Pop­pies At Sun­down

The People's Friend Special - - PUZZLES 35 -

THOMAS WICKS lay back on the grass and closed his eyes. The sun beat down on his brow, and the scent of roses wafted sweetly be­neath his nose.

A black­bird sang his merry tune, while just a short dis­tance away, waves gen­tly lapped against the har­bour wall.

If there re­ally was a place called par­adise it must surely be here, in this quaint lit­tle vil­lage on the north Nor­folk coast.

Wor­ries and con­cerns which had hounded the young his­tory master most of the morn­ing fell away as he re­called a day last week, when he had put away his books, locked up the class­room and said good­bye to the young men who were to leave the school and en­ter the adult world.

There had been a fond farewell and good wishes with Watkins, a young prodigy of the up­per sixth des­tined for Cam­bridge, and with San­der­son, cheery joker of the pack, who would surely make his way through sheer wit and cun­ning. Thomas would miss them.

But as sleep de­scended Thomas’s rest was sud­denly dis­turbed by the sound of a can­non be­ing set off some­where along the beach, and he sat up with a jolt.

The grim re­al­ity of a war that had been de­clared a few days ago slowly came back into fo­cus, and the plans and as­pi­ra­tions of the young men in his care at the cathe­dral school seemed as frag­ile and ten­u­ous as the pa­per-thin petals of the scar­let pop­pies that grew in abun­dance around the grave­yard.

“Damn this war!” Thomas buried his face in his hands.

“Are you all right there?” The young school­teacher took his hands away to find a pretty, fair-haired young woman peer­ing at him.

“I heard you yell. Not been stung, have you?”

Thomas stood up quickly and shook grass from his waist­coat and trousers.

“I’m sorry if I scared you, miss,” he said, half-bow­ing. “I was half asleep and thought for one mo­ment that fight­ing had al­ready be­gun on these shores.”

“That ex­plo­sion, you mean? No, it’s only a few over-keen soldiers down at the salt pans. They’re hop­ing to re­cruit some of the lo­cal lads for this hor­rid war and I sup­pose they think a bit of fire­power will im­press them.”

She held out her hand. “I’m April Clegg. Your aunt Sy­bil runs the newsagent’s in the high street, doesn’t she? She men­tioned her nephew was com­ing to stay for a few days and I must say, you fit her de­scrip­tion per­fectly.

“You’re a teacher in Nor­wich, aren’t you? At the cathe­dral School. You must be aw­fully clever.”

Thomas smiled. His ex­pe­ri­ence of young ladies was lim­ited, but he had al­ready taken rather a shine to this girl and her pleas­ant open­ness and kindly smile.

“Me, clever? No, not re­ally,” he said mod­estly, eye­ing the sketch pad and pen­cils that April was car­ry­ing. “And when it comes to draw­ing I’m a com­plete novice. But you’re quite right, I am Sy­bil’s nephew. Thomas Wicks. Very pleased to meet you.”

“I’m just fill­ing in time while I wait for some­one.” she said, wav­ing her sketch­book. “It’s only a hobby. I adore this time of year, that’s all: the pret­ti­ness of leaves, the way the grasses sway.

“This sum­mer, par­tic­u­larly, the wild flow­ers have been stun­ning. Look.”

She handed Thomas a few draw­ings that she had made of pop­pies

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