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Authors: Siân James

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Return to Hendre Ddu

BOOK: Return to Hendre Ddu
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Contents
  1. Title Page
  2. Dedication
  3. Chapter one
  4. Chapter two
  5. Chapter three
  6. Chapter four
  7. Chapter five
  8. Chapter six
  9. Chapter seven
  10. Chapter eight
  11. Chapter nine
  12. Chapter ten
  13. Chapter eleven
  14. Chapter twelve
  15. Chapter thirteen
  16. Chapter fourteen
  17. Chapter fifteen
  18. Chapter sixteen
  19. Chapter seventeen
  20. Chapter eighteen
  21. Chapter nineteen
  22. Advertisement
  23. Copyright

Return to Hendre Ddu

Siân James

To William, Owen, Jo and Anna

Chapter one

‘And where is Mari Elen today?’ were Nano’s first words as Lowri turned up at Hendre Ddu one warm June afternoon. ‘Come and sit down, for goodness sake. You’re looking quite pale.’

‘She’s out with Mr Ifans, I mean, out with Josi,’ Lowri said. ‘He’s taken her out on horseback. She loves being with her father.’

‘No harm in that. And it gives you a bit of peace and quiet, no doubt. She’s a lively child, I know that.’

‘But I do get lonely, Miss Rees.’

‘Yes, and something else as well, child, to judge by your face. Marriage is not proving so easy, perhaps.’

‘It’s easy enough. I mean the work is easy enough. I’m through with the chickens and the baking and the cleaning by ten o’clock every morning.’

‘You were always a good little worker. I had no fears that you’d find it too much for you and I knew that Mr Ifans wouldn’t be a demanding husband, but you miss us because this was your family and everyone misses their family when they get married. Now don’t cry. A good talk and two fresh eggs for your tea and you’ll feel much better. You are still very young, Lowri, and there’s no one to keep an eye on you up in Cefn Hebog. Never mind; marriage isn’t easy, but you’ll get used to it. You haven’t been used to an idle life and you’re not the sort of girl to have foolish expectations. Oh I’ve had girls, good girls too, leaving me to get married and they think that life is going to be all laughter and loving and it’s those who have a shock. Especially if they marry a widower with several children and never an empty moment. It’s then that they miss Miss Rees who always kept an eye on them to see that they weren’t doing too much. You remember those afternoons when I used to send you out to pick blackberries or blackcurrants in the orchard? I only wanted you to have a change and a rest and a bit of good fresh air. I never asked or wanted anyone to work too hard.’

‘You were always very good to me, Miss Rees.’

‘Of course I was, because you were a good girl. Now that Ceridwen Morris who was here a few years before you, I had to get rid of her and it’s not an easy thing to do. A girl without a good reference often finds it very difficult to get another job in a decent house. But I explained to Mrs Ifans, God rest her soul, that it was necessary. I have a family here, I said, all the girls are treated as family and they’re never kept away from Miss Catrin and Mister Tom so I have to be specially careful that no one has any corrup­ting influence on them.’

She understood at once. ‘Thank you, Nano,’ she said, ‘for your care.’

‘You and Miss Catrin were good friends and I had not a moment’s anxiety on that score. As Mister Tom wrote to me when he heard that you were going to marry his father: “Lowri is a lovely girl, she will make my father a good wife and she will be a kind and loving mother to Mari Elen.” Catrin was equally happy. You see, we all had every faith and confidence in you. I know without you telling me what your present trouble is and I want to assure you that it will pass. Mr Ifans has been dealt a double blow, the wife he loved and the woman who led him astray both dying within ten days of one another. Of course he was left reeling with shock. For a time, as you know, he lived alone and friendless and when he turned up here on that March day he looked and smelt like a tramp: well you saw him, you were here with me and it was you had to burn all his clothes at the bottom of the orchard if I remember right. Now he is trying to come to terms with his great loss and he will turn to you eventually. He knows your worth, you must be patient. His wife was a saint, it’s not easy to live up to a saint, and the other was a sinner.

‘No, don’t look at me like that Lowri, we must face facts: a woman who entices a man away from his legal wife is not a good woman, a witch she might have been called in the old days. I remember in school we learned about that witch Anne Boleyn who had enticed some fat old king away from his true religious wife. There are such women. You are neither a saint nor a sinner but an ordinary, good, hard-working woman, and in time he will turn to you. You must be patient. Before too long you will have a little baby of your own and with a new family, Mr Ifans will become a new man, I promise you. Miss Catrin, who’ll have her baby soon, is very happy. You must visit her; these things seem to be catching quite often. So Mr Ifans rides out with only Mari Elen as company, I’ve heard about that. Ianto saw them in the Sheaf the other day where she was attracting a lot of attention sitting there with her father like a little princess and demanding this and that. He never spoilt Tom and Catrin that way. But it won’t do her much harm, perhaps. You could say I’d asked to see her, then you might be able to bring her here for a few days which could bring her down to earth a bit. Catrin was a proper little madam when she was two or three and poor Mrs Ifans was very worried about her. Of course Mari Elen will be able to start school now that she’s three. That will do her a lot of good. Little ones don’t have to attend in the afternoon, but I think Mari Elen will want to. She’ll be fascinated by all the other children, she’s a gregarious little thing and she’ll love all the learning too. Anyone can see how bright she is. Her half-sister Catrin was exactly the same.

‘Now then, I’m going to give you the same good tea that I give the Reverend Isaacs when he calls and he always looks better when he rides away. No, marriage isn’t easy, I know that, but it’s worth your best efforts, dear Lowri.’

Being called dear Lowri and being treated like a visitor was too much. Lowri burst into tears but Nano, busying herself with boiling a couple of fresh eggs and buttering some still warm scones, appeared not to notice.

When she left to walk up the long hill to Cefn Hebog, Lowri realised that she hadn’t had to relate any of her troubles to Miss Rees. She seemed to have known about them all and only advised her to be patient. Mr Ifans, Josi rather, would turn to her eventually if only she was patient and loving. She would be patient and loving, of course she would, but it was the nights which were the worst, the nights were often very long. She went to bed feeling tired but after about ten minutes she was wide awake and wondering where he was. He often went out for long, dark walks and then slept in the little attic bedroom which was both cold and damp. He said he wasn’t going to sleep with her while he was so restless. ‘No use us both being awake all night, Lowri,’ he’d said, though she would have welcomed being awake with him. Her body cried out for his closeness and warmth. Was Miss Rees right? Would he turn to her, his ordinary little wife, if she was patient and loving? She had to believe it. She simply had to.

Mari Elen and her father were back at the cottage by the time she returned from the farm.

‘Where were you?’ Mari Elen shouted out, running towards her peevishly.

‘We wondered where you’d got to, cariad,’ Josi explained. ‘We were both worried that you’d run away from us.’

‘Don’t ever go away again,’ Mari Elen demanded. ‘I want you to be here when I get home. I don’t want you to go out without us. Where have you been?’

‘I went to Hendre Ddu to talk to Miss Rees and she insisted that I stayed to tea,’ Lowri explained.

‘You stayed to tea without me,’ Mari Elen complained, ‘that wasn’t kind. That wasn’t kind, was it Dada?’

‘Well, you go out without Lowri, don’t you, bach?’

‘Yes, but I always want her to come with us. Only she’s always got work to do. Washing the floor, feeding those nasty old hens and searching for eggs.’

‘We must wait and take her with us tomorrow. Tell her what a lovely dinner we have in the Sheaf.’

‘I prefer dinner at home. I like the dinner that Lowri cooks best. Especially her liver and bacon and especially her apple tart.’

‘We’ll stay home tomorrow little one, and in the afternoon I’ll take you both out to Hendre Ddu in the pony and trap.’

‘Good. I don’t like going out without my little mother.’

It was the first time Mari Elen had ever called Lowri her little mother. Lowri’s eyes filled with tears. She felt suddenly happy. She felt that Miss Rees might be right after all.

‘Do you miss Hendre Ddu, little one?’ Josi asked her that night after Mari Elen had been put to bed.

‘I do, in a way. Miss Rees was hard on all of us, none of us was allowed to be idle for even five minutes, but she took good care of us as well and never made us work too hard. I remember I never had to tell her when I was ill or in pain, she knew by my pale face, and she’d find some easy tasks for me. We were her family and she was very kind to us in her own way. She told me how she’d hated having to dismiss Ceridwen Morris that time. I wonder what Ceridwen had done to offend her?’

‘I think I could tell you, but I’d rather not. It doesn’t reflect well on me.’

‘Oh, I see. You were flirting with her, you dreadful man.’

‘I suppose so. Anyway, Miriam put a stop to all that. I never flirted with anyone after meeting Miriam.’

‘And Miss Rees thinks she was a sinner.’

‘You don’t though, do you, my love?’

‘No. I saw you together once and realised how it was with you.’

‘You’re very wise and very tender and you’ll be my saviour yet, but not quite yet. I haven’t forgiven myself yet. I haven’t yet made my peace with Rachel or with Miriam.’

‘I think they’ve both forgiven you. Now you have to try to forgive yourself.’

‘I try. I do try.’

Lowri was happier in bed that night, though she was still on her own.

When they arrived at Hendre Ddu the next afternoon, they found the place in uproar. A letter had arrived from Tom telling them he had been wounded and was to be invalided out of the army. He was due home within the week. Miss Rees’ words tumbled out of her. ‘Steady now, Nano, gan bwyll,’ Josi said. ‘Where’s the letter you had?’

‘Wounded, wounded. How badly it doesn’t tell us, but it must be pretty serious or they wouldn’t be sending him home, would they? They have these field hospitals that Catrin was telling us about for soldiers that are only slightly wounded. I’ve told Dr Andrews that he must be here as soon as I get word that Tom has landed in England. Dr Andrews is a wonderful doctor as we all know and now he’s family as well, Catrin having a bit of sense at last. And you, Mr Ifans, must stay here with us from now on. We’ve had enough of your grieving by this time. Life goes on. There is a time for mourning and a time to refrain from mourning as it tells us in the good book. What is your son going to think of a father who can’t look after his farm while he’s fighting abroad? Lowri, you and Mari Elen must come back here tonight so that I have an extra pair of hands for all the nursing I’ll be called upon to do. Sali was only a child and I had to send her back home as you know. She’s got a job cleaning at the vicarage now, and being home with her parents at night will suit her better. I’m glad she won’t be here when Mister Tom comes home because she’d bother him. She told him once that she wasn’t happy here and he asked me what we could do about it. Quite worked up about it he was. Well, how could she be happy here when her good mistress had just died and her sister was leaving to get married. But that bit of notice from Mister Tom went to her head and she started telling people that he had promised her this, that and the other, so I had to ask your mother to take her away. Your mother quite understood. Sali had always been one for romanticising, she said, and I couldn’t be doing with that. How would Mister Tom feel if he found out that the girl had been inventing all sorts of lies about him and had been spreading those lies among anyone who’d listen? Now, you and Mr Ifans can have the front bedroom with Mari Elen in the small dressing room, it’ll be big enough for her little bed. Now, what else have I got to think about? Lowri, don’t stand about any more, girl, get an apron on and then I’ll be able to treat you as an equal again. There’s meals to prepare and Tom’s bedroom to get ready. What will you do? I’ll get Maudie to help you. She’s a good girl, but she needs someone to keep an eye on her. Mr Ifans, go out on the clos and ask old Prosser what you can do to help. He’s complaining day and night that he has too much to do. Don’t stand about, man. Your son is coming home wounded and he won’t want to find everything here at sixes and sevens. Do as I tell you now, Mr Ifans. You’ve got a good heart, I’ve always known that. Now, Mari Elen, no more nonsense about wanting your Dada every moment. Your big brother, Tom, is coming home and I’ll be wanting your Dada to look after him. You’ll have to play on your own or I’ll be tying you into that little chair in that corner, just as I used to do to your half-sister, Catrin, when she was a little girl. I haven’t got time to look after naughty children and neither has Lowri.’

BOOK: Return to Hendre Ddu
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