Evie Harrison Jenkinson
Personal Diary, 1940
“…And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever…amen.”
I turn away from the woman softly praying aloud on her knees in the front pew of the stone church in Hambleden, tears running down her cheeks from her red, swollen eyes.
I try to swallow a sob in my throat, dry with disbelief. My eyelids flicker closed with tears threatening to escape, and for a moment I can’t look up. Eventually, my gaze rises to the cross up at the altar, and with a tear rolling down my cheek, a sharp whisper escapes my mouth, “How can you let this happen?”
I just stand there, motionless. Blank.
When I finally turn around to leave, my mother is standing in the stone archway. With a tearful nod, she silently slips a well-worn handkerchief into my hand with the initials “ESH” embroidered on it, which I presume is for my tears.
“Who is ESH?” I murmur as I stare at it.
To my surprise, it has a weight to it—the center drops to the middle of my hand and slowly I unfold it. Nestled in the fabric is a small pocket watch. Or is it a locket? The outside frame is the most exquisite detail I have ever seen—surely it cannot have been made by hand. Beautiful, rich swirls in the wood’s grain trace around small openings carved into the metal overlay. Through the openings, impossibly small dials with perfect teeth turn in a circle as the seconds tick by. I am mesmerized.
My mother doesn’t say a word. She gently puts her hand on my cheek, turns, and walks out.
I look back down at the watch. I know nothing about clocks. The top has a round knob, much like one would see on a gentleman’s pocket watch. When I turn it, it makes a satisfying click. It is almost soothing as I twist it between my fingers. I slip it into my pocket and start the walk back home up the lane, crunching pebbles into my leather riding boots. The evening breeze nips at my neck as I turn my collar up on my coat and warm my hands in my pockets. I think of the woman crying in the front pew of the church, her daughter ready to be laid to rest in the graveyard nearby—the little girl I couldn’t save three days ago.
Her name is Hattie, her face full of freckles and joyful laughter we never thought could be silenced.
Her father is away serving allied forces in France. Her mother, left behind to tend the bakery they have been running for three generations, is fighting the daily battle for normality in a war-torn world. Hattie is known for being frequently, yet gently, scolded by her mother for pressing the baguettes too hard as she so loved the satisfying crunch it made. I always buy the crunched ones from little Hattie.
Living west of the bombing in London, we knew there was a possibility of a hit. Mother and Tom are in Chaldon with our car, tending to Great-Aunt Nellie. I am to stop in the village for a few things and check the post.
The rain is relentless. I borrow my brother’s hunter green bicycle as it still has the basket attached. The lane is already a mire, and no amount of peddling gets me anywhere. I walk the bicycle the rest of the way, soaked but smiling as I see Sophie and Hattie jumping about outside in the puddles by the bakery. I wave to them as they flash me their beaming, toothless grins.
“Have you lost another tooth, Miss Sophie?” I ask with a laugh.
“Yes Miss Evie! It’s my second!” She proudly proclaims back with a lisp.
I balance Tom’s bicycle against the village’s old fountain in the square, sheltering for a moment under the trees and shaking out my hair. The post office faces the square past a few of the cottages and I am thankful for the reprieve from walking the bicycle. The wooden door opens before I can grasp it—Finn Loghan stands in the doorway with his red hair and growing smile, summoning me in from the rain.
“Aye, Evie, soaked to the bone are ye? Why isn’t yer hood up?” he offered in his Scottish tongue.
I flash him a coy smile. “Look, I suppose one reaches a point where they just can’t get any wetter. Why fight it? Oh dear, I’ve muddied your mat.”
“Why fight it, indeed…” He flashes one back.
Finn goes behind the mail counter and hands me a tea towel. “What is that for, my pinky?” I scoff.
“Yer an English lass, aren’t ye all born holdin’ umbrellas?” He scolds back, feigning offense. I yank the tiny postage stamp of a towel and wipe the mud and rain off my arms, face, and brown curls. Finn pulls down two teacups and pours steaming water over bags of Earl Grey. He plops a small slice of lemon in one and slides it to me.
“Ah, good sir, I do believe you are learning our ways.” I bury the lemon with my teaspoon and blow the steam away from my lips.
He chuckles as he turns to the back wall to sort through mail. “What ye need is a good single malt Bruichladdich if ye ask me, it’ll warm ye right up—and put hair on yer chest.”
Finn is a bench joinery apprentice. Until I met him I hadn’t the foggiest idea what that even was. I thought it was just carpentry, but Finn tells me this work is lighter and more ornamental. He lives with his father and little sister, Celeste, in the village a few doors down, spending some of his time working the post office for Mr. Blannery, who is frequently ill at home with his lung condition. Finn’s rough, warm hands reach for a parcel from the top shelf and I watch the muscles of his back as he reaches. I catch myself staring, then flush over my teacup and stare sideways at the poster of Churchill’s “Keep Calm & Carry On” pasted to the wall.
Finn pulls the parcel down and slides it across the counter to me. “Post is slow, looks like this was over two weeks ago.” He squints as he notes the date of the ink stamped on the side. “Christ, I hope it’s not another spongecake from yer dear Auntie Nell!”
I gently slap his hand away. “Well none for you, then.” I hold back a smirk. My god, he is beautiful. His red hair is just slightly too long and starting to curl at the ends. A single curl threatens to cover his left eyebrow. He smells of wood shavings, scotch, and the lemon he cut for my tea.
“Do ye fancy a real drink later there, lass?” His eyes meet mine. I feel the heat rise up again.
Why does my body betray me when I am around him?
“Let’s just see, shall we? I promised Mrs. Hughes I’d pop in to check on her later, but perhaps if I’m free after that…”
He smiles again, taking the bait, “Aye, I’ll pop by later, then.”
The pull between us aches in my belly, and I know deep down what we cannot have while the world is trying to end.
He reaches for the door behind me and brushes past my arm, sending electricity down my back. I pop my hood up as he sheathes his hands in his pockets, and I walk away back down the lane with my parcel, biting my lip and fighting a bittersweet smile. I feel him watching.
The rain teems down mercilessly as I make my way back to the bicycle. Hattie reaches for my hand as I approach the bakery and smell the deep aroma of the farmhouse loaves baking. My mouth waters.
“Mummy says she needs you to come see Juni and Hyacinth tomorrow because they aren’t milking well,” she informs me.
“I’ll come by when I have the car, Hattie. Tell your mum not to worry.” I had been frequently helping Hattie’s mum with their farm. The little hanging bell rings as I walk into the quaint bakery as Hattie pulls my hand in tow.
“Two of the sourdough and a cottage loaf, love?” Her mother asks, wiping flour from her hands on her apron.
“Yes please,” I reply. “Oh, and I’ll come by for Juniper & Hyacinth tomorrow if that’s ok—the car is down in Chaldon.”
I gather the wrapped bread in my arms and wink at Hattie and Sophie as I leave, the warmth from the loaves blooming against my chest. A flash of lightning catches my eye across the square through the rain, and a thunderclap booms over us a moment later. I turn around, surprised to see part of a tree on fire and I realize in my horror that I am utterly mistaken when I look up.
It isn’t thunder.
Three German planes are heading our direction. There is no time to think. Gunfire shatters windows as the bread drops from my grasp and I turn to run, but trip to my knees. “Miss Evie!” I hear cries behind me towards the direction of the bakery. A car explodes in the square and the explosions get closer each moment. Plumes of smoke rise as the flames begin to settle in. I can barely see as I cover my face with my scarf to breathe.
Suddenly Finn emerges through the smoke, ash on his face, as he runs towards me.
“Evie, ye need to go!” He throws his arm around me, pulling me up.
“The girls…” I cough through my scarf. “They’re behind us.”
I weave through the smoke and fire. Hattie is on the ground, her eyes closed with her face cut open by shrapnel.
She is breathing.
We fly to her and Finn scoops her up into his arms. Another explosion blasts nearby. “We have to go. Now, lass!” He shakes me as he turns to run.
I don’t know how, but we find ourselves at the end of the lane and turn toward the stream. I know exactly where Finn is heading. We slide down the muddy embankment and bolt to the water. Trees canopy over the stream on both sides—exactly where pilots can’t see. Blood runs down Finn’s back from Hattie’s face and I choke back my fear as we splash down the center of the water. To our relief, the bullet sprays don’t follow us, but in the distance, the deafening thunder grows louder. I follow Finn up through a field trail towards a row of houses, where we slip into someone’s back garden through an archway lined with rose bushes, hiding us from view. My cheek is cut open from tearing past one of the rose thorns.
To my terror, I look up to see another two planes coming in our direction. I hold Hattie in my arms as she chokes on her own blood. Her stridored breath draws in as she turns blue, then white. As her innocent hand falls from mine, my knees buckle and meet the soaked ground. One plane dives low—so low I can see the pilot’s goggles as he turns toward us. A large dark metal object falls from the plane and lands with an enormous splash into the swimming pool nearby. Finn braces over us, ready for the end—he yells something through the sound of the plane engines but I cannot say what. My ears are ringing. Blinded by tears and deafened from sobs of grief, I crumple in two.
I squint one eye open.
Mercifully, the bomb doesn’t go off. We don’t stay long enough to figure out why.
Over and over, the last few days resound nauseatingly in my head as I continue my walk home. My hand returns to the watch in my coat, heavy and steadily turning in my fingers like a smooth stone. I welcome the rain with my face when it starts to fall again, as if somehow I can be washed away. The cut on my cheek is still tender and hurts even more when the cold drops hit it.
“I couldn’t save you,” I say aloud to her memory. I don’t know why I live when she barely had even started – surely no child deserves a life cut short by hatred?
I close my eyes and let the rain erase my tears. The twisting sound soothes my nerves as I wind it. My thumb finds the top and it clicks down.
The rain—what on earth?
I open my eyes to the deafening silence of absent raindrop sounds around me as I walk, but what I see defies comprehension. I stop dead in my tracks.
The rain, it’s stopped. Not stopped—suspended. All around me, I turn and it’s the same—drops hanging in the air, unmoving.
Have I gone utterly mad?
I blink again, yet there is no change. Just suspended drops of rain surrounding me in dead silence. I reach out with my hand to touch them. They are wet, cold—my hand can feel them. They are real. “Why are they not falling? What is wrong with me?” I bellow.
Breathing heavily, my heart races as I tear through them. I reach my doorstep and burst through. “Mother!” I cry out in the silence. “Mother? Tom? Where are you?!”
I walk into the empty kitchen and find a note on the counter:
“Find me outside when you are ready.
Bring the watch. Press it when you see me.
I turn cold. How does she know this?
Opening the back door to our garden, I walk through the impossible raindrops around the hedges to our homemade pond filled with Koi. Mother is standing there, still, with her back to me. My heart races as I reach into my pocket and pull out the watch, fingers fumbling as I reach down and press the small knob.
The rain falls freely around me, the wind surrounds us. The trickle of the fountain in the pond cuts through the silence, and all is as if nothing has happened.
“Mother, what-t on earth…” I stammer, eyes wide, backing away to a garden bench. My knees suddenly are heavy.
“You must have questions, Evie.” My mother replies, turning around. “I need you to know that you are safe. I am safe. You have no idea how long I have been searching for the right moment to tell you.”
“Tell me what?” My heart is racing, the confusion blinding and I find my throat drying in fear again.
“I need you to trust my timing,” she began, sitting on the bench. “The day you were born, the world became smaller to me—you, Tom, and your father were my entire world. I wanted to shut out the rest of it. War, famine, disease. For 25 years, I had tried to change it. And when you were born, I finally put it away. I couldn’t do it anymore.”
“Put what away?” I asked.
“The watch, my dear. It is our duty to protect it, the secret—our secret. The one the women in our family have been guarding with our lives for almost 200 years.” She looked at me, tears welling up in her eyes.
“All I can tell you is when we press the crown—the knob on the top of the clock there,” she pointed to the clock, “time will not move. The earth does not move, and everything and everyone on it is suspended. You are alone in that eternity. When you press it again, it’s as if nothing ever happened.”
I sit in silent disbelief. This isn’t happening. It feels like an eternity before I speak.
“Who or what is ESH?”
My mother walks past me and motions for me to follow inside the house and up to the attic. I haven’t been up here for years. Old furniture, paintings, and stacks of books with decades of dust lay untouched on white canvas covers.
“I know what you tried to do for Hattie. You would have stopped it if you could. Your entire life I have watched you reach out to others. Evie, you have the brave heart it takes to protect our secret.”
She reaches into an old leather coach box with three locks and the initials ‘ESH’, pulling out a thick leather-bound book with the sillage of centuries on it, and hands it to me. “Her history is in these pages. She wrote down what she learned, who she saved, who she couldn’t, and her hope for us and the future. Guard it well, and never speak of the clock to another living soul until you pass it down.”
“Who?” I press again.
“Elizabeth Scott Harrison.” She points to the initials.
I stare at the book. “How?“
“She is our ancestor, Evie. She started it all.” She gently places her hands on my face and lifts my quivering chin, “What you do with it now is your choice—and yours alone. Your fate is up to you.”