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ISLAND

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July 10th, 1944

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Polly Sullivan]

Darling Polly,

Your offer a little while ago to take the children for the holiday was very kind and meant in the spirit of reassurance but I'm afraid I may have to ask if that offer still stands? To put it simply, I'm struggling. To be able to afford to keep the children in boarding school I have to work extremely hard - I'm starting to be able to count the hours per day I'm not working on one hand - but to that end to have the children home for the summer would mean I couldn't work as much, meaning I couldn't afford to have them there. It's a vicious circle, one which I would love to break one day, but for the moment I don't see any other way. I've been extremely ill the last few weeks and the doctor has tried to restrict me to bed rest and then light duties but that would not help in the slightest.

Of course, if they were to come to you I would be helping with the costs of keeping them and put some towards your bills - I understand Jocelyn's book is still in the early stages and won't be earning anything for a while. It would just be Dinah for the first few weeks as Philip suffered a bout of scarlet fever and has to make up the work over summer, so he'll be staying with a Mr Roy until it's complete. I'll arrange all the train tickets and times and you could just send Jo-Jo to collect them from the station.

Please would you consider? I would be ever so grateful, and it would give me time to get my strength back. I don't want the children to know I've been ill as I think it would worry them so.

You loving sister,
Allie


July 13th, 1944

[Letter from Polly Sullivan to Alison Mannering]

Dear Alison,

Of course, my offer still stands. With your help to the costs of the children, it would actually be a relief to have two extra pairs of hands around the house. Jo-Jo does a fair amount of the maintenance but sometimes he disappears when he's needed and is a little unreliable, and his personality is just ghastly. Dinah would be useful for the day-to-day cleaning and chores, and Philip could aid Jo-Jo. Send me the details and we'll arrange it.

Alison, please take care of yourself. I know that being just you, all the responsibility falls on your shoulders but there is a fine line and if it's affecting your health, you must rest. You are no good to the children in hospital and I would hate to receive news that you'd ended up there from working yourself too hard.

I will try and talk to Jocelyn again about moving closer to you but he's as stubborn as anything and will not leave Craggy-Tops, especially whilst he's in the middle of the book. Apparently it requires him to be on the coastline he's writing about, despite the fact he never actually leaves his office (he's exasperating - I truly believe if I kept the curtains closed he wouldn't know if we were in the middle of a city or a desert). If we were in a smaller place I could be of more help to you but Craggy-Tops is a full-time project to maintain.

Take care,
Polly


July 17th, 1944

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Polly Sullivan]

Dear Polly,

I promise I will take care. I am considering taking on an assistant to help me but that would be more of an outlay and I don't think I can afford it at this point in time. I will have to make some decisions soon.

I've sent letters to Philip and Dinah, explaining the situation and included their train tickets. I can send some extra clothing for them to you as their trunks will mainly have their school tunics and uniforms. Please let me know if there is anything else you may need.

I've attached their itinerary for you. If anything urgent crops up, send me a telegram.

I can't thank you enough. I hope to be able to come down to see you before the end of the summer.

Love Allie

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Dinah Mannering]

Darling Dinah,

I'm so very sorry but you won't be coming home with me this holiday - instead you'll be staying with Aunt Polly and Uncle Jocelyn. I know you're disappointed but I have to work and it wouldn't be much fun for you being left at home most of the time. At least this way you'll have the opportunity to explore the coast and Craggy-Tops. Philip loves stories of smugglers - perhaps you'll find some caves or hidden passages!

Philip will be staying on at one of his tutor's homes for a couple of weeks to catch up on his work so it will just be you at first. Aunt Polly has asked if you can help her around the house. I know you will, you're a good girl. I will miss you terribly but I hope to come down towards the end of the summer and settle any arrangements for returning to school so I can spend some time with you then.

Please do write to me, I'd love to hear what you two are up to. Aunt Polly already knows but if there is anything urgent just send me a telegram and I'll come as soon as I can. Your train ticket is in the envelope too - please don't lose it!

Your school reports are exemplary and I'm so proud of you. You're growing up into a wonderful young lady.

All my love,
Mother

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Philip Mannering]

Dear Philip,

I do hope you've recovered well from your bout of scarlet fever. The school have made arrangements for you to stay with Mr Roy for a couple of weeks just to catch up with the work you missed. I know it's awful and I'm sorry you have to lose some of your holiday to do so but it will be over soon and you'll have the rest of the holidays to enjoy. There are a couple of other students who are having to do the same so you won't be alone.

I've sent a letter to Dinah already; unfortunately I'm just far too busy at work and much as I would love to have you both home I can't. Aunt Polly has agreed to look after you for the summer and I will try my best to come and see you before the end of the holidays.

Your train ticket is in the envelope too - Aunt Polly will probably send Jo-Jo to collect you from the station. Please be good for her and help her in any way you can. I will miss you both terribly. Write me when you have time.

Love Mother


July 28th, 1944

[Telegram from Polly Sullivan to Alison Mannering]

Dinah arrived. Will write.


August 2nd, 1944

[Official dispatch to Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Report re. Operation Ersatz.


August 3rd, 1944

[Report from official logs - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Coastal bound. Visual reports received. Will update.


August 11th, 1944

[Letter from Polly Sullivan to Alison Mannering]

Dear Alison,

I can only imagine you weren't aware of the situation with Philip - he arrived yesterday with two more children in tow, another brother and sister. From what I gather, they are orphaned and live with an uncle who does little to care for them. The boy was at the same summer schooling sessions as Philip and the sister was there to keep him company. The uncle has fallen ill and is unable to take care of them so Philip invited them to stay here (without asking my permission, mind you). Again, it's useful to have more hands around the house, and the money that the housekeeper was going to forward to the tutor is going to come to me to help with their upkeep. I have spoken to all parties involved and they are happy with the arrangements, as am I.

I thought I'd best update you. I'm happy for them to stay if you don't mind?

I enclose a letter from Dinah. Hope you are well.

Take care,
Polly

[Letter from Dinah Mannering to Alison Mannering]

Dear Mother,

You will never believe what happened! (Although Aunt Polly has most likely told you so maybe you can...)

Philip arrived yesterday from his summer school and there were two others with him! He'd told me about them in a letter, and they sounded wonderful. Their Uncle has recently fallen ill and their housekeeper sent a letter to the tutor asking him to care for them for the summer, but Philip thinks he didn't particularly want to, so he brought them back here. Aunt Polly was awfully cross at first but once she spoke to the housekeeper she was told she'd receive the cheque that would have been sent to him and I think they'd much prefer to be with us than at a stuffy old tutor's house. We get on like a house on fire.

They're called Jack and Lucy-Ann Trent, and have red hair and freckles all over their faces. Philip calls Jack 'Freckles' because of that, and Jack calls him 'Tufty' because of our hair. Jack is around Philip's age, and Lucy-Ann is a year younger than me. It's funny to watch them because she adores Jack and he doesn't seem to mind, but they're so completely different from Philip and me. If I followed him around the way Lucy-Ann does Jack, he would probably slap me!

Jack has this pet parrot called Kiki who is an absolute scream. She's very talkative and loves learning new phrases and noises. Aunt Polly didn't want her first of all but she flew onto her shoulder and started saying "Poor dear Polly" and Aunt Polly thought Kiki was talking about her so she let her stay. She does this impression of an express-train going through a tunnel which makes us jump but Jack tells her off when she does.

Lucy-Ann and I are helping Aunt Polly every day, and the boys do fetching and carrying but try to stay out of the way of Jo-Jo who has an awful temper. He doesn't like us. We're exploring the beach and Jack is watching as many birds as he can because he's absolutely mad on them. Philip's got some horrid pets and keeps taunting me. I wish you could tell him to stop.

We miss you Mother. We've told Jack and Lucy-Ann about you, and I think they would both love you, especially Lucy-Ann. Don't work too hard.

Love Dinah


August 13th, 1944

[Letter to Dinah Mannering from Alison Mannering]

Darling Dinah and Philip,

Yes, Aunt Polly did tell me about them. She is happy for them to stay so of course I don't mind (please tell her that) but I am extremely cross with Philip for organising it without asking. I will be having words with him when I next see him - your aunt is tired enough as it is without two more children to look after.

Philip does have a way with attracting animals - is this somehow working with people as well?! As long as the 'pets' you mentioned stay near him and aren't disease-ridden things (and Aunt Polly doesn't mind) then leave him be. I don't want you two getting into fights over it.

I expect you all to behave, and I'm glad to hear you are helping her as much as you can. I do hope you have time for fun too. Lucy-Ann and Jack sound wonderful and I can't wait to meet them. It must be nice to have someone your own age other than Philip around. Don't be getting into any trouble!

Love to you all,
Mother

[Report from official logs - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Visual identification made. Linked to Sullivans, 'Craggy-Tops'. Two adults, four children. No indication of involvement. Radio soon.


August 19th, 1944

[Letter from Polly Sullivan to Alison Mannering]

Dearest Alison,

I apologise for the need for this letter but unfortunately circumstances are such that I have to put an awful imposition upon you. The children stumbled across a police investigation in which Jo-Jo was involved, and unfortunately our water source has been tainted due to the criminals damaging an underground passage which flooded the well with sea water. Jocelyn and I have to move as quickly as we can and whilst I know and understand you yourself have not been well recently, I feel that to involve the children would not only be unfair to them but would be extremely stressful for both Jocelyn and me.

Please could you collect them at your earliest convenience?

Your sister,
Polly


August 22nd, 1944

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

Polly's last letter was rather unwelcome and ill-timed, but when I arrived at Craggy-Tops I could understand the need. Both she and I have been ill recently; my doctor declaring I needed bed-rest due to burning the candles at both end and working myself to the brink of exhaustion (so who will be working to pay both Polly's and my bills?), but whilst she isn't working and looks after the children for me she does need to deal with the stress of moving suddenly and having not just my two but four of them underfoot would only add to it. The last few days I have been feeling a little more myself and it won't be long until the summer holidays are over and the children can go back to school, so I went to collect them and to offer any help Polly might need.

The children are of the age where they can go off and keep themselves amused without the need for adult supervision, but at the same time are led by their curiosity and this apparently led them straight into a police investigation into a counterfeiting ring located on the island just off the coast from Craggy-Tops. When I arrived, I could see Polly looked as bad as I'd been feeling. Craggy-Tops isn't the most habitable of places at the best of times but without fresh water it's completely uninhabitable. Polly says it's a blessing in disguise because she's been trying to get Jocelyn to move for years but he refuses - at least now she can find somewhere smaller and more manageable. They're going to rent somewhere locally until they find a cottage or similar, but the process takes a few days so I'm staying with them and the children so there are extra pairs of hands to go and collect supplies from the town, cook and clean etc until they can move out.

I spent the day helping Polly pack what she could, and listening to the children telling me about their adventure. Some of their descriptions of what they'd done made me feel positively ill, but I'm proud of them. Dinah and Philip may have their moments of hot-headedness but when they found themselves in tight spots it sounded like they kept cool and planned their way out instead of panicking. The news that a rather large reward will be coming their way thanks to bringing the case to a close is welcome indeed, and Philip has already told me he wants me to use it to stop working so hard for them. This brought a tear to my eye, and I hoped that I'd hidden exactly how much I'd been unwell from them as I didn't want to worry them, but it's such a relief.

Jack and Lucy-Ann are lovely, and Dinah and Philip told me a little about their past. I feel it's the least I can do to offer to take them on - I know I'll be able to provide a loving home and they can attend the same schools as Philip and Dinah. I feel my two are growing up too quickly but I can't help but admire them. I was still rather more interested in books and painting than finding adventures at their age.

This evening I cooked for Polly - she had a few bits around the larder and I cobbled together some sort of pie. The detective that the children had become friendly with over the summer had spoken to Polly and said he would bring some supplies for us to tide us over for the couple of days left here, and he turned up with a crate of ginger beer (much to the children's delight) and a huge thermos of tea for us adults. We invited him for supper - Polly was probably just being a good host but I must admit I had a slight ulterior motive. The man is very handsome! He's tall and broad shouldered, and I can imagine very strong - especially from what the boys have told me. When he took my hand to introduce himself ('Detective Inspector Bill Cunningham' - although the children know him as Bill Smugs) he just exuded warmth and confidence. He was constantly smiling at the children's antics and stories during dinner and has the time and patience for each one, including Kiki, Jack's parrot. (She is certainly going to take some getting used to!)

It may be wishful thinking and I'll probably not see him again but I couldn't resist looking at him multiple times during dinner, and I'm sure that he was doing the same. Our eyes kept meeting and he'd give me a smile before looking away at whomever was speaking then. The children were allowed to stay up later than usual before saying goodbye to him, but he did stay for a short while after they had gone to bed. Polly begged off, claiming she still didn't feel quite right, and she was looking rather pale so she followed the children upstairs. I had some washing up and tidying to do and Bill (he wouldn't hear of me calling him by his rank) helped me, despite my protests. We made small talk as we did and soon everything was cleared away, and while he seemed like he wanted to stay for longer, he had to get back so I saw him to his car. He knew the children were likely to want to stay in touch and so we swapped addresses before he left.

I feel like a schoolgirl with a silly crush. He's a high-ranking policeman based in London and I'm a widowed mother of now four children. But it's nice to dream.


August 31st, 1944

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Detective Inspector Cunningham

Please accept my most grateful thanks for the cheque forwarded to us in the post. I have to admit I questioned them on providing the reward when all the children really did was to stumble across your investigation, but my concerns were brushed away and I was told that not only was the department extremely happy to reward the children in return for everything they had done, but that you had put in a good word for them and they couldn't very well go against you nor your superiors.

Philip wanted you to know that the money has allowed me to take some time off work and focus on our small cottage, ensuring that I can start on the repairs we’ve needed for a while. Jack and Lucy-Ann have settled in well for the short amount of time we've had together - they start their next year at school in a few days and they've gone from moving their meagre belongings into the cottage to frantically packing their trunks for the term ahead. I will pop up and visit both schools during the half term but won't see them properly again until the Christmas holiday when they will be staying back at the cottage.

The children have been asking after you and would like to know when they can see you next. I told them you are a very busy man and may not be able to spare some time but they have been rather insistent. Please find the telephone number of our residence below - if you would rather not call I completely understand. You are always welcome to visit.

All I can do is thank you again for everything, especially for making the start of their summer such a wonderful time, and for looking after them when they became involved with those men. Without you, I dread to think what could have happened.

With warm regards,
Alison Mannering


September 1st, 1944

[Personal journal entry - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Finally finished full report of investigation. Prelims had been filed last week but think the involvement of children threw a lot of people and had to double up on debriefings because no one seemed to want to believe me even with the supporting reports of Sam and the others. Still can't really believe it myself, so not too surprised I'm under some scrutiny.

Never met kids like them. Had their heads screwed on right for their age, and were pretty vital to the outcome. Had they not come calling I probably wouldn't have had the chance to get to know them and gain intel on 'Jo-Jo'. Their statements were filed with the reports so the department reviewed them and decided to send the family the reward they had on offer for any information re the case. Had a letter from their mother about that this morning. Alison Mannering. Met her when she came to collect the kids to allow the Sullivans to move, and it has to be noted she is an extremely attractive young woman, both in looks and personality. Did look a little tired and strained though - kids mentioned she'd been working non-stop to support them, so sounds like the reward couldn't have come at a better time. Spent that last evening on the coast with them for dinner and stayed to help Mrs. Mannering clear up when Mrs. Sullivan and the kids retired for the night. Conversation flowed, and we swapped addresses because we knew the kids would want to stay in touch, hence receiving the letter this morning. Intriguing woman. Can't wait to get to know them all better.


September 3rd, 1944

[Letter from Det. Insp. Cunningham to Alison Mannering]

Dear Mrs. Mannering

There is no need for your thanks; the kids earned that reward. I have to say they are a smashing group - I've never met any with such enthusiasm for life and new adventures. They proved themselves to be hard workers when they wanted to achieve something (such as learning to sail my boat) and while their inquisitiveness may have led them into the counterfeiting operation they kept level heads and made escape plans. There may have been a certain amount of luck involved but I was glad to have them on my side!

You must be very proud of them indeed, they deserved everything they received and have been the talk of the department since.

How have they taken the change in circumstances? You are an admirable woman for taking on two more children, but from what little I know about their situation I can tell that they will have a much better and more stable home environment with you. Lucy-Ann appears to be the most sensitive of the bunch - is she adapting well?

Thank you for the number. The nature of my job means I sometimes have to disappear without warning or am called away on assignment with immediate effect. If this happens, please do not think I do not wish to communicate with you or the kids, I just may not be able to.

Like I told you at the Sullivans', please call me Bill!

Kind regards,
Bill


September 12th, 1944

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Dear Bill,

In that case you must call me Allie. Yes, I am very proud of the children. Like you said, they showed maturity beyond their years in dealing with the situation. I can only imagine the tales being told (and possibly exaggerated) at school, especially the boys. Jack's copper nugget was the first thing he packed in his trunk!

I believe they've taken the changes well, but it remains to be seen. It's nice for Dinah and Philip to have others their own age as they are sometimes too similar in temperament and quarrels are frequent. I'm looking forward to Christmas now, to really spend time with them and get to know them. I think Lucy-Ann is a sweetheart and hope that she doesn't lose her innocence too quickly. She's been staying close to me in the run-up to term and I think it's both the novelty of having a maternal figure in the household and a way of coping with changes. Dinah told me quietly that Lucy-Ann said she adored me, so it's wonderful to know I'm doing something right.

Are all your assignments as dangerous as this one? I can't imagine being summoned or sent away without warning for weeks on end. I caught Philip packing a book on the police force when he left for school so I believe you may have inspired a future career choice.

Warm regards,
Allie


October 3rd, 1944

[Personal journal entry - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Ship out to France tomorrow. Already been there twice on the intel that some German spies have slipped through the net and are making their way here. Both times intel let us down. One name in particular is starting to crop up again and again so am going to liaise with French branch of ICPC. Looks like I might be in for the long haul again unless this guy trips up along the way, and he's too professional for that.

Still haven't been allowed to forget the fact the kids helped me close the last case - not particularly doing wonders for my reputation but at the same time the guys can't believe I dealt with it pretty much without them. I keep joking I'm going to replace them all with the Mannerings/Trents. Even the Commissioner finds the funny side. He agrees with me, says he's got plenty more room for 'consultants' like that criminologist he's good friends with, and if they just happen to be children then so be it!

Trying to keep in contact with them but finding it difficult at the moment, being in and out of the country. Haven't yet responded to Allie's last letter. Really don't want her to think I'm not interested in correspondence but in the current climate I can't risk any of my letters being intercepted. May have to send a quick card in a bit, let them know I'm thinking of them and will speak properly soon.


December 19th, 1944

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Polly Sullivan]

Merry Christmas, dearest Polly. I hope you and Jocelyn have settled in well to your new home. Jocelyn must love the fact it's still coastal, so he can work on his book - do you think he'll have it finished this year? I may be able to put him in touch with some publishers if he hasn't some lined up already.

Are you recovered and well? The last few months have allowed me to get back on my feet properly and I feel very much myself again. The cottage is having small works done for now, and I think I'll rent a place for the summer holidays and let the builders do the bigger renovations and decoration whilst we're away so we can move back into the completed project.

The reward from the department was rather more substantial than expected, especially as the children each received a share and immediately asked me to put it towards the home. All four of them are such kind-hearted, selfless characters. I've budgeted carefully (you were always teaching me to be careful with money!) so during the term time I continue with my business and during the holidays I focus on the children and employ someone to run the agency for me. I might pick up the old paintbrush and canvas soon; it's been so long since I was able to paint for myself. I've taken the advice of our bank manager and set some aside in separate accounts for the children. Hopefully in a few years time the money will have built up a little, but if they want to use some now then they are more than welcome to - I try to pass on your sensible approach to such things.

Please find enclosed a small present from all of us. You have been so supportive and helpful even at the extent of your own health, and now we are all in a situation to be able to, we want to return the favour. I know the downsizing has cut down on your bills but I do hope this goes a little way to allowing you to treat yourself.

As always, I know the answer, but if you could convince Jocelyn to part with his books and maps for a few days, we would love to see you over the holidays.

All my love,
Allie

[Card from Alison Mannering to Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Dear Bill,

Happy Christmas!

All our love,
Allie, Philip, Jack, Dinah, Lucy-Ann & Kiki


December 21st, 1944

[Letter from Polly Sullivan to Alison Mannering]

Alison,

I don't know how to thank you. I can imagine you saying not to, downplaying your gift, but it's truly wonderful. Even with the sale of Craggy-Tops and the new place being far more manageable, Jocelyn is focusing so much on the book his usual paying clients for papers and short essays are being left by the wayside, so there is little income. Your cheque has gone a long way to pay for some essentials, and yes, you're right, I will treat myself. Lord knows Jocelyn will forget it's Christmas, so I will just have to buy myself a present.

Have you heard from that nice detective the children met over summer? They seemed friendly enough with him, and that evening he stayed for supper he certainly seemed interested in you.

We're having trouble with the 'phone lines here at the moment but as soon as they're up I will call you. You do know the answer - I would love to come but Jocelyn won't and I don't know if I can leave him here for a few days to fend for himself. It's highly likely he'll not eat the entire time.

Your sister,
Polly

[Card from Det. Insp. Cunningham to Alison Mannering]

To the Mannering-Trent clan,

Merry Christmas to you all! (And keep out of trouble this holiday!)

From Bill

(Allie - apologies for 'radio silence'. Investigations underway. Speak soon.)


 

December 27th, 1944

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

My first Christmas with four instead of two! I was hoping to make it special for them all but especially Lucy-Ann and Jack. I had the time to find them some lovely presents and made some too; for Jack and Philip I found the new Paul Temple detective novel (not entirely sure they believe that I'm acquainted with the author), torches (their old ones suffered rather in those mines on the Island of Gloom) and some Swiss Army knives, and for the girls I made them a dress each, bought copies of the Girls Own Paper and a few trinkets. As I get to know Jack and Lucy-Ann I can buy them more personal things but for now I was trying to get the balance right with them and my two.

Kiki wasn't left out - I treated her to some sunflower seeds but also a whole tin of peach halves. I made sure Jack would ration them as I don't want to make her ill, but she seemed extremely pleased and spent ten minutes on my shoulder, rubbing her head against my cheek and murmuring silly nonsense to me. She's a daft bird but intelligent and it's surprising how quickly I've become used to having her around the house after so long with peace and quiet, but she still does catch me out every so often with that awful impression of an express train and I have to tell her off. It's like having a fifth child around.

Dinner was an enjoyable affair; I did my best with what was available in the local shops but we're still being rationed and I'm making do (and making up!) where I can. The children didn't seem to mind, and most of it was polished off so I have the rest for leftovers for the next couple of days along with the ham I cooked off and left to cool. I always think that's the best part of Christmas; the leftovers.

Spoke to Polly, and she sent her love and apologies. I didn't expect anything less, but it is a shame I miss out on seeing her this time of year yet again. I'll try and organise a day to go and visit her with the children to do my sisterly duties, maybe over the Easter holidays. I also had a card from Bill Cunningham, which does explain why my last letter went unanswered. It's always a worry when someone says they want to keep in contact and don't and I know he did warn me that sometimes he's unable to but there's always the concern that they've moved on and decided they don't need that correspondence! At least the children know he's still around, even if he's mostly silent.

Sent a card to Louise Temple but didn't hear anything back; I know since she married Paul she's become rather a high flyer and seems to be in and out of the country with as much frequency as Bill. Hoping to renew our friendship properly since I have a little more free time on my hands, but they're now solely based in London and have sold the Evesham place so it's not as easy as just spending a couple of hours catching up.

Lucy-Ann had a few days of illness not long after they broke up and returned home. I love Dinah and Philip dearly but neither of them are particularly affectionate and I'm lucky if I get a peck on the cheek from Dinah. Lucy-Ann however is extremely free with her affections and I'm constantly being hugged. I think the combination of large changes in her life together with the excitement from the summer had taken its toll on her, and she'd managed to keep it mostly at bay but she hadn't been sleeping properly for the last few weeks of term (so Dinah told me in her last letter) and it all came together in the form of a nasty cold. She came downstairs looking a bit feverish in the middle of one night when I'd relaxed in the comfy chair, and although I offered her some medicine she refused it, just wanting to curl up with me. I held her for a while, and we talked about families. She asked about John and I was happy to tell her; I don't want her to feel like she can't ask me anything. Just as she went to sleep, she murmured, "It's so wonderful to have a real family, Aunt Allie. Thank you for adopting us. I would love a father too but I'm glad we have you. You're worth two parents…"

Desperately trying not to think of a certain detective they've all but adopted as a father figure. What would Polly say!

Chapter Text

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CASTLE

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May 13th, 1945

[Letter from Louise Temple to Alison Mannering]

Dearest Allie,

I'm so sorry for not having written to you sooner! I would say life has been so busy and got in the way but that's an awful excuse to not write your oldest friend. Paul and I have been out of the country for a few months as he had a tour in America to promote his new book and then only a few days respite before his agent sent him on another one in Europe, followed by what Paul claimed was an extremely well-deserved holiday!

A funny thing happened the other day and I just had to write you. You know Paul is good friends with the Commissioner of the Met Police, and he occasionally consults for them? We had Sir Graham over for dinner and he mentioned a couple of the agents in Special Branch he's been keeping an eye on. Special Branch tend to take on the more international cases, those that have political and diplomatic issues, or that involve national security and intelligence. There are two or three detectives that are showing a lot of promise and have a good reputation for investigating and closing cases. One of the agents is Detective Inspector Bill Cunningham - Paul has actually met him a few times and gets on very well with him. Sir Graham was mentioning a few of his cases, including one that seems to be the talk of the department, where some children helped him shut down a counterfeiting ring that had been eluding them for months...and your name cropped up!

Imagine my surprise when Sir Graham started talking about secret passages, copper-mines and forgers! I do believe I'd seen the case reported in the 'papers a while back but I was having to deal with the probate on Gerald's estate and wasn't paying much attention to anything in the news at that time. I couldn't believe that it was your two and some friends that had helped Det. Cunningham! Sir Graham said the debriefing was one of the most well-attended; anyone who hadn't been involved in the case suddenly found an excuse to be in the conference room or were listening at the doors.

Anyway, Paul was joking that it sounds like he should branch out a little in his writing and start on some adventure books, and Sir Graham actually thought it was good idea. He's going to have a talk with Det. Cunningham and set up a meeting...it's something Paul could do under a pseudonym. If the department give the go ahead to release some of the more confidential details, he'll want to request your permission to go ahead with the project and perhaps interview the children.

I want to know what's happened in your life! All we've heard are the basics that Sir Graham can tell us from the reports, but I would love to know what actually happened from the children's point of view and what's happened since. Write me back, I can't wait to hear from you.

Your childhood friend,
Louise


May 19th, 1945

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Louise Temple]

Dear Louise,

It seems like we've both had a rather busy time! It's such a small world, I honestly didn't think Paul would know of Bill, let alone have met him multiple times. It's far too long a story to tell in a letter - perhaps you could come down soon and we could lunch together? I am still running the agency during term time but have employed someone as an assistant and they run it for me during the school holidays. It means I have a little more free time and I would love to see you!

I know I've told you this before, but I am sorry about your brother. I remember Gerald from when we were very young - he always had time to watch us when we were playing together. I can only imagine the stress you were going through, did the probate really drag on that long? You've already been married to Paul a year or so and didn't the solicitors start the process even before that? (And doesn't that make one worry how much time flies - feels like yesterday you were inviting me to the wedding!)

In case you don't have it, my number is at the bottom of the letter. Call me when you can and we'll get together.

Yours,
Allie


June 4th, 1945

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

I met up with Louise Temple today. It's been far too long (the last time I saw her was at her wedding over a year ago) and she's always like a breath of fresh air. She's a willowy blonde who always looks like one of those glamorous creatures that belong in the very centre of London's social set, but who has a mischievous streak and wicked sense of humour. Her husband, Paul, came down with her and had a quick cup of tea with us in my little office before heading out into town on his own. He seemed rather impressed with my set-up, which is gratifying to know. I remember the first time I met him, he seemed very serious, but Louise has a knack of bringing out the best in people and he was teasing her and me before he left. He even has a nickname for her (and most of their friends in London use it) - when she met him she was working for the Evening Post under the pseudonym 'Steve Trent' and apparently the name Steve stuck. She told me I'm one of the only people that calls her Louise, but she likes it because it reminds her of when we were young and lived on the same estate. We used to play together and went to the same elementary school, until she later moved to Cape Town. We'd kept in very infrequent contact, just small updates in our lives, until she returned to England and started writing to me again.

Despite my protests, she treated me to lunch and we spent a good few hours in one of the local restaurants, catching each other up. She loved the story of the children and their adventure, and said it was far more interesting than the official reports would have them believe. Paul has quite a few projects at the moment so he was reluctant to start any more but I know that last year Louise actually published a novel herself and I encouraged her to take it on. I think with her contacts in the police and access to reports along with eyewitness accounts from the children and possibly Bill, it would make a brilliant book.

(Speaking of Bill, she casually asked if I'd heard from him recently. Apart from the card he sent over at Christmas with the small message scribbled at the bottom, there's been no contact, but she assured me Paul had sent an invite for drinks and had been told that he was out of the country on assignment and it all seemed rather 'hush-hush'. I can tell she's up to something, so I expect I'll just have to wait and see.)

She in turn encouraged me to push the business a little further. The agency is a good little place for artists to have their work published as cards, gifts and other items, but she suggested I maybe open a little gallery for local artists, look into licensing works for use in publications (publishers are always looking for new sources of works for book covers) and to even start up my own work again and look into selling that. The business is doing quite well and it's definitely something to think about for the future. I want to get used to the routines I have at the moment and once I've had another summer with the children I'll look into expanding.

Paul picked her up in the afternoon and they left with a promise from me I would go up to London and stay with them for a few days. I don't know when I'll be able to - sparing a day is fine but a few days might be stretching it!

It's wonderful to reconnect with Louise. I do love Polly but as my older sister she acts far more mature than her years and whilst I can always turn to her for reliable advice and support, sometimes a girl just wants to have a good laugh and gossip.


July 14th, 1945

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Lucy-Ann Trent and Dinah Mannering]

Darling Dinah and Lucy-Ann,

I can't believe how quickly the summer holidays have come around! It feels like only yesterday you were going back after the Easter hols. I told you then I was considering having the house renovated, and I've decided to book the work during summer. I know you'd both love to be at home but I've rented a pretty little place called Spring Cottage in Scotland - the closest large town is Stirling but it's in a tiny little village about twenty-five miles outside. This gives us a chance to all go on a holiday together and hopefully our home will be completely finished by the time summer is over. There's a large castle just up from the cottage and there are plenty of hills to climb and woodland to explore - I expect Jack will want to search out new birds and Philip will find something to hide in his pockets (I can just see your face Dinah - I'll make sure it's nothing too awful but you'll have to get used to it because he does love to tease you). It sounds like it might be a good summer for weather so you can go on plenty of picnics (and if I'm allowed to join you we can maybe hire some bicycles and explore the rest of the area).

I'll be driving there just before you break up, so I can get the place ready for you. This means you'll be catching the train to Stirling station and I'll collect you from there. The boys will be doing the same a couple of days later as their term doesn't finish until after yours. I've included your train tickets with this letter; please do keep them somewhere safe and don't lose them! (I know you never do but a mother just has to say these things.)

I'll pack everything that I think you'll need but please remember I only have a small case and we'll have to drive back home at the end of summer before school, so it's going to be cramped with all of you and your trunks. I might be able to get some essentials in Stirling if there is anything you desperately need.

See you on the 25th!

Love Mother


July 25th, 1945

[Official dispatch to Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Report to Stirling, Scotland. Contact J2. Re: possibility of Scar-Neck in area.


August 3rd, 1945

[Personal journal entry - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Been stuck in Stirling for over a week now with nothing. Initial reports had Scar-Neck (c.f. official logs, 'Mannheim') spotted in the area. Contact rather useless. Don't suspect he's in Stirling, however possibility he is located somewhere in the various surrounding villages and hamlets.

Still, rather interesting thing happened today; bumped into the Mannering-Trent kids in town. Allie not with them, and I found myself a little disappointed. Haven't seen her or them since last summer and our limited contact probably means she thinks I'd rather not speak to them. Thankfully the kids thought it was wonderful to see me and I treated them to lunch in a local hotel. Lucy-Ann looked fit to bursting until she could give me a hug and the boys and Dinah chatted non-stop about what they were up to. Kiki kept us amused as always, and they told me they were staying in a cottage about twenty miles away, just down from a castle. Apparently they managed to get in the abandoned old place (can't say these kids aren't resourceful) and found a pair of eagles nesting with young, so Jack's going to set up a hide and spend some time trying to capture shots of them. (Glad to hear Allie's encouraging it - she's obviously seen Jack's got a talent in photography. Might see if I can find him a better camera. His is good but a little flimsy.)

Told them I might pop over in a week or so for a couple of days. Dinah gave me the address as they're not on the 'phones there, so I sent them off with my regards to Allie. Can't do much at the moment but it's not looking like there's going to be any trace of Scar-Neck so I'll only give it a bit longer before moving on. Hope she's not going to be angry with me popping in out of the blue but would be lovely to see her in person again and the kids will have pre-warned her.

Made a note to talk to Sam about castles. Not bad hiding places.


August 5th, 1945

[Telegram from Jocelyn Sullivan to Alison Mannering]

Polly taken ill. Please come at once.


August 10th, 1945

[Personal journal entry - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Unbelievably, the kids have been at it again. I'm not sure I'll be able to face the rest of the department after this, but at least this time I wasn't alone. The rest of the guys still can't believe what transpired, but Tom knows he won't be getting rapped knuckles for letting Scar-Neck get away. (Or me, for that matter, seeing as the team's actions reflect on the lead investigator.)

Was it only a couple of days ago I'd given up hope of finding Scar-Neck? I'd taken the opportunity to pop over to the cottage and see Allie and the children, but found the place locked up. Initially I thought they'd maybe gone picnicking and I let myself in, but when darkness started to fall I began to worry. It was when Jack crept in and I almost beaned the poor boy that the whole sorry tale came out. When he told me the others were in danger I thought for a moment Allie was with them but he said she'd gone off to see her sister who wasn't well. There was a brief moment of relief before I started to make plans - Scar-Neck was in the area and he had the others.

Sting operation successful after a few hiccups - see official logs - but now we've got the children safely back at the cottage and Scar-Neck and his men firmly in custody with Colonel Yarmouth. There will have to be a debriefing soon but I'm delaying it as long as I can to stay with the kids until Allie gets back. She only told the children she'd be away for a few days so I suspect she'll be on her way back - if she doesn't turn up within a day or so I'll send a telegram to Jocelyn Sullivan. Hopefully our paths will cross again; it seems fate is conspiring to keep us apart.


August 11th, 1945

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

Polly wasn't as bad as Jocelyn originally thought, and after consultation with the doctor we decided that I wasn't needed to stay for too long. I'd only wanted to be away from the children for a few days and had visions of having to cancel the rented cottage, but thankfully all I had to do was some quick housework, pre-cook some meals for them and contact Jocelyn's niece who was in town and could pop in when needed.

It was a long journey back to Spring Cottage and even starting early it was rather late by the time I pulled up outside. Fully expecting it to be dark and locked up the way I'd left it, I was surprised to find one of the downstairs lights glowing. The door was locked and I struggled a little with the key, finally getting it open and pulling my case with me, but almost instantly it was taken out of my hands and I started. It was Bill!

I may have thrown my arms around him. I couldn't help it, I'd been travelling for so long and was tired, and the relief to find another adult in the house was wonderful after worrying about the children all the way back. I don't think he minded though, as he returned my hug and I just had to hope in the low light he didn't see the blush on my cheeks.

He set my case down at the bottom of the stairs and took me into the kitchen where he set the kettle boiling. He must have read my mind, I definitely needed a warm drink before collapsing somewhere soft - the settee in the front room was just as comfortable as my bed so I wasn't going to be choosy.

"I hope you don't mind but I used your kitchen a couple of times whilst you were away," he said. Why would I mind? The sight of him in his shirt and trousers, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows and his collar open, standing in the rather tiny kitchen like he belonged there was enough to fuel any woman's dream and it took me a moment to respond, grateful for the fact he was busy with the teapot.

"I would have come back sooner if I had known you'd be doing the cooking," I managed to joke, and he laughed.

"Tell me what you'd like and I'll happily make you something. You must be exhausted after that travelling."

I told him I was fine for food - I don't have much of an appetite when having to feed four hungry children so I'd quite happily have a cup of tea and then turn in, but when he'd finished making it he looked a little serious and guided me through to the front room, sitting beside me on the settee. He wanted to prepare me for the next day as we both knew as soon as the children saw me they would be talking over one another trying to tell me what had happened in my absence (and oh! were there some happenings). He explained to me as concisely as he could, both what they'd told him up to his arrival at the cottage and the subsequent events. It was just as fantastic as their adventure last summer, and had I not known about that or trusted Bill I would have had a hard time believing it.

I think I went a little white as he reached out and grasped my hand. "The children are completely safe, fast asleep upstairs. Tassie is home with her mother and I have two men posted in the area, just in case. It's highly unlikely that any more will turn up as we've basically rounded up all the names that had been flagged by Intel but you never know. I have a debriefing tomorrow but I've arranged to meet my superiors in Edinburgh to complete it and then I'll be back in the evening to stay with you all for a few days if you don't mind?"

I'd feel safer knowing he was there, and told him so. He squeezed my fingers a little and said to me that after the debriefing he would stick to us like glue. We talked a little longer until my half-drunk tea had gone cold, and I started to feel the effects of the day.

"Go to bed, Allie, you're falling asleep and the children will probably wake you up at the crack of sparrow's cough!" He was right, they do like to rise rather early for their age. I asked him where he'd been sleeping and he said the settee - I tried to convince him to take my bed but it was too late to change it and he reminded me he'd slept in far worse places than a comfy chair. He started to tidy up and winked at me as I set off up the stairs, trying not to wake the children.

Tomorrow I'll change the sheets and set up a bed in with the girls. It's nice to see him after so long.


August 12th, 1945

[Personal journal entry - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Not my usual kind of entry but want to record it for posterity. Truly think this was the moment Allie Mannering took a permanent place in my thoughts, and cemented my promise to keep in contact with her and the kids.

Needed an early start so was up just before sunrise. Car was coming to collect me in an hour or so (thanks to the demise of my saloon courtesy of Scar-Neck and landslide) and fancied a breakfast so was quietly having some toast and fried eggs to keep me going. Kids were still out for the count; they seem to have inbuilt switches (either dead to the world or bright and breezy and very little in between). Thought I'd been quiet enough to not wake anyone but heard footsteps behind me and Allie came into the kitchen, still looking tired but much better than last night. Offered her some coffee which she took gratefully, and she sat at the table and watched me as I fried the eggs.

"I was joking about you cooking, you know," she said, smiling, and I laughed.

"I wasn't. I'm happy to cook for you, as a thanks for putting me up." She tried to protest, but I wasn't having any of it. "It's your holiday too, Allie. If I can take one job off your hands I'm happy to." And I'm not a bad cook, if I may say so myself. Bachelorhood tends to make you teach yourself the art of making edible meals.

We subsided into companionable silence for a while, and I made a couple extra slices of toast for her so she munched on them. She never seems to have a big appetite but I think that's partly to do with having to feed four ravenous children three or so times a day. Once she sits down to eat what she's just made, she probably doesn't fancy it.

"This debriefing is probably going to take all day so I might be back quite late," I told her. "Don't worry about waiting up for me."

"Do you have a key?" she asked, but I shook my head. "Won't you need me to leave it unlocked?"

"How do you think I got in the other night?"

She took a moment, but realisation dawned and she looked a little surprised before laughing. "Duly noted, locked doors do not deter Detective Inspector Cunningham!"

It was too early for any of the responses that came to mind, so I just asked her, "What are your plans for today?"

She tilted her head, clasping the cup of coffee between her hands. "I'll probably try to read. I've been wanting to just sit in some peace and quiet and read some books but so far this holiday I've not been given much of a chance."

"What about the kids?" I asked and she looked a little thoughtful.

"Perhaps I'll ask Tassie if she knows of anywhere else they can go that avoids the landslide and castle. They'll enjoy searching for more wildlife and birds for Philip and Jack." I couldn't help but raise my eyebrow and she gave me an amused glance. "I'm hoping that the probability of them getting caught up in another adventure immediately after the last one is extremely low, so I don't see why they shouldn't be able to wander the area again. They'll go stir-crazy if they're trapped in here and I'll never get any peace." She took a sip of her drink and then looked at me searchingly again. "Although I'd appreciate it if you hurried back. Even if they do fall headlong into another, you seem to do extremely well pulling them back out of it!"

When the car came to collect me, I seized the opportunity to press a light kiss to her cheek, and made her blush again. Found myself smiling like a fool all the way to Edinburgh.


August 13th, 1945

[Postcard from Alison Mannering to Louise Temple]

Louise

Had a rather interesting time so far, beautiful weather after horrendous thunderstorm (which I missed, being at Polly's). Guess who turned up in the local town and stayed with us for a few days? A certain Detective Inspector - I'm sure Paul is going to hear all about certain happenings soon on the grapevine. You may want to take notes. Fancy writing a series of adventures?

Love Allie


August 15th, 1945

[Telegram from Louise Temple to Alison Mannering]

Want to meet children, come up!


August 31st, 1945

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

I'd originally planned to take a couple of days to drive back home before the end of the holidays, sort the children's things out and buy them anything else they needed. However, not only did Louise want us to stay in London for a day or so but the Commissioner of the Police wanted to meet the children too, so it was decided for me. Spring Cottage was left behind earlier than planned, and while the trusty car I bought with the four of them in mind would have been bearable for two days it would have been rather cramped what with our cases and trunks too. Bill kindly arranged for a large car to be sent to collect us, and our trunks and cases were left in my car and another driver took it to London for us. Louise had found a lovely guesthouse not too far from the centre, so the long journey was spent in relaxation with the knowledge that our car was just behind us and would follow us right to where we were staying.

Bill had obviously returned to London after only a few days with us, having to get back to work, but when the news came that Sir Graham Forbes wanted to meet my four he liaised with Louise and she managed to get a promise from him he would try to be in Whitehall when they got there. Naturally they were extremely excited but I thought having a familiar face would be comforting, especially for Lucy-Ann. They had given their statements to some of Bill's men before I arrived back to the cottage and she'd given me the impression that she found them intimidating, even though she knew they were 'the good guys'.

The first night we arrived in London with some time for a late supper, so the children ate quickly and went to bed not long after. It's surprising how tired you can get after travelling, even if you're not the one driving. Our hostess was very kind and let me use the telephone so I quickly rang Louise to tell her we were there and she promised to call first thing in the morning to let us know the day's plans. Bill was next, and I have to admit it wasn't strictly necessary to call him but he sounded pleased to hear from me and we chatted for a short while. He said he'd be around the next day and that Paul would be joining them (I think both he and Bill had a hand in encouraging the Commissioner to meet us) so he'd know when we arrived.

I slept well that night, and the children were up as early as me the next day. Our lovely hostess put on a hearty breakfast and silence descended for a while, including Kiki who had two peach halves to herself.

Louise arrived not long after and brief introductions were made - the children surprisingly quiet but to be fair she's a rather glamorous creature and they're not used to that! I'd not taken Philip and Dinah to London for quite a few years (I doubt they can remember it) and apparently Lucy-Ann and Jack haven't been to any of the larger cities so they spent a long time just taking things in.

Whitehall and Scotland Yard were amazing. It's not something I'd thought about before - Scotland Yard especially seems to be this mysterious place mentioned in the news but you can't quite picture exactly what the interior is like. It's a labyrinthine maze of corridors and offices, and made me quite dizzy first of all! Paul and Bill were waiting for us as we entered and another round of introductions were made. Philip recognised Paul from the photograph on the back of his books and was rather excited to meet the author, so immediately there was some rapport, and of course Bill got the usual hugs from Lucy-Ann and greetings from the others. He looked like he wanted to kiss my cheek but I'm not entirely sure we're at that stage in our friendship where there are public displays of affection, and much to Louise's amusement he merely winked at me. Although it does have to be noted that when we all started moving towards the conference room that had been set up for the meeting, he put his hand in the small of my back to guide me and left it there the entire way.

Kiki piped up with some of her usual sayings, including "Pay the Bill! Silly Billy!" which gained us a lot of inquiring looks as we walked through the corridors and she went down a storm with Sir Graham. Paul was rather taken with her too and Louise looked a little worried he'd be searching for a parrot when they got home, but Kiki really played up to Sir Graham and he ordered some crackers to be brought up for her. After their initial shyness, the children got on extremely well with him, and he asked them all sorts of questions about their adventures, interests and hobbies. At one point he turned to his secretary and asked her to cancel his early afternoon appointments, and then ordered a lunch to be brought in, so we spent most of the day talking.

Paul and Bill were telling funny tales of investigations they'd been involved in (most likely ones that were public knowledge and slightly cleaned up versions for younger ears) and ended up trying to best each other, with the children throwing in anecdotes from their adventures. Louise and I happily sat back and listened, although when Paul was talking about how they'd met and some of the events in that particular case, the children were looking at her with renewed respect and by the end of the day she was newly adopted 'Aunt Steve'. (I may have to start calling her Steve too, as it's getting rather confusing!)

All too soon the lunch was over and Sir Graham was regretfully announcing there was a later appointment he just couldn't escape but did promise the children if we were ever back in London he would love to see them again and made sure Bill would tell him if we were. Paul and Louise had another engagement but were hoping to see us that evening for dinner, so Bill took us through to the offices of Special Branch to meet some of his men (including some of those that had already met the children). We whiled away another hour or so before I decided it was time we stopped monopolising Bill and went for a walk, so he saw us to the entrance. He had back-to-back meetings over the next few days and wouldn't see us before the children went back to school, so suffered through more hugs from Lucy-Ann and back-slapping from the boys. Dinah merely smiled at him, and he seemed a little unsure when it came to me so I reached up and kissed him on the cheek. Kiki started to get bored and flew off in one direction, the children following her, and he caught my hand just as I was about to go.

"'Phone me to let me know when you get back tomorrow," he said, squeezing my fingers lightly. "Drive safely."

I said goodbye to him and went after Lucy-Ann's disappearing figure, but I could feel him watching me until we were out of sight.

We strolled through St James' Park, Jack having to coax Kiki down from a tree where she retired when we encountered a terrier with a bark much worse than its bite (promptly terrifying it with an excellent impression of its own bark) and then had enough time for a quick change before Louise and Paul treated us to dinner. Now they were familiar faces, the children were more relaxed around them and we spent another meal with enthusiastic rehashing of anecdotes and Paul regaling them with yet more investigations, aided by Kiki who kept mixing her words up and told him to 'open his attention at page six'. He had brought them presents - complete sets of his books so far - and I thought for a moment Philip was going to have a seizure he was shaking so much with excitement. He does love a good detective novel, and Jack reads them sometimes, but I think it was more the fact they came from the author himself, who still has that element of celebrity about him.

Philip and Jack are going to be unbearable at school, I can see. They've got a small following already, having been part of a police investigation and that elevates their status amongst their fellow students, but to have the ear of not only a Detective Inspector but Paul Temple and the Commissioner himself? I may have to look into widening the doors at home because they won't be able to fit through them, their heads will be so inflated!

I found myself thinking about Bill after we said our goodbyes and I'd seen the children to their rooms. I've been alone for so long I think I've become used to it, and while I miss John very much our time together was only a few short years. I've kept myself busy, raising the children and working hard to support us all. But now, when there's the possibility of someone being interested in me, the loneliness is more noticeable. Time will tell.


 September 3rd, 1945

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Commissioner Forbes]

Dear Commissioner Forbes,

Please accept my sincerest apologies but I cannot accept the cheque that we received in the post. I understand that the department is grateful for the help from my children but in all honesty they were merely caught up in something they neither understood nor really appreciated. Had they not been involved I suspect Detective Inspector Cunningham and his men would still have closed the investigation - surely any reward should go to him and his team?

We appreciate every effort the department has made in response but again, the children stumbled across an investigation and it could have turned out completely different. I enclose the cheque.

Sincerely,
Mrs. A. Mannering


September 5th, 1945

[Letter from Commissioner Forbes to Alison Mannering]

My dear Mrs. Mannering,

The events were discussed at length by multiple agencies, and it was decided that monetary rewards should be offered to all of those involved, including your children. I understand you feel they were just caught up in the action, but they have done a great service to their country in these uncertain and occasionally dangerous times, and a lot of 'The Powers That Be' were in agreement they should be adequately rewarded.

Please accept the returned cheque with the regards and compliments of not only the Metropolitan Police and Special Branch, but of the ICPC and the Home Office.

Sincerely,
Sir Graham Forbes
Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police

(N.B. If the children continue in this vein I may have to offer them an honorary place on my staff!)


September 6th, 1945

[Letter from Polly Sullivan to Alison Mannering]

Dearest Alison,

Thank you for the lovely flowers you sent. I'm feeling completely fine now - I've had time to recuperate and Jocelyn's niece came over a few times after you'd visited and helped out. Jocelyn tried his best but I think after the first evening he completely forgot and ended up in his office again. The cutting from the newspaper you included was interesting, but I'm glad you 'phoned and told me what had happened with the children beforehand otherwise I don't think I could have believed it! I do hope they keep themselves out of trouble next year; I'm sure that two adventures are quite enough for both them and you.

How is your business going? When you called you mentioned Louise's suggestions and I do think they are very good ideas. You don't have to do all at once but it is worth looking into one at first. Please tell me you have started up your painting and drawing again. You are a very talented artist and I loved watching you fill your sketchbooks when you were younger.

If you have time one day I would love to catch up with both you and Louise. It's been years since I last saw her and it would be nice to see you again when you're not having to look after me!

All my love,
Polly


 October 4th, 1945

[Card from Louise Temple to Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Bill,

Paul and I are having drinks this Saturday 6th for a few friends - please come!

Louise


October 7th, 1945

[Personal journal entry - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Spent a pleasant evening yesterday at the Temples'. Louise is good fun and a hostess with a wicked sense of humour. Glad I'm in her good books, as Temple had invited one of his writer acquaintances who'd apparently started to criticise the thriller she'd written under a pseudonym (clearly not realising he was in the home of the author) and so she cleverly steered him over to one of the guys from the Met - Inspector Merritt - who took great delight in describing one of his recent cases about a homicidal priest in great detail. Turns out the writer fellow is rather squeamish, and after managing to hold out for a good ten minutes, he made his excuses and left pretty sharpish. (Would have loved to be a fly on the wall after everyone had left - can't imagine Temple getting away without an ear-bashing from Louise!)

The Commissioner was there too, and seems quite fond of Louise. Had a chat with him and apparently he'd known Temple for a while when he'd helped on a few of their cases but thought him rather interfering (not surprising - each branch and agency is rather protective of their own and don't like outsiders sticking their noses into cases). It wasn't until Louise's brother Gerald (Superintendent, I think?) was killed during a case and she appealed to Temple for help believing the murderer and criminal to be a high ranking officer that the Commissioner accepted his help, and all three became good friends. I remember hearing of that case; it had a fair amount of press and caused some embarrassment for the department. He seemed pleased to see me there so clearly being part of the Temples' social circle would help my standing with him, but to be honest I just enjoy their company. The fact Louise is close to Allie is a bonus.

Had an interesting chat with Merritt for a while. He's got his head screwed on right and is definitely someone I'll call on in the future if I need contacts in the Met. (Commissioner's orders only go so far ensuring cooperation between the branches.) He wanted to hear all about the kids and their escapades, so of course I was happy to oblige. Louise joined us with the Commissioner and then Temple, so by the time I was halfway through the second investigation everyone in the room was listening, with Louise adding anecdotes she remembered from the kids.

Temple's publisher was extremely interested and made noises about a possible series - Louise had already mentioned it and been in discussion with Allie regarding her writing them but don't think he'd quite grasped the idea and had dismissed it out of hand. My retelling had given him a better understanding. After a promise to meet about it, Louise turned the conversation to sources of artwork for book covers and promotional material. Was a little confused at first why she still included me until I realised that it was something Allie was considering branching into. Listened and took in as much as I could, as it would be nice to support Allie and talk to her about it with some knowledge of the subject, and by the end it looked like Louise had secured a good contact and possible first client for her.

Evening passed quite quickly - actually enjoyed myself at a social event which is rare for me. Louise wouldn't let me go before quizzing me on whether I'd seen Allie since their visit to London (I hadn't) or if we'd spoken (briefly, on the 'phone, to find out what to get the kids for Christmas as I want to do it early in case I'm not around). "Isn't it time you took her to dinner?" she all but demanded. "If you don't soon I'll have no choice but to invite you both over here one evening, but with Allie's work schedule and never knowing if I'll even be able to contact you trying to organise it will be a nightmare." (On further questioning it turns out Allie's slipping into her old habits of working long hours, even with the assistant at the agency. Made a note to talk to her about that, although that might be overstepping the boundaries of our friendship.)

"You're assuming we're more than just acquaintances," I replied, and she rolled her eyes.

"Good grief, I saw the way you two looked at each other in Scotland Yard. Those are not the looks of mere acquaintances." Gave her a sideways glance, but she waved a dismissive hand. "Bill, I was a journalist for many years; I'm not without some powers of observation. And if knowing Allie has taught me one thing, it's that she's extremely shy when it comes to men. Take it at your own pace - you'll have to be very patient with her. But if I have to give her a gentle nudge in the right direction, I will."

Talked for a few moments more until Temple and the Commissioner came to say goodbye - looked like it was going to be a late one for them. Was just leaving when she called after me, "And don't think you're getting away without that dinner invitation!"

Louise Temple is apparently a force to be reckoned with.


October 10th, 1945

[Letter from Det. Insp. Cunningham to Alison Mannering]

Dear Allie,

I hope this letter finds you well. I've discovered over the course of the year that my line of work is not conducive to letter-writing, and the irregularity with which I have managed to correspond with you is ever more obvious. I apologise for that, and am redoubling my efforts to ensure I write to both you and the children often. I enjoy our telephone conversations but they are brief and again, being busy people we struggle to find a time when we are both around. Louise is making it her goal to try and get me out to socialise when I'm in London and between cases, but even she was lamenting the fact she can't seem to see both of us together; when you have a day to visit her, I'm often unavailable and when I'm free you can't get away.

Speaking of Louise, I was invited to her and Paul's drinks 'do' the other night. Naturally, talk turned to the children and you, and she mentioned you were working rather long hours. Your business is doing well and you employed an assistant to help you with the day-to-day running; surely that would afford you some time to yourself? I don't want to come across as overstepping any boundaries but while the kids aren't aware of just how ill you were last year, I am. There's no need to push yourself as hard as before when you can live more comfortably, and I know none of us want to see you make yourself ill again. Circumstances have changed, and I'd like to think that you could contact Polly, Louise or even me if you needed anything. Please look after yourself.

I have enclosed some letters for the kids. I would greatly appreciate it if you could forward them on. They are still the talk of the department and there are now bets being taken as to what they are going to stumble across next holiday. I have done my best to try to shut these japes down but it doesn't look like it's going to go away - for all our sakes let's hope the kids have an uneventful Christmas and summer!

Thank you for the suggestions for presents for them, I am never usually this organised but I want to ensure I have something for them in case I'm not around over Christmas. (The Commissioner mentioned something about you trying to refuse the most recent reward. Without the kids I couldn't have closed that case so neatly, so all I can do is thank you and say you really do all deserve it.)

I hope you like the flowers I sent with this letter - it's difficult to find bright and cheerful ones in October. I will call soon and hopefully we can organise getting together - Louise has already threatened a dinner invitation so you may hear from her first!

Your friend,
Bill


October 13th, 1945

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Dear Bill,

Thank you very much for the beautiful flowers. I've been finding it a little difficult recently - when the days get shorter I feel there is so much to do and less time in which to do it so I had been working a little harder that I realised. They came at a very good time - I've got them in a vase on my dresser so I can start the day reminding myself it's going to get brighter.

Please don't think you're overstepping! You've probably realised that it's been hard for me over the last few years, and with the recent reward from the department (along with last year's) it certainly has become a lot easier but it's difficult to break old habits. Not having the children to focus on means I spend a lot of time in the office. I've only just properly reconnected with Louise and met you last year - I sometimes forget that I have friends who are concerned about me, so it's nice to hear that and it reminds me to take some time for myself.

I enjoy our conversations too, but like you wish we weren't so busy that we can't find time to talk! If you ever have even a couple of days' leave I would love to know so we could possibly meet somewhere. Writing and speaking over the 'phone only goes so far; I find our conversations in person can go on for hours about all sorts of subjects, and you are honestly the most interesting person I have ever met.

Louise is a darling and I've told her I appreciate her efforts. I'm sure that a dinner with the two of them would be fascinating - she's got all of her tales from when she worked for the Evening Post and you and Paul with your stories from various investigations. (I seem positively boring in comparison!) She came with me to visit Polly a little while ago and we spent hours reminiscing about our childhood. It's funny how much you forget over the years - or at least you think you have forgotten until you get together!

I have forwarded your letters to them at their schools, so hopefully you'll receive something back soon. The girls are a little more organised whereas the boys tend to read my letters and forget about them so if you don't hear from Philip and Jack let me know and I will remind them.

I know it's a little early but if you do happen to be available over Christmas, please do consider coming down. The children would be over the moon and it would be lovely to have some adult company and conversation. Listening to them rehashing their adventures and the plights of school does become a little wearing after the fourth or fifth time!

Hope to hear from you soon,
Allie


October 25th, 1945

[Letter from Det. Insp. Cunningham to Alison Mannering]

Dear Allie,

I've had letters back from all of the kids, the boys a little later than the girls so thank you for what I suspect was a reminder to Jack and Philip! They seem to be doing all right, how are they at school? Lucy-Ann says she and Dinah are on the lacrosse team, I'd love to see that. She may be small but she can be fierce when she wants to, and I can just imagine her smacking the opposition on the shins to move them out of her way! Mind you, Dinah's got a fierce streak too, so can't imagine they lose many games between them.

You were right about Philip and Jack - you told me a little while ago you were afraid they were going to be unbearable at school and while I think they're still pretty down to earth about it, they admit they've become something of a celebrity, especially amongst the older boys. I think my letter may have gone somewhat towards helping establish some of their (possibly exaggerated) stories as true, so apologies for that! They've got the set of books that Temple gave them there (did I read he signed them too?) so their popularity is increasing by the minute.

I would love to come and see you over Christmas. I may be only able to spare a day or so but please pencil me in - I'll contact you closer to the time and give you a date. Have been in and out of the offices over the past few weeks on a bit of a wild goose chase, so I'm looking forward to being able to take some time off. I think they're gearing up to send me abroad in place of one of the other guys who recently had an accident and it means I've got piles of paperwork to get through and briefings galore before I take on his case.

You are not a boring person at all, Allie - quite the opposite in fact. There aren't many people I know that could build up a business from very little and maintain it through these times, and especially not turn it into something extremely successful. You're about to branch out into other areas and I know they're going to be just as successful. Your stories about some of your clients make me laugh, especially that chap who thought the cards were going to be the exact size of his paintings and not smaller reproductions. I keep imagining him trying to fit a six foot by four foot card into a post box.

You do have friends - I'm glad that you think you and I are. I know I keep saying this but if you need anything at all, please don't hesitate to contact me. I may not be able to respond straight away but a message can be sent to me and I will always do my best, or Louise and Temple can help. You're a wonderful person and we're all glad to know you.

Do keep me updated on the agency. Louise was doing some groundwork for you at their drinks evening (I expect she's already told you this) but it sounded like Temple's publisher could very well be your first client, so I'd love to know if you have any artists on your books that end up being on the cover of a best-seller, especially one of Temple's!

Take care of yourself and we'll speak soon,
Bill


December 21st, 1945

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

Bill was true to his word, and he managed to surprise the children by popping down for a day. I had offered a room for the night but he said he needed to get back and would make sure he had a few days to spare next time so he could stay with us. I'd wondered what plans he had for Christmas - he's never mentioned any family (or - for a moment I wondered - a wife), and in a rare quiet half hour when the children were elsewhere he told me that he usually drew the short straw for working over the Christmas period. A lot of the men on his team had families, but other than an old aunt who lived up North and a couple of cousins he rarely saw, he had no significant others.

We talked about everything and nothing - a little bit about our pasts, about happenings in London, Louise and Paul (who thankfully had invited him to dinner on Boxing Day in between shifts so at least he wasn't completely alone), my agency and some of his cases. We didn't delve very deep as those conversations are best left for when it's just the two of us without the probability of being interrupted by children, and we both agreed to make an effort to meet up when they were back at school.

I'd cooked a big lunch and after we'd eaten we sat in the front room with the fire going and the tree lit up. I'd agreed the children could open their presents from him whilst he was there, and save the ones from me until Christmas Day. When he'd called me a couple of months ago to ask what to get them, we'd ended up agreeing to get similar things, so for example for Jack he had a new camera (apparently the spoils of the last 'adventure' that had finally been released by the department) and on Christmas Day he would open film and accessories from me.

The children had asked me to help them buy something for Bill, and we'd settled on a hand made leather case for documents with his initials monogrammed in gilt to the front - he never seemed to need anything and none of us were entirely sure of his actual interests. Something I intend to rectify as soon as possible.

Just before he finally left that evening (much to the children's disappointment, and they spent at least twenty minutes trying to convince him to stay), he slipped me a small, well-wrapped package and told me not to open it until Christmas Day. Funnily enough, I had one ready for him and told him the same, and put it in the bag with some leftovers I'd saved for him. He seemed genuinely surprised and after a kiss on the cheek - which is becoming our regular greeting and farewell - he smiled at me and walked to his car.

I get the feeling if I had been the one begging him to stay, he may well have done.

Chapter Text

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VALLEY

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January 4th, 1946

[Letter from Det. Insp. Cunningham to Alison Mannering]

Dear Allie,

Happy New Year to you all! I hope you had a wonderful holiday together and the kids enjoyed themselves.

I want to thank you and them for the lovely document holder they bought me (I detect your hand in finding it) - sometimes a briefcase is too bulky and cumbersome and with all the paperwork that's generated from various investigations I dare say I'll be using it quite a lot. I also need to thank you for your gift. You shouldn't have, Allie, it was extremely kind of you. I do like to smoke a pipe every so often (one of my unfortunate vices) so a monogrammed tobacco pouch makes me feel rather suave, especially when it matches my document holder!

I enjoyed the day I spent with you all. It was a shame it couldn't have been longer but work called. Louise and Temple send their love; I had a very pleasant meal with them on Boxing Day. Louise is making some headway with the publisher on the adventure series - she's already started making some notes and filling in sections just to flex her writing ability but I expect when she wants to sit down and write properly she'll be calling on you and the kids.

We must meet up soon. I feel the only times we get to see each other are when the kids are involved in something and while I love them to pieces, I can't sit down and have a proper conversation with you. Perhaps you could come up to London for a day when they are back at school, or I could come down to you?

The leftovers you sent home with me were absolutely delicious and lasted me a good few days. I'm not bad at making myself meals but it's been a while since I've had proper home-cooked ones!

How did you meet Louise? She said she's known you for years but that you only really became close again recently, and you mentioned you'd both been reminiscing with Polly last year.

Speak soon,
Bill


January 7th, 1946

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Dear Bill,

There is no need to thank me! It's just a small token of my appreciation for everything you've done for the children and me. And I have to thank you too! The little watercolour set is perfect for when I want to go out sketching, and I have been meaning to pick up my sketchbooks again. I really do appreciate it.

The children loved having you there, and they've asked me if it's possible for you to stay longer next Christmas. I know it's very early on! But it's something to think about, and perhaps see if you can find someone else to cover the Christmas period - you are more than welcome to stay for as long as you can and in our house it seems to be the more the merrier, especially where animals are involved! The day after you left Philip found a young owl who was injured in the woods and nursed it back to health. Kiki hated it and they had competitions to see who could hoot the loudest. It's fully healed now, but of course doesn't want to leave Philip, even though he's tried to release it back into the wild twice now. I put my foot down and told him he couldn't take it to school (they don't allow Kiki any more, and Jack has to leave her in a local village during the week), so he put it out before he left. It does keep trying to come back in the house and I've let it look around a couple of times to see that he's not here but then I have to keep chasing it back out. I have to ensure all the windows and doors are secure just in case!

Louise is one of my oldest friends - we lived on the same estate as children, and we went to the same elementary school. Gerald, her brother, was the same age as Polly (a little older than us two girls). They left for Cape Town, both of them continuing their education out there. Gerald joined the police force, Louise starting to write for one of the newspapers. We kept in very infrequent contact - a few postcards and letters - but let our friendship fall by the wayside a little. A case Gerald had been working on moved to England so they returned, and he was killed in action. That's how she met Paul, and although we hadn't really been speaking much she invited me to the wedding. Again, we sent the odd letter and card after, but I was working so hard I had no time to meet people and so I had very few friends. She wrote to me when Sir Graham mentioned you and the case on the Isle of Gloom (were your ears burning that day?) and we met up not long after. Now I have the occasional free day, I can meet her more often, and she says she's making the effort to keep me close again, as a lot of their 'friends' in London feel like they are just that because of Paul's status. They do count you as one of their good friends though!

You mentioned a little while ago that you have somewhere to go when you don't want to stay in London. Do you have somewhere you rent, or do you have another place you own? I can imagine London gets wearing after a while. It's a wonderful city and I love visiting it but I don't think I could live there for too long. It never seems to sleep. It surprised me when Louise and Paul sold their lovely country house in Evesham, but she said they rarely went down there. I would probably be spending more time there than in the city!

I'm glad you liked the food. I tried to pack some up before the boys got to it because no matter how much I do I never seem to have any left. I now tend to cook more than needed and hide it, just in case. No doubt they'll soon find that hiding place.

I would love to meet up. I'm actually hoping to come to London in a couple of months to meet with Paul's publisher about cover art, and Louise has kindly said I can stay with them for a few days if needed. If you're around, I would love to see you.

Warmest regards,
Allie


January 12th, 1946

[Letter from Det. Insp. Cunningham to Alison Mannering]

Dear Allie,

If you do start your artwork again, I would love to see (that's if you share it!). Not being artistically inclined I envy anyone with a talent like that. Jack's photography is an art in itself, and I've detected a certain way with words from Dinah in some of her more recent letters. Philip's got his magic ability with animals and Lucy-Ann is quite the sportswoman - I think you have yourself a very talented household!

How do you put up with all the animals? Kiki is one thing, but to have all sorts of completely unusual wildlife suddenly popping up and having the run of the house! I don't mind most things but when he talks about earwigs and beetles...it's not something most people would sleep easy at night about, just in case they started to wander.

I do own another house. It's a lovely place, a little further west than Polly and Jocelyn's. It belonged to my parents, and they died a while ago so I inherited it, being an only child. It was nothing terrible - they were older when they had me, so it was just old age that caught them. It's in a fairly lonely place but ideal for when I want to get away (like you said) from city life. London is is where I stay when I'm keeping busy, and my little flat is great for when I need to lay my head down but sometimes I do just want to hide away somewhere there are just birds for company! The kids would love it, perhaps it's something we could look at arranging some time? It's right up Jack's street, I'm sure there are plenty of animals for Philip to hunt out and build a menagerie, and the girls would like exploring the countryside. It's even quieter than your lovely cottage, so if you need somewhere to escape to...

I did wonder why I had red ears a little while ago, it must have been with all that talk about me in the Temples' front room! I can't imagine whatever was being said was too bad as I still have my job!

As soon as you know when you're coming up, please let me know. I'll make sure I can step back from whatever's going on, as there's this amazing shop I found in Bloomsbury. It's been going since the Victorian times and stocks all sorts of artists' materials and equipment. I think you'd love it.

I'll try and 'phone in the next week or so.

Take care of yourself,
Bill


January 29th, 1946

[Letter from Louise Temple to Alison Mannering]

Dearest Allie,

Thank you for your call the other day, it was nice to hear from you! I've had a chance to check Paul's diary and he doesn't seem to have booked anything for those dates, so I've made sure I've written you in there so he can't! You're more than welcome to stay as long as you need.

How wonderful that Bill wants to take you out! It's high time you did something completely for yourself. You will always love John but you've spent long enough on your own looking after the children. They're getting older and will be able to help you, and if you find someone who's interested in you, why shouldn't you take that opportunity? I'm sure the children would be very happy for you (especially knowing how fond they are of him).

We'll speak soon, but look after yourself and send the children my love when you next write to them.

Love Louise


January 30th, 1946

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Dear Bill,

I'll be up in London staying with Louise and Paul from the 10th - 12th February. I'm driving up on Sunday evening and my meeting is with their publisher on Monday morning but I expect I will have that afternoon and the Tuesday free, before I drive back Tuesday evening. I hope you can be around either of those days - or both!

I hope wherever your current assignment is, you're keeping safe and well.

Speak soon,
Allie


February 13th, 1946

[Personal journal entry - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Allie came up to town for a couple of days so managed to spend some time with her. She arrived Sunday evening and stayed at the Temples' - she had a meeting with their publisher on Monday morning which apparently went extremely well and looks like she's got her first client. Couldn't get away that afternoon but was invited for dinner with them all and discussed the business at length. Temple had some good ideas which I think Allie took on board. She's going to have to start looking for some more artists for her books as she wants a more diverse range of styles, so Louise and Temple said they'd spread the word amongst the London set. Said goodbye at the door, admiring the way she looked in her silk dress.

Picked her up again Tuesday morning, and took her to L. Cornelissen & Son in Bloomsbury. Her eyes lit up when we stepped in the shop, and I just followed her, watching her as she took it all in. The old boy behind the counter was rather taken with her and they spent a while chatting, and then she bought a few things for herself. Caught her eyeing up a finely bound sketchbook and high quality pencil set but finally passed over it so pulled the chap aside and asked him to reserve them for me. Going back in a couple of days when I'm next free to pick them up - that's her sorted for Christmas this year.

After a good couple of hours in there (she kept trying to apologise but I took her in there for a reason, and how often does she get to go somewhere like that?) we stopped for lunch in a little Italian restaurant I've been patronising for a while. The owner, Roberto, was delighted to see me again and was charmed by Allie as it appears she can speak a small amount of Italian. We were ushered through to one of the quieter booths in the back, and over a delicious meal we talked at length about ourselves, our childhoods and interests. Told her how I joined the Force and worked my way up, before moving to Special Branch after some particularly gruelling cases which had required me to go undercover. My skills hadn't gone unnoticed, and I'd been offered the sideways promotion. She briefly touched on her time with her husband but it wasn't the time nor the place to go into it in depth - that would be for perhaps a quiet evening together.

Had to promise to bring Allie back to the restaurant before Roberto would allow us to leave, and then we decided to visit the National Gallery. Glad we had our coats on as it started raining when we got out the taxi and we had to dash across the concourse. Allie slipped her hand into the crook of my arm and we spent the next few hours like that, walking around the gallery with her giving me an impromptu art history lesson. Think she was afraid of boring me but I could have listened to her all day, and found the subject interesting. Brought the pictures we looked at to life for me, now I know more about why and how they were created.

Stopped for a quick cup of tea before they closed, then reluctantly dropped Allie off back at the Temples' as she was driving home that evening. Hoping to get easy cases for a while; would be nice to be able to keep in regular contact with her for once.


March 2nd, 1946

[Letter from Det. Insp. Cunningham to Philip Mannering and Jack Trent]

Philip & Jack,

How are you two getting on at school? I'm hearing the occasional report of you getting punished for one thing or another in between the progress - I do hope you don't intend to make a career of misdemeanours because I have some friends in the Met who'd be very interested! Your mother is very pleased with you but do try to keep the pranks and misbehaviour to a minimum; I can imagine that there are quite a few stories that don't reach her ears.

Have you heard from the girls recently? I'm writing to them as well and it seems they're enjoying their time but looking forward to the Easter holidays. Please stay at home and out of trouble as I don't think we've got enough manpower at the moment to rescue you.

Have a new case in the wind and it looks like I'll have to find my old pilot's license and dust it off. I've been promised an aeroplane - only a small, light aircraft - so once I've logged some more hours I'll ask your mother if I can take you out for a flight.

How's Jack coping without Kiki? Is she still coming to your cricket matches and shouting 'Out!' at the umpire? And don't tell me about Philip's newest pet, I don't think I've got over the story of the housekeeper finding the large spider in the shoebox and flinging it at the maid. Enough to give anyone nightmares, so DON'T mention it to Dinah!

Write back soon, and be good!
Bill


March 4th, 1946

[Letter from Philip Mannering and Jack Trent to Alison Mannering]

Dear Mother,

How are you? We're both well. We have the cricket tournament coming up and wondered if you would be able to attend one or a few of the days? The invitations should be sent out soon to parents. We're both on the team this year, not just reserves, so we're hoping to play all the matches!

Jack still goes to visit Kiki every day and at weekends, and she caused a stir by escaping from his friend's house and flying round to their neighbour's. She's a little old lady who struggles to hear and Kiki was sat on her windowsill behind the curtains, and apparently they ended up having an entire conversation until his friend went round and asked if she'd seen a parrot. She said no, but she had someone in her kitchen called Polly who kept telling her to pay the bill but she didn't know which bill she had to pay! He explained to her what was happening and finally managed to coax Kiki back in with some raisins. She has to spend all the time she's not with Jack in a large cage which she hates but it's the only way to stop her escaping again.

Bill wrote to us and told us he's getting an aeroplane! He's said that when he's logged some more hours he'll take us out but he's going to ask you first. Please, Mother, can we go? Can he take us out at Easter if he's not on a case? I don't know if the girls would want to but it would be smashing to go up in it!

Write soon!
Philip & Jack


March 6th, 1946

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Philip Mannering and Jack Trent]

Dear Philip and Jack,

I've received the invitation and will do my best to come up for the tournament. You're not too far from the girls so maybe I'll make a few days of it and visit them too.

I do hope that Kiki hasn't been causing too much trouble! Please make sure she doesn't scare all the neighbours - you don't want them all complaining and Jack not able to leave her there in the future.

Yes, Bill rang me and spoke to me about the flight. The girls are just as excited as you are, but Bill has made it clear it won't be until summer. He needs time to work on it and take it out to get used to it; besides, he does have a job to do! We'll organise it closer to the time. I might treat you all to a few days in London again over Easter, visiting Aunt Steve and Paul, so if Bill is around he can talk to you about it then.

I'll see you soon, be good,
Mother


April 26th, 1946

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

Spent a day earlier in the holidays visiting Polly and Jocelyn, where the children set off to explore the surrounding area and I caught up with her. Our relationship is a rather funny one - we'll be in contact quite frequently for a while and then won't hear from one another for a long time. I will always love Polly, being my older sister, but sometimes she likes to martyr herself a little, and our personalities are rather different. She's quite happy to distance herself all of a sudden, and her marriage to Jocelyn means she spends a lot of time on her own so she's used to her own company but I think every so often she needs a little social contact. She was quiet when we first arrived but by the time we left she seemed happier and promised that she would take a day or two to herself and maybe get away from the house. Jocelyn will just have to learn to look after himself, and his book is very near completion so I'm hoping once it's published he'll be out of his office more often. Only time will tell!

We went up to London for a couple of days, and stayed in the lovely guesthouse Louise found last year. Apparently Mrs. Hodges remembered us (I can't imagine why...) and was delighted to have us again. She'd prepared a mountain of food for us all, and even Kiki had her own miniature feast, much to her delight. I don't think she knew what to do with herself after that. Mrs. Hodges is still technically a stranger to Kiki so she didn't sit on her shoulder but she did perch on the table next to her and coo at her for a few minutes.

On our first full day there, Mrs. Hodges sent us off with a large picnic, and we met Louise and Paul at the entrance to St. James' Park - and Bill was with them! He and Paul had meetings at Scotland Yard but had time to have a quick lunch with us (and there was certainly enough food to feed a small army). I think that was one of my favourite moments of the holidays; walking arm in arm with Bill, talking to Louise and Paul as the children and Kiki ran ahead to find the perfect picnic spot. It was a lovely day, not a cloud in the sky, and talk turned to Bill's aeroplane and when he'd be taking the children out. We agreed it would be early on in the summer holidays if he wasn't on a case, so that stopped the nagging!

Surprisingly enough, even Paul ignored the nearby bench where we stopped, and all four children were delighted when us adults joined them on the large blanket packed by Mrs. Hodges. During our lunch a couple of squirrels scampered down a tree and joined us, especially after Philip coaxed them in with some food and his usual soothing tone. Paul and Louise watched in amazement - it's one thing to be told of his ability but another altogether to watch it happen - and we spent the rest of the time watching their antics. One even came and sat on my hand for a brief moment, appearing quite content as I gave it some nuts, until Kiki became jealous and launched herself at it, sending both of them scarpering. She sat on my shoulder for a while, alternating between rubbing her beak against my cheek and scolding the squirrels. They did come back after we told her off and she quietened down, but they stayed close to Philip.

All too soon Bill and Paul had to return to Scotland Yard so we packed up the picnic and walked them to Whitehall. Sir Graham was apparently already in a meeting so sent his regards, and Bill and Paul had to hurry so as not to miss theirs. Bill still had to 'suffer' through Lucy-Ann's bear hug and the goodbyes of the other three, and I had my customary kiss on the cheek farewell. None of the children batted an eyelid, and Louise winked at me as we left Scotland Yard. I sometimes wonder if they can see the butterflies that seem to take over my insides when I'm with Bill, or whether they see the two of us as just friends. If only they knew their mother felt like a teenager again!

Louise hailed a taxi and we piled in, much to the amusement of the driver who was a cheerful old Cockney man. He regaled us with tales of his aunt's parrot when he caught sight of Kiki, and kept us laughing until we reached Madame Tussauds. The building had been bombed in 1940 and the cinema destroyed, but they had reopened the main building again by the end of that year, so it was still a popular place to visit and Louise said they were always creating new figures and changing exhibits. Kiki was allowed in as long as she behaved - which she did, thankfully - and we whiled away the rest of the day there. The children loved it, and Louise and I found it fascinating - all the work that goes into creating the figures, and making them look exactly like the people they're supposed to be - but I did find them a little unsettling too. I certainly wouldn't like to be there after hours, when all the crowds have gone and the lights are dimmed. I did have to put my foot down when it came to the crime exhibits. They looked rather gruesome and even Louise with her crime journalism background wasn't keen on going through it. The girls certainly didn't want to, so I had to let the boys go through themselves, with a promise to meet us at the end. They were a little late and I started to worry but apparently Kiki had been startled by one of the sound effects in there and had flown off, so the boys had to find her. They tried to tell us about the figures in detail but Lucy-Ann was looking a little green so I told them to change the subject, and we went into the fresh air to find the sky starting to darken.

We were having a supper at the guesthouse and so we said goodbye to Louise. She and Paul were off to Brighton the next day as Paul was investigating a case for Sir Graham. Surprisingly enough the children were quite tired and after supper and a round of card games they went to bed without fuss.

The next day was unfortunately dismal and wet, and our original plans for walking round London had to be abandoned. The children tend to be rather attuned to the weather and if it restricts their movement their boundless energy is channelled into arguing and temper tantrums. Games and reading can only go so far, and after a couple of hours of mostly quiet with occasional flare-ups I managed to nip in the bud, Dinah and Philip started a quarrel that I could only stop by threatening to take them home immediately. Poor Mrs. Hodges thoughtfully suggested the British Museum of Natural History, which would definitely appeal to the boys and hopefully have something to amuse the girls. It took me half an hour to convince Jack that Kiki had to stay behind. While I really hate to split them up - and didn't want to subject Mrs. Hodges to her all day - I didn't want her to get lost in the vast museum with its vaulted ceilings and multitude of rooms and passageways. Thankfully Mrs. Hodges agreed to look after her, and we left Kiki's travel cage out so if she did tire of her she could try and convince her to sleep for a while.

After a quick early lunch we chose to use the London Underground and caught a train to the museum, and I don't know about the children but I certainly learnt a lot from that trip. The exhibits were fascinating and Jack and Philip spent a long time reading the information on the displays, especially when it came to the birds and animals. The girls found the taxidermy rather unsettling but they were skilfully done and Jack had the opportunity to see a Great Auk which delighted him as he's still convinced he saw one on the Isle of Gloom. Seeing some of the extinct species was fascinating, but the girls were getting a bit bored so we agreed to leave the boys to explore the dinosaur exhibits and meet back in the main hall at a set time. I knew there was a display of gemstones and the girls and I spent a while admiring the stunning natural stones and how they were cut ready to be set into jewellery. Dinah and Lucy-Ann were rather amazed by them and by the time we all met up again it was getting on. I did allow them to find something each in the gift shop but I had a lot of inspiration for presents for them at Christmas so I may come back up to London on my own later in the year on a buying spree.

I'm now sat watching the children playing card games and reading again, letting our delicious supper go down. We leave tomorrow morning and have the rest of the holidays ahead of us but I'm hoping there's little at home they can get themselves caught up in. It would have been lovely to spend more time with Bill but he's a busy man and we're hoping that when he has some leave later on in the year we can organise the flight with the children.


June 16th, 1946

[Letter from Det. Insp. Cunningham to Alison Mannering]

Dear Allie,

I hope you're well. Thank you for your call last week; it was nice to hear from you and catch up properly. You asked if I had any idea when we could organise the flight (I've received a letter from the boys so I expect they've been nagging you about it!) and I know it's a way off but I have some training sessions booked in for early August. I'll be down at the airfield for about a week and I thought it would be good to combine that with taking you up. I'll have a co-pilot but it's just a formality. I can send a car to pick you all up and drop you back if I can't make it myself.

I'm assuming you'd like to come with us - will you, or would you rather not? All I've heard from the kids is how excited they are but I can't remember you having mentioned it in regards to yourself. It would be wonderful if you could. I promise I'm a good pilot, otherwise they wouldn't have given me my licence!

Sorry it's such a short one. Hopefully speak soon, take care.
Bill


June 17th, 1946

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Dear Bill,

I am well, thank you, thoroughly enjoying the sunny days and prospect of summer! That sounds perfect, as soon as you know a date let me know and I can tell the children so they have something to look forward to!

I don't think I'll come with you all this time if that's all right...I'm not a confident flyer and I suspect you'll have your hands full with Lucy-Ann. Besides, I'm not sure you'd want Kiki flapping around and she might not like the engine noise - she can stay at home with me for the day and the children can enjoy your undivided (almost!) attention. They've been talking non-stop about you in their letters, so they may not want me around anyway!

Speak soon,
Allie


June 23rd, 1946

[Telegram from Det. Insp. Cunningham to Alison Mannering]

8th August if possible. Will send car. Your turn soon!


August 9th, 1946

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

Yesterday was the day the children had been looking forward to for months and I know that I'm not going to hear the end of it for a good while - although thankfully I have a reprieve for a few days courtesy of Bill.

True to his word, a car arrived in the morning to collect the children, and took them away laughing and chattering. I was left alone in peace; if you can call being left with Kiki 'peace'. I spent most of the day preparing a dinner to welcome home my travellers, and Bill had said in a recent 'phone call that he would try and come over for lunch at some point so I did some baking. I've discovered the detective inspector has rather a sweet tooth; he doesn't discriminate but I've noticed in particular when I make jam tarts they tend to disappear quickly.

Kiki behaved quite well, with the occasional period of quietly talking to herself and a few attempts at her steam train impression. She did spend time on my shoulder crooning to me whilst I baked which I actually found quite cathartic. She adores Jack, naturally, and tends to stay with the children when they're home, so to have the opportunity to have a day with just her and me was a lovely change, and I felt we bonded a little more. She does come to me and can be very affectionate but it's only usually when she hasn't seen me for a while. I was grateful that she felt comfortable enough to spend that much time behaving for me, although it may be because she knows where her food comes from (and I may have treated her a couple of times with bits of fruit and jam whilst making the fillings for the cakes and tarts!).

All too soon the children came running back in, bursting with energy and full of stories of their day. Bill and his co-pilot had taken them a long distance, down to the coast, over Craggy-Tops and the Isle of Gloom, and looped back over land. Bill had done most of the flying and the other gentleman had taken control when he wanted to talk to the children and point things out, and even little Lucy-Ann had taken it well. Apparently he'd provided her with a paper bag just in case she needed it if she felt ill, and Philip told me later she'd gone quite green a couple of times, but had held herself well and hadn't needed it.

Bill had offered to take them on a night flight but wanted to check with me and so today he came over for lunch. The children still had excess energy and it's been mostly rainy and chilly for August, so they've not had much chance to get outside and work it off and when he came down the garden path they were bouncing around him and talking to him all at once, despite the fact they'd only seen him yesterday. He looked well and relaxed, and brought me a small posy of flowers. I couldn't stop smiling and I think Lucy-Ann offered to put them in a vase for me twice before I came to my senses, although he was smiling rather a lot too. His current assignment seemed to be less intense than some of his recent ones, and over lunch he explained that he had some leave due that he was intending to take. We'd spoken previously about his property near the coast and everything seemed to fall into place without much effort; the children would go over to the airfield tomorrow night, he would fly them to his place and they would spend a few days with him.

He did invite me but I do think they want some time with just him. They love their friendship with him, and sometimes I feel a little like an outsider as they've all shared adventures whilst I've been elsewhere (not that I particularly want to go through those sorts of situations!). I will try to get Bill to take some time over Christmas this year so he can stay with us instead of working.

He left not long after, and I sent him off with a small packet of tarts and slices of cake - much to his delight. He promised that he'd take me up in his 'plane sometime soon, and that he would keep the children out of trouble. He also promised that he would show me his place one day, but that appeared to be for my ears only as none of the children heard and he winked at me before walking to his car. He's given me the address so I might take a day towards the end of their time there and surprise them - work allowing.

I've packed as much as I can for them, and they'll probably spend tomorrow re-packing just to make sure they've got everything, but at least they have something to look forward to in this dismal weather.

Perhaps next time I will go...


August 11th, 1946

[Personal journal entry - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

I've lost Allie's kids. Feel sick as I write. Supposed to be off in the air with them, but in a darkened hangar there was another identical to my 'plane and the driver put their luggage with the wrong one. Customs had pulled a couple of guys that matched a description sent over by the ICPC linked to wartime looted treasures, so while I went to investigate the kids got into what they thought was my 'plane. The men that had been pulled suddenly caused a ruckus and escaped, and flew off with the very 'plane the kids had accidentally got into.

In amongst the confusion I got shot at - caught my bicep pretty badly - and I made up a quick makeshift bandage before I left. I got the guys back in the office on the line straight away and started organising the intel network but wanted to make the trip to tell Allie personally, so detoured to hers before I headed back to London.

Obviously roused her from bed - it was past midnight and she was wrapped up in a robe which revealed hints of the lace and floral print nightgown beneath. Her hair was unpinned and curled over her shoulders. She knew the instant she opened the door something was wrong, and to my surprise she let me wrap my arms around her as I stepped into the hallway quickly, not wanting to give the neighbours anything to talk about. "What is it this time?" She sounded so resigned it made me feel doubly awful I'd let this happen. Told her what I could, stood in that small hallway with her holding onto me like some sort of lifeline. Can't imagine what it's like for her each time, finding out what the kids have been up to when she's away, but to know the instant something's happened and then have to wait? I certainly couldn't do it - she's stronger than anyone would imagine.

Think she was about to ask me something when she exclaimed, "Bill - you're hurt!" Apparently my bandage hadn't done it's job and where I'd been driving it had come loose, so I was at the height of bad manners by bleeding all over Allie's pretty robe. Tried to downplay it but she made me take off my coat and saw the mess on my sleeve, then ushered me through to a little washroom in the back. Not sure if the previous occupants were half the size of an average man but it was a tight fit with Allie making me sit on the wooden lid of the toilet and her squeezing in next to the sink. There was a rather large first aid box in the cabinet and when she saw me looking at it in surprise, she gave a small smile. "With two boys around the house I've had to double up on supplies, especially when they like getting themselves into tight spots and exploring places they shouldn't."

Didn't know how to respond. She obviously knew what I was thinking as she spent a few minutes telling me it wasn't my fault, but who else can you blame? The driver? The two men? Whilst I was beating myself up about it, she went into nurse mode, and had all sorts of things out from the first aid kit. She said, "Take your shirt off," which was a fair comment as the wound was too high up to be able to roll my sleeves up, and too far down to just tuck the collar over my shoulder, but then she realised how it sounded and I swear I've never seen a woman blush so much. I undid the buttons and took my arm out the sleeve but left the other half on. Wanted to protect her sensibilities but then it's not as if she's never seen a man half-undressed before, and from the way she avoided my eyes and her gaze kept wandering I guess she liked what she saw.

She busied herself cleaning the wound up and then tying a new bandage around it. I was amazed at how efficient she was, and while she looked a little white when she was getting the blood off my arm she didn't complain and was as gentle as could be. It would last me until I got to London, no problem. How had no one snapped her up yet?

Apparently I'd said that out loud, as she looked at me for a moment like she didn't know whether to laugh or be angry. "I'm not some desirable item that sits on a shelf waiting to be claimed," she said, although there was some amusement there. It was as she was finishing up and helping me back into my ruined shirt that she continued, and had I not been paying attention I probably wouldn't have heard it all. "Perhaps I've been waiting for the right man to come along."

This woman's a keeper.

Had a long journey back to London and needed to find out from the guys if there had been any intel on flights from that airfield. I'd managed to distract her for a moment but the realisation was sinking back in and she looked tired and worried again. Stood once more in that blessed hallway with her before I left, promising to find them, to bring them back to her, and to call every day whether I had news or not. In return she promised to call Louise and Polly, see if either of them could come down and stay with her. Would prefer Louise because whilst Polly is family she's older and is more matronly - guess that Allie would spend the entire time being looked after but feeling awful. Louise would know how to distract her and make her feel like things are being done.

Reluctantly left her, got seen to by a doctor in the office as I refused to leave until the guys gave me something and the guys refused to until I'd been seen, so we compromised. Nothing yet, just hints at the moment. Knowing these kids they've stumbled across some plot or active investigation. Again.


August 14th, 1946

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Polly Sullivan]

Dear Polly,

We've still had no contact from the children. Bill says it's unlikely they're still in the country and if they were in the 'plane that was piloted by the men they pulled at the aerodrome then they could be anywhere on the continent if not further. They're doing their best to find the flight path but it's extremely difficult to follow a trail that's fast going cold.

Louise has come down from London to stay with me until we hear something. She's supposed to be going to Italy with Paul for a series of meetings with a publishing house out there but she asked him to cancel her tickets so she could stay with me and no matter how much she tells me she wants to be here I feel like an awful imposition. But at the same time I'm grateful she's here - I don't know what I'd do if I were alone.

I will telegram you as soon as we have news or find the children.

Your sister,
Allie


August 17th, 1946

[Letter from Louise Temple to Paul Temple]

Darling Paul,

I do hope your meetings are going well. I know you said the 'phone lines are rather unreliable in your hotel so I thought I might update you via letter - this may reach you before you return in a week or so, but it may not!

We've still heard nothing in regards to the children. Bill Cunningham is calling every day and he's managed to spare enough time to come down and visit once but it's always the same thing - they're still looking. The department is making some progress but it seems to be baby steps and it's taking such a long time. The children could be anywhere (although the general consensus is Europe) and we have no idea what sort of environment they're in, if they have food, if any of them are hurt...

Allie's not eating much, and she's losing a lot of weight, which is worrying me. You know I'm not a wonderful cook but I can make a passable meal and I'm doing my best to provide her with something nutritious; however she's barely touching it and has lost all interest in making it. She's really focusing on her work and I go with her into the office every day - I've learnt about her processes and what she does and have helped out and have also had the opportunity to sit and write. Fran, her assistant, is there but she's busy and I think Allie appreciates my company. Surprisingly enough I don't have to tear her away from her desk every evening; I think that has more to do with the daily 'phone calls from a certain detective inspector than anything else. Even when he's not got anything to report they talk for a while about other things, and it's something to help distract her from the current situation.

I took myself out for a walk when Bill drove down, to let them have some time to themselves. I did come back in time to help Allie with lunch and she seemed a little more interested in food but that may have been to make Bill think she was eating - he did pull me to one side and ask me how she was really doing, so I'm obviously not the only one that's noticed her weight loss.

I'm not sure what else I can do other than to keep her company and perhaps convince Pryce to come down and make her some of his delicious meals. It's one thing to be involved in the active investigation like Bill; it's another entirely to be sat at home just waiting, and at least Allie has her business to run but it's not distracting her enough.

I just hope they find them safe and well and quickly. They're not even related to me and I feel desperately worried for them. I can't imagine what Allie's going through.

Fingers crossed for your meetings. I don't think I'll have the chance to fly out and meet you there, so I'll see you at home. Call me if you can - I do miss you. And don't forget to buy a couple of bottles of that wine Pryce is rather partial to!

Don't enjoy Italy too much without me, darling.
Steve


August 22nd, 1946

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

I honestly don't know how I managed to get through the last two weeks without Louise and Bill. From the moment Bill turned up on my doorstep the night he was supposed to be flying the children to his place on the coast, I feel like I've been living in a dream. I promised him I would call Louise or Polly and see if someone could stay with me and I did - Louise kindly came down for what I thought would be a few days but turned out to be closer to ten...and even cancelled her trip to Italy with Paul to continue staying. I threw myself into work but she was always there if I needed, and Bill rang every day whether he had news or not which became something of a lifeline for me; even if it was just to hear his reassuring voice. He even came down for a couple of hours last week and Louise went out for a walk claiming she needed some fresh air but I knew she wanted to leave us alone, for which I was grateful. I found myself crying in the middle of the kitchen and Bill just stood there holding me until I could pull myself together and make a start on lunch. I don't like to be so emotional in front of others but sometimes I just want to be comforted (instead of always being the one providing comfort) and somehow it's Bill that ends up being the one I turn to, whether I intend to or not.

The department hadn't been getting very far with finding either the men who'd taken the children or their destination, so it was a sudden surprise when Bill sent a telegram via Sam (one of his men) to say he'd been called to Scotland because a young boy had been found matching Philip's description. Scotland, of all places! They were rather out in the sticks and the 'phone lines weren't reliable so I had an extremely short conversation with Philip (mostly him talking at me, as I couldn't believe it was really him) before we were cut off. I didn't even get a chance to speak to Bill, so could only sit and wait, and sure enough Sam rang earlier to say the children had all been found safe, and that the team that had flown out with Bill were refuelling before flying back. Louise will be driving me up to London tonight because they'll be coming into one of the outlying London aerodromes and I don't think I can wait for them any longer.

I know Bill feels like it's his fault and I've done my best to disabuse him of that notion. I owe him so much.


August 23rd, 1946

[Telegram from Alison Mannering to Polly Sullivan]

Children back safe. Will call soon.


August 24th, 1946

[Personal journal entry - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Was intending to allow myself a lie-in this morning but found myself awake early and struggled to get back to sleep. So used to running on a few hours every night the past week and a half that when I really wanted to get a good night's rest I automatically wake up. Still, I've got a week or so of leave to try and get myself back into a healthy routine, seeing as I used what should have been my time off with the kids investigating their disappearance and then finally capturing that gang ICPC has been after for a while.

After refuelling on a base not far from the valley, we flew back to an airfield just outside London. Wanted to go back to one closer to the kids' home as the gang members had been taken by the other guys to France and handed over to ICPC, but I had my orders. Turns out that Sir Forbes and other higher-ups wanted as quick a debrief as possible, meaning the kids would have been delayed in going home but thankfully everything fell into place; Louise was driving back to London and so brought Allie up to a hotel not far from Whitehall where the Met had booked a small suite for them. Was tempted to not say anything about Allie to surprise the kids but when the adrenaline and excitement wore off, Lucy-Ann in particular was looking completely worn out and emotional. Told her Allie was waiting at the hotel to reassure her and she burst into tears so Dinah comforted her.

Escorted them from the airfield to the hotel - a car had been put on and I was extremely grateful as I had not been looking forward to driving after a long flight - and were let in by the night porter as it was the early hours of the morning by the time we finally got there. He gave me a spare room key; he assumed the occupant would be asleep and was proved right when we stepped in to find Allie curled up in a large chair in the sitting area. The kids were shouting and talking at once and she came awake suddenly to find herself at the bottom of a pile of bodies. Stood back and just let them have their reunion, and there were plenty of tears from more than just Allie and Lucy-Ann (I refuse to name names). When she finally managed to stand up and was engulfed yet again by all four and Kiki crooning at her from her shoulder, she looked over at me and motioned for me to join them. Was a bit hesitant until both Dinah and Lucy-Ann pulled me into the group hug, as I thought I'd be intruding but found myself with my arms round Allie and two of the kids and to be completely honest it was a particularly enjoyable experience to be part of that crazy, joyful bunch if only for a moment.

Was getting extremely late (or very early) so we coaxed them into bed with surprisingly little resistance although I expect they were crashing again after the rush of energy seeing Allie. There were two small rooms one side, each with twin beds, and opposite there was the master bed that Allie would stay in. The boys and Kiki went easily after only a small amount of protesting, but Lucy-Ann was a little more clingy and didn't want to let Allie or me out of her sight so in the end I carried her into her and Dinah's room and then left Allie to sit with her for a bit. She'd brought a small case with clean clothes and pyjamas for them all so they were comfy and hopefully would sleep well.

The debriefing was the next day and I wanted to get a taxi back to my apartment, have a hot shower and then catch up on some sleep, so after jotting a few notes for the official logs I looked in on the girls. Both Dinah and Lucy-Ann were fast asleep and Allie was stood leaning by the door, just watching them. When I caught her eye, she blushed a little.

"I don't want to let any of them out of my sight," she said, and stepped back through into the sitting area. She left the door slightly ajar, and I noticed the door of the boys' room was ajar too. "I keep thinking I'm going to wake up and they'll still be missing."

"You'll wake up and they'll be right there where you left them," I replied, and I think she was trying to blink away a couple of tears. "Sir Graham and some of his staff will be round in the morning around eleven to conduct the debriefing for the kids - they know the drill by now. There'll be a clerk taking their statements. They've had enough upheaval for a while, so I think Sir Graham had a word with the higher-ups and organised for them to do it here instead of dragging them down to Scotland Yard. I'll be here too, but I'll come over earlier if you'd like."

Not sure why I offered but Allie seemed receptive to the idea and we settled on me getting there about an hour or so beforehand, so we could all have breakfast together. She looked like she wanted to say something else, and then suddenly threw her arms round me, murmuring, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." I held on tight for a while, and she pulled back a little to look up at me. "You're becoming their guardian angel," she said finally, and I couldn't help but chuckle.

"If I was their guardian angel I'd be able to stop these things happening before the kids get caught up in them," I told her, and she shook her head, smiling.

"You have this amazing ability to find them and bring them home," she started to reply, and then yawned. "Goodness, I'm sorry."

"Get some sleep," I said, giving her a little squeeze before letting her go. "You've not eaten or slept properly since they disappeared, have you?" I was concerned at just how thin she'd become in such a short space of time; Louise had mentioned it when I went down for a visit and I had seen the dark circles under Allie's eyes then, but it was more obvious after holding her. She looked sheepish and I gave in to the urge to touch her cheek. "Go and rest. I promise the kids will be there when you wake up. I'll be back tomorrow."

Kissed her cheek as I left, and could hear Kiki mumbling sleepily from the boys' room as the door shut behind me. Left the spare key with the night porter again. Went back to my apartment and had that hot shower I'd wanted and some rest, but was up again after only a short sleep, popping into the office for a couple of hours before I went over to the hotel. Even stood outside I could hear the laughter and chaos, and as soon as the door opened I was dragged into it. Breakfast was a rowdy affair, the young lad who brought the trolley full of food taken aback at the amount of noise generated by four kids and a parrot. The kids dived into the food as if they were starving (they did have plenty to eat out in the valley as they'd helped themselves to the gang's food store, something I reassured Allie about) and I had to snag some bacon and eggs for me and some toast for Allie before they polished it all off...which didn't take long. Through it all, Allie stayed pretty quiet, but she was far more relaxed and smiled and laughed at their antics. Kiki flew from person to person trying to steal bits of food but even as Jack scolded her she ended up on Allie's shoulder nibbling at the corners of the toast she slipped her.

The 'debriefing' was one of the most unusual I've had to attend, but it was technically unofficial as I had yet to attend the one at Scotland Yard with my team. When Sir Forbes and some of the Yard staff turned up, we made room in the sitting area. The kids sat on the small side chairs we'd appropriated from the bedrooms, and eventually we found a place for everyone with Allie squeezed in on a settee between me and the clerk whose notebook was balanced on his lap as he took notes in shorthand. They told the story from the beginning as best they could, and through it I saw Allie turn a little pale (as she's done before when listening to their exploits...I'm surprised she's not constantly white with those four around). Couldn't very well take her hand in reassurance as I wanted to, so pressed my leg against hers and felt her do the same in response - at least I know I provided some form of comfort.

The kids managed to keep their small audience riveted for at least three hours, so by the time Forbes and his staff left they were starving and we ordered lunch to be brought up. I managed a quick bite with them but had an afternoon full of meetings and probably more the next day so had to beg off after half an hour. They were disappointed but when I told them I'd be getting my leave tagged on to the end of this investigation they begged Allie to let me go down and stay with them and she immediately agreed, telling me I could spend as little or as much of my time there as I wanted.

Heading down there tomorrow. Think I'll only spend a couple of days with them as I know Allie has very little time left before they all go back to school and she probably wants them as close as possible but at least I'll get the opportunity to keep an eye on her and make sure she's eating right.


September 4th, 1946

[Letter from Julius Muller to Alison Mannering via Special Branch]

Dear Mrs. Mannering,

Please accept my deepest gratitude to your children for their part in restoring our national treasures to us. The council and I have already thanked the ICPC and the men from your Special Branch in capturing the gang who were intent on stealing our treasures.

The council had offered a reward for the items to be found and returned to us as the valley had been inaccessible due to bomb damage at the pass, but no one had found a way in nor had access to either transport nor a map of where the items had been hidden to protect them. We feel very strongly that the reward should be given to the children, and have arranged with the superiors of Special Branch for that to happen. Please, please accept it. Without the actions of your children we may have lost our heritage to the black market.

Please tell the children the elderly couple have been returned to their home village and have settled back nicely, and that Otto Engler is doing well and should be travelling home from the hospital soon.

I would be honoured for you to return to Austria as my guests, to see the items back in their homes once they are restored.

Once again, thank you to you all.

Yours sincerely,
Julius Muller


September 12th, 1946

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Polly Sullivan]

Dearest Polly,

The cottage seems rather empty now, perhaps more so because I don't feel I had enough time with the children this summer. Their holiday of a few days with Bill turned into nearly two weeks of being the subject of a search and rescue operation, and even while the place felt fairly empty I had Louise with me for company. They came back and filled the rooms with their usual shouting and laughing (and unfortunate occasional quarrel - Dinah and Philip are getting better though!) and Bill came and stayed with us for a few days too. I think he wanted to spend the time with the children he should have had earlier but also didn't want to take them away as he appreciated the fact it had been extremely hard for me and I didn't really want to let them out of my sight. Now they're back at school and Bill is back at work with irregular letters and 'phone calls from them all I feel rather lonely.

Work is keeping me busy; Fran (bless her) has been hunting for properties in town for me as we're thinking of expanding the business and opening a gallery. There have been a few that we've been shown but they were mostly unsuitable, so we've drafted in the help of an estate agent and they're keeping an eye out for us too. The local council have been making noises about a few projects and they've sent a couple of letters to us outlining some vague ideas. I have some time to think about it but it's quite exciting that we could be working on some advertising etc for them, and hopefully it could lead onto some bigger clients.

I do have some news for you! The treasures that the children stumbled across in the valley in Austria were some of those taken by locals and hidden to prevent the Nazis looting them during the war. A local man, rather high up in what I believe to be the equivalent of the local council had given the old couple guarding the treasures instructions to stay there until they were contacted after the war, but the pass through the mountains had been bombed and blocked, so there was no way of anyone getting in or out. Now the pieces have been flown out and are being catalogued before being taken back where they belong (I think a couple of the churches were destroyed so they're looking for museums or other churches to take them) and I was contacted by Julius Muller, the local man. His council and some of the local government are so indebted to the children for helping the elderly couple protect the items from the gang that they've presented them with yet another reward. I believe Sir Graham may have spoken to him or passed our details on as he specifically told me I was not to refuse it!

It's definitely enough to help boost our healthy coffers. I swear my children are making a career of their adventures but I do wish they weren't so dangerous! Philip recently commented on how much he loves coming home to me during the holidays now I don't have to work away but when we're at home I still seem to be rather tired. That made me stop and think. I'm falling back into my habits of working hard during the term time when I have an assistant (although I will be expanding my staff if we open the gallery) but during the holidays if we stay at home I find myself trying to keep the house clean and cook for them rather than spending as much time with them as I can, and when the children were missing Bill suggested I consider hiring some help - even if I have someone come in once a week to clean. This recent reward has certainly given me pause and I think I'll advertise or contact an agency. I'll trial it for a while, perhaps see how it works out and if I need them to come in more often I can then increase their hours. Part of me wants to get a daily so I don't have to worry about cleaning and whilst I do love cooking for the children there are times when I'd quite like to be looked after myself!

I will come up and see you soon, so you can tell me how Jocelyn's book is going; I know you said it had gone off for editing and he was in talks with publishers. I do hope it encourages him to get out of his office more. Perhaps he just needs a new project that takes him out every so often?

Call me and we'll organise a visit. Take care of yourself.

Your loving sister, Allie


October 3rd, 1946

[Letter from Det. Insp. Cunningham to Alison Mannering]

Dear Allie,

Our office is a few men down at the moment so the rest of us have been having to work to cover their absence; unfortunately it means I'm unlikely to be able to call you regularly. I don't want to lose contact with you so it's back to writing letters for a while!

I hope you're well. I've been receiving letters from the kids and naturally they're full of the experiences they had in Austria - it's funny how easily they can forget the dangers in hindsight. Even Lucy-Ann is wishing for another adventure, although somehow I expect if one presents itself she'll soon change her mind! Sounds like they bounced back pretty quickly after they came home and got back into their usual routines, but I just wanted to make sure you are too. It was a terrifying experience for you, knowing they were missing from the moment it happened, and I know it was a struggle to get through that time. Louise has probably been a little more blunt about the subject but she was as concerned as I was about you.

Did you think any more on some help? You do keep a wonderful home and the kids often tell me how much they love coming back to you in the holidays but it sounds like your business is really starting to take off, and the last thing you'll want after a long day is to come home and have to cook and clean.

Forgive me for being forward but do you ever find yourself lonely when the kids go back to school? When I've had a day at the office filled with meeting people and talking to the guys I go back to my apartment and sometimes appreciate the quiet but other times find myself wanting to be back in the midst of it again. I find myself thinking of you in your cottage and wonder what it's like to be there without the noise of the kids and Kiki.

I had a letter sent to me through the department from Otto Engler; apparently he's back home and getting stronger every day. Julius Muller does stop by to see him occasionally and helped him write the letter as his English isn't too good but he wanted to update the kids and send his thanks. I guess the cataloging of the treasures is taking a while as he mentioned he hadn't heard much from the council but we'll be invited to visit once everything is complete. (Sounds like it may even be a year or so before they get everything back where it belongs - especially if some of the churches have been destroyed in the war.) I've forwarded some copies onto the kids at their schools so they know how he's doing.

I will try and ring if I get a moment later in the week but would love to hear back from you.

Take care,
Bill


October 12th, 1946

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Dear Bill,

Thank you for the copy of the letter from Otto Engler you sent - it was nice to see the gratitude the man has for the actions of the children. I suppose it's one thing to hear it from them, but for someone to be so appreciative of the help they gave him and how they stood up for him makes me so proud of them. I may not like the adventures they get themselves into but I am seeing such a maturity in their actions and decisions that they would be unlikely to gain from just their schooling, and it really is doing wonders for their self-confidence, especially Lucy-Ann.

I am fine, please don't worry so. You're right, Louise was rather more pointed about my health but I always appreciate your concern. Having the time to panic about them and what they're up to, whether they're safe, if any of them are injured, instead of hearing about their adventures after the fact means I completely lost my appetite and yes, I did lose some weight. Possibly more than I should have done, but after Louise made me go to the doctor I made a concerted effort to eat well again. Even Dinah commented on it before she left for school, and I promised her I'd take care of myself. I'm surprised she didn't write to you and ask you to keep an eye on me!

I've actually got a young lady in at the moment to help me. She's working for me once a week, just to clean and tidy and cook a couple of meals for me, but the rest of the week I do it. I suppose I'm trialling it out to see how it fits in with my routine, whether I can let go of that aspect of the housekeeping and whether it's up to my standards! She seems fine but the real test will be half term when I've got the children home. If she can cope with those four and Kiki, she can definitely stay! (Although I've got two interviews lined up for that week just in case she doesn't...) When you first brought the subject up I did start thinking about it but it was when I wrote to Polly I realised you were completely right and maybe I should start taking some time to myself.

You're not being forward at all, Bill. Quite simply, yes. It's a funny thing, when the children are home (and don't get me wrong, I love having them with me) I quickly find myself wishing for peace. However, when they return to school I quickly find myself missing the stamping of feet running up and down the stairs, the quarrels and laughter, and Kiki's incessant chattering. It's worse in the evenings; like you I have something to keep me busy during the day but when I come back to an empty house I have to turn the radio on so at least I have some background noise. There are only so many hours I can spend reading or sewing, and in the winter the light gets so poor it's difficult to do that so it's more obvious that I'm alone. If only we lived closer, then we could commiserate together! You are always welcome here, even if you just want to get away from London for a short while; treat the spare room as your own. I'd love your company.

I want to go back to the gift shop in the British Museum of Natural History soon as they had some wonderful items I wanted to buy for the children as Christmas presents. I'll let you know when I'm coming to London; perhaps we can meet for lunch or dinner again?

I hope they're not working you too hard, it would be nice to hear from you again soon.

Love Allie


October 19th, 1946

[Letter from Det. Insp. Cunningham to Alison Mannering]

Dear Allie,

You are very welcome, I thought you'd appreciate his words. Your kids never cease to amaze, and you're justified in your pride in them; I'm proud of them and I'm not even related!

Don't tell Dinah I've told you, but she actually did write about you. They're all so fiercely protective of you in their own ways, Allie, and I know she just wanted to make sure that someone would look out for you when she wasn't there. In her own words; 'Mother is so busy looking after everyone else that she sometimes forgets to look after herself.' Every so often you need to stop worrying about everyone and focus on looking after you - I know that Louise, Polly and I can be there to remind you, just as I know Louise and you will remind me if you think I'm working too hard. (I know exactly what it's like to get caught up in work, and although my line is rather different to yours I still find it hard to take a step back sometimes.)

It's good that you've found someone to help around the house - I'm sure you'll let me know how it works out with the kids during half term! Like you said, if she can cope with Kiki she's worth hanging onto!

I have to admit, I do the same. I tend not to spend a lot of time at the flat so I don't really have anywhere I consider 'home' as such - my parents' place is pretty remote and the flat is really only somewhere I lay my head. I travel so much it's second nature to wake up somewhere different nearly every day, and the times I'm based in London for any length I work late for lack of anything else to do. When I am back there, like you, I have to have the radio on just to have some semblance of human contact. Your offer is kind and much appreciated, I will take you up on that soon. Your company always brightens my day.

Please do let me know when you're thinking of coming up to town. Hopefully I'll be around and can take a few hours if not the whole day to spend time with you.

Enjoy the upcoming half term - hope the kids don't get too wild and noisy!

Love Bill


November 7th, 1946

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Dear Bill,

Half-term was definitely an experience! Unfortunately the lady I had coming in to help didn't quite know how to handle the children, and I do believe Philip deliberately let some of his current 'pets' (two rather large beetles with unusual markings) wander around the house. Naturally this caused all sorts of upset between him and Dinah as well as the help. She left rather promptly and I was rather glad I had some interviews early on to replace her. One, an older lady, barely got in the door before Kiki started and she immediately walked back out, and the children played up as much as they could for the second. I had to have some serious words with them and they tried to behave for the third, but she seemed like she could handle anything they would have thrown at her. She put Kiki in her place straight away, and when one of Philip's beetles made an appearance she told him in no uncertain terms to make sure they didn't come near her whilst she worked otherwise she'd brush it right out the house. She's called Hilda and is a little older than me. She said she would come in twice a week for a while, and we'd see how it went as to whether or not I felt the need to increase it to daily or otherwise. She's very efficient and a pleasant enough lady - she made me tea and some cake and we talked whilst she busied herself in the kitchen, but she also seems to know when I need to focus on something else and will just work quietly around me.

If you are taking me up on that offer, just let me know when you'd like to stay, and if you arrive when I'm at work then I'll just leave a key for you under the plant pot. I know that locked doors don't generally stop you but I suspect a key would be much less time-consuming! Your company brightens my day too, so please do consider the offer a standing one.

I did wonder if Dinah had contacted you, she seemed to hint at it in her letters. I don't mind at all, I know that she means well and was concerned, and I really do appreciate the fact she feels she can go to you about something if she can't talk to me. And I also appreciate that you would take time to act on it - you and Louise are perhaps my closest friends and I'm grateful I can turn to you when I need something.

I'll be travelling up on the 21st as I want to avoid the weekend rush. I'll just be there for the day - if we even only manage to have a cup of coffee together that would be wonderful.

Take care,

Love Allie


November 21st, 1946

[Personal journal entry - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Saw Allie briefly today. Knew she was coming up but couldn't get the whole day away so had to settle for meeting her for an extended lunch. Stopped off at a little out-of-the-way cafe not far from the British Museum of Natural History, as she'd taken the kids there earlier in the year and saw some ideal gifts for them. Asked her why she didn't just order from their catalogue, and although she claimed not to have thought of that something her eyes told me it wasn't just the museum that brought her to town. I'm not complaining if it means I get to spend time with her.

Time was short but we still managed to have some deeper conversations than we've had before. Touched briefly on relationships (neither of us have been in one for a long time - her last one was her husband and mine was a failed engagement almost ten years ago) and talked about how important it was to have a connection with someone. She asked me again about staying over Christmas and I've been keeping an eye on the workload but there's rumblings of a big international case heading in our direction. They'll want to send some of their best men out to cooperate with the ICPC and other international agencies, and I'm not blowing my own horn but I know I'm most likely going to be one of them. I was up front about it and Allie seemed very disappointed but understood. Took the chance to reassure her by squeezing her hand across the table, then 'forgot' to remove it. Spent the rest of lunch with fingers entwined, and she had this lovely pink blush to her cheeks.

She asked me about Louise and Temple - I'd actually had lunch with him a few days ago after we bumped into one another in the Yard, and Louise has been staying with some old relatives in Cape Town for a while so hasn't been in much contact with Allie.

All too soon I had to head back to the office, and Allie was going to see if she could pop over to that art shop in Bloomsbury again before she drove home. Said goodbye to her in the little back street by the cafe, and instead of the usual kiss on the cheek she hugged me. Held on to her for a little longer than strictly necessary but then she certainly wasn't pulling away and when we finally stepped back she had a shy smile on her face. Hailed a taxi and watched her walking to the museum as we pulled away. The events of the summer have brought us a little closer and the kids have started opening up more to me in their letters. Seems like I'm becoming part of the family to them. But I'm finding it's not the kids I want to look at me as more than just a friend.


December 15th, 1946

[Card from Louise Temple to Alison Mannering]

Dearest Allie,

I hope this finds you well. I've been out in Cape Town for a while now, staying with my elderly aunt. She's not been well and there's no one else to look after her; I felt like I really ought to do what I could for her as I stayed with her for a while when Gerald and I lived here. She's looking a little better and I'm hoping to come back to England for Christmas as I'm missing Paul terribly and the 'phone lines are rather awful here so I only get to speak to him once a week or so.

I hope you're all settled again after the summer. Paul said he bumped into Bill a few weeks ago and that they'd had lunch where he mentioned you'd be going up to London and he hoped to meet you. Did you manage to spend some time with him? If only you lived closer, it would be easier for you to see each other!

I'm sorry this is rather short but there's not much to do here; we're a little way out from the main city and hence why communication is so bad. I've sent this early in the hope it will reach you before Christmas - if I'm not back I've included your present and little somethings for the children.

Can't wait to get home and catch up with you properly!

Love Louise


 

December 20th, 1946

[Card from Det. Insp. Cunningham to Alison Mannering]

Dear Allie & kids,

A Merry Christmas to you all! Kids, don't eat your mother out of house and home. Allie, don't overwork yourself, make them help you! And don't fall into any adventures whilst I'm not there - you've had enough for this year thank you very much!

Looking like I'm not going to be able to make it this year as we've caught a case, and I don't think I can even spare a day. Tucked somewhere in this parcel is a present for each of you, but you have to promise you won't open them until Christmas Day.

Love to you all and I will see you soon,

Bill

(Allie - will take you up on that standing offer soon. Take care of yourself.)


December 28th, 1946

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Dear Bill,

I'm sorry I didn't get this to you sooner but by the time we knew you weren't going to make it to ours the cut-off time for Christmas post had come and gone! Please find your presents from us in this box, we hope you like them.

Christmas Day was surprisingly calm; naturally they were excited about their presents and enjoyed the lunch I made (with help from the girls who took heed of your card!) but we played games and spent some time reading and doing our own things without very little shouting or quarrelling which made for an extremely enjoyable day. I've included their 'thank you' cards for their presents but I want to thank you myself, especially for the beautiful brooch you bought me. It's absolutely gorgeous and I've been wearing it every day - you really shouldn't have!

Philip hasn't had anything adopt him yet (I'm still waiting, you never know what and when with him) but we had a funny thing happen on Boxing Day. I popped out to the shed to fetch some coal for the fire, and as I was filling the box I heard a little noise in the corner. Tucked away behind some hessian sacks was this tiny cat, who'd obviously snuck into the shed to escape the cold as it's been snowing for the last few days. She looks like a kitten but I took her to one of the villagers yesterday who's worked as a vet in the past and he said she's probably four or five years old and gave her a clean bill of health. She's a little malnourished and although I've started making enquiries no one really knows anything about her. She's mostly white with two little black paws which look rather funny and Lucy-Ann immediately called her Socks because they do look like she's got a pair of socks on (although Dinah thought it looked like she'd been standing in the coal). We took her in and have been feeding her, although Kiki is very suspicious of her. She keeps meowing to her and then trying to scare her but Socks just meows back and then ignores her, which irritates her to no end!

She's a lovely creature, who gravitated towards Philip quite quickly, but surprisingly she prefers to stay close to me. Whether that's because I was the one to find her and feed her, I don't know, but it's nice to think that I may be attractive to animals over Philip with his almost magical ability! We've made her a little cardboard bed with a blanket in by the fire but she keeps sneaking upstairs into my room and I'll wake up to find her curled at the bottom of the bed. I'll make further enquiries in the week and hopefully we'll find her owner. There is the possibility she may be a stray and I'm not sure what to do. The children are getting rather attached to her, and on one hand I don't want them to be disappointed if we have to give her back to her owners but on the other I don't know if our household is the best to keep a cat - when the children are back at school I'm away all day. Pets can be a bit of a tie, and even Kiki proves a little difficult sometimes when I'm trying to find places to stay or visit. What do you think I should do?

I hope your Christmas hasn't been too busy on the work side and you've had time to relax. I also hope you haven't been alone too much - this is the time of year that you should be with friends if not family. If you get a chance, please do call even if it's only for a few minutes, as the children would love to hear from you. I would, too.

Happy New Year, Bill.

All our love, Allie and the children (and Kiki and Socks)

Chapter Text

---

SEA

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January 9th, 1947

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

Little Miss Socks has settled herself in quite nicely, thank you very much. I made enquiries over the Christmas holidays and into the New Year but no one seems to want to claim her, and she certainly doesn't seem to be worried about it. I'm becoming rather attached to her - a little too attached perhaps - and I dread the day someone knocks at the door and wants her back. I wondered if she would leave the day the children went back to school but even when they were here it was my bed she slept on at night and my lap she made herself comfortable on during the evenings, and she's still here.

Tonight, however, she's decided to abandon me. Not having heard from Bill, I assumed he was still away and hoped that he would call soon and ask to stay. But when I came home from the office, the lights were on and I briefly wondered if Hilda had forgotten to lock up before he opened door and ushered me in out of the cold and rain. (He's admitted since that he loves to surprise me, and to be honest those sort of surprises are quite welcome.) I cooked him some dinner and we retired to the front room where the little madam promptly got up from her spot by the fire, stretched, and sauntered over to him where she decided to curl up and sleep on his lap.

His face was a picture, but soon enough he was stroking her absently as we talked, her soft purring a soundtrack to our discussions. I will admit right now that the sight of his large, strong hands gently stroking a tiny little thing such as Socks did some rather unidentifiable things to my insides, but then Bill's mere presence has started making me act and feel like a young girl with her first crush again so I'm fast becoming resigned to the fact I may be falling for him. Understanding whether or not the feelings might be mutual is a little trickier, and I'm forever trying to remind myself not to get in too deep without knowing if I'm setting myself up for a fall, but then every time we sit together and talk (or find time to have telephone conversations that last well into the night and must cost him a fortune, insisting as he does that it's him that calls me) we fall into a comfortable routine of every day chat and then more personal, deeper topics. I've learnt about his past, his youth (a little mis-spent, it should be known), his parents, and his broken engagement. In turn, I've felt able to talk to him about John, my early years with Polly, and going from education immediately into motherhood.

What's amazing is that he doesn't judge me for any of my decisions. Time and time again, I've confided in Polly yet felt that she is a little reserved in expressing her emotions or support for me. I wanted to continue after my arts degree and perhaps become an historian, a restorer...anything along that vein. But I'd met John and we married early on, with me barely finishing my education before finding out I was pregnant with Philip. Having him and then Dinah are the best things that have ever happened to me and I wouldn't change that for anything, but I do wonder what would have happened had we waited for a while. And in my conversations with Bill, he just listens, and reassures me. For once, I feel I have validity. And that truly is a gift.


 

January 12th, 1947

[Personal journal entry - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Just got back from a few days with Allie. Probably should have warned her I was going to drop by and take her up on her standing offer of company and a room, but I love to see her face when I turn up on her doorstep and she's not expecting me. It's almost like a test; if those lovely eyes don't light up at the sight of me, I'll stop myself from getting too entangled with that family. But I don't know what I was worrying about. Let myself in (without the key, much to her amusement) on Thursday and made her jump a little when I opened the door to her after she returned from work, and she stood on the porch step, dripping wet but with a delighted smile. Had the opportunity to hold her for a moment when she'd taken off her coat and put her arms around me in greeting, and neither of us seemed to want to pull away. Made me think back to when we met up late November. She's so petite and fits perfectly in my arms.

That first night she cooked us dinner and we just sat and talked, falling into our usual companionable chat. The cat that seemed to have adopted them was still there and spent the evening on my lap. Cute little thing, just curled herself up into a ball and purred whenever I stroked her. Allie said she's surprised that Socks isn't more attracted to Philip, as most animals are, but maybe she's just bonded with Allie. I know if I were a cat I'd much prefer to sleep on her bed than with Philip and Jack, but then I am biased.

Allie needed to go to the office with Fran, her assistant, on Friday but I had paperwork I needed to catch up on so Socks kept me company until Allie got back. Surprised her with a dinner (not sure she believed me when I'd told her I could cook) and then gave her the Christmas present I'd bought her last year. I'd sent her a pretty brooch I found on my travels when I sent the kids theirs but then found the sketchbook and bits I'd put in a safe place - so safe I'd forgotten it was there. She was over the moon, and she sat and sketched for a bit, letting me watch her as she drew Socks and various objects round the room and then making me hold still while she sketched me. She's brilliant. She said she was a little rusty but she's far better than even she realises, and I envy her that talent.

Took her out Saturday - there's a small cinema in the larger town almost an hour away - so I treated her to a film and then dinner. She'd overslept that morning and came down whilst I was making breakfast looking a little rumpled and bleary-eyed despite her pretty dress and make-up, and it took everything I had not to gather her up and kiss her senseless. But she did stay close to me whilst we wandered the town; first slipping her arm through mine and then towards the end of the evening letting me entwine our fingers. Felt like we were young lovers, out on a date (which, to some extent, I guess it was - me trying to court her), but I'm still leery about taking that next step. Louise said ages ago Allie is very shy and although I don't feel she's shy around me any more I don't want to upset this fine balance we have between being friends in front of the kids and maybe a little more in private.

Funny, but I'm finding my flat too silent and empty, after being at Allie's for only a few nights. Missing the quiet companionship of an evening where she's sketching and I'm reading, with the radio on low in the background and Socks trying to decide which one of us to sleep on (ending up stretching over the two of us and necessitating Allie moving closer to me so the little ball of fur doesn't fall into the gap between us). Rang her to let her know I was back safe and she seemed quiet, admitting she felt the cottage was too empty as well.

Feel like I'm turning into a romantic fool because of this young woman; but also not minding it at all.


April 16th, 1947

[Letter from Daniels & Son to Alison Mannering]

Dear Mrs. Mannering

Further to your recent enquiries about a possible gallery space, please see enclosed details for a property in town. The landlord is currently having to complete renovations on the place as the previous business tenants caused some damage. The floor space is a good size for a gallery, and it is in an excellent location just off the High Street with similar footfall. Above are two small offices which can be included in the rent if required; otherwise the landlord is happy to rent them separately.

If this is of interest to you, please let us know. Any work you may require to fit the property out can be done by the landlord at a negotiable price.

Sincerely,
J. Daniels,
Director,
Daniels & Son Estate Agents


April 26th, 1947

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

It's days like these that I really feel like I'm on my own. The children came home for the holidays only a few days ago, and almost immediately I could tell something was wrong with Philip. He wasn't his usual cheerful self, and was picking fights with Dinah over the smallest things, as well as snapping at the rest of us. His eyes were unusually bright and when I took his temperature it was rather elevated. There were red patches on his face and neck - which I initially thought were from his temperature - that after a night's sleep revealed themselves to be the early stages of measles. None of the others had had measles before, so soon after I had an entire household of ill children.

Unfortunately Polly has managed to convince Jocelyn to take a short break, and I believe Paul and Louise are away in Cornwall for a while, so I can't ask for help from them. Even Bill has been silent since the beginning of April so I can't ring him up and just talk to him; a simple thing that seems to help whenever I'm feeling stressed or worried. Not having another pair of hands just to help me leaves me feeling particularly lonely, and although I have little time to think at the moment as I'm looking after my four invalids, I'm finding the evenings leave me a little low.

The doctor thinks it won't take too long to clear up but he's been strict about ensuring everyone is quarantined and I think he may even refuse to let them go back to school immediately term starts again. Thankfully Fran is being wonderful and holding down the fort - even with Hilda's help I can't cope with the household and work at the same time - especially with the negotiating for both the new gallery and a new project the local council proposed.

I wish there was someone to talk to, other than little Socks. She seems to have picked up on the mood in the house and spends some time each evening letting Lucy-Ann cuddle her until she's asleep, and then comes in with me. She's not even at the bottom of the bed any more; she spends more time curled up on the other pillow so it's wonderful to wake up in the morning and see her little face peering at me. If only she could talk.


May 1st, 1947

[Advert placed in local newspaper by Alison Mannering]

Governess wanted. Temporary, short-term position. Immediate start.


 

May 7th, 1947

[Personal journal - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Hate it when I have to go to ground. Feels like I've done something wrong; being removed from active service for a while until everything dies down. I get that it's for my own safety but I'd always much rather be out there in the midst of things than going into hiding with my tail between my legs. But fair's fair. Been chasing this gang of gun-runners for a while. HQ got wind there was someone smuggling them into various European countries - us included - and I headed up the team in search of them. Apparently I got a little too close for comfort, and they spooked, but not before killing one of my guys and somehow identifying me. (HQ looking into possibility of moles. Was undercover and disguised.) Lo and behold, they put out a hit on me.

HQ took the decision to send me away until either they stop looking for me or we shut them down. I have to trust the guys and let them do their job, no matter how much I hate walking away.

Rang Allie yesterday. As I don't know how long I'd have to disappear for, I wanted to be able to say my goodbyes. That would have hurt the most; not being in contact with her or the kids. Feel like our relationship is moving along a little but it would have been a huge setback. Didn't say much, but she knew it was me immediately. I needed to get down there, see them, and get out without being seen. God forbid I led anyone to her door; I'd never have forgiven myself if she or the kids were hurt and this gang is ruthless.

But I was willing to risk it just to see her one last time. Rather twisted.

Got down there late. I'd told Allie not to wait up knowing that she still would, but I guess it was just too late for even her as the house was dark. Getting in was fun; the boys apparently stayed awake and Philip came looking for me...getting thrown into the dirt by yours truly because we both thought each other was the enemy. We managed to sort it pretty quickly and I crashed in with the boys for the night. I was extremely aware that she was only down the hall and it was a test of my strength to not go and knock on her door and wake her up just to see her.

The next morning heralded bad news - the kids had apparently had a bout of measles and although they were all clear, Allie had come down with them. I knew I was safe, but I felt for her. Measles as a kid is not fun; measles as an adult is downright awful. We had breakfast after she'd spoken to Dinah and when the daily arrived I hotfooted it upstairs with some tea and toast for Allie to have a chat with her. She looked drained, cuddled into a dressing gown with Socks stretched out lazily by her side, but her face still lit up when she saw me.

"Oh, Bill, we were so worried about you." She reached for my hands when I'd set the tea and toast down and sat on the bed next to her. It was nice to hold her hands again; a simple touch I'd missed whilst away.

We spoke for a long while. Told her very vaguely what was going on (mainly because I couldn't due to the ongoing investigation but also I didn't want to worry her and add to her illness) and although she was upset, she understood. She was pleased when I told her what the kids had suggested - the failed governess interviews and the accident of her friend meant they would be stuck at home and make her feel worse - and coming with me as I 'disappeared' to a remote island would kill two birds with one stone. Figuratively.

Also asked her to look after some documents for me. She doesn't know it yet, but recent events have got me feeling a little mortal, and so I've made sure that all my affairs are in order. If something does happen to me, she has a copy of some important documents including my will, which leaves everything (except a few bits for my aunt and cousins) to her and the kids. They've become a big part of my life and I want to make sure they're looked after if I'm not around to do it. But I told her none of that, and she simply assumed they were work documents and had me put them in the little safe she keeps in her wardrobe.

She started to doze off after a while despite her best efforts, and I promised I'd come and see her before I left. Spent the day locked in the spare room making calls and organising with HQ and the Commissioner (who has apparently placed bets on something happening), and it wasn't until dusk when Hilda popped out and the doctor had been and gone that I emerged. The kids were excited about the trip and it took me a while to restore some form of order. Hilda would be staying to keep an eye on Allie and Fran would be coming the next day to organise the kids for our night train journey.

Went back in to see Allie for as long as I could before I left. She was feeling warm, her cheeks showing signs of her temperature and the medicine the doctor had left was making her extremely drowsy but she was making an obvious effort to stay awake. Made myself comfortable sat next to her on top of the covers with her by my side and spoke for a while longer. Seemed like she had realised that it was fairly serious for me to be going to ground like this. Didn't really know what to say but she begged me to stay safe - both for the kids and for my own wellbeing - and when she went silent I put my arm around her to reassure her. Must have been a good hour or so that we stayed like that, talking about everything and nothing. Felt like we were in our own little world, undisturbed by the kids and with Socks curled up asleep on my lap; had Allie not finally dozed off in my arms I'd have found it extremely difficult to leave. Hilda had returned so I tucked Allie back up, left a note for the kids and made my way home under cover of darkness. I'd see them the next day, to catch a train to the remotest parts we could find.


May 10th, 1947

[Wireless transmission to Alison Mannering from Det. Insp. Cunningham via HQ]

On islands. Plenty of birds. Kids happy. Take care.

[Wireless transmission to Det. Insp. Cunningham from Alison Mannering via HQ]

Give children my love. No adventures. You take care too.


May 13th, 1947

[Inter-departmental message from Special Branch to Commissioner Forbes]

Lost contact with Y4. Advise.

[Inter-departmental message from Commissioner Forbes to Special Branch]

Allow 48 hours. Possible weather interference. If not, send team. Regular updates required.


May 15th, 1947

[Journal entry - Louise Temple]

I always find May to be the month that heralds the advent of summer; the comfortably warm days promising the endless sunshine and heat of July and August. This year, May seems to be even warmer than usual. The few weeks Paul and I spent down in Cornwall felt more like mid-July - the sea was warm enough to swim in regularly and we spent more time on the beach than we expected to. The waters were a stunning turquoise blue with green depths and the flowers were out in full force - truly a beautiful place to take a well-deserved rest. I think even Paul allowed himself to relax fully and not let himself worry over his new novel or the articles he's been commissioned to write. I did manage to get some time in writing the first in the series of novels about Allie's children, much to Paul's amusement, but I really do want to get it finished soon and start on the next few whilst it goes through the publication process. They know I'm writing it but not how far along and I want to surprise them all with it when it's ready. I'm still debating over the pen name (and Paul is being less than helpful on that front) - my crime novel was written under a pseudonym so technically I'm free to use my own name - as I don't want people to make assumptions based on the fact I'm his wife. Dinah is starting to get interested in creative writing, and over the last six months or so we've been corresponding whilst she's at school; I've taken so many notes from both talking to the children, interviewing Bill and reading some of the case files that I feel I have a fairly good understanding of what happened but Dinah will read over the drafts and help tweak it. If she feels confident enough, I'll invite her to co-write the next couple with me as well - it would give her a boost to be published, just like Allie and Bill are encouraging Jack to publish a book of his photography.

Thinking of Allie, I rang her when we returned home, but strangely enough Fran - her assistant - answered, and for a moment I thought I'd dialled the wrong number until she explained that Allie was ill. Apparently she'd caught the measles from the children and while they were 'away' (Fran was rather vague about this) Allie was stuck in bed with Fran and Hilda popping in and out to keep an eye on her. Of course I immediately organised to go down and stay with her until the children got back, as I'd had measles when I was young and was immune.

Even when I got down to Allie's little cottage and was catching up with her, she was rather evasive about the children, and it wasn't until Fran and Hilda had gone that she finally opened up to me and told about Bill having to disappear and taking the children with him for a while so they could recover. The only problem was that the promised regular transmissions from Bill hadn't been as regular as they'd hoped, and apparently the department had contacted her that day to admit they hadn't heard anything from him whatsoever for nearly two days. She was rather resigned to the fact they were possibly missing yet again, but knowing Bill was with them reassured her more than usual.

Hopefully it won't be too long before there's more news. I rang Paul and he's promised to contact Sir Graham, and get as much information as he can but the department are already ringing Allie daily to update her, even if there's nothing to update her on. The children are rather infamous in Scotland Yard and the various attached agencies, and Bill's department in particular seem to be rather fond of them and Allie. They're doing their best but without radio contact they can't get coordinates to pinpoint him in the remote islands and if something has happened...

I'd rather not think like that.


May 17th, 1947

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

Something rather strange happened today; strange in the sense it felt like a message from the past. Apparently Bill and the children stopped off on an island inhabited by a fisherman and his wife before they truly set off on their 'adventure', and Bill took the time to write me a letter. We'd already sent radio messages to one another, but he obviously felt he wanted to write something a little more meaningful, and it took this long to reach me due to the delay from the fisherman posting it somewhere so remote the post only gets collected once a week, and then only sorted when they feel like it. It felt strange to be reading his words of promise that the children would be fine and that he doubted that they would manage to find something to get themselves caught up in other than a few puffin nests when I full well knew something had happened and I'm seven days into not having heard a thing from them.

The letter was almost washed out; it looked like it had been dropped into the sea at some point and the ink had spread and dried. It was readable but barely - I had to copy it out before I could read it properly. I've transcribed it below even though I'll tuck it into my journal with the rest of his letters and cards. Some of his words really touched me and I truly believe that one day - however long it may take - we'll be able to look back and laugh at how long it took us to see the light. But for the moment, we're doing that dance of those not quite sure how to push the boundaries of our relationship.

I have Louise's company again and she and Hilda are doing their best to get my strength back up and distract me, but I know we're all hoping that good news comes soon. I seem to be living in a perpetual state of worry.

[Letter from Det. Insp. Cunningham to Alison Mannering - dated 9th May 1947]

Dear Allie,

I know we're sending transmissions when we can but they're having to go through HQ and I certainly don't want them to be handling any more personal messages. We've stopped on this tiny island for a night and met a fisherman and his wife who are more than happy to host for the evening (although they draw the line at Kiki so we won't be staying the night in their home). He's agreed to do me a favour and post this when he can so I honestly don't know how long this will take to reach you, but I sincerely hope it finds you well. Measles is awful and you were suffering particularly when I saw you - I've never known you to be so lethargic and I think it scared the girls a little. I've reassured them you'll be fine with some rest but I think they won't believe me until they see you for themselves.

This has all happened at a most inopportune time, and I feel terrible that we're away while you're stuck at home. To be quite honest I'd much rather that your friend was taking the kids on an expedition and I was taking you to a quiet place to look after you and ensure you get better, but then perhaps that's rather a selfish wish. I'm sorry that it's not me there with you, and I hope that Fran and Hilda are taking good care of you.

I will do my best to make sure there's nothing the kids can get themselves into. Surely on distant islands with only birds for company, all they can stumble across are plenty of birds' nests? I truly hope for all our sakes we have an uneventful time.

Before I go, I just want to say that the prospect of being here completely alone after the kids go back to you is pretty grim, but it's made even worse by the thought I can't contact you. Radio transmissions for the duration of the kids' stay will keep me going but they're short and sweet and mostly impersonal due to the constraints of the 'third party' involved. The not knowing how long I'll need to stay below the radar is the bit I hate - if I have to remain hidden for months, that's months of not being able to write you a letter, send you some flowers or just 'phone you up to hear your voice and talk over the day.

I need you to know that the documents you are looking after for me are those concerning what needs to be done if something happens to me. My solicitor is executor; he will know what to do. Please understand if something ever does happen, you and the kids are cared for. I know what you're thinking, Allie, and don't try and argue with me on this.

I wish I knew when I'll next be able to see or speak to you, but for now just know that I'm always thinking of you. Get better soon.

Yours,
Bill


May 19th, 1947

[Personal journal entry - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Safe. Finally.

Whenever I'm with these kids, something is going to happen. I'm learning this, slowly, and although there is every hope that there will be a long period of adventure-free time, I'm also starting to accept that there is most likely one just around the corner. They seem to average one a year, which I suppose is a useful indicator.

Looking back over the last few years, these were the most dangerous. I've dealt with gangs before but they've never run me to ground and when I think of the kids (especially little Lucy-Ann) up against these guys, it sends shivers down my spine. The lack of contact with the guys was bad enough but thinking of what had been going on and Allie at home ill - most likely panicking and making herself worse - was the limit.

Official logs are up to date; gang rounded up and locked away for a good while; kids safe at home where they should be. Would like to say my job here is done and normal service resumes, but then since I technically put them in that position in the first place, Allie is well within her rights to tell me to cut all contact with the family.

But she hasn't.

While the guys came charging in to the rescue, a message was sent to Allie to let her know the kids were all right, but it was when we landed I immediately got onto the 'phone to her. To my surprise, Louise answered, and it turned out she'd been staying with Allie. Because she was still feeling rough, she wouldn't be making the journey up to meet us so would have to wait until we got down to hers the next day to see her, but she spent a short while talking to the four of them (interrupted every so often by Kiki's nonsensical murmurings) before I get hold of the receiver again. She sounded worn out and we didn't spend much time on pleasantries as it was rather late but thankfully there wasn't any hint of anger or disappointment in her tone, just relief.

The kids were exhausted, wet and cold, and we were taken to a hotel to have hot baths, change and rest. While they flaked out I did a quick debrief with the team, so it was extremely late by the time my head hit the pillow but at least I managed to get in some shut-eye (and a pretty deep one at that) before the journey today. We weren't up too early, but there was a lot of travelling ahead and the department had put on a nice car for us which made the day go that little easier. It was nearly dark by the time we reached the little cottage - which for some reason made me feel like I was truly home - but all the lights were on and I could see Socks sat in the front window as if she knew we were coming and was waiting for us.

It was Louise that opened the door but Allie wasn't far behind and suddenly the tiny hallway was full of joyful reunion. The kids piled on Allie and Kiki was fluttering around their heads squawking away until Louise managed to coax her into the kitchen to give her some treat or other. There was the usual chatter as all of them tried to speak at once and garner her attention but she stood calmly in the centre, holding them, and once again I was pulled into the group hug. From the glimpse I'd gotten of Allie before she was hidden by various bodies she looked a little pale and worn but at least she was on her feet.

No idea how it happened, but after a few minutes, Louise, Kiki and most of the kids disappeared into the front room and it was just little Lucy-Ann hanging onto the both of us for dear life. It's always a pleasure to know that you can give comfort to a child, especially one as sweet-natured as her, and both Allie and I were happy to indulge her. Particularly when it meant she was cuddled between us and I happened to have an arm around Allie, her head resting against my shoulder. Must be getting pretty soppy in my old age, as I was thoroughly enjoying the scent of the soap she uses in her hair and the feel of both of them in my arms. Allowed myself to imagine what it was like to be part of their family unit for a moment, and it was with great reluctance that I stepped away when Lucy-Ann wanted to join the others. Allie gave me one of her smiles before we entered the fray, but Louise pulled me back into the hallway.

"Allie said you'd be staying, so I've changed the sheets in the spare room and put the kettle on to boil. We had something to eat earlier but I expect you two will want to sit and talk over a hot drink later." Louise has this amazing ability to look right into you, as if she can see your essence, and I've been on the receiving end of this look a few times recently. It's where she's trying to decide if you measure up to her standards, and you find yourself hoping to God you don't fall short. She must have seen something she liked, because after a moment she nodded to herself and picked up her bag. "Look after her," she said, and then called out she was leaving so there was another pile-up in the hallway as everyone said goodbye.

We let the kids talk it out for a short while but as soon as we saw the first yawn (surprisingly, Jack was the one who set them off, with added sound effects from Kiki) we sent them off to bed. The cottage was suddenly quiet, and I busied myself with making tea whilst Allie saw them all upstairs. Was apparently concentrating hard enough on that task that I didn't hear her come in and I jumped slightly when I saw movement beside me, making her laugh.

"Why don't you go and sit down? I'll bring a tray through," I said, and she hesitated. She obviously wanted to say something and was deciding how to say it so I turned to give her my full attention.

"Bill - how dangerous was it?"

My initial inclination was to downplay it in fear of being responsible for a relapse in her health, but her hand on my arm was enough to make me give her the truth. "Pretty dangerous."

She stepped closer, touching a finger to one of the smaller, fading bruises on my face. She didn't seem surprised by it, which confused me a little until she said, "How badly did they hurt you?" It appears that Joe took it upon himself to give her a little of the information from the debrief when he rang to tell her we were on our way, and I made a mental note to have a chat with him next time I saw him.

"Allie, I'm fine. They took out their frustration on me for a short while but they had other things to worry about and they kept me out of the way. I've had far worse." Touched her cheek in return and she half-smiled. Glad she couldn't see the huge darkening area across my chest where I was convinced they'd broken a couple of ribs. Don't think they are broken now, but they've definitely bruised them.

"I was so worried. And not just about the children; you as well. When Joe told me you'd been captured..." she let out a soft sigh. "Will you tell me everything you can?"

"Of course. I'll be right with you."

She nodded, glanced at the tea, and then made her way into the other room. Wasn't long behind her, and then she sat and listened as it all came out. How the gang had been smuggling guns, how they'd managed to get the jump on me, how the kids had tricked them, discovered the guns, rescued me...I can honestly say I've never been more proud of them than when I was telling her about their decision to come and find me rather than leave me to my fate.

It was getting late, and we'd sat on the sofa together whilst we talked. Allie had curled her legs up under her and Socks was splayed out over the both of us. Sometime during the evening her head had rested back on my shoulder and my arm had found its way round hers, so we made a cosy picture. Conversation had petered out a little as we both felt the effects of the last week or so, but Allie grasped my hand and moved to look up at me, causing Socks to miaow in annoyance and stretch further onto my lap. "I received your letter."

Didn't know whether to be pleased about that or not. I wrote some pretty revealing things in there, and I still don't know where this is going. "I meant what I said, Allie. You can't argue with me about those documents - what's done is done."

She shook her head. "I'll still argue with you but I'm saving that for tomorrow when I'm a little more awake and articulate." Chuckled a bit over that; I guess I should have known telling her not to argue wouldn't stop her in any way. "No, I meant to say that I would have felt the same way."

"About?" I wanted to hold my breath but she would have felt it so I tried to remain calm. Why do I feel like a teenager trying to court a young lady?

She squeezed our entwined fingers - how did they get like that without me noticing? - and I swear she started to blush. "About not hearing from you. I would have hated it too...not being able to write to you, see you, hear your voice. Talk about silly little things. Tell you the latest gossip in the village. Know you're safe." She let out a little sigh and nestled her head back in the crook of my neck, so I just tucked her closer to my side and held her there for a while. I thought she was thinking of something else to say but it turns out she succumbed to the drowsiness and ended up dozing off on me.

Was loathe to move her, and luckily there was a pen and some paper within easy reach, so here I am scribbling down my thoughts with a little furball in my lap and a wonderful woman beside me. Will take this back and attach it to my journal but for now I'm about to carry said wonderful woman up to her bedroom before retiring to the spare room. Alone.


May 24th, 1947

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Polly Sullivan]

Dearest Polly,

I can't believe how long it's been since we last saw one another. I hope you and Jocelyn are well. We'll have to compare diaries so I can come and visit you soon.

The children are back from yet another of their adventures. I won't go into too much detail because I know it's an active investigation but suffice to say that sending them off to recuperate from the measles was probably not one of my best ideas, especially with their history of being left alone. They weren't alone - before you worry! - they were with Bill, but all I'll say is there were islands, guns and gangs involved. Thankfully they are all home and safe, including Bill. This was a tough one for him because he had a history with the gang and of course being out of contact with them all worried me dreadfully but somehow knowing he was there with them reassured me a little.

Louise came and stayed with me whilst the children were away as I unfortunately caught the measles too (I honestly thought I'd had them when we were younger, but apparently not) and then Bill stayed the night he brought the children back. They'd had a short debrief but he had to go and wrap up the investigation with his team. He admitted he'd had a rough time but it wasn't until I saw him wincing when he moved in certain ways that I realised the bruising on his face was only the start, and that he had more injuries that he was trying to hide from us. I let it slide this time but I also let him know that we worry about him as much as he worries about us.

It was lovely to see him again, Polly, the children do love him so and he's quickly becoming a part of the family. Sometimes I wish he were, and the times I spend with him on our own I cherish, but it's so hard to understand where we stand with one another and then he has to go away for a while and I'm left wondering when I'll see him again. I miss that human touch, that chemistry between a man and a woman, and the companionship. It would be nice to come home to that - it was nice to come home to that when he stayed earlier in the year. Something tells me we're on the precipice and who knows when we'll take that plunge.

In other news, we've been in negotiation over a property in town to turn into a gallery, and we are just finalising the paperwork. I don't want to get my hopes up too much before the ink dries on the contracts just in case something goes wrong, but fingers crossed in a couple of months we'll be opening. There's not much to do to the property itself; just a couple of stud walls and painting before the fittings go in but I will have to get the advertising out quickly.

I do hope we can see each other soon. Give my love to Jocelyn and take care.

Your loving sister,
Allie


May 26th, 1947

[Letter from Daniels & Son to Alison Mannering]

Dear Mrs. Mannering,

Please complete the included paperwork and return it to our office at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,
J. Daniels,
Director,
Daniels & Son Estate Agents

[Letter from Polly Sullivan to Alison Mannering]

Dear Alison,

Well done on your gallery, I do hope that furthering your business is successful for you. Please don't stretch yourself though; one remembers what you were like when you were trying to keep your head above the water with the children.

Alison, I don't think you should pursue any further contact with this man. I appreciate his position and that the children adore him but to be quite frank he's dangerous. Yes, you are eternally grateful that he rescued the children from their own curiosity when they first met him, but ever since then their 'adventures' have become far more frequent and terrifying. It seems that he cannot just separate himself from his work and that spills over into his interactions with the children - remember last summer when those men he was chasing unknowingly kidnapped them and took them to another country? And if I understand you correctly this most recent event included guns and a gang that had no qualms in beating him. What if they had beaten the children? Or shot them? Can you really imagine a future with a man who has to disappear for months at a time; that goes out to work knowing he might not come back that day and that endangers your own children just by being near them?

You need stability. You are already a widow, you don't want to be getting involved with someone that could make you one twice over. For your own health and sanity, you must stop seeing him. You'd be much safer for it.

Your sister,
Polly


May 28th, 1947

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

I'm not surprised at Polly's letter. Disappointed, but not surprised. She's rather traditional and I feel sometimes a little disapproving that I choose to be a businesswoman as well as a mother. What she forgets is that I don't have a husband to bring in the money so I can stay at home and be the perfect housewife; and even then I don't think I could. I raised Philip and Dinah whilst working for so long that now I have the chance to spread my wings in the business and creative world I don't think I could ever go back to being a wife and mother and nothing else.

I know we'll lose touch for a while. This has happened before and is fairly usual...I just don't know how long it'll be for. Once it was a couple of years, but usually it's a few months at most.

Rather than dwelling, I must focus on everything good that's happened recently. We've signed the lease for the gallery and can start work immediately. There is a small team of local tradesmen that the estate agents recommend so we've contacted them for quotes on the basic construction of the stud walls, painting and some plinths and the main desk area. We gave notice to our current landlord but he generously allowed us to leave early as he had someone interested in the space and can get them in immediately so there's no loss of rent for him, which is ideal for us because we can move into the office above and continue our current business whilst overseeing the construction below.

Fran is managing most of the agency on her own at the moment (I have made a mental note to review her salary and give her a pay rise) as well as looking for gallery staff as the council asked me to be part of an advertising project for them. Normally I wouldn't take such a big project on whilst trying to keep the agency going and trying to get the gallery up and running but it's something I can do working from home if I need to (I can see myself working a lot of evenings in my near future) and the money is good so we'll have an emergency fund if something - God forbid - goes wrong. Plus it means I'm ingratiating myself with the council so we'll have contacts there. Much as I hate to admit it, I'm very aware of the old adage 'it's not what you know but who you know' and I'm not above utilising those kinds of contacts.

Bill rang me yesterday with some wonderful news; he's being promoted to Detective Chief Inspector! Apparently the powers that be (and Sir Graham) feel that his recent work warrants full recognition. He's specifically asked to have a private ceremony as he doesn't like the fuss but also because of the nature of his work. According to Bill, Sir Graham and his own superiors agreed but on the condition that the children are present, and we spent a good while speculating as to why that would be. He thinks there may be some recognition for them too, but he's not sure what. It would be lovely for them to feel like their actions are appreciated - they mainly stumble across investigations but they do end up helping.

He did seem a little distracted and I think there's a lot of work for him at the moment. He's not only a field agent but apparently in quite high demand for consultation and training. He once told me that he doesn't think he could ever retire completely, but would just walk away from field work. I don't think he'd be able to. He loves it too much, even when he comes back from a mission bruised and broken.

He told me that he'd take me away soon - if he was able to take some leave during the warmer months - he would show me his house and we'd spend some time there. I know it's not definite yet but the thought of it and the idea that we would be completely alone has already given me anticipatory butterflies.


June 20th, 1947

[Personal journal entry - Det. Ch. Insp. Cunningham]

Had my promotion ceremony earlier. Despite requesting it be as private as possible I still found I had a small audience, including Allie and the kids (at the Commissioner's request), Temple and Louise and some of my team. Apparently not only was I being promoted, but the kids were receiving an award for bravery. Technically it was for their last 'adventure' but I know that each and every time I report back to Sir Forbes with news of the kids somehow stumbling on and solving investigations, he's more and more impressed with their grit. It is about time someone recognised their bravery and honour; not just in monetary form, but in a physical representation they can look at on their walls or mantelpiece. The fact it's a pretty high civilian honour currently goes straight over their heads, but in the future I'll point out that so far there are very few recipients and maybe it'll sink in.

Press weren't allowed access to the ceremony due to the sensitive nature of my work but Louise was given permission to do a vague write-up about the kids and include images of them - they deserved some public recognition after all. While they were busy having their photos taken, I stood with Allie who looked stunning in a light, summery wrap dress. Compared to her I felt hot and stuffy in my uniform, but I'd caught her casting an appraising eye over me earlier when she thought I wasn't watching so that more than made up for any discomfort. Even some of the guys had their head turned when she first walked in and it made me even prouder to think she was there for me as well as the kids.

It wasn't long before they had to leave again. The kids had been given permission to take time away from their schools but Allie needed to get them back so she could go home and continue work on the gallery, which she says is coming along and should be ready for opening near the end of July. She's worked so hard on this place, and I can see how much it means to her. Can't wait to see it up and running.

Got back to the office and the guys started to rib me about 'mooning' over Allie...just had to remind them they weren't all innocent of it either and it shut them up for a while. Don't actually mind it if I'm being completely honest; each guy that finds his other half gets some stick and I'm just glad that I've found an amazing woman to be teased about.


July 5th, 1947

[Invitation to Det. Ch. Insp. Cunningham from Alison Mannering]

Oakley Art Galleries requests the company of Detective Chief Inspector W. Cunningham at the private view and opening night of its first exhibition, on Saturday July 26th at 7:30pm until 10pm.

(Bill - would love to see you there if you can make it. Enjoyed writing your new rank! Allie)

[Invitation to Louise and Paul Temple from Alison Mannering]

Oakley Art Galleries requests the company of Mr & Mrs P. Temple at the private view and opening night of its first exhibition, on Saturday July 26th at 7:30pm until 10pm.

(Louise - hope you're still staying! I've included some blank ones as you requested, if you know of anyone who'd be interested please do send them. Speak soon, Allie)


July 9th, 1947

[Telegram from Det. Ch. Insp. Cunningham to Alison Mannering]

Work intrudes. Will call. Promise.


July 26th, 1947

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

Tonight was the opening night of the gallery. It's extremely nerve wracking putting your heart and soul into a business with no idea if it will be successful, and even with the support of good friends and links to higher social circles one can never predict longevity. A lot of work went into the gallery - late nights from both myself and poor Fran, along with Beth who's my new manager and young Anne who's on board to support Beth. It's not just me (or even just Fran and me) any more; people are relying on me for income. It did look wonderful though. The artists who'd agreed to be represented solely by us had sent some wonderful pieces, and we had a couple more from some extremely well-known artists from London who had expressed interest in selling through us periodically (I believe Louise may have pulled some strings without telling me).

Louise and Paul were supposed to be coming down and staying at a local hotel, and wanted to take my staff and me out for drinks to celebrate after the viewing. Bill had sent a message saying he couldn't make it, but earlier today a stunning bouquet of flowers had been delivered to the gallery with a card from him, saying how proud he was of me and he hoped I was too. He wrote he was sorry he was missing the viewing but he would be down soon to see the gallery in full swing. I wish he were here tonight though, to celebrate with us.

Seven thirty came and went, but Louise had reminded me that people like to be fashionably late. Some of the artists had turned up and were all talking about their works, along with a couple of their agents. A lot of locals started turning up and by eight it was suddenly buzzing. Anne and Fran were supplying the drinks and canapés, and Beth was doing a wonderful job on front of house, trying her best to sell pieces and talk some more artists into working with us. I don't think I stopped, helping from behind the scenes with admin and setting the drinks and canapés ready to be collected, so I was surprised when Louise walked upstairs and told me off for not being out in the gallery. She admired the fact I'd put on the dress we'd chosen when she took me shopping (the state of my wardrobe had been dictated by the fact I had four children and I had very few dresses that could be used for business/more formal occasions). It was slightly more form-fitting than I would usually have chosen but she was right in that it made me feel feminine, even if it also made me feel self-conscious!

She coaxed me back downstairs and I said hello to Paul. They'd apparently caught a lift down with a friend who wanted to see the exhibition and he was just parking the car. As we talked, I started to recognise some of the visitors as well-known patrons of art and some of the London socialites, and when I turned to Louise she just winked at me. I think I'm going to be looking for a special thank-you present for her; she's obviously been spreading the word, and apparently when the Temples start patronising a place, everyone wants to be there.

While she and Paul wandered round on their own, I stepped back and watched. Beth was in a lively conversation with a couple who were admiring one of our larger paintings, and I could see Anne and Fran still doing the rounds, pausing to chat to people as they went. I was in a quiet corner, standing by a couple of sculptures inspired by the forms of Henry Moore when I heard a voice behind me.

"I love the juxtaposition of the simplistic figure next to the lovely young woman..."

I turned around - I'd know that voice anywhere - and Bill was standing there smiling at me. I was so pleased and surprised to see him, and he slid an arm around my waist as I kissed his cheek in greeting. "I thought you couldn't make it!"

He squeezed me a little, and Fran appeared with a glass of bubbly for us both. He accepted, but didn't start drinking, so I assumed he was driving. "I didn't think I could, but managed to finagle this evening off. I wanted to surprise you and when I heard Temple and Louise were coming down I offered to drive them here."

"Are you not staying? You're always welcome in the spare room."

"No, I have to get back later. But I couldn't miss the chance to be here at the opening!"

He wanted me to walk him round and talk to him about the art, which I was more than happy to do. He seemed very interested in it all, and was particularly taken with a small piece I had submitted myself; a sunset study over a coastline. It wasn't one of my best but I had always liked the colours (painted from memory with a little artistic license from one of the sunsets I'd seen when down at Craggy-Tops) and everyone had commented on it. I told him he should just tell me what he'd like and I'd paint it for him, seeing as he'd helped me get back into it again.

We talked to Paul and Louise for a while, and I kept getting pulled away to talk to clients, but he just waited patiently until I could join him again. Anne got a little flustered when she paused for a chat and ended up spilling two glasses of champagne (thankfully didn't break the glasses) and when she'd moved on I teased him that she'd developed a crush on him. He just looked at me with a knowing smile and winked, and then steered the subject onto something else.

All too soon, it started getting late. I'd only intended on staying open until ten or just after but it was half past by the time some people started to leave. (The walls were starting to gain red dots under some of the pieces and I was extremely happy to see just how many we'd sold - especially some of the more expensive pieces.) Bill had to go as he had to drive back to London, and after saying goodbye to the Temples he asked me to walk him to his car. He'd parked in one of the quiet residential streets behind the gallery, and it was accessed down a long alleyway between two shopfronts a few doors down from where we were. I tucked my arm into his and we walked slowly along the street and down the alleyway, him complimenting me on the successful evening, and then on my dress, laughing when I blushed. He must like to make me blush - I'm finding I do it a lot around him!

The street was fairly dark, his car in shadow between two of the street lamps and he leaned back against his car, suddenly serious. "Allie, I have to disappear again." My heart dropped. For a moment I thought he meant completely, but he rushed on, seeing my expression. "We've caught an international case. The ICPC want me undercover and I can't be contacted by anyone whilst I'm away. I even have extremely limited contact with my guys back at the offices - I can only message if it's an emergency."

I hated when he had to go away - I worry so much for him. "When do you leave?"

He sighed, resting his hands on my shoulders. "Tomorrow. I don't know how long it'll be for; it could be two weeks, two months, or even longer. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry, Bill. It's part of your job." I smiled at him, even though I didn't feel like smiling. We'd started to get a little closer, everything tentative, and all of a sudden he'd be out of my life for an indeterminate amount of time.

"Come here." He pulled me close and wrapped his arms around me, and I rested my head on his shoulder. If that was the last contact I'd have with him for a while I was determined to take everything I could get. His warmth surrounded me and I felt secure. Bill has this presence which just seems to make everything easier for a while. Lucy-Ann has always said how she feels safe when he's near, and I know exactly what she means.

We stayed like that for a moment, both reluctant to let go, but then I thought of something. I pulled back a little and started to unpin a small marcasite brooch Dinah had given me a little while ago, in the shape of an 'A'. Bill watched me, a little bemused, until I pinned it to the collar of his coat, and smoothed it down. "Something of me to take with you," I said, and he looked touched by the gesture. I laid a hand against his cheek and reached up to kiss the other, whispering, "Be safe," as I did. I know he'd do his best to look after himself, but he's told me the horror stories of some of his past investigations that didn't quite go to plan, and I know I'll be worrying until he's safely back home.

He didn't let me pull away this time, tightening his hold on me and turning his head and suddenly we were kissing. Oh, it was glorious! This man, who captured the hearts of my children and then went on to capture mine, made me feel things I've not felt for a very long time. I can't even adequately express those feelings. He's at once strong and gentle, passionate and soft. I don't think I would have let him stop if it weren't for the want of air, but a gentleman taking his dog out for a late night walk on the other side of the street coughed loudly and grumbled about the 'youth of today', and Bill and I couldn't help but laugh, both rather pleased to be considered 'youths'. He shook his head in amusement as we watched the man disappear round the corner, and then he looked back down at me. "Wait for me, Allie?"

Of course I'll wait for him! I've waited nearly fifteen years for a man to make me feel like this again, so what's a few months more? I told him so. He didn't say anything, just kissed me again, and I was lost in him for a while until the clock tower chimed quarter to eleven in the distance. He really had to go. We finally parted and he got into the car, so I blew him a kiss. He wouldn't leave until he'd watched me walk safely down the alleyway and he was happy I was on the high street, and I kept wanting to turn around. I could feel him watching me, and when I reached the lights of the shopfronts I turned and waved, seeing his car pass the entrance and on down the residential road where he'd meet the main road and carry on towards London.

Louise knew exactly what happened with just one look at my face when I stepped back into the gallery, but said nothing. She was practically vibrating with excitement, and Paul had to say her name three times before she realised he was trying to get her attention. Her enthusiasm was infectious and it made me forget my worries for a little while as we closed the gallery down for the night and all went out for drinks. She was dying to ask me what happened, I could tell, but held her tongue for the rest of the night, and after being treated to a very late bite to eat we all went our separate ways. They'll come and pick me up from the cottage tomorrow morning and we'll spend the day together, so I expect she'll want the details.

For now, I'm sat in bed in a silent house, missing a man who's become such an intrinsic part of my life that there's a void when he's not there.


July 27th, 1947

[Article in The Oakley News]

London Art Scene Comes To Oakley

Last night's opening of the new Oakley Art Galleries was a resounding success. Set up by Alison Mannering of nearby village Foxwood, it contains an eclectic mix of paintings and sculptures from both local artists and well-known figures in the art world - but is so well curated one finds it difficult to distinguish between the two. Mrs. Mannering's discerning eye extends to her own work (a seascape, humbly displayed in a far corner of the gallery, yet somehow a piece that draws the viewer in) and by the end of the evening plenty of the works were sold - including her own. In attendance were visitors from both the surrounding areas as well as many recognisable faces from the London art scene. If Oakley Art Galleries continues in this vein, this critic can see it going from strength to strength. With the recent work on the theatre starting and more interest in local arts organisations, perhaps Oakley will one day become a fashionable destination for art patrons.


July 30th, 1947

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Det. Ch. Insp. Cunningham]

Bill,

I don't expect you to be reading this any time soon as by now you're in a foreign country and out of reach but at least this will be waiting for you when you return. I can't tell you enough what it meant to me that you managed to get away from work to come down and see the gallery opening - especially in light of the fact you were leaving on a long mission early the next day. All the hard work and dedication from everyone that went into getting that gallery up and running has paid off, and the interest in it hasn't yet abated (granted, it's only been a few days!). The local newspaper wrote an article and said such kind things about it; I've included a copy so you can see for yourself. I'm so proud of everyone, and am even allowing myself a moment of pride in something I've done. And don't think I didn't see the sales receipt for my seascape, Detective Chief Inspector Cunningham! I told you I would be happy to give that painting to you, or paint anything of your choice, in thanks for your unfailing support of me and my art. I'll keep hold of it until you return and we can talk about it then.

I suppose the main reason for this letter is to address that evening, and perhaps tell you a few things I would most likely struggle with saying face to face (Louise would tell you I've always been extremely shy around men). The moment I met you, back at Craggy-Tops with the children, I was attracted to you. I thought it would be a passing crush, a moment of indulgence for a widowed woman, but it never went away and the fact that you gradually became a very close friend of the family made it all the more obvious. I've been alone for a long time. I'll be honest; I've been on a few dates, but they were when Philip and Dinah were younger and the men never held any further interest for me. Life was difficult, trying to raise my two and provide for them whilst keeping the household running and that's why I almost worked myself into the ground. The reward for helping you with your investigation couldn't have come at a better time, and the children's subsequent 'adventures' and rewards have only added to our improved situation. Throughout it all, you've been there for us, and especially me. Over the years, we've become closer, and we've both hinted at our feelings in our own ways, but there's always the feeling of insecurity. Am I imagining that my feelings are reciprocated? If I ever had the courage to make the first move, would I be rebuffed?

You making that move to take our relationship one step forward was the most wonderful part of that evening. To finally be in your arms, being kissed by you...I will admit right now that I have dreamt of such things! To go back to an empty house and know that I can't see you now and no one knows how long that will be for...it's hard. I miss you. It's probably harder for you, being somewhere far away in a different culture and surrounded by strangers. At least I can go about my normal routines for distraction.

I feel I've bared my soul in this letter but it seemed the best place for me to tell you how I feel and articulate it in the way I want, and hopefully not forget something. I think I would become flustered and embarrassed telling you in person. I do hope you see this soon, as it means you finished your mission quickly. I have to remind myself not to pick up the 'phone and start dialling your number when I want to tell you something.

You asked me if I would wait for you. I've waited many years to find someone like you, so a few more weeks or months is nothing. But please stay safe, and come back to me soon. Even if the time away has given you a chance to reflect and you find that maybe your feelings have changed, I will still be here as a friend.

Always yours,
Allie


September 30th, 1947

[Personal journal entry - Det. Ch. Insp. Cunningham (in code)]

On complete radio silence. Shouldn't even be writing this in case something happens to me but am writing in code to be translated back home. Two months and counting with no contact with Allie actually hurts. My own company leaves a lot to be desired sometimes, and I've realised she keeps me grounded. When things get serious and I'm dealing with spies and gun-runners and bad guys, her light-hearted stories of the locals and her clients remind me there's a whole world that's just living, unaware of the machinations of a foreign government that could spell disaster for Europe if no one stops them.

She keeps me going too. I won't be doing this forever - won't be able to do this forever - and she gives me hope that I'll actually have a normal life and settle down with someone (her?). I'm missing the kids and their laughter and stories and arguments, and Kiki's express train impression, and Socks' little mews when she wants attention, and being in a crazy household full of noise. And most of all, I'm missing Allie. I finally took the step in our relationship we both wanted but I left it until the night before I came away and I realise that I have to finish this up as soon as I can so I can get home and apologise for leaving her hanging like that.

If I don't...please forgive me, Allie.


October 14th, 1947

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

The W.I. were having a coffee morning and fair in the village hall yesterday and although I don't belong (it's run by most of the older ladies and I haven't yet found myself feeling comfortable enough with any of them), apparently news of my baking skills had been spread via Hilda and I was called upon to provide some cakes and biscuits for them. I didn't mind, anything to help the local community, and it gave me a chance to play with some new recipes as I hadn't baked in a while. I spent the day previous getting some of the offerings ready, but there were the last few that I finished off that morning and I was expecting Mrs. Hanson to come and collect them. I was invited to attend but I begged off, claiming I had some work to do. In actual fact I just didn't want to socialise that day; the children hadn't written to me recently and no one had heard from Bill in a few months so all I wanted to do was curl up in my chair and do some sketching.

I had cakes on various surfaces and managed to box up most of them but one was just cooling off and I was lost in the bottom cupboard trying to find a suitable tin to put some biscuits in when I heard the door go. I had my hands full and thankfully I'd not left the chain on, so I called, "The door's open!" as I sorted through. "You're earlier than I expected, I'm just boxing everything up for you and if you don't have any bags I can find some for you if you need..." Someone came into the kitchen and when I finally managed to select the right tin and put the others back in their places, I stood up and turned round. Fully expecting to see Mrs. Hanson stood there, I was so shocked to see Bill that I accidentally dropped the tin.

I don't think either of us noticed because after I exclaimed his name, he swept me up in his arms and kissed me thoroughly. I'd spent long nights replaying our parting over and over in my mind and found myself doubting whether or not it had happened, or whether he meant it, and so I was overjoyed to know that he truly wanted me. Neither of us spoke for a while, and when we did pull slightly apart, he continued to drop light kisses on my nose, my cheeks, my forehead...almost as if he wanted to make sure I was real.

"I missed you," he said, and I just smiled up at him, trying to convince myself that he was real too.

"I missed you too," I told him. He held me for a moment, then took a deep breath and grinned at me.

"Mmmm, smells wonderful. You didn't need to do all this baking to welcome me home," he joked, and I shook my head in amusement. As he's here, I'll keep the jam tarts back; I know his weakness when it comes to baked goods.

"They're for the W.I. morning. I was expecting Mrs. Hanson to collect them and take them to the village hall. But I may be able to lose a couple of things..." His eyes lit up when he saw the tarts, then he looked back at me, his expression softening.

"Oh, Allie, I'm sorry for being away for so long. And then when I got back and saw your letter..."

I think I blushed a deep red then, because he laughed a little and kissed my forehead. "You read it?"

"Of course I did. That's why I rushed down to see you without calling. I wish I'd been able to do the same for you, to reassure you...I just couldn't risk it. It would have been too dangerous, if it had fallen into the wrong hands..."

I touched his cheek. He looked tired and there appeared to be some fading bruises to his neck, disappearing into his collar, but other than that he seemed well. "You kept yourself safe."

"As well as I could." He let me touch the bruising just to point out I'd noticed, but I didn't ask and he didn't tell. Maybe one day he will; he's told me about some of his other missions and maybe he just has to wait until the confidentiality is lifted (if at all). "I'm getting too old for all of this," he said lightly, but I think he was half serious. He's certainly not old, just barely the other side of forty and extremely fit and strong - enough to give men half his age a run for their money (and according to Joe and Sam he frequently does when he's training the new recruits) - but when he's been in that line of work for so long I can imagine it starts to become a strain. I told him off for claiming he was too old and he laughed and then kissed me again, so we spent another pleasant interlude until we were interrupted by a loud knock at the door. I must have looked a little flustered as he chuckled at me and I know that I could feel my cheeks burning when I opened the door to Mrs. Hanson and her niece, Sarah.

I ushered them through to the kitchen where Bill had picked up the tin I'd dropped earlier and was putting away the items I'd not managed to box up before he surprised me. The jam tarts were nowhere to be found and he winked at me when I caught his eye.

Mrs. Hanson and Sarah weren't usually particularly chatty people, and for a moment they seemed downright speechless to find a man in my kitchen but he introduced himself and did his best to charm them. Sarah was giggling and fluttering her eyelashes at him but Mrs. Hanson was harder to crack and she cast a disapproving glance at me when I handed her the bags they'd brought with everything ready inside.

"I'm sorry you don't feel up to gracing us with your presence," she commented, referring to earlier when I'd begged off actually going, and I felt Bill stiffen beside me even though he remained silent. "Will you be collecting your tins later or will you require someone to drop them off for you?"

I'd expected some judgement (especially since Hilda had warned me the entire W.I. was on board asking me to donate except for Mrs. Hanson) but the open animosity surprised me. What I did behind closed doors was my business. "Hilda will be collecting them for me, so there's no need to worry about cleaning or storing them. I do hope you raise lots of funds today, Mrs. Hanson."

"I'm sure we will," she sniffed, "with or without your aid."

I seemed to be quite attuned to Bill as I could almost feel the silent affront radiating from him. His earlier charming demeanour was gone and he offered to see them out in a tone that brooked little argument. After quick farewells they were gone and I went back into the kitchen to see them walking back up the garden path, talking rapidly and glancing back every so often.

"Oh no..." I murmured, and Bill paused as he came in behind me, about to say something.

"What's wrong?"

"I've just realised that they were able to see us all the way down the path before they knocked on the door...I'll be the talk of the town soon." Bill glanced at the window and understood what I meant immediately, but surprised me by moving closer and pulling me into him.

"Well let's give them something more to talk about," he said, and kissed me again. I honestly don't know how long they were there for; whether they continued straight out of the gate and onto the road or whether they paused to watch the widow behaving scandalously in her kitchen in full view of them, but I also didn't really care. Bill was back, and that's all that mattered to me. He did ask me later if the idea they talked about me behind my back bothered me and I admitted that sometimes it does but I have some lovely friends in the village who rarely let a bad word about me go unquestioned. Mrs. Hanson is quite old-fashioned and perhaps my lifestyle is a little too 'modern' for her.

Thankfully there were no more disturbances for the rest of the day, which was a blessing when Bill and I found we couldn't keep our hands off each other. Of course, one thing led to another. I'm not even going to go into further detail in here; those memories are for me and me alone. I wrote before when Bill kissed me before he left that he was at once strong and gentle, passionate and soft, and today just proved those words right even more. I never felt this way with John. Our love was different; more warmth and contentment. There's something exciting and dangerous (and of course passionate) about Bill, and I get butterflies whenever I think of him, even if he's beside me.

I'm writing this as we lay in bed, considering whether or not to get up and have something to eat as we've let the day disappear and it's rather late. Bill's looking over my shoulder, which is rather distracting. He's promised that as he's read one of my personal journal entries (of a rather significant step forward in our relationship) he'll return the favour and let me read one of his. I didn't even know he kept a journal. It must be far more fascinating than mine.


November 4th, 1947

[Letter from Polly Sullivan to Alison Mannering]

Dear Alison,

I know that I haven't heard from you regarding my last letter because you do not agree with what I have to say. As your older - and only - sibling, it is my duty to watch out for you. If I feel that you are too close to a situation I'll advise you and provide another point of view to help you make an informed decision as to whether it is best for you to continue. I am concerned that the Detective Inspector brings far too much danger into your lives, which far outweighs any positives that he may bring. I can't tell you how to live your life, but I can certainly tell you any concerns which you may not be able to see.

However, I am actually writing to you to let you know that Jocelyn has been ill for a while now. I believe it may be down to the energy he has expended trying to get this book published, and all the demands the historical society has placed upon him for papers and talks. We have decided to take time over the winter and rent some rooms in a hotel in Jordan. We have made arrangements to rent out the cottage and will be flying next week. Jocelyn has been taking an interest in some ancient history and we are close to many excavation sites so there will be something for us to do. Please find the address below for any contact you may need to make.

Your sister,
Polly


November 23rd, 1947

[Personal journal entry - Det. Ch. Insp. Cunningham]

Have been in and out of the field recently and attending too many briefings to count, but managed to see Allie for a weekend. She seemed troubled and confided that Polly apparently didn't approve of me. Can understand from Polly's point of view; I came into their lives during a fairly dangerous case and since then there seems to have been no end of adventures, danger and violence. But Allie is a grown woman who is extremely able to make her own decisions and if she is fine for our relationship to continue then Polly will just have to accept it. Think Allie likes to pretend that Polly's views don't affect her and she doesn't need her approval, but I could see the letter had an effect on her.

Not sure I can get Christmas off this year (again) as we're short staffed - some of the guys are out of the country and rightly so those with families get priority for time off - and my promise to Allie I would take her away for a week or so to my house on the coast doesn't look like it's going to be fulfilled this year, so that's my New Year resolution.

Did however get an invite from Louise and Temple to attend a New Year dinner party and it looks like we may be able to swing it. Allie was worried about the kids but it soon came to light that the Temples' flat is a little too small and some mutual friends had offered the use of their country mansion, so there would be plenty of room to stay and there would be other children of a similar age there for the kids to mingle with. She hasn't told them yet but is going to spring it on them when she collects them after term finishes and is going to take them shopping for formal-ish wear.

Don't know about anyone else, but I'm just looking forward to seeing Allie in an evening dress again.


 

December 27th, 1947

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

This year seems to have flown by, and I'm taking some time to sit and reflect on the changes that have come about in our lives. The biggest change is obviously the step Bill and I have taken forward in our relationship, but also I'm grateful for the chance to realise my dream of opening a gallery (which is still seeing excellent sales despite the time of year!), and I feel that I've watched the children take leaps and bounds in confidence. Their school reports are actually very good, despite the boys in particular dismissing their lessons as mostly time-wasting, and they're taking much more interest in the extra-curricular activities that their schools offer. Dinah and Lucy-Ann are excelling in their lacrosse, and because they did so well in their county competition there is talk of them joining the school team for the national competition. Lucy-Ann has taken on other sports including hockey and netball, whereas Dinah has channelled her creativity into writing and has been corresponding with Louise and Paul.

The boys are doing well on their cricket team but they don't enter into the county competitions, preferring to spend their time on other pursuits. Jack is set to take over the camera club and nature society with the help of the current prefects, and Philip has been considering joining the cadets. He's not entirely sure which branch yet, as he doesn't want to pursue a career in the military but I think there is a little more than just hero-worship when it comes to Bill and he really wants something that will give him good standing to join the police when he's old enough. He's only just started talking seriously about it, so I think Bill will sit down with him and talk through options.

Their adventures terrify me and it's something I would be extremely happy to miss out on next year (or ever again!) but there are positives that come out of them and I'm proud to watch these four grow in confidence, character, strength, level-headedness and kindness.

Bill and I haven't yet told the children about us. Although I'm not hiding it from them, this relationship feels so new and I want to enjoy something that's just mine. Bill understands that, as I didn't want him to think I was ashamed of it at all!

He's currently in London in the office but has been ringing every day (which the children love) and they're counting down until New Year's Eve. Louise and Paul wanted to throw a dinner party but found that their flat was a little small for the people they wanted to invite (and wanted to include the children, for which I was extremely grateful). Louise was talking to one of her London friends and she offered the use of her country mansion. She's spoken of Phyllis Drummond before but I haven't yet met her. Apparently Sir Graham went to school with her father who's a scientist and has done some work for the government, and when one of his experiments came under the scrutiny of a group selling secrets to foreign governments, she met her husband, Captain Hugh Drummond. They know a lot of the Metropolitan lot that Paul associates with, so she didn't feel as if she were inviting a group of strangers into her home and said to Louise that she'd help with the planning. It's turned into something a little larger than Louise was intending but she's looking forward to it. The children are all invited as a few other guests have children of similar ages, and there's plenty of rooms to stay in so we don't have to leave early. It's not actually too far from here, and a fairly direct route from London.

I wanted to help as much as I could but I can't go up much earlier as I have the children and wouldn't want them loose in the house - goodness knows what they'd get up to! We were going to meet Bill there but he's coming to collect us the morning of New Year's Eve and take us up, then bring us back New Year's Day and hopefully stay for a few days before the children go back to school, which they're ridiculously excited about. We haven't yet exchanged presents which is another thing for them to look forward to. None of them can wait to show off their new outfits which are a combination of purchases from when I took them shopping as soon as term ended, and in Lucy-Ann's case, a dress pattern that she chose and we made over the last week. I may have treated myself to an evening gown as well! The most 'formal' dresses I have are still a little casual, and are fine for a gallery opening or dinner with Louise and Paul but certainly don't come close to anything suitable for black tie, which is what the invitation specifies. I have to admit, the thought of Bill in a suit and tie is extremely enticing, and I've indulged myself in a little feminine 'preening' recently, as I want to make him proud to have me on his arm. Occasions like these aren't regular in our calendars, so allow me the opportunity to go all out!