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BY THE FJORD
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This first world edition published 2011
in Great Britain and the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright Â© 2011 by Rosalind Laker.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
The house by the fjord.
1. War widows â Fiction. 2. Parents-in-law â Norway â
Fiction. 3. World War, 1939â1945 â Social aspects â
Norway â Fiction. 4. Dwellings â Norway â Fiction.
5. Norway â History â 1945â â Fiction. 6. Love stories.
ISBN-13: 978-1-7801-0013-5Â Â Â Â (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8005-5Â Â Â Â (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-334-2Â Â Â Â (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
To Elin Mai with love
It was Midsummer Eve when she first saw the annual celebratory bonfires flickering in the curious brightness of the everlasting northern daylight. Landfall had come while she had been in the dining saloon and, when dinner was at an end, she had come up on deck to gaze at the rocky landscape gliding past. The ship had entered the Oslo fjord.
Somebody came to lean on the rails beside her and she saw it was the well-dressed businessman from the same table on the voyage from Newcastle across the North Sea. They had chatted together and his slight accent was not one that she recognized. Yet during World War Two many foreign accents had become familiar, for so many thousands of men and women had escaped Nazi occupation in their own countries to come to the United Kingdom and fight on for freedom.
He nodded towards the shore. âThis is not my homeland,' he said, confirming her supposition, âbut before the war I came here often on business just as I am now. In my opinion â and I have travelled a great deal in my time â Norway is the most beautiful country in the world.'
âSo I have been told by others.' Anna's heart contracted at the memory of the beloved man who had promised to show her all the places in this country that had meant most to him. But the Norwegian squadrons had been highly active with the rest of the Allies throughout World War Two and he had been shot down only weeks before hostilities had come to an end.
As a war widow, she had had no difficulty in getting a passage across the North Sea, the Norwegian government paying her fare. Yet ordinary travel was generally restricted, for Norway was still recovering from five years of brutal Nazi occupation and was only in need of those able to help recovery. The businessman beside her was dealing in tractors and he expected to find a ready market in a land that had been robbed of almost everything. Although other war brides had come to their new land quite soon after Norway's liberation in May 1945, she had needed time to come to terms with her bereavement. It was why she had waited for this summer of 1946 to visit her late husband's country. In the interim she had finished her teachers' training course, which the war had interrupted.
âIs anyone meeting you when we dock in Oslo tomorrow morning?' the tractor dealer asked. He thought her a striking-looking young woman with her soft brown hair full of amber lights, her long-lashed eyes a greenish grey, and her fine complexion tinted by the summer sun.
Anna nodded as she replied. âYes, I have an English friend, Molly Svensen, who is married to a Norwegian. She will be on the quay, I know. I'm to stay with them for a while.'
âThat will help you get accustomed to your new country,' he said approvingly. âI wish you good luck.'
âThank you,' she said. Then he bade her goodnight and went to stroll round the deck.
Although he had assumed she had come to settle in Norway, that was not the case. How could she earn a living in a country where she had no knowledge of the language? What was more, her most recent work experience was limited to four years in an armament factory as her part in the war effort, mostly on twelve-hour shifts either from eight o'clock at night or eight in the morning.
Her friendship with Molly had sprung up when they were recruited at the same time into their war work, Molly from a hairdresser's and Anna herself from a teachers' training college. Later, Molly had married Olav Svensen, one of Johan's fellow pilots and his friend since their schooldays. During the Nazi occupation, and in spite of German posters warning that anyone attempting to leave Norway would be shot, the two young men had escaped together in a small fishing boat across the North Sea to the Shetlands. This had become such a popular route to freedom â despite the constant danger of Nazi attack from the air as well as by sea â that it had become known as the Shetland Bus. Many lost their lives on the way over, but the flow of escapees never stopped, and in England the numbers in the Free Royal Norwegian Forces swelled daily. Molly's marriage to Olav had taken place just two months before Anna's own to Johan. Her intention now was to stay a while with Molly and then try to see as much as possible of Johan's homeland before she returned to England.
A smile touched the corners of her lips. On their first date after meeting, Johan had brought her a book entitled
How to speak Norwegian in three months
. He had told her later that he had known from the first moment they had met on the dancefloor that he had found the girl with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life. She did study the book now and again. But she had had very little time for study and he spoke English so fluently that learning Norwegian was something easily put aside for the future. Sadly, there was to be no future for them.
The day before leaving home near Portsmouth, where she lived with her aunt, she had gone back to the dancehall where she and Johan had met. In those days, with the invasion of the continent drawing near, there was a tremendous gathering of Allied forces in the south of England. As a result there were always long lines of service men and women, American GIs and other nationalities among them, filing in to dance under a rotating sequin ball that had flashed multicoloured lights over the dancers. On the evening of her meeting with Johan she had arrived at the dancehall with Molly, who had immediately been swept into jitterbugging with an American soldier, the two of them soon gaining applause.
The band was playing Glen Miller's
when a tall Norseman loomed up in front of Anna, blue-eyed, handsome and fair-haired, a pilot's wings on his uniform and, like all overseas troops, his nationality proclaimed on his shoulder flashes:
âWould you like to dance?' he asked with a bow. Later she was to discover that Norwegian men took bowing as a matter of common politeness, but that evening she was further enchanted by his courtesy and seemed to melt into his arms as he swept her into the dancing.
Standing nostalgically outside the closed and deserted dancehall, already in the clothes in which she would be travelling, these were poignant moments of intense memory. Then, full of heartache, she had gone home to label her suitcases and make ready to leave.
Her Aunt Evelyn was waiting for her in the hall when she came downstairs. She was an embittered woman, having lost her husband in the first World War, but she had taken care of Anna after her mother had died soon after she was born and later when her father had been killed in an accident at work. Never demonstrative, Aunt Evelyn submitted to a farewell kiss on the cheek, but pushed away an embrace.
âWell, off you go, Anna. Why you couldn't have married an Englishman I do not know.' She shook her head disapprovingly. âThen there would have been no gadding off to a foreign country, which you will either like or hate on sight â most probably the latter. Then you'll be glad to come home. At least,' she added acidly, âthose foreigners will be able to see you coming in
It was scarlet in colour. Anna had bought it from a war bride going to the United States, who was confident that she would get lots of new clothes there. In spite of her aunt's dislike of anything that was not sombre in hue, Anna knew the colour suited her. She patiently ignored the barbed remark as she had learned to do with many other such taunts over the years.
Now here she was on-board ship, seeing Johan's country for the first time. It would not be a case of liking or hating it, because already she loved it for being Johan's land and for which he had given his life.
How warm the evening was and how soft the air! Everybody she knew at home had the idea that Norway was dark and frozen for half the year, but, as Johan had told her, it was only in the very far north, beyond the Arctic Circle, that the sun slipped away in wintertime, creating a short dark period, only to shine again for twenty-four hours a day in summer, which was making this arrival so pleasant for her.
The Oslo fjord was opening up and a few small isolated houses were to be seen now, but she guessed that they were holiday cabins, for she knew from all Johan had told her that his fellow countrymen and women liked nothing better than to get out into the peace and beauty of nature in the mountains or by the sea. All the cabins were built of wood and from a distance they looked like pastel-coloured matchboxes perched here and there.
It was in this sixty-mile long fjord on a dark April night in 1940 that the German invasion had begun without any declaration of war. A skipper on a small fishing vessel had seen the great warship looming out of the darkness and in horror had realized what was happening. He managed to make contact with those manning an ancient fortress farther up the fjord before he and his vessel were blown to pieces by an enemy showing no mercy. At the fortress an ancient cannon was swiftly loaded and when the warship came level it was fired, scoring a direct hit that sent many hundreds of armed soldiers on-board to a watery grave. Most importantly, this delay to the invasion gave King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav and the government time to flee from Oslo with the country's gold and make a stand against the invaders. At the same time, the Crown Princess and the three royal children were able to slip away to safety into neutral Sweden and later to the United States on an American warship.