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The Song of a Nightingale


London, 5 July 1939

   Waterloo Station was teeming with travellers, hurrying for a seat on the waiting train. As they flowed around her, Gail Richmond’s thoughts were miles away. The next few days were likely to be the most important of her life, and fear made her heart beat a little faster. The coming conflict would challenge her to the limit.

   Without being aware of her actions, she was scanning each face that passed her by, hoping Emma would reach the station in time, but the seconds were ticking by. It was going to be close. Then her eyes came into focus as she heard a voice calling her name.

   The next moment, she spotted a familiar figure clad in daring black slacks emerging from the crowd. “Emma, you made it! But… Oh, my goodness. Have you run all the way?”

   “Almost,” Emma gasped and embraced her fondly. “I just couldn’t let you go back to Westcott and beard the monster in his den without giving you a hug.”

   Gail laughed. “Oh, my God. I shan’t be able to look him in the eye now, without seeing an ogre.”

   Emma smiled. “Exactly. It will make you smile and relax when you speak to him.”

   “You’re probably right. But how on earth did you get away? Sister’s a strict disciplinarian, isn’t she?”

   “Yes. Fortunately, I have a good friend covering for me. However,” Emma frowned and leaned back to examine Gail’s face, feature by feature. “Tell me honestly! Are you ready to face that terrible man?”

   “As ready as I shall ever be.” She smiled, determined to be positive, but her stomach tingled with nervousness.

   The announcer’s distorted voice boomed out over the hiss of waiting steam engines and chattering voices, adding to the chaotic clamour of sound that reverberated beneath the arched glass roof.

   She glanced at the clock. “The train departs in a minute or two. I shall have to go. Do you have any last words of advice?”

   “Just be yourself, sweetie, and stay strong.” Emma clasped her tight and murmured into her ear. “Remember, if things get too much, I am here.”

   “You are a lifesaver, Emma Blakeney. I hope it won’t come to that, though.”

   “After everything you’ve been through this year, you’ll manage. Do you still have my notes?”

   Gail patted her handbag. “All safe. And I’ve worked out a plan...”

“All aboard!” A guard was striding down the platform, calling the last passengers onto the train. Unable to stay any longer, Gail climbed in, slammed the door and turned to wave through the window as the train pulled away from the platform with a mighty roar.

   She stayed where she was, watching the smoke-stained Victorian railway architecture give way to views of Big Ben across the Thames, and then the massive edifice of Battersea Power Station. Behind her, several young schoolgirls were giggling, whispering together and weaving cheeky, fanciful stories about her. Why was such a well-dressed young woman standing as though turned to stone? But their whispers did not penetrate her mind, and they left the train a few stops later.

   Gail was, in fact, making a difficult mental transition from the capable, professional woman she intended to be to the innocent young daughter her family was expecting.

   Slowly, oh so slowly, she partitioned into the back of her mind the challenges that lay ahead and the events that had so profoundly changed her life.

   The tension eased out of her shoulders and anticipation took its place. She was going home after almost a year away.

   Finally, she sat down and watched the grimy terraced houses of inner London give way to more spacious dwellings and then to open countryside.

   God! She was looking forward to seeing her mother and sister and tasting good old English normality after the traumas of the past year.



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