieked Tara, jumping up and down. “And I know who he is because he telephoned to tell us his mother was ill and couldn’t come to work.”

“What?” Releasing my hold on Bruce, I advanced towards her.  “How long ago was this? Did you tell Mother and Dad about this telephone call?”

“No!” she replied, indignantly. “Actually, I forgot.  What does it matter?  After all, Mabel was only the char anyway.” Pandemonium ensued.  I grabbed Tara and began to shake her, Bruce collapsed in a heap on the floor, Madeline broke into peals of laughter and Saunders entered the room to announce dinner was served.  

“Silence, silence everyone.” My father didn’t have to raise his voice for us all to obey immediately.  “I will not have this undignified behaviour, especially in front of the servants.  Let us go in for dinner.”

But Mother was no longer prepared to ignore the subject of Mabel’s son.  As soon as Saunders had finished serving the first course, having wheeled in the trolley laden with heated dishes, she announced. “That will be all Saunders.  You may leave us to serve our own main course.  I’ll ring when we need you.” Once he had left the room she turned to Bruce, who had apparently sobered up enough to sit upright.   “Now Bruce, please tell us where you met your sister tonight.  And tell us the truth.” 

So he did.  I sat, humiliated, but certainly not cowed, staring into my plate.  “Is this true, Grace?” my stepmother’s cold eyes bored into me. 

“Yes, it is Mother.” I returned her gaze.  “I bumped into Stan on my way here and he invited me for a drink as a thank you for nursing his mother when she was ill.  I considered it impolite to refuse.”

No one said a word.  Even the clatter of knives and forks ceased around the table, as we all awaited Mother’s response.  However, it was Dad who finally spoke.

“Although it is commendable that you wished to behave in a civil manner, you owe nothing to Mabel or her son.  Your headstrong behaviour has already resulted in a great deal of worry and embarrassment for us.  You know it’s not the done thing for a young lady to be seen in a public house with a charlady’s son. I forbid you to continue this unsuitable association.” 

For a moment, I was lost for words.  Never in my life had my father spoken to me in such a manner.  I bit my lip and dug my fingernails into my palms, unprepared to engage in a family row at Bruce’s homecoming dinner.  But when Tara chipped in,

it was all too much. “Well, he’s a very handsome char’s son, I know because I saw

him when he sneaked in to visit Grace the other week. Entertaining him in her bedroom, she was. Well, beggars can’t be choosers, can they Gwacie, Wacie?”

Against a background of startled gasps and Madeline’s nauseating cackles, I rose to my feet and rounded on them all, my glare finally resting on poor Bruce.  “I will not stay a moment longer to be subjected to the mockery of this household.  I am twenty-five years old and will choose my own friends, as others in this room have done.” I glanced towards Madeline, before addressing my father.  “I’m sorry Dad, if my helping those less fortunate has brought you and Mother embarrassment.  Might I remind you that your first healing clinics were held, at no charge, for the poor in the East End?  Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

Legs trembling, I made my exit from the room and out of the house, choking back tears of rage.  It was pitch dark and I stumbled across the village green to my flat, praying I wouldn’t bump into Stan. If he saw me in this state he’d realise there’d been more trouble concerning himself and his mother.  I certainly didn’t want him to get the idea my family thought there was something more than friendship between us.  It was unthinkable.  A man like that would never be attracted to a plain Jane like me. “More’s the pity!” I muttered under my breath.  “That would really give them all a bloody nose!”

Up bright and early the next morning I decided to visit the farm to arrange my return to work before calling on Mabel. The lovely spring weather did little to soothe my spirits. I was still angry with my family. Before anything else, I wanted to explain to Mabel about Tara’s failure to pass on the telephone message, to reassure her I still didn’t hold with the family’s snobbery.  Before leaving, I ate my breakfast while listening to the wireless.  The news was grim. It looked as if Holland was going to fall at any moment.  Eager to become involved again in the war effort, I cycled over to the farm at top speed.

There was a good deal of activity taking place in the hop fields and all hands were needed.  I agreed to return in two days’ time.  ‘I’ll have to make sure I see Bruce again during the rest of my leave, he’s only got three more days before his posting,’ I reminded myself, propping my cycle in its usual spot and walking over to Mabel’s house, to find my friend scrubbing the front doorstep.   She was delighted to see me and we embraced in full view of the neighbours before she led me into the house.  The little sitting room still appeared shabby, but I noticed the difference Mabel’s attention had made.  Everything was spotlessly clean, albeit no less threadbare.  She tried to persuade me to sit on the sofa while she made the tea but I wouldn’t have her waiting on me.  After a short dispute, I got my way and followed her into the kitchen.

The cleanliness of the room only served to emphasise the decrepit nature of its furnishings.  Putting down my gasmask, I unpacked my bag. There was butter, cheese, eggs and some of Mrs Binns’ delicious buns, as well as tinned Spam.  I hushed Mabel’s protests and we finally sat opposite each other sipping scalding tea and eating cake.  I studied my friend.  She was a good deal thinner, but her face was less drawn and she had some colour in her cheeks.  The respite from work had apparently done her health some good.

While I studied Mabel, she was scrutinising me.  “You still look pale, Grace,” she exclaimed. “But the weight loss suits you, love.  Now we’ve got the chance of a good old natter.  Tell me what’s been going on.  I’ve missed all the gossip.”

This was precisely what I was dying to do and with no intention of sparing my family, spent the next half an hour bringing my friend up to date.  “So you see,” I finished,  “If my spoilt little sister had given Mother the message, none of this would have happened. It’s all her fault.”

Mabel sat quietly for some time and I began to wonder if I’d made a mistake in being so frank.  Finally, she spoke. “We are all made different, Grace. I think you should try to look at things a bit more from your family’s point of view.  You know how tongues wag on the Estate, especially Madame Pheobe’s.  All this business will have caused your parents a lot of bother.  They have to keep up appearances.” Her warm gaze met mine.  “You’ve been kindness itself and I’ll never forget it.  But you shouldn’t be mixing with the likes of us.  Think of all that money your dad’s spent on your education. He wants great things for you.  I know. I've heard him talking, telling people how clever you are.  He’s proud of you Grace.”

“He hasn’t spent as much on my education as he has on Tara’s, which is why I never got to finish anything properly.  If he thought I was that clever, he’d have let me go to Oxford, as I wanted.”  I paused for a moment, still smarting from my friend’s response. “So you’re going to turn against me now as well, are you?” My voice rose indignantly. “Are you denying me your friendship?”

“Grace, Grace, calm down love.”  Mabel stretched her gnarled hand across the table and patted mine.  “ I treasure your friendship. You saved my life.  You’ve almost been like my own over the years. I’ve known you since you were a little girl, don’t forget.  It was meeting you decided me to take the job in the House.  But it’s not worth falling out with your family.  They love you, yes even your stepmother. I’ve watched her over the years. She just finds it hard to show her feelings.  Now, I want you to promise me that you’ll make it up with them.  I’ve got another job.  I start next week in the munitions’ factory with Joyce.  The money’s ever so good and they collect you and bring you home as well.  I’ve got your family to thank for that. Besides, I’m sick of charring and that’s God’s own truth.”

“So what exactly are you suggesting I should do, Mabel?  Go crawling over to the Cottage with my tail between my legs and apologise?  Because, I will not do it.  I’m not ashamed of my friendship with you.” I was still outraged.

“Ah, but it’s not really me they’re bothered about is it, my dear? I’m no threat. It’s my Stan that’s got them all hot under the collar and if you think about it, they’re right.  You should never have let him in your bedroom and a pub is no place for a lady like you.  I’m gonna give him a right telling off. Make no mistake.”

“But Mabel.” I beseeched.  “Please. He was only being friendly, thanking me for looking after you.  Maybe I should have behaved with more decorum but….”

“But you didn’t want to offend him, is that your excuse?  That’s all there is to it?  Go tell that to the marines. You don’t fool me.  My son’s one fine handsome man as you must have noticed.  And as for you, why Stan’s never met anyone like you, all educated and intelligent. You come from a world he’s always envied, represent things he’s never had.  Never will have, neither.  It ain’t fair of you to see him. You’ll get his hopes up and all for nothing.” I made to interrupt, but she raised her hand and said sharply. “Now just shut it and listen.  I know both of you and I can see what’s going on even if neither of you can. So can your parents. You two are sweet on one another. No good can come of it.  You come from different worlds. If it goes any further, someone’ll end up getting hurt.”

“ I would never hurt your son.” I vowed, hastily adding. “Anyway, you’re wrong. He already has a lady friend.  What about Doris, or whatever her name is?”

“There, you see, you are sweet on him. Oh my Gawd, things have gone further than I thought.  It’s not just him getting hurt I’m worried about…it’s you as well, you bloody fool. Stan’s had a hard life, what with his dad dying when he was a nipper and us living with his granddad and his son Ted.  Those two treated Stan shameful when he was young.  Sent to the pub every day to fetch their beer. Beaten if he spilled as much as one drop.  And him only five years old. They gave him beer too and it’s left its mark.”

She stopped, took a drink of tea. Her hand shook. She continued. “He likes his drink and he’s got a wicked temper on him, make no mistake. Although it breaks my teeth to admit it, he’s carrying a bloody great chip on his shoulder.  I told you before, he won a scholarship to grammar school, he’s got a good brain in his head, and I couldn’t send him.  Couldn’t afford the uniform. He was beginning to get over it, settle to his work, when a terrible beating from his uncle left him with the bad leg, and now that’s kept him out of the forces. He can’t take many more knocks. Oh Grace, it isn’t fair, you’re leading him on, don’t you see?”

“ Mabel, we’ve only met twice on our own for hardly any time. Absolutely nothing is going on -”

“ Maybe not yet, but if you carry on the way you’re going, it will.  Make no mistake, my girl. I don’t have to be psychic like your father to see it.  It’s written all over your face. You’re as red as a pillarbox.  Please, promise me, keep out of his way love.  For my sake, if not your own.”  Mabel’s face had turned pink from the intimacy of the discussion.  I’d never heard her say a word against her son before and for this reason, realised the extent of her concern.  Although I doubted that I could keep my promise, having little inclination to do so, I agreed.  As I cycled back to my flat, full of good intentions, my heart was singing.  If Mabel thought her son was interested in me, he must be.  Of course, nothing would come of it, but it was very flattering all the same.  And now, thanks to her generosity, I felt able to make peace with my family.  I have always appreciated the other person’s point of view and she had persuaded me that I’d been in the wrong as well.   Looking back, I wonder what would have happened if I’d paid more attention to my friend’s wise words. A great believer in fate, I’m certain that things wouldn’t have turned out any differently. Already I had chosen my destiny. chapter