Authors: Margaret Graham
Tags: #Chick-Lit, #Family Saga, #Fiction, #Historical, #Love Stories, #Loyalty, #Romance, #Sagas, #War, #World War II
In England in the 1930s, eighteen-year-old Helen Carstairs braves the prejudice of friends and family to marry Heine, a young German photographer who has fled the growing horror of the Nazis.
But the storm clouds are gathering in Europe. When fighting breaks out Heine is interned, their small son is evacuated and Helen is left to face the Blitz alone.
And the agony of war threatens to divide a family already tormented by conflicting passions of loyalty, shame, betrayal – and love.
Margaret Graham has been writing for thirty years. Her first novel was published in 1986 and since then she has written fourteen novels. As a bestselling author her novels have been published in the UK, Europe and the USA.
Somewhere Over England
was previously published as
A Fragment of Time
Margaret has written two plays, co-researched a television documentary – which grew out of
Canopy of Silence
– and has written numerous short stories and features. She is a writing tutor and speaker and has written regularly for Writers’ Forum. She founded and administered the Yeovil Literary Prize to raise funds for the creative arts of the Yeovil area and it continues to thrive under the stewardship of one of her ex-students. Margaret now lives near High Wycombe and has launched Words for the Wounded which raises funds for the rehabilitation of wounded troops by donations and writing prizes.
She has ‘him indoors’, four children and three grandchildren who think OAP stands for Old Ancient Person. They have yet to understand the politics of pocket money. Margaret is a member of the Rock Choir, the WI and a Chair of her local U3A. She does Pilates and Tai Chi and travels as often as she can.
For more information about Margaret Graham visit her website at
After the Storm (previously published as Only the Wind is Free)
My sincere thanks to Sheila Doering, Nancy Copas, Daphne Folyer, Thelma Kazda and Margot Loomis – all now of the United States – without whom this book could not have been written. My thanks also to Sue Bramble, Martock Branch Librarian with Somerset County Library, whose advice and help has been, as always, above and beyond the call of duty.
The lichen was dry beneath her fingers, dry and warm. It crumbled as she rubbed her hand along the top of the old bridge; some had caught beneath her nails which were cut short and square as her mother insisted. Helen smiled because soon it wouldn’t matter what her mother thought. It was 1931, she was eighteen and at last it wouldn’t matter.
She lifted her face to the sun. It was hot although it was early May and through her closed lids she could see only red but she felt Heine near her, next to her. She could hear his breathing, smell his skin and here was his hand, firm on hers. Through her closed lids she could picture him; tanned, his hair golden.
‘I love you, Heine,’ she said and it was not until she felt his lips on her neck, his breath on her skin that she turned, looking into his face, touching the lines beneath his eyes, kissing his mouth, stroking his hair. Although he said there were grey hairs she could see none, he was too blond.
‘And I love you, Helen,’ he said. That was all but it was enough.
She turned back to the parapet, her arm in his.
‘I used to come here with my father,’ she said, the index finger of her other hand tracing the figure six, round and round in the lichen. ‘Before he died, of course.’
Heine nodded, leaning over to look down into the stream. ‘In the trenches, I suppose?’ His voice was tense and Helen lifted his hand to her lips. There was dirt on his palm from her fingers.
‘Mother wishes that he had. It would be so much more proper somehow but no, it was the flu. In 1919 when I was six. But I can remember coming here with him, I know I can, although Mother says I can’t possibly. I was three the first time when he was on leave.’ She stared hard at his hand. ‘I can
remember coming here while she stayed at home to cook the joint on Sundays. He would hold my hand as we walked from the Avenue, across the fields, along by the hazel trees to this exact spot.’
She turned and smiled at Heine. ‘To this exact spot,’ she repeated, ‘and the lichen was here then too. The weather always seemed warm and dry and the minnows darted in and out of the shadows just as they’re doing now.’ She paused. ‘I haven’t been back for years.’ She thought, but did not add, that she could not face coming alone, or with her – her mother.
Helen leaned over the parapet, her shoes digging into the stones and turf of the lane which had never been tarmacked. There was no need, no traffic, just us, her father had said. The minnows were darting and now she remembered how they would each drop a stick into the water from the other side of the bridge and race back. Her father would lift her so that she could see whose had won and although her head and body had been well over the water she had never been afraid. He had been thirty when he died and she hadn’t been back since then.
Would he be pleased at her news, she wondered, as she looked again at Heine, and felt that he would because she could remember him saying, Be happy, to her in that room, the spare room where her mother had moved him the moment he had become ill. Just be happy when you can, life is so short.
The room had a wet blanket soaked in disinfectant draped in the doorway day and night. Her mother had said it was to stop the germs and Helen was not to enter; on no account was she to enter. But on the first Sunday of his illness she had pushed past the heavy Army issue barrier. Its wetness had soaked into her blue summer dress, staining it darker where it had touched. Its smell had saturated the room. She bent forward and kissed him by his eyebrow. He was so hot and dry and there was a pulse beneath his skin. I love you, Daddy, she said, and he smiled. I won’t let you die. Every day she had crept into that bleak room and kissed him there and said, I will not let you die. But one day he was dead, and she was alone with her mother.
Now she couldn’t remember what he had looked like, though there was a photograph on the mantelpiece in the dining-room of him in his Pay Corps uniform. But somehow it was not the father she had known, the father whose smile had been slow and whose voice had been kind.
‘We also had the flu in our land, Helen.’ Heine’s voice was gentle and she nodded.
‘Yes, I know, my love.’ But she pushed the thought of his land away, just for now. There would be enough said about that when they arrived for tea in the house in the Avenue where she still lived.
‘Are you sure your mother will receive me?’ Heine asked, the lines deepening around his eyes and across his forehead.
‘Of course she will.’ But she looked away because she did not want him to see her face as she said those words. She touched his arm. His sleeves were rolled up and his hairs were golden in the sun, thick and golden, and she wanted to bend her head and press her lips against his flesh and forget her mother as she always could with him.
She turned then and ran down from the bridge squatting beneath the hazel trees which grew almost to the banks, looking over her shoulder as she scooped her grey cotton skirt clear of the ground.
‘Let’s drop sticks into the water and see who wins the race,’ she called. ‘Come on, Heine. Choose your own or I’ll pick one with branches which will snag on the rocks and you’ll lose.’
She watched as he limped down to her and flushed. She hadn’t forgotten that Heine could no longer run, it had just got lost somewhere in her head, just for a moment, the moment when she had smelt his skin, wanted his body. She turned away, seeing the roots which rose from the bank and then the field beyond. It must be hard when the sun was so warm, the grass smelt so fresh, the birds sang and the breeze wafted. It must be so hard not to be able to run but then – and now she paused as she searched for a thick straight twig – but then perhaps men of thirty were too old to run. Had her father ever run? She could not remember.
Heine stooped, his leg would not bend. ‘That one, my darling. It is short and thick and will race and win.’ He pointed to a stick just to the left of her foot buried in long grass. She picked it up; it was cool and the bark was damp, torn and pungent. She handed it up to him, narrowing her eyes as she looked into the sun.
Why had he chosen her? Of all the women he must have met, why had he chosen her? Helen reached for a stick, any stick, it
didn’t matter now. She felt foolish, a child beside his maturity, his beauty, his intelligence.
She pushed herself up, not looking at him now.
‘Let’s not do this. You must think me such a child and I’m not. I might be younger than you but I’m not a child.’ The sun cooler now, she rubbed her arms with her hands and the stick streaked her skin with mud. There was a mark on her new pink blouse. She moved out from the grass, from the hazel trees, looking across the fields to the backs of the houses half a mile away. Her mother would be waiting.
‘You are beautiful and I wish to race our sticks,’ Heine said.
He smiled as he looked at her short dark curls, so gloriously dark, not like the heavy gold plaits of the women of his land. She was so young and fresh and strong, all that he no longer was. It was this which had drawn him to her when he had photographed the new premises of the bank where she worked. In her, this young girl, he could see no harshness, no brutality, no reminders of the land he had been forced to leave. He knew he must have had a childhood but somehow he could not see past the darkness which was crawling in the streets of the towns where he had once lived. Would he regain the sights and sounds of youth with this girl whose skin was flushed and smooth? Ignoring the ache in his leg, he held out his hand and smiled as she took it. Together they walked back to the bridge and dropped their sticks far out into the running current, then hurried back over to the side which still had a number six rubbed in the lichen.
Helen leaned over, seeing again the small child, feeling her father’s hands as he lifted her. Heine’s was out first, the short thick one, and he laughed and kissed her and said into her hair, ‘Faster on water than on land, my darling.’
And she wanted to ask him yet again how he had been injured, for it was not in the war, that much she knew, but he would never tell her. The girls in her office thought the limp romantic and she smiled at the feel of his arms around her, not embarrassed as his body pressed against hers, though she had felt awkward when she had danced with the boys at the St Matthew’s Christmas dance five months ago. She remembered the hot sweating hands which had made her skin wet through her gloves, the conversation which had spluttered and died. Heine made her feel safe, made her feel full of love.
‘Isn’t it time that we faced your mother?’
Helen put her face against his jacket, not wanting to think of the world in the Avenue, her mother, the past.
‘Just a little longer. It’s not quite three-thirty,’ she replied, knowing that today there would be meringues. On this occasion there would definitely be meringues and she shivered.