Catch Me If You Can by Margaret Pearce
In 1941, Darwin is bombed, and the war against the Germans and the Japanese gets alarmingly close. While those in the area are raising money for the war effort with backyard concerts, the kids on Bolton Road have their own ideas about how to help out. Notices around the town warn that loose talk kills. Are spies passing information to the enemies right under their noses? Mable convinces Nancy, Janet, Fred and Lennie that catching spies is the best way to do their part. But will their efforts catch the traitors…or make the kids targets?
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Genre: Mid-Grade Reader/Historical ISBN: 978-1-925191-68-4 ASIN: B07HSYD11B
The Bolton Road Fundraising Concert
Janet Hopkins, draped in a tablecloth, long raffia hair secured under her chin with elastic, clung dramatically to the potted palm, as the water from the hose tried to sweep her across the chook shed. The other special effect was Billy Williams drumming away on the upturned rubbish bin.
The movie tableau was very realistic. It was Dorothy Lamour caught in the cyclone.
Nancy Edwards watched the audience with an expert eye as she pulled the curtain across so Fred Hopkins could hang the big aerial combat painting on the back wall. The clapping had only been dutiful after the movie tableau, so what was the audience going to make of Billy’s act?
Nancy’s brother Lennie had made sure everyone had paid, escorted them to their places on the lawn in front of the shed, and vanished. He was lolly boy at the local theatre, and took this job more seriously than the Bolton Road Fundraising Group.
Today, the audience consisted of five Quinvalens, including the toddler, and the small brother and sister of Pattie Owens, the star turn.
The concert in aid of the Red Cross was nearly over and it had been very successful, partly because it was a sunny Saturday afternoon, and there were only B grade movies on at the pictures.
Another reason was that every adult in the street, including Mrs. Quinvalen, had been missing the entire afternoon.
“Did you hear?” Janet Hopkins had been the first to tell the exciting news. “Hilda Smith is marrying a Yank this Saturday!”
“Bet the whole street goes to the wedding,” Nancy Edwards predicted. “We’ll be able to borrow some proper stage props for our concert.”
The parents’ contributions to the show were a great help. Janet “borrowed” her mother’s potted palm for her tableau. Nancy donated a floral tablecloth for a sarong, and the red passage drapes for stage curtains.
Fred and Mabel had struggled the heavy duckboards up from the air-raid shelter behind the chook shed. They weren’t quite long enough, but made an ideal stage floor. Billy sneaked out his father’s precious painting of aerial combat to use as the background for his act.
It was a mistake to allow Billy Williams to do his impersonation of an aerial dogfight of course, but Mabel insisted that her little brother had to be allowed to contribute, or the concert could be held somewhere other than the Williams’ back yard.
The Williams’ chook shed however, was the ideal setting. It faced the lawn with its open front screened in netting, and the big peppercorn tree shaded it from direct sun.
“Without the use of his rabbit hutch to keep the chooks in we don’t have a theatre for our concert,” Mabel had pointed out. “And it’s almost as good as watching the real thing to see Billy do his impersonation.”
“Never heard of anything so unpatriotic,” Janet had protested. “The Japs are invading us and you’re bargaining about your bratty little brother having star billing.”
There had been a thoughtful silence at this. Mabel was being unpatriotic! The war was no longer a remote nuisance on the other side of the world. The Japs had bombed Darwin! The war was suddenly frighteningly close and scary, even for Victoria on the other side of Australia.
Adults listened to the news with tense worried faces, and everybody tried to do their bit to help the war effort. Running backyard concerts was the contribution of the Bolton Road Fundraising Group.
So seven year old Billy demonstrated what happened during a dog fight, clutching a toy metal plane in each hand, and making suitable sound effects. He had been placed after the tableau to give the duckboards a chance to dry off before the last act, and his dogfight had to continue until the duckboards were dry enough.
The Quinvalens watched intently. Mara Quinvalen, the oldest girl, knitted a navy balaclava as she watched. Their father was in the Air force, and although he had never moved closer to the war than Victoria Barracks, they considered themselves experts on every aspect of the Air force.
Nancy decided the duck boards were dry enough and gave Billy a warning nod. He ended his act with a shuddering wail as he spiralled one of his planes to the ground. The Quinvalens clapped with real enthusiasm.
“The last item is Patti Owen, doing the tap dance,” Nancy announced.
The younger Owens let out sighs of satisfaction, and kept clapping. Patti’s tap-dancing as famed. She was always in demand for school concerts.
She tap-danced her way into the shed and on to the duckboards, sending up the occasional clod of mud where the water from the hose had pooled. When she finished, she bowed. Everyone clapped and Nancy dropped the red curtain. The concert in aid of the war effort was over.
Patti streaked from the shed, already changed out of her tap-dancing shoes. She gave a casual wave, swooped on her younger brother and sister and ran off. The five Quinvalens stood up and also filed out of the backyard content they had had their three penny worth of entertainment for the afternoon.
“We’ve scored one and eleven pence,” Janet gloated. She was the official treasurer of the Bolton Road Fundraising Group. “Not bad for a Saturday arvo.”
“We could probably do better if we had more support from the parents,” Nancy grumbled. “I don’t know why Mum has to be so mean about not letting us use the garage or the red velvet curtains.” They had to be replaced before her mother arrived home. Her mother was also stingy about lending props for their weekly concerts, but the red drapes unhooked to make ideal stage curtains.
“I don’t reckon they take our efforts to help win the war seriously,” Fred grumbled as he overheard. He had lifted the potted palm back into his billy-cart to return it to the Hopkins’ front veranda. “In the old days I could’ve enlisted by now as a drummer boy or something.”
“Except you can’t play the drums,” Janet reminded him.
“You got picked to be the district runner for the air-raid wardens,” Nancy said quickly.
Janet and her brother Fred had a fragile truce declared for the duration of the concerts, but were always ready to erupt into open warfare. It had been a mistake to ask Fred to control the hose for the typhoon tableau. He had been gleefully enthusiastic, and Janet’s straight brown bob still hung wetly.
“I bet I could help the war effort better by being in the army.”
Even Janet was silent at this. Fred had put his age up three times to enlist. He was a tall and strong thirteen-year-old, but each time the recruiting office had turned him down. At one stage he had run away from school and hitch-hiked his way to enlist in a remote country town where he was unknown, but he still had been rejected.
Approached to join the Bolton Road Fundraising Group, he had reluctantly agreed and became their most valued member. He couldn’t sing, dance, or recite, but he could hammer up stands and tables for their bazaars and concerts, and transport props around in his billy-cart, kept mobile with the wheels from Mrs. Quinvalen’s discarded prams and pushers.
Billy paused while emptying the imprisoned fowls from his rabbit hutch back into their rightful home.
“Trouble,” he warned.
The wedding must have finished! Four mothers picked their way around the side path. Nancy dropped the folded red drapes and the wet tablecloth into the billy-cart. In one smooth motion the gate of the chook shed was locked and the billy-cart with its borrowed props pulled behind the shed.
Mrs. Williams was first around the side of the house. She wore her wide brimmed hat and a floral dress. She was looking behind her and talking to Mrs. Quinvalen, who wore a tilted small flowery hat over her high-piled blonded hair. In her fur jacket, silk floral dress, and white high heeled shoes she looked too stylish to be the mother of six children.
Mrs. Hopkins followed them. She was talking to Nancy’s mother, Mrs. Edwards. “It still looked like miles of mosquito netting to me,” she was saying loudly. “Why would she want to be dressed up as a bride when…” She became aware of the three girls standing in front of the shed and broke off abruptly. “Hello girls. Was the concert successful?”
“One and eleven pence,” Mabel reported.
“You’re good kids to put in your Saturdays fundraising,” Mabel’s mother said fondly. “The Red Cross needs all the money you can raise to help the soldiers. Very patriotic and generous of you,” Mrs. Quinvalen agreed.
“How did the wedding go?” Nancy asked.
“Very nice,” Nancy’s mother hurried to answer. “Hilda looked lovely and the groom wore his uniform. He looked very handsome.”
The other ladies exchanged significant glances. “The hotel where she works put aside a room for her to give an afternoon tea for the guests. Hilda had prepared all the afternoon teas by herself.”
“Only there were too many of us,” Mrs. Quinvalen said with her easy laugh. “So we are all back here for more afternoon tea.”
Mrs. Williams led the way up the steps to the back porch and the other ladies followed her. The girls relaxed and moved away from the shed.
It was just unfortunate that once they had moved, the afternoon sun leveled an accusing beam into the fowl shed, catching on the glass of the aerial combat painting and flashing in Mrs. William’s face.
She blinked and walked over to the shed. The other mothers followed. They inspected the big picture still hanging on the back wall, the duck boards belonging to the air-raid shelter, and the wet wall where the typhoon had struck. The pleasant good-natured smile faded from Mrs. William’s face.
“Willi-yum,” she yelled. “I want a word with you.” And as Mabel edged towards the side path after Nancy and Janet. “And where do you think you’re all going?”
Fred followed Billy from behind the shed, his face set in lines of innocent inquiry. Nancy’s mother was already snooping behind the shed! The enraged shriek was sufficient warning of the discovery of the potted palm and the folded drapes.
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