War rages, but the women and children of Liverpool’s Dr Barnardo’s Home cannot give up hope. What more could you wish for than a poignant, heart-warming saga to read this winter?
LIVERPOOL, 1943Yorkshire is the place Lana has always called home, but it’s now filled with painful memories of her fiancé, Dickie, who was killed at sea. When she accepts the challenging position of headmistress at a school in Liverpool, she hopes a new beginning will help to mend her broken heart.
A BATTLE TO FIGHTNot everyone at Bingham School is happy about her arrival but Lana throws herself into the role, teaching children from the local village and the nearby Dr Barnardo’s orphanage. She thrives in her work, but soon finds herself falling for a man who she would once have considered the enemy – and is torn between what she knows is right, and taking a risk that might see her lose everything.
THE STRENGTH TO HOPEThere are children that desperately need her help, and Lana must fight for everyone’s happiness, as well as her own. But one young girl in particular shows her that there is a way through the darkness – because even when all seems lost, there is always a glimmer of hope to be found…
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Molly Green is a seasoned author of fiction and non-fiction. She has sold lipstick in a Denver store, modelled in Atlanta, assisted the UN Narcotics Director in Geneva, chauffeured a Swiss Gnome in Zurich, assisted a famous film producer in the UK, and cooked in a sanatorium in Germany. She now lives and writes in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.
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'Is there something wrong, dear?' her mother said, her voice anxious.
'The ATS won't accept me for driving,' Lana said dully, as she slid the sheet of paper back into the envelope.
Her mother's eyes widened. 'Why not? An intelligent young woman – healthy —'
'Seems I'm not.'
'They say I've got flat feet. I'd never be able to march. They might be able to find me a job in an office as a civilian – well, they can forget that.' She rounded on her mother, the gold in her hazel eyes flashing. 'The woman who interviewed me more or less said they'd welcome me with open arms as an experienced driver. Some welcome.'
'Well, at least you haven't got anything serious,' her mother said calmly. 'You had me worried for a moment.'
'You don't understand, Mum. Joining up was going to change my life. Pay back those bloody Germans for killing Dickie.' She absentmindedly fiddled with her engagement ring, now on the third finger of her left hand.
'Don't swear, dear,' her mother said mildly. 'I know how you must feel but if I may say so ... and don't get cross with me, but that isn't quite the right spirit. You want revenge for Dickie's death but that's going to keep you bitter. Not all Germans are Nazis. I'm sure many of them don't want to fight any more than our boys. I do understand your feelings but —'
'I'm sorry, Mum, but you don't understand at all,' Lana said, her voice rising as she sprang to her feet. 'I'll never forgive them – never!'
Knowing she was behaving badly but not being able to stop herself, she rushed from the room.
'You shouldn't take it personally, Lana,' her father said when she'd calmed down a little and stepped into her parents' grocery shop a quarter of an hour later. 'They haven't rejected you – it's just one of those things.'
It was pointless to argue with her father. She knew he was right anyway. But it didn't make it any less hurtful.
'Your mother and I have been talking. The last thing we want is to keep you at home now Mum's getting better. Working in the shop is not for you – it would be a waste of all your training. Now Marjorie has left to join up, I've put an advertisement in the paper for a replacement assistant.' He glanced at her, and she saw the love and concern reflected in his eyes. 'You have to decide now what you want to do. Personally, I think you should go back to teaching. Your mum says the same.'
'You sound like Dickie,' Lana said, more than a little annoyed.
'I'm not surprised. Dickie was right. We all know how the children loved you. I reckon they thought you were a little eccentric – different from any of their other teachers – but that was why they adored you.' His eyes twinkled with humour and she couldn't help giving him a small smile in return. 'I think that's where you're needed. Not fighting Jerry.'
She couldn't think of a reply so she busied herself undoing a box of tinned sardines that had just been delivered.
'Any eggs this week?' she asked, more for something to say, as there wasn't much hope of any.
'We're expecting our allowance tomorrow,' her father said.
'Well, at least that will stop Mrs Mason from her perpetual moaning.'
Her parents' words tumbled over in her mind the rest of the morning. Maybe they were right. Maybe her strength lay in teaching. And if she was honest she'd missed it terribly these last few months when she'd come home to look after her mother. A severe case of influenza had turned into pneumonia. Lana closed her eyes for a moment. It had been touch and go. At one stage she'd thought she was going to lose her mother as well as her fiancé. Now her mother was finally regaining her strength, Lana had some thinking to do. She was uncertain as to whether the headmaster would give her back her old job, even though they knew her slightly unconventional ways and couldn't deny how much the children responded to her.
She remembered standing in the headmaster's office when she'd asked him if he could hold her position by having a temporary teacher for the time it took her mother to recover. He couldn't guarantee it, he'd said. It depended upon who came in her place. What their situation might be. He wouldn't look her in the eye. At that moment in his office she'd made up her mind never to go back to that school, whatever the circumstances.
'Even if he offered it to me it would be going backwards,' she said aloud as she checked the list of items they were waiting to be delivered. She'd always taken pride in trying something new if things didn't turn out as expected or if she was unhappy. Begging for her old job would be admitting failure.
When Marjorie Drake had suddenly announced to Lana's father that she was joining the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and would be leaving in a week's time, Lana had felt a spurt of envy. She'd decided then and there to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service. To fight Jerry. For Dickie's sake. But now that had been cut from under her.
'The library was shut today,' Lana grumbled to her father after supper a few days later when her mother had retired early. 'Staff shortage, I suppose. It's so annoying. I've finished my book and I've got nothing else to read.'
'Try these.' Her father put down his newspaper and tossed a couple of magazines over to her. 'Mrs Randall-Smith dropped them in this afternoon when she came to see your mother. You might find something of interest.'
They were sitting in opposite easy chairs in the parlour, which they used more these days since her mother had been ill. Lana had lit a fire but the room was still chilly even though the ugly blackout curtains were disguised by a second thick pair of richly flowered ones. Lana shivered. All the curtains did was give the impression the room was cosier than it felt.
Lana flipped through one of The Lady magazines her mother's friend had left, then looked up. 'No response yet for an assistant?'
'Not yet. Everyone seems to have joined up.' He looked suddenly contrite. 'Sorry, love. That was a bit tactless of me.'
Lana gave a rueful smile. 'Don't worry, Dad. I'm all growed up now.'
Her father's face broke into a grin. 'You certainly are, Topsy. I'm hoping it won't be long before we have some replies – then you'll be free to continue your own life.'
It was her father's old nickname for her when she was still a child. Impulsively, she sprang to her feet and kissed her father's cheek. 'You're the best father in the world,' she said, 'but you're encouraging me to be the most selfish daughter.'
'Not at all,' he said, giving her an affectionate kiss back. 'You haven't had an easy time with this war and —'
'No different from thousands of others,' Lana interrupted, her expression grim. 'I so badly want to get back at the Germans for what they took away from me, Dad, but Mum thinks I'll end up a bitter and twisted old maid.'
'Did she actually say that?' Her father looked at her in surprise. 'Doesn't sound like your mother.'
'Not exactly those words but that's what she meant,' Lana grimaced. She went back to her chair and picked up the magazine again, but she couldn't concentrate. She sat thinking while her father quietly read his paper, until he folded it and yawned.
'I think I'll turn in,' he announced.
He'd been a handsome man, she thought, as she watched him struggle to his feet, but the strain of another war – the first one where he'd lost a brother, and now two sons away at sea – had begun to tell on his features. His mouth had lost some of its fullness and his cheeks were a little sunken, but his eyes still held their teasing sparkle. A lump came to her throat.
'Night, Dad. Sleep tight.'
'And don't let the bed bugs bite,' he finished, smiling.
It was how they'd always finished saying goodnight when she was a little girl.
She grinned back.
In bed, she opened the magazine and read a couple of articles, wrinkling her nose at the 'Let's Make Do & Mend' article. If this war went on much longer she'd need to improve what little sewing skills she had. Idly, she turned to the 'Situations Vacant' pages and her eye roved down the columns. Her attention was caught by one, enclosed in a box.
Urgently seeking temporary headmistress for village school in Bingham, nr Liverpool. Must be an experienced teacher and willing to supervise small team while headmaster is abroad fighting. Pls reply to Mr. G. Shepherd, Box 3032 at The Lady.
Lana's heart turned over. Dickie's home port had been Liverpool. She'd been there once to see him off and had been horrified at the devastation in the city. It had looked every bit as bad as London, having only just suffered its own blitz. Beautiful buildings turned into heaps of rubble and debris, people picking their way through it, children playing games amongst it, and what had been people's pets looking dazed by the way their world had changed in an instant, ribs sticking through their unkempt coats, foraging for scraps.
Lana shuddered, remembering how every bombed building, every church destroyed, every ship struck, had all brought home to her the danger Dickie faced every day. She'd caught the train home on the same day, not only sad at parting from Dickie but also frightened on his behalf, and thoroughly depressed about the ruined areas of the city that he and his friends seemed almost to accept as part of war.
Safe in what had been her old bed at home, she pulled the blanket up further so she could tuck the ends around her shoulders. The room was so cold it was difficult to think straight, but she knew that was true for most of the nation. She wondered how far Bingham was from Liverpool and for the children's sake she hoped this place was miles out in the sticks.
She shook herself. Why did it matter how far the village was from the city? She wouldn't dream of applying. A headmistress was different altogether from a teacher. It would be far too big a leap and she wasn't going to put herself through more humiliation by being rejected – this time for not being experienced enough. A pity, really. If they'd been advertising for a teacher she might well have been tempted to apply.
A few days later The Yorkshire Post forwarded two letters to her parents for the part-time assistant vacancy.
'Trouble is, we can't pay much,' Lana's father said as he came through the shop to the kitchen for lunch. 'But I'd still have thought there'd be at least a half a dozen replies from married women who only want part-time.' He held out the two opened letters for her.
'I'll have a look at these after supper tonight,' she said, then hesitated. Should she say anything? She knew her father wouldn't let it go further if she asked him not to. 'Dad, in one of those magazines Mrs Randall-Smith left for Mum there was quite an interesting advert.'
'Oh, what was that?'
She felt her father's eyes studying her closely.
'They want a headmistress for a school. Apparently, the headmaster has joined up and gone abroad. It's obviously only for the duration of the war.'
'Have you applied?' her father asked casually as he picked up the tray with a bowl of lentil soup and bread and margarine, ready to take to his wife.
Lana shook her head.
'What are you waiting for? It sounds right up your street.'
'Because I don't have any experience of being a headmistress.'
'You could do it standing on your head.'
She grinned at him. 'You've always had such faith in me, Dad. But it would be too terrifying.'
'Nonsense. Can I see the advert?'
'Let me take Mum's tray.' She took it from her father's hands. 'She's probably got it.'
She was back in moments and handed her father the magazine.
'Hmm.' Her father looked up. 'It only says an experienced teacher. It doesn't mention anything about being an experienced headmistress.'
'I know, but I wouldn't feel confident organising the other teachers – telling them what they have to do.'
'Darling, you've been in teaching long enough to know how it all works – the duties of the headmaster. And you'd be releasing a man to fight for his country.'
'He's already gone,' Lana said.
'There you are, then. Why don't you apply and see what happens?'
'It's too far away. Near Liverpool.'
'Straight through on the train,' her father said. 'Mind you, you'd certainly see some action there, if that's what you're looking for.' He spooned up the last of his soup. 'If you do decide, for heaven's sake don't let Mum know how bad it is. Jerry regularly bombs the docks, from what I read in the paper.'
'It's not in Liverpool itself – it's in a village called Bingham. I'm not sure how far away it is from the city ... but I shan't apply.'
'Her father gave her a sharp look. 'Because the docks are so near?'
'No, not that at all,' Lana said quickly. 'It's because I'm needed in the shop.'
'Not true.' Her father set the tray down on the kitchen table again. 'Both women who applied for the job sounded nice, so we're bound to pick one of them.' He looked at her, his eyes smiling. 'Your country needs you more than we do, Lana.'
'But the ATS won't accept me —'
Her father ignored her. Instead, he said gently, 'That goes for the school kids as well.'
'Did you reply to that advert in The Lady?' her mother said unexpectedly one afternoon when she was reading her book in the front room. Lana had just brought her a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit.
'Dad shouldn't have mentioned it.'
'Well, he did. He thinks you ought to at least apply. I agree.'
'Even though it's in Liverpool?'
'Yes. Being a headmistress would give you a sense of purpose, which is exactly what you need.' She looked up at Lana and smiled gently. 'I know Dickie would approve.' From the bowl she scooped a tip end of sugar and stirred it into her tea. 'Except for the rationing we've had very little to put up with, except the time when that little row of cottages was struck and that whole family was killed.' She shook her head. 'That was terrible.' She took a sip of tea. 'Sometimes I think we should be doing more for the war effort.'
'Don't tell the villagers that, Mum. They wouldn't know what to do without you and Dad for their food supplies.' She looked at her mother's pale face. 'You need to eat more. You've lost quite a lot of weight since you've been ill.'
'You're changing the subject, dear. We were talking about the headmistress job. It would be a marvellous opportunity for you.'
'I'll think about it.'
'If you don't answer soon you'll be too late. Mrs R-S gives me The Lady after her daughter's read it.'
'I'm sure it won't have gone,' Lana said. 'Most people seem to be doing proper war work.'
Her mother gave her a sharp look. 'Lana, get it out of your head that you wouldn't be doing proper war work, as you call it, if you went back to teaching. All right, you wouldn't be in the military, but your job with children would be just as important. Imagine how they must feel – terrified most of the time, I should think. You'd be bringing some fun into their lives, and some stability as they won't have their fathers coming home every night. And some of them, poor little kids, will lose their fathers forever.'
'Oh, I don't know, Mum.' Lana looked across the room at her mother, a sob catching in the back of her throat. 'I don't know anything any more.'
'Believe me, love, life's too precious to waste. This war is taking far too many of our young people.' Her mother blinked rapidly. 'I think about your Dickie every day.'
Even at this distance Lana could see her mother's eyes fill with tears and she knew she was also worrying desperately about her sons, Geoff and Nick, Lana's beloved brothers, so far out at sea, not knowing from one day to the next if they were safe. She went and knelt by her mother's chair.
'Write the letter this evening,' her mother said, stroking Lana's head. 'Will you promise?'
Lana nodded. 'All right, Mum, if it makes you happy.'
The reply came through swiftly. The position had already gone, Mr Shepherd informed her. Thank you for your interest and I wish you good luck in seeking a suitable alternative position, he finished.
Her hands made fists. Another rejection. She knew it wasn't personal – for heaven's sake. The man didn't know her – had never heard of her. But it felt like another slap in the face. She tore up the letter and threw the pieces onto the fire, enjoying the flames rising as the strips flared, then burned into ashes. It was meant to be that she didn't go to Liverpool. Mr Shepherd and the successful applicant had made the decision for her. What a relief!(Continues…)
Excerpted from "An Orphan's Wish"
Copyright © 2018 Molly Green.
Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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