The Chilbury Ladies' Choir(7)

By: Jennifer Ryan

I know he remembers.

My Beastly Sister, Venetia

In complete contrast to the rest of us, Venetia is clearly enjoying this war immensely, and not only because no one’s around to keep an eye on her. It’s shuffled everything around, made everyone more adoring, and Edmund’s death has promoted her to top spot in the family. Venetia’s color is a vile greenish yellow, like the sea on a tempestuous day, sucking the living daylights out of anything good around her, dragging down young men into her murky depths, spewing them out unconscious on distant shores.

I find it tremendously funny that she’s having trouble engaging the attention of the handsome newcomer, Mr. Alastair Slater. He’s an artist escaping potential bombs in London, like all the writers and artists desperate to save themselves. Daddy says they’re running away, avoiding their duty. Mr. Slater looks like Cary Grant—all groomed and sophisticated, unlike the boys around here. His color is a dark gray to match his debonair suits and formal standoffishness. He seems completely uninterested in Venetia, even though she’s parading herself around him day and night. I overheard her telling Hattie that she’s made a bet with her friend Angela Quail that she’ll have him eating out of her hand before midsummer, but the way things are looking, she’ll have to work a little harder.

Angela Quail is the most flirtatious and despicable girl I know—it’s impossible to believe she’s the daughter of the Vicar. Her color is tart red, all lips and slinky dresses and no morals whatsoever. She used to work with Venetia at the new War Command Center in Litchfield Park, which is a gorgeous old manor house on the outskirts of Litchfield, complete with Georgian pillars and rolling gardens. It was requisitioned by the Government for the war a few months ago, and Lady Worthing is having to stay with her sister in Cheswick Castle, poor her. It’s now a terrifically important place, and since it’s only five miles from Chilbury, we’re on special alert in case the Nazis try to bomb it. Venetia has a clerical job there and thinks she plays a vital role when all she does is type notes and relay telephone messages to London.

Last month Angela was moved from there to the real War Office in London, where she is almost certainly toying with every man available. Angela is without doubt the most accomplished flirt this side of the English Channel. Venetia’s distraught that Angela’s gone to London as she’s her best friend, and who else can she share her conquests with? I was hoping that Venetia might become a bit nicer without Angela’s evil presence, but she seems worse than ever.

Our Czech Evacuee, Silvie

Now I must tell you about Silvie, our ten-year-old Jewish evacuee. The Nazis have invaded her home in Czechoslovakia, but her parents managed to get her here before war broke out. Her family is supposed to follow her, when they can get away. Uncle Nicky, Mama’s youngest brother and my very favorite member of our family, was organizing the children’s evacuation and got us to take Silvie last summer before the war started.

“We had to stop the evacuation because the borders closed, which is terribly sad for the children left behind,” he told us. “The Nazis run half of Eastern Europe now. It’s desperate over there. They’re thugs and arrest people if they don’t obey the rules. They can do what they want. Everyone’s petrified.”

Daddy wasn’t happy about having Silvie at all. But then a few months later war was declared and hundreds of grotty London evacuees turned up wanting homes. Suddenly he was overjoyed we had lovely, clean, quiet Silvie and no space for anyone else. The Vicar and Mrs. Quail took in a dreadful woman with four squalling children who had lice and fleas and no table manners at all. The woman was forever arguing with Mrs. Quail, and then up and left back to London because the war didn’t seem to be happening. She didn’t even say thank you.

I’ve yet to decide what Silvie’s color is. She doesn’t say much, or smile much either. We’ve been trying to make life a little jollier for her and helping her practice her English. And she told me she has a secret that she can’t tell a soul.

“I am completely trustworthy,” I reassured her. But she refused to budge, her little lips tightly shut to warn me away.

She arrived without even a suitcase, which had been lost on the way. There had been a difficult border crossing into Holland, and they had to hurry everyone through. It was a group of about a hundred, some of them as young as five or six—she said they cried for their mothers all the way, for three whole days. The loss of the cases was especially traumatic as they had their favorite toys, photographs from home, everything that was familiar. We gave Silvie a doll when she arrived, but she put it on a chair at the side of the room, her face to the wardrobe, as if it were a magical doorway to a better world.