A World Between Us

Spain, 1936. Felix, a spirited young nurse, has travelled to Spain to help the cause of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. But she is also following Nat, a passionate young man who has joined the International Brigades fighting Franco. And George - familiar George from home - is not far behind, in pursuit of Felix ... As Spain fights for its freedom against tyranny, Felix battles a conflict of the heart. With the civil war raging around her, Felix must make choices that will change her life forever.

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Neville answered the door. He looked her up and down. ‘About time.’
Her brother stomped off down the hall. Felix sighed and
followed. Home from home. The nurses-in-training were always treated like children at the hospital too. Pausing in front of the mahogany-framed mirror, she patted her hair automatically. At the coat stand she hung up her cape. Nat’s blood had dried to brown on her apron, so she took that off too.

‘We’re in the kitchen, dear. I’ll just put the kettle back on.’ Her mother didn’t sound cross, but that just made Felix feel more guilty.

Mrs Rose was still bending over the gas when Felix walked in. Its hiss stuttered into a roar and Neville stared pointedly at a plate of sandwiches. The crusts were drawing back to reveal ham darkening as it dried along its edges.

‘I’ll take that through now, shall I?’ said Felix quickly. Why didn’t he put a damp tea towel over them? she wondered crossly. Did he want them to spoil?

‘In a minute, my dear.’ Her mother offered a cheek which smelled of Pond’s cold cream. ‘Was it a very long operation? Or was it the trains? Sunday services aren’t what they were, I’m afraid.’

‘Actually I ran into . . .’ Felix still couldn’t quite work out what had just happened. A battle or a carnival? A victory celebration? Definitely an awakening.

Neville’s tight lips alerted Mrs Rose.

‘Felicity, your stocking is torn! And where’s your apron? What would the Hospital think!’

Her mother didn’t often reproach her out loud. Why would she need to, with Neville around? They exchanged glances, which Felix pretended not to notice. That didn’t work.

‘What on earth have you been doing?’ he said, on cue.

A shadow darkened the frosted glass in the back door. George’s entrance crowded the kitchen, and changed the mood. ‘Hello, George,’ said Felix, extra cheerily. ‘Not at the race- track? Don’t tell me the paper’s actually given you a day off!’

Neville’s friend laughed obligingly.

‘Sort of. But no rest for the wicked.’ He was in his shirtsleeves, wiping his hands on a black-smeared rag.

‘So what’s Neville got you doing this time?’ Felix asked. She took the rag from him, ran the tap and offered George the soap dish, still carefully avoiding Neville’s question. Good old George. Perfect timing.

‘Just that blessed lawnmower. Neville was hoping to manage a final mow of the season, but it’s been up to its old tricks, I’m afraid.’

She passed him the hand towel.
‘Nothing you can’t fix, though?’ she said lightly.
‘You know me!’ said George. ‘Take more than a machine to 
defeat me! But it’s too dark now to get the mowing done. Let’s hope the weather holds till next weekend.’

‘We may be lucky, dear. It’s been a lovely afternoon,’ said Mrs Rose, locking the back door.

‘Good thing Felix didn’t get here earlier really. It was more of a job than I’d imagined. But isn’t she looking in fine fettle?’

George quickly straightened his own hair, fair and dishevelled, with damp fingers. ‘Different, somehow . . .’

He looked at her, as if he were trying to work something out.

‘I’m so sorry, Mother,’ said Felix. ‘I honestly didn’t mean to . . .’

‘What a fool I am!’ George struck his forehead with his hand, and went for another save. ‘I should have warned you! Don’t tell me you got caught up in that demonstration? The British Union of Fascists were marching today.’

‘In the East End? Oh dear,’ said Mrs Rose. ‘I wish I’d known.’

‘There was a lot of talk about it at the paper on Friday. I am sorry, Felix. I assumed you’d be safely back home by the time things got going.’

‘Kettle’s boiling, Mother,’ said Neville.

‘Mosley and his biff boys were promising quite a display, I heard,’ George went on. ‘A pretty provocative plan, wasn’t it? Fascists marching through the East End like that. Asking for bloodshed.’

‘Well, they didn’t in the end. The Blackshirts had to turn back. They didn’t have a hope of getting through. Far too many people. It was wonderful. And everyone was singing, and chanting like mad – No pasarán! No pasarán! You know: ‘They shall not pass.’ Like the Republicans in Spain. That’s what people were saying. We won’t let the Fascists through. Not in Madrid. Not in London. At first I thought—’

They were all staring at her.

‘Never mind . . .’ Her voice trailed away. ‘I’ll warm the teapot, Mother.’

Her back turned, she stood at the sink, swirling the water round thoughtfully.

After all that, she hadn’t set eyes on a Blackshirt this afternoon. They hadn’t even got close. Usually you couldn’t miss them. They were always hanging round Whitechapel these days: thuggish-looking men with brass-buckled belts and black boots. She saw their victims in the hospital often enough. When they weren’t using their fists, the Fascists brandished their news- papers like weapons. ‘Read all about the alien menace! European ghettoes pouring their dregs into our country!’ Or simply: ‘The Yids! The Yids! We’ve got to get rid of the Yids!’

Yids like Nat. Nat Kaplan.

Would he really write to her? And what on earth would she write back?

‘The other business, George.’ Neville interrupted her thoughts. ‘Shall we talk about it next door? Felicity? Mother?’

‘Just coming, dear.’ Mrs Rose gently commandeered the teapot. ‘You two go on through. Neville, isn’t the sugar bowl a bit low? Could you possibly . . . ?’

In the sitting room, the table was set with the best china, and the coal in the hearth was made up, but not lit. George’s jacket and tie were back on, his nails clean. Felix stood and fiddled with saucers and spoons, distracted.

‘So. How are the “gee-gees”, George? Keeping you busy?’ ‘Very, as a matter of fact.’
Felix still wasn’t really listening. George’s job as a racing
correspondent didn’t much interest her.
‘Why don’t you sit down?’ he added, gently, moving a chair
for her. ‘You must be exhausted.’
‘I am rather, now I come to think about it. And gasping for

tea, aren’t you?’ Felix collapsed, and looked up at George, behind her. ‘Oh, don’t hover like that. You know you’re at home here. I expect you could do with a rest yourself.’

George considered the options, and sat in the armchair opposite.

‘Well, I’m awfully glad you’re all right,’ he said, and Felix wondered if he was checking her over for damage. A moment later they heard the rattle of the tray at the door and George sprang back to his feet. ‘Here comes the tea now! Thank you so much, Mrs Rose, yes, just one sugar please. Ham? Lovely! Don’t mind if I do.’

‘Yes, please, Mother.’ Felix took two sandwiches at once. ‘I’m starving.’

Finally everyone had a cup and saucer in their hand and George looked at Neville, who nodded briefly.

‘Well, as I was just saying, work is quite frantic.’ George took another sip of tea. Coughed. ‘Though something rather fun’s just come up. I’ve been talking to Neville about it.’

Felix raised her eyebrows politely. He always saw the jolly side of things. You could say that for George.

‘There’s a French filly I’ve been following all season. Corrida, she’s called. Beautiful chestnut. Quite stunning. A three-year- old.’

‘Oh yes?’ Felix stretched out her legs and battled a yawn. She tried to concentrate on George, but into the brief silence in her head crept the thought of Nat, and her exhaustion changed into a secretly buzzing excitement.

‘She took the Hardwicke Stakes at Ascot, the Grand International at Ostend, Prix de President de la Republique . . . oh, all the big ones! Well, the long and the short of it is that her owner – Marcel Boussac – the textile millionaire . . .’ He glanced at Neville. ‘He promised me a story on her if she bagged the l’Arc de Triomphe, and what do you know? She’s done it! This afternoon. Only just heard.’

‘Really?’ Why were they all looking at her?
‘So now you can go to France to interview this horse?’ George flushed.

‘Well, yes, in a manner of speaking. And Boussac of course. But wouldn’t it be rather jolly if the three of us went across? The stables are just outside Paris. We can make a long weekend of it. Next month. After the Grand Prix de Marseille.’

‘Paris?’ That took her by surprise. Paris.

‘You deserve a break, dear.’ Mrs Rose nodded encouragingly. ‘They work you so hard. Sister Macpherson is such a task- mistress.’

But I love my work, thought Felix. Hadn’t it allowed her to escape from all this? And then she thought, Paris! I’m going to Paris!

‘So you’ll come?’ George beamed at her. ‘Of course she’ll come!’ said Neville.

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