Authors: Annie Groves
Tags: #Book 3 Article Row series
My Sweet Valentine
For Annie Groves’ readers
‘Tilly, no! Stop! Don’t go any further. It’s too dangerous.’…
‘Who on earth can that be knocking on the front…
‘You look lovely, beautiful, and I’m the luckiest guy in…
‘I expect that you and your young man have got…
The house in which Dulcie and Sally were staying wasn’t…
‘… And she’s only been to see you that once…
‘Morning, Mrs Robbins.’
‘Drew, please let me come with you when you meet…
‘Well, what was wrong with that pretty crêpe de Chine…
‘Oh, Dulcie, you look ever so glamorous, just like a…
In the Café de Paris, believing they were safe, and…
‘And now they’re saying that women over the age of…
‘There, that’s a barrowful of sand ready for the Misses…
‘Of course, when I told them that I was working…
‘It’s so awful that St Andrew’s has gone,’ Tilly said,…
Alone in the kitchen of number 13, where she was…
On her way to her room Tilly paused on the…
‘And we’ve booked to stay at this pub in a…
‘… and since then our Edith’s started wanting to tag…
‘I wanted to be with you so much last night.’…
30 December 1940
‘Tilly, no! Stop! Don’t go any further. It’s too dangerous.’
‘I’m all right,’ Tilly Robbins assured her boyfriend, Drew, as the crowd surging towards St Paul’s Cathedral parted them. All around, the air was thick with smoke and the dusty aftermath of the previous night’s heavy bombing. Buildings were still burning, the acrid smell stinging the throats and the eyes of the onlookers. Even now, hoses were still being directed at the most intense fires.
The general noise of the Londoners, coming to see for themselves that St Paul’s was still standing, added to the rattle of fire engines’ wheels on cobbled road and the roar of persistent fires, made it almost impossible to hear oneself think, never mind hold a conversation, Tilly thought. Her earlier sense of adventure had been a little dissipated as the crowd swept her away from Drew and carried her along with it. Of course, she would never want Drew to think she was the helpless kind who couldn’t look after herself, but already she was missing
his protective presence at her side and the warmth of his hand in hers. Soon, however, she managed to battle her way out of the crowd to stand in the shelter of a doorway whilst she waited for Drew to catch up with her. Turning, she waved and smiled at him. Relieved to see that Tilly was waiting for him, Drew waved back.
Then suddenly, a shower of burning sparks fell onto the crowd, followed by a piece of smouldering timber from a building. People started panicking, pushing and elbowing others to try to escape. Trapped in her doorway by the crush of bodies, Tilly couldn’t move. Several bricks fell to the ground nearby, one of them hitting her arm, whilst Drew struggled helplessly to get to her against the surge of the crowd moving the other way.
‘Watch out, the whole building’s going to go,’ Tilly heard someone yell.
People scattered in every direction. Frightened herself now, Tilly too started to push forward, trying to escape. Her chest was pounding; the air she was trying to breath was thick with dust and heat. Her nose was stinging from the burning smell. She had no idea where to run for safety as the bricks showered down. Right next to her a man was hit on the head by one of the bricks, staggering and then falling to the ground, blood pouring from his forehead. Automatically Tilly crouched down to try to help him.
Drew had been fixing his gaze on her as he fought to get to her side. Her sudden disappearance from sight had his heart slamming into his chest, until the crowd parted and he could see the cream knitted beret she was wearing on her dark curls.
‘Drew!’ Tilly knew she was trembling with relief as
Drew reached her and pulled her close. Another fall of bricks had her ducking her head into his shoulder whilst he raised his arm protectively around her.
‘Come on, we’ve got to get out of here before the whole building goes,’ he urged her.
The man who had fallen was being helped to his feet by his friends. Drew was right, they needed to get away, but still Tilly hesitated, wanting to make sure the injured man was all right.
She had just pulled a couple of yards away from Drew when she heard him yelling frantically, ‘Tilly, no!’
The thunder of the fresh fall of bricks was terrifying. It held her paralysed where she was, right in their path. They were going to hit her. She was going to die, but still she couldn’t move. A terrible sense of the ice-cold inevitability of her fate gripped her. This was it. This was her time. It was no good trying to avoid it. She couldn’t escape.
She could hear Drew crying out, ‘Tilly!
!’, his anguish making her heart beat faster but he was too far away to reach her.
Tilly looked towards him, all her love for him in her eyes.
Drew knew only that he had to save her. Miraculously, by some superhuman power he hadn’t known he possessed, he reached out for her, somehow finding the strength to pull her bodily out of the path of the falling debris, and away to safety. His grip on her was so hard that Tilly could feel the sharp pain of the force he had used right through her shoulder.
It wasn’t that pain, though, that was making her cry, as Drew held her tightly, whilst the bricks thudded down
onto the pavement behind them. It was relief, Tilly recognised.
Drew had just saved her life.
She was trembling so much in the aftermath of her shock that she knew she was incapable of standing by herself. As he held her, she could feel his heart thudding, and hear his harsh straining for breath.
‘Oh, Drew, you saved me. You saved my life. You put your own life at risk for me,’ Tilly whispered, unable to hold back her tears.
‘My life is nothing without you in it, Tilly,’ Drew whispered back. If he’d lost her … It didn’t bear thinking about. He loved her so much. She was everything to him, this pretty little Londoner who had stolen his heart so completely.
Thankfully they clung together, both aware how close to death Tilly had been, silently sharing their own small miracle, looking at one another with all that they felt for each other in their eyes. There was no need for words. They were together, they were safe. At least for now. Held tight in Drew’s arms, Tilly felt vulnerable for the first time. Suddenly she was anxious to claim every second of life she could – to spend that time with Drew; to be with Drew. To be married to Drew, and soon, though she knew that her mother did not want that for her. Until this moment she had been relatively happy to accept her mother’s plans for her, but now that she had come face to face with the reality of loss and death, now when she was still shaking inside with the fear of what could have been lost, Tilly knew that somehow she must find a way to change her mother’s mind.
The incident, so potentially fatal for Tilly and Drew,
was just another everyday wartime event in the lives of London’s citizens. A salvage team was already piling out of the truck that had pulled up close to the unstable building. Men were cordoning off the pavement and getting to work to make the building safe. The brief moments of panic and danger were over.
‘Come on,’ Drew said gruffly against Tilly’s ear. ‘Let’s get out of here.’
‘I still want to see St Paul’s,’ Tilly told him. ‘We said we’d meet the others there, and Mum will worry if we don’t turn up.’
‘She’d worry even more if she knew what I know,’ Drew told her grimly.
Tilly was right, though. Olive, her mother,
worry if they didn’t meet up, and then Olive wouldn’t trust him to take care of Tilly, and that was the last thing Drew wanted. He knew already that Tilly’s mother thought she was too young for a steady boyfriend, and he could understand why. It was up to him to prove Olive wrong and to show her that Tilly would be quite safe with him.
But there were things about him that Tilly still didn’t know. Things he hadn’t been able to bear to tell her in case they changed how she felt about him. He hated keeping secrets from her. He wanted her to know everything, but with every day that passed since they had declared their love for one another it got harder both to tell her and to not tell her. His guilt was an increasingly heavy burden on his conscience. He guessed exactly how Tilly’s mother would feel if she knew the truth about him. She would not like it at all.
‘Come on, then,’ he agreed, making himself focus on the present as he gave in to Tilly’s insistent tug on the
sleeve of his sturdy Burberry mackintosh – a staple in the wardrobe of all serious Fleet Street newshounds. ‘But this time you stay right here at my side, and to make sure that you do …’
Drew took hold of Tilly’s hand and held it tightly in his own, earning himself a speaking look of tenderness and love.
Darling Drew. She was so lucky to have met him, Tilly thought happily. Her American was the most wonderful man, the most wonderful boyfriend … he would be the most wonderful husband. Tilly tried to squeeze down the happiness and excitement she felt at the thought of Drew as her husband … and herself as his wife. And they
be husband and wife, just as soon as she could convince her mother that she wasn’t too young to get married. Just because her mother had married young during the last war, and had then been widowed when Tilly had been a baby, that did not mean that the same thing was going to happen to her. She understood why her mother wanted to protect her, but she wasn’t a girl any more, she was a woman now. A woman who was deeply in love and desperate to spend every minute she could with the man she loved. Life was so precious. How strongly that had been brought home to her. They had so much to look forward to: their love, and the life they would share, the book that Drew planned to write about Londoners living through the war, the children they would have … She couldn’t wait for her life with him to start.
Standing waiting anxiously at the bottom of the street, with her back to St Paul’s, Olive spotted the young couple from several yards away. The sight of them openly holding
hands caused her heart to sink. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Drew Coleman – she did – but Tilly was so young, too young, in Olive’s eyes, for the pain that she knew could come from loving someone in wartime if that love turned to loss. Drew might not be in uniform but in his job he was often out and in the thick of it, reporting on the air raids on London.
Initially Tilly had respected Olive’s wishes about not getting too involved with Drew, but since Christmas something had changed, and every day – or so it seemed to Olive, watching Tilly so anxiously – Tilly was making it plainer that she considered Drew and herself to be a courting couple. Olive only had to look at her now, openly holding Drew’s hand in the street, where she knew that Olive would see her, to know that.
It wasn’t that she couldn’t see that Tilly thought herself in love. It was just that she wanted to protect her from the pain that that love could bring if it was lost to her, and war brought the prospect of that kind of loss so much closer.
Now that mother and daughter had found one another in the crowd, Olive’s pretty face, so like her daughter’s, was creased with anxiety.
‘I don’t think we should have come,’ she told Tilly. ‘It’s so dangerous out here with all these buildings still burning and unsafe.’
‘We had to, Mum. We couldn’t not do,’ Tilly protested. ‘We all want to see for ourselves that St Paul’s is really still standing. We all said the same thing, even you.’