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Authors: Lyn Andrews

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BOOK: Sunlight on the Mersey
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Chapter Eight

R
OSE PEERED OUT OF
the small bedroom window and frowned. Tomorrow was the day of the Tregarron Annual Flower Show and both she and Aunty Gwen had worked hard alongside Mrs Williams and the other volunteers getting everything organised. For weeks the weather had been very warm and mainly sunny but looking at the ominous dark clouds that were now gathering she hoped it wasn’t going to rain. There were times when she missed her family but since she’d been here she’d hardly thought about Jimmy Harper at all. In fact now she reckoned she’d had a lucky escape and wondered what she had ever found attractive about him. She felt she had grown up a little and even Aunty Gwen said she was far more confident now. She went back downstairs, hearing Gwen calling her for supper.

‘I hope it’s not going to rain, Aunty Gwen.’

Gwen nodded as she poured the tea. ‘It doesn’t look too good out there, Rose. Mind, we do need it. Bob was only saying yesterday that there’s been no rain for nearly a hundred days now – must have been counting – but then he’s a farmer and no rain isn’t good for either crops or animals. Let’s hope that if it does it clears up by morning. Now, sit down and have your supper. You must be as tired as I am. Bye, but I’m tired of hearing Mrs Llewellyn-Jones complaining her floral arrangement isn’t being displayed to the best advantage. She’s moved it four times already and I still don’t think she’s satisfied!’

Rose smiled conspiratorially as she tucked into the cold ham and pickle, accompanied by thick slices of homemade bread and butter from the dairy at Bryn-y-Garn Farm. ‘She is a real fuss-pot, I have to agree, but weeks ago I would never have had the nerve to say so.’

Gwen smiled at her. Spending time away from her home and family had been good for Rose, and she had grown fond of the girl.

‘Her arrangement is gorgeous though. Do you think she’ll win?’

Gwen raised her eyes to the ceiling. ‘She has for the past two years so if she doesn’t we’ll never hear the end of it! But the judge’s decision is final,’ she ended firmly, watching Rose eat with satisfaction. Rose had grown much stronger over the weeks. She had a good appetite and had even gained a little weight, and the sun had put the colour back into her cheeks. She now looked the picture of health.

Rose had taken to country life like a duck to water. She’d made some friends amongst the girls in the village and Bob’s two boys were quite smitten with her but Rose said although she liked them, it was just friendship, nothing more. She was unfailingly polite and obliging when she helped out in the post office and was well spoken of by everyone. She happily made the journey into Denbigh once a week with old Mr Morgan in his archaic trap with its equally archaic pony to visit the library and do whatever shopping was needed and she’d worked untiringly and uncomplainingly to help organise the show.

‘Well, there are only a few little things left to do in the morning, Aunty Gwen. As long as it doesn’t rain, that is. It would really spoil the day and it would ruin the lawns at Plas Idris too,’ Rose remarked, thinking of the wide stretches of green sward that surrounded the house upon which marquees were now dotted.

‘You’re really taken with the big house, aren’t you?’

‘I love the gardens, they’re beautiful, it’s like being in a park,’ Rose replied. It must be wonderful to be able to look out on to such a scene each day, she mused. She’d been quite excited and a little apprehensive the first time she’d gone there with Gwen. She had stared in amazement at the house as they’d got off their bicycles at the end of the long, tree-lined driveway. It was the biggest private house she’d ever seen, built of local stone. Parts of it resembled a castle: crenellated walls, Gwen had called them. There were long sash windows overlooking the grounds and wide steps leading up to the
front door, which was huge and made of thick oak. The whole area in front of it was gravelled but large stone urns filled with flowers stood at intervals along the walls of the house.

They’d been shown into one of the smaller sitting rooms, which was furnished in shades of blue, and she’d noticed then that the brocade curtains were a little faded as was the material that covered the sofa and various armchairs. The sunlight streaming in through the window had drawn her attention to the layer of dust covering the glass domes of the numerous displays of dried flowers and stuffed birds that were set on tables around the room.

She’d been introduced to Miss Rhys-Pritchard, whom everyone called Miss Olivia, and her younger sister Miss Elinore, both of whom she judged to be in their late twenties or early thirties, both unmarried and dressed in obviously expensive but decidedly unfashionable clothes. She had been rather overawed, particularly by Miss Olivia, and had said little during the discussion about the show that had followed but Gwen had enlightened her on many things when they’d left.

‘It’s a shame really, see, the house going downhill like that,’ she’d said as they’d cycled down the drive towards the road that led to the village. ‘They used to have a big staff there when their parents were alive but since the war people don’t want to go into service any more.’

Rose had nodded. ‘I noticed that the place needed a good dusting and that things were looking a bit . . . worn.’

‘They still have money though. Own most of the farms around here, they do – Bob is one of their tenants – but the
two mines were sold off after the tragedy,’ Gwen had said gravely.

‘What tragedy? Was there a mining disaster?’ Rose had asked. She knew such things happened.

‘No, not for years in any of the ones their father owned. One weekend the parents went off to visit friends in England – somewhere in the Wye Valley we heard – but they never got there. Terrible accident there was, see. Their motor car overturned on a steep stretch of the road after colliding with a farm cart and rolled down the side of the hill. Both killed, they were. Tragic, it was.’ Gwen had shaken her head sadly remembering the big funeral for the Rhys-Pritchards. ‘Folk say Miss Elinore never got over it. She was her father’s pet, see.’

‘I thought she was a bit vague but after a shock like that you would be. Was it very long ago? How old was she then?’

‘About the same age as you are now, Rose. Must have been nine years ago now.’

Rose had felt very sorry for Elinore Rhys-Pritchard; she couldn’t envisage losing both her parents like that.

‘And then of course young Mr David, or Dai as they call him, was badly wounded in the war,’ Gwen had continued.

Rose had been surprised. ‘I didn’t know they had a brother.’

‘Oh yes indeed. Shrapnel in both legs. Terrible! He can walk but only a few steps and it’s so painful that he spends most of his time in a wheelchair now. Such a shame when you think of how you used to see him galloping around on that big bay hunter he had. Sold the horse, those girls did. Took him
a long time to get well and I’ve heard that it’s affected him in other ways too. Very down he gets. Sad, isn’t it?’

‘I think it affected a lot of the boys like that. I know our Charlie didn’t come back the same person,’ she’d told Gwen.

After supper she’d helped Gwen clear away and wash up and had then read for half an hour but she didn’t stay up and finish her book, knowing they had an early start in the morning.

Thankfully the overnight rain had cleared next morning and the sun was shining, giving the promise of another hot day.

‘Much better after that rain, isn’t it? Everything looks and smells fresher,’ Gwen commented, breathing in deeply as she and Rose mounted their bicycles and rode to Plas Idris.

The place was a hive of activity when they arrived and Gwen smiled. ‘Get a good crowd today, we will, I shouldn’t wonder. Now, there’s only an hour before we open to the public. There’s at least four busloads coming from Denbigh and some from Mold and Pentrefoelas and the judges will be starting their inspection soon. You go and find Miss Olivia and see if there’s anything urgent she needs doing. I’ll make sure that Mrs Llewellyn-Jones isn’t still causing a fuss,’ Gwen directed.

Rose found Miss Olivia in the small marquee reserved for the judges. She looked well, she thought. Her wide-brimmed straw hat decorated with pink artificial flowers was reminiscent of the style worn before the war, as was her blouse. High-necked and pale pink, it had inserts of white lace in the leg-o’-
mutton sleeves which matched the white skirt she wore and from under which white buttoned boots could be glimpsed. The outfit made her look every inch the lady she was. Gwen had said she was twenty-nine but Rose thought that she looked older and would probably appear younger if she adopted the more modern styles now fashionable.

She herself was wearing a blue and white cotton dress with a drop-waist, short sleeves and a fluted hemline which she’d bought in Denbigh and which looked fresh and cool. She’d trimmed her blue cloche with some white ribbon which had brightened it up.

‘Miss Olivia, Miss Roberts sent me to ask if there’s anything needing to be done.’

Olivia turned, a frown creasing her forehead. ‘Ah, Rose! Yes, there is something you can do,’ she said. She was feeling slightly harassed and thankful to have another pair of hands. She had met the girl on several occasions and had found her a pleasant, willing worker although her accent grated a little. ‘Would you go over to the house, please? Elinore has forgotten to bring the “Best in Show” cards over and the judges will be starting any minute now. They’re on the sideboard in the dining room, so she informs me. Do you know where that is?’

Rose shook her head. ‘No, but don’t worry, I’ll find it.’

‘It’s at the back of the house, the last door on the left before the baize door to the kitchens and would you hurry, please? I don’t want any complaints about tardiness or bad organisation.’ She sighed, thinking she could well do without her sister’s forgetfulness on days like today, before turning back to the
group of elderly gentlemen who comprised the panel of judges.

Rose quickly covered the distance to the house and made her way down the wide hallway, finally reaching what she hoped was the dining room. She breathed a sigh of relief when she opened the door to see a long, highly polished table and matching chairs. Floor-length, mulberry-coloured velvet curtains held back with gold-coloured cords graced the large windows but the internal shutters had only been partly folded back and so the room was rather dark. She found the cards in a neat pile on the heavily carved sideboard that took up most of one wall but as she turned to leave she was startled to see a young man sitting near the window furthest from her.

‘Oh, I’m so sorry! I didn’t think there was anyone here. I . . . I suppose I should have knocked first. I was sent to fetch these cards for the judges. Miss Elinore forgot to take them over with the others,’ she blurted out awkwardly. To her relief he smiled.

‘Poor Ellie, she often forgets things and I think sometimes she finds all Livvie’s instructions rather confusing,’ he said with a note of affection in his voice as he moved towards her.

Rose could now see that he was sitting in a wheelchair. ‘Well, I have to agree that things have been a bit hectic these last couple of days,’ she said shyly, realising that this must be David Rhys-Pritchard.

She could see him quite clearly now and she thought he would have been a very handsome young man if it hadn’t been
for the scar on his left cheek and the signs of suffering deeply etched on his features. She judged him to be about as old as her brother Charlie.

‘What’s your name?’ he asked, knowing from her accent that she wasn’t local.

‘Rose. Rose Mundy. Well, Rosamund actually but everyone calls me just Rose. I’m staying with Miss Roberts, the postmistress.’

‘Rose – Rosamund. Rosa mundi,’ he repeated. ‘“The rose of the world”. Did you know that?’

Embarrassed, she looked down at the cards she was clutching, not knowing if he was mocking her. ‘No, I don’t know why Mam picked that name. I . . . I think I’d better go now, the judges are waiting,’ she replied. Then she looked up but he had turned away and was staring out of the window, lost in a world of his own, seemingly unaware that she was even there. Quietly she let herself out, closing the door gently behind her, and ran down the length of the hall and out into the gardens, heading for the marquee. The experience had unsettled her.

She had no time over the next few hours to dwell on her encounter with David Rhys-Pritchard as she accompanied Gwen and Bethan Williams around the many exhibits, which included vegetables and craftwork as well as flowers and floral displays, but when they finally arrived home, late that afternoon, she remembered it.

‘Aunty Gwen, when I went over for those cards I met David Rhys-Pritchard and he said something . . . odd.’

Gwen looked concerned. ‘What? Nothing . . . inappropriate, I hope?’

Rose shook her head. ‘He said my name means “Rose of the world”. I don’t know if he was making fun of me or not.’

Gwen smiled. ‘I don’t think he was,
cariad.
There is a rose called “Rosa mundi” and that’s exactly what it means. I think it was meant as a compliment.’

Rose was still a little puzzled. ‘He asked me did I know that but when I answered he’d turned away and it was as if . . . I wasn’t there.’

BOOK: Sunlight on the Mersey
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