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Authors: Anna Jacobs

Elm tree road (page 27)

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‘She stood between him and me,’ May told the other men. ‘She’s not much taller than I am, but she was so brave.’

Hugh reached out to clasp Nell’s hand, giving her a smilethat was lopsided from a puffy cut lip. ‘Very brave.’

Ronald studied them. ‘You both look ready to drop. I’ve sent Peter for the doctor. He was at Mrs Pender’s house because the old lady’s been took bad. If we’re in luck, we’ll just catch him before he leaves.’

‘I don’t need a doctor,’ Hugh said, but winced as he moved.

‘I’d say you’ve cracked a rib or two,’ Ronald said. ‘You need him to bind them up for you. And he’d better look at Mrs Greenhill too. She looks white and wambly to me.’

Hugh kept a firm hold of Nell’s hand. ‘She’s wonderful,’ he said in a husky voice.

‘Can we borrow your trap, sir? We’ll take that fellow into Faringdon and hand him over to the police. My cousin’s the sergeant there. I’ll tell him what’s happened and warn him to watch out for that fellow’s lies. As if Mrs Greenhill would take up with a brute like that when everyone in the village knows it’s you she cares about!’

Nell’s head was hurting and she did indeed feel sick, but that remark made her smile. Had her feelings been so very obvious? Then she moved, groaning as this caused pain to stab through her head.

‘I think we need to get you to bed, my little love,’ Hugh said. ‘I’d offer to carry you up, but I’m in no fit state.’

‘I’ll do that, sir. Yes, Mrs Greenhill, you do need carrying. Hold still while I pick you up. We don’t want you making bad worse by tumbling down the stairs, do we?’

Hugh turned to his niece. ‘May, can you fill a hot-water bottle for her?’

‘Yes.’

He watched Ronald carry Nell out of the room andwinced as he moved without thinking. ‘Fine hero I am!’ he muttered.

‘You’re a hero and she’s a heroine,’ May said firmly. ‘But it’s not like the storybooks, is it? It was horrible. And you’re both hurting.’

He was hurting even worse by the time the doctor had bound up his ribs, and once he’d made sure Nell was all right, he allowed them to give him something to make him sleep.

There was no lack of helpers to take care of May and keep an eye on them all. 

Chapter Eighteen

The following morning, Nell woke up a little later than usual. Her head was aching and she couldn’t think why until she suddenly remembered what had happened.

She found a dressing gown beside the bed, not hers, but it was obviously there for her.

Footsteps pattered up the stairs and May peeped in. ‘Oh, you’re awake. Good. I can bring you up a cup of tea. I put my mother’s dressing gown out for you.’

‘I’d rather come down for the tea. Where’s your uncle?’

‘He’s sitting in the kitchen. He’s got two cracked ribs, the doctor says, so it hurts him to move, but he’ll be all right.’ She looked at Nell anxiously. ‘Are you sure you’re well enough to come down?’

‘Yes. Give me a couple of minutes.’

Hugh was sitting at the table, watching the stairs, but didn’t get up to greet her, which told Nell he was hurting badly.

‘Should you be up?’ she asked.

‘Should you?’ He glanced towards the kitchen mirror.‘Ugh! I look a right old mess, don’t I? But the doctor said my nose isn’t broken, and it’s just contusions and cuts, apart from the ribs.’

She went to join him at the table, still feeling a little wobbly.

‘I want to thank you for saving May.’ He reached out to clasp her hand.

‘Anyone would have done the same.’

‘No, they wouldn’t. Especially not a little woman like you facing up to a huge brute like him.’

‘May didn’t get hurt, which was the main thing.’

There was a sound over by the door and May suddenly rushed across the room to throw her arms round Nell’s neck, weeping loudly. ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was so awful to you.’

Startled, Nell met Hugh’s eyes over the girl’s head, patting the heaving shoulders.

‘It’s reaction,’ he said. ‘She was marvellous while we needed her, and she made breakfast for me this morning. I was so proud of you yesterday, May.’

As the child continued to weep, Nell made a shushing sound. ‘Calm down now, May dear.’

When May had stopped sobbing, she reached for Nell’s hand.

‘I don’t know how you can bear to be with me, I’ve been so horrible to you. I knew I was being horrible and … I couldn’t stop it.’

‘We all do things we regret.’

‘Have I spoilt it all for you?’

‘Spoilt what, May?’

The girl looked from Nell to her uncle and back again.‘You two. He wants to marry you and I thought I didn’t want it, but I do now, because I could see how much he loved you when you were hurt. And I can see how much you love him every time you look at him.’

Hugh leant forward, his breath hissing in as he moved. ‘So if I ask Nell to marry me, it won’t upset you now – because you know you’ll still be living with us?’

‘And I’ll have two people who care for me, instead of one. Yes, I know.’ May brushed away a tear and turned back to Nell. ‘You will marry my uncle, won’t you?’

Hugh smiled. ‘I can do my own proposing, young lady.’

May stared at him for a moment, then said, ‘Go on, then. Do it.’

He turned to Nell. ‘My darling, I know I look terrible, and you’re a bit battered too, but I can’t wait any longer.’ Very gingerly he got down on one knee. ‘Will you marry me, Nell dearest? I don’t think I can bear it unless you do.’

She leant forward to kiss the cheek that was nearest. ‘Of course I will. Get up, you soft fool. I never saw such a carry-on. Why couldn’t you just ask me? It must have hurt you to kneel down.’

‘It was worth it.’

‘He had to do it properly,’ May said indignantly. ‘The man always has to go down on one knee to propose. I’ve been reading about it.’

‘There you are.’ Hugh eased back on to his chair, grinning at them. ‘I should have added, will you take on this young lady, as well as me?’

‘I can’t think of anything I’d like better,’ Nell said, the lump of happiness in her throat making her voice wobble.

‘Hooray!’ May got up and danced round the room. ‘We’re engaged! We’re engaged!’

Hugh rolled his eyes at this, then caught Nell’s hand. ‘I’d sweep you into my arms, but it’d hurt too much.’

‘Get on with you!’

‘I didn’t believe it when I read it in books, but I do now. You really have made me the happiest man in the world.’

May stopped dancing and came to stand next to them, biting the corner of her mouth.

‘What is it now?’ Hugh asked, recognising the signs of worry.

‘London. You need to go back there, don’t you?’

‘Yes. I thought we could all move there as soon as Nell and I are married. I can’t stay here, May. My life and work are in London.’

‘I don’t want to stay here now, uncle. I don’t want anyone else coming to attack us. If Nell hadn’t helped me escape, that man might have killed us and there was nobody near to call to for help.’

‘Bad things happen everywhere,’ Nell said quietly. ‘We just have to cope with them as best we can, May, and be thankful for the good times.’

‘Like you losing your daughter.’

‘Yes. That’ll always hurt, but I hope you’ll be a daughter to me now.’

May’s face brightened and she nodded.

Hugh waited a minute to let the emotions that conversation had raised in them all die down again. When Nell’s face had lost its distressed look, he said, ‘We’ll send a letter to your sister and get young Harry to drive us over there next Sunday to discuss the wedding. I reckonwe’ll both be in a fit state to go out by then.’ He chuckled suddenly. ‘Fine romantic pair we are, me with my battered face and you with a big bump on your head.’

‘I’d not have anyone else in the whole world,’ she said.

May gave a sentimental sigh and they both smiled at her.

Then Nell said wistfully, ‘There’s only one thing missing from my happiness.’

‘Knowing where your other sister is.’

‘Yes.’

‘She’ll turn up one day.’

‘That’s what Jacob says to Mattie. I certainly hope so.’

 

They set off for Shallerton Bassett on the Sunday morning, after an exchange of letters with Mattie. This time an excited May was allowed to sit in the front of the car next to Harry, while Nell and Hugh sat in the back, holding hands, not saying much but smiling a lot.

As they got to the end of their lane, they met the postman, so took their letters from him to save him a ride.

‘There’s one for you.’ Hugh passed over an envelope with childish scrawling writing on it. ‘Posted in Swindon.’

Nell studied it. ‘Who can it be from?’

‘You’ll never know if you don’t open it.’

She did so, finding two sheets of paper inside, the second one with only a few lines typed on it and a mere scrawl of a signature.

Dear Nell

After I’d seen you, I got to thinking that them Greenhills shouldn’t be able to stop you hearing from your Renie. So when I heard Frank was locked up, Iwent and had a quiet word with Mrs Greenhill about passing letters on. She’s shocked at what he’s done, even though she still hates you.

She handed over this letter, which they’d had for a few weeks, the miserable devils. That neighbour of your Dad’s, who’s been passing information to them, got hold of it and gave it to them. They’d already opened it, so I had a read to make sure it wasn’t bad news. It isn’t, though Renie shouldn’t have gone running off to Paris like that, the minx.

Stan Telfor

Nell clapped one hand to her mouth, hardly daring to look at the second piece of paper.

‘What is it?’ Hugh asked.

She passed Stan’s letter on to him, took a deep breath and began to read the second piece of paper.

Dear Nell,

I asked a friend at the hotel to send this to Dad if I didn’t get in touch in three months.

I’m not able to tell anyone exactly where I’m going, not even you, but I promise you, I’m all right. I’m doing a favour for a friend and we’ll be living in Paris for a while. Just imagine that, me going to France!

I’ll send word to you when it’s safe.

Love

Renie

Nell saw that May had turned round to watch her anxiously, and when Hugh took hold of her hand, she clutched hisand sniffed away the tears. You shouldn’t cry when you’d had good news, and she’d done enough crying in the past year.

‘It’s from my sister Renie. The Greenhills had this letter all the time. I still don’t know what Renie’s doing, but at least I know she went away willingly. I’m sure now that I’ll hear from her again.’

‘That must make you feel better.’

‘It does. Though I shall be worrying about what she’s doing with herself in Paris. Stan’s right. She is a minx. Just wait till I show this to Mattie.’

He grinned. ‘You’ll probably both have a lovely cry over it.’

‘Oh, you!’ She gave him a mock punch, being careful not to hit him properly, then took hold of his hand again. His face might be battered, he was still moving carefully and his smile was lopsided, but to her he was thebest-lookingman in the whole world.

‘They get all soppy sometimes,’ May whispered to Harry.

‘It’s nice to see,’ he whispered back.

‘Huh! They’re always kissing and cuddling. I’m never going to be like that.’

 

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By Anna Jacobs

Cherry Tree Lane

Elm Tree Road

Copyright

Allison & Busby Limited13 Charlotte MewsLondon W1T 4EJwww.allisonandbusby.com

Hardcover published in Great Britain in 2011.This ebook edition first published 2011.

Copyright © 2011 by ANNAJACOBS

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All characters and events in this publication other than those clearly in the public domain are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent buyer.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN 978–0–7490–4056–7

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