Authors: Lizzie Lane
A scandalous woman?
Having left her abusive husband for very good reasons, Mary Anne Randall finds herself judged harshly by her neighbours, especially after she has the courage to risk a second chance at happiness.
But with the only man she has ever loved away fighting, Mary Anne is less concerned by her tarnished reputation than with keeping her children safe, as the bombs fall on Bristol – all too close to home.
Lizzie Lane was born and brought up in South Bristol and has worked in law, the probation service, tourism and as a supporting artiste in such dramas as
, which are both set in Bristol.
She is married with one daughter and currently lives with her husband on a 46-foot sailing yacht, dividing her time between Bath and the Med. Sometimes they mix with the jet set and sometimes they just chill out in a bay with a computer, a warm breeze and a gin and tonic!
A Christmas Wish
The Soldier’s Valentine (digital novella)
A Wartime Wife
Curious eyes turned in the direction of the man in the gabardine trench coat. If anyone had been brave enough to look into his eyes, they would have seen they were the same colour as his coat, a sludgy hazel, not bright, not happy. If they’d had the guts to stop him and make conversation, they would have seen the hard line of his jaw and perhaps heard him grind his teeth.
No one did stop him. No one dared.
He walked straight and tall, his steps measured and his eyes missing nothing as he scanned the humble brick facades of houses built some time in the nineteenth century. The workers who’d lived in them had worked at the cotton factory in Barton Hill, a working class area in the centre of the old seaport of Bristol. They were small and cramped. Damp too.
Some doors were open. The smell of cabbage and meagre rations filtered out into the street. He wrinkled his nose. Even though he hadn’t eaten for hours, the smells did nothing for his appetite.
The street was moderately busy. Women stood in gossipy groups on the pavements, small boys pedalled on makeshift bicycles and girls with dirty faces pushed doll’s prams made from orange boxes.
He felt their eyes on him. If he’d needed to he would have asked questions, but he didn’t. He knew the house number he wanted.
‘Looking for someone?’
Although surprised and indignant that someone was brave enough to speak to him, his footsteps did not falter. He glanced only briefly over his shoulder at the brave soul who’d dared.
The woman wore too much make-up and carried too much weight. And that despite rationing? Incredible. He was loath to reply, so didn’t. He’d reached the house he was looking for anyway.
Number seventeen had dirty windows. Lace curtains divided over an elegant statuette of a lithe woman and two equally elegant dogs; Borzois, he thought. Russian deerhounds. They were made of plaster and common. It was no more than he’d expected. No doubt the blackout curtains were folded behind the lace and prettiness, slumped against the wall.
The front door was brown. He eyed its dull surface. Couldn’t whoever lived here make the effort to paint it?
His thoughts were trivial and easily brushed aside. He was here on serious business. In years past it hadn’t seemed so serious, but recent events had changed all that. The world had changed and so had his take on it.
The sound of the door knocker echoed around the street. He sensed those that watched had fallen to silence, their interest transferred from local gossip to the stranger daring to walk down their street. And what was he doing at number seventeen? He resisted the urge to smile to himself. All would be revealed, but not to them. All secrets were for whoever lived here. The past was coming back to haunt them.
The door was old and swollen in its frame and creaked like old bones as it was tugged open.
Henry Randall looked him up and down. ‘What can I do for you?’
He hid his disappointment. He’d expected a woman.
‘George Ford, Attorney at Law.’
He preferred this description to solicitor or lawyer. It had more gravitas, struck more fear into guilty hearts.
He congratulated himself, pleased that his voice was level and self assured. He sensed the man who had opened the door had been about to tell him to clear off until he’d told him who he was. Amazing what the legal profession could do to people.
Henry Randall’s appearance was not so much a disappointment as a goad to the man’s seething anger. Although not exactly a tidy man, neither was Henry dirty, merely shabby. His shirt sleeves sprouted through the holes in the elbows of his woolly cardigan. There was a slight greasiness to the edge of his collar. A five o’clock shadow sullied his chin. Judging by what he knew of her background, he wondered how such a woman could have married such a man. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right.
Antagonism had flitted in Henry Randall’s eyes when he’d first opened the door. Now there was only puzzlement, perhaps even confusion. The man calling himself George Ford pretended not to notice but broke instantly into his well-rehearsed patter.
‘I’m looking for a Mrs Mary Anne Randall, formerly Sweet, daughter of Joseph and Lydia Sweet of Eastville. I am calling with regard to the matter of her Aunt Maude’s will. Certain provisions of the estate deemed that I conduct a face-to-face analysis of the legality and identity of said beneficiary. Have I been rightly informed that she lives here?’
He beamed broadly. He was good at gaining people’s trust. He had the knack of adopting a certain look, a certain tone that people always fell for – even surly sods like Henry Randall.
Henry’s lax cheeks lengthened with his chin as he thought this through. His visitor waited until sure that his convoluted language was sinking in. Henry frowned. Gone were his days of foul language and stinking breath. He’d turned almost teetotal thanks to Mary Anne. All he wanted now was for her to notice him again, but not with the fear she’d once held for him. He wanted her to love him, but she wasn’t having any of it. Since she’d left he’d tried all sorts of ways to get her back, but so far without success. Any excuse and he was round there. This lawyer was an excuse in a trench coat.
Henry glanced at the others who’d moved into this street since being bombed out in Bedminster. There were a few – about three families. Biddy Young was one of them. He glowered at her. Nosey old bat!
He didn’t so much smile at the man, but merely let his face loosen a little – the closest he ever got to a smile. ‘Well, you’d better come on in unless you want the whole street to know yer business.’
George Ford followed Henry up the stairs. ‘I’m up here,’ Henry explained. ‘Biddy Young, my neighbour, lives downstairs. We both got bombed out at the same time in the old street.’
George Ford made no comment. He wrinkled his nose at the smell and state of the downstairs hall. Nobody had polished the stair’s handrail in ages. Henry Randall’s living accommodation wasn’t quite as bad. The man made an effort, though everything was shabby and second hand, doubtless donations from the Red Cross and suchlike.
‘Speak your piece,’ said Henry without offering his visitor a chair.
George Ford wasn’t fooled. He saw the curiosity in the other man’s eyes.
‘Money. I’m talking money.’
‘So you say. I didn’t know my wife had an Aunt Maude.’
George smiled with his lips, but purposely adopted a questioning look in his eyes. ‘Do you know everything about your wife? Has she never kept secrets from you? People do, especially women. Not that I am attempting in any way to blacken your good wife’s name. Besides being easily tempted, women love secrets. Look at Eve and that snake. How well did they know each other before she told Adam of his beguiling ways?’
All manner of expressions flickered across Henry Randall’s face and eyes. George knew he’d unnerved him, knew he could manipulate him as easily as a wooden marionette if he chose to. And he did choose, and in time he would use him.
Henry Randall seethed with a jealousy George Ford could not possibly comprehend. He was finding it difficult to take in the glib words, so naturally fell back on his basic emotions. This was yet another young man in Mary Anne’s life. She already had one. He wouldn’t stand for another.
George sensed suddenly that he’d been wrong and that Henry would take a little more time to control. He smoothed the way for the future. ‘So you don’t know her address?’
‘I already told you, no. And besides, I don’t recall her ever having an Aunt Maude.’
Once the front door had closed, Biddy Young hurried over to where two of her neighbours were muttering together. Like Biddy they had seen the smartly dressed man go into number seventeen. Like her they were curious.
‘So what do you think that’s all about?’
One of the women was wearing metal curlers. They clinked together like stair rods as she shook her head.
‘Don’t know. P’raps he bin up to no good and that bloke’s a copper.’
‘Fancy a cup of tea?’ asked the woman with the spiky curlers.
‘Only if you bring it out ’ere,’ said Biddy. ‘I wouldn’t want to miss anything.’
‘Goes without saying,’ the woman replied.
The three of them stood there, slurping tea from saucers and passing a single Woodbine between them. Bits of tobacco stuck to their lips. Their eyes stuck on number seventeen.
It was ten minutes before the man reappeared. He shook hands with Henry before marching off up the street.
‘Right,’ said Biddy. ‘Let’s go and find out what’s going on.’
The other women watched as she made her way to number seventeen. Henry didn’t take too long in answering.
His face dropped when he saw it was her, as though he were hoping to see someone else.
Too late for that
, thought Biddy, but she plastered on a painted smile.
‘I’m out of sugar. A few teaspoonfuls will do if you got some?’ She kept beaming.
‘You’ll be lucky!’
‘Oh. Never mind. I expect you made a cuppa for your visitor. Not from round here, is he?’
She waited for Henry to tell her to shove off. Perhaps he wouldn’t. If so there could be only one reason. It was something to do with Mary Anne.
Just at that moment, Stanley Randall pushed his way past his father, wheeling his sister’s old bike. ‘I heard it all,’ he said, gleefully addressing Biddy, who he’d known since he was small. ‘It’s something to do with money left by her Aunt Maude.’