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Walnut Wisdom: Episode 9

Arthur Loosley continues his story about a young boy, Alan, who is evacuated to a village deep in the English countryside when bombs begin to rain down on London during World War Two.

Alan is a most likeable lad, but his sharp-tongued mother is unlikely to win many new friends.

To read earlier chapters of Arthur's intriguing novel please click on Walnut Wisdom in the menu on this page.

Alan's first morning at the village school had not been entirely without incident but the teacher had forgiven him his little errors because he was new, and had even lent him a book to read. That was one of the nicest things that had happened to him since he arrived in Tamwell, except for the encouragement he had received from Old Matey. He was in no hurry to get back to the farm because the school would be closed this afternoon and he could take his time over lunch.

His mother, Betty, was waiting for him at the farmhouse door.

'What time do you call this?' she demanded.

It was one of those questions that didn't need an answer. He was in trouble again and he sensed it must have something to do with the fact that she was wearing her best dress and make-up, as if ready to go somewhere nice.

'Sorry,' he said, 'I didn't know you were going out.'

'Who says I am going anywhere?' she snapped. 'Eat your dinner and get straight back to school. I don't want to get the blame if you are late.'

'But I haven't got to go back this afternoon,' Alan explained, 'Mrs Cooper won't be there.'

'Don't tell lies!' she yelled, 'You've only been at school half a day and you're trying to wheedle your way out of it already. I suppose I will have to take you back myself to make sure you get there.' Without saying another word, she grabbed his arm and led him to the gate.

Alan thought this was unfair. He wanted to go to school, if only to get away from his mother's constant nagging. 'What about my dinner?' he protested.

They reached the school just in time to see Mrs Cooper getting into a taxi with a sailor.

'Oh, so that's more important than doing her job, is it?' Betty declaimed to a small group of women who stood waving as the taxi departed. 'Gallivanting off with a sailor instead of doing what she's paid to do!'

The women gave her a hostile stare. 'Wouldn't you want to go to the station with your husband when he's going off to sea for heaven knows how long?' one of them said.

Alan now understood why Mrs Cooper had chosen the hymn, 'For those in peril on the sea' this morning, and why she had seemed rather sad.

Betty was somewhat subdued but still protested, 'She might have given us some warning!'

'That's what she must have felt when the recall telegram arrived this morning', her accuser said.

'Well, I've got to go out, too,' Betty retorted, 'so who's going to look after my son? It is so unreasonable!'

Angelina was standing at the back of the group. She whispered something to a woman with ginger hair like her own, who was standing next to her.

'Perhaps I can help,' the woman suggested. 'I am Vera Williams. My daughter, Angelina here, was telling how kind Alan was to her at school this morning. I am sure I would be very happy for him to come home with us, if you wish.'

'Oh, that is very nace of you, I'm sure,' Betty replied, in the posh voice she used when she wanted to impress, 'You see, my mother and auntie are both out and I can't leave him alone at the farm with that horrible old man.'

'"That horrible old man", as you call him,' said one of the other women, 'is a true gentleman with a heart of gold. You could learn a lot from him.'

Alan's heart sank. It had happened again: a word from his mother had raised hackles, and he was stuck right in the middle of it all. He was quite pleased, though, at the prospect of spending the afternoon with Angelina.

'Just mind you behave yourself,' Betty told him. 'And don't get your new clothes dirty.'

Another woman commented on how happy she was to see him dressed in plain grey school clothes for a change, like a real boy. 'Don't dress him up in that embarrassing silk and velvet stuff again, my dear,' she advised, 'He'll only get bullied, you know.'

Betty did not take kindly to that remark. 'Well, I lake to see him dressed properly,' she announced, in her best prim and haughty voice, 'Sit up all night I do, knitting and sewing for him and what thanks do I get?'

Alan could see that his mother's presence in this friendly little village had got off to a bad start, and hoped that it wouldn't all bounce back on him, but he was doing quite well so far. Everybody seemed to understand and wanted to help.

He watched as his mother turned and without so much as a 'goodbye' made her way back towards the farm. He had no idea where she was going this afternoon or how she would get there, but assumed that some kind gentleman would offer her a lift. They usually did.

Angelina and her mother lived in a little cottage up the lane, and Alan was able to get his first site of the orchard from that direction. Over the hedge he could see the old cart which had attracted his attention the first time he saw it. He still couldn't understand why his mother was so angry when she found him sleeping on it on that first day at the farm. There were a lot of other things he didn't understand, but he was beginning to learn, with the help of Old Matey. Now it seemed that the women of the village were on his side too, and he even had a new friend of his own age - even if she was a girl.

'Have you had your lunch?' Mrs Williams asked him when they were safely indoors.

Alan explained that he had not, because he had dawdled on the way home and his mother was angry with him and dragged him straight back to school.

'Is she often angry?' Angelina asked, adding 'My Mum is never angry with me.' She put both arms around her mother's waist as she spoke, and gave her a hug.

'Proper spoilt little madam, aren't you?' her mother teased, and they both laughed.

Alan thought anger was a parent's natural state. The mother-child affection he was seeing here seemed quite unnatural.

'We haven't got much to offer you,' Mrs Williams told him, 'but do you like bread and dripping?'

'Mmmm . . . I love it!' he replied, 'And toast.' A regular treat back home in Adley Green was thick bread toasted in front of the open coal fire, spread with dripping from the Sunday roast.

Mrs Williams smiled. 'Then as our special guest, that is what you shall have,' she said.

Special guest. That sounded good.

The toast and dripping were good too, as was the rest of that pleasant afternoon, talking about how differently life was lived here, compared with London, and not once being told to 'shut up and stop asking stupid questions'.

Shortly after three o'clock Mrs Williams said that school would normally be out by this time and she supposed that she had better take Alan back to the farm because his mother would surely be back by now, and would be expecting him home. She need not have worried. Betty had not returned yet, but Grandma and Aunt Molly had just reached home after their day out.

Grandma looked worried. 'Where's your mother?' she asked Alan, 'I thought she had gone to collect you from school.' Turning to Mrs Williams she asked 'Has there been an accident?'

As the events of the afternoon were related to her, she and Aunt Molly exchanged knowing glances.

'Thank you so much, Vera,' Aunt Molly said to Mrs Williams, 'It was very kind of you. I hope he wasn't any trouble.'

'Oh, not at all,' she replied, 'he'll be welcome any time.'

A blue car stopped briefly at the farm gate and immediately sped off. Betty came running up the path, breathless. 'Sorry I was delayed,' she said, 'I would have been back earlier but my appointment was delayed.'

'And a kind gentleman came to the rescue and gave you a lift in his car, I suppose,' Grandma opined.

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