Dawn's WIP


A Reunion in Plotlands

(Working title)

She’s always tried her best. But it’s never good enough. Will she always be a failure?

Evelyn Quinn knows she’s worthless.

It’s 1943 and at the age of 23, she’s the last child in the Quinn family and the only one who hasn’t fled the family home at the earliest opportunity. Despite always doing her utmost to satisfy her puritanical mother, in a moment of madness, she tucks her name and address in a pair of socks she’s knitted to send to the British troops fighting in Europe.

When Evelyn realises the recipient of those socks has come to thank her, she fears Mother will be furious. Lieutenant Jacob Lincoln is decent and sensitive. He’s also burdened with guilt. He’s appalled when his efforts to thank Evelyn for her kindness result in her fleeing from her home. Free of her mother’s criticism, Evelyn gains self-confidence in falls in love with Jacob. But she’s underestimated her mother’s vindictiveness. And Jacob is haunted by his past.

Can they put the secrets of the past behind them and in a war-torn world, fulfil each other’s dreams of finding someone to cherish?

Chapter 1

October 1943
The knock on the front door was bold and unfamiliar. Evelyn jumped.
It wasn’t Mr Leonard, the rent collector. He never came on Sunday afternoon, and anyway, the rent wasn’t due for another week.
Neither was it Mrs Corfield from number 6, come to ‘borrow’ a little sugar. Her rat-tat-tat would have been followed by another. And another. Until someone answered the door. She always knew when people were at home. Her patience when she was ‘on the scrounge’, as Mother described it, was legendary.
Evelyn’s gaze flew to her mother, searching for instruction.

“Open it.” Mother’s voice was brittle. “And then get rid of them. The Sabbath is no time to disturb people.”

Evelyn suppressed a smile. Mother probably assumed it was Father Brian – the only person she feared and respected. Getting rid of him was wishful thinking on Mother’s part. No one turned the priest away.

Putting down her knitting, Evelyn left the warmth of the kitchen, closing the door behind her. She padded slowly along the cold linoleum to the front door, hoping whoever had knocked had gone. She didn’t want to be inhospitable and send them away. On the other hand, at the thought of Mother’s annoyance, her heart sank.

The man on the doorstep was a stranger. A naval officer. He’d obviously mistaken the number. The terraced houses in Barnes Street, indeed, in this part of Stepney, East London, were similar and the autumn evening was closing in. So easy to mistake one house for another.

“Miss Evelyn Quinn?” His voice was cultured. Not that of an East Ender. It was deep and rich. Pleasant. Very pleasant indeed.

“Yes?” How did this dark-haired stranger know her name?

He held out his hand to shake hers. “Lieutenant Jacob Lincoln. Pleased to meet you.”

“Err, likewise.” Clearly, he hadn’t made a mistake. But she didn’t know him. She didn’t really know any men of her own age, and if she did, she’d definitely have remembered this man. Against her better judgement, she didn’t ask him his business nor send him away. Instead, she lingered. Intrigued.

He pulled a sock from his pocket and held it up. “Your handiwork, I believe?” He smiled over the top of the sock.
She realised she was holding her breath. His smile was slightly crooked and, for some reason, that made it so appealing. And those eyes. Soft, brown, gentle. And yet, eyes that reflected suffering.

“Miss Quinn?”

Evelyn jumped. She’d been staring at him. Her cheeks reddened.

“The sock,” he said, wiggling it. “You knitted it… well, the pair of them, naturally. And you put a message inside one of them.”

Oh yes! How stupid of her. Along with the girls at the telephone exchange where she worked, Evelyn had knitted dozens of socks for servicemen. And on one occasion – like the other girls – Evelyn had included her address. She’d also slipped in a short poem and message of encouragement.

Later, she’d regretted it. If anyone replied, Mother would find out and forbid Evelyn to reply. Corresponding with a strange man would have been considered sinful. Both Mother and Father Brian railed about the sins of the flesh. They shared the same view on many things, so it was a wonder they didn’t get on better.

“Evelyn! Who is it?” Mother’s voice was sharp and critical. Her words flew like barbed arrows down the hall.

Evelyn jumped, and Lieutenant Lincoln’s smile dropped.

“I wanted to thank you in person. For the socks. And the poem. I didn’t get a chance to wear the socks, unfortunately. I met with a slight mishap.” He looked down and she saw the cane propped against his leg.

“You were wounded?”

He nodded. “Otherwise, I’d still be in Italy.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry you were hurt.” What a foolish thing to say. Of course she’d be sorry he was hurt. Who in their right mind would be glad someone had been wounded? She wanted to groan with embarrassment.

“Evelyn!” Mother’s voice was now threatening and sharp. As keen as a blade.

“Coming, Mother,” she shouted, then with a nervous glance over her shoulder, added, “I’m sorry, Lieutenant Lincoln…”

“I only wanted to thank you, Miss Quinn. You wouldn’t believe how much of a difference your message made. My grandmother lives a short distance away. I’m staying with her for a few days, and when I saw your address, I thought I’d tell you in person.”

Light penetrated the gloomy hall as the kitchen door opened and mother stomped down the hall towards her. “Who is this?”

Lieutenant Lincoln politely held out his hand and introduced himself.

Mother’s eyes narrowed. She stepped back, away from his outstretched hand, and turned to Evelyn. “I asked you who this person was. You appear to know him.”

“Please, madam, I meant no harm.” Lieutenant Lincoln lowered his hand, his face aghast. “I merely came to pay my respects.”

“Your respects? To my daughter? Why would my daughter be interested in your respects?”

Evelyn swallowed and held her breath. Mother was just about to find out she’d included her name and address in the sock.

Lieutenant Lincoln, his voice full of reason and politeness, held up the sock and explained how he’d been given the pair just before he’d been wounded, on arriving in Sicily.

Mother folded her arms across her chest. A tight jaw and a pulse that throbbed in her temple were signs Evelyn knew well.

Lieutenant Lincoln, however, did not. And he’d obviously mistakenly believed Mother was listening to his explanation.

Well, how could anyone know how unreasonable her mother was? Evelyn sensed disapproval swirling around her in chilling, bitter waves.

“I see. And how did you know my daughter had knitted the socks?”

Evelyn winced and drew in a sharp breath as Lieutenant Lincoln held out the note.

Mother snatched it and read.

“Evelyn! You encouraged a strange man to contact you?” She grabbed her daughter’s upper arm and pinched.
Lieutenant Lincoln had by now worked out the state of affairs.

“I apologise for any upset I’ve caused, Mrs Quinn. I assure you, that was not my intention. I have nothing but respect for your daughter.”

“You may have nothing for my daughter,” Mother said icily, and pulling Evelyn by the arm, she slammed the door.

#

Jacob limped away from Miss Quinn’s house, each step twisting and tearing at the muscles in his back. Nevertheless, he increased his pace, wanting to get away from Barnes Street. He recognised he was punishing himself for the upset he’d caused, even though he knew his pain wouldn’t make anything up to her. How could his visit have caused so much bother?

He’d only wanted to make contact. To thank someone who’d been thinking of all the nameless, faceless men who were doing their duty. Just a moment of human warmth.

Instead of pleasing her by showing his appreciation, he’d caused her trouble.

Her sweet poem had touched him. And even now, the memory of the morning he’d first read it allowed a ray of sunshine to slice through the black cloud that engulfed him as he walked towards Cable Street.

Despite having been in the Mediterranean, there had been precious little sunshine in his life. His recollection of the time he’d spent on duty was coloured black. Or grey. And during his nightmares, red.

The war…

His mouth went dry, and he pushed away the memories of his last days in the Mediterranean. Well, not his last days. He’d spent those in a haze of morphine. But the days preceding that when they’d landed in Italy.

The explosion. Like a steam engine. Noise and brightness that defied his senses. Agony that had mercifully lasted an instant until he’d woken in the hospital, his back and flesh peppered with shrapnel.

The medical staff had been outstanding, and they’d sent him back to England to convalesce. The doctor had said his determination had served him well, and now, although he was in severe pain, he could walk – well, limp or hobble. He was supposed to use two sticks, but he’d wanted to try with only one. It would not beat him. He’d persevere until he could walk unaided. Day by day, as he pushed himself harder, it was already becoming easier. His muscles no longer going into severe spasm.

One day, it would be as if he’d never been wounded – to the outside world at any rate. Inside, he knew the scars would still be raw.
How young he’d been when he’d first left England to fight. He’d had no idea how appalling it would be. Now, he found it hard to believe how sheltered he’d been as he’d grown up. Comfortable. Cocooned.

But the senseless death of his parents and younger brother had exceeded pain. Like being suspended in space. No sound. No feeling. No hope for the future. Nothing.
That wasn’t quite true, because he still had Gran. Well, as far as he knew, anyway. Life was so precarious in the East End of London. But he’d soon find out because she only lived a few streets away from Evelyn Quinn.
He walked faster; jaw clenched, ignoring the pain, praying she’d be safe.

#

Jacob turned into Wellclose Square, his eyes scanning the buildings for bomb damage. The area must have been quite a sight over a hundred years ago, with its grand Georgian houses. Many had been built for wealthy sea Lieutenants and Scandinavian timber merchants, although they had long since moved away, leaving dust and shadows.

Jacob slowly released the breath he’d been holding. No unexpected gaps in the terraced houses. No ruins. No heart-wrenching views of rooms with external walls torn away. No wallpaper strips still attached, flapping in the breeze and family belongings where their owners had left them.

A newspaper page blew towards him, cartwheeling along the litter-strewn gutter on the wind. Much of the square was now tired and dilapidated, but in Jacob’s eyes, it was still a place of glamour. Of course, that had more to do with his grandmother than with the architecture. Gran owned one of the crumbling three-story houses, where she’d lived for as long as he could remember. He recalled wonderful parties with flamboyant, arty and bohemian guests. But not since the beginning of the war. His mother had tried to persuade Gran to move to Chelmsford in Essex, to be closer to her family. “We can find you a smaller, more manageable house, Mum. You’ll love the countryside around here…”

But Gran had always resisted. “Where would my cats go? And how could I put anyone up?”

Had she moved into the country, arguably, there wouldn’t have been so many people who needed a bed. In this part of London, there were always many who were down on their luck. Poor wretches who’d slipped into debt and needed a room for a night or two, and a hot meal. And, of course, now, so many who’d been bombed out and had lost everything.

No, Gran would never move from where she was most needed.

And now, Jacob was one of those who’d be staying with her. It would only be for a while. He’d be moving to a village near Chelmsford soon to work in a new radio research facility in the Marconi factory – an extension of the Admiralty Signal Establishment. He might not be able to walk far, but his hands were as sensitive as ever.

Years before, he’d become interested in making crystal sets. He and his younger brother, David, had made the simple radio receivers that they’d put in their mother’s china jug to act as a makeshift speaker.

He’d maintained a keen interest ever since. And that knowledge was very useful. Across the country, wireless sets were tuned to eavesdrop on German messages, the operator faithfully recording each dot and dash of the Morse code being transmitted through the airwaves. Somehow, somewhere, those intercepted messages were decrypted and the information they contained was used to plan offensive and defensive operations.

Jacob didn’t know where the messages went, nor who decrypted them – that was all top secret. Information was supplied on a need to know basis and he didn’t need to know.

Not that he’d be working on decryption. He’d now signed the Official Secrets Act and would be involved in secret research, working on HF/DF, High Frequency Direction Finding, more usually known as ‘Huff-Duff’. The race was on to develop new ways to detect enemy attacks. Novel ways to win this war, and find peace. Exactly what he would be doing, he had no idea. He’d have to wait until he started his new job to find out more.

Crossing over the road, he arrived at Gran’s door. It had been glossy, dark blue once. Now it was scuffed and worn. For the second time in the last hour, he raised a knocker. There would be more of a welcome in this house than the last.

A woman cradling a baby in her arms opened the door. She smiled and let him in. Another of Gran’s guests. She didn’t ask his name or his business. It wouldn’t matter to Gran, and this young woman was hardly likely to turn anyone away.

This was typical of Gran’s house. People came. They went. A few returned and then disappeared again. Occasionally, people appeared, having improved their lot, and they paid Gran for her kindness. She used the money to help those who were the worst off.

As Jacob stepped past the young woman and put his duffel bag down, Gran came out of the parlour, her face lighting up with joy as she recognised him.

“Oh, Jake!” Such a world of love, longing and shared unspoken thoughts in those two sounds. She held her arms wide and, blinking back tears, he embraced her.

He felt her frail, bird-like chest heaving beneath his arms.

“My dearest boy, you’re early. Thank God,” Gran whispered in his ear. “Let me look at you.”

She held him at arm’s length. No words were needed. Both of them still keenly felt the loss of their family. It had been so senseless. Of course, no more senseless than any other death during this terrible war. Thousands of people had been killed or displaced during the London Blitz. Bombs had rained down for days and the destruction had been heavy and widespread. But the explosion that had taken Jacob’s parents and younger brother had seemingly been caused by one random bomb. The pilot had most likely been targeting either Hoffman’s, which made ball bearings or Marconi’s. They were both strategically important factories for the Allies.

Instead, it had struck the Lincoln’s house. His parents and younger brother had all been taken. And even worse, he knew that if it hadn’t been for him, they’d have been in the bomb shelter. Once again, he felt his heart was being torn in two.

It had been Jacob’s birthday.

He would never celebrate it again.

Later, as he shared supper with his gran and her guests, his thoughts turned once again to Evelyn Quinn.

He’d had no expectations of the meeting. Obviously, she might have a sweetheart, or after having slipped the note into the sock, become a wife. He hadn’t wanted anything from her. He’d just wanted to see a friendly face. Someone who knew nothing about his background, his family, or his guilt.

He’d been so surprised when she’d opened the door. He hadn’t expected anyone so exquisite. Not that she’d been dressed up. Far from it. Her dress and cardigan had been so nondescript, he had no recollection of them. But her face… That had taken his breath away and now remained imprinted in his mind. Those green eyes, those full lips…

But even at that moment, he’d had no romantic intentions. It had just been a surprise, that was all. He had to admit; the thought had crossed his mind – how wonderful if he’d been returning home to her. If she’d opened the door to him, held her arms wide and welcomed him back. Instead, he’d inadvertently caused friction between her and her mother.

He should have heeded the warning signs when she’d nervously looked over her shoulder after the mother had called out. But then, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

He’d try to make it up to Evelyn Quinn. Perhaps ask Gran to go round to Mrs Quinn and explain – woman to woman. He’d need to think about it over the next few days.

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Comments

Gail Baugniet
7 months ago

Excellent character development. I look forward to spending more time with them as their intriguing world unfolds.

Michael Little
a year ago

OK, now I need to find out what happens next! Good storytelling, characters we can root for, and set in a historical time and place that's both challenging and, we hope, ultimately rewarding! I like the title. Reunion is a good word, with all the questions it raises.