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Authors: E.V Thompson

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The Lost Years (47 page)

BOOK: The Lost Years
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Perys smiled at the suggestion. ‘You know how people gossip, Polly. Do you want them saying Winnie was right after all? Besides, although my leg is improving it’s not yet up to walking as far as Annie’s cottage. I’ve no doubt I’ll see her, in the course of time.’

When Polly had gone from the study, Perys did not feel like looking over the various documents referring to the viability of his Cornish lands. Pouring himself a coffee, he picked up one of the Heligan employment registers and began looking through it.

Twenty minutes later, he rose to his feet and limped to the window, his mind filled with thoughts of the many - the very many - tragedies recorded within the pages of the small, marble-paper-covered notebooks.

Against many of the names three words had been added: ‘Killed in action’. Later, this was abbreviated to no more than three initials: KIA. Three initials to denote the end of a man’s life.

He thought of the grief that was hidden behind the words. The late war had changed so many lives - not least his own.

When he had been with his squadron in France, death was commonplace, yet something that was rarely mentioned. Here, in this great old house, amidst such beautiful countryside, it seemed somehow grotesque.

Many of the names were of men he had once known, had spoken to and joked with as they went about their work as labourers, house-servants, woodsmen, gamekeepers and gardeners - and there had seemingly been more of the latter killed than from any other form of employment.

He thought of others, not on the list, men and women with whom he had been more closely associated. Flying friends - and Grace. Gentle, caring Grace. He thought too of Annie. She had also been a casualty of war, albeit in a different manner.

Lastly, he thought of himself. The war was over and he would recover from his wounds, but he had no idea what the future held for him.

* * *

One evening, towards the end of that week, Perys was sitting in his room writing a letter when there came a knock on the door. Before he could respond, the door opened to reveal Morwenna.

It was not unusual for her to come to his room in the evening to have a coffee with him, but tonight, instead of coming in, she smiled and said, ‘You have a visitor, Perys.’ Then she stood back to allow Annie to enter the room. She left, closing the door behind her, leaving the two of them alone.

‘Annie! What are you doing here? Is everything all right at Tregassick?’

‘Everything is very well at Tregassick, but may I take off my coat?’

‘Of course - and your hat. I’ll hang them up while you warm yourself at the fire.’

It was a winter’s night outside, with a damp, cold mist hugging hills, filling valleys and causing moisture to drip from the branches of trees.

Annie perched herself on the edge of an armchair and held her hands out towards the fire.

‘Can I get you something to drink? Coffee, tea . . . something stronger?’

‘No, thank you.’ Annie smiled up at him. ‘Sit down, Perys, you should be resting that leg more than you do, according to Miss Morwenna.’

‘I wasn’t aware you and Morwenna knew each other,’ Perys said.

‘We often have a chat when I deliver things from the farm kitchen,’ Annie said. ‘Most of our talk has been about you since you returned to Heligan. Morwenna is nice . . . but I have come here to thank you.’

‘Thank me? For what?’

‘For a number of things, Perys. First, for having Mr Dean see me and help me at the inquest.’

‘I’m sorry it proved necessary,’ said Perys. ‘None of it can have been very pleasant for you.’

‘It wasn’t,’ agreed Annie, ‘but it would have been a whole lot worse without his help.’

There were a few moments of silence between them before Annie said, ‘But that’s not all the Bray family has to thank you for, is it?’

‘Is it not?’ Perys prevaricated.

‘It most certainly isn’t. The Heligan land agent came around today to see both Martin and Pa. It seems that Richard Keast, who farms at Peruppa, is giving up his tenancy and moving to a larger farm at Gorran. Peruppa has been offered to Martin - and the terms are unbelievable!’

She quoted the terms dictated by Perys to the land agent, adding, ‘Then the agent said that Martin and Pa should work both their farms as one. If they agree they can have them rent-free for two years in order to put things on a secure footing. He says it’s the Estate’s way of saying thank you to Martin for his heroism and sacrifice during the war.’

‘I can’t see anything wrong with that,’ Perys said cautiously, aware that Annie must know something about the arrangement he had made.

‘There’s nothing wrong with it at all,’ Annie agreed, ‘but why does there have to be such secrecy about it, Perys? Why couldn’t you tell us that ownership of the farms has passed to you? That it’s you Martin has to thank for such an incredibly generous gesture?’

‘You weren’t supposed to know,’ Perys replied. ‘No one was. I told Roger Barton he was to tell no one.’

‘You mustn’t blame him,’ Annie said. ‘If you must know, it was Amy, the girl who works in the Estate office. I’ve known her for many years. I don’t think she’s aware it’s supposed to be a secret. She prepared the tenancy agreements and when I met her late this afternoon she said how wonderful it was for everyone concerned. So it is, but . . . why have you done it, Perys?’

‘As Roger Barton said, it’s gratitude to Martin for his war service. Martin was my observer, remember? He was a first-class gunner, too. I’m not exaggerating when I say I probably wouldn’t be here today if it were not for him.’

‘Then why couldn’t you have told him that?’ Annie asked.

‘Because by telling him I would have changed the relationship between us, Annie. Between all of us. We’d have gone back to the way things were when I first came to Heligan. When Martin was a servant here and I was one of the ‘master’s family’ - only I didn’t really belong anywhere then. Thanks to Morwenna and her mother I am part of the family now, but in those days I was neither fish nor fowl. You, Martin and Polly were the first real friends I’d ever known - once we’d broken down the social barriers that stood between us. During the war Martin has been a flier, like myself. He’s proved himself the equal of any man - and better than most. He’s also a friend. Martin told me that what he’d most like to do is have a farm of his own. I’ve been able to fulfil that wish, but I didn’t want to do it at the expense of our friendship. For me to become his landlord and Martin and Polly my tenants. By having the Estate administer things I hoped it might remain a secret. It seems I was wrong.’

Annie remained silent for a while, before asking, ‘Why should you want to help Pa, too? He has never been able to forget that you’re one of the squire’s family - and has certainly never done you any favours.’

‘That isn’t entirely so, Annie. True, I can never entirely forgive him for what he did with the letters, but I was always made to feel very welcome at Tregassick in those early days, those early, very lonely days. I couldn’t see him and your mother thrown off the farm. Besides, Tregassick will be added to Martin’s farm one day - that’s if he hasn’t earned enough money to buy a farm of his own by then.’

‘I see, so you haven’t done any of this out of a mistaken sense of pity for me?’ she challenged him.

‘Pity has never been included among the feelings I have for you, Annie,’ Perys said. ‘You’ve had a very difficult time during the past few years and I wish it might have been otherwise, but I knew the reason you took on such a commitment and have nothing but admiration for you.’

‘I see.’ Annie stood up. ‘Thank you for being honest with me, Perys. I feel much better about everything now.’

‘I’ve never been anything but honest with you, Annie,’ he said. ‘Do you intend telling Martin and your father that I am their new landlord?’

‘Not if you don’t want me to, but the truth is bound to come out sooner or later, you know.’

Relieved, Perys said, ‘I hope that by then Martin will be so happy with his farm - and with a family - that he won’t think of giving up and will be able to forgive me.’

‘Forgive you? I doubt whether he will ever be able to repay you. None of us will . . . but I’d better go now, or we’ll have people talking about us again.’

Fetching her coat and hat, Perys said, ‘It’s not a very nice night, Annie.’ He added, jokingly, ‘If I didn’t have this gammy leg and if my motor-cycle was at Heligan, I would offer you a ride back to Tregassick.’

Annie smiled. ‘You certainly couldn’t try it the way you are. We’d both probably fall off again, and before we knew it we’d be right back where it all began.’

‘Haven’t you ever wished we could go back to those days, Annie? Start all over again, knowing what we do now? I have, often.’

Annie looked at him searchingly. ‘Nothing has changed, Perys. In fact, there is even less chance that things could ever work out for us. I am still who I was then - and you are who you were, only now you have money.’

‘You’re wrong, Annie,’ Perys replied. ‘I am a very different man to the one I was then. After four years of war, watching men die long before they have had an opportunity to achieve any of the things life has to offer, I have learned to know what’s important - and what’s not. The barriers you are putting up between us are no longer important, Annie. They are artificial and not the really important things of life.’

She shook her head. ‘You might think that at this moment, when we’re here together, talking -‘

‘No, Annie, I thought it then, when we first met. Now, all these years later, I am certain of what life is all about. A lot has happened since those days, to both of us. Only one thing hasn’t changed for me. That’s the way I feel whenever I see you. It’s something I couldn’t do anything about, even if I wanted to. It’s there and it won’t go away. I don’t think it ever will. Does nothing like that happen to you when you see me, Annie?’

‘That isn’t a fair question, Perys . . .’

‘Annie, if you do feel that way, can’t we try again? Try to get to know each other all over again? It isn’t often two people are given a second chance . . . don’t let it slip away again, Annie. Please!’

She was silent for so long that Perys was convinced she was trying to think of another reason for rejecting his offer. Then she said, very quietly, ‘Are you really sure that’s what you want, Perys? Are you absolutely certain?’

‘I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.’ he replied.

She nodded, gently at first, then with increased vigour. ‘All right, if it’s what you want.’

‘That’s not the right answer, Annie. It’s not enough. It has to be what you want too.’

‘I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything else, Perys. I’ve certainly never wanted anything quite as much. I know we haven’t a motor-bike to fall from now . . . but do you think we might manage without one . . . ?’

THE END

About the author

E.V. Thompson was born in London. After spending nine years in the Royal Navy, he served as a Vice Squad policeman in Bristol, became an investigator for British Overseas Airways (during which he was seconded to the Hong Kong Police Narcotics Bureau), then headed Rhodesia’s Department of Civil Aviation Security Section. While in Rhodesia, he published over two hundred short stories before moving back to England to become a full-time award-winning writer.

His first novel, Chase the Wind, the opening book in the Retallick saga, won the Best Historical Novel Award, and since then more than thirty novels have won him thousands of admirers around the world.

BOOK: The Lost Years
5.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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