I was not given to hysterics, but the cold, exhaustion, the newness of it all, Miss Ivens herself so much larger than life, like a character from Dickens, made me less than logical. My excited mind worked quickly. What would we do? We had no lamp to walk by, and the road was rough in parts. There had been a light in the window of the last house, the Gouin residence; Miss Ivens had pointed it out. He might be impractical, he might be Mr. Ivens for all I knew, but if we could make it back we might be able to beg a room. There was sure to be a train to Paris in the morning. I could be in Soissons by nightfall. I could be back at what I was supposed to be doing. Daddy need never know. And Miss Ivens could . . . Miss Ivens rapped on the door a second time. Just as I was about to suggest that we go quickly to try to reach somewhere before dark, the door swung open with a whine.
My thoughts were interrupted by the telephone and at first it sounded exactly like the porter's horn at Royaumont. How we came to dread that sound. Of course, the porter's horn was nothing like a telephone but it took me a moment to come back to my senses and realise where I was, in my house in Paddington, not at Royaumont waiting for wounded. I got up slowly, felt a little dizzy in the bright sun. I stood there until it passed, using the railing to keep from falling. The phone was still ringing. I bent down and picked up my teacup and saucer and went inside. I walked carefully.
They say that our greatest sense for memory is the sense of smell, but it was the sound of that horn I couldn't get out of my mind now. I can just imagine what Miss Ivens would say to me. "Oh for goodness' sake, Iris, who cares a fig for a silly horn?" But I know she'd have remembered it too, after we left. That horn ruled our lives. You'd hear it in your sleep, over and over. The phone stopped before I reached the kitchen. Then it started again. I caught it this time. "Hello?" I felt like my voice was coming from somewhere else.
"Iris, is that you? Are you all right?"
"Grace. Yes, I'm fine. I was just out the front in the sun and I dozed off." My lips wouldn't work properly and I could still hear that porter's horn, in the distance now, as if I were one of the patients approaching in the ambulance along the drive. I wonder did it reassure them that someone knew they were coming, that someone would help them now, ease their suffering?
"I just rang to say I'll drop in on my way to work," Grace said.
"You don't need to do that. I'm fine really."
"I've got time. David's taking the girls to school and he said he'll take Henry to day care. I'll just pop in."
Grace had started "popping in" a lot over recent months, ever since the appointment with the heart doctor. But I didn't want to see her today. The invitation had unsettled me. Violet Heron. Violet Heron, after all these years. "The flower bird girls," she called us, Iris Crane and Violet Heron, the flower bird girls. What young fools we were.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...