In A Strange Land

Alison Carter’s pow­er­ful com­plete story, set in the 1950s, wel­comes you to a brand-new Spe­cial.

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

MARY BILLINGS put her head round the door of the po­lice sta­tion. “Any jobs, Dad?” Her fa­ther hur­ried in from the back of the sta­tion. “Mary, keep your voice down, will you? The sergeant will give me a tick­ing off.”

Mary grinned as she heard a great bass snore em­anate from the of­fice. “He’s out for the count.” “Well, you can call by Rawlish’s Farm if you’re cy­cling past to work. There’s a new worker there I’ve been check­ing on.” “Check­ing?” “He’s from Ger­many. Can’t think what he’s do­ing on a dairy farm in Cheshire. There seems no harm in the lad, but I don’t sup­pose he’s go­ing down well in the vil­lage.”

“A Ger­man at Rawlish’s!” Mary was taken aback. “I thought we fought that war to stop them com­ing!”

“Mrs Rawlish says she doesn’t care if the lad’s from Venus, if he can do the milk­ing. They’ve no help and no money to pay a fair wage since Rawlish did his back in.” “What does he say about it?” “He says the whole county will vil­ify him, hav­ing a Nazi on his land. Of course the lad’s no Nazi. He’s come to Eng­land want­ing work through a scheme. Peo­ple who want to come from Ger­many can work here as long as it’s a job no English per­son would want. At the end of five years they get leave to stay.” Mary sniffed. “We’ve had enough schemes try­ing to get the coun­try back on its feet. I don’t blame Len Rawlish – their farm’s go­ing to ruin. It’s just that it’ll cause up­set.” Mary swung her bag over her shoul­der.

“So you’ll check on him for me?” Con­sta­ble Billings urged. “It’s my job to make sure he’s still there and hasn’t run off to start an­other war. I’ve been past the farm for five days in a row, and to be hon­est it’s a waste of po­lice time. The Ger­man’s not go­ing any­where.”

“Well, I could check on him for you once a day as long as the sergeant doesn’t get wind of it.”

“Grand. I’ll sign the chit each evening once I know you’ve done it.”

Her fa­ther fol­lowed her out to where her sit-up-and-beg was propped against a wall.

“How’s young Martin Walsh?” he asked ca­su­ally.

“No idea,” Mary said, her gabar­dine skirt ruf­fling up as she swung a long, slen­der leg over the cross­bar. “I got bored with Martin. He’s not in­ter­est­ing.”

MARY cy­cled off at speed along the vil­lage high street, away from the mod­est peb­ble-dashed build­ing that was Nestin­ham Po­lice Sta­tion.

The vil­lage was only just large enough for a po­lice sta­tion, and really didn’t need two of­fi­cers, but Sergeant Quinn barely lifted a hand any more so Mary’s dad had plenty to do on his own.

She was happy to help. It had been months since Len Rawlish got hurt, and you could tell that the jobs were pil­ing up. In­grid Rawlish would be fret­ting, Mary knew – the farm was ev­ery­thing to her and Len.

Mary pushed open the gate and it half-top­pled on a bro­ken hinge. She strode to­wards the farm­house door, but stopped short when she saw a man emerg­ing from the barn, wip­ing dirt from his hands with a rag. “Good af­ter­noon.” From his ac­cent she knew im­me­di­ately that this was the Ger­man. She took a step back. She’d never met a Ger­man and wasn’t sure she wanted to. Seven years wasn’t long enough, it seemed, since a war like the one they’d come through.

“Mr and Mrs Rawlish are away from home, at the doc­tor,” he said.

“That’s all right,” Mary said. “I just called in to . . . I just called.”

She hur­ried back to her bike and cy­cled on to Nantwich, where she worked in the back of­fice of a gents’ shoe­maker that had sur­vived the war.

She for­got the Ger­man un­til she stopped for a cup of tea with her col­league, Di, and sud­denly won­dered where the man had learned to speak English, and also where he was sleep­ing. The Rawlish house was tiny for a farm­house.

“I imag­ine he’s well be­haved,” Di said, “since we’ve let him work here. But you never know, do you? I mean, why is he here, any­how?” Mrs Say­ers, their boss, over­heard. “Would you like to be a young per­son making their way in Ger­many just now?” she pointed out. “You think it’s hard here! That young man just wants to make his way, and he has to work in some me­nial job for five years! We should take it as a com­pli­ment to Great Bri­tain that he wanted to come at all.” Di shrugged. “But do we want him, Mrs Say­ers? My dad served.”

“Maybe his did, too. Now, can you ladies get your heads down, please? Those in­voices don’t put them­selves into en­velopes.”

THERE was gen­eral sus­pi­cion about the man, whose name, Mary learned, was Kas­par Hahn. She thought of hand­ing the check­ing task back to her dad, so as to dis­as­so­ci­ate her­self, but then Con­sta­ble Billings got a bad cold.

So she kept on pass­ing the farm and tak­ing back the news that he was still there, still (as far as she could see) at work.

A fort­night passed. If she could spy Kas­par Hahn from the lane, all well and good. If not, she opened the gate and went to ask Len or In­grid.

Of­ten he’d come out of the barn and Mary re­alised that he was sleep­ing there. The barn had a tra­di­tional raised loft, and he had a bed up there. Fine for the sum­mer, but she didn’t envy him in win­ter.

One day, she found the gate was mended, and asked Len if his back was im­prov­ing.

“Does it look like it?” he said, shift­ing un­com­fort­ably in his spe­cial chair. “No, the Ger­man did it. He came to us from an­other job near Ch­ester. He was three years there and learned some farming.”

Mary brought Len a cup of tea and walked to her bike. She al­most col­lided with the young man as he was hur­ry­ing across the yard.

“I am sorry,” he said, colour­ing. “I did not see. I am late.”

“That’s all right,” she said stiffly. He had dark hair, gleam­ing in the sun. “Late for what?” “To fetch for milk­ing the cows.” Mary smiled. “To fetch the cows for milk­ing. They can wait an ex­tra minute.”

Kas­par had come here to bet­ter him­self. But the lo­cals weren’t making it easy . . .

“I do not know enough about cows yet,” he said. “It was sheep be­fore.” Mary looked at him. “You weren’t in farming back . . . home?” She felt she was pry­ing. “I took the job they gave me,” he said qui­etly. “I want to work hard and to stay.”

“You have plans for af­ter the, er, five years?” Mary’s friends would want to know all about him. “Have you a trade back in Ger­many that you can restart?” He coloured again. “I was at the univer­sity in Tübin­gen. Phi­los­o­phy, and thus I learned some English.” “I’ve got to get home,” she said. “Do you come to make sure I am here?” he asked sud­denly. “Like the po­lice­man?”

Mary was em­bar­rassed. She shouldn’t care what he thought of her, but she didn’t like to think that he saw her as a spy.

“I’m just do­ing a favour for my dad.”

Mary told her par­ents that the Ger­man was OK, and was po­lite, and had been a univer­sity stu­dent.

“He’s con­fi­dent where I’d ex­pected him to be . . . I don’t know, hum­ble? He’s not rude. He’s just . . .”

Con­sta­ble Billings looked at Mary over his beer glass.

“I can al­ways take over the job my­self again.” “It’s OK, Dad. It’s on my way.” Her mother looked quizzi­cally at her, but Mary got up and be­gan clear­ing the sup­per things.

THE sum­mer wore on. Martin Walsh kept ask­ing Mary out un­til she was firm with him. Martin was nice, but he made her yawn.

Di couldn’t understand Mary’s re­luc­tance. Martin Walsh earned more than any other lo­cal lad, and he had a car! “I’d not say no.” “You’re not me,” Mary replied. She wasn’t in­ter­ested in any of them. Some­times her par­ents quizzed her, but she said she was happy as she was. She liked her job. She liked to cy­cle along the lanes to work.

At Rawlish’s she would check on Kas­par Hahn, maybe ex­change a few words. It was im­por­tant to be ac­cu­rate with gov­ern­ment schemes such as this one.

Hahn said it was good to prac­tise his English, too, and some­times he asked her about coun­try­side mat­ters. The name of a flower, when the har­vest should be­gin, English cus­toms by sea­son.

She re­ported to her mum that Kas­par seemed to be try­ing hard to in­te­grate.

One day her dad way­laid Mary at break­fast.

“You don’t need to check on that fella any more, love,” he told her, his mouth half full of toast. Mary felt light-headed for a mo­ment. “Why’s that?” “He’s gone up in the world – got a po­si­tion with Mar­golds, the feed sup­plier south of Nantwich. He im­pressed the owner there. There will be talk – folk pre­fer a man like that kept in his proper place.”

“That’ll be Ge­orge Bartlett,” Mrs Billings said, “who owns the feed place. His wife’s Aus­trian, so I sup­pose –”

“That’s got noth­ing to do with it,” her hus­band in­ter­rupted. “Your farm lad has a nicer job, Mary, now that he’s served his five years, and there’s an end on it.”

“He’s not my farm lad,” Mary said ir­ri­ta­bly.

She seized the lid of the jam pot and screwed it on hard.

“That’s the mar­malade,” her mother said. “Give it here.”

It was raining hard that morn­ing. Mary cy­cled quickly, feel­ing the mud splash up her stock­ings. She flung her bike against the wall at the Rawlish farm.

She wasn’t sure why she was call­ing – she was late for work. Per­haps to see if Len was bet­ter. Kas­par al­ways wor­ried about Len, she knew, and he wasn’t there to worry any more. He was off to an­other place, wasn’t he? There, as her dad had said, was an end on it.

The farm looked smarter than it had since Mary could re­mem­ber – the barn doors patched, the edg­ing of the path re­newed with fresh blocks of sand­stone, the milk­ing par­lour trim and white­washed.

Kas­par wasn’t there. Len and In­grid said that he had al­ready taken up a room in Nantwich that he’d found in the win­dow of the sta­tioner’s.

“I re­gret his go­ing,” Len said. “He’s worked hard.”

“I wish we could have paid him more,” In­grid added, wip­ing her hands on a dish­cloth. “I’d have liked to keep him on. He made me laugh with his funny way of speak­ing English. But he came here to make his way, and I wouldn’t stop a son of mine from do­ing the same.”

Mr Rawlish shifted care­fully,

painfully in his chair.

“I’ll say this much: he was no English­man, but he was a good lad.”

“He’s not dead, Mr Rawlish,” Mary said, try­ing to sound chip­per. But it did feel like it.

Even­tu­ally Mary agreed to go to a dance with Martin. He was a good dancer, but he looked like all the other young men there, and said the same things.

She cy­cled to and from work, and ev­ery time she passed the farm she tried not to think about Kas­par and his smile, his dark hair that curled at his neck, his way of some­times get­ting the words of a sen­tence in the wrong or­der.

One cold day, her dad came in from work with a stony look. “I’m very dis­ap­pointed.” “Why, love?” Mrs Billings asked.

“Kasper Hahn. He’s had his hands in the till at Mar­golds. Would you be­lieve it?”

“No!” Mrs Billings sat down. “Well, you never know.”

“Why would he?” Mary asked, her hands shak­ing. “Why steal now, when he’s get­ting on in life?” Con­sta­ble Billings shrugged. “Be­cause there was noth­ing to take at Len Rawlish’s place, and now he saw a chance?”

“Does that seem log­i­cal?” Mary’s voice was shrill.

Mr Billings was plagued by Mary’s anx­ious ques­tions about Hahn. She seemed un­able to give the sub­ject up, ask­ing about proof and talk­ing of in­jus­tice.

“There’s no doubt,” he told her. “There’s a hole in the ac­counts and Kas­par Hahn is the only per­son to join the firm lately. It’s only ten pounds, but that’s not the point.” “But –” “Mary, the law takes its course.”

Kas­par was or­dered to re­turn ten pounds, which he did. He was given a warn­ing, rep­ri­manded and sum­mar­ily dis­missed. Ev­ery­one reck­oned that he’d have to go home to Ger­many.

TWO days af­ter he was sacked, Mary bumped into Kas­par in Nantwich. He looked bro­ken – an­gry and thin. He nod­ded and made to walk on, but she stopped him.

As they stood talk­ing awk­wardly about the weather, avoid­ing what had hap­pened, a girl Mary knew walked by, look­ing dis­ap­prov­ing.

Mary gave the girl a hard stare and then she boldly tucked her arm into Kas­par’s. She heard his in­take of breath. He looked down at her in sur­prise.

“Shall I ask Mr and Mrs Rawlish?” Mary asked. “About work at the farm?” Kas­par frowned. “I don’t know. They are good peo­ple. If they have to refuse be­cause of this, then . . .” His voice trailed off. “Then?” “Then I think I have just enough money, af­ter hav­ing given Mr Bartlett ten pounds, to get back to Ger­many.” “To your fam­ily.” “I don’t have some fam­ily.” “Any fam­ily.” He smiled. “You didn’t take that money, did you?”

He said noth­ing, but she felt his body stiffen with anger. She sensed that he wouldn’t an­swer the ques­tion, that it was be­neath him to deny a thing he could never have done.

“I think it best you do not put Mr and Mrs Rawlish in a diff icult po­si­tion.”

Mary left him, feel­ing mis­er­able. In the chemist’s she held a bot­tle of kaolin and mor­phine for a full minute, star­ing un­com­pre­hend­ingly at the la­bel, be­fore bang­ing it back on the counter and run­ning out.

She jumped on her bike and headed to the Rawlish farm, her coat fly­ing.

“Oh, we’d em­ploy him again,” In­grid said. “Isn’t he free to work where he pleases now that his five years are up?” She frowned. “But he won’t want to come back here again, Mary.”

“The cows are un­happy; just not them­selves.” Len shook his head. “I didn’t know about the miss­ing money – we don’t get a news­pa­per too of­ten. I can’t be­lieve it of Kas­par.” “Me, nei­ther,” In­grid said. Early next morn­ing Mary found Kas­par in his dingy bed­sit in town.

When she told him that the Rawlishes would hire him, he flung his arms around her and then stepped back hur­riedly. They were both blush­ing.

At the end of that day Mary was get­ting a lift back with her fa­ther from Nantwich, as Con­sta­ble Billings had had work to do in the “proper” po­lice sta­tion.

They took the route by the Rawlish farm as dusk fell. “Stop, Dad!” Mary had spot­ted three fig­ures out­side the cow­shed – Mr and Mrs Rawlish, and Kas­par. “Some­thing’s up,” she said. As she and her fa­ther walked through the gate, Kas­par ush­ered them over.

“I knew the three older cows were too thin when I left,” he said.

Len tugged at his thin­ning hair.

“I don’t check them enough,” he said anx­iously. “I haven’t the strength.”

“An­other cow had a slight fever that wouldn’t shift,” In­grid said. “We didn’t make the con­nec­tion.”

“Look!” Kas­par pulled Mary and her dad into the shed. “Feel here.”

He forced the sur­prised po­lice­man to press one cow’s neck.

“It’s swollen,” Billings an­nounced.

“If they’d been cough­ing, I’d have worked it out.” Len’s voice be­hind them was high with frus­tra­tion.

“I will fetch the vet,” Kas­par said. Mary’s fa­ther frowned. “Calm down, lad,” he said. “This herd is all Mr and Mrs Rawlish have, sir!” Kas­par said loudly. “I do not want to be rude, but I must go now.” He took a deep breath. “This is tu­ber­cu­lo­sis. I have learned enough to know this. I have learned from all the farm­ers here and now I must use this learn­ing and save this herd. It is pos­si­ble that it can be saved.” Mr Billings nod­ded. “I’ve got the car out­side. Come with us.”

As they hur­ried out to the lane, her fa­ther sud­denly stopped.

“Lad, that money at Mar­gold’s. What about that?”

Kas­par looked at her fa­ther as though he were mad. “Do we talk about this now?” Mary shoved her fa­ther to­wards the car.

“Of course he didn’t take any money, Dad. Why is ev­ery­one so stupid? Why would he, when it would be dis­cov­ered im­me­di­ately? Go!”

Con­sta­ble Billings looked at Mary, then at Kas­par, and flung open the car door.

Mary sat be­side Kas­par, who tapped his fin­gers im­pa­tiently on the seat un­til she laid a hand over his to calm him.

She felt sud­denly happy, and then just as guilty be­cause, even as the fu­ture of the Rawlish’s herd hung in the bal­ance, she knew ex­actly what her own fu­ture ought to be.

THEY lost one cow at the farm, but the vet was swift and skilled and it wasn’t long be­fore the herd was do­ing very well.

Kas­par Hahn had not taken the money from the Mar­gold works. Af­ter Con­sta­ble Billings urged them to take an­other look, an er­ror on the part of the clerk emerged. The clerk ad­mit­ted that maybe he had been overea­ger to mis­trust a for­eigner.

Mar­golds asked if Kas­par wanted his job back, but in the end he opted to stay in farming. Mr and Mrs Rawlish made it clear that their farm would be passed to the saviour of their herd in time, if he chose to work with them.

There was a tea party to cel­e­brate, and as the cake crumbs were swept up Kas­par led Mary out of the back door of the farm­house.

“Two years ago you avoided get­ting too close to me,” he re­minded her, twirling a piece of straw be­tween his strong f in­gers.

Mary took a step to­wards him and pushed him against the wall of the milk­ing shed.

“Is that bet­ter?” she asked boldly.

“That is not bad,” he said. “But you can be bet­ter.”

“Do bet­ter. I think you mean do bet­ter,” she said.

He laughed and threw away the straw.

“I’m sure I can do bet­ter,” Mary said, and kissed him.

“Marry me,” he pleaded. “Will you marry a for­eigner, Mary?”

“I may con­sider mar­ry­ing the clever­est, hand­somest, most in­ter­est­ing man in Cheshire,” she said.

“That has to be me,” Kas­par said. “Or it has to be I? Which is cor­rect?”

“Let’s not worry about the pro­nouns,” Mary said, and kissed him again.

The End.

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