A Home From Home

Some­thing sus­pi­cious was go­ing on, and the po­lice had to be told!

The People's Friend - - Contents - by Rosie Hendry

The Story So Far PHYLLY GREEN­WOOD is a land girl at Catch­ett’s Farm in Nor­folk dur­ing WWII, with her friend GRA­CIE.

The farm be­longs to JA­COB and FLORRIE BRAY, who live with their wid­owed daugh­ter BEA and their son NED as well as the land girls.

An evac­uee, ten-yearold JIMMY HOP­WOOD, has ar­rived from Lon­don, where he lives with his aunt MIN. Two Ital­ian POWS work on the farm, too – BENE­DICT and ROBERTO.

Gra­cie re­ceives a tele­gram telling her that her hus­band RICHARD, a nav­i­ga­tor in the Air Force, is now a POW, too, af­ter ini­tially be­ing re­ported miss­ing.

Amer­i­can ser­vice­man ED­WIN is the son of Bea’s best friend AN­NIE, who mar­ried and moved to Canada years be­fore. Ed­win and Phylly ad­mit they have feel­ings for each other, but agree to wait un­til the war is over be­fore de­cid­ing their fu­ture.

Jimmy has no­ticed that the guard who brings the POWS to the farm ev­ery day is a nasty piece of work, and vows to pro­tect the Ital­ians, whom he con­sid­ers his friends . . .

JIMMY watched as the Army truck drove into the farm­yard and swung round in a wide arc be­fore com­ing to a halt. From his look-out post un­der the eaves and tucked out of sight be­hind his bed­room cur­tains, Jimmy could see ev­ery­thing that went on. If some­thing hap­pened to the POWS he’d wit­ness it for him­self.

The passenger door of the cab flew open and the mean guard jumped out and hur­ried round to the back of the truck, bang­ing hard on the side as he went.

“Let’s be havin’ you!” he bel­lowed.

From his lofty viewpoint, Jimmy could see Bene­dict and Roberto stand­ing at the end of the truck, wait­ing for the guard to drop the tail-gate to let them out.

They weren’t go­ing to give the mean guard the slight­est rea­son to hurt them again af­ter he’d yanked Roberto out of the truck two weeks ago, badly hurt­ing the young POW’S an­kle when he hadn’t been quick enough out of the truck to suit him.

Jimmy had been watch­ing the Ital­ians ar­rive and leave ev­ery day since, just in case any­thing else hap­pened. It hadn’t. Not yet.

The guard dropped the tail-gate and the mo­ment the POWS’ boots hit the ground, he raised it again,

se­cured it in place, then ran back and climbed in the cab, slam­ming the door with a loud thud as the driver put the lorry into gear and drove away too fast, leav­ing be­hind a cloud of ex­haust fumes.

They were in a hurry again, Jimmy thought. Where were they go­ing?

Bene­dict and Roberto were the last POWS to be dropped off, so it wasn’t be­cause they needed to get to an­other farm.

Per­haps he shouldn’t worry about it. Bene­dict and Roberto were un­harmed, and that was the im­por­tant thing.

Now they’d ar­rived at Catch­ett’s, Jimmy could rest easy. They’d be safe un­til it was time for them to be col­lected later.

In the mean­time, the rest of Jimmy’s day was sadly ac­counted for – at school. That had started last week and was the part of his life he didn’t like, but which he had to tol­er­ate.

His new vil­lage school was dif­fer­ent from his Lon­don school, as it only had two classes, but there were still spellings to learn and long di­vi­sion sums to do.

“Jimmy?” Bea called up the stairs. “You need to get go­ing or you’ll be late for school.”

Jimmy sighed. “Com­ing.”

Reach­ing up on tip­toe, Jimmy plucked the large, ripe black­berry dan­gling tempt­ingly at the cen­tre of a clus­ter, most of which were still red and hadn’t yet ripened.

Pop­ping it into his mouth, he chewed slowly, re­leas­ing the mel­low, fruity taste he’d come to love.

He’d never tried black­ber­ries be­fore he’d come to live at Catch­ett’s Farm, but since Bea had in­tro­duced him to them on one of her black­ber­ry­ing ex­pe­di­tions, he’d made up for it by eat­ing them when­ever he could. This morn­ing they were a dis­trac­tion as he daw­dled on his way to school.

As he reached for an­other, be­ing care­ful not to dis­turb a spi­der sit­ting in the mid­dle of its in­tri­cate web, Jimmy heard a ve­hi­cle com­ing to­wards him along the nar­row lane.

There wasn’t much room to pass, so he slipped into a nearby gate­way to wait un­til it had gone by.

He nearly choked on the black­berry when the ve­hi­cle rounded the cor­ner and he saw who it was – the same Army truck that had come to the farm ear­lier, with the mean guard and driver on board.

They flashed by too quickly for them to have seen him, and Jimmy felt re­lieved. He didn’t want to meet them away from the safety of the farm.

But where had they been, he won­dered. They hadn’t come from the POW camp on the other side of the near­est town, and they hadn’t been de­liv­er­ing any other POWS, as Bene­dict and Roberto were the last to be dropped off.

Step­ping back on to the road, Jimmy no­ticed the truck had left faint tyre prints on the grey sur­face.

He crouched to ex­am­ine them, prod­ding them to find they were slightly wet. Strange, be­cause it hadn’t been rain­ing and there were no pud­dles on the road.

He stood up and, like a hound on the scent, started to fol­low the prints back in the di­rec­tion the truck had come from.

They led him back down the road a short way un­til they swung sharply to the left, off the road and straight into a large pud­dle span­ning a dirt track.

Skirting around the edge of the pud­dle, tak­ing care to avoid some tall net­tles, Jimmy saw tell-tale splash marks on the dry soil on the other side and tyre marks lead­ing down the track and away from the road.

He stared down the track try­ing to puzzle out why they’d gone down there – it led to a wood. An un­easy feel­ing prick­led along Jimmy’s neck. There was some­thing odd go­ing on and he had to find out.

He started to run along the track, then stopped when his con­science prod­ded him. What was he go­ing to do about school?

By now the teacher had prob­a­bly come out and lined ev­ery­one up to go in.

Even if he went straight there he’d be late. And he des­per­ately wanted to see if he could find out why the guards had gone up the track.

Jimmy wa­vered for a few se­conds then ran, but not in the di­rec­tion of the school. He’d face any pun­ish­ment later, but in­ves­ti­gat­ing this was more im­por­tant than prac­tis­ing long di­vi­sion sums.

Reach­ing the end of the track be­side the wood, Jimmy saw tyre marks and crushed veg­e­ta­tion where the truck had turned.

Crouch­ing low, he scouted around for clues and found foot­prints in dry soil – large ones with the heavy tread pat­tern of Army boots.

Feel­ing like a de­tec­tive, Jimmy fol­lowed the prints into the wood, some­times los­ing the trail and hav­ing to search around un­til he picked it up again.

It led him to an old game­keeper’s hut tucked away out of sight of the track.

What was go­ing on? With his heart ham­mer­ing hard, Jimmy tried the door but it was locked. He couldn’t look in­side as there were no win­dows.

Skirting around the out­side, he searched for a hole or crack to spy through, but with no luck. He was stumped.

Jimmy kicked hard at a piece of fallen wood, send­ing it bounc­ing away un­til it dis­ap­peared in the jun­gle of bracken. He was sure those guards were up to some­thing. Why else would they come here? He needed help.

Should he go to the vil­lage con­sta­ble? No, there was only one per­son he could ask for help. Phylly. She’d know what to do.

“I can’t get the hang of it,” Gra­cie said as she plucked an­other plum and added it to her bas­ket. “The heels al­ways end up with more stitches than I started with.”

“It’s the first sock you’ve ever knit­ted, Gra­cie, so don’t be hard on your­self.”

Phylly’s voice came from be­hind a mo­saic of green leaves and ripe plums on the other side of the tree, where she, like Gra­cie, was up a lad­der har­vest­ing the fruit be­fore they lost too many to hun­gry wasps.

“But I want Richard’s socks to be per­fect,” Gra­cie said. “Bea’s been so pa­tient teach­ing me how to knit, I feel aw­ful hav­ing to ask her to keep show­ing me. I can do the straight bits, but the heel . . .”

“Per­haps Bea should do the heels for you this time?”

“Maybe, but I’d have to tell Richard I didn’t quite knit all of the socks.” Phylly laughed. “Gra­cie, he’ll be amazed that you’ve knit­ted any­thing at all!”

“I know, but needs must. I read in the mag­a­zine that the Red Cross sent me about how im­por­tant it is to sup­port your POW hus­band. I need to en­cour­age him and be up­lift­ing.”

Phylly smiled. “Richard will be up­lifted at the thought of you knit­ting,” she replied. “I’d love to see his face when he opens the par­cel and sees them.”

“Very funny.” Gra­cie parted the branches and threw a plum at Phylly, hit­ting her on the shoul­der. “That’s for your cheek.”

“Hey!” Phylly laughed and quickly re­sponded with her own mis­sile. “Se­ri­ously, Gra­cie, it’ll mean a lot to him.”

“I hope so. He’s go­ing to need socks for the win­ter, Aus­tria’s colder than here.”

Since news of where Richard was im­pris­oned had come through, Gra­cie had been putting to­gether a par­cel to send to him through the Red Cross.

She’d care­fully stud­ied the list of al­lowed items and had spent hours

work­ing out what to send him, what would be most use to him and how much she could fit in within the weight limit.

She knew how much parcels and let­ters meant to POWS. Bene­dict and Roberto of­ten talked to her about the let­ters they’d had from their fam­i­lies.

Gra­cie sighed. Parcels were all very well, but what she re­ally wanted was to see Richard.

She was truly grate­ful that he was alive, be­cause she hadn’t for­got­ten those aw­ful weeks when she’d be­lieved he was dead.

So un­til they could be to­gether again she must be con­tent with reach­ing out to Richard through parcels and let­ters.

Gra­cie put her hand against her dun­ga­rees pocket where she kept his lat­est let­ter. Keep­ing it close made her feel as if part of him was with her.

Gra­cie reached for an­other plum.

“I think you’re right about Bea do­ing the heels, Phylly. It’s more im­por­tant to get the par­cel sent off than for me to master knit­ting heels –”

“Phylly!” a breath­less voice called from be­low.

Gra­cie looked down and saw an anx­ious-look­ing Jimmy peer­ing up at her.

“Jimmy! Shouldn’t you be at school?” Gra­cie quickly clam­bered down the lad­der, tak­ing care not to tip over her bas­ket of plums. “Are you all right?” Phylly joined her. “What’s go­ing on, Jimmy? Are you hurt?”

He shook his head. “I’m all right, but I need help.”

When she’d joined the Land Army, Phylly never imag­ined she’d be do­ing any­thing like this.

She was run­ning cross coun­try, with a ham­mer and pli­ers, ready to do a bit of break­ing and en­ter­ing.

She was sure it wasn’t some­thing the Land Army or­gan­is­ers would ap­prove of, but she couldn’t ig­nore what Jimmy had seen.

Her in­stinct told her that some­thing odd was go­ing on. She’d seen enough of the mean guard to know he was a bad sort and likely to be up to no good, but what sort of no good she had no idea.

Gra­cie had wanted to come, too, but Phylly had per­suaded her to carry on work­ing at the farm, be­cause this might turn out to be a wild goose chase.

“What will we do if we find some­thing?” Jimmy asked, run­ning be­side her. “It de­pends what we find.” “What if it’s some­thing bad?”

Phylly grabbed Jimmy’s arm, bring­ing him to a halt be­side her.

“We don’t know what we’re get­ting into, but if it’s some­thing bad, then we must go to the po­lice. We can’t deal with it our­selves. You need to un­der­stand that. Right, Jimmy?” He nod­ded.

“That mean guard isn’t the sort to mess around with.” Phylly bit her bot­tom lip. “Let’s hope he doesn’t come back while we’re there.”

Jimmy’s face turned pale. “You don’t think he will, do you?”

Phylly shrugged.

“I don’t know. We need to be care­ful and not take risks.”

Jimmy nod­ded. “We’ll be able to see from quite a dis­tance if they’ve come back in the truck.”

“Good.” Phylly smiled at Jimmy. “Come on, let’s in­ves­ti­gate.”

Phylly’s in­sides felt like they were squirm­ing around in­side her as they ap­proached the old game­keeper’s shed.

She wasn’t used to do­ing this sort of thing and part of her was fright­ened of what they might find.

Her main worry was that the guards would be there, so she’d been re­lieved to see no sign of the truck, and once they’d en­tered the wood, ev­ery­where was quiet ex­cept for the rustlings of small an­i­mals and the sound of birds in the trees over­head.

“Are you go­ing to break open the door?” Jimmy whis­pered.

“We can’t do that as they’d know some­one had been here. We’ll look for loose boards to prise open far enough to peep in­side. You look on that side and I’ll look on this.”

Phylly wanted to get this over quickly.

Feel­ing around the boards with her fin­gers, they all seemed tight and se­cure. What they’d do if they couldn’t find one, Phylly wasn’t sure. She’d al­most searched all her side with no luck, when Jimmy called out.

“Found one!” “Shhh!” Phylly rushed round to find Jimmy with his fin­gers wedged in be­tween two boards, which he was wob­bling to loosen even more. “Keep the noise down.”

“Sorry,” Jimmy whis­pered. “Look, this board’s loose. If you move it down fur­ther we can look in.”

Phylly put the claw end of the ham­mer be­tween the boards.

“A bit more,” Jimmy said. Phylly pressed harder and there was a sharp crack as the two boards prised apart.

“Quick, look in­side,” Phylly said.

Jimmy bent down and peered in­side.

“I can’t see much. There’s a green thing block­ing the way.”

“Let me see. Hold the ham­mer for me.”

Jimmy took over hold­ing the ham­mer while Phylly peered in.

“It looks like a metal con­tainer.” She grabbed a nearby stick and poked it through the hole, tap­ping it against the con­tainer, where it made a tell-tale sound. “It’s def­i­nitely metal, and full of some­thing by the sound of it.”

Phylly paused, her mind rush­ing ahead as an idea of what might be in­side the metal con­tainer formed in her mind.

“Pull the board down a bit more for me, Jimmy.”

With the board pulled down as far as it would go, Phylly could see four metal con­tain­ers lined up against the side of the shed, and there could be oth­ers fur­ther in. She knew ex­actly where she’d seen some like them be­fore.

“Put the board back, Jimmy. We need to go to the po­lice.”

“Why? What’s in there?” “I think they’re cans full of petrol.”

“Why would the guards have them in here?”

“Petrol’s ra­tioned, so they could be sell­ing it on the black mar­ket,” Phylly said. “If it is what they’re do­ing, then where did the petrol come from?”

“Do you think they stole it?”

Phylly shrugged. “Pos­si­bly.” She put her arm around Jimmy’s shoul­ders. “We can’t deal with this, Jimmy. It’s too se­ri­ous.”

“So you’re telling me there are cans of petrol in an old game­keeper’s hut?” the vil­lage con­sta­ble asked, look­ing at Phylly and Jimmy. “This isn’t an­other spy story, is it?”

“Of course not,” Phylly said. “They sound like they’re full, too, and don’t you think it’s rather sus­pi­cious that they’re in a hut in the mid­dle of a wood, and vis­ited by guards who wouldn’t nor­mally be there?”

“In­deed, but I need to have a look my­self be­fore I take this any fur­ther, be­cause if it is what you think it is, then I’m go­ing to need help.”

“We can help you,” Jimmy said.

“The best thing you can do is show me what you’ve found. If you’re right, it’s go­ing to be too dan­ger­ous for you to be in­volved. It’ll be a job for the po­lice and the Home Guard.”

“You mean Ned and Ja­cob?” Jimmy asked.

“Yes,” the con­sta­ble said, putting on his hel­met. “Lead the way.”

“Phylly! Jimmy! Thank good­ness you’re back. I’ve been so wor­ried.” Gra­cie clam­bered down the lad­der. “Are you all right? What hap­pened?”

She stopped at the sight of the con­sta­ble be­hind them, who was puff­ing af­ter their cross-coun­try march back to the farm.

“No time to ex­plain

now,” the con­sta­ble said. “I need to speak to Ned and Ja­cob.”

“Oh, they’ll be back at the house for their din­ner,” Gra­cie replied. “I should be there, but I couldn’t go un­til Phylly came back.”

“She’s here now, so lead the way,” the con­sta­ble said.

When they all walked into the kitchen a few min­utes later, the sight of Jimmy made Bea drop the spoon she was us­ing to serve up the stew.

“Jimmy!” She rushed over to him, her eyes check­ing him over to see if he was hurt. “Why aren’t you at school?”

“Jimmy’s been a clever lad and might have found some wrong­do­ings,” the con­sta­ble ex­plained. “Ned, Ja­cob, I need the Home Guard’s help. If we can talk in pri­vate . . .”

Ned stood up. “We’ll go in the front par­lour.”

“What’s it about?” Florrie said.

“No time to ex­plain now, Mrs Bray, we need to mo­bilise the pla­toon. There will be plenty of time to ex­plain later.”

Jimmy stabbed his spoon into his por­ridge the next morn­ing, try­ing to sum­mon up an ap­petite but fail­ing mis­er­ably.

Ned and Ja­cob had been out all night and hadn’t come home yet and he was wor­ried about them.

“I’ll have to get word to my sis­ter to tell her I can’t come to­day af­ter all,” Florrie said to Bea as they both sat at the end of the kitchen ta­ble nurs­ing cups of tea in their hands.

“She’ll be dis­ap­pointed,” Bea said.

“I know, but I can’t go off gal­li­vant­ing when I don’t know what’s hap­pened and if Ja­cob and Ned are safe.” Florrie sighed. “We don’t even know where they are or what they’re do­ing.”

Jimmy wished he could tell her where they’d gone, but he couldn’t tell her any­thing. He’d promised the con­sta­ble he wouldn’t, and Phylly and Gra­cie had done the same.

“Do you want some more honey on your por­ridge?” Bea asked. “Might help it go down a bit eas­ier.” Jimmy shook his head. “No, thank you. I’m not re­ally hun­gry.”

“Eat it up any­way,” Florrie said. “Other­wise you’ll be hun­gry all morn­ing and won’t be able to con­cen­trate at school.”

“I can’t go to school.” Tears smarted in Jimmy’s eyes. “Not un­til I know what’s hap­pened.”

Bea put a hand on his shoul­der.

“You didn’t go yes­ter­day, Jimmy, so you must go to­day. Aunt Min wouldn’t want you to miss out on your ed­u­ca­tion.”

“I won’t be able to con­cen­trate.”

“It’ll help keep your mind off it,” Bea said. “I need to go to the shop so I’ll walk down to the school with you and keep you com­pany on the way.”

“Best to keep busy, Jimmy,” Florrie said, “So eat up.”

Jimmy knew when he was beaten, so he scooped up a spoon­ful of hon­eysweet­ened por­ridge and popped it into his mouth.

Jimmy didn’t feel like pick­ing black­ber­ries this morn­ing. Walk­ing to school be­side Bea, he held on to her hand, her warm fin­gers giv­ing him re­as­sur­ance.

“Do you think they’ll be back by the time I get home from school?” Jimmy asked.

“I’ve no idea. You know more about what might be hap­pen­ing than I do.” Jimmy sighed.

“I hate not know­ing what’s go­ing on.”

“Try not to worry.” Bea squeezed his hand. “Ned and my fa­ther know what they’re do­ing. The Home Guard are trained to deal with all sorts of in­ci­dents.”

Even mean Army guards armed with ri­fles de­fend­ing their hid­den petrol booty?

Jimmy shud­dered at the thought of any­thing bad hap­pen­ing to Ja­cob or Ned.

They had both been so wel­com­ing and kind to him since he’d come to live there, and he thought a lot of them. He had to try to be pa­tient and wait for news, but it was hard.

For the rest of the walk into the vil­lage, Bea kept up a con­stant chat­ter, try­ing to take his mind off their wor­ries.

Jimmy ap­pre­ci­ated what she was do­ing, but there was only one thing on his mind and it wasn’t go­ing to go any­where un­til he had some an­swers.

He was so deep in thought that he didn’t no­tice what was go­ing on at first.

As they neared the cross­roads lead­ing into the vil­lage, he didn’t re­alise who was stand­ing there un­til Bea started run­ning, and with his hand still clasped in hers, he was yanked along with her.

The move­ment brought him to the here and now and he sped up when he saw who they were run­ning to.

Ned and Ja­cob were stand­ing talk­ing to the con­sta­ble. They were safe.

“Dad! Ned!” Bea said, breath­lessly from their quick sprint. “Are you all right?”

“We’re fine, my woman,” Ja­cob said, smil­ing at her. “A good break­fast and a nap and we’ll be as right at rain.”

“What hap­pened?” Jimmy looked them up and down, search­ing for any clues, but they looked nor­mal apart from a bit dirty and tired. “Did the guards come back?”

“They did,” the con­sta­ble said. “And we were wait­ing for them. The Home Guard pla­toon had the area un­der sur­veil­lance and we caught them red handed.”

“So it was petrol in the cans?” Jimmy asked.

“What’s petrol got to do with it?” Bea asked.

The con­sta­ble ex­plained to her about Jimmy’s dis­cov­ery in the hut.

“Phylly was right – they were cans full of petrol. The guards had been steal­ing Army petrol and had set up a fil­ter­ing sys­tem in the shed to take the red dye out.

“They were pour­ing it through a loaf of bread, would you be­lieve? But it worked and took the dye out enough for them to sell the petrol on the black mar­ket.”

“Did you ar­rest them?” Jimmy asked.

“Of course. They won’t be steal­ing any­thing again for a long time,” the con­sta­ble said.

“Pair of fools,” Ned said. “They were hav­ing an easy war tak­ing POWS around, and should have been happy with that com­pared with what a lot of sol­diers are hav­ing to do, but they got greedy and wanted to make some money.”

“They won’t be mak­ing any more where they’re go­ing,” the con­sta­ble said. He looked at Jimmy. “You did well, son. It had been go­ing on for a while and no-one knew about it un­til you found it. Well done.

“Thank you, Ned and Ja­cob, for your help, I couldn’t have done it with­out you and the pla­toon. Right I’m off for my break­fast.”

He smiled at them and headed off in the di­rec­tion of the po­lice house.

“What hap­pened? How did you catch them?” Jimmy asked.

“You can find out about that later,” Bea told him. “You’ve got to go to school, and Ned and Dad need their break­fasts. Mum’s wait­ing for you and no doubt she’ll cook you up a feast,” she said to the men.

“I thought she was go­ing to see her sis­ter to­day,” Ja­cob said. “Catch­ing the ten o’clock bus.”

“She’s can­celled it. She said she wasn’t go­ing any­where till she knew you were safe,” Bea replied.

“We soon will be, so there’s still time for her to go. Florrie’s been look­ing for­ward to see­ing her sis­ter for weeks, so she mustn’t let this spoil it,” Ja­cob said. “Come on, Ned.”

“I won’t be long,” Bea said. “I’m go­ing to go and ex­plain why Jimmy wasn’t at school yes­ter­day and then go to the shop.”

She put her arm around Jimmy’s shoul­ders and started to steer him in the di­rec­tion of the school.

“I’ll see you back at the farm in a while.”

When Jimmy looked

back over his shoul­der, he saw that Ned and Ja­cob were hur­ry­ing off in the di­rec­tion of Catch­ett’s Farm.

He was desperate to know what had hap­pened. He had so many ques­tions to ask them, but it would have to wait.

“That was tasty. Thank you, Phylly,” Ja­cob said, putting his knife and fork down on his empty plate, and lean­ing back in his chair. “Just the thing af­ter be­ing out all night.”

“I’m glad it was ed­i­ble.” Phylly laughed, dry­ing a dish from the drainer. “Florrie’s such a good cook and I didn’t want to let her down.”

“You did a fine job.” Phylly had stepped in to cook break­fast for Ja­cob and Ned so that Florrie could get ready and go to see her sis­ter.

Florrie had taken some per­suad­ing, but had agreed to go af­ter she’d sat­is­fied her­self that her hus­band and son were safe and un­harmed, and just in need of some food and a nap.

By the time Florrie had left to catch her bus, both men were tuck­ing into a plate­ful of eggs, ba­con and toma­toes, with bread and but­ter and cups of tea.

“What time did the guards come back?” Phylly asked, glad that she could fi­nally start ask­ing the ques­tions that were buzzing around her mind.

Ja­cob and Ned had ex­plained about the guards steal­ing Army petrol be­fore Florrie left, but hadn’t told them all the de­tails.

Phylly didn’t want to pester them with ques­tions while they ate, so she’d had to wait pa­tiently un­til they’d fin­ished be­fore she could sat­isfy her cu­rios­ity.

“It was the early hours of the morn­ing,” Ned said. “Feels a long longer when you’re wait­ing, though. The pla­toon had the whole area staked out, watch­ing the track, in the wood and sur­round­ing the game­keeper’s hut.”

“Were they fil­ter­ing the petrol?”

“We caught them red handed,” Ja­cob said. “They had no idea we were there.”

“Why did they do it?” Phylly asked.

“They got greedy.” Ja­cob shook his head. “They should have been happy with the job they had. There’s plenty of sol­diers who would hap­pily swap their jobs for look­ing af­ter POWS.”

“It’s hor­ri­ble that they were mak­ing money out of the war, when most peo­ple are work­ing hard to get us through this,” Phylly said. “I never did like that guard.”

“It’s a good job Jimmy spot­ted they were up to some­thing,” Ned went on. “The po­lice had no idea what was go­ing on.”

“I think Bene­dict and Roberto might have known some­thing. They hinted at it but were too fright­ened to say any­thing,” Phylly said. “They’re safe from the guard now, so they might tell me.”

“They’ll be all right now with a new guard and driver,” Ja­cob as­sured her.

“I’d bet­ter get back to the or­chard,” Phylly said, stack­ing the last clean bowl on to the oth­ers she’d just dried. “Or the wasps will get more plums than we will.”

“We’ll be out to help later,” Ned said, sti­fling a yawn. “The state we’re in we’re more likely to fall asleep on the lad­der, so we’d bet­ter have a nap.”

Be­fore any of them could move, the back door burst open and Bea rushed in, her face milk white and her eyes brim­ming with tears.

“Bea, what’s the mat­ter?” Phylly pulled out a chair from the ta­ble and ush­ered her to sit down.

“I met the post­man in the vil­lage.” Bea held an en­ve­lope in her hand. “He had a let­ter for me. It’s from . . .” She stopped, her face crum­pling.

Phylly fished her han­kie out of her dun­ga­rees pocket and gave it to Bea, then put her arms around the older woman’s shak­ing shoul­ders.

Bea dabbed at her eyes, fight­ing hard to try to calm her­self. Bit­ing her bot­tom lip, she took a deep breath and spoke in a hoarse voice.

“It’s Aunt Min. She’s dead.” To be con­tin­ued.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.