This story is a one-shot, completely separate to Rushing In (or anything else I have posted for that matter). It was one of those joyous little tales that wrote itself in an evening, after rattling around in my head for a week or more. It is set before the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and came from listening to the film's commentary about their decision to name Mrs Pevensie Helen. There is too much Narnian history in that name to let it be coincidence...
I hope that the story is enough to stand itself, but there are elements of The Magician's Nephew that I hope will please those who have read that wonderful book. If you haven't read it, I would recommend turning off the computer now, getting a copy and losing yourself for a few hours. Although, if you'd like to read this first and let me know what you think, I would like that too :)
Summary: Getting the right children in the right place was never going to be a matter that Aslan could leave to chance. Even prophecies sometimes need nudging in the proper direction.
Mrs Marjorie Brown looked at the sheet of paper that she had been handed by the young man in new starched uniform. It was a list of children's names, ages and family details under the heading 'Evacuees'. "Twenty-eight of 'em," the man said. "They're being put on the train day after tomorrow."
Marjorie said, "But we're a small village. I'm not sure we're going to have enough space for twenty-eight!"
"Some are brothers and sisters, so you won't be needing to split 'em up. And, between you and me, some of the houses round 'ere 'ave got rooms to spare."
"Well, yes, but they're not all suitable for children. Some of the owners are quite elderly, if you understand..."
He shrugged. "Not my problem, dear. You said that you could take these evacuees, and the powers that be 'ave said these are the ones you're getting. I've got another three villages after you, and it's the same all over. There is just going to 'ave to be sacrifices made." He tipped his hat formally. "Good morning."
Once he was gone, she studied the list in more detail. Twenty-eight children, aged between three and fourteen, sixteen boys and twelve girls. There were five sibling groups, the largest was of four children. What was she supposed to do with them? She thought of the village school and wondered how they would cope with such an influx of pupils. Then she smiled. Firstly, she should find a place for them all to stay.
The minister's wife had offered to put up as many children as was needed, but the manse was such a little house. Perhaps she could put the family of four, she checked their surname, the Pevensie's in the attic? And Mrs Leonard could manage another couple squeezed into the back bedroom. She poured herself a fresh cup of tea and set to work with pencil and paper to try to balance the numbers.
Two hours later, she was no closer to a solution. Try as she might, there was no way to squeeze twenty-eight children into the families that had volunteered to take them. It was like trying to put an elephant into a shoebox. There was just no way that it could be done.
But Marjorie was no quitter, and she firmly believed that village must do what it could for the war effort. She thought of what the young man had said.
He had been right; there were a great many houses in the neighbourhood with more rooms than were rightly fair. He would have noticed the Professor's mansion when he came in by train, for it was high on the hill looking down on the main-line from London. The old man lived there alone with that disagreeable housekeeper and some hired help, the youngest of whom had already joined up. Rumour said that the Professor was an eccentric who dabbled in magic, if that could be believed of a religious man. He did not come to the village often, but he was a regular at church. In fact, Marjorie did not think she had ever known him to miss a service. He never came to the sale of works, or the coffee mornings or hymn practice organised by the minister's wife, and he never stayed after the service to thank the minister, but he was in his habitual seat every Sunday at ten fifty am.
She had not considered asking him to take on any of the evacuees. Children needed love and affection as well as a roof over their head, and the thought of little things, bereft of their families, rattling around in such a dismal place just did not seem right to her. Perhaps two of the older children would be suitable, if they could occupy themselves and keep out of trouble. Certainly, not too many as it would not do to overwhelm the Professor, and no little ones that needed the love of a mother. They certainly would not get anything like that from Mrs Macready!
She grabbed up her coat and hat before her resolve failed.
It was a thirty minute walk from the village to the mansion. By the time she arrived, she had settled on the children she would ask Professor Kirke to take. There were two boys - Daniel and Oliver Thomson, aged fourteen and eleven who would be old enough to keep out of the old man's way. Perhaps they would even be some help about the gardens, as they seemed to have fallen into disrepair since the gardener had joined the Royal Air Force.
Despite her planning, however, she could not help being a little nervous when she rang the doorbell to the big house. The sound clattered through the building and she shifted from foot to foot while she waited for an answer.
It was the Professor himself who came to the door. His hair was unruly and he wore an old smoking jacket in fading velvet. There were charred ash holes about the sleeves from the pipe that was clamped firmly in his teeth. His most striking feature, and the one which held Marjorie's attention, were his bright eyes glittering through the half-moon spectacles perched on his nose.
"Young lady," he said.
"I am sorry to disturb you, Professor, but..."
"No need to apologise. Disturbances are the spice of life. Without them, we should all be boring old sots, and one must resist being boring at all costs. Nothing interesting about being boring. Adventures start with a disturbances, my dear, so should be welcomed by all right thinking people."
Marjorie felt her jaw drop open, and closed it quickly. Mad as a hatter, she thought.
"So, what do you require? I trust you did not ring the bell to stand on my doorstep and open and close your mouth like a haddock." He chuckled.
"Evacuees, sir," she said. "The village is getting evacuees in two days, and I wondered..." She hesitated.
"Out with it girl."
"I wondered if you might be able to take on a couple. Boys, sir, two boys, both older, so they shouldn't be too much trouble to you. Might even be able to help in the garden and with chores and the like, once they're used to the fresh air and the exercise. You wouldn't need to do much as they'd just need feeding and sent out to school during term-time. I'm sure they would be no trouble."
His eyes seemed to twinkle even more as he said, "I'm sure Mrs Macready would love having two tearaways running through the corridors."
"Oh, I'm sure that wouldn't be the case," she started to say, then realised that he was teasing her. She smiled. "Do you think that Mrs Macready would be a problem, sir?"
"Humph. Who do you think owns the house? Not the Macready, that's for sure. Don't tell her I called her that. It's a secret."
"Of course not. Thank you sir."
"So, who are these two youngsters that you would like to sully these ancient halls with?"
She pulled out her sheet of paper and showed it to him. She pointed to the names of the boys. "Daniel and Oliver Thomson, brothers from the Camden area of London. Both bright boys by this account, I'm sure they would be a good help around the place. Boys of that age have such energy that needs to be directed into useful enterprise, or so my Mother used to say. Their father is a Doctor in the city and quite well to do..."
She stopped talking when she realised that the Professor was staring at the paper as though he could see a ghost among the list of names. He was quite pale and his hands were trembling. Her first thought was that he was having a heart attack. "Are you all right, sir? Should I get some help?"
He shook his head to clear it. "Quite all right, quite all right my dear," he said, although his voice quavered. "Just a name I thought I recognised. Please continue."
"That really is all. I wondered if you would be able to give them a room for a while. Of course I would keep looking for somewhere else for them to stay, and it is likely that it would only be for a short time, but it is such short notice and I really don't quite know where else to put them."
"What is your name, young lady?"
She was a little nonplussed by the question, but answered "Mrs Marjorie Brown."
"Mrs Brown. Why have you not asked me about these children?"
He pointed at the four Pevensie children's names on the list.
"Professor, I couldn't possibly ask you to take on four children. The minister's wife has offered to put them up in the attic for as long as needed."
"Attics," he said darkly. "Mysterious places, attics. I'd be careful about letting children up there. You never know what adventures they might get up to."
"Are you sure you are all right? Perhaps I should come back later."
"Nonsense. Tell me about these Pevensie children."
With reluctance, she read from the sheet. "There are four of them, sir. Peter is thirteen, Susan twelve, Edmund ten and the little one, why she is only eight. Their parents have asked that they be kept together..."
"Their parents," the Professor said. "What are their names? My eyes are not so good in this light."
The light was perfect, Marjorie thought to herself. "Helen Pevensie, their mother is still in London. Their father used to drive a cab until he joined the army." She had to check the name before reading, "Frank. Frank Pevensie."
"Frank and Helen," the old man muttered to himself and fingered his pipe thoughtfully. "Frank and Helen. It is must surely just be a coincidence. But him a cab driver..."
"Sir? What is the matter?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all. So, it is settled then. The children will arrive in two days time, and Mrs Macready will meet them at the station. I will have rooms ready for Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy."
"I trust there is no problem?"
Marjorie was about to protest. There was no way that the Professor could look after four children, with only that awful woman to help. They were too young, he had no experience, the house was too large...
Yet, despite her misgivings, she paused. Her eye was caught by a picture in the hallway behind Professor Kirke. It was difficult to see in the shadows, but there was something about it that made her shiver. It was a small painting of a lush green land. There was a lion in the foreground and its eyes were so real that she caught her breath. Then she said, "No, I don't think so, sir."
For the rest of her life, Marjorie Brown could never decide why she had allowed the four Pevensie children to go to such an unsuitable home. She did not sleep that night for worry over what she had agreed to. Even when she saw the children well fed and seemingly happy a week later, she could still not shake off the feeling that she had suffered a loss of all reason. It was only when Mrs Trelawney the school tutor reported that the four Pevensie children were as well adjusted as any of the evacuees that Marjorie decided that it not been a mistake after all.
Life moved on. The evacuees settled into their families. The Pevensie children seemed to cope better than most, and when she waved them off at the station back to Finchley some months later, she thought what fine young people they seemed to be. Especially as they each thanked her solemnly for letting them stay with the Professor.
She laughed off their thanks, hugged them warmly and wished them success in whatever they choose to do.
She occasionally thought about them during the war years. She even named her first daughter Lucille after the bright little Pevensie girl.
When Mr Brown returned on leave from the army in the autumn of 1942, he had a bullet in his hand that he showed her. Little Lucille played with it at the fireside while her parents drank hot tea.
"That bullet should have been the end of me," Mr Brown said. "There I am, following Charlie Smith through the streets and I hear this crack. At first, I thought Charlie was shot, but he ran on just the same and I kept following. All the time was this rattling noise, like loose change in a tin, but when you're in the middle of things, you just don't notice things like that. I finished up the day's mission as normal, and Charlie said to me 'Thought you were a goner, lad.' I hadn't a clue what he was talking about, and he told me that he'd seen a sniper take a shot at me."
Mr Brown took something square out of his pocket and handed it to Marjorie.
"Bullet was in there. Darnedest thing I ever saw. Had the thing in my breast pocket, and when I took it out, the bullet was rattling about in it like a sweetie. I'd never have believed it if myself except that the proof of it is there, clear as day."
It was a cigarette tin. There was a circular hole in its base the same size as the bullet that little Lucille was now rolling across the floor. Marjorie turned the case over. The lid was undamaged. The bullet had been shot into it, but had never come out the other side.
The picture on the front of the case reminded Marjorie of a painting she had once seen of a lion on green fields. She could not recall where exactly she had seen it, but it reminded her of the four Pevensie children that had lived with the Professor.
"Guess someone up there was looking out for me," Mr Brown said.
She turned the cigarette case over in her hands and offered a silent prayer to whoever had taken care of her husband in his hour of need. She felt a moment of peace inside her, and an inexplicable feeling of someone's gratitude filled her. It felt like a debt had been repaid, although she had no idea what made her feel that way.
She smiled warmly at her husband, kissed him, and said, "Do you want another cup of tea?"