Unable to sleep, Torrens remembered Mrs Smite. He hadn’t thought about Mrs Smite since the war. That was thirty years ago. Now he wondered, as he did not wonder then, how this woman had come to be in that remote rural village. Was her name really Mrs Smite? Or was that the name Torrens and his new mates had made up for her when they came as child evacuees from a London threatened with German bombs and found themselves stuck among a few cottages ornée that had once belonged to a dispersed estate. The village had grown to half a dozen crooked streets of brick-built terraces tight to the ground. Two or three outlying houses, large, landed, detached from one another and the village, rendered white or deep ochre, authentically half-timbered, were defended by centuries-old oak and copper beech trees. Crickle-crackle walls followed the wandering lanes that passing livestock had imprinted on the land.
The village had a fine flint church and a vicarage, a graveyard, a small green and a very small schoolhouse where the evacuees sporadically continued their education. It was a place with few children. But the village had something to fascinate the bored little Londoners. It had Mrs Smite. The name sounded German. They wanted her to be German. A German spy. Someone they had to keep a watch on.
No other structure in Nether Boking was as delicate, as incongruous, as precarious as the rough shed of unpainted boards where Mrs Smite lived alone.
The shack stood at ...
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