Eliza Vandas Button Box chapter sampler

Angus&Robertson An imprint of HarperCollins Children’sBooks , Australia

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First published in Australia in 2021 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia Pty Limited Level 13, 201 Elizabeth Street, Sydney NSW 2000

ABN 36 009 913 517 harpercollins.com.au

Text copyright © Rin Pty Ltd 2021 Illustrations copyright © Jessica Cruickshank 2021

The right of Emily Rodda to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her under the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000 . This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 , no part may be reproduced, copied, scanned, stored in a retrieval system, recorded, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Eliza Vanda’s Button Box is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the National Library of Australia

ISBN 978 1 4607 5960 8 (hardback) ISBN 978 1 4607 1319 8 (ebook)

Cover and internal design by Hazel Lam, HarperCollins Design Studio Cover and internal illustrations by Jessica Cruickshank Typeset in Sabon LT Std by Kelli Lonergan Printed and bound in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group The papers used by HarperCollins in the manufacture of this book are a natural, recyclable product made from wood grown in sustainable plantation forests. The fibre source and manufacturing processes meet recognised international environmental standards, and carry certification.

ANice Little Pocket

No one saw Eliza Vanda arrive in Tidgy Bay that rainy winter afternoon. No one saw her give a pleased little nod at the five holiday cabins strung along the road that ran beside the beach. And no one saw her eyes twinkle as they turned to the small, pointy-roofed house called Spindrift, which sat at the head of the row of cabins like a mother duck leading a line of ducklings. The sign advertising ‘Cabins for Rent’ was almost hidden by a pile of junk and builder’s rubble lying

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between Spindrift and the road, but Eliza Vanda didn’t seem at all put out by the mess. ‘This is a nice little pocket,’ she said. ‘It should suit us very well.’ Anyone close enough to hear would have thought she was talking to herself, so it was probably lucky that no one was. Milly Dynes was home in Spindrift, but she was in her room, changing out of her wet school clothes and feeling as grey as the day. Milly’s father, Rory, was home as well, but he was hammering away in the attic. At the top of the road, where the buses turned to go back to Wide Beach, Peg-at-the-Shop had put up her ‘Back Soon’ notice and roared off on her ancient motorbike with the weekly grocery deliveries jammed into the sidecar. And it was Friday, so Mrs Meaney-Opposite- the-Shop was making herself unpleasant at the Wide Beach Bridge Club instead of keeping her usual sharp eye on the Tidgy Bay cabins.

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Even Sultan, Mrs Meaney’s black Persian cat, was out of the picture. He’d eaten all the treats his doting owner had left him to ward off starvation while she was away, and had sulked himself to sleep. The rain was still spattering down in spiteful little bursts when Milly came out of her room. She dumped her soggy clothes in the laundry tub and picked her way through a mess of planks and sawdust to the kitchen at the front of the house. The kitchen window was clouded with mist mixed with plaster dust. As Milly stood at the sink, drinking a glass of water, she idly rubbed a peephole in the mist and looked out. To her great surprise, she saw a strange woman standing on the road with a bulging green bag in each hand. The woman was small, brown and sturdy. A brightly patterned scarf was wound round her head. A long green cloak, buttoned up to her chin, hung to the toes of her tidy black boots. Her bags were soft and squashy. They

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would have looked like pillows made of moss if it hadn’t been for their strong leather handles. Milly stared. Where had the woman come from? There’d been no sound of a car, and the next bus from Wide Beach wasn’t due till six o’clock. The woman couldn’t have walked far either — not in this weather. She’d have been soaked if she had — soaked, muddy and messy — and she wasn’t any of those things. She looked very calm and very neat. Neat as a pin, Milly thought, the phrase flying into her mind as if it had been invented just to describe the stranger. At that moment, the woman’s eyes met hers, and Milly felt a little jolt like a tiny electric shock. The woman put down her bags, folded her hands, and waited. Milly ran to the door and opened it. ‘Hello,’ the woman said. ‘I’m Eliza Vanda.’ She looked up at the sky. ‘It’s raining,’ she added, as if she’d just noticed. Milly nodded. She realised that her mouth was hanging open and quickly shut it.

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Eliza Vanda smiled. Everything around her was damp and dull but her smile was like the sun coming out. And just then a patch of blue appeared above her head and the rain stopped. ‘Right,’ she said, with the air of getting down to business. ‘Now, I need a place to stay, where I won’t be bothered, so I can finish a very important job. Are any of these cabins free, do you know?’ Milly blinked and pulled herself together. Her father wouldn’t hear her if she called him, and if she ran up to the attic to fetch him there was a risk that the woman might get impatient and leave. That was a risk Milly didn’t want to take. She was usually shy with strangers, but if there was a chance of renting out one of the cabins she knew she should grab it. ‘They’re all free!’ she said breathlessly, stepping outside and quickly skirting the sodden pile of junk to reach the road. ‘You can have whichever one you like.’ Too late, it occurred to her that this didn’t sound very

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good. ‘Only because it’s winter,’ she added. ‘In summer we’re booked out. Mostly.’ An electric saw screeched in Spindrift’s attic, shattering the peace. Milly and Eliza Vanda both looked up. ‘Oh, um, that’s only Dad,’ Milly stammered, as if somehow that made the noise less noisy. The saw shrieked again. Milly winced and glanced nervously up the road before remembering with relief that Mrs Meaney was out. She turned back to Eliza Vanda and found the woman smiling at her enquiringly. ‘Dad’s making an upstairs bedroom for me so Flora — that’s our new baby — can have mine,’ Milly babbled in confusion. ‘Flora had to stay in hospital because she came too early and Julie — I mean, my stepmother — stayed with her, but they’ll be home soon so Dad’s rushing to finish —’ She realised she was talking too much and stopped abruptly, feeling her face grow hot. ‘Oh, fiddle-dee-dee!’ said Eliza Vanda, flapping her

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hands. ‘I don’t mind a bit of noise. I’m here to work, not sleep. Now, let’s see …’ Leaving her bags where they were, she put her hands behind her back, pursed her lips, and paced along the row of cabins. Slowly she moved past Shell’s pink door, Dune’s yellow door, Seahorse’s pale orange door, and Driftwood’s door of soft grey. ‘They’re all the same inside,’ Milly murmured, following her anxiously. ‘Ah, but it’s how a place feels that counts, isn’t it?’ said Eliza Vanda. ‘I like the way the door colours go with the names.’ Milly felt a little thrill of pleasure. When she’d first come to Tidgy Bay, the cabins just had numbers and their doors were dusty brown. She and Rory had spent ages deciding on the names and door colours, but most people didn’t seem to notice them. She’d been just five when her father sold their city house to buy Spindrift and the Tidgy Bay cabins.

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‘They’re a bit run-down, but that’s why they were cheap, so I’m not complaining,’ Rory had told her. ‘I’ll soon fix them up. It’ll be great, Milly-Mouse! Fresh air, the beach on our doorstep, a good little school in Wide Beach for you when you start … There’s even a ratty old studio behind the house where I can paint!’ At the time, Milly hadn’t taken in much except that they were going to live at a beach and her father was very happy about it. That was all she needed to know. Wherever Rory was would be home to her. In those days, of course, there had just been the two of them. Julie hadn’t come into their lives till later. But Milly had loved Tidgy Bay from the very first day, and now, six years later, she barely remembered a time when the sound of the waves hadn’t soothed her to sleep at night. Rory’s plan had been that they’d live on the rents the cabins brought in, so he could paint full-time and be around more for Milly as well. The plan had worked perfectly— in summer. In winter,

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it fell apart. It turned out that hardly anyone wanted to stay in Tidgy Bay when it was too cold for swimming. Now and then Rory sold a painting, but not often enough to pay the bills. So in the cold months he worked part- time at Enzo’s Pizzas. The job didn’t pay a lot, but it had the big advantage of a free pizza whenever Enzo had too many fresh toppings left over after the lunchtime rush. But even free pizzas hadn’t brightened up the last few weeks for Milly, with Spindrift feeling so empty without Julie, and money so scarce, and Rory vanishing into the attic every spare moment he had. Not to mention Mrs Meaney-Opposite-the-Shop being horrible whenever she got the chance. And — and the other things that were making Milly feel sort of … lost. ‘Not much fun for you around here at the moment, is it, Milly-Mouse?’ Rory had said the night before, when he noticed that Milly was even quieter than usual. ‘Never mind, it won’t be forever. And it’s not all bad — in a week you’ll be on holidays!’

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Milly had smiled to reassure him, but in fact she wasn’t looking forward to the holidays. At least school kept her busy and stopped her thinking about how strange things were at home. To make matters worse, her friends were all going away, and wouldn’t be around to visit or to meet at the Wide Beach ice-skating rink. For the first time in her life, Milly wished she was going somewhere — anywhere — far from Tidgy Bay. It wouldn’t be so bad if there was anything I could do to help round here, Milly thought now. But there’s nothing! Well, except the washing-up and ordinary things like that. Nothing that makes any real difference. ‘I’ll have this one, I think,’ Eliza Vanda said suddenly, stopping at the sky-blue door of Breeze, the last cabin in line. ‘The name suits me, and blue’s my favourite colour at the moment. Plus, if I’m at the end I won’t disturb you at night with my clatter-clatter, will I?’ Wondering what sort of clatter-clatter work the woman did, Milly ran to get the guest book and the key

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to Breeze from her father’s desk, rejoicing at the thought that this was something she was doing to help, at least. ‘Very nice!’ said Eliza Vanda, when the blue door had been opened to show the main room with its polished wooden floor, tidy kitchen corner and view of the sea. ‘Just right!’ She trotted inside. Milly went to get the squashy green bags, still lying in the road, but they were much, much heavier than they looked. She couldn’t even lift them. ‘All my worldly goods,’ Eliza Vanda said, suddenly appearing behind her and making her jump. Milly watched in amazement as the woman picked up the bags and carried them into Breeze as easily as if they were full of feathers.

By the time Rory came wearily down the new staircase he’d built for the attic room, light was glowing through the blinds on Breeze’s front windows.

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‘She paid for the week in advance — in cash!’ Gleefully, Milly showed her father the small pile of worn-looking notes she’d left on his desk. ‘I said you’d give her a receipt later.’ Rory’s tired eyes brightened. ‘Hey, good work, Milly- Mouse! Did you get her to sign the guest book?’ ‘Yes.’ Milly hesitated, biting her lip. ‘Her name’s Eliza Vanda. But, Dad— I hope it’s all right —under “Address” she put “Travelling Dressmaker, no fixed address”. And she hasn’t got a phone.’ Rory laughed. ‘Lady of mystery,’ he said. ‘Well, what do we care? She paid in cash. Let the poor woman keep her secrets.’ Whistling, he disappeared into the shower. And Milly was left thinking that ‘poor woman’ was the very last phrase she’d use to describe Eliza Vanda.

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