Philippa Carr

We’ll Meet Again


The Night Comers

ON THAT MARCH MORNING, I arose at dawn. I had slept little during the night. Old Mrs. Jermyn had given a dinner party at Jermyn Priory to celebrate my engagement to her grandson—though perhaps it could scarcely be called a celebration in every way as Jowan was to leave for the Front the following day.

I had known he would ask me to marry him from that September day soon after war had been declared and he told me he was going to join the army.

We had been drawn to each other since our first meeting when, trespassing on Jermyn land, I fell from my horse and he came along to rescue me. One might say that that was the beginning of the end of the feud between the Tregarland and Jermyn families. I was not, however, a Tregarland, my connection with the family being only through my twin sister, Dorabella, who had married into it and whom I was visiting at the time.

Not that Jowan was concerned about the feud. He laughed at it as a piece of nonsense beloved and preserved by the local people. Yet it had kept the families apart for many years—and now here we were, about to be joined in holy matrimony.

As soon as the war was over we were to be married.

“Another six months perhaps,” said Jowan. “Maybe earlier.”

Sometimes it seemed to me that Jowan went through life taking what was and making it acceptable. Perhaps that was why he had been such a great help to me during the terrifying time through which I had passed.

Jowan had been brought up by his grandmother, for his mother had died when he was very young; he had inherited Jermyn Priory only a few years ago. His somewhat dissolute uncle had neglected the property, and since Jowan came into possession of it he had been attempting to put it in order. This he was doing with great success. He loved the house in which he had spent his early years before joining his father in New Zealand. His father had died before his uncle, and the estate had passed to Jowan.

I admired him for his single-minded purpose. So did his grandmother. She could never speak of him without betraying her pride.

“Jowan always sees what has to be done,” she told me. “And he never says ‘can’t.’ He loves this place as I did and it is right and proper that it should be his.”

That was why I was rather taken aback when he immediately decided to leave Jermyn’s and go into the army; but as he saw it, the war had to be won for the prosperity of the entire country and that included Jermyn’s. He had an excellent manager who had a good assistant. They were both considerably older than he was and married with families to support. He could be better spared, he said, and he could trust them to look after the place in his absence.

“We’ll settle the Germans in no time,” he said.

I had not seen much of him during the last months. There were his leaves, but they were never very long. This was one of the reasons why I stayed in Cornwall—another was that my sister refused to hear of my leaving.

Jowan had joined the Royal Field Artillery, whose training ground was at Lark Hill on Salisbury Plain, which was no great distance from Tregarland.

How we cherished those leaves! How we planned for the future! I felt uplifted by them while they lasted, but I was filled with foreboding after he had gone back to camp, knowing that the day for his departure was growing nearer.

Now it had come.

My parents were delighted with the match and Jowan’s grandmother and I were already good friends. Everything should have been perfect, but how could it be with the menace of war hanging over us?

On that morning, when I was washed and dressed, it was still very early and I felt a need to be out in the fresh morning air so I put on a coat and went out to my favorite seat in the garden.

Tregarland had been built on the top of a cliff, like a fortress overlooking the sea. The gardens stretched out down to a beach which was originally a private one, but it had been necessary for there to be a right of way through it, otherwise people walking along the beach would have to scale the cliff to get round, and, as I had once discovered, when caught by the tide, this was almost an impossibility.

I sat down on a bench which had been placed conveniently among the flowering shrubs and looked across the sea. Very soon Jowan would be somewhere on the other side of that strip of water. Destination unknown. It was no use trying to delude myself that he was not going into danger.

I heard a footstep and, looking up, saw my sister, Dorabella, coming towards me. She was smiling.

“I heard you,” she said. “I looked out of my window and there you were. So I followed.”

“It’s very early,” I said.

“The best part of the day, I’ve heard. What’s the matter, Vee?”

She occasionally used the shortened version of my name, which was Violetta; and this morning there was a note of tenderness in her voice. She knew what I was feeling.

Dorabella and I were not identical twins, but there was a firm bond between us. She had once called it “the gossamer cord.”

“It is strong,” she had said. She believed it was unbreakable, but so fine that no one knew it was there except us. But it always had been and it always would be. I think she was right in that.

She was rather frivolous and charming; I was reckoned to be the sensible, practical one. There was about her a misleading air of fragility which had always appealed to the opposite sex. I had always been conscious of her superior attractions but never—or possibly rarely—jealous.

When I considered where her impulsive actions led her, I was fearful for her and I felt sure that the most recent one must have had a lasting effect on her. She had rashly married and then rashly abandoned Dermot Tregarland, and so set in motion consequences which had affected us all deeply. In fact, but for that marriage, I should never have met Jowan. I should not have been sitting in that place at that moment.

I glanced at her. Yes, what had happened had had a sobering effect even on her. I was afraid for her, but whatever she did, I would never stop loving her. Nothing could change that.

She took my hand and said: “Don’t worry. He’ll be all right. I know it in my bones. He’s a survivor. I’m one myself and I recognize a kindred spirit.”

“You’re certainly right about yourself,” I said.

She looked at me ruefully, telling me with her eyes that she was sorry for all the anxiety she had caused us. I had forgiven her, as our parents had.

“Of course I am,” she said. “The war will soon be over. He’ll be back … a hero. There will be wedding bells. The gathering of the clans. That stupid feud between the Tregarlands and the Jermyns at an end forever. It was all rather ridiculous, wasn’t it?”

“And you, Dorabella, what shall you do? Shall you stay at Tregarland’s?”

She was thoughtful, so I knew the idea of getting away had occurred to her.

“It will be different,” she said. “You’ll be the Lady of Jermyn Priory.”

“That is old Mrs. Jermyn.”

“Oh, she will graciously step aside. She is so pleased that you are going to marry her bonny boy. When this miserable war is over, I think I shall be able to bear it if you are not far away. We’re all living in a sort of limbo now, aren’t we? Nobody can make any plans. We don’t know what will happen from one minute to the next. This war… how long do you really think it will go on?”

“I don’t know. We’re constantly hearing that we are doing well, but the Germans seem to be very strong. It is difficult to know whether we are hearing everything or if things are being kept from us.”

“You are getting morbid, Vee.”

“I like to know the truth.”

“Ignorance is bliss, remember.”

“Less so when the truth is forced upon us, as it could be in some circumstances.”

“Snap out of it! I know Jowan’s going and you are naturally worried, but we are here together. I can’t tell you how pleased I am about that. The best thing for me is that you and I will be neighbors. Think of that.”

“And you have Tristan.”

“Auntie Violetta has a proprietary interest and Nanny Crabtree believes, I am sure, that he is more hers than mine. I wonder if that child realizes how many lay claim to him. I pick him up and Nanny Crabtree thinks I am going to drop him.” She was sober suddenly. “After what happened, she probably feels I’m not to be trusted. It was she—and you—who saved him from Mad Matilda when I was not there … as I should have been.”

“It’s all in the past.”

“Is it? Don’t you think the things we do—the really important things—never really go away? They leave their effect behind forever after.”

“You have to stop thinking like that.”

“I do most of the time, but sometimes it comes back and haunts me. I went off with a lover. I left my husband and child … and now I’m back. My husband died, my child might have been murdered but for you and Nanny Crabtree. You see how it feels sometimes.”

“As long as you have learned your lesson…”

Her mood changed and she burst out laughing.

“I can’t help it,” she said. “Always the same old Violetta. Preaching the truth, grappling heroically with the problems of the wayward twin—and never forgetting to point to the moral.”

“Someone has to do it with people like you around!”

“And you do. You always have. Don’t think I forget. I don’t ever. That’s why I have to have you near me and if you are not there I get a bit panicky. I shall never forget how you told the tale for me. And I know how you hate to lie. I had run away with my lover. I had staged my departure to look like a drowning … as though I had gone down to swim, leaving my wrap and slippers there on the beach … and all the time I was crossing the Channel on my way to Paris. And what did you do? You worked out a tale for me. I had gone swimming, lost consciousness, been picked up by a yacht. Oh … it was wonderful!”