Under Two Shires Oak – Episode 05

“DO have it, Fran.” Francesca’s older cousin removed from round her neck the silk scarf that Francesca had just been admiring.

“Are you sure?” Even as she politely queried the gift, Francesca grabbed it and darted over to the huge mirror above the marble fireplace in her family’s elegant drawing-room. She fastened it round her own neck and stood back to admire the effect.

Since her cousins’ arrival Francesca had noted their every mannerism, taken in every detail of their dress and conversation. They seemed to her so modern.

London! It was becoming blazingly clear to her that the capital was indeed the centre of things. She hadn’t been up there either during the war, for obvious reasons, nor since it ended. But now her relations’ stories of the way the city was already reinvigorating itself enchanted her.

She was aware she amused Grace and Evie by telling them so enthusiastically all the news she gleaned from her aunt and cousins. And she understood why. When the three of them talked about their hopes, she almost envied her friends. Those things they aspired to – a decent home and a bit of money behind them – she already had and to spare. Yet she yearned for something more.

Her father rose to his feet and straightened the waistcoat of his three-piece suit. He turned to his brother-in-law.

“Shall we retire to my study? Excuse us, ladies.”

As the two men left the room Francesca noticed her mother and aunt exchanging looks. She waited a couple of minutes, then excused herself.

Out in the high-ceilinged hallway she hung about while a housemaid finished a flower display and returned to the kitchen. Then she positioned herself in a shadowy spot outside the closed door of her father’s study. Quickly glancing over her shoulder before doing so, Francesca kneeled down opposite the keyhole. She couldn’t see anything through it, but it was the best place at which to listen, she had found.

Something was going on, that was for sure. Her father and uncle were always disappearing in there, and not just to smoke and drink brandy. There was a conspiratorial air about them, and from the garden, through the window, she had seen them poring over papers.

She had caught the odd word – “funding”; “investment”; “nationalisation”. In themselves, they meant little. Names like “Dior” meant more to Francesca!

But, definitely, something was being planned, and Francesca felt her mother and her aunt were in on it as they, too, had a conspiratorial air about them, a sort of happy anticipation.

To be fair, Francesca thought as she listened at the keyhole, her mother was always happy when any of her family came to stay. They all still lived in London, where she had grown up. It occurred to Francesca that her mother probably badly missed them.

The sounds from beyond the door were suddenly louder. She imagined they must be at her father’s desk, which was near the door. There was a rustle of paper.

“See what you think of this . . .” her father began, but his next words were drowned out by a blood-curdling wail.

The door then opened so fast that Francesca nearly fell into the study. The telephone started up a jangle, but no-one answered it as they knew what the call would be about.

Her father ran outside and everyone followed him.

“It’s the alarm at the pit!” her mother explained to their visiting relatives. “An emergency.”

“You mean an accident?” Horror showed in her sister’s face.

Francesca’s father turned and told them to go back inside – there was nothing they could do. The rest obeyed, but Francesca couldn’t. She carried on down the track, taking care to follow a different route from her father. People were coming from all directions, pushing and shoving and adding to the noise with their shouts and cries.

Francesca reached down to take hold of the hand of a screaming, terrified toddler who was all on her own. She picked the little girl up and rocked her gently.

“You’re all right,” she soothed. Removing the silk scarf from round her neck, she wiped the tear-stained face. “There you are, that’s better.”

She broke off as a woman came and snatched the child from her.

“She was lost,” Francesca started to explain, but halted at the look of open hostility on the woman’s face.

Still, nothing would persuade her to return home. She had to be here.

“Grace!” she called, and waved as she spotted her friend.

Of course, Grace would be here for the same reason. Hurrying forward, she saw that Philip was with her friend. One of his arms was round her, protecting her against the mad crush, moving her out of the way of the vehicles that were now arriving.

“Where’s Evie?” Grace asked as they hugged each other in greeting.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.