Her is an extract:
‘Well, Miss Simpson, what do you think?’ Joseph Cross asked as he pointed to the de Havilland 60 Moth that stood proudly on the worn grass outside the barn that served as a hanger.
Ellen wanted to hug him but thought he might not appreciate the gesture. ‘I love it. Is it dual control?’
‘No, but it has the usual two seats so can take a passenger.’
‘Good – I’ve got more than enough pupils to teach. Since the government subsidy last year every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to learn to fly.’
‘I hope you don’t expect me to pay you any extra, young lady. I reckon you owe me far more than your wages would have been for all the lessons and hours you’ve spent flying my aircraft over the past five years.’
She put her hands on her hips. ‘Giving my brothers and me lessons at your Flying Club couldn’t have been as much as the rent you would have had to pay to use my father’s farms and fields.’ He was about to interrupt but she continued. ‘Not forgetting the fact that Dad bought the first aircraft and both Neil and George acted as instructors until they joined the RAF.’
He scowled but she wasn’t fooled for a minute. ‘The cost of one lesson is usually two pounds – the three of you never paid a penny…’
‘Joe, I don’t want to stand here arguing anymore. I want to take her up before it gets too hot. Are you coming with me or can I go solo?’
‘Circuits and bumps only, my girl, no flying off into the wild blue yonder. There are three new enquiries to be dealt with in the office – I want you to sort those out this morning.’
The other aircraft the flying club owned were a Swallow and a Gypsy Moth. Both were fitted with dual controls. Joe had several clients who liked to go up on their own and pootle about until the fuel ran out. This de Havilland had been bought to satisfy those clients.
Sidney, the ground engineer, and the only other full-time employee, wandered out from the hanger. ‘Nice little machine, Ellie, sweet as a nut. You going to take it up for a spin?’
‘If that’s all right with you, I’d love to. I’ll not be long – I just want to get the feel of it for myself.’
‘The bloke what brought it said it flies like the Gypsy only a bit faster. You’ll have no problem – you’re a natural. I remember your first solo flight when you were no more than a nipper…’
Joe poked his head out of the office. ‘No time for reminiscing, Sid, let her get on with it. Just had a bell and we’ve got a new pupil coming in an hour.’
‘Sorry, guv, I’ll not hold her up.’
She collected her helmet and goggles and scrambled into the cockpit. Even though the weather was warm she needed her flying jacket on over her dungarees. It got a bit nippy at a thousand feet above the land. After doing her pre-flight checks she taxied into position on the grass runway and took off.
An uneventful forty-five minutes later she landed smoothly and headed for the office to catch up with the paperwork. The new pupil, a middle-aged bank manager, decided after a couple of circuits of the field that he didn’t want to learn to fly after all. As they’d only been in the air for a quarter of an hour there was no charge.
By the time her last pupil left the airfield it was almost six o’clock. Often they had to work until it was too dark to fly, but tonight they’d finished early. Ellen left Sid to lock up and jumped onto her bicycle. At least in the summer Dad didn’t come in for his tea until late so she wouldn’t have missed her meal.
She pedalled furiously down the track, swerving instinctively around the dips and ruts, covering the mile in record time. She skidded into the yard, sending half a dozen chickens squawking into the air in protest, and tossed her bike against the wall.
With luck she’d have time to wash before her parents sat down to eat. It had taken Mum months to get used to seeing her only daughter dressed in slacks or dungarees. She might be a farmer’s wife now, but she’d come from a grand family and had very high standards.
The fact that Mum had been disowned when she’d married a farmer should have softened her but instead, according to Dad, it had made her even more determined to bring her children up as though they were landed gentry and not the children of a farmer.
After a quick sluice in the scullery Ellie headed to the kitchen – she was about to open the door when she realised the voices she’d heard were coming from the seldom used front parlour. Mum insisted on calling it the drawing room, but no one else did.
This must mean they had guests. She looked down at her scruffy oil-stained dungarees and wondered if she had time to nip upstairs and put on something more respectable. Unfortunately, her mother must have heard her come in.
‘Ellen, you are very late this evening. Had you forgotten Neil has a twenty-four hour pass?’
She was pretty sure this was the first she’d heard of it but having her oldest brother home was a wonderful surprise. She didn’t stop to think why this meant they were in the parlour, and burst in.
‘Hello, little sister, I’ve brought a chum along. Let me introduce you to Gregory Dunlop.’
Only then did she become aware of the second RAF uniformed young man staring at her with open admiration. He was a bit shorter than Neil, but broader in the shoulders, with corn coloured hair and startlingly blue eyes.
‘I’m pleased to meet you, Flying Officer Dunlop.’ She wasn’t sure if she should offer her hand as despite her best efforts it was far from clean.
He stepped closer and held out his and she had no option but to take it. ‘I’ve heard so much about you, Miss Simpson, and have been pestering your brother for an invitation in order to meet you for myself.’
His grip was firm, his hand smoother than hers – but what caught her attention was his upper crust accent. ‘I’m sorry to appear in my work clothes. If you don’t mind waiting a few more minutes I’ll pop upstairs and change into something more suitable for the occasion.’
‘Please, don’t worry on my account. I think you look perfectly splendid just as you are.’
He seemed reluctant to release her hand but she pulled it away firmly. He was a very attractive man and was obviously interested in her, but she wasn’t looking for a boyfriend.
‘Run along, Ellen, you’ve got plenty of time to put on a frock as your father has only just come in himself. We are having a cold collation so nothing will be spoiled by waiting for another quarter of an hour.’
She smiled at her brother in resignation and he winked. They both knew there was no point in arguing once their mother had made up her mind.
She met her father in the passageway. ‘Have you got to change as well, Ellie? She told me at lunchtime I’ve got to put on something smart.’
‘It must be because of Neil’s friend. He certainly sounds very posh.’ She pushed open her bedroom door and was about to go in when he replied.
‘Seems a lot of fuss for nothing but easier to give in than put up with a week of black looks and sour faces.’ He shook his head sadly and went into the room he no longer shared with her mother. Ellie wished her parents had a happier relationship.
If there was one thing she’d learned, by watching the disintegration of what must once have been a happy union, it was this: Don’t marry for love as it doesn’t last. If she ever took the plunge it would be with a man she respected, liked and who shared her outlook on life.
Her mother had told her to put on a frock but she rebelled. She didn’t wish to impress their visitor so would come down in what she usually wore – slacks and blouse. The only time she put on a frock was when she was forced to attend church. Most Sundays she had the excuse that she had to work at the airfield.
She checked her face was oil free and ran a brush through her hair. Satisfied she was presentable she hurried downstairs eager to catch up on Neil’s news. George, her other brother, hadn’t been home since January and she was desperate to hear how he was doing.
Her mother pursed her lips when Ellie came in. ‘Is your father coming, Ellen?’
‘I don’t know, Mum, but I don’t think he’ll be long.’ She joined her brother by the open window, leaving his friend to entertain her mother.
‘I wish you wouldn’t deliberately provoke her, Ellie. Why won’t you call her Mother? You know how much she dislikes being called Mum, especially in front of strangers.’
She shrugged. ‘Whatever she was in the past, now she’s just a farmer’s wife. Have you finished your training?’
He grinned and pointed to the wings on his uniform. ‘I have, didn’t you see these? George is still in Scotland – seems he pranged a Moth and needs longer up there.’
‘He obviously didn’t hurt himself or you wouldn’t be so jolly. Do you know where you’re going to be stationed?’
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of her father looking uncomfortable in a collar and tie. After he was introduced to the guest her mother clapped her hands as if wishing to attract the attention of a crowd of children.
‘We shall go in to dine now that we are all here.’
Ellie hid her smile at her mother’s pretentiousness behind her hand. Ham and salad hardly deserved such an introduction.
When her father mentioned the likelihood of there being a war her mother insisted that this was not a suitable topic of conversation at the dinner table. No one was particularly interested in discussing the weather and an uneasy silence fell.
‘We’ve got another aircraft, Dad. I took her up and…’
Her mother glared at her. ‘I’m sure that Flying Officer Dunlop doesn’t want to hear about your highly unsuitable employment. A young lady should be interested in more feminine things, don’t you agree, Mr Dunlop?’
The young man nodded solemnly. ‘I’m sure that most girls would prefer to talk about fashion or flowers but your daughter is different. I’ve never met a female pilot before and am most impressed. How many hours solo do you have now, Miss Simpson?’
‘Please call me Ellie, everyone else does.’
‘And you must call me Greg.’
‘Well, Greg, to answer your question, I’ve been flying since I was twelve – six years now – and got my A licence when I was fourteen and my instructor’s certificate when I was sixteen. I’ve logged more than twelve hundred hours now.’
‘Good God! That’s a damn sight more than I have.’ He couldn’t fail to hear her mother’s horrified gasp. Instead of being embarrassed he smiled at her. ‘I apologise for my appalling language, Mrs Simpson, I do hope you will forgive me.’
‘Apology accepted. I’ll say no more on the matter.’
He turned to Ellie. ‘I want to hear how you manage in poor weather conditions and hope you will talk to me before we leave tomorrow morning.’
Before she could answer she was instructed to clear the table and fetch the dessert. Obediently she pushed her chair back and began to collect the plates. When Greg made a move to stand up she shook her head.
Clearing the table was a woman’s job, as well all the other domestic duties that she did her best to avoid. Pudding was a sherry trifle accompanied by a jug of thick, fresh cream from their dairy herd. She placed the large glass bowl on the tray and put the cream beside it. The ham salad, again all home-grown, had been excellent but this would be even better.
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Fenella J Miller