Authors: Ellie Dean
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Family Saga, #War, #Literary, #Romance, #Military, #Sagas, #Literary Fiction
As the Japanese begin their assault on Singapore, Sarah Fuller is forced to leave her parents and fiancé, Philip, behind. The long journey to England is fraught with danger, and Sarah and her sister Jane don’t even know if their great-aunt is alive, let alone waiting for them.
They arrive in Cliffehaven, on the south coast of England, and here Sarah must find work to support them both. When the Women’s Timber Corps takes over the local estate, Sarah enlists as a lumberjill.
But as time goes on and the news of events in Singapore worsen, Sarah fears she will never see Philip and her parents again...
Always in my Heart
is Ellie Dean’s fifth novel. She lives in Eastbourne, which has been her home for many years and where she raised her three children.
There’ll be Blue Skies
Far From Home
Keep Smiling Through
Where the Heart Lies
This book could not have been written without the help of Molly Paterson, who so very kindly shared her memories with me of her time in the Women’s Timber Corps. Thank you, Molly, for the little details which added authenticity to the work of my character Sarah, and I hope you spot your name in the book!
Having spent time in Singapore, Malaya, Thailand and Sri Lanka, I know how humid it gets – and because I was born in Australia and came to live in England as a schoolgirl, I have vivid memories of how difficult it is to settle into a new way of life in a very different country. I have used my own experiences in this book, but thanks must also go to those lovely people whose memories of living in the Far East at that time were extremely helpful, and who gave me vivid descriptions of life on board the refugee ships that made those hazardous journeys to safety.
To J. Warner, I appreciate the time you took to explain the workings of the Auxiliary Units of the British Resistance Organisation, and to P. Nash, thank you for all the long e-mails regarding tip-and-runs, airfields and RAF history. Thanks too to Kath Cater,
mother-in-law extraordinaire, for telling me about your milk deliveries during the war.
Again I must thank my brilliant agent, Teresa Chris, for her continued encouragement and support, and Georgina Hawtrey-Woore for her enthusiasm and advice – and of course my husband for taking over the running of the house and the evening meals. Without any of them I would be lost.
Despite the isolation of the rubber plantation, and the simplicity of the large, tin-roofed wooden bungalow that jutted from the hillside on stilts above the canopy of trees, the Fuller family always dressed for dinner, even when dining alone.
But tonight they had a guest – a very special guest – and nineteen-year-old Sarah Fuller had taken extra care with her appearance. Instead of the usual cotton blouse, skirt, and sensible shoes Philip Tarrant saw her in every day at her father’s plantation office, she had changed into a shantung silk dress that skimmed her slender figure and was the colour of rich cream; her clear complexion was enhanced by the string of pearls around her neck, and she’d pinned a frangipani flower into her freshly washed fair hair.
Philip was twenty-four and looked very handsome in his white shirt and tuxedo. As their eyes frequently met over the candlelit table, they shared moments of silent intimacy which brought a flush to Sarah’s cheeks that had little to do with the humidity and heat of the tropical night.
Tall and darkly attractive, Philip was the son of the wealthy plantation owner. He’d left Malaya as a schoolboy and had returned eighteen months ago, moving into his family’s magnificent white colonial house that stood hidden amid the trees further up the hill, so he could take over the reins of the plantation from his widowed, ailing father who had relocated upcountry into the much cooler Cameron Highlands.
Philip was considered to be a great catch among the ambitious, social-climbing matrons of the Malaysian peninsula who had daughters to marry off, but it appeared he only had eyes for Sarah – and she still found that fact rather miraculous.
After all, she was only the plantation manager’s daughter, an ordinary secretary who, unlike most of her peers, had never left Malaya because her father didn’t approve of English boarding schools and long family separations. In the echelons of what passed as high society amongst the white expats here in Malaya, she was regarded with a certain reserve that had hardened somewhat since Philip had shown interest in her.
Sarah tore her gaze away from him and tried to concentrate on the delicious food their Chinese cook, Wa Ling, had spent most of the day preparing. She fully understood the infinitesimal layers of the social hierarchy that ruled this colonial outpost – and knew without a doubt that if this delicate relationship with Philip should founder, there would be a degree of smugness amongst those who’d openly sneered that such a match couldn’t last.
But for now she was happy to bask in the love that shone from his eyes whenever he looked at her, warmed by the sound of his voice and his nearness as they worked together in the estate office, bent over maps of the vast plantation and discussing the shipping contracts and warehouse capacities, along with her father, who had managed the business almost single-handedly for many years.
She set aside these warm thoughts and listened for a moment to the idle chatter that was going round the table. Her mother, Sybil, wasn’t as animated as usual, and although her advanced condition was masked by a voluminous chiffon dress, Sarah knew she was finding it uncomfortable to be so pregnant in this heat. But Sybil Fuller was not a woman to be beaten by such things, and she still looked serene and beautiful, her pale hair and delicate features enhanced by the candles’ glow as she kept a watchful eye on Jane, her youngest daughter.
Sarah felt the usual pang of sorrow when she looked at her sister. Jane was seventeen, and quite beautiful when she wasn’t in one of her funny moods. Sometimes it was difficult for those not in the know to realise that Jane was different to other girls her age, but since the riding accident four years ago in which she’d suffered a devastating head injury, the doctor had said she would forever be a child of twelve. Yet there remained vestiges of the young woman she might have become in her astonishing ability to solve mathematical problems that were far beyond Sarah’s
capability – and in this talent lay the spark of hope that she might one day fulfil at least part of her true potential. Jane’s tragic accident had cast a shadow over them all, but, with love and determination, the family had seen to it that she continued with her schooling and remained an intrinsic part of their hectic lives – regardless of what other, less charitable people might say.
Sarah noted that Philip was listening with rapt attention as Jane explained how she’d finally managed to solve a mathematical conundrum that had eluded her for several days. Realising he was fully occupied, she turned her gaze to her father.
Jock Fuller was an imposing figure in his dinner jacket and bow tie, but Sarah knew he felt much more at home in his daily attire of baggy shorts or old jodhpurs and faded shirt, the brim of his battered, sweat-stained hat pulled low as he strode through the trees on his regular inspections of the tappers and coolies.
Jock was stocky and broad-shouldered, with a head of thick hair that was yet to turn silver and a dashing handlebar moustache that almost hid his wide, well-defined lips. At forty-five his eyes were still a bright blue which, in moments of displeasure or anger, could turn steely. His face was weathered from many years in the sun, but for a patch of pale flesh high on his brow where his hat brim always rested, and his big square hand looked incongruous as it held the delicate crystal glass to his lips, the gold cygnet ring winking in the flickering light. But Sarah knew that hand could
be gentle, that the tough, no-nonsense exterior hid a loving heart and a strong sense of fair play.
She let the various conversations drift about her as she regarded, with pleasure, the large square room she’d known all her life. The long dining table was at the centre of the room and could seat twenty when all the leaves had been added. The wooden walls were mostly bare, but for a large framed print of the King and Queen which had pride of place above the highly polished teak chiffonier that housed the family crystal and best silver. Two huge Chinese jars stood sentry on either side of the door into the drawing room, and a large potted fern had been placed to hide a particularly stubborn patch of damp in one corner. Damp and mould were the enemy in this tropical paradise, and nothing could escape them.
Curtains of white voile brushed softly against the hardwood floorboards at the French windows which had been flung open to garner the slightest breeze that might drift in through the screened veranda from the forest canopy. Candlelight flickered in the downdraught of the ceiling fans, and glinted on the silver and crystal that had been so carefully placed by the soft-footed servants on the snowy white linen tablecloth. There were small bowls of colourful flowers down the centre of the table, and the china was delicate and gold-rimmed.
It was at moments like these that Sarah felt an inner glow of utter contentment. She loved this house, these people around her and the scents and sounds of
the country she would always call home. The world beyond the peninsula held no lure for her, for her heart was here – and like her father, she had no intention of ever leaving it.
Sarah sipped the cool wine as the dirty dishes were replaced with crystal bowls of lychees smothered in a light syrup and soft ice cream. She smiled at her younger sister who was beginning to fidget beside her. ‘Just wait until everyone is served, Jane,’ she murmured.
Jane slumped back in her chair and pulled a face. ‘It’s boring having dinner with the grown-ups,’ she muttered. ‘I much prefer eating with Amah.’
Sarah grinned and tweaked the long, fair plait which fell over Jane’s shoulder. ‘I’m sure you do,’ she replied. ‘Amah spoils you. But you’re a big girl now, and it’s important you learn how to conduct yourself at the dinner table.’
Jane puffed out a long sigh, then glanced at their mother, who was dipping her spoon into the dessert, and followed suit, the ice cream dripping onto her chin in her haste and threatening to mark her pretty white dress.
Sarah quickly handed her a linen napkin to mop up the spill, and Jane shot her a mischievous grin as if she knew she was behaving badly, and could get away with it.
The meal was finally over and, whilst the servants quietly cleared the table, Jane wandered off in search of Amah, and the others slowly moved into the drawing
room. No one hurried in the tropics, especially during the monsoon season, when the temperature rose along with the humidity, and the rains did nothing to alleviate the stifling heat.
The drawing room had glass doors leading to the back veranda, which overlooked the forested hills that towered behind the bungalow and kept this part of the house permanently in dark green shadow. It was furnished with deep-cushioned rattan chairs, teak tables and cabinets holding delicate ornaments, and there was a collection of native spears arranged on one wall, and several large, exquisitely carved Malay figures stood among the strategically placed potted ferns. Jock had pinned an enormous map of the world on another wall, beneath which was a long, narrow table he’d since buried beneath layers of papers, magazines and mouldering books. A Christmas tree stood in one corner of the room, festooned with tinsel and glossy baubles, a rather ancient and ragged angel staring woefully down at them from the topmost branch. There were no presents beneath it yet, for it was still very early December.
As the servants brought in the coffee and handed the cups round, Sarah rather hoped that she and Philip could slip out to the veranda and share a few quiet moments together, but it seemed her father had other ideas, for Jock had settled his sturdy bulk into his favourite rattan chair by the wireless and was urging Philip to sit beside him so they could discuss the war in Europe over brandy and cigars.