The Girl on the Beach

The Girl on the Beach by Mary Nichols

Book: The Girl on the Beach by Mary Nichols Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mary Nichols
and happy.’
    ‘Yes, but I ought to take him out. I have to go and see Miss Paterson.’
    ‘Why don’t you leave him with me? I’ll play with him a bit and take him out later and give him his tea. You’ll be quicker on your own.’
    This was certainly true. It would take a crisis of epic proportions to persuade her to manhandle a pushchair and a heavy toddler onto the Underground and so she always used the bus, which took a lot longer. ‘I suppose I could,’ she said slowly. ‘Are you sure you can manage him?’
    ‘Of course I can, silly. He loves his Auntie Rosie, don’t you, my pet? And I’ve got some jam in my bag. He shall have bread and butter and jam for his tea. Go on. He’ll come to no harm, I promise you.’
    ‘OK. I’ll be as quick as I can.’
    She dashed indoors to put on a cardigan, grabbed her bag and gas mask and went back into the garden. Both George and Rosie were shrieking with laughter. She decided not to interrupt them to say goodbye, which might upset him, and crept away.
    She was with Miss Paterson at four o’clock when the siren wailed. ‘Drat it!’ Grace said, putting down her teacup and standing up. ‘I’ll have to go on duty. You had better go in the shelter.’
    ‘No, I must get back to George.’ She rose and picked up her handbag and gas mask.
    ‘Is that wise? You never know—’
    ‘I’ll be all right on the Underground.’ Much as she hated the close atmosphere of the Underground, not only was it quicker, it was safer and there would be other people about, which would help her overcome her claustrophobia.
    They parted at the door and Julie hurried to the Tube station. The streets were full of people hurrying to shelters or, like her, making for the Underground. There was no panic; some had become very blasé about that banshee wail and thought of it more of a nuisance than anything.
    It was when she came above ground at the Elephant and Castle she realised this was something more than a nuisance raid. The sky was thick with aeroplanes and bombs were dropping everywhere, screaming earthwards, shaking the ground beneath her feet and shattering windows. Like most Londoners, she had come to recognise the different types of bomb: high explosives were fitted with fins and their dreadful screaming as they came down was terrifying, while the incendiaries started fires wherever they landed and were usually put out by fire-watchers using stirrup pumps.
    Already there were buildings on fire near the docks, close enough for her to feel their warmth, and a shard of glass from a window just missed her as she ran along the pavement, praying that Rosie had taken George into the shelter and they were both safe.
    ‘Hey, miss, where are you off to?’
    She looked up to find herself confronted by a warden. ‘Home. My friend is looking after my baby and I must get back to them.’
    ‘They will have gone into a shelter. Best take shelter yourself. It’s a bad one this one, not safe to be out in the open.’
    ‘But my baby—’
    ‘You won’t be much good to a baby if you get yourself killed, will you?’ He took her arm in a firm grip. ‘Come along, I’ll take you to the Linsey Street shelter.’ He would brook no argument and hustled her along to the shelter constructed under the railway arch. ‘You can go home when the all-clear goes.’
    He saw her into the shelter and left her there. The place was crowded, noisy and stuffy. There were whole families obviously occupying their own particular seats, women sitting knitting, others breastfeeding babies, old men pretending they weren’t afraid and children running about everywhere. One man was standing on a box trying to organise a sing-song, but the response was half-hearted and he gave up. Julie had to wend her way, stepping over legs, bags, boxes and bedding to find a seat on a bench. She sat on its edge wishing she had never let the warden persuade her into it. It was every bit as bad as the Anderson shelter, but added to her

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