Poppies At Sundown
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