Thursday 15 June 2017

Always in My Heart by Pam Weaver

Published by Pan Macmillan on June 15, 2017

Tom & Shirley, evacuees, meet their host.

The door banged and a man wearing patched-up clothes and holding a battered hat with a greasy headband in his hands came into the hall. His gumboots deposited bits of straw and mud on the swept floor.

‘Only two left?’ he said, looking Shirley and Tom up and down. ‘I’ll take ’em.’

Mrs Dyer frowned. ‘Oh no, you won’t, Mr Oliver. If you had wanted evacuees, you should have told me before. You have to be vetted.’

‘You know me well enough, Mrs Dyer,’ he said, giving her a brown-toothed smile.

‘I’m supposed to inspect the rooms,’ she said haughtily. ‘I have no idea if your rooms will be suitable.’

‘Then come and have a look,’ he challenged. ‘I could do with some help around the farm.’

‘These children have to be in school,’ said Miss Lloyd stiffly. ‘They’re not unpaid workers.’

‘I knows that,’ said Mr Oliver, ‘but round ’ere, everybody mucks in. Besides, who else is goin’ to take ’em? I don’t see nobody. It seems to me beggars can’t be choosers.’

Shirley could hardly believe her ears. They were being bartered like the cargo on one of the ships in the docks. Tom seemed impassive. Perhaps he didn’t understand what was going on.

Mrs Dyer opened the main doors of the hall and looked up the deserted street. ‘He’s right,’ she whispered to Miss Lloyd. ‘Nobody else is coming.’

‘Then it looks as if we have no choice,’ Miss Lloyd said stiffly.

Mr Oliver was cleaning his ear with his finger.

‘Very well,’ said Mrs Dyer. ‘Miss Lloyd and I shall come to your farm to inspect the room right now.’

‘Suit yourself,’ he said. ‘You got a car? Only I’s on foot.’

‘Walk?’ said Miss Lloyd faintly. ‘How far is it?’

‘A mile, give or take,’ said Mr Oliver. ‘Nice evening like this, it’ll do you good, lady.’

Miss Lloyd gave him a withering stare.

Mrs Dyer locked up the hall and they set off. Although they were all tired, it didn’t take long to reach a small cluster of houses. It was very quiet. Apart from the occasional birdsong, the only sound was their own footsteps on the rough path.

At the run-down farmhouse a plethora of chickens ran around the yard, and a mangy-looking dog came out of its kennel and ran towards them barking furiously. For one ghastly second it looked as if it was going to attack them, but fortunately it was attached to a chain. As they came through the gate, the dog flung itself at them. Mrs Dyer cried out in shocked surprise, but before the dog could make any physical contact with her, its whole body was wrenched backwards as it reached the end of the chain. The dog quickly regained its footing and continued to snarl and bark angrily from a safe distance.

‘What a vicious animal,’ cried Mrs Dyer.

‘Nah,’ said Mr Oliver, rolling up his sleeve to reveal some old bite-mark scars. ‘A good watchdog, that.’

Always in My Heart by Pam Weaver is out now from Pan Macmillan (£6.99 paperback)

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