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The train journey was horrible. There was a heat wave that September in 1939, and the railway authorities had fastened all the windows shut so that none of the children packed onto the train could fall out. There were several hundred of them, and nearly all of them screamed when they saw a cow. They were all being sent away from London from the bombing, and most of them had no idea where milk came from. Each child carried a square brown gas mask box. All of them had labels with their names and addresses on them, and the littlest ones (who cried and wet themselves rather often) had the labels tied round their necks with string.
Vivian, being one of the bigger ones, had her label tied to the string bag Mum had found to take the things that refused to fit into her suitcase. That meant that Vivian did not dare let go of the string bag. When your surname is Smith, you need to make very sure everyone knows just which Smith you are. Vivian had carefully written Cousin Marty's name and address on the back of the label, to show that she was not just being sent into the country, like most of the children, to be taken in by anyone who would have her. Cousin Marty, after a long delay, had promised to meet the train and have Vivian to stay with her until the danger of bombs was over. But Vivian had never met Cousin Marty, and she was terrified that they would somehow miss each other. So she hung on to the string bag until its handles were wet with sweat and the plaited pattern was stamped in red on her hands.
Half of the children never stayed still for a moment. Sometimes the carriage where Vivian sat filled with smallboys in gray shorts, whose skinny legs were in thick gray socks and whose heads, each in a gray school cap, seemed too big for their bare, skinny necks. Sometimes a mob of little girls in dresses too long for them crowded in from the corridor. All of them screamed. There were always about three labels saying “Smith” on each fresh crowd. Vivian sat where she was and worried that Cousin Marty would meet the wrong Smith, or meet the wrong train, or that she herself would mistake someone else for Cousin Marty, or get adopted by someone who thought she had nowhere to go. She was afraid she would get out at the wrong station or find out that the train had taken her to Scotland instead of the West of England. Or she would get out, but Cousin Marty would not be there.
Mum had packed some sandwiches in the string bag, but none of the other evacuees seemed to have any food. Vivian did not quite like to eat when she was the only one, and there were too many children for her to share with. Nor did she dare take off her school coat and hat for fear they got lost. The floor of the train was soon littered with lost coats and caps -- and some labels -- and there was even a lost squashed gas mask. So Vivian sat and sweltered and worried. By the time the train chuffed its crowded hot fighting screaming crying laughing way into a station at last, it was early evening, and Vivian had thought of every single thing that could possibly go wrong except the one that actually did.
The name of the station was painted out to confuse the enemy, but porters undid the doors, letting in gusts of cool air and shouting in deep country voices, “All get out here! The train stops here!”
The screaming stopped. All the children were stunned to find they had arrived in a real new place. Hesitantly at first, then crowding one another's heels, they scrambled down.
Vivian was among the last to get off. Her suitcase stuck in the strings of the luggage rack, and she had to climb on the seat to get it down. With her gas mask giving her square, jumbling bangs and her hands full of suitcase and string bag, she went down onto the platform with a flump, shivering in the cool air. It was all strange. She could see yellow fields beyond the station buildings. The wind smelled of cow dung and chaff.
There was a long, muddled crowd of adults up at the other end of the platform. The porters and some people with official armbands were trying to line the children up in front of them and get them shared out to foster homes. Vivian heard shouts of “Mrs. Miller, you can take two. One for you, Mr. Parker. Oh, you're brother and sister, are you? Mr. Parker, can you take two?”
I'd better not get mixed up in that, Vivian thought. That was one worry she could avoid. She hung back in the middle of the platform, hoping Cousin Marty would realize. But none of the waiting crowd looked at her. “I'm not having all the dirty ones!” someone was saying, and this seemed to be taking everyone's attention. “Give me two clean and I'll take two dirty to make four. Otherwise I'm leaving.”
Vivian began to suspect that her worry about Cousin Marty's not being there was going to be the right one. She pressed her mouth against her teeth in order not to cry -- or not to cry yet.A hand reached round Vivian and spread out the label on the string bag. “Ah!” said someone. “Vivian Smith!”
Vivian whirled round. She found herself facing a lordly-looking dark boy in glasses. He was taller than she was and old enough to wear long trousers, which meant he must be at least a year older than she was. He smiled at her, which made his eyes under his glasses fold in a funny way along the eyelids. “Vivian Smith,” he said, “you may not realize this, but I am your long-lost cousin.” A Tale of Time City
. Copyright © by Diana Jones. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.