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Authors: Rosie Clarke

Lizzie's War (9 page)

BOOK: Lizzie's War
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‘What did the bitch do to you then?' Norm growled.

‘That ain't your concern.' His employer's face twisted, a flicker of hatred in his eyes. ‘Keep your nose out of my business, your trap shut and do as I tell you – or you might get a visit from a certain Inspector Martin…'

Norm clenched his fists, wanting to give the bastard what he deserved for threatening him with the rope, because that was what waited for him if the cops caught up with him.

‘I'd take you with me,' he muttered beneath his breath, adding aloud, ‘I'll give 'er such a scare she'll shut up the place termorra…'

‘Good. Here's what I owe you for now, but if the shop closes down you'll get the rest and there will be a bonus.'

Norm pocketed the wad of notes. The money was useful, because London was getting to be an uncomfortable place. He would need to make a run for it before much longer because he was going to have his fun once he'd finished his business. Oh yes, Norm didn't intend to let that little bitch get off with a few warnings, because she'd defied him – if he hadn't succeeded in scaring her yet, she would never sleep again after he'd finished with her.


Lizzie cried out and woke with a start, sitting bolt upright in bed. It was still dark and she sat staring into the blackness, shivering with fear and feeling the trickle of sweat between her breasts and under her hair at her nape. Had the siren gone? She listened for a while but it was quiet. They'd had a raid earlier in the evening, but then the all-clear had gone. No, it wasn't a bomb that had woken her. She'd had an awful dream… but it wasn't the old dream. It wasn't like a dream at all. No, it was very different. Her mind was still filled with vivid pictures and she could see the man lying injured on the ground – it was a scene of chaos and carnage: it was war and the man was badly hurt – and the man was Sebastian.

Lizzie felt the tears on her cheeks as she whispered his name, ‘Sebastian… Oh my love, I wish you were here with me. I don't know where you are or if you're hurt… but I feel you with me and I feel your pain.'

Lizzie had the strongest sensation that Sebastian needed her – that he'd called to her over and over in his anguish. It was as if her dream was replaying in her mind now that she was awake. Sebastian was hurt and he wanted her, needed her – but she couldn't go to him, because she didn't know where he was.

Lizzie tried not to worry about Sebastian's whereabouts when she was awake. She knew that he wouldn't write to her often. She had a few letters saved in her drawers but her instinct had told her he was safe – perhaps in a dangerous situation, but safe. Now she was worried and all her other worries seemed to fade into the background.

‘Come back to me, Sebastian,' she murmured and dashed the tears from her cheeks. There was no point in crying. He would come to her when he could, because his letter had promised it and she could only cling to the belief that he would keep his word – but tonight she felt so vulnerable and so unutterably lonely.

Lizzie was never going to sleep again that night. She got up and went into the children's bedroom, checking on them all to make sure they were sleeping peacefully, lingering to kiss Betty softly, and then she walked down to the kitchen, closing the door before she switched on the light and filled the kettle. A cup of tea would help to relax her and then she would start work on some new designs for the summer and autumn collections.

She'd been feeling upset over Ed's row with Harry's uncle, because it was so unfair that he should start scurrilous rumours about them – unfair to Ed as well as Lizzie.

She was just pouring a cup of tea when the kitchen door opened and Beth entered. Yawning, she gave Lizzie an odd look as she fetched a cup for herself.

‘Did you have one of your bad dreams?'

‘Yes, did I wake you?' Lizzie grimaced. ‘I knew I wouldn't sleep again so I came down to make a pot of tea – and then I think I'll do some work.'

‘The children didn't wake, so you couldn't have made much noise. I couldn't sleep either so I heard you get up…'

‘It wasn't the same dream, Beth, just a silly nightmare.' She didn't want to talk about the horrific dream because then that would be like making it come true.

‘It's all this bother with Mary and the shop, and the rest of it,' Beth said. ‘Things play on your mind and then you make all sorts of things happen in your dreams.'

‘Yes, I expect you're right,' Lizzie agreed, though her dream had had nothing to do with her life. It was definitely a war scene, men lying on the ground injured and blood everywhere…

Something inside her was telling her that Sebastian had been injured, but there was no one she could ask for news. She just had to hope it was a dream…

Chapter 6

Lizzie gave a cry of distress when they arrived at the showroom the next morning. Once again her window had been broken, though because they'd had stronger glass, it had merely cracked and no fragments had fallen on the display. It still meant the expense of a new pane of glass, but that wasn't the worst of it. What upset Lizzie the most was the red paint sloshed on the walls and shop door – the word WHORE written in bold letters.

‘Oh no,' Beth said and put an arm about Lizzie's waist. ‘That is disgusting. You will have to tell the police now, Lizzie.'

‘Yes, I shall. I don't have a choice,' Lizzie said. Ed had just come out with a bucket of hot water and a brush. He sent her a grim look and started scrubbing at the offending word.

‘I hoped I'd have this done before you got here,' Ed told her, ‘but the police sent someone out and I had to stop and talk to them. One of the neighbours reported it, but I was going to myself – this can't go on, Lizzie.'

‘No, I realize that,' she said and shivered. ‘I thought it might all just go away – but now I know it won't. Whoever hates me is determined to put me out of business.'

‘I can't understand it,' Ed said. ‘Why should anyone hate you, Lizzie? You've never done anyone a spot of harm – and I told the police so. I told them everything, Lizzie, so Oliver will be getting a visit from them – and serve him right.'

‘But you didn't think he was involved in trying to frighten me?'

‘No, but this has made me think again. Who else would call you that filthy name, Lizzie? You've never given anyone any cause…' Ed broke off as one of their neighbours came to join them. He was carrying a bucket and brush and offered to give Ed a hand.

‘I'm sorry about this, Mrs Oliver,' he apologized to Lizzie. ‘I didn't hear a thing last night or I'd have called the police then – but as soon as I saw it I gave them a call. It's bad enough what we have to put up with from the Germans without this. A nice lady like you…well, the least I can do is to help clean it up for you. I've got some stuff here to get the paint off, Ed, and then you can wash it away.'

Lizzie thanked her kindly neighbour and left the men to get on with their task. Ed had abandoned the order he was working on to clean up, so Lizzie took over and cut some of the basic shapes needed, moulded them into the simple cloche that their customer had ordered and gave them to Jean, her trainee seamstress, to finish. Work helped her to calm down and there was nothing she could do, except carry on. The order was for six basic hats trimmed with ribbons, bows or a flower and not the kind of hat Lizzie preferred to spend her time on, but at the moment it was the only order they had. Unless she had some more orders in soon she would have to start thinking of how she was going to make ends meet. She didn't want to ask Ed for some of his savings, though she knew he'd be happy to give them to her.

There must be a way to find new customers, despite the war and the spiteful attacks on her property. Lizzie knew that before the conflict there had been trade fairs, where firms like Oliver's had taken their stock to show off and make new contacts. Since the war had started all that had been put on the back-burner… but perhaps she could put on something at the local church hall. She might make a range of inexpensive hats; like the ones she'd sold to Mave for her wedding. Perhaps she could encourage more working women into the shop, sell direct to the public rather than wholesale or bespoke hats for her wealthy clients. The trouble with that was that she might lose some of the clients who wanted an exclusive line if they thought she was selling cheap copies. Besides, she hadn't had even one inquiry from the public since Mave had been in. Everyone was feeling down because of the constant bombing. There wasn't much point in buying new clothes, when everything you owned might be lost in a raid. She would be better concentrating on her wholesale business, because the shops she sold to had customers that were always able to afford new hats, and the West End didn't catch it as much as they did here, where all the manufacturers and the Docks took a pounding most nights.

Everywhere you looked in Bethnal Green there was evidence of the terrible damage; the City of London Chest Hospital had recently received a direct hit, destroying the nurses' home, the chapel and the wards. The Approach Tavern was hit the same night and several people living in Approach Road were killed in the raid.

It was no use she couldn't get the horrid incident out of her mind. Feeling restless, she went outside to discover the men had managed to scrub off the nasty word and were now trying to get rid of a red smudge on the walls.

‘Oh, that's so much better,' Lizzie said. ‘Thank you, Mr Jacobs. May I get you a cup of tea or coffee?'

‘No, thank you, Mrs Oliver. I'll get back to my shop now.'

‘Well, thank you for your kindness…'

Lizzie sighed as she saw that although the door was looking much better the wall was never going to be properly clean again. They could always paint the door over with a coat of gloss paint, if they could get any – but the wall would have to bear the stain until the weather wore it away.

‘Come in now, Ed. You've done all you can. Jean has put the kettle on and I've rung about a new pane of glass.'

‘She's a good girl, I like her.' Ed gave a grim nod of assent and followed her into the office. ‘It's a nasty piece of work, Lizzie. I'd like to know who's behind it…'

‘We'd best leave that to the police,' Lizzie said. ‘I don't want you getting hurt, Ed. It was a shock, but nothing really matters but people. I can buy a new window and you've washed away the slander – we'll just have to carry on for as long as we can…'

‘You're not thinking of giving up?' Ed frowned. ‘It's what he wants, whoever he is – he's trying to upset you so much that you shut down.'

‘But why?' Lizzie asked. ‘We're not treading on anyone's toes, surely – and this was always a workshop for fine hats. So who doesn't want me to be in business? It just doesn't make sense.'

‘Well, you know who I blame…'

‘But you said he was shocked about the broken window and the threats. This was much worse,' Lizzie was thoughtful. ‘I can't honestly think that Harry's uncle would do this…'

‘He can't forgive you for Harry's death – and I think he misses you in the business. Your leaving has hurt him in his pocket and that's half of the problem. He's finding it a bit too much.'

‘It was his decision to sack me and not give me a reference,' Lizzie said.

‘Perhaps he regrets that…'

‘Then why try to ruin me?'

‘Because he wants you to run back to him and beg him for a job?'

‘No! He couldn't think this would bring me running back to him? Oh, Ed, surely he wouldn't try to put me out of business for that reason?'

‘Well, I can't think of another,' Ed said and took the mug of tea she handed him. ‘You've been followed and threatened – and they've made life thoroughly uncomfortable for you – what other reason makes sense?'

‘None of it makes sense to me,' Lizzie said. ‘Surely he must know that I wouldn't go back to him after this?'

‘Maybe he's not thinkin' properly.'

‘I know he's under a strain,' Lizzie said. ‘But he has no right to hurt me just because he was hurt by Harry's death – I felt it too.'

‘He's a silly man,' Ed said. ‘As if we haven't all of us got enough to do with worrying about where the next bomb will fall… Several houses were damaged again last night and only two streets from here. I keep wondering how long we'll escape.'

‘Oh don't,' Lizzie begged.

‘If the worst happens we'll just have to start again somewhere else,' Ed said. ‘But I feel for those who've lost their homes and their livelihoods. If you lose everything there's no compensation, business and homes gone in a night. I sometimes wonder how much we can take as a nation, Lizzie.'

‘But without our boys in blue it would have been so much worse. I think London might have been razed to the ground – the way they say some German cities have been since it started. I know they're the enemy but…' she sighed. Ed knew well enough how bad things were, because he was out on fire watch several nights a week

‘It's war, Lizzie,' Ed said and looked grave. ‘We can't let ourselves feel sorry for the enemy. We might feel it's wrong to kill so many people, but we have to win and if that means bombing German towns and cities it has to happen.'

‘Yes, I know,' she said. ‘But it makes my problems look insignificant, doesn't it? What are a cracked window and some red paint when we're in the middle of a blitz?'

‘We're catching it every single night here in the East End,' Ed said grimly. ‘We lost three shops in the next road last week and a whole row of houses two streets away, and the Falcon pub in Victoria Park Square was demolished. Honestly, I sometimes think we have a guardian angel looking after us.'

‘It wasn't just us in the East End last night; Westminster Hall caught it and the House of Commons was reduced to rubble. Big Ben was hit and the British Museum and St Paul's…'

BOOK: Lizzie's War
10.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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