Книга: The Secret Keeper
Назад: Fifteen
Дальше: Seventeen


London, late January 1941

THE LAST FORTNIGHT had been awful and Dolly couldn’t help blaming Jimmy. If only he hadn’t spoiled things by pushing like that. She’d been all set to talk with him about the two of them keeping a lower profile, and then he’d gone and asked her to marry him and a rift had opened up inside her that refused now to close. On one side was Dolly Smitham, the naive young girl from Coventry who thought marrying her sweetheart and living forever in a farmhouse by a stream was the answer to her life’s desires; on the other was Dorothy Smitham, friend to the glamorous wealthy Vivien Jenkins, heir and companion to Lady Gwendolyn Caldicott—a grown woman who didn’t need to in-vent elaborate fantasy futures for herself because she knew exactly the tremendous adventures that lay ahead.

Which isn’t to say Dolly hadn’t felt sick walking out of the restaurant like that, all the waiters watching and wondering; she’d had a pressing sense though that if she stayed any longer she might have said yes, just to get him up off the floor. And where would that have left her? Sharing that little flat with Jimmy and Mr Metcalfe, and worrying all the time about where their next jug of milk would come from? Where would it have left her with Lady Gwendolyn? The old woman had shown Dolly such enormous kindness, she’d come to think of her practically as family; how would she have coped being deserted a second time? No, Dolly had done the right thing; Dr Rufus had agreed when she started crying about it over lunch; she was young, he’d said, she had her whole life ahead of her, there was no sense in tying herself down now.

Kitty (of course) had noticed something was askew and responded by parading her own RAF catch across the threshold of number 7 at every opportunity, flashing her mean little engagement ring and asking pointed questions about Jimmy’s whereabouts. Canteen duty was almost a relief by comparison. At least it would’ve been if Vivien ever showed up to lift her spirits. It had been so long Dolly had almost forgotten what she looked like. They’d glimpsed one another only once since the night Jimmy came in unannounced. Vivien had been delivering a box of donated clothing and Dolly could’ve sworn she’d smiled at her from across the room. Dolly had started making her way over to say hello when Mrs Waddingham ordered her back to the kitchen under pain of death. Witch. It was almost worth signing up at the Labour Exchange never to have to see the woman again. Fat chance of that, though. Dolly had received a letter from the Ministry of Labour, but when Lady Gwendolyn caught wind of it she promptly ensured that officials at the highest level understood Dolly was indispensable in her current position and couldn’t possibly be spared to make smoke- bombs.

Now, a pair of firemen with black soot all over their faces arrived at the counter and Dolly dialled up a smile, putting a dimple in each cheek as she ladled soup into two bowls. ‘Busy night, boys?’ she asked.

‘Bloody ice in the hoses,’ the shorter man replied. ‘You should see it out there. We’re fighting flames in one house, and there’s icicles hanging from the one next door where the water’s struck it.’

‘How dreadful,’ Dolly said, and the men agreed, before dragging themselves over to collapse at a trestle table, leaving her alone once more in the kitchen.

She leaned her elbow on the countertop and rested her chin in her hand. No doubt Vivien was busy these days with that doctor of hers. Dolly had felt a little disillusioned when Jimmy first told her—she’d have preferred to hear about the liaison directly from Vivien—but she understood the need for secrecy. Henry Jenkins wasn’t the type to appreciate his wife playing the field: you could tell that just by looking at him. If someone were to overhear Vivien’s confidence, or see something suspicious and report back to her husband, all hell would break loose. Little wonder she’d been so insistent that Jimmy not repeat to a soul what she’d told him.

‘Mrs Jenkins? Yoo-hoo, Mrs Jenkins.’

Dolly looked up smartly. Had Vivien arrived when she wasn’t watching?

‘Oh, Miss Smitham—’ the voice lost some of its sunniness—‘it’s only you.’

Neat-as-a-pin Maud Hoskins was standing at the counter, a cameo cinching her blouse together at the top, tight as a rec-tor’s collar. Vivien was nowhere to be seen and Dolly’s heart sank. ‘Only me, Mrs Hoskins.’ ‘Yes—’ the old woman sniffed—‘so it is.’ She glanced about her like a flustered hen, clacking her beak and saying, ‘Dear, dear me, I don’t suppose you’ve seen her—Mrs Jenkins, that is?’

‘Let me think.’ Dolly tapped her lips thoughtfully as she forced her feet back into her shoes beneath the counter. ‘No, no I don’t think I have.’

‘What a shame. I’ve something for her, you see. She must have lost it last time she was here and I’ve been holding onto it ever since, hoping to run into her. She’s not been in for days though.’

‘Hasn’t she? I hadn’t noticed.’

‘Not all week. I do hope nothing’s wrong.’

Dolly considered telling Mrs Hoskins that she’d seen Vivien daily, alive and well, from Lady Gwendolyn’s bedroom window, but decided it would raise more questions than it answered. ‘I’m sure she’s fine.’

‘I expect you’re right, as fine as any of us can hope to be in such testing times as these.’


‘Only, it is a bother. I’m going down to Cornwall to stay with my sister for a while and I had hoped to return the item to her before I left.’ Mrs Hoskins looked about uncertainly. ‘I suppose I shall have to—’ ‘Leave it here with me? Of course you shall.’ Dolly fixed her most winning smile in place. ‘And I’ll be certain to make sure she receives it.’ ‘Oh—’. Mrs Hoskins peered from behind her tidy spectacles. ‘I hadn’t thought to … I don’t know that I should just leave it.’

‘Mrs Hoskins, please. I’m only too happy to help. I’m bound to be seeing Vivien soon.’

The older woman drew a short, tidy breath, registering Dolly’s use of Vivien’s first name. ‘Well,’ she said, a new note of admiration creeping into her voice. If you’re sure—’

‘I’m sure.’

‘Thank you, Miss Smitham. Thank you, kindly. It certainly will lay my mind to rest. It’s quite a valuable little piece, I think.’ Mrs Hoskins opened her handbag and pulled out a small parcel of tissue paper. She passed it across the counter into Dolly’s waiting hand. ‘I’ve wrapped it up for safe keeping. Do be careful, dear—we wouldn’t want it falling into the wrong hands now, would we?’

Dolly didn’t unwrap the tissue until she was home. It took every bit of restraint she could summon not to tear it open the moment Mrs Hoskins’s back was turned, but she didn’t. She tucked the parcel in her handbag and there it remained through the rest of her canteen shift and the scurried journey home to Campden Grove.

By the time she closed her bedroom door behind her, Dolly’s curiosity was a physical ache. She leapt onto her bed, shoes and all, and dug the tissue paper from her bag. As she was un-wrapping it, something fell onto her lap. Dolly picked it up and turned it over in her fingers, a delicate oval-shaped locket on a fine rose-gold chain. One of the links, she noticed, had opened slightly, allowing its partner to slip free. She threaded the end of the open circle back through the other and then used the back of her thumbnail to force the link—ever so carefully—to close.

There—fixed. And very well, too; a person would be hard-pressed to see where the opening had been. Dolly smiled with satisfaction as she turned her attention back to the locket. It was the sort used to hold photographs, she realised, rubbing her thumb over the fine swirling pattern engraved on its pretty front. When Dolly finally managed to open it, she found a photograph of four children, two girls and two boys, sitting on a set of wooden stairs and squinting into bright sunshine. The image had been cut in half to fit the double-sided frame.

Dolly spotted Vivien instantly, the smaller of the girls, standing with one arm leant on the stair rail, her other hand resting on the shoulder of one of the boys, a small lad with a simple look about him. These were her siblings, Dolly realised, at home in Australia, the portrait obviously taken sometime before Vivien was sent to live in England. Before she met her long-lost uncle and grew to adulthood in a tower on her family’s grand estate, the very place where she would one day meet and marry handsome Henry Jenkins. Dolly shivered with pleasure. It was just like a fairy tale—just like Henry Jenkins’s book, in fact.

She smiled to see Vivien as a girl. ‘I wish I’d known you then,’ Dolly said softly, which was silly, because of course it was far better to know her now, to have the chance to be one half of Dolly and Viv of Camp- den Grove. She took in the little girl’s face, identifying the childish version of features she admired so much in the adult woman, and thought how strange it was that you could love someone so well when you’d only known them for a short time.

She closed the locket and noticed something had been en-graved on the back. ‘Isabel’—she read the elaborate script aloud—a name. Vivien’s mother’s, perhaps? Dolly couldn’t think that she knew Vivien’s mother’s name, but it made sense. It seemed the sort of photograph a mother would keep close to her heart, her whole brood bundled up together, smiling for the travelling photographer. Dolly was far too young yet to think about children of her own, but she knew that when she did have them she’d carry a picture just like this one.

One thing was certain, this locket must be terribly important to Vivien if it had once belonged to her mother. Dolly was going to have to guard it with her life. She thought for a moment, and then a smile broke wide across her face—why, she would keep it in the safest place she knew. Dolly unhooked the clasp and threaded the chain beneath her hair, fiddling the snib to fasten it round her own neck. She sighed with satisfaction, with glad-ness, too, as the locket slipped below the line of her blouse and its cold metal met her warm skin.

Dolly pulled off her shoes, tossed her hat onto the window seat, collapsing back against her pillows with her feet crossed at the ankles. She lit a cigarette and blew smoke rings at the ceiling, imagining how thrilled Vivien was going to be when she delivered the locket back to her. She’d probably take Dolly into her arms, and hug her and call her ‘dearest’, and her lovely dark eyes would well with tears. She’d draw Dolly in to sit down beside her on the sofa and they’d talk about all sorts of things. Dolly had a feeling Vivien might even tell her about the fellow, her doctor friend, once they finally had some time together.

She drew the locket from between her breasts and looked down at its pretty swirly surface. Poor Vivien must be devastated thinking that she’d lost it forever. Dolly wondered whether she ought to let her know immediately that the necklace was safe—perhaps a letter dropped through the front door slot—but she decided quickly against it. She hadn’t any writing paper of her own, not without Lady Gwendolyn’s monogram on it, and that hardly seemed proper. Better to go in person, anyway. The real question was what she ought to wear.

Dolly flopped over onto her stomach and pulled her Book of Ideas from where she kept it hidden beneath the bed. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management had been of no interest to Dolly when her mother gave it to her, but paper was worth its weight in gold these days and the book’s pages had proven themselves the perfect repository for all her favourite pictures from The Lady. Dolly had been cutting them out and gluing them over the top of Mrs Beeton’s rules and recipes for well over a year. She flicked through now, taking careful note of what all the very best women were wearing, comparing the pictures with items she’d noticed in the dressing room upstairs. She stopped when she came to a recent one. It was Vivien, photographed at a fundraising afternoon at the Ritz, glorious in a delicate dress of fine silk. Dolly traced her finger thoughtfully along the outline of the bodice and skirt—there was one just like it upstairs; with a few modifications, it would be perfect. She smiled to herself as she imagined how well she’d look, dashing across the street, at her earliest convenience, to take tea with Vivien Jenkins; she wondered, too, how long she’d have to wait.


Three days later, in an uncharacteristically obliging turn, Lady Gwendolyn tossed down her bag of boiled sweets and demanded Dolly draw the blackouts and leave her alone to nap. It was almost three in the afternoon and Dolly didn’t wait to be told twice. She saw the old woman safely into slumber, changed into the yellow dress she’d had hanging in her room in readiness, and skipped across the road.

As she stood on the tiled top step, preparing to ring the bell, Dolly pictured Vivien’s face when she opened the door and saw her standing there; the grateful smile of relief when they sat down to tea together and the locket was produced. She could have danced with anticipation.

Pausing a second to give her hair a final primp, savouring the moment as her heart quickened, Dolly rang the doorbell.

She waited, listening for the telltale rustling on the other side, and then the door swung inwards and a voice said, ‘Hello there, darl—’ Dolly couldn’t help but take a step backwards. Henry Jenkins was standing in front of her, taller up close than he’d seemed from a distance, dashing in the way of all powerful men. There was something almost brutal in his bearing, but it dissipated quickly and she decided it was probably just her own surprise colouring things. Certainly, in all her many imaginings, she’d never envisaged this. Henry Jenkins had an important job with the Ministry of Information and was rarely home during the day. She opened her mouth and closed it again; she felt intimidated by his presence, by his size and the darkness of his expression.

‘Yes?’ he said. There was a flush to his complexion and it crossed Dolly’s mind that he’d been drinking. ‘Is it scrap fabrics you’re after? Because we’ve already given all we have to spare.’

Dolly found her voice. ‘No. No, I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I’m not here about fabrics. I’ve come to see Vivien—Mrs Jenkins.’ There now, her metier was returning. She smiled at him. ‘I’m a friend to your wife.’

‘I see.’ His surprise was obvious. ‘A friend to my wife. And what might my wife’s friend’s name be?’

‘Dolly—I mean, Dorothy. Dorothy Smitham.’

‘Well then, Dorothy Smitham, I expect you’d better come in-side, hadn’t you?’ He stepped backwards and gestured with his hand.

It occurred to Dolly, as she stepped through the doorway into Vivien’s home, that in all the time she’d lived on Campden Grove, it was the first time she’d set foot inside number 25. From what she could tell, it was laid out much the same as her place, an entrance hall with a flight of stairs leading up to the first floor and a doorway on the left-hand wall. As she followed Henry Jenkins into the sitting room, however, she saw that the similarities ended there. The decorating of number 25 had evidently been done this century, and in contrast to Lady Gwendolyn’s heavy, curved mahogany furniture and cluttered walls, this place was all light and sharp angles.

It was magnificent: the floor was parquet and a set of tubular chandeliers in frosted glass hung from the ceiling. Dramatic photographs featuring contemporary architecture were arranged along each wall, and the lime-green sofa had a zebra skin draped across one arm. So elegant, so modern—Dolly had to take care to keep her mouth from catching flies as she took it all in.

‘Sit. Please,’ said Henry Jenkins, indicating a shell-shaped armchair by the window. Dolly sat, straightening the hem of her dress before crossing her legs. She felt embarrassed, suddenly, by what she was wearing. It was becoming enough, for its time, but sitting here, in this splendid room, it felt like a museum piece. She’d thought herself so elegant in Lady Gwendolyn’s dressing room, turning this way and that before the mirror; now, all she could see were the old-fashioned trims and flounces—so different really (why hadn’t she noticed before?) to the clean lines of Vivien’s dress.

‘I’d offer you tea,’ said Henry Jenkins, dabbing the ends of his moustache in an embarrassed way that was also rather charming, ‘but we lost our maid this week. Quite a disappointment—the girl was caught stealing.’

He was looking, Dolly realised with a flush of excitement, at her own crossed legs. She smiled, a little uncomfortable—he was Vivien’s husband, after all—but flattered, too. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, and then she remembered something she’d heard Lady Gwendolyn say. ‘It’s terribly difficult to find good staff these days, isn’t it?’

‘It is indeed.’ Henry Jenkins was standing by the rather marvellous fireplace, tiled like a chessboard in black and white. He regarded Dolly quizzically and said, ‘Tell me, how is it you know my wife?’

‘We met through the Women’s Voluntary Service, and it turns out we’ve a lot in common.’

‘Such hours you ladies keep.’ He smiled, but not easily, and his pause, the way he was looking at her, gave Dolly the distinct feeling there was something he wanted to know, something more he wanted her to say. She couldn’t think what it might be, so she returned his smile and said nothing. Henry Jenkins glanced at his wristwatch. ‘Take today for instance. At breakfast, my wife told me she’d be finished her meeting at two. I came home early to surprise her, but now it’s a quarter past three and there’s still no sign. I can only imagine she’s been caught up, but a fellow worries.’

Irritation coloured his voice and Dolly could understand why—he was an important man who’d taken time away from essential war work only to be left cooling his heels while his wife flitted about town.

‘Had you an arrangement to meet my wife?’ he asked suddenly, as if the thought had just occurred to him that Dolly, too, was being inconvenienced by Vivien’s tardiness.

‘Oh, no,’ she said quickly. He seemed affronted by the idea and she wanted to reassure him. ‘Vivien didn’t know that I was coming. I’ve brought her something, something she lost.’


Dolly took the necklace out of her handbag and draped it delicately over her fingers. She’d varnished her nails especially with the last of Kitty’s Coty Crimson.

‘Her photo locket,’ he said softly, reaching to take it. ‘She was wearing this when we first met.’

‘It’s a very nice necklace.’

‘She’s worn it since she was a girl. It doesn’t matter what I buy for her, how beautiful or grand it is, she won’t wear any necklace in place of this one. She even wears it with her strings of pearls. I don’t think I’ve ever known her to take it off, and yet—’ he was inspecting the chain—‘it’s intact, so she must have done so.’ He glanced sideways at Dolly and she shrank slightly beneath the intensity of his regard. Was that the way he looked at Vivien, she wondered, when he was lifting her dress, moving her locket aside to kiss her. ‘You said it was found?’ he continued. ‘I wonder where?’

‘I—’. Dolly’s thoughts made her blush. ‘I’m afraid I don’t know that—I wasn’t the one to find it, you see, it was just given to me to return to Vivien. On account of our closeness.’

He nodded slowly. ‘I wonder, Mrs Smitham—’

‘Miss Smitham.’

‘Miss Smitham—’ his lips twitched, the hint of a smile that only deepened her blush—‘at the risk of sounding impertinent, I wonder why it is you didn’t return this to my wife at the WVS canteen? Surely it would have been more convenient for a busy lady like yourself?’

A busy lady. Dolly liked the way she sounded when Henry said that. ‘Not impertinent at all, Mr Jenkins. Only, I knew how important it was to Vivien, and I wanted her to have it back as soon as possible. Our shifts don’t always align, you see.’

‘How strange.’ His fist closed thoughtfully around the locket. ‘My wife reports for duty every day.’

Before Dolly could tell him that no one went to the canteen every day, that there was a shift book and a Mrs Waddingham who ran a very tight ship, a key turned in the front lock.

Vivien was home.

Both Dolly and Henry glanced keenly at the closed door, listening to her footsteps on the entrance hall parquet. Dolly’s heart began to chirrup as she imagined how happy Vivien was going to be when Henry produced the necklace; when he explained that Dolly was responsible for bringing it back; the way Vivien would be overcome with gratitude and yes, love, and a radiant smile would spread across her face and she’d say, ‘Henry, darling. I’m so glad you’ve finally met Dorothy. I’ve been meaning to invite you over for tea for such a long time, dearest, but things have been impossibly busy, haven’t they?’ And then she’d make a joke about the hard taskmaster at the canteen, and the two of them would dissolve with laughter, and Henry would suggest they all have dinner together, perhaps at his club …

The sitting-room door opened and Dolly sat forward on the edge of her seat. Henry moved quickly to take his wife in his arms. The embrace was lingering, romantic, as if he were drawing in her scent, and Dolly realised, with a twinge of envy, how passionately Henry Jenkins loved his wife. She knew already, of course, having read The Reluctant Muse, but being in the room, observing them, drove it home. What was Vivien thinking, involving herself with that doctor when she was so well loved by a man like Henry?

The doctor. Dolly looked at Henry’s face, his eyes closed as he pressed Vivien’s head firmly to his chest; as he held her in the sort of clinch one might expect if months had passed and he’d feared the worst; and she realised, suddenly, that he knew. His agitation that Vivien was late, the pointed questions he’d asked Dolly, the frustrated way he’d spoken of his beloved wife … He knew. That was, he suspected. And he’d been hoping Dolly might confirm his suspicions either way. Oh, Vivien, she thought, knotting her fingers as she stared at the other woman’s back, be careful.

Henry pulled back at last, lifting his wife’s chin to stare closely at her face. ‘How was your day, my love?’

Vivien waited until his grip loosened and then she took off her WVS hat. ‘Busy,’ she said, patting the back of her hair flat. She set down the hat on a small table beside her, next to a framed photograph of their wedding day. ‘We’re boxing scarves and the demand is enormous. It’s taking much longer than it should.’ She paused, paying judicious care to the rim of her hat. ‘I didn’t realise you’d be home so early; I’d have made sure I left in good time to meet you.’

He smiled, unhappily, it seemed to Dolly, and said, ‘I’d hoped to surprise you.’

‘I didn’t know.’

‘No reason you should. That’s the whole nature of surprise, isn’t it? To catch a person unawares?’

He took her by the elbow and steered her body slightly so she was looking into the room. ‘Speaking of surprises, darling, you have a guest. Miss Smitham has come to call.’

Dolly stood, her heart pounding. Finally, her moment had arrived. ‘Your friend has come to see you,’ Henry continued. ‘We’ve been having a lovely chat about all the good work you do for the WVS.’ Vivien blinked at Dolly, her face completely blank, and then she said, ‘I don’t know who this woman is.’

Dolly’s breath caught. The room began to spin.

‘But darling,’ said Henry, ‘of course you do. She brought this back for you.’ He took the necklace from his pocket and put it in his wife’s hands. ‘You must have forgotten it when you took it off.’

Vivien turned it over, opened the locket and looked at the photographs inside. ‘How did you get my necklace?’ she said, her voice so cold it made Dolly flinch.

‘I—’. Dolly’s head was swimming, she didn’t understand what was happening, why Vivien was behaving like this; after all the glances they’d exchanged, brief, certainly, but loaded with fellow feeling; after all the times they’d observed one another through their respective windows; after everything Dolly had imagined for their future. Was it possible Vivien hadn’t understood; that she hadn’t realised what they meant to one another; that she hadn’t also been dreaming of Dolly and Viv? ‘It was left at the canteen. Mrs Hoskins found it and asked me to return it, seeing as—’ Seeing as we’re kindred spirits, best friends, two of a kind—‘seeing as we’re neighbours.’

Vivien’s perfect brows shot up and she stared at Dolly. There was a moment of consideration and then her expression lightened, ever so slightly. ‘Yes. I know now. This woman is Lady Gwendolyn Caldicott’s servant.’

The last word she said with a meaningful glance at Henry and the change in his demeanour was instant. Dolly remembered the way he’d referred to their own maid, the girl dismissed recently for thieving. He looked at the precious piece of jewellery, and said, ‘Not a friend, then?’ ‘Certainly not,’ said Vivien, as if the very idea was anathema to her. ‘There isn’t a friend of mine you haven’t met, Henry darling. You know that.’

He stared perplexedly at his wife and then nodded slightly. ‘I did think it odd, only she was so insistent.’ And then he turned to Dolly, every doubt and frustration crystallising in a dark frown that pulled at his brow. He was disappointed in her, she realised; worse than that, his expression was laced with distaste. ‘Miss Smitham,’ he said, ‘I thank you for returning my wife’s necklace, but it’s time you left.’

Dolly could think of nothing to say. She was dreaming, surely—this wasn’t what she’d imagined, what she deserved, the way her life was meant to be. Any minute she would wake up and find herself laughing instead with Vivien and Henry as they all had a glass of whisky and sat down to talk over the trials of life, and she and Vivien, together on the sofa, would turn to one another and giggle about Mrs Waddingham at the canteen, and Henry would smile fondly at the two of them, and say what a pair they were, what an incorrigible darling pair.

‘Miss Smitham?’

She managed to nod, picking up her handbag and scurrying past them both on her way back to the entrance hall.

Henry Jenkins followed her, hesitating briefly before swinging the front door wide open. His arm barred the way and Dolly had no choice but to stay where she was and wait for him to let her go. He appeared to be deciding what to say.

Dusk was beginning to fall, and across the street Dolly saw Kitty and Louisa, arriving home from work. Kitty looked up and her mouth formed an ‘o’ when she saw what was happening, but Dolly didn’t have a chance to smile or wave or put a bright face on it.

‘Miss Smitham?’ said Henry Jenkins, and she had to struggle to meet his eyes. He spoke as one might to a truculent child, worse, a menial servant who’d forgotten her place, given herself over to elaborate fancies and dreams of a life far above her station. ‘Run along now, there’s a good girl,’ he said. ‘Look after Lady Gwendolyn and do try not to get yourself into any more trouble.’

Назад: Fifteen
Дальше: Seventeen