Rowan Marlow wandered round Colebridge Market, not at all sure what she was looking for. Really, she ought to be heading back to Trennels; there was plenty to be done and, on a lovely day, she should be out looking at fences, or something. But just for once, it was enjoyable to be pottering about. Farming was bearable, she supposed, but there were times when she longed to escape. School had held very little attraction for her, and she had not been sorry to leave and take over the running of the farm, so that neither her father nor Giles would have to leave the Navy. “Heaven forbid,” she thought, privately. Although Nicola, the younger sister to whom she felt closest, still appeared to think that the Navy was all that was perfect in life, Rowan was just as glad that her father and Giles were at sea most of the time, and visits home few and far between. Especially after the – kerfuffle – last Christmas holidays, when Peter and Giles had nearly drowned. “Fools!” thought Rowan again, furiously, and tried quickly to think of something else.
“Rowan!” A voice broke in on her reverie. “How are you, dear?”
Helena Merrick, wife of the local MP and Lady of the Manor, mother of their friend Patrick. Rowan didn't feel like chatting, but one had to be polite. “Oh, hello, Mrs Merrick. How are you? I'm playing truant today – I came in to see whether it would be worth our while to have a stall here sometimes, when we have a surplus of something like tomatoes, but I don't think it would.”
“What news of dear Ginty? I do hope she is better now.”
Mrs Merrick, you rat. We all know you hate Gin, and would like to see her vanish from the earth. But aloud, Rowan said, merely, “Yes, I gather she's much better. She'll be staying in Ireland for the foreseeable future, I believe.”
“I see the Young Farmers' Club have a stall today; have you seen it? You ought to join the Young Farmers, Rowan – they run a lot of activities and you might make more friends locally.”
Rowan hadn't actually heard of the Young Farmers Club, and anyway, who had time for socialising when there was a farm to run? But anything to head off Mrs Merrick, so she agreed to have a look, and made a polite farewell before heading in the direction indicated.
The stall was run by a cheerful young man, assisted by several schoolgirls. Between them, they loaded Rowan down with leaflets about forthcoming activities: a ploughing match, a car wash to raise funds, a cake sale, an Open Day at a local farm, and so on. And the young man – whose name appeared to be George – told her, above the children's heads, that the older members tended to meet in the King's Head every Thursday evening, and she would be most welcome to join them.
That, thought Rowan, sounded rather fun. Except that she wouldn't be able to drink, as she'd have to drive in, trains from Westbridge being non-existent after about 7:00 pm. She said as much, and George laughed. “Ah,” he said, “In that case, you'd be most welcome to join us at the Merrick Arms on a Monday!”
Rowan looked at him, quizzically. “No, no, we're not alcoholics – we just like to get together and relax after a hard day!”
“But don't you find all your evenings taken up with Min of Ag forms?”
“My dad does all that, thankfully. Do you have to do your own?”
“Alas, yes. One wouldn't mind, exactly, only it does take up such wodges of time, and I always feel I should be doing something more productive!”
“I think the Ministry feels that filling in forms is being productive! I'm just so glad I don't have to do that for a living! Those poor Civil Servants in London!”
“At least they're indoors when it's sleeting. There are times I envy them!”
The conversation continued in a similar vein for some time, until one of the children pointed out that the stalls were closing and her Mum was coming for her in ten minutes. Rowan apologised, and left, feeling that she had made a new friend.
That feeling only intensified on the Monday evening, when she met George and several other people around her own age in the Merrick Arms. She was the only person in sole charge of a farm, but all the others had grown up on farms, and most of them were involved in agriculture, one way and another. Rowan, for the first time in two years, began to feel she was not alone.
This feeling continued throughout the summer, and by the time her siblings came home for the summer, she was well-established among the Monday night regulars at the pub, and had taken part in some of the other events organised by the local Young Farmers' Club. She had welcomed some of the younger members to Trennels on a Saturday afternoon and had enjoyed showing them round and telling them something of her life as a novice farmer. They, children of farmers, often knew more than she did about farming, and even about Trennels, and she learnt a lot from them.
But it was George, particularly, whom she liked. The easy, instant friendship that had sprung up between them that day at Colebridge market had continued, and they gradually began to see each other outside of Monday evenings, too. They decided to join the regulars in Colebridge on a Thursday evening, and took it in turns to drive in together. Rowan didn't want to take the friendship too seriously – she was only eighteen, and, although her sister had married at nineteen, she had no idea of following her example – but she valued it, and George, perhaps more than she realised.
“I wonder who will be the next one of you children to shatter our world!” said Mrs Marlow over breakfast, the first morning of the school holidays.
“Me, I expect,” said Peter, unexpectedly. “Look here, would anybody mind if I gave up Dartmouth after next year, and did my A levels at Colebridge Grammar?”
“Oh Peter, why?” asked his mother. “Not the Navy?”
“Not the Navy,” said Peter. “Not sea, anyway, and I'm not really attracted to anything else. I'd rather come right out and do something different. Plus – well, my form tutor didn't sound exactly keen on the idea that I'd become a midshipman.”
“Any idea what you will do instead?”
“Not an earthly, at this stage!”
“So what A levels, or haven't you decided yet?”
“Not really. Probably history, economics and something else, but I'll have to see what they offer at Colebridge.”
That was all that was said then, but Captain Marlow came home from the Falklands the following week, and Giles had a weekend's leave which he chose to spend at home. And then it all exploded. Captain Marlow was still furious with Ginty for having run away from home, and chose to be angry with Ann for having gone to her rescue, with the immediate consequence of loss of her prefectship, and long-term consequence of not being appointed Head Girl. And the news that Peter, unlike Giles, would not be following him into the Navy seemed to be the last straw that broke the camel's back.
Nicola, Lawrie and Rowan, uninvolved, had settled down to enjoy the fireworks, but Nicola found herself getting more and more angry at some of the things her father and brother were saying, and the assumptions they were making. Finally, she could bear it no longer.
“Oh, stop it!” she cried. “You're just being ridiculous. You were awful about Ginty – she was seriously ill, and you would have let her just die there in Ireland, with nobody knowing where she was or how she was or anything. And Ann goes, and has to give up being Head Girl and everything, don't you think that's quite enough without you going on about it, too?”
“Shut up, Nick!” said Ann, scarlet and furious in her turn. “You don't know what you're talking about!
“Yes I do,” said Nicola, refusing to be quelled. She did not often lose her temper, and seldom showed her emotions, and perhaps it was inevitable that when she did, she could barely stop.
“I do know what I'm talking about – okay you say you don't mind not being a prefect, or having any office next year –”
“I don't, truly not!”
“But you can't stop us minding for you, when we know you did the right thing. Someone had to go to Ginty. We couldn't, you know we couldn't, and nobody else would, so it had to be you, and it's jolly unfair that you copped it like that. And as for Binks, if he doesn't want to be in the Navy, why should he be? There are other careers.”
“You never used to think so,” said Lawrie, provocatively.
“Perhaps not. But there are. And if Binks – sorry, Peter – wants to do one of them, why shouldn't he? Why is it so important that he be absolutely just like you?”
Giles began to bluster, and Ann was still complaining vociferously about Nicola's championing of her. “QUIET!” shouted Captain Marlow, in what Nicola privately called his best quarter-deck voice. “I think we are all getting overwrought here. Nicola, please calm down. You are at liberty to question my decisions, but please be aware I don't tolerate defiance well. Ann may or may not have been right to defy my orders as she did, but I don't have to like that she did it.”
Eventually, as these things do, the family row blew over, but alliances had shifted permanently. Nicola no longer hero-worshipped Giles, although she still liked him, and found herself liking Ann far more than she had done in the past. Ann herself withdrew slightly from the rest of the family, and became more of a lone wolf than ever. She spent a week of her summer in Ireland, staying with the Carradynes, and came home to report that Ginty was well and happy, although convinced that she didn't know the first thing about riding or horses. But she was working well, and the Carradynes spoke well of her.
The following year passed pretty much without incident. Ann took her A levels and left Kingscote. Peter took his O levels and left Dartmouth. In September, Ann left for a teaching hospital in London, and was seldom seen at Trennels after that, although she dutifully wrote to her mother every week. Peter, conversely, settled down there, travelling daily to Colebridge to the Grammar school there, accompanied on the train by Rose Dodd, who was in her first year at the girls' grammar school. However, part-way through the year, Edwin Dodd announced that they had finally bought a house in Streweminster, and the family moved away, leaving the old farmhouse vacant once more. Rowan promptly seized her opportunity, and moved into it herself.
Peter, during the two years of his A level course, became more involved in the farm. He joined the Young Farmers, slightly to Rowan's irritation, although the pressure of homework meant that he seldom joined her in the pub on a Monday, and almost never on a Thursday. But he found he enjoyed farm work, as he had suspected he might, and finally decided to do an HND course at Seal Hayne Agricultural College when he left school.
This decision was well-received by the family, particularly Rowan. “You see, George and I want to get married, but I can't leave the farm and he can't really leave his, as his father depends on him too much. So if you take over when you've done your course, that will work out very well. George and I don't mind a long engagement.”
The family, who liked George, were delighted for Rowan. And, in due course, the wedding took place, on a cold December morning some three years later.
“What a contrast with Kay's wedding!” commented Nicola. “When you think how sad and strange that felt, and then today so happy.”
“It all goes to show,” said Lawrie.
“Show what?” asked Nicola, teasing. But there was no reply, so she went off to throw confetti at the happy couple, who were being driven to the reception on the back of a tractor.