We get a sneak peek at The Dandelion Years. the brand new novel from the bestselling author of Summer at the Lake, Erica James.
From wartime Bletchley to a modern day Suffolk village, The Dandelion Years is a gorgeous tale of friendship and love, out in hardback, eBook and audio on 26th February.
It had taken several days of ruthless sorting, but finally Saskia was down to the last of the boxes of books her father had stored in her workshop. She had come across only a few items of any interest and didn’t hold out much hope this last box would yield anything but the usual tat.
Kneeling on the floor, she opened the cardboard box and found a jumble of paperbacks – Jeffrey Archer, Len Deighton, Frederick Forsyth, Jack Higgins. Beneath them was a large family Bible; it was the sort of hefty sized Bible she and her father regularly came across. Mostly they were from the late nineteenth century, big solid items that to the untrained eye looked hugely impressive, if only for the sheer weight and size, but in terms of collectability they were in the category of two-a-penny. Anyone genuinely interested in collecting Bibles soon wised up to the fact that connoisseurship was the name of the game.
This one didn’t look to be anything special; it was certainly no Gutenberg. It wasn’t in especially good condition either, the corners of the front were badly scuffed and knocked about, what gilt had applied was rubbed away in places, and the spine was cracked and faded. A black ribbon had been tied around it, width-ways as well as length-ways, suggesting that the spine was so badly damaged some of its pages had come loose.
Or maybe there were long forgotten mementos of pressed flowers, letters or photographs tucked within the pages for safekeeping. Saskia was always finding things like that, and thinking of somebody wanting to capture a particular moment in their life, even if it was just a theatre ticket or a bus or train ticket, never failed to touch her.
Resting it on her knees, she untied the ribbon and opened the Bible. Disappointingly there was no family history page at the front and the title page was almost ripped in two. After carefully turning it over, she flicked through the first few pages that made up the book of Genesis, many of which were damaged and spotted with damp. She had restored countless family Bibles over the years, just like this one, and she liked the sense of history the book gave the family who, by virtue of wanting to have it restored, cared about the tradition of passing the Bible onto the next generation. But sadly this one must have reached the end of the family line, or perhaps had been inherited by somebody who didn’t treasure the past.
She heaved the Bible over onto its front to check the back, and had it almost flat on her lap again when she had the oddest sensation; it was as if she’d felt something move inside the book. She gave the Bible an experimental shake and yes, there it was again, a barely perceptible little thud.
Her curiosity roused, she stood up and carried the Bible over to her workbench. She flicked through Genesis again, then through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. She then took hold of a sizable block of pages and turned them over in one go. It was at 1 Samuel that a shiver worked its way up her spine.
For there, nestled within a deep rectangular recess cut into the rest of the pages of the Bible, was a black leather notebook. This was a first for her, never had she come across a find like this before. It was exactly the kind of thing she had tried to do as a child with an old phone book – she had spent days painstakingly cutting the pages with a pair of scissors only to give up in frustrated disillusionment at the hopelessness of the task.
But here somebody had gone to an inordinate amount of trouble to make a perfect job of creating a place in which to conceal a notebook. It was such a snug fit inside the recess, she decided the best way to get the notebook out was to tip the Bible upside down. She did this and with a bit of a shake, the notebook was released from its hiding place and landed on the workbench with a soft thump, along with a faded buff manila envelope.
She opened the envelope first, feeling in some way it might explain what the notebook contained. But really it was an act of delayed gratification and was a typical example of her self-restraint, of keeping the best till last, for instinctively she was sure the notebook was going to be more interesting than the usual keepsakes she came across. Why else had someone gone to so much trouble and hidden it so cleverly?
What she retrieved from the envelope was a single sheet of paper: it was a letter. She placed it on the workbench and studied it in the way she would when assessing a book in need of repair. A5 in size, it had been folded in half inside the envelope. The paper itself was of good quality and discoloured with age, as had the ink used. Very likely the ink had originally been blue, but now, faded with time, it was a faint bluey-black colour. There was no address at the top, only a date in the right hand corner – September 1943.
My dearest darling,
What a fearful bore this has all been, stuck in bed for days on end and with no way of letting you know how I was. I feel so very queer I don’t even know what day of the week it is!
I am now without that curious little thing called an appendix, which I believe serves no purpose other than to take one unawares and very nearly burst. I’m told that this was what happened to me and that I’m lucky to be alive. That’s probably Mummy exaggerating matters, but I must say I hope never to go through a similar experience.
I have no idea when I shall return to work, but if you should be able to visit me, I’m sure it would speed my recovery. I make a terrible patient, so please come at once to cheer me up! I miss you more than words can say my darling.
With all my love,
Your very own
P.S. Give my love to Billy and the others.
P.P.S. Apologies for brevity, but Nanny Devine is waiting to post this for me.
Saskia read the letter through one more time and then reached for the notebook with eager hands.