by Elin Gregory
As war rages in France, battles are also being fought on the Home Front.
Bethan Harrhy, farmer’s wife, does her best to keep her family happy as prices rise and the weather worsens. Nye, her husband, is angry and worried. Alwyn, her brother, is injured and shaken by his experiences in the trenches. Her baby is teething and there’s another on the way. Surely having her brother’s best friend to stay, another face, another voice, another pair of hands, can only be a good thing? But when Joe arrives, Bethan is forced to confront ideas she had never even guessed at and makes a terrible mistake.
With conflict at home and abroad, can there be a happy ending for any of them?
21,000 words / 78 pages
Publication 1 November 2017
Bethan put Nye’s plate on the table and craned her neck to peer past her husband and through the window. The farmyard, misty even though it was past noon, was empty apart from a few fowls.
“He’s run down the lane.” Nye picked up his knife and fork. “We saw the post cart. Beats me what Alwyn and his pals find to write about.”
He began to eat, and Bethan covered the other plate and set it to warm on the side of the range.
“I’m glad for him,” she murmured. “They went through a lot. It’s good for him to have someone who understands.”
“You’d think he’d sooner forget the bloody war.” Nye’s mouth was full of boiled ham but Bethan heard the swear word clearly.
“Nye Harrhy, I’ll wash your mouth out,” she said. “I won’t have language like that in my house.” She shot a pointed glance towards the crib and Nye nodded, finishing his mouthful.
“I would have gone, you know, but farming –”
“I’m glad you didn’t. Look at poor Alwyn.”
“Listen, more like.” Nye cut more ham and dipped it in the piccalilli. “How many times did he wake you last night?”
“Only twice.” Bethan looked to the window again and there was Alwyn strolling across the yard with Fly a black and white shadow at his heels. He had the open letter tilted to catch the light for his one good eye. Her adored big brother, dark and quick, had turned heads, but now he could barely look anyone in the face, even those who loved him. She studied him: his mouth drawn awry by the scars that seamed his right cheek, his once smooth skin like old oak bark, the stub of an ear. He was too far away for her to see the drooping lid that covered the clouded remains of the eye that had once been so bright. She suppressed a shiver and got up to fetch his plate.
On the threshold Alwyn gestured Fly away to her barrel bed in the shelter of the byre then came in and kicked off his boots. He gave them both his usual nod of greeting then settled at the table with a whisper of thanks. He ate quickly, just nodding as Nye complained about the high prices for fodder.
“They say it’s all going to France to feed the draft beasts. Better prices from the War Office. And now they’ve called up most of the men, how are we going to harrow and plant with just us two?”
“I can harrow,” Bethan pointed out.
“You’ve got the baby now,” Nye said, “and another on the way. I’m not having my wife out in the fields.”
“I wanted to talk to you about that.” Alwyn’s gruff whisper was so unexpected that it cut sharply over Nye’s grumbling. “I have a friend who needs a job. Was in my platoon. He’s home, not fit to go down the pit.”
“A miner? What use will a miner be?”
“He worked with the ponies.” Alwyn glanced at Bethan. “He’s a good worker.”
“And he’s a friend,” Bethan said. “Nye? We could see how he does.”
Nye turned from brother to sister, his mouth tightening in the exasperated moue he always made when they ganged up on him. “Well.” His tone was grudging. “Ponies, horses – all the same, isn’t it, apart from the size.”
While Alwyn went to find a pen to write a reply, Nye admitted that he’d had doubts about getting all their work done even if Bethan had helped.
“There’s only so many hours in the day and Alwyn’s not the man he was. We can try this fellow, see how he does.” Nye nodded as he put his coat back on. “Even if he only helps about the stable and yard, it will be better than nothing.”