Lucinda comes home - part 2
Well - I never in a million years thought I would write these words --- I have been caught up in a riot - a very angry riot. The rage (I’m still shaking, and it all happened several hours ago) burst into life like something tangible - not like something ’in the air’.
Here we are - in mid-ocean, going from a country that has everything in spades to a war-torn land deprived of almost everything. Just after breakfast the crew started throwing boxes overboard. Most of us were on deck and someone asked ’Why?’
“Oh” said on e of the sailors “We’ve been told that the Marshall Lend-Lease has just finished, so we can’t deliver our cargo to Britain any more until its been paid for and this lot hasn’t so we’ve got to throw it overboard.” and over the rails went medical supplies, chocolates, food, blankets - all into the sea.
We all have people at home desperately needing these things. We simply erupted. The stupidity, the waste - it was all too much. A sailor was hit. And it all got very physical. Even Mrs Smaill was getting very handy with her stick! The Captain came running down and told us that the law was the law and he had to do this stupid thing. He had been instructed to jettison everything.. However, knowing how we felt he would give us fifteen minutes to collect what we could carry, and get through customs. The rest - he was sorry - but it would have to go.
At this moment I am on whats left of my bunk, with a large box of Herschey bars and two bulky tinned hams. It is not comfortable. Mrs Smaill is clutching several boxes of medical supplies. I can’t see what the others have got. But its better than nothing. Is the law an ass? Yes!
This was such a beautiful evening. After dinner most of us went onto the deck. The moon shone on the placid water. The sky was an amazingly deep blue, and the stars seemed almost close enough to touch. Some music just drifted up from the bar with a little laughter and soft conversation.
“Good evening Lucinda” broke the picture. With a click of his heels, Mihail stopped beside me with a usual black-toothed smile.
“Did you enjoy ze dinner. It vas good - yes?” I agreed with him. He was smoking a powerful Russian cigarette as he usually did. Even when he was not actually smoking his general presence smelt strongly of cigarette. When he was in the Bar he told jokes very loudly in his strong accent. This evening he had been very noisy. “You will miss your Aunt in New York I think. She will miss you.” I wondered - how did he know I lived with my Aunt in New York. I hadn’t mentioned it to anyone.
“I go to London. A good place London. I have ze family there. Perhaps you come down from Scotland to visit London? We can have lunch.” He reached into his pocket and brought out a large red apple.
“You like apples? The American apples are such big apples. The apples in Crackow are small - but they taste good. I give you this big apple - you can have it for ze breakfast. They have a bowl of them in the bar.” He clicked his heels and left me.
At breakfast yesterday morning the wretched man came and sat at our table. Mrs Smaill was, as usual, very polite. But we were all making plans for our arrival in Plymouth - we were not expecting to dock there. Many plans would have to be changed. Another surprising thing was the fact that we would disembark at ten p.m.! This was not good news.
Mihail had brought over the bowl of apples. He was constantly eating apples, and handing them to all and sundry. I declined one as I still had the one he had given my last night. When I went up on deck I saw him again. This time he was in deep conversation with the crew members he had been speaking to on the other occasion. I had an uneasy feeling that something important was being discussed, but when he saw me he became all smiling and laughing and strolled off..
The rest of the day was spent trying to tidy up our baggage. Re-tying labels and making sure passports and such were handy. At supper that night we were all given a bar of chocolate and a glass of sherry. The Captain made a little speech, and we were informed that there would be a train ready beside the dock to take us to London.
Even though it is August, the dock-side sheds were so cold. We had staggered down the steep gangway, our arms full of bags and coats, trying to keep documents available. It was not easy. The lights were dim and we were all, at that hour, tired. Suddenly a voice beside me said
“Arf a mo darlin - an I’ll ‘elp yer!” I turned gratefully to say “Thank you” and found myself face to face with one of the crewman Mihail had been talking to. Then from behind me I heard the unmistakable voice of Mihail as the sailor deposited my goods on the dockside with a cheery “There you are Lady” Mihail said something in a low voice to him before turning to me with “How happy you will be to be home again.”
He smiled ingratiatingly, but his eyes were never still. He was searching for something or someone. Why was I so uneasy.
The dock and customs shed were bristling with men in uniform. We were all searching for our luggage through the array of trunks they had just off-loaded from the hold and it was bedlam. I spotted one trunk of mine and tried to get to it through the crowd when my arm was grabbed. I turned to find Mihail once more at my side. “I must bid you good-bye. A pleasure to meet you. I have here a gift that you will enjoy. Keep it for the train journey - or even better - eat it when you reach beautiful Scotland.” He handed me an especially large red apple, clicked his heels and vanished into the crowd.
I managed to get a porter and was settled into a compartment on the London train. It was now about one in the morning. Everything was dark and bleak as the train started noisily, hissing and spitting as it rolled into motion. As it started I thought I saw Mihail. But he was not alone. There seemed to be someone holding each arm and their attitude was not friendly - then the train went faster and they vanished.
Last night - or what was left of it - I booked into The Cumberland Hotel, and managed to get myself a bath and a short rest by about ten this morning. I tried to get something to eat - but war-time eating made this impossible. Then I remembered the apple. I curled up on the bed with an extra sweater, a book, and my apple. I bit hard and cheerfully into its bright red skin. Instead of a crunch into juicy flesh, my teeth suddenly bit into a hard wall. I eased my bruised teeth out and looked at the apple closely. I could just see where it had been cut. The core had been carefully removed and in its place was a little bakalite cylinder. The Russians were on our side in this war weren’t they?
I wrapped the cylinder first in a handkerchief, then in newspaper, then in brown paper and string, courtesy of the Hotel front desk, addressed it to “Security Division, Scotland Yard” and asked the Receptionist to post it for me. Then, hastily, feeling an awful coward, got in a taxi, with all my luggage, and made for Euston Station. By evening I hope to be with my aunt.
Its lovely seeing Aunt Jo after so many years. We were full of tea and chatter until the wee small hours. This morning we saw in The Scotsman - headlines to say that a bomb squad had evacuated the Cumberland Hotel in London in a detailed search ‘on information given’. The press had no details as yet.
I feel so cold I could hardly breathe. Could this possibly have anything to do with me. If so - what? Have I done something wrong. Did they know - could they possibly know who had sent them the cylinder. I hoped Aunt Jo would not notice how my hands were shaking. I went up to my room to try and calm down. I looked out of the window at the beautiful Braid hills, and the last few days already seemed far away. But then I glanced towards the trees down the street. Two men were standing there. I had seen them there last night as I drew the curtains. Surely my imagination is leading me astray. I firmly shook off my fears and went downstairs to help Aunt Jo with the washing-up.
Later I picked up the paper again and glanced through it. It had been so long since I had seen a British paper. As I leafed through it a short article caught my eye - ‘The body of an un identified man was found last night in a siding at Plymouth Docks. He was about six feet two inches tall, with black hair, very poor and prominent dental work, and was wearing a Russian made trench coat. He had no identification.’ Now I am frightened ..
Aunt Jo decided to do a bit of shopping. It seems she always collects her eggs on a Tuesday - and would I like to go with her. The shop is only a few yards away and I felt in need of a little fresh air. It is the same grocer I remember from five years ago so we had quite a cheerful conversation. As we were leaving - just as we got to the door he said. “Now what are those men up to? We don’t get many strangers here these days - but they’ve been hanging about since yesterday morning.”
I could hardly eat lunch. Aunt Jo suggested I had an afternoon rest - she thought I looked ’piquey’. But I couldn’t sleep so I’ve been writing my diary. After supper I’ll go into the park for a wee walk, just to clear my head - then I’ll sleep better. Tomorrow I’ll take the train to Cupar to see Mother. I’m so excited about that. I’m on my way Mum! Whats more I’ll be leaving these men behind - I expect they are surveyers or something like that. \before tea I’ll show Aunt Jo my photo album. They are mostly New York photos. The ones I took on board the ship will be exciting. I’ll get them developed in Cupar.
When the Police came to Joanna Ferguson’s house next day they took a diary away with them. Lucinda was never seen again.
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