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Authors: Richard Madeley

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BOOK: The Way You Look Tonight
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Summer was nearly done and the woods that surrounded the Dower House began to glow with the first colours of autumn. Fires were lit again in the cottages and farmhouses that dotted the station
road. Mr Arnold, sitting behind the wheel of his big green Humber (a present from a grateful client he’d represented in a swift and decisive action), noted the wood-smoke rising from
chimneys. It was, after all, the last weekend in September. He wondered if it would also be the last weekend of peace. The Prime Minister had that very afternoon announced to a cheering House of
Commons that he was flying immediately to Munich to hold talks with the Führer, at Herr Hitler’s personal invitation, to ‘settle the Czechoslovakian Question . . . once and for

Tomorrow’s meeting in Germany, Mr Arnold reflected as he turned into the gravel drive of the Dower House, represented not much more than a last desperate throw of the dice.

Lucy let him into the hall and helped him off with his hat and coat.

‘Will it be war, sir?’ she asked politely, in the same tone of voice as if she were asking him if it might rain.

‘I very much doubt things will come to that, Lucy,’ he said. But secretly he was relieved that Diana and John were coming home for the weekend. War felt very close now, and he wanted
his children near.


‘Hitler is absolutely no different from Queen Victoria. No different
.’ Diana pushed her plate away and stared defiantly at the rest of the

‘Oh dear,’ murmured Gwen. ‘Not another of these tiresome arguments over lunch, please. Lucy will be serving dessert in a moment.’

Her husband shifted in his chair. ‘There’s nothing tiresome about these discussions,’ he said irritably. ‘Nothing tiresome at all, as it happens. I like to hear the
children speaking their minds. I—’

‘We’re hardly children, Daddy,’ Diana interrupted. ‘I’m at Girton learning how awful politicians are and John is at Cranwell learning how to kill people. Not
exactly the occupations of infants.’

Mr Arnold looked at her over his glasses and put down his Sunday paper, from which he had just been reading aloud, and with rising anger, to his family.

‘You may be reading politics at Cambridge, young lady, but it’s infantile to compare Adolf with Victoria. Surely you—’

‘It’s infantile
to! Victoria and her ghastly prime ministers and gunboats built the biggest empire the world has ever seen, and they did it with threats and brute force,
smash and grab. Remind you of anyone? Hitler may be a horrible man and his party a bunch of gangsters, but he’s only doing what we’ve been getting away with for centuries. It’s
the height of hypocrisy to say anything else. Come on, Daddy, surely you must

‘I certainly see that you’re over-simplifying things. You can’t compare British democracy with Nazi thuggery. We built partnerships across the world. We—’

‘Oh, give it a rest, both of you.’ John pushed his plate away. ‘Dad, you know Diana doesn’t believe a word of what she’s saying. She just likes a good

‘I do
. Shut up, John. Anyway, Daddy and I agree on one thing – Britain and France have sold the Czechs completely down the river. It’s awful. I feel so

Her father threw back his head. ‘Well, we’re in the minority, my dear. Most people,’ he waved his paper, ‘think Mr Chamberlain’s the hero of the hour; he’s
saved us from war and stood up to Hitler. Wrong, on both counts. Our PM may have said “no” to the bully for now, but he’s agreed to give him everything he wants in regular
instalments in the near future. A sell-out in easy stages. And we promised the Czechs we’d stand by them. Some promise! We’ve forced them to hand over half their country to Hitler.
You’re right, Diana. It

‘But if it stops a war . . . I mean, the PM has at least stopped that, hasn’t he, Dad?’ asked John.

‘Of course he hasn’t. Good God, John, haven’t you read any of Churchill’s articles in the papers? Hitler’s a blackmailer, and black-mailers always come back for
more. After what we gave him on Friday, he must think we’re abject worms. I’ll tell you this: there’ll be German troops in Prague by Christmas.’

Gwen, who had gone to the kitchen to see what Lucy was doing about dessert, returned in time to hear her husband’s prediction. Her shoulders dropped.

‘Let’s pray you’re wrong, Oliver,’ she said. ‘Otherwise John will have to go to war, just as you did. You can’t want that.’

‘Of course I don’t want that! Why is no one listening properly? What I’m trying to say is—’

John coughed. ‘I don’t think Dad wants war, Mum. But . . . er . . . a lot of us rather do, you know, if we’re being honest. It’s obvious Adolf’s going to have to be
stopped sooner or later. I’m training on Tiger Moths now and the chaps say that could mean qualifying for a Hurricane or even a Spitfire squadron. If Dad’s right, we might actually get
a crack at showing Hitler where he gets off.’

His parents stared at him.

‘You never mentioned this,’ said Gwen, after a pause. ‘You never said you were training to be a fighter pilot. Isn’t that awfully dangerous, Oliver?’

Mr Arnold hesitated. ‘Well, up to a point. All flying has its risks, especially in war. We just have to—’

Diana clapped her hands. ‘What fun, Johnnie! A girl I know at Girton goes out with a fighter pilot. He flies Gloucester something-or-others . . . Radiators – oh no, it’s
Gladiators. Anyway, he’s
and so is everyone in his squadron. You simply
fly fighters!’

She turned to her mother. ‘Don’t worry, Mummy. Like it says in the song: “There ain’t going to be no war, no war”. Old Adolf won’t dare attack us, or France.
Especially France. Professor Hislop told us during a lecture this week that the French have a massive army, much bigger than ours. We’ll be fine.’

She pointed at her brother. ‘When you start flying fighter planes, Johnnie, promise you’ll bring home the best-looking pilot in the squadron to stay for Christmas, and I’ll
bring home Sarah Tweed, that girl you kept making ridiculous sheep’s eyes at during the Freshers’ Ball. Agreed?’

John smiled. ‘I haven’t even got my wings yet, sis.’

‘Oh, but you will. You have my fullest confidence. Anyway, talking of old Hislop, I ought to be off. No time for pudding. Will you give me a lift to the station, Pa?’

‘Me too, please,’ said John, standing up. ‘I’m due back at camp tonight. Flying first thing in the morning.’

‘Certainly,’ said Mr Arnold, with forced cheeriness. ‘This lawyer can run a one-man taxi-rank with the best of them. No difficulty there. I’ll get the car out.’ He
turned to Diana. ‘Come on, Piglet – you open the garage for me while I start her up.’

Gwen said nothing as her children kissed her goodbye. Foreboding had risen from her throat like ash and her tongue was choked.

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BOOK: The Way You Look Tonight
10.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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