Lucy Gordon

One Summer in Italy…

© 2006


NOT much longer-if I can just hold out-please, please, don’t let them catch me…

The soft vibration of the speeding train seemed to be part of her thoughts. It was five minutes late but she should still reach Rome in time to get to the airport and catch her plane home.

Just a hundred miles to Rome-that’s not much really-unless the police saw me get on this train…

Had anyone seen her? She’d hurried, keeping her head down, trying to get lost in the crowd. Nobody had troubled her so far, but it was too soon to feel safe.

Perhaps she would never feel truly safe again. The man she had loved and trusted had betrayed her, throwing her to the wolves to save his own skin. Even if she managed to keep her freedom, the world had changed, becoming ugly and bitter, like the inside of her own mind.

Somebody eased past her in the corridor and she turned hastily away, staring out of the window to conceal her face. Outside, the Italian countryside, bathed in the glowing colours of summer, rushed by, but she was barely aware of its beauty. Only her fear existed.

When she next looked, she could see two uniformed men at the end of the corridor.


She must escape before they reached her.

Edge away slowly. Don’t attract attention. Try to look casual.

She wondered exactly what kind of description of her they had: Name, Sarah Conroy, but answers only to Holly; a young woman in her late twenties, tall, perhaps a little too slim, with light brown hair, cut short, blue eyes and a face with nothing special about it: a face that hadn’t lived very much.

Nondescript. Yes, that was the word for her, and for the first time she was glad. It might save her now.

Here was the end of the carriage. A short step and she was in the next one. It was first class, divided into compartments. But each one had the blinds down and it was too risky to take shelter in one of them without some idea of what she would find.

Without warning, the blind beside her flew up and she found herself staring straight at a little girl. She was about eight years old and in a childish temper. That was all Holly had time to take in before making a lightning decision.

It took a split-second to open the door, dart inside and pull the blind down again.

In the corner a young woman looked up from her book and opened her mouth, but Holly just managed to get in first.

‘Please don’t make a sound. I need your help desperately.’

She realised too late that she was speaking English. They wouldn’t understand a word. But before she could call on her unreliable Italian the child broke in speaking English.

‘Good afternoon, signorina,’ she said with quaint formality, ‘I am very happy to meet you.’

Her temper had vanished as if by magic. She was smiling as, with perfect self-possession, she offered one small hand. Dazed, Holly took it in her own.

‘How-how do you do?’ she murmured mechanically.

‘I am very well, thank you,’ the child responded carefully. ‘My name is Liza Fallucci. What is your name, please?’

‘Holly,’ she said slowly, trying to understand what was happening.

‘Are you English?’

‘Yes, I am English.’

‘I am very glad you are English.’

She was beaming as though she really was glad, as if someone had given her a big, beautiful gift.

The train slowed suddenly and the child nearly fell. The young woman put out a hand to steady her.

‘Careful, piccina. You’re still not steady on your feet.’

Now Holly saw clearly what she had missed before. The little girl was unable to walk properly. One leg was encased in a support, and as she moved she reached out to hold on to the seats.

‘I’m all right, Berta,’ she insisted.

Berta smiled. ‘You always say that, but you want to do too much too soon. I’m here to help you.’

‘I don’t want to be helped,’ Liza told her stubbornly.

She tried to haul herself up onto a seat, but slithered off and was only saved from falling by Holly’s hand. Instead of throwing it off, Liza used it to steady herself, and even allowed Holly to assist her as she wriggled to safety.

Berta gave a wry grimace, but the child’s snub did not seem to trouble her. She was in her twenties, robustly built with a cheerful, good-natured face.

‘I’m sorry,’ Holly began to say.

‘Is all right,’ Berta assured her in careful English. ‘The piccina is often cross with me, but-she hates to be an invalid. I am her nurse.’

‘I don’t need a nurse,’ Liza insisted. ‘I’m well now.’

Her chin set mulishly, and even in her agitation Holly knew a flash of amusement. This little one had a will of her own. But for the moment she was a lifeline.

Berta began to protest. ‘Forse, ma-’

‘Berta, why do you speak Italian?’ Liza demanded. ‘This lady is English and she doesn’t understand you.’

‘I understand some Italian,’ Holly began to say, but Liza interrupted her too.

‘No, no, the English never understand foreign languages,’ she declared imperiously. ‘We will speak English.’ She scowled at Berta, evidently commanding her to keep quiet.

‘How do you know English people are no use at foreign languages?’ Holly asked.

‘My Mamma told me so. She was English and she could speak Italian but only because she’d been here for so long. She and Poppa spoke both languages.’

‘That must be why your English is so good.’

Liza beamed.

‘Mamma and I used to speak it all the time.’

‘Used to?’

‘The Signora dead,’ Berta said softly.

Liza did not reply to this in words, but Holly felt the sudden tightening of the little hand on hers, and she squeezed back.

After a moment, Liza said, ‘She promised to take me to England. I mean to go one day.’

‘I think you’ll like it,’ Holly assured her.

‘Tell me about England. What is it like? Is it very big?’

‘About the same size as Italy.’

‘Do you know Portsmouth?’

‘A little. It’s on the south coast and I come from the Midlands.’

‘But you do know it?’ Liza persisted eagerly.

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