SE­RIAL A Home From Home by Rosie Hendry

Despite the bad news, Phylly and Bene­dict still had work to do . . .

The People's Friend - - Contents -

The Story So Far

Land girl PHYLLY GREENWOOD works 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.

JIMMY HOPWOOD, a ten-year-old evac­uee, is at the farm while AUNT MIN, his only rel­a­tive, stays in Lon­don. Two Ital­ian POWS work on the farm, too – BENE­DICT and ROBERTO.

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

Jimmy no­tices that the guard who brings the POWS to the farm is a nasty piece of work, and vows to find out what he’s up to. He and Phylly dis­cover he’s steal­ing Army petrol and in­form the au­thor­i­ties. The Home Guard, in­clud­ing Ned and Ja­cob, catch him red­handed.

Later that day, Bea re­ceives a let­ter telling her Aunt Min is dead . . ..

PHYLLY mea­sured out three spoons of sugar into a cup of tea and gave it a stir be­fore putting it down in front of Bea. “Drink up. It’ll help with the shock.”

She watched as Bea took sev­eral sips, her fea­tures soft­en­ing as the warm, sweet tea took ef­fect.

Phylly was desperate to ask Bea the ques­tion that was burn­ing on her lips, and from the look on Ned’s and Ja­cob’s faces, they were anx­ious to know what had hap­pened to Aunt Min, too.

It was Ned who spoke first.

“Was it one of them doo­dle­bugs?”

Bea put her cup down, shak­ing her head.

“No, not that. Thank good­ness. The let­ter’s from her neigh­bour. She says that Aunt Min died in her sleep from nat­u­ral causes, ac­cord­ing to the doc­tor.”

“But she seemed so well and strong when she was here.” Phylly slumped down on to a chair, blink­ing back tears. “If only she’d stayed and not gone back . . .”

“It might not have made any dif­fer­ence,” Bea said.

“The fresh air and bet­ter food might have helped,” Phylly be­gan.

Bea touched Phylly’s arm. “I know it’s hard to take in that she’s gone, but . . .” Her voice cracked and she

paused to com­pose her­self.

“Aunt Min was where she wanted to be. She loved Lon­don and it wasn’t right for her to stay here.”

“What about Jimmy?” Ned stood up and started pac­ing back and forth. “What will hap­pen to him?”

“Poor lad’s go­ing to be heart­bro­ken,” Ja­cob said. “He didn’t want her to go back be­cause he was scared she’d be hurt.”

Ned stopped pac­ing and sighed.

“Aunt Min was all the fam­ily Jimmy had left, and now she’s gone. Will they take him away and put him in an or­phan­age?”

Bea slammed the palm of her hand down hard on the ta­ble, mak­ing the tea slosh about in her cup.

“Not while I’m here to stop them!” Two pink spots ap­peared on her pale cheeks. “He’s un­der our care here as an evac­uee, so by my reck­on­ing that means he should stay here at least for the du­ra­tion.”

“And af­ter­wards?” Ned asked. “What then?” Bea pursed her lips. “We shall see, but I won’t let him go into an or­phan­age with­out a fight. Not when he could have a fam­ily and home here with us for as long as he wants.”

“Should we send word to Florrie?” Ja­cob asked. “She was fond of Aunt Min and wanted her to stay here.”

“No.” Bea shook her head. “Leave her to en­joy her­self while she can. She’ll find out soon enough, and there’s noth­ing she can do to change it. We shouldn’t spoil her time with her sis­ter.”

“When are we go­ing to tell Jimmy?” Phylly asked. “Should we go and fetch him home from school?”

“Aunt Min wouldn’t have wanted him to miss out on any school­ing. We’ll tell him when he comes home this af­ter­noon. But it’s not go­ing to be easy. The poor lad’s al­ready lost both his par­ents”

****

Phylly felt emo­tion­ally shaken as she walked down to the or­chard ready to start work. She’d liked Aunt Min very much and been im­pressed by how close she and Jimmy were. Their re­la­tion­ship had been rock solid with much love and re­spect on both sides.

It had shown her that not all fam­i­lies were like hers; not ev­ery aunt was as cold and harsh as hers had been when she’d taken in Phylly and her twin brother, John, af­ter their mother died.

At least she and John had had each other, but Jimmy had no-one. He was quite alone in the world.

Phylly sniffed and brushed away tears with the back of her hand.

He might not have any rel­a­tives alive any more, but Jimmy had her and ev­ery­one else at Catch­ett’s Farm to look out for him.

They all cared and would carry on look­ing af­ter him to­gether for as long as they could. How­ever long that might prove to be.

The cheer­ful sound of singing greeted Phylly as she walked into the or­chard. She could hear Gra­cie’s strong voice as she picked plums with the POWS.

The mu­sic glad­dened Phylly’s heart and gave her strength for what she now had to do.

“Is very sad,” Bene­dict said af­ter Phylly had bro­ken the news to her friends. “She good lady, very kind to Jimmy.”

Phylly nod­ded and squeezed Bene­dict’s arm.

“She was in­deed, and she was so pleased that Jimmy’s set­tled and happy here.”

“He won’t be when he finds out about Aunt Min,” Gra­cie said. “We must all do our best to help him.”

“We will,” Phylly agreed. “He didn’t want to go to school this morn­ing be­cause Ja­cob and Ned hadn’t come back. He was desperate to find out what hap­pened last night.”

“Have they told you what hap­pened?” Gra­cie asked. “I didn’t think Ned looked like he wanted to an­swer ques­tions when he came down here ear­lier, so I didn’t ask, even though I wanted to.”

Phylly smiled at her friend, who had shown great re­straint when Ned had rushed into the or­chard ear­lier that morn­ing, ask­ing if one of them would come into the kitchen and take over from Florrie for a while so that she could go on her planned visit.

“They did once they’d got break­fast in­side them.”

“Well?” Gra­cie urged. “Spill the beans, then.”

They all lis­tened avidly as Phylly filled them in on the guards’ il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties and Ned and Ja­cob’s night-time vigil.

“Jimmy is clever to find out what they do,” Bene­dict said af­ter he’d trans­lated all that Phylly had told them for Roberto. “Is good they catched now.”

“Did you know what the guards were do­ing?” Gra­cie asked.

Bene­dict shrugged his shoul­ders.

“Some. We see them take petrol and creep out in dark. We no say about it be­cause we scared.”

“They’d prob­a­bly have hurt you if you’d spo­ken out,” Phylly said. “It was best some­one else found out about it.”

She smiled.

“So how were the new driver and guard this morn­ing?”

“Good,” Bene­dict said. “We all happy.”

“Af­ter what hap­pened to the other two, I should imag­ine all the guards will be on their best be­hav­iour now, and be grate­ful that they’ve got a cushy war job com­pared with many men.” Gra­cie sighed.

“Well, we’d bet­ter get back to work as those plums won’t pick them­selves, but the wasps will help them­selves.”

Back at work, with Phylly join­ing in with the pick­ing, Bene­dict be­gan to sing a gen­tle sound­ing Ital­ian song she hadn’t heard be­fore.

She’d no idea what the words meant, but the song was sooth­ing and what they all needed as their minds ab­sorbed all that had hap­pened.

****

“Phylly, is there any­thing you’d es­pe­cially like me to pack for your pic­nic?” Bea asked when she brought a snack and drink for them later that morn­ing. “Pic­nic?” Phylly asked. “For you and Ed­win,” Bea reminded her. “I thought you were go­ing to show him Yax­ley Cas­tle?”

“Yes. I’d for­got­ten about it with ev­ery­thing that’s been go­ing on.” Phylly bit her bot­tom lip. “Per­haps we should call it off. It wouldn’t be right to go out en­joy­ing our­selves with Aunt Min dy­ing.”

Bea touched Phylly’s arm. “You should go. Aunt Min wouldn’t have wanted you to can­cel it, and I’m sure Ed­win’s re­ally look­ing for­ward to it. Don’t dis­ap­point him.” She blinked back tears. “Go and re­mem­ber Aunt Min with hap­pi­ness.”

Phylly nod­ded.

“As long as you’re sure it wouldn’t be dis­re­spect­ful.”

“I’m sure.” Bea smiled at her, then turned to speak to Gra­cie. “You wanted to ask me some­thing about Richard’s socks?”

Leav­ing them to talk about knit­ting the heels of socks, Phylly wan­dered over to sit in the shade with Bene­dict and Roberto.

“You and Ed­win to­gether?” Bene­dict asked Phylly qui­etly. “You love him?”

Phylly nearly choked on her mouth­ful of cold tea.

“No, we’re not to­gether. We just like each other’s com­pany and are good friends. Noth­ing more.”

Bene­dict looked her straight in the eyes.

“You make lovely cou­ple. I think he like you.” Phylly smiled. “Hon­estly, Bene­dict, we are just friends.”

“I think you like him here.” Bene­dict laid a hand over his heart and beamed at her. “He same for you. I see it. Is good.”

“You Ital­ians are so ro­man­tic.” Phylly laughed. “But I can as­sure you there isn’t any ro­mance be­tween us.”

Bene­dict shrugged.

“Go and re­mem­ber Aunt Min with hap­pi­ness”

“There could be if you let it.”

But I’m not go­ing to let it, Phylly thought. It was far too risky to let her­self fall in love again, even with Ed­win.

****

Jimmy looked at the clock on the class­room wall. It had barely moved since he last checked.

He sighed. To­day felt like the long­est day he’d ever spent at school, and ev­ery sec­ond seemed to take ten times as long to pass. The more he looked at the clock, the slower it seemed to go.

Keep busy, that’s what Aunt Min al­ways said if you wanted to for­get about some­thing.

With a fi­nal glance at the clock, which was hardly any fur­ther on, Jimmy ap­plied him­self to his work and care­fully marked the coun­tries the teacher had listed on the black­board on to his map.

He con­cen­trated hard, fo­cus­ing on get­ting it right, be­cause he liked learn­ing about dif­fer­ent places.

His dad used to tell him sto­ries about the coun­tries he’d been to, and one day Jimmy hoped he’d see some of those places for him­self.

For now he had to get the map right, putting Aus­tralia and New Zealand in the right place to start with.

Following Aunt Min’s ad­vice must have worked, be­cause the rest of the af­ter­noon passed quickly, and he was re­lieved when the teacher told the class to put away their maps as it was time to home.

Jimmy was ready quicker than he’d ever been be­fore, sit­ting up straight, ea­ger for them to be dis­missed.

The mo­ment he was through the gate, he ran as fast as his legs would carry him. He raced through the vil­lage and took the road back to Catch­ett’s Farm.

His mind was rac­ing, too, feel­ing like it was ready to burst with all the ques­tions he had for Ja­cob and Ned.

Sprint­ing into the farm­yard, he saw Ned work­ing in one of the barns, so in­stead of go­ing straight to the house as he nor­mally would af­ter school, he rushed over to him.

“Ned!” he panted, putting his hands on his knees and bend­ing over to catch his breath.

“Hello, Jimmy. Are you all right?”

Jimmy nod­ded as he stood up straight and then started fir­ing off ques­tions.

“What time did the guards come back? Did they put up a fight?”

“I’ll tell you about it an­other time. You need to come in­doors.” Ned put a hand on Jimmy’s shoul­der and steered him out of the barn and across the yard to­wards the house.

“Why?” Jimmy looked up at Ned’s face. It looked odd, as if he was very un­com­fort­able. “What’s the mat­ter?”

He couldn’t un­der­stand why Ned was be­ing like this He ought to be glad about what hap­pened last night.

The kitchen was full of the mouth-wa­ter­ing smell of bak­ing.

Piles of scones were cool­ing on racks on the wooden ta­ble and Bea was busy rolling out pas­try, but she stopped at the sight of Jimmy and Ned.

“Jimmy!” Bea smiled at him, but her voice sounded odd. “Come and sit down.”

She pulled out a chair for him and beck­oned him to sit, then went over to the sink to wash her hands.

An un­easy feel­ing crept through Jimmy. Some­thing pe­cu­liar was go­ing on.

What was the mat­ter with ev­ery­one? Why were they act­ing strange and look­ing so ill at ease?

“You go back to work, Ned, while I talk to Jimmy.” Bea pulled out a chair and sat down be­side him.

Ned pat­ted Jimmy’s shoul­der then went back out­side with­out say­ing a word.

Jimmy watched him go, and tried to stand up to fol­low him out in a bid to get an­swers.

“Wait!” Bea grabbed both his hands in hers and gen­tly set­tled him back down on the chair.

“What’s go­ing –” Jimmy be­gan, but stopped when he no­ticed how pale and strained Bea’s face looked. “Are you OK?” he asked. Bea held his hands tighter.

“We’ve had bad news to­day.” She paused and swal­lowed hard, her eyes meet­ing his. “Aunt Min has died.”

Jimmy stared at her. He must have mis­heard her – he saw her lips move and the words come out, but they didn’t make sense.

“Do you un­der­stand what I’m telling you? Aunt Min’s neigh­bour wrote to me to say that she’d died in her sleep from nat­u­ral causes.”

“No!” Jimmy shook his head, try­ing to get those aw­ful words out of his mind. “It can’t be true.” “I’m sorry, but it is.” The world felt as if it had sud­denly tipped on its side and ev­ery­thing had al­tered. His lips felt numb and his stom­ach had plum­meted to the floor.

How could this be true? Just min­utes ago he’d been run­ning home from school, burst­ing to talk to Ned and Ja­cob about last night, and now this.

Bea was say­ing that Aunt Min was dead, but she couldn’t be. She’d said she would come back to see him soon. She’d promised!

Jimmy stood up, push­ing his chair back so hard it made a harsh scrap­ing noise against the tiled floor.

“It’s not true!” he shouted, run­ning out of the kitchen at full pelt.

“Jimmy!” Bea called, but he didn’t look back.

****

The sharp tang of tomato plants met Jimmy as he opened the green­house door and slipped in­side where it was quiet and he could be alone.

He turned a wooden crate upside down and sat down on it, slump­ing for­ward with his el­bows on his knees and his chin cupped in his hand.

He scuffed at the floor with his boot, twist­ing his foot from side to side, mak­ing a pat­tern in the soil.

Slowly the mean­ing of Bea’s words were sink­ing in.

Jimmy shook his head as a surge of sad­ness swept through him, mak­ing him shake and gulp as sobs erupted out of him. “Jimmy?”

He looked up and saw Ja­cob stand­ing be­side him, twine and his pocket knife in his hand.

“I was ty­ing up some tomato vines down the other end.” He nod­ded to­wards the far end of the green­house. He crouched down so that his face was level with Jimmy’s.

“They’ve told you about Aunt Min, then?”

“It can’t be true.” Jimmy’s voice came out strangely squeaky be­cause of the huge lump that had wedged it­self in his throat.

Ja­cob laid a hand on his shoul­der.

“I’m afraid it is, my man.” More hot tears slid down Jimmy’s face.

“She shouldn’t have gone back. Florrie said she could stay here.” He gulped, his chest heav­ing as more sobs forced their way out. “I wanted her to stay.”

Ja­cob pat­ted Jimmy’s shoul­der.

“I don’t think it would have mat­tered where she was if it was her time to go. At least it was peace­ful for her.”

They sat qui­etly for a few min­utes as Jimmy cried his tears out.

Aunt Min had died. It didn’t seem real that she was gone and he wouldn’t see her any more; that he wouldn’t go home to her af­ter the war.

Jimmy’s stom­ach lurched. Where would he go, then? To an or­phan­age?

“What will hap­pen to me, Ja­cob?”

“You’ll stay here with us, of course.”

“But what about af­ter the war, when all the other chil­dren go back home to their fam­i­lies? I haven’t got one to go back to.”

****

The sound of singing could still be heard af­ter the truck had left the farm­yard and was bump­ing its way down the lane to the road.

Phylly smiled. She loved the way the Ital­ian POWS sang to­gether, their voices har­mon­is­ing over the beau­ti­ful sound­ing words.

Bene­dict and Roberto were al­ways the last to be picked up, and the al­most full truck of POWS had been in ju­bi­lant mood tonight and were singing loudly when they’d ar­rived at Catch­ett’s Farm.

They’d prob­a­bly carry on all the way back to their camp in cel­e­bra­tion that their lives would no longer be tor­mented by the two guards.

Phylly checked her watch. She’d bet­ter get a move on if she was go­ing to be ready for when Ed­win ar­rived.

He’d been promised the loan of a Jeep, so they’d planned to visit the ru­ins of Yax­ley cas­tle to in­dulge his love of old Bri­tish build­ings.

Up in the bed­room she shared with Gra­cie, Phylly washed off the dirt, dust and stick­i­ness from a day’s plum pick­ing. It felt good to be clean again.

She changed into her only dress, then brushed her hair and se­cured it at the sides with clips.

She was ap­ply­ing a fi­nal touch of the pre­cious red lip­stick which Ed­win’s mother, An­nie, had sent over from Amer­ica when Gra­cie walked in, hold­ing her knit­ting.

“Oh, you look lovely,” Gra­cie said. “You should wear that dress more of­ten. The colour re­ally suits you.”

“Thank you.” Phylly bobbed a curt­sey. “There’s not much call for wear­ing your best dress when you’re a land girl pick­ing plums or hoe­ing weeds.”

She checked her re­flec­tion in the mir­ror and, sat­is­fied that she’d put on the right amount of lip­stick, put it away in her drawer.

“You know, from the amount of care you’re tak­ing get­ting ready, any­one might think you’re sweet on Ed­win.”

Phylly turned round to look at Gra­cie, who had sat down on her bed and was knit­ting the foot part of a sock af­ter Bea had done the heel for her that af­ter­noon.

“We’re just friends. How many times do I have to tell you that be­fore you be­lieve me, Gra­cie?

“I’m look­ing nice for me and no-one else, and it feels good to be wear­ing some­thing other than Land Army uni­form.”

Gra­cie shrugged.

“If you say so.” She grinned. “But you would make a lovely cou­ple.”

“Con­cen­trate on your knit­ting in­stead of try­ing to match me up with Ed­win.” Phylly grabbed her cardi­gan and made for the door. “I’ll see you later.”

Down­stairs in the kitchen, Bea had a packed bas­ket ready for her.

“There are some fresh scones, but­ter and jam in there. I know Ed­win likes them,” Bea said.

“Thank you. You do spoil him,” Phylly said, lift­ing the cloth cov­er­ing the bas­ket and peep­ing in­side.

“He de­serves it. I’m do­ing it for my friend, An­nie, too. She would be bak­ing scones for him if she was here.” Bea sighed. “But she’s not, so I’m do­ing it for her.”

Phylly picked up the bas­ket.

“I’m sure she ap­pre­ci­ates what you’re do­ing for her son, and per­haps one day you’ll get to see each other again.”

Bea smiled.

“I hope so. Now we know what hap­pened to her, maybe she’ll swal­low her pride and come home when this crazy war is over.”

Phylly glanced at her watch again.

“Ed­win should be here soon. I’ll walk down and meet him on the road. Thanks for the pic­nic, Bea.”

“Just make sure Ed­win eats plenty.”

“There’ll be no doubt about that when he sees those scones!” Phylly laughed. “I’ll see you later.”

Out­side it was a beau­ti­ful Septem­ber evening, still warm enough but with a softer, gen­tle heat as swal­lows darted across the sky, their chat­ter­ing calls fill­ing the air.

Phylly swung the bas­ket as she walked down the lane, glad to stretch her legs af­ter a day of mostly stand­ing on lad­ders.

The thought of the evening ahead, ex­plor­ing the old cas­tle ru­ins and shar­ing a pic­nic with Ed­win, made her smile.

He was al­ways such good com­pany, so cour­te­ous and in­ter­est­ing to talk to.

Reach­ing the end of the lane, she left the bas­ket on the ground and climbed up to sit on top of the five-bar gate, from where she had a good view over the hedge tops and would be able to see Ed­win com­ing.

Clos­ing her eyes for a mo­ment, she breathed in deeply, in­hal­ing the sweet scent of the honey­suckle grow­ing in the hedge.

She lis­tened to the sounds of the coun­try­side around her – the birds twit­ter­ing and the drone of in­sects.

In mo­ments like this it was hard to be­lieve that there was a war go­ing on.

Phylly sighed and opened her eyes. She wished it was over and ev­ery­one could be at peace again. No more fight­ing; no more killing.

Although she didn’t like the war, it had changed her life for good in many ways. She was do­ing work she’d never have been able to do oth­er­wise, she was liv­ing in a place she loved, had made friends with Gra­cie and all those liv­ing at the farm, and met peo­ple from for­eign places – Bene­dict, Roberto and, of course, Ed­win.

It hadn’t been all bad, and it had taught them all to make the most of ev­ery day, be­cause you never knew what was around the cor­ner.

You snatched what en­joy­ment you could, es­pe­cially at times like tonight, when her tired body would rather have just lain on her bed and read a book all evening.

But that would be wast­ing an op­por­tu­nity to go out and have fun while she could.

****

Ed­win was late. He should have been here over an hour ago.

Phylly jumped down from her perch on top of the gate and rubbed the back of her legs, which had be­come numb from sit­ting up there for so long. Had he for­got­ten?

Per­haps he’d had to go on an un­ex­pected mis­sion and couldn’t get word to her as there wasn’t a tele­phone at the farm.

She de­cided not to wait any longer as she was hun­gry af­ter a hard day’s work.

If Ed­win was just late, then she’d meet him back at the farm­house.

Phylly was at the ta­ble hav­ing some­thing to eat with ev­ery­one else when she heard the sound of a Jeep pulling into the yard.

It sent her heart leap­ing with re­lief that Ed­win was fi­nally there and they would be go­ing to the cas­tle af­ter all.

“Bet­ter late than never,” Phylly said, get­ting up from the ta­ble and grab­bing her cardi­gan and the pic­nic bas­ket and mak­ing for the door. “I’ll see you later.”

Walk­ing out­side into the evening sun­shine of the yard, Phylly’s eyes were daz­zled for a mo­ment af­ter the dim light of the kitchen.

“Did you for­get the time or . . .” She stopped when she saw who it was get­ting out of the Jeep.

It wasn’t Ed­win, but Char­lie, one of his friends who she’d met at the 100th Mis­sion dance. Phylly’s stom­ach clenched as an ice-cold feel­ing shiv­ered through her.

Char­lie took off his cap as he came to­wards her. “Hello, Phylly.” “Where’s Ed­win? Is he all right?”

Char­lie cleared his throat. “Ed­win didn’t come back from his mis­sion yes­ter­day. He’s miss­ing in ac­tion.”

Phylly stared at him for a few mo­ments, then some­how found her voice. “What hap­pened?”

“I can’t tell you much yet, only that his plane was hit and los­ing height. We don’t know for sure what did hap­pen.” He paused, twist­ing his cap in his hands.

“Ed­win asked me to come to tell you if any­thing hap­pened to him.” Phylly nod­ded. “What about Ed­win’s mother?”

“She’ll be in­formed by tele­gram.” Char­lie touched her arm. “I know this is a shock. Is there any­thing I can do for you, Phylly?”

“No. Thank you.” Phylly swal­lowed hard.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate you com­ing to tell me.”

“I’ll come and see you as soon as I know any more.” He put on his cap and climbed back in the Jeep. “Good­bye, and take care.”

With a fi­nal wave, he drove off.

Phylly stared af­ter him, stand­ing mo­tion­less as she lis­tened to the en­gine go­ing down the lane to the road and even­tu­ally fad­ing away into the dis­tance.

Only the fa­mil­iar sounds of the farm­yard re­mained.

“Phylly! You’re still here!” Gra­cie’s voice made her jump. “Why didn’t you go with Ed­win?”

“It wasn’t him.” Phylly’s voice sounded odd. “It was his friend, Char­lie.” Her voice cracked. “Ed­win’s miss­ing in ac­tion!”

****

Phylly couldn’t sleep. She’d lain wide awake since she and Gra­cie had come to bed at ten o’clock.

Gra­cie had soon fallen asleep, but there had been no es­cape for Phylly.

Her mind was too full of ques­tions with no an­swers, with her imag­i­na­tion rac­ing ahead, paint­ing nu­mer­ous sce­nar­ios of what might have hap­pened to Ed­win.

She threw off her cov­ers, padded over to the win­dow and parted the black-out cur­tains to look down into Florrie’s gar­den which was bathed in moon­light, paint­ing ev­ery­thing in shades of grey.

The mem­ory of the day when Ed­win had told them he was the son of Bea’s best friend came back to Phylly.

It had been a big sur­prise, but since then he’d slipped ef­fort­lessly into all their lives, be­com­ing a good friend and a wel­come vis­i­tor to the farm.

The thought that he might never come back was too much. Phylly couldn’t stop a sob burst­ing out of her.

“Phylly?” Gra­cie’s muf­fled voice star­tled her.

“Go back to sleep,” Phylly man­aged, biting down the tide of emo­tion that threat­ened to spill out.

Gra­cie ig­nored her and got out of bed.

“I re­mem­ber how hard it is to sleep af­ter get­ting news like that.” She took hold of Phylly’s hands in hers.

“Ed­win’s miss­ing. Hold on to that. That’s what you told me to do, and you were right.”

“But –”

“Come on, let’s make co­coa. It’ll help you sleep.”

They dis­cov­ered that they weren’t the only ones who couldn’t sleep.

Bea was sit­ting at the kitchen ta­ble nurs­ing a cup of tea.

She’d drawn back the cur­tains and the room was bathed in moon­light, which drained all the colour from ev­ery­thing and made the world look as sad as Phylly felt.

“Phylly, Gra­cie. Are you all right?” Bea asked.

“We need some co­coa,” Gra­cie said.

“I’ll make some for you.” Bea went to stand up.

“No, I’ll do it.” Gra­cie pulled out a chair and steered Phylly to sit down.

“Couldn’t you sleep, ei­ther?” Phylly asked. Bea shook her head. “I keep think­ing about An­nie. She’ll have heard Ed­win’s miss­ing by now.

“What must she be feel­ing so far away with not a thing she can do but wait?”

“And hope.” Gra­cie said, spoon­ing co­coa pow­der into two cups. “There’s al­ways hope.

Bea reached over and touched Gra­cie’s arm.

“Of course there is. We mustn’t give up hope that Ed­win’s alive, like Richard, and . . .” Bea’s voice cracked. She sighed deeply, shak­ing her head.

“What a day we’ve had. First the ter­ri­ble news about Aunt Min, and hav­ing to tell Jimmy the last mem­ber of his fam­ily has gone, and now Ed­win be­ing miss­ing. What’s go­ing to hap­pen next?

“What will be­come of us all in this horrible, aw­ful, stupid war?” Fat tears trick­led down Bea’s face.

Phylly grabbed hold of Bea’s hand.

“It’ll be all right, Bea. We’ll get through it.”

But would they, Phylly thought. Would they re­ally?

To be con­cluded.

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