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Authors: Marcia Willett

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The Way We Were

BOOK: The Way We Were
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THE WAY WE WERE

Also by Marcia Willett

FORGOTTEN LAUGHTER
A WEEK IN WINTER
WINNING THROUGH
HOLDING ON
LOOKING FORWARD
SECOND TIME AROUND
STARTING OVER
HATTIE'S MILL
THE COURTYARD
THEA'S PARROT
THOSE WHO SERVE
THE DIPPER
THE CHILDREN'S HOUR
THE BIRDCAGE
THE GOLDEN CUP
ECHOES OF THE DANCE
MEMORIES OF THE STORM
THE PRODIGAL WIFE

For more information on Marcia Willett and her books,
see her website at
www.marciawillett.co.uk

THE WAY WE WERE

MARCIA WILLETT

First published in Canada in 2009 by
McArthur & Company
322 King Street West, Suite 402
Toronto, Ontario
M5V 1J2
www.mcarthur-co.com

Copyright © 2008 Marcia Willett

All rights reserved.
The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise stored in a retrieval
system, without the expressed written consent of the publisher,
is an infringement of the copyright law.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Willett, Marcia
The way we were / Marcia Willett.

ISBN 978-1-55278-830-1

I. Title.

PR6073.I277W39 2010 823'.914 C2009-907003-0

eISBN 978-1-77087-086-4

Cover design by Michael Storrings
Cover illustration by Vitali Komarov

To Yvonne Holland

CONTENTS

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

PROLOGUE

PART ONE

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

PART TWO

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

A History of St Breward
provided some crucial insights into the village and its surroundings. My thanks to the editor, Pamela Bousfield, and all the other contributors.

PROLOGUE

February 1976

‘TO THE WEST'. The road curls round in a steep bend and forks unexpectedly. The old sign, almost obscured by the bare, out-thrusting branches of an ancient thorn hedge, is barely legible but she drives confidently on; both road and sign are familiar to her. ‘TO THE WEST': the words always have the power to thrill her. When she was a child the phrase conjured up mysterious, mountainous landscapes, tall pinnacles and towers showered with powdery golden light and lapped by the shining tides of aquamarine seas; a magic place where she might escape the confusion and unhappiness of her own small world. Romantic tales of courtly love in castles and courts across Shropshire and Herefordshire and along the Welsh Marches, and stirring stories of fierce battles and bloody ambushes in the stony mountain fastnesses, were told to her by her grandfather, a descendant of the great Roger de Mortimer, Baron of Wigmore, Earl of March and Lord of Brecon, Radnor and Ludlow. There were other, older, stories reaching further into the west, to Tintagel on the wild north Cornish coast, of King Arthur and his knights, of Guinevere, his queen, and the magician Merlin.

Involuntarily she glances quickly at the small bronze figure on the passenger seat: the boy Merlin with the falcon on his wrist. She has set him up as a talisman; someone to watch over her and the Turk on this long journey to the west.

‘Take the little Merlin,' her grandmother says earlier, appearing beside her as she swung her tapestry holdall into the camper van and settled the terrier on her rug. ‘Go on. Take him. You've always loved him.'

She takes it unwillingly. The bronze is smooth and heavy in her hand, the delicate detail giving the boy the same intent expression as that of the falcon. His tunic swirls as if he is in perpetual motion, invoking an urgency of purpose that hurries him forward to some unknown destination, his chin lifted and unafraid. Her heartbeat quickens at the prospect of her own journey; the bronze would give her courage – yet still she hesitates.

‘To please me.' The older woman, breathless from the quick, last-minute dash into the house to fetch the charming little statue, speaks pleadingly – and uncharacteristically.

‘It belongs to my father.' she replies reluctantly.

Her grandmother gives a cry of angry impatience. ‘Everything belongs to your father now. It's how your grandfather arranged it years ago, and I didn't give a thought to how it might be for you when he died. It never occurred to me that your mother would die soon afterwards, or that your father would remarry. I must be grateful that he allows me to stay here, I suppose. A custodian of his treasures, which will all go to his son by that Frenchwoman. At least take the Merlin. He's been standing on the shelf in the Red Room for years and nobody will miss him. Take it, Tegan.'

Always Tegan: never the little name ‘Tiggy' that her friends use. She opens the passenger door and places the little figure – no more than six inches high – amongst the impedimenta on the seat: a rug, maps, some chocolate. Nestled in the warm folds of the rug, he stares forward, his profile as imperious and compelling as that of her grandmother. Tiggy settles him more firmly, shuts the door and takes the frail old woman in her arms.

‘Thank you,' she says. ‘You'll look after yourself, won't you? I might not be able to get away for a bit.'

For a moment the old woman holds her tightly; then she kisses her granddaughter and stands back. She is not demonstrative and the need to give the Merlin, an impulsive but oddly necessary gesture, has taken her by surprise.

‘I'm glad you're going to Julia,' she says. ‘Such a good friend. Give her my love.'

‘Of course I will. I'll let you know I've arrived safely but I might stop overnight on the way down so don't worry about me.'

‘I've long since given up worrying about my family,' is the tart response. ‘Goodbye, darling.'

She turns abruptly, crossing the gravel and disappearing towards the house, leaving Tiggy to climb into the VW and set off down the drive. She's not hurt by that sudden departure: she knows quite well that they're both feeling churned up inside and that, though she would never show it, her grandmother is near to tears.

Has she guessed the truth? Tiggy shakes her head. Surely not. There has been no indication, no change in her grandmother's behaviour – except right at the end in the giving of the bronze: an uncharacteristic neediness that absolutely required that gift should be accepted, overwhelming Tiggy's own strong instinct to reject utterly anything that belongs to her father. And after all, she tries to persuade herself now, the Merlin might have been collected in the first place by her grandfather – the Red Room has always been full of beautiful and unusual pieces to which his son now continues to add – and this thought some-how makes it easier to accept one small object from among so many. Her grandfather, who had told her so many stories of Merlin and the court of King Arthur, would not have begrudged her this artefact from his collection. Odd that now, at the time of her greatest need, she should be travelling west. Julia lives a matter of miles from Tintagel.

‘Of
course
you must come to us,' she said. ‘Oh, poor you. This is so awful. Losing Tom is bad enough but … Look, of course you must come down to Trescairn straight away… Pete? Pete won't mind a bit. He's going to sea next week for three months, so he'll be delighted that I shall have some company. Don't fuss, Tiggy just come whenever you're ready.'

Oswestry, Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Leominster: the miles are slowly eaten up beneath the trundling wheels. She stops on Wenlock Edge to make coffee, and to give the Turk a run, and again at Hereford to fill up with petrol. They have an early lunch in the winding Wye valley, beside the river, and all the while Tiggy is conscious of the wild bleak country to the west and north, stretching away to Snowdonia where Tom died four weeks earlier, attempting to complete the Horseshoe under snow. Snow still lies on the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons, and even here, deep in the valley, the wind is icy and the February sun is a chilly glimmer in the veiled grey sky.

Tom: she sees him clearly in her mind's eye as he would have been now. Lighting the little gas stove, filling the kettle, the tall strong length of him leaning at the van's door with his hands in the pockets of his jeans, whistling beneath his breath. How he loved travelling: making plans through the short winter term for the long summer holidays, with maps spread over the floor of his small flat on the university campus, showing her the roads they would take and discussing the places where they'd camp.

‘Why did you decide to teach?' she asked him.

He took a few moments to answer, running his long brown fingers through his short dark hair, his light grey eyes thoughtful. ‘Probably because I'd spent all my life in institutions,' he answered. ‘It seemed the natural thing to do. What about you?'

‘I love small children,' she said. ‘Perhaps it's because we never had families of our own. Not proper ones, anyway. We surround ourselves with other people, the more the merrier.'

‘But not always,' he said. ‘Sometimes I need to be alone or, at least, away from the crowds. That's why I like climbing.'

Tiggy shivers as she bundles the Turk back into the van. The Dandie Dinmont's large dark eyes gaze at her with bright intelligence and Tiggy buries her head suddenly against the wiry coat, longing for Tom and wondering if she'll have this sharp pain in her heart for the rest of her life. The initial disabling numbness, which at first had affected her whole body, has dwindled gradually into a hard central core of anguish. How does such grief work and who can she ask? For years after her mother died, she felt slightly at a disadvantage with children of her own age. They knew things she didn't, hinted at behaviour she couldn't understand; sometimes, when she asked an outright question, they'd scream with embarrassed laughter. Slowly she pieced together her experiences into a mosaic she could make sense of: for instance, her father's unexplained absences and her mother's tears, resulting in bitter words and long silences, began to make a pattern. Much later, remembering how she wakened to hear his footsteps crossing the landing to the au pair's bedroom, another shape in the picture fell into place. Some of the girls were told to go; they protested, drenched in tears, begging to stay and talking of promises of marriage; some were angry, shouting threats, whilst others looked frightened and ran away without giving notice. She never understood why – and some of them she missed terribly – but her father banished them all with a shrug and a shake of the head that said simply that women behaved inexplicably: it was nothing to worry about. It was a relief to reach an age where no more au pairs were needed. After all, she was away at school now for most of the year and at her grandmother's home in Herefordshire for a great deal of the holidays.

BOOK: The Way We Were
8.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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