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The Morning Gift

The Morning Gift

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Published by michie
Twenty-year-old Ruth Berger is desperate. The daughter of a Jewish-Austrian professor, she was supposed to have escaped Vienna before the Nazis marched into the city. Yet the plan went completely wrong, and while her family and fiancé are waiting for her in safety, Ruth is stuck in Vienna with no way to escape. Then she encounters her father's younger college professor, the dashing British paleontologist Quin Sommerville. Together, they strike a bargain: a marriage of convenience, to be annulled as soon as they return to safety. But dissolving the marriage proves to be more difficult than either of them thought-not the least because of the undeniable attraction Quin and Ruth share. To make matters worse, Ruth is enrolled in Quin's university, in his very classes. Can their secret survive, or will circumstances destroy their love?
Twenty-year-old Ruth Berger is desperate. The daughter of a Jewish-Austrian professor, she was supposed to have escaped Vienna before the Nazis marched into the city. Yet the plan went completely wrong, and while her family and fiancé are waiting for her in safety, Ruth is stuck in Vienna with no way to escape. Then she encounters her father's younger college professor, the dashing British paleontologist Quin Sommerville. Together, they strike a bargain: a marriage of convenience, to be annulled as soon as they return to safety. But dissolving the marriage proves to be more difficult than either of them thought-not the least because of the undeniable attraction Quin and Ruth share. To make matters worse, Ruth is enrolled in Quin's university, in his very classes. Can their secret survive, or will circumstances destroy their love?

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Published by: michie on Apr 27, 2009
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02/02/2013

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It was a day of extraordinary beauty: a day that perfectly matched the mood
of Britain's citizens as they celebrated the end of the war in Europe. The soft
blue sky was cloudless, the May-green trees spread their canopy of tender
leaves. Strangers embraced each other, children feasted; bonfires were lit -
and in the bombed squares round St Paul's, the people danced.
There were some, of course, who preferred to rejoice without external
displays of agitation. At Bowmont, Frances and Uncle Mishak spent the day
working in the garden and arguing about the asparagus bed. The need to feed
the populace had enabled Mishak to plant asparagus in a place under the
south wall which Frances now wanted to reclaim for her day lilies. Not that
the outcome was in doubt for a moment: everyone who worked at Bowmont
knew that the bandy-legged old gentleman who seldom spoke could twist
Miss Somerville round his little finger.
But in the Willow Tea Rooms, everything was carnival and joy. Ruth had
intended to celebrate V-E Day at Bowmont, but her son had different ideas.
'I think I ought to go to London and see the King and Queen,' he said.
Questioned further, the five-year-old Jamie said he thought that they had
done well to stay at Buckingham Palace throughout the bombing, and to keep
visiting the troops, and he wanted to tell them so.

'But, darling, there'll be thousands and thousands of people there waiting for
them to come onto the balcony. You won't be able to see them alone.'
James said he didn't mind. A handsome child with dark eyes and his mother's
light, abundant hair, he had retained only one feature from his great-
grandfather: the Basher's iron and indomitable will.
So they went to London and where James went there went his little sister,
Kate - and once it was clear that this was to be a grand reunion, Ruth
accepted the offer of Miss Maud and Miss Violet of a party in the Willow.
London was really one great party that halcyon May day - there were trestle
tables out on the pavements of Belsize Square and Belsize Lane and Belsize
Avenue, so why not in the Willow - and Mrs Burtt, though she was very grand
now (a floor manager in the munitions factory) had offered to come with her
son, Trevor, and lend a hand.
All the same Mrs Weiss, arriving in the cafe, was not at all pleased.
'Mein Gott,' she said disgustedly. 'So many children!'
There were a lot of children. Six years of war had had a startling effect on the
birth rate. Dr Felton and his twins had joined Professor Berger and Jamie in
the expedition to Buckingham Palace, but Janet, up from the country, had
deposited her pugilistic two-year-old so that she could go and look at the
crowds. Dr Levy, now a consultant at Hampstead Hospital, was on duty, but
his new young wife was rocking their infant daughter while Thisbe - back from
Cumberland - trotted at Ruth's heels. And sitting on Leonie's lap, surveying
the uproar from the safety of her grandmother's embrace, was Katy
Somerville.
'So that is why the Lutzenholler has not come,' said Mrs Weiss grimly,
manoeuvring herself on two sticks to her usual table by the hat stand and
taking out her horsehair purse, for it was only by pretending that this was an
ordinary session in the cafe that she could endure what was going on;
But she maligned the psychoanalyst. That people could actually pay good
money to bring their troubles to the soup slayer of Belsize Park continued to
surprise everyone, but it was so. Established in a smart area of St John's
Wood, she was even on this historic day attending to patients who could not
face the world without a session on her couch.
There were other absentees - von Hofmann had said Schweinehund to such
effect that he now said it in Hollywood and the lady with the poodle nursed a
shivering Chihuahua for the poodle had succumbed to old age. But almost
everyone else was there and Ruth, in her role of waitress, was kept busy
running to and fro.
'And Pilly?' asked Leonie, as her daughter passed with Janet's baby on her hip
and a tray of cakes. 'Is she coming?'
'She said she'd try. Sam's picking her up in Portsmouth. Only Mama, you
musn't matchmake!'

'Why musn't I?' asked Leonie, who was convinced that the growing
attachment of Sam and Pilly could be laid at her door. She had kept open
house for all Ruth's friends on the top floor of Number 27 which she had
turned into a comfortable flat. The year when Pilly's petty officer had been
lost at sea and Huw was killed at Alamein had been a hard one, and she had
seen for herself how well those two would suit.
She took a cake from Ruth's tray and pressed it into the hand of her
granddaughter. The anxieties that Ruth and Quin felt about letting their
children go forth in freedom had not affected Leonie. Children, perhaps:
grandchildren, no.
But at three o'clock Ruth handed the baby to Miss Maud and went upstairs to
keep a tryst with the four men who all through the war had travelled, clad in
the khaki of the Pioneers, to bring music to soldiers in outlying barracks, to
tired office workers and housewives in the Blitz… and who today were
performing in a ruined church in a ravaged city in England's heartland to
celebrate the peace.
She turned the knob of the wireless, and they were playing the Schubert
Quartet which she had heard that night at Thameside when she believed a
miracle had happened and Biberstein was, after all, alive.
And yet… Perhaps, it had occurred, this miracle. It was the chauffeur from
Northumberland who now took the melody from Ziller, but as the ravishing,
transcendent music filled the room, Ruth seemed to see a plump and curly-
headed figure who leant out from heaven and lifted the bow of his Amati in
salute - and smiled.
Making her way back into the cafe through the kitchen, she checked on the
threshold and her hand went to her heart. He was coming! He hadn't been
sure if he could get away, but here he was walking across the square, and she
knew that there could be no greater happiness in the wide world than seeing
him come like this towards her.
But others had noted the arrival of Commander Somer-ville. Katy slid off
Leonie's knee and came to pluck at her mother's skirt; even the children fell
silent. Ruth had not thought it necessary to keep her husband's exploits to
herself. Everyone knew that the circles of gold braid on his sleeve denoted an
ever-increasing eminence; that he had been twice torpedoed; that he had
housed twelve Jewish orphans and an experimental sheep at Bowmont and
been awarded the DSO.
For such a hero something was due and Mrs Weiss was against the hothouse
family embrace she could see developing. Stilling Ruth with a wave of the
hand, she manoeuvred herself to her feet - and as Quin entered, she pointed
at him with her rubber-tipped walking stick.
'I buy you a cake?' said Mrs Weiss.

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