|Tom Evans whistled as he crossed the fields from his father’s farm on his way to Plas Gwyn, a bunch of fresh spring flowers in his arms. Life was good, his mother’s cough was better, the lambs had all been born with none of the usual complications and tonight, well, wasn’t he taking his girl out for a walk and a nice quiet drink in the Howells Arms? |
He couldn’t stop the grin that crossed his face when he thought of Anna. Not pretty in the conventional sense, maybe, as his brother had said, a remark that had won him a black eye for his trouble, but she was a great girl and he had already made up his mind.
He smoothed his hair down with his hand as he approached the house, hoping that the Doctor and his wife were out and he could maybe sit with Anna in the kitchen for a while.
Anna herself was tired; she had been busy that day, however she was looking forward to seeing Tom and spending some time with him. He was a nice young man, if a little rough around the edges, as she had heard the Herr Doktor say to the Mistress and very handsome, with his dark hair and eyes.
Thus lay the reason that Anna, fully aware of and completely resigned to her own lack of beauty, was fussing over her appearance in a way that was completely alien to her. She had pressed her good dress and shined her shoes until her arm ached, and now she was peering into the mirror in her tiny slip of a room, wishing that she didn’t have such dark rings under her eyes, that her thick glasses accentuated so dreadfully. No matter how much she tried, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she just wasn’t attractive enough for him.
“Anna!” She looked up as the triplets ran into her room, giggling. “We’ve got a present for you!”
“A present for thy Anna?” She smiled at them, “What then, is it, my little flowers?”
“Toffee!” Margot cried, handing it over, narrowly missing Anna’s dress with sticky hands.
“Mamma brought it for you,” Connie added, solemnly. “But it’s a pwesent from us three – an’ Steve too.”
“Why, thank you.” Anna smiled at them and put the box of toffee on the small table next to her bed.
“Anna, you looks pwetty.” Len said, the surprise evidence in her baby voice. “Pwetty dress!”
“Girls! What are you doing?” Joey came in, and shooed the triplets out. She didn’t comment on how Anna looked, but she did wish her a pleasant evening with a smile.
“Anna,” he greeted her with a smile and thrust the flowers into her hands, thinking how she made the seven-mile tramp from Haylings worthwhile, “You look lovely.”
“Oh, Tom, they are beautiful,” Anna took them and placed them in a vase, her eyes shining. Tom smiled to see her pleasure and wished he had brought her roses instead of wildflowers.
“I thought we could walk up the Medbury Road, it’ll be quiet at this time. I don’t think there’ll be an air raid, but if there is we can use the public shelter. What do you think?”
Anna nodded, shyly and he grinned at her and took her hand.
Neither of them was chatty by nature and Anna was always conscious of her thick Austrian accent, although he had never commented on it. As they walked in the vague direction of Medbury, he slung an arm around her shoulders, which she rather liked, and drew her closer, telling her a story about the new lambs at the farm.
“I’d like to see them,” Anna smiled, as he paused to light his cigarette.
“You could come round on Wednesday for tea, I’m sure Ma wouldn’t mind,” he exhaled smoke and frowned briefly.
Oh yes, she would, Anna thought to herself, but she wasn’t about to remind him about Mrs Evans’ hostility to her at their one and only meeting.
Anna woke the next morning, tired but happy. They had stayed fairly late at the Howells Arms and she had enjoyed herself. Tom had made her laugh, and said that he couldn’t wait until he saw her again.
She got up, washed, dressed and did her hair carefully. She would be going down to the village later with the children and he might be there.
He wasn’t, unfortunately, but his brother was. Anna was hesitant, she didn’t know what to make of Rhys, who was taciturn and moody, but today he seemed friendly enough and seemed pleased to meet the children, even picking Stephen up out of his pram to say hello. The triplets, not at all shy, chatted away to him.
“Tom’s busy up at the farm,” Rhys explained to Anna, when she asked, stumbling over her English and blushing furiously. “I’ll tell him you said hello, should I?”
“If it is no trouble,” Anna replied, taking charge of the children once more. “I may have a free afternoon.”
“Come on up to the farm then.” Rhys said kindly. “If you can be here by five, I can drive you up.”
“I must ask Frau Doktor Maynard,” Anna said, considering. She thought it might just be possible.
Lady Russell’s bicycle was lying against the stone walls of Plas Gwyn when she returned home and she could hear low conversation from the drawing room. Taking the children upstairs, she wasn’t surprised when her mistress, Lady Russell and Robin came upstairs to see the children, who abandoned their doll’s house with cries of joy. While they were in the nursery, she noticed that all three looked agitated and she wondered what had happened. She would find out later, she told herself. Joey was not the sort of employer who refused to discuss matters with her maid.
As they left, she got up to close the door and overheard something. Joey’s clear tones carried.
”Anna’s got a young man,” she was saying, as they went downstairs preceded by Robin. “It’s Tom Evans from Haylings. I’m glad. He’s a very decent fellow, and earning good money. Only, if they get married soon, I don’t know what on earth I’m going to do without Anna. By the way, I hope you observe how much your nieces take in nowadays. Anna told me Mrs Evans had said that, but I’d no idea that those monkeys had heard anything.”
Married soon! Anna flushed happily, going off into a happy dream, until the triplets claimed her attention once more.
Evan Evans from the school, a distant cousin of Tom’s mother, took her as far as the crossroads in his trap. Anna thanked him as he set her down, and wiped her forehead with her handkerchief. It was very warm, for a September evening. She was looking forward to seeing Tom again, and wished she had been able to let him know she was coming. Still, he had told her to drop round whenever she wished, and she knew he was home that evening.
Anna disliked the farm dogs, which rushed at her and barked loudly as usual, but she disliked Dai Evans, Tom’s father, more. He yelled at the dogs and pulled the more ferocious animals away, while at the same time giving her that up-and-down glance that she detested. Anna shuddered and pushing her dislike aside, asked him politely where she could find Tom.
“He’s yonder,” Dai pointed toward the upper field. Anna thanked him and turned to go up the path. One of the hateful dogs lunged towards her and Dai gave it a kick.
Tom was moving hay bales. He was shirtless. Anna hesitated but he turned and saw her and smiled. He threw aside the bale as though it weighed nothing and came over to her.
“I didn’t expect to see you,” he began.
“I’m sorry…” Anna wondered if it had been a mistake. She held out her basket which was covered with a tea cloth. “I made you some kuchen.”
“No, it’s good. A nice surprise,” he took the basket and laid is aside, taking both of her hands in his. “What is kuchen?”
“It is cake. Cakes.”
“You’re too good to me, Anna.” Tom smiled. He left her briefly to pull his shirt back on. “Come inside and we’ll have tea.”
“But you are working…”
“I’ve been working all day. It’s time I finished. Besides, I want to have tea with you and eat your kuchen.”
“Good evening,” Anna said to Mrs Evans, who answered with a sniff of disdain. Tom was out of earshot.
Anna put her basket onto the kitchen table and began to unpack it. Tom returned, with water for the kettle that sat on the fire. Mrs Evans watched him. It would never occur to her to get up and make the tea herself as she saw Anna as his visitor. Why should she be inconvenienced?
“Anna’s brought some cakes, Mother,” Tom said. “Look.”
“So I can see.” Mrs Evans said, sharply. “Strange cakes, they are.”
“They’re called kuchen.” Tom said, his gaze on Anna. He admired her for coming all this way just to see him. He wished he had his own home he could offer her but maybe, once they were married, they could do up the little house at the end of the lane. It wasn’t in bad condition – he could do the work it needed himself in the evenings - and Anna could furnish it with his mother’s help. The doctor would probably give them a cheque for a wedding present.
“Odd name. What does it mean?” Mrs Evans poked at the tiny cakes, suspiciously. “They’re not – they’re not German are they?”
“They are from the Tirol.” Anna replied, quietly. She knew it was wicked to hate anybody, but oh how she disliked Tom’s mother! “I am not German, Mrs Evans.”
“You know she’s not,” Tom said, an edge to his voice.
Mrs Evans said something in Welsh, and Tom answered back in that language. Anna concentrated on unpacking the cakes. She had learnt a few words, mainly from some of the other servants she met in the village or at the local dance where she had met Tom, but she couldn’t follow the way they talked. It was so fast. Anxiously, she piled the cakes onto the earthenware plate.