Oh, my…*cue tired, weak, humor-less laugh*…it’s been a hectic week. Without a weekend. Or rather, with an even more hectic weekend. In spite of that, I think I managed to get a fairly good bit of writing done. This time I didn’t have a problem meeting my word requirement, which was one of my issues with the other two chapters. I also actually had something I knew I wanted to write about — which is kind of a nice thing! The first paragraph definitely needs work. I don’t know what’s wrong with it exactly but it reminds me of the stories I used to write when I was much younger…”The next day, blah blah blah and then blah blah blah.” So that’s going to get fixed in the near future. Speaking of which, I’m settling down now to work on chapter two, which needs a serious overhaul, so check back for a new version hopefully within the next week. This week looks not-nearly-as-hectic-as-last-week and not-quite-so-hectic-as-next-week, so I’ll hopefully be able to do some major damage control. =)
The brief spell of dry days and warmer weather was over for good now. Every last memento of summer had fled at the approach of the rain which daily battered the coastal village. Harsh concertos in minor keys drummed steadily on the roof-tops, but inside, the music was bright and whimsical, if somewhat simply arranged and unemotionally performed. Elinor followed the little black notes with her pencil, silently keeping time with her heel.
“That was wonderful, Lucy! I can tell that you have been working hard on it. You even mastered this section here, with the syncopated rhythm. Let me put a star next to it with your initials and the date, and then everyone will know just when you completed this.”
A timid smile dimpled the child’s face. “Thank you, Miss Poole. My mummy says I must practice lots, and I do. I love to practice my piano lessons.”
“Well, that’s very good, Lucy. I’m proud of you,” replied Elinor, digging through stacks of worn and yellowed pages. “Ah! Here it is. I think your mummy will like this one. It doesn’t look so very hard, does it?” And she placed some simple sheet-music on the stand.
“We-ell…it does, a little, Miss Poole. It has such a very lot of those kinds of notes.”
Successfully suppressing a hearty laugh, Elinor strove to reassure the little girl. “It does have some eighth notes in it, but I know you can play them well. And just think, when you have learned this song well, you will be more proud of yourself because it is a difficult song than if it was a…”
A sudden, inhuman noise interrupted her: a long wail that rose above the drone of the windless storm to pierce the darkness with fear.
“What is it, Miss Poole? What is that noise?”
Involuntarily Elinor ran to the window, but could make out nothing in the convulsing clouds. It was not until the wail had risen to a deafening crescendo, fallen to delicate, ringing tones, and risen again that she comprehended what was happening. She looked back at the little girl who sat waiting – trusting – on the piano stool, swinging her chubby legs innocently.
“They’re air-raid sirens, Lucy.” The words sounded foreign. Blank.
For a moment, Elinor struggled against the dream-like haze that seemed to cloud her reasoning before she succumbed to the strange outer force that intervened to guide her movements and calculate her calm, decisive words. She snatched a couple of blankets from the basket by the fire and grabbed Lucy’s cold hand. “Come quickly, Lucy. Jack, Polly…where are you? Mum?”
“Here, Elinor!” cried Polly, her white little face appearing from behind the kitchen door. “What is—”
“Where is Mum?”
“She went to Mrs. Parker’s,” piped up Jack. “Derek is here. Elinor, what is that noi—”
“Jack, take your sister and Lucy and run to the cellar, as quickly as you can. When you get there, you shut the door tightly and sit against the back wall on the potato sacks. You wait there for Derek and me, do you hear? Now, Jack!”
As the children ran out through the pouring rain, Elinor covered her ears to block out the shrieking alarm and tried to think. There had never been a raid in Winchelsea before, even though a nearby military testing site made it a likely target. How long will it last? A few minutes? An hour? All night? The cellar was full of preserved summer fruits and vegetables along with sacks of potatoes and apples. Food would not be a problem, but she took the brown loaf from the breadbox anyway. There were the blankets in her hands. What else might they need? Water…there was no water in the cellar. Elinor set the blankets on the table and filled a pitcher at the sink, gripping it until her knuckles whitened in a vain attempt to keep her hands from shaking. “Derek! Are you…”
“It’s an air raid, Elinor!” His voice was right behind her.
“I know…Lucy and the twins are in the cellar. Here, take these blankets and run out with them. I’ll be right behind you.” She turned off the faucet and reached beneath the sink for the torch that resided there. Nothing. Dropping to her knees, Elinor opened the cabinet door wider and ran her hand along the wooden shelf. It needed to be sanded –rough splinters tore at her skin. Her fingers brushed something hard and cold and smooth.
The pelting rain stung her face and it hurt. Somehow the pain relieved some of her surcharged energy. She fumbled with the latch, threw back the thick wooden door. Saturated by days of heavy downpour, it swung shut on its own with a bang.
“Is…is that you, Derek?” An uncertain voice wavered from the corner. Elinor switched on the torch and directed its beam toward the three children who huddled in a frightened pile atop the sacks of potatoes.
“No, it’s me. Derek isn’t down here yet?” Her voice sounded harsh and loud in her own ears.
Jack nodded his head. “He brought the blankets but then he left again.”
Between siren calls, Elinor could hear the still-distant whine of airplanes and the dull, sickening sound of bombs striking earth. What was he thinking? The Jerrys will be here in seconds. “I’m going after him. You children stay here…” And then she stopped.
They are so scared.
Polly crept into her arms and clung to her shoulder tightly. “I fought you were a Jerry, Elinor.”
Elinor relaxed, stroking her sister’s hair with subtly vibrating hands and making a conscious effort to sound cheerful in spite of her own inner turmoil. “I’m sure Derek will be here soon,” she whispered. “Well, since it seems we are stuck down here for a while, I think we should have a bit of fun, don’t you?” Derek, where are you?
The children brightened visibly and nodded. “Well, then, Polly, why don’t you get some of the strawberry preserves down from the shelf…and Jack, you know where Mum keeps the empty jars…” The ground shook beneath their feet. God, where is he? Derek, please come on! “…and Lucy, you can just spread this blanket on the ground. We’ll put the loaf of bread in the middle…”
A sudden stream of gray light blinded them all for a moment. With the door open the bombs sounded even louder.
“Derek, what in…” The rest was smothered into his jacket as darkness enveloped them again. “I was so scared, Derek. Where were you?” The merry façade that she had donned for the children’s sake wavered and cracked.
“I had to get Dad’s…um…had to get something.” And lying cold and sterile against her brother’s sweaty palm, Elinor felt the outline of an old revolver.
You went back for…a gun? You could have been killed! Derek, Derek…why don’t you ever stop to think?
The bomb that knocked six jars of applesauce off the shelf landed in her soul and she was angry – righteously, irrationally, and thoroughly.
“I’m hungry, Elinor,” announced Jack, softly. And Elinor held her tongue.
There is an air raid while Elinor is teaching a little girl piano. Rosamund is away from home, and therefore it is Elinor’s responsibility to get the children to safety. Elinor first sends the children to the cellar, then collects some things which might be useful if they need to stay in their cellar for a long time. Derek comes to help her but then disappears. When he finally makes it to the cellar, Elinor finds out that he went back for their father’s gun. Explanation about the significance of that to come in the next chapter, but quite basically — it’s part of the Elinor-Derek conflict as well as part of the reality of WWII air raids.