Authors: Judy Nunn
‘Tell me how you felt about today’s ceremony, Daniel. How did it affect you personally?’
‘In what way?’
‘In every way. You’re a young man embarking on a military career, and here you are in Aldershot, the
very home of the British army, celebrating 100 years of military tradition. Surely the symbolism of today must have had a tremendous impact upon you.’
As her eyes locked onto his, seeking to make a connection, Daniel knew exactly the tack to take. The way to get to know Elizabeth Hoffmann was to appeal to her intellect. And the way to appeal to her intellect was to give her the best possible interview – one that would, hopefully, surprise her.
‘Symbolism’s fine when you’re dealing with the past,’ he said, ‘but you need to consider the future. It’s all very well to celebrate the
100 years, but what about the
?’ Good, he thought, that had got her attention. ‘Wars don’t go away, you know.’
It was the catchphrase repeatedly trotted out by his superiors in the officers’ mess, and it had exactly the desired effect. This was clearly not the response she had expected and he could tell she was interested.
‘Go on,’ Elizabeth said.
‘The government has developed a dangerous sense of post-war complacency,’ Daniel continued, in an excellent imitation of his superior officers. ‘The assumption appears to be that the army is nothing more than a peacekeeping force in Europe, when in fact our troops are still serving in highly volatile areas – Palestine, Korea, Singapore … Anything could happen. It’s most unwise of the British government to cut back on military funding to the degree that it has.’
Elizabeth didn’t interject, she had no desire to stop the flow. Here was a whole new viewpoint to add to her feature. Post-war unrest in the military – an excellent angle, she thought. Contemporary, and also a touch controversial, particularly given the fact that
she was reporting from Aldershot, the very home of the British army. She looked up intermittently from her notepad to nod encouragement.
‘In my opinion, it’s all because of the Cold War,’ Daniel went on. Gratified by her attention, he stopped imitating his superiors and warmed to his own personal theme. ‘The government’s concentrating its resources on the race for nuclear power, and you can hardly blame them. They can’t rely on America to the extent they’d hoped – the Yanks are keeping their secrets very much to themselves. So if Britain wants to compete with Russia and France in the nuclear stakes – which, of course, she does – then she has to fork out hugely on scientific research. Which is exactly what the government is doing,’ he concluded, reverting to the imitation of his superiors, ‘and, might I add, to the severe detriment of its own armed forces.’
Elizabeth flipped over another page of her notepad and hastily scribbled the last sentence. The speed with which he’d voiced his argument had tested her shorthand skills, but she’d got it all down.
‘Well, Daniel,’ she said finally, leaning back to survey him with new-found respect, ‘for one who’s been in the army a relatively short time, you’ve certainly formed strong opinions.’
‘Not altogether original ones,’ he admitted. ‘Not in regard to the government cutbacks anyway.’
‘It’s all they talk about in the officers’ mess.’
Elizabeth found his admission astonishing. ‘So you were actually quoting your superior officers?’
‘I certainly was, word for word.’ He grinned
conspiratorially. ‘You wanted the opinion of the top brass, didn’t you? Well, now you’ve got it. Just don’t reveal me as the source.’
He was so refreshingly candid that she couldn’t help but laugh. ‘I won’t. I promise. I’ll keep it to “the general feeling amongst many senior-ranking officers …” How does that sound?’
She jotted down a reminder, then again looked up. ‘Why are the Americans so unwilling to share their nuclear secrets with Britain?’ she asked. ‘We’re allies, after all.’
‘Oh, no, we’re not. Not any more.’
She looked a query.
‘The war’s over,’ he said. ‘The Americans lead the field in the nuclear race, and they’re not about to share that power with anyone, including their “best buddy” Britain. And, of course, with the Russians breathing down their necks they’re paranoid about security. They might view us as a friendly nation, but they’re not game to place their trust in us.’
‘Is this “the general feeling amongst senior-ranking officers”?’ She raised an eyebrow teasingly.
But this time Daniel’s response was not frivolous. ‘I wouldn’t know,’ he said. ‘Topics like nuclear power and the Cold War aren’t bandied about so openly by the brass. It’s a pretty logical assumption though, don’t you think?’ She was silent – he didn’t seem to expect a reply. ‘We younger chaps talk about that sort of stuff a lot. After all, it’s a new kind of war we’re going to be facing, isn’t it?’
‘Yes,’ she said thoughtfully. ‘Yes, I suppose it is.’
Lieutenant Daniel Gardiner made a strong impression upon Elizabeth that day. So much so that she allowed a friendship to develop, which was surprising. With the exception of Walter, Elizabeth had avoided friendships with young men – they invited far too much complication. But as time passed and Daniel did not overstep the mark, she could find no reason to deny herself the pleasure of his company. He was fun and his conversation was interesting. Indeed, she could talk to him the way she could to no-one else. Daniel was understanding, sympathetic in a way others were not to the obstacles a woman encountered in a bid for a career. Elizabeth enjoyed having him in her life. It was like having a younger brother, she thought.
As for Daniel … he was smitten. He’d wanted to meet Elizabeth from the moment he’d laid eyes on her during the march down High Street. There she’d been, the sole female amongst the covey of press gathered by the entrance to the park, so conspicuous that surely the eyes of every single soldier on parade must have flickered distractedly in her direction. What young man would
wish to make the acquaintance of such a woman? It had not, however, been his plan to fall head over heels in love. Nor had he been seeking a wife. On the contrary: marriage had been the farthest thing from his mind. But all that had changed now. Daniel, young, passionate and idealistic, had met the perfect woman. He was determined to make Elizabeth Hoffmann his wife.
From the outset, he was aware he must tread with care. Elizabeth had her sights set on a career, and he admired her for it. Should she agree to marry
him, he would not stand in her way, but he knew that any premature attempt at courtship would most certainly frighten her off. He also knew that Elizabeth had allowed no other man into her life, and his ego told him that she found him attractive, although she wouldn’t admit it. He must be patient, he decided. Frustrating though it was, he must say and do nothing until he could sense his feelings were reciprocated.
‘Just listen to this:
Dear Miss Hoffmann …
’ Elizabeth’s tone was cynical as she read the letter out loud. It had been a whole seven weeks since she’d posted her application to
, and the response she’d finally received was decidedly lacklustre.
‘I suppose it’s what I should have expected,’ she’d said when Daniel had joined her in the corner of the little teashop in Victoria Road not far from the post office. It was a regular meeting place of theirs when he was on weekend leave.
She read on. ‘
With regard to your application for employment, we regret to advise that
currently has no suitable position vacant.
‘Note the royal “we”,’ she said, glancing up from the letter with a moue of disgust. ‘And just look at that.’ She jabbed a finger at the name on the bottom of the page. ‘L. P. Ogden, Dep. Ed. It’s not even from the editor.’
Daniel gave her a look of sympathy. She was so bitterly disappointed he felt sorry for her, but he couldn’t help a guilty sense of relief at the thought that she wasn’t about to charge off to London and a whole new life.
We return herewith the feature article
Hundred Years of Marriage: Aldershot and the British Army
which you were kind enough to forward to us
,’ Elizabeth continued. ‘
While we are impressed with the quality of the piece, we must point out that this is not the style we would require from a lady journalist should such a position become available in those sections of
that are favoured by our female readers.
She thumped the letter down on the table, rattling her cup and saucer. ‘How insulting is that! They’re saying don’t bother applying ever again! They’re offended that the article was written by a woman!’
‘It’s a bit of a compliment in a way, don’t you think?’
‘A compliment?’ She looked at him in blank amazement. ‘How on earth could a comment like that be conceived as a compliment?’
‘They said they were impressed by the quality of the piece – that must mean something.’ Daniel was doing his very best to mollify her. ‘Golly, Elizabeth, if they hadn’t known you were a woman, they might well have offered you a job.’
‘Oh.’ Elizabeth’s tirade came to an abrupt halt. ‘You’re right. They might have, mightn’t they?’
‘Bound to, I’d say.’
‘Good heavens above.’ She smiled. ‘I hadn’t thought of that.’
‘Do you mind if I order my tea now?’ He was pleased that his attempt at mollification had met with such success.
But it wasn’t until a week later, and exactly two months from the day they’d met, that Daniel’s major breakthrough occurred.
‘Want to come to the Hippodrome next Saturday?’ he asked casually as they sat near the teashop’s open doors, which afforded the slightest of breezes on what was a surprisingly hot midsummer day. ‘An army chum of mine can’t use a couple of tickets he bought – pity to waste them.’
He’d purchased the tickets himself that very morning in the hope of escalating their relationship. It was all part of his plan.
‘Oh, I’m sorry –’
Elizabeth didn’t appear to find his offer suspect, but the answer was obviously about to be ‘no’, so he dived in with an enthusiastic sales pitch.
‘It’s the new revue that’s on tour, the one the critics have been raving about. We’d get to see it before it opens in the West End. Brilliant stuff, they say.’
‘I know all about the revue, Danny,’ she said with a smile. ‘I work for a newspaper, remember?’
‘So why don’t you want to come?’
‘I do want to come. I’d love to. But I can’t.’
‘Because I’ve promised I’ll have dinner with my parents next Saturday.’
‘You could make that the following weekend, couldn’t you?’ He knew she saw her parents regularly, but her visits didn’t appear to follow any pattern.
‘Because next Saturday’s my birthday, that’s why not. Now stop badgering.’
‘Your birthday? That’s even better. We’ll go to the Hippodrome for your birthday, what do you say?’
Danny. I am
going to the Hippo
drome, I am going to have dinner with my parents. I haven’t seen them for a whole three weeks, and I promised.’
‘Oh,’ he said sulkily, ‘what a pity. I’d have liked to be with you on your birthday.’
She smiled, aware that his childlike petulance was aimed to amuse. ‘Well, you can’t, can you,’ she said briskly. ‘Not unless you swap a West End revue for dinner with Mummy and Daddy, and I hardly think –’
‘What a good idea.’ Manna from heaven, he thought. This was a definite step in the right direction. ‘I’ll come to dinner. I’d like to meet your parents.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. What about the Hippodrome?’
‘My friend can give the tickets to someone else. Don’t worry, they won’t go to waste.’
How on earth had
happened, Elizabeth wondered, but she didn’t question his motives. It was typical of Danny’s impetuosity. And also of his immaturity, she thought, both of which could be rather endearing. She rang her parents and told them there’d be an extra guest for dinner.
‘She’s bringing a
with her,’ Marjorie announced.
Alfred looked up from his journal to where his wife stood framed in the doorway of his study. He had long ceased to be startled by her sudden appearances.
‘She’s bringing a young man where?’
‘Here. To dinner. Next Saturday.’
‘Good God, is she really?’
‘How extraordinary. Why?’
‘I’m not sure. Perhaps because it’s her birthday.’
Judy Nunn’s career has been long, illustrious and multifaceted. After combining her internationally successful acting career with scriptwriting for television and radio, Judy decided in the 80s to turn her hand to prose. The result was two adventure novels for children,
Eye In The Storm
Eye In The City,
which remain extremely popular, not only in Australia but in Europe. Embarking on adult fiction in the early 90s, Judy’s three novels,
The Glitter Game, Centre Stage
, set respectively in the worlds of television, theatre and film, became instant bestsellers. Her subsequent bestsellers,
Kal, Beneath The Southern Cross, Territory, Pacific, Heritage, Floodtide, Maralinga
confirm her position as one of Australia’s leading popular novelists.